1994 – End of Apartheid

Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election was the result of decades of massive popular resistance within South Africa supported by tireless, concerted and powerful pressure on South Africa’s apartheid regime from the outside. Not only did it end white rule in Africa, it was also a significant victory for what is arguably one of the world’s biggest and most influential international civil society movements.

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination that intensified in South Africa between 1948 and 1991. Formally implemented by the National Party from 1948 (but with many legislative precursors), the system was opposed from the outset by the African National Congress and later the Pan Africanist Congress.

Resistance to Apartheid came to head in the 1970s, with the 1976 killing of student protesters in Soweto galvanising resistance and international solidarity. By the 1980s the resistance was unstoppable, uniting students, labour movements, faith-based groups, musicians and artists.

Meanwhile, the international anti-apartheid network connected thousands of solidarity organisations in more than 100 countries – and received backing from the UN with its Special Committee Against Apartheid.

This global movement campaigned and coordinated to make it clear that any links with South Africa were unethical – be they academic, travel, sport, banking, or trade in products such as gold, oil, wine and fruit. In the US, the campaign was strong enough to overcome a Reagan veto and approve an anti-Apartheid act in 1986.

A strong presence of exiles and a large diaspora also helped underscore the role of the liberation movements in the ultimate downfall of apartheid.

The number of people that participated in the anti-apartheid movement, its international reach and its ultimate success, makes it one of the most influential social movements of the post-war era. Some argue that, along with Amnesty International, it helped propel the issue of human rights into international public consciousness.

Its impact was not limited to South Africa: it created international networks, organizations and collective action that made – and still make – an impact on national as well as international politics.

For example, the mobilization of civil society around the world in response to globalization and political institutions such as the WTO, IMF and the World Bank has historical links to post-war international politics, of which the anti-apartheid movement was a key part. Movements, networks and types of actions developed during the anti-apartheid struggle live on, making the anti-apartheid movement an important strand of DNA in today’s global civil society.