Explain the reasons for the fall of apartheid in South Africa, including the influence and ideas of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Sculpture, The Hague
Nelson Mandela Sculpture, The Hague

Topics on this page

The Apartheid System
Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa
  • United States Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986
    • First All-Race Elections of 1994

Nelson Mandela's Influence

  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
    • 1995 Rugby World Cup Final
      • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
Influential literature page for Afrika, a page devoted to Collen Craig's novel

Sign from the apartheid era
Sign from the apartheid era

Focus Question: What was the system of apartheid in South Africa?

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of South Africa

An apartheid, by definition, is the discriminatory and segregationist practices on the basis of race, which is entrenched in and protected by policy and systemic oppression.

The origins of the word referred to the political suppression and economic control imposed by the white minority in South Africa and was literally instituted into the political structures via enactments of apartheid laws in 1948 by the Afrikaner National Party.

The South African Apartheid from 1948-1994 was the continuation of colonial forces that existed prior to the formalized party coming into power.
  • In fact, the exploitation of African people and the pillaging of their natural and moral resources has been a part of the continent's ancient history, but is most relative and apparent during the early modern period (during the 17th century with the arrival of the Dutch East India company).
  • In South Africa struggles for power began when the Dutch East India company arrived.
  • They struggled not only against the Africans but the British as well, which made them desperate for natural resources as well as extremely bitter and racist through the 20th century.
  • They were also fearful that they would again loose power again because they only were 10 percent of the population in South Africa. These factors combined led to the brutal Apartheid laws.

Examples of the rifts that the period of apartheid and apartheid laws created are as followed (represented by actual enacted policies but other examples of how apartheid ravaged the country include physical violence, economic and food insecurity, and too often murder)

  • The Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offense.
  • Group Areas Act of 1950 assigned races to different residential and business sections in urban areas.
  • Population Registration Act of 1950 put all South Africans into three racial categories: Bantu (black African), white, or Colored (of mixed race). A fourth category, Asian (Indians and Pakistanis), was added later.
  • The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 made every black South African a citizen of one of the homelands, effectively excluding blacks from South African politics.

For a listing of discriminatory legislation by decade, go to The Liberation Struggle from South African History Online.

To find out more about the apartheid, see The History of the Apartheid in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, 1937
Nelson Mandela, 1937

For photos of the apartheid, go to UN News and Media Photo for images.

See Internet African History Sourcebook for primary sources from South Africa, apartheid, and Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) which was involved in many campaigns and protest to bring down the Apartheid. They were considered illegal and often in trouble with the law.

Multimedia.png Female_Rose.png For videos, documents, images, and interviews, and women's history, see South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid Building Democracy.
womens history.jpg

Focus Question: What was the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa?

Forward to Freedom: The History of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1959-1994

A Struggle from the Ground Up: The Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa

Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986

United States Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 from a site from the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Created an American trade embargo with South Africa and called for American companies to disinvest their South African holdings
  • Initially vetoed by President Ronald Reagan and then overridden. The first time in the 20th century that a President's foreign policy veto had been overridden.

First All-Race Elections of 1994

external image Book_icon_1.pngThe Day Gogo Went to Vote is a picture book about the first democratic election in South Africa where Black citizens were allowed to vote in April 27-28,1994.

Democratic Elections, from South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy, Michigan State University

Focus Question: How did Nelson Mandela contribute to the fall of apartheid in South Africa?

Multimedia.pngPoet Maya Angelou's Tribute to Nelson Mandela: We Lift Our Tearful Voices To Say 'Thank You" (December 2013).

The Nelson Mandela Monument by Marco Cianfanelli commenrates his 1962 capture by apartheid police

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

  • Nelson Mandela's contribution and dedication to South Africa’s struggle in achieving freedom and equal rights for every South African led to his popularity and respect in South Africa.
  • In the 1950’s, Mandela began working on ending the apartheid.
  • In 1964, he was arrested and imprisoned for trying to overthrow the government, but continued his fight even from his prison cell.
  • After his release in 1990, Mandela traveled throughout the world trying to earn money to support the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela continued to advocate equality for all South Africans regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
  • Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black South African to be elected as president of his country. His presidency was characterized by the successful negotiation of a new constitution for South Africa, but his main focus was the restructuring of South Africa after the damage done by the apartheid.
  • His autobiography is Long Walk to Freedom. An abridged addition, Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography is a great resource for classroom use.

South Africa's post-apartheid flag
South Africa's post-apartheid flag

Multimedia.png Video of Nelson Mandela
Multimedia.pngFor autobiographical and related primary source material on Nelson Mandela's experiences as a revolutionary, see The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela, a website from PBS.
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for selections from Nelson Mandela's autobiography.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, July 2008
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, July 2008

Female_Rose.pngHusband and Lover discusses the relationship of Nelson Mandela and Wiinnie Madikizela-Mandela from Frontline's The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela.

Click here for selections from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's memoir, 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 11.18.45 AM.png

1995 Rugby World Cup

Francois Pienaar: When the Whistle Blew, South Africa Changed Forever

Nelson Mandela, the Rugby World Cup and Social Change, from Sport and Development.org
  • Click here for the Invictus movie trailer, a 2009 film staring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, directed by Clint Eastwood, about the South African rugby team and its play in the 1995 Rugby World Cup that was held after the end of apartheid.

Democratic Alliance poster, 2011
Democratic Alliance poster, 2011

primary_sources.PNGConstitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for Nelson Mandela's Inaugural Address (May 10, 1994).


New additons:
Nelson Mandela's Inaugural Address. Retrieved 28 February 2011 from Famous Speech's site: http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/speeches/Nelson_Mandela/index.htm.
The History of Apartheid in South Africa. Retrieved 28 February 2011: http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/apartheid.hist.html.
Apartheid South Africa--History of Apartheid. Retrieved 28 February 2011 from Apartheid South Africa's site: http://www.southafrica.to/history/Apartheid/apartheid.htm.
Apartheid Photos (2009). Retrieved 28 February 2011 from the UN's site: http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/gallery.jsp?query=subject:Apartheid&startat=0&sf.
South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid Building Democracy. Retrieved 28 February 2011 from Overcoming Apartheid's site: http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/.
Nelson Mandela--Memory: Using Memory to Create Social Justice (2011). Retrieved 3 March 2011 from Nelson Mandela's Foundation's site: http://www.nelsonmandela.org/index.php/memory/views/biography.
Mandela's Life and Times (2011). Retrieved 3 March 2011 from BBC's site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12305154.
Internet African History Sourcebook (2007). Retrieved 3 March 2011 from Internet History Sourcebooks Project's site: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/africa/africasbook.html.
Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent. Retrieved 3 March 2011 from University of Wisconsins Digital Collection's site: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/AfricaFocus/.
African Posters (2008). Retrieved 3 March 2011 from Northwestern Univeristy Library's site: http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/africana-posters/index.html.

New image of Nelson Mandela obtained from Wikimedia Commons 28 February 2011.