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1991: the end of Apartheid: South Africa's brutal system of racial segregation was abolished 20 years ago, making way for democratic rule.


When hundreds of thousands of tourists poured into South Africa last summer to watch the World Cup, the entire nation basked in its moment of international glory.

Children and adults waved the country's flag and donned the South African soccer team's green and yellow jersey. And the collective hum from those piercing African horns called vuvuzelas reverberated throughout the country, from luxury estates in Johannesburg to dirt-poor shantytowns in Capetown.

"The World Cup was this opportunity where all kinds of South Africans came together behind soccer," says Sue Cook, who works as a policy adviser to one of South Africa's many black ethnic communities.

Hosting an event watched by 260 million people around the world marked an important milestone for a nation that just two decades ago was an international pariah: For years, South Africa was cut off from international trade, sanctioned by the United Nations, and excluded from global sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup because of apartheid, a brutal system of racial segregation that was abolished 20 years ago this June.

The roots of apartheid--which means "separateness" in Afrikaans, a Dutch-based language--go back to the late 1600s and 1700s, when first Dutch, then British, settlers arrived and began dominating and segregating South Africa's native black population (see timeline, p. 18). Beginning in the 18th century, a system of "pass laws" segregated and strictly limited the movement of nonwhites, who had to carry passes to enter white areas.


Prisoners in Their Own Land

But apartheid began to take on an especially pernicious form in 1950, when the ruling Afrikaners, descendants of the original Dutch settlers, began enacting laws that forced blacks and "coloreds" (people of mixed race) to live and work in restricted areas, and barred them from owning land outside those areas.

Nonwhites soon found themselves prisoners in their own land. They were educated only enough to perform basic labor in white-run industries. They could not socialize with whites, have a voice in government, or even travel outside their designated areas without government permission. All blacks--who made up 70 percent of the population--had to carry pass books that recorded their movements, and they could be arrested for inviting whites to their homes without approval.


Secret police spied on black activists, and arrests, beatings, and even murders of dissidents were commonplace. Nelson Mandela, who led the military wing of the leading anti-apartheid group, the African National Congress (A.N.C.), was arrested and sent to jail with a life sentence in 1964. Stephen Biko, the 30-year-old leader of the South African Students' Organization, was beaten to death by government agents in 1977.


One of the most notorious cases of brutality took place on June 16, 1976. Black students were angry over a government order requiring that all major courses be taught not in English, but in Afrikaans, the primary language of South Africa's white rulers.

After months of classes they couldn't understand, more than 10,000 students staged a protest march on the streets of Soweto, a sprawling black ghetto near Johannesburg. Less than an hour after the march began, police opened fire on the unarmed crowd, killing at least 23, including 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. A photo of a boy carrying Hector's lifeless body as his sister runs beside them gained international attention and became a symbol of black resistance against apartheid.

More riots followed, and by the end of the year, police had killed more than 500 protestors and injured thousands.

Against this backdrop, black rage in South Africa didn't surprise outsiders. "Suppose white American families were told that their children would be taught all their school subjects in French and Dutch from now on. Imagine that virtually all white children, regardless of ability, were given a different and inferior kind of education," New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote after the riots.

But with the Soweto uprising, apartheid's foundation began to crack. Unable to contain the rioting, the government slowly began to look for ways to diminish black anger. It drew up a new constitution that gave some nonwhites a voice (but still excluded blacks); it tried to give all blacks citizenship in separate semi-independent "homelands" within white-controlled South Africa.

Mounting Pressures

None of it worked. And South Africa's relations with the rest of the world became increasingly strained. In 1977, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on South Africa. International sports groups banned South African teams from competitions, and many companies boycotted South African goods and services. The demand for Nelson Mandela's release grew into a global campaign, and a leading critic of apartheid, the Anglican Bishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Along with the rest of the world, the U.S. condemned apartheid, but was criticized for not doing enough to end it. Instead of trying to isolate South Africa's rulers with economic and political sanctions, as many nations had done, President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) followed a policy his administration called "constructive engagement": negotiating with white and black leaders to seek a peaceful end to apartheid.

Some thought Reagan's approach was too soft. Testifying before Congress in 1984, Tutu called the administration's policy "immoral."

But the State Department official responsible for that policy, Chester A. Crocker, says that critics didn't know about the enormous pressure the U.S. was placing on South Africa's white leaders. Crocker says the U.S. softened its public criticism of the government while privately demanding that it grant blacks long-denied freedoms.

Crocker adds that the most important push for change in South Africa came not from outsiders but from within. "You need leaders to make peace," he says. "It takes guts."

Those leaders were South Africa's last President under apartheid, F. W. de Klerk, and Mandela. (They shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.) Seeing that apartheid was not only isolating his nation but robbing it of the talents of its black workers, de Klerk released all political prisoners, including Mandela, from jail in 1990, ended restrictions on black political groups, and began negotiations toward democracy.

Healing Old Wounds

On June 17, 1991, South Africa's Parliament voted to repeal the legal framework for apartheid. Three years later, Mandela was elected President.

Though South Africa has made the transition to majority rule, it hasn't always been a smooth ride. The government, now led by President Jacob Zuma, has been battered by charges that it tolerates corruption and has been slow to address the needs of millions of its poorest black citizens. And with Mandela now 93 and increasingly frail, many South Africans fear that the country may never live up to the ideals of the modem nation's father figure.

"The country's very nervous about whether they can continue to be 'the good South Africa'" without Mandela, says Cook, the policy adviser. "They're going through a lot of separation anxiety."

Yet despite those uncertainties and the work that lies ahead for South Africa, hosting the World Cup gave the country a renewed sense of hope and a self-confidence it had never known. "And South Africa needs a lot of that," Cook says, "just to heal its own wounds."


South Africa at a Glance

GDP per capita: $5,680 (u.s.: $46,350)

Literacy rate: 89% (u.s.: 99%)

Life expectancy: 52 years (u.s.: 78)

Internet users: 9% (u.s.: 79%)

Racial makeup: 80% black, 9% white, 11% other




South Africa




In 1652, the Dutch begin to colonize the Cape Peninsula, conquering the native peoples and calling themselves "Afrikaners." In 1795, the British begin establishing colonies.


British-Dutch Wars

In the second Boer War, the British defeat the Dutch (Boers) for control of southern Africa. In 1910, the Union of South Africa is established under white-minority rule.


A.N.C. Formed

The African National Congress (A.N.C.) is created to promote racial equality.



Apartheid Established

South Africa's white government formally establishes apartheid, a system of rigid racial segregation in education, housing, transportation, and employment.


U.N. Sanctions

Nelson Mandela is named commander of Spear of the Nation, the A.N.C.'s new rebel army, in 1961. The following year, the United Nations condemns apartheid and calls for sanctions against South Africa.


Mandela Imprisoned

Mandela and seven others are convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state and sentenced to life in prison.



Anti-Apartheid Pressure

International pressure to end apartheid increases (above, protesters at the White House). In 1986, Congress bans imports from South Africa and prohibits American businesses from investing there.



Mandela Freed

President F.W. de Klerk announces the release of all political prisoners. Mandela is free after nearly three decades in prison.


Black Rule

A new constitution based on black-majority rule is adopted in 1993. A year later, the first elections are held and the National Assembly elects Mandela as South Africa's first black President.



World Cup

South Africa becomes the first African nation to host the soccer World Cup, marking its emergence on the world stage.

Michael Wines is the former Johannesburg bureau chief and the current Beijing chief for The New York Times. With reporting by Veronica Majerol.



For more than 40 years, South Africa's white minority government oppressed the country's black majority in a system of racial segregation known as apartheid.

[right arrow] How do you think a minority group--the descendants of white European settlers--came to assume such a dominant rote in South Africa?

[right arrow] Although apartheid was not formally instituted until 1950, many historians argue that the system began much earlier. Why?

[right arrow] What political, social, and economic factors led to the demise of apartheid?


Write an essay comparing the experiences of black South Africans Living under apartheid and American blacks before and during the civil rights movement. How were their struggles similar, and what made them different?


Take a position: Did the U.S. take the right approach in the 1980s with "constructive engagement" of South Africa's leaders to try to end apartheid?


After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela told supporters, "It is not the kings and generals that make history, but the masses of the people." How was this true in the fight against apartheid? Can you name other historic or current events that illustrate this idea?

The Soweto uprising was sparked by black opposition to the required use of Afrikaans, the Dutch-based Language, in schools. In the U.S., significant civil rights gains sprang from court cases over school segregation. Why do you think activists fighting for change often focus on education?

Does the U.S. have an obligation to take action when it is aware of injustice and oppression in a foreign country? Why or why not?


In 1976, South Africa's black schools received $45 per student and had one teacher for every 60 students. White schools received $700 per student and had one teacher for every 22 students.


Background information and lesson plans from South Africa's official apartheid museum.



(1) The first European settlers in South Africa were--.

a Dutch

b English

c French

d Spanish

(2) What was the purpose of "pass books" under apartheid?

a to ascertain a black citizen's education Level

b to track and record the movements of black citizens

c to record all interactions between black citizens and white citizens

d to demonstrate voter eligibility and registration

(3) Which organization became the leading antiapartheid group in South Africa?

a Stop Apartheid Now

b the Freedom Party

c the African National Congress

d the Senate for a New South Africa

(4) The 1976 Soweto uprising was sparked when government officials--.

a arrested Nelson Mandela

b forced blacks to Live in specially designated "homelands"

c ordered the beating death of a black leader

d made all schools teach in the Afrikaans Language

(5) Nelson Mandela shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with--.

a South African Bishop Desmond Tutu

b a young black Leader named Stephen Biko

c former U.S. President RonaLd Reagan

d then South African President F.W. de Klerk


(1) Why do you think the South African government created special "homelands" for blacks and restricted where blacks could go? What was the government hoping to accomplish or prevent?

(2) What are some ways that other nations tried to bring about change in South Africa? Which, if any, of these strategies do you think were effective?

(3) In your opinion, were external, or internal forces more important in triggering the collapse of apartheid? Explain.



(1) [a] Dutch

(2) [b] to track and record the movements of black citizens

(3) [c] the African National. Congress

(4) [d] made all schools teach in the Afrikaans language

(5) [d] then South African President F.W. de Klerk
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Title Annotation:TIMES PAST
Author:Wines, Michael
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Apr 4, 2011
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