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Nelson Mandela & South Africa

In the early 1930’s, South Africa emerged from the British Empire into nationhood; from the onset, however, South Africa was undemocratically ruled by a white minority which immediately began to curtail the rights of non-whites. The stripping of the civil rights of non-whites culminated in 1948 with formal implementation of a racial “apartheid,” meaning apartness. Under the constraints of apartheid, non-whites (but especially blacks) were the subject of a systematic program of discrimination. Non-whites were confined to segregated communities, as economic hardships followed, black communities soon turned into slums. Non-whites were forced to use separate public facilities, which were frequently, if not always, inferior to those of their white counterparts. Non-whites were stripped of their rights to vote. Finally, interracial dating and marriages were strictly forbidden. Then, in 1960, the National Party outlawed all opposition groups and as a result many groups and organizations which were opposed to apartheid were forced underground. One such group was the African National Congress which was founded by Nelson Mandela. In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and treason.

Over twenty-five (25) years later, however, increasing international pressure, including harsh economic sanctions from both the United States and the United Nations, forced chance from within the National Party. In 1989, F.W. de Klerk of the National Party was elected president on the platform of apartheid reform. In February 1990, de Klerk legalized opposition parties and freed Mandela; and in the 1992 national election, white South Africans (as the elections were still segregated) voted overwhelmingly to end the apartheid. During the next national election the forty-six (46) year reign of apartheid ended when over twelve million (12,000,000) South Africans (including, for the first time, blacks who makes up nearly 75% of the nation’s population) cast their vote for Nelson Mandela to become the nation’s first black president. Although de Klerk was outvoted by Mandela by nearly four-fold, he retained a position within the transitional government as deputy president, a position which he held until 1996 when a new constitution, which forbid discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, was ratified.

Though South Africa has emerged from the shackles of apartheid, the nation is still gripped with many critical problems including the outbreak of the AIDS virus, a recovery from the economical ruin and abandonment and at the hands of the since lifted economic sanctions whose effects still linger, and ending the self-perpetuating circle of violence which has beset the nation.

By Daniel L. Gordon
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum


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