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Political and Social Movements

Apartheid

What was the antiapartheid movement?

It was an international movement to throw out the decades-old system of racial segregation in South Africa. (The word apartheid means “separateness” in the South African language of Afrikaans.) Under apartheid, which was formalized in 1948 by the Afrikaner Nationalist Party, minority whites were given supremacy over nonwhites. The system further separated nonwhite groups from each other so that mulattoes (those of mixed race), Asians (mostly Indians), and native Africans were segregated. The policy was so rigid that it even separated native Bantu groups from each other. Blacks were not allowed to vote, even though they were and are the majority population. Apartheid was destructive to the society as a whole and drew protest at home and abroad. But the South African government adhered to the system, claiming it was the only way to keep peace among the country’s various ethnic groups. In 1961 the government even went so far as to withdraw from the British Commonwealth in a dispute over the issue.

Protesters against apartheid staged demonstrations and strikes, which sometimes became violent. South Africa grew increasingly isolated as countries opposing the system refused to trade with the apartheid government. The no-trade policy had been urged by South African civil rights leader and former Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu (1931-), who led a nonviolent campaign to end apartheid and in 1984 won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts. During the 1980s the economic boycott put pressure on the white minority South African government to repeal apartheid laws. It finally did so, and in 1991 the system of segregation was officially abolished.

White South African leader F. W. de Klerk (1936-), who was elected in 1989, had been instrumental in ending the apartheid system. In April 1994 South Africa held the first elections in which blacks were eligible to vote. Not surprisingly, black South Africans won control of Parliament, which in turn elected black leader Nelson Mandela (1918-) as president; de Klerk was retained as deputy president. The two men won the Nobel peace prize in 1993 for their efforts to end apartheid and give all of South Africa’s peoples full participation in government. In 1996 the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel headed by Desmond Tutu and charged with investigating the political crimes committed under apartheid, began work. Its investigations continued in 1999, with many findings proving controversial.



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