Some are too young to remember Apartheid in South Africa. Others may not know exactly what it was. When I was young and politically active, the fight against Apartheid was something that engaged me. I was a member of the Joint Council for Southern Africa (now the Joint Council for Africa). Forms of action to boycott South African goods were part of what we did. I still remember when we went to the shops to stick labels saying “Boycott South Africa” on all the cans of canned fruit that came from South Africa. It actually helped that most shops eventually did not carry South African goods.
Apartheid a holdover from Hitler’s ideology
Apartheid means to separate. In this case, it was people of different “race” who were to be separated. South Africa is naturally blessed with large natural resources, which meant that white Europeans lived a life of luxury there, while big capital from Europe exploited the country’s natural resources.
The whites (mostly from England and the Netherlands) were in the minority in South Africa. In 1948, the first Apartheid laws were introduced by the ruling party “Nationalist Party”. The laws are a set of different laws that have the purpose of separating the races from each other. The basic idea was that God’s chosen race (the whites) were superior to other races. Actually the same as Hitler’s Nazi party maintained.
The first laws divided humans into 4 races. These 4 races were to live separately from each other. This led to millions of Africans being forcibly relocated and living cramped, impoverished conditions. The white ruling minority lived in the best areas with their huge estates and wealth.
Inter-racial marriage and sexual intercourse between people of different races were also banned.
Laws that divided the people by race were also introduced in all public facilities. Own buses for Africans, other and far better buses for the whites. Benches reserved for whites etc were part of everyday life because of these laws. Of course, there were also separate hospitals for whites and others and far worse for the other groups.
A set of laws was also created to prevent political opposition and strengthen the Nationalist party’s position. The Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC) were banned. To strengthen the white Nationalist Party, it was also forbidden to have members of several races in the same party. Thus they prevented a coalition between, for example, Africans and Indians. All resistance to Apartheid was banned, including passive resistance.
Nelson Mandela and the ANC
In 1963, Nelson Mandela was arrested along with most other ANC leaders. Nelson Mandela was accused of high treason and sabotage. Mandela believed he was going to receive the death penalty and pleaded guilty to the charges. Mandela pleaded guilty in order to be able to explain in court why he had started armed struggle. The speech is considered Mandela’s perhaps most important speech.
Nelson Mandela did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. Which led to him being in prison for 27 years. In 1990 he was released.
The release of Nelson Mandela came about for two reasons. South Africa faced increasing international condemnation for its apartheid policies. In addition, younger and more reform-friendly people gradually joined the Nationalist Party. Some of the Apartheid laws were changed and some removed. But in the end there was no way out. The system of separating people by race collapsed.
Nelson Mandela quickly became a unifying symbol for the African majority. The ANC again became a legal political party and negotiations between Nelson Mandela and President Fredrik De Klerk began in 1991. The negotiations led to free elections being held in South Africa. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president.
For their work, both Nelson Mandela and Fredrik De Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993
International pressure benefited
Nelson Mandela was always aware that international pressure on South Africa was important. The process could quickly have ended in a far more harrowing settlement than it did. Nelson Mandela’s ability to gather and forgive will be remembered.
For me, it was a small confirmation that the little notes we hung on South African tins actually had a use. A small contribution to a big cause.