Apartheid means ‘apart-hood’ or ‘the state of being apart’ and was the system of racial inequality, segregation and discrimination in South Africa that was started after World War II. It was enforced by the laws of the South African National Party governments from 1948 to 1994. These government officials were white rulers in the nation of South Africa that was a majority of black people and their laws cut the rights of all black citizens so that they were not equal to other citizens in the country.
White supremacy in South Africa continued to segregate the black citizens for over 50 years and came to a peak when the 1913 Land Act was passed. The law forced black citizens to live on special reserves that were set aside for them and made it against the law for them to work as sharecroppers. This caused the formation of the organization called the South African National Congress), who opposed the laws, which became the ANC (African National Congress). Nelson Mandela became the leader of the ANC and he began to fight against the new laws that outlawed interracial marriages and the Population Registration Act of 1950.

The last law classified people by their ‘race’ and then they would be given or refused rights based on that classification. Additional laws were passed requiring ‘non-white’ citizens to carry proof documents and other laws reduced the rights of the various African tribes and their leaders, who had lived in these areas of South Africa for centuries. By 1958, the government leaders removed black citizens from their homes, relocated them to other areas and sold their land for cheap prices to white farmers.


As it is with any movement, resistance to apartheid covered many years and appeared in many forms. Some were peaceful protests, while other situations were violent. By 1952, the ANC organized a protest with the South Indian National Congress to burn their ‘passbooks’. By 1955 groups were gathering to try to bring about equality and they were met with police and government officials that arrested them and they were charged with high treason.

Many groups were attacked and killed by the white police officers and the violence became worse as they tried to enforce the ‘white laws’. Nelson Mandela led many of the protests but was then accused of treason and had to go ‘underground’ to avoid arrest. When the officials did locate him in 1961, he was arrested and thrown into prison. The arrest of Nelson Mandela became an outraged cry and symbol for others to continue the fight. His arrest also brought attention to the condition of Apartheid for the rest of the world.

In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly focused on apartheid and denounced it. By 1976 the UN Security Council voted to impose embargos against the sale of firearms to South Africa. People from all over the world began to join the anti-apartheid movement and to protest the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

The movement was joined by artists, musicians, politicians, humanitarians and groups from every country. By 1985 both the United States and the United Kingdom imposed ‘economic sanctions’ against South Africa, which reduced the amount of trade that they could receive from both countries.

By 1989, the South African government fell to the pressure and began seeking reforms which included getting rid of some of the laws. A new constitution was drawn up to give blacks and other racial groups their freedoms back. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became the popular representative that worked together with the political groups for reform. In 1994, elections were held and, for the first time, there was a nonwhite majority which led to the end of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President in May, 1994.