Resistance and Anti-Apartheid Movements

All throughout colonialism and apartheid, South Africans opposed the unequal racist treatment done to them by whites. Even though there was always resistance to the horrible actions done and policies imposed by whites, the 1970s was a period of general resistance of apartheid by South Africans.

This picture depicts a woman of color standing up to a military or government official, a scene common during the apartheid rule. Military equipment on the common street shows the seriousness and violence of the military in making sure that apartheid was properly adhered to and carried out at all times. However, the woman shaking her fists gives a glimpse of hope into the fight against and freedom from apartheid that eventually succeeded. “Apartheid in South Africa: History, People, Events.” School Worker Helper. May 27, 2011. <

Strikes started by African factory workers fought for higher wages, and groups like Black Consciousness attempted to improve the morale, pride, and self-esteem of Africans and were a source of more unrest among the black population. The pinnacle of the 1970s’ resistance movements came in 1976 when students in the Soweto township marched against the institution and teaching of Afrikaans in schools. The brutality of apartheid police was surely shown as many South Africans were arrested, beaten, tortured, and killed. The following link contains a video expressing the views of a student who was interviewed after he participated in the Soweto Uprisings. In the video, he describes the revolt, and the reporter reveals the realities of the police system under apartheid.

Soweto Township Revolts

Internationally, the apartheid movement drew criticism and cultural bans and economic sanctions were imposed on South Africa. Help was given by neighboring countries to the anti-apartheid liberation movements, which showed that support for white rule in Africa was declining. When apartheid leaders in South Africa attempted to reduce international criticisms and sanctions, the liberation movements became more influential. Solidarity of the anti-apartheid movement was furthered by purely “beat-around-the-bush” reforms that apartheid government officials claimed actually gave more equality (less inequality) to blacks, but they were merely just that—claims. These reforms did not give much power, if any, to black South Africans, and were even opposed by blacks because the policies were obviously not intended to promote the livelihood of blacks! Important gains were made in the fight against apartheid after pressures from abroad to change policies.

Unity among blacks in South Africa proliferated and solidified and posed real threats to white domination of every aspect of South African life. Even a genre of music was formed to help unify the anti-apartheid movement. This form of music was aptly called anti-apartheid music, and popular artists that achieved international success and fame included the likes of Miriam Makeba,  Hugh Masekela, and other artists in different musical genres of the time period. Most music under apartheid chronicled the utter disparity between life and working conditions of whites and blacks and the general racism and discrimination against blacks under apartheid. Masekela’s song, “Bring Him Back Home,” also fought for the release of Nelson Mandela and eventually helped Mandela garner support for his presidency in 1994. Music was very much affected by apartheid’s overreaching impact on South African life.

Apartheid eventually crumbled as a result of economic sanctions that isolated South Africa, general economic decline as massive amounts of international capital fled from the country, and inner, infrastructural turmoil among the black population in South Africa. Global support for the end of apartheid encouraged more of these anti-apartheid actions that became increasingly detrimental for the South African economy. The anti-apartheid movement used news media and popular culture, such as music, to create more opposition towards apartheid. Change in political leadership in the late 1980s offered hope for more equal and integrationist policies supported by the new South African government. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and in 1994 he became president after winning the first multi-racial democratic elections in South Africa’s history.


“Reigniting the Struggle – The 1970s through the Release of Nelson Mandela.” South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. Michigan State University African Studies Center. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <>.

Soweto Township Video Citation:

“Apartheid, A Look Back (part 2)- YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 24 July 2008. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>.

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