“Opposition to apartheid was inside as well as outside Africa.” Explain.

“Opposition to apartheid was inside as well as outside Africa.” Explain.  ©

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1991. It was opposed inside South Africa as well as outside South Africa.

Opposition Inside South Africa

Inside South Africa, opposition to the system was difficult. Anyone who objected – including whites –was accused of being a communist and was severely punished under the Suppression of Communism Act. Africans were forbidden to strike, and their political party, the African National Congress (ANC), was helpless. In spite of this, protests did take place.

  • Chief Albert Luthuli, the ANC leader, organized a protest campaign in which black Africans stopped work on certain days. In 1952 Africans attempted a systematic breach of the laws by entering shops and other places reserved for whites. Luthuli was deprived of his chieftaincy and put in jail for a time, and the campaign was called off.
  • In 1955 the ANC formed a coalition with Asian and coloured groups, and at a massive open-air meeting at Kliptown (near Johannesburg), they just had time to announce a freedom charter before police broke up the crowd. The charter soon became the main ANC programme. It began by declaring: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.’
  • Church leaders and missionaries, both black and white spoke against apartheid.
  • Later the ANC organised other protest including 1957 bus boycott until fares were reduced.
  • Protest, reached a climax in 1960 when a huge demonstration took place against the pass laws at Sharpeville. Police fired on the crowd, killing 67 Africans and wounding many more. After this 15 000 Africans were arrested. This was an important turning point in the campaign: until then most or the protest had been non-violent; but this brutal treatment by the authorities convinced many black leaders that violence could only be met with violence.
  • A small action group of the ANC, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), or MK, was launched; Nelson Mandela was a prominent member. They organized a campaign of sabotaging strategic targets. But the police soon clamped down, arresting most of the black leaders, including Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben island.
  • In 1976, when the Transvaal authority announced that Afrikaans (the language spoken by whites of Dutch descent) was to be used in black African schools, massive demonstrations took place. Police opened fire, killing at least 200 black Africans. This time the protest did not die down; they spread over the whole country. Again government responded with brutality: over the next six months a further 500 Africans were killed.

Opposition outside South Africa

Outside South Africa there was opposition to apartheid from the rest of the Commonwealth. The world was horrified by the Sharpeville massacre. At the 1961 Commonwealth Conference, criticism of South Africa was intense, and many thought the country would be expelled. In the end Verwoerd withdrew South Africa’s application for continued membership and it ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth.

The UN and OAU:

The United Nations and the Organization of African Unity condemned apartheid and were particularly critical of the continued South African occupation of South West Africa. The UN voted to place an economic boycott on South Africa (1962), but this proved useless because not all member states supported it. Britain, the USA, France, West Germany and Italy condemned apartheid in public, but continued to trade with South Africa. Among other things, they sold South Africa massive arms supplies, apparently hoping that it would prove to be a bastion against the spread of communism in Africa.



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