Today In History: The United Nations Condemns South African Apartheid
Today in 1962, the UN’s General Assembly adopted a resolution that rejected the South African policy of racial apartheid. The resolution barred member nations from continuing economic or military relationships with the country until the policy was dissolved.
Apartheid was first formally instituted in 1948. It was not dismantled until 1993. The name “apartheid” is derived from an Afrikaans word that means “apartness.”
It was a policy of government-enforced racial segregation meant to subjugate South Africa’s nonwhite majority population to race-based discriminatory policies. Non-whites were forced to live in separate territories, called “Bantustans,” that were typically racked with poverty and its associated dangers. The nation’s wealth was mostly owned by the minority white population.
A 1960 protest at Sharpeville, a Township located near Johannesburg was met with extreme violence by the South African authorities. 69 black protesters were killed and upwards of 180 sustained serious injuries. The incident garnered widespread international scorn but South Africa’s trading partners in the West were slow to sever military and economic ties.
Apartheid was more and more hotly condemned within the United Nations. A UN resolution passed in 1973 called it a “crime against humanity” and South Africa was suspended from the General Assembly the following year.
Apartheid law was slowly winnowed down, through sanctions and sometimes violent protests, until it was finally disbarred. The South African government, under the leadership of President F.W. de Klerk, repealed Apartheid in 1991 and resolved to draft a new constitution for the nation.
In 1993, a new transitional government was approved. It was a racially-inclusive, multi-party democratic system. Nelson Mandela was elected as the new government’s first president. Mandela had spent 27 years languishing in prison with other anti-apartheid agitators, convicted of treason.
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded in 1996, a governmental body that would look into the human rights violations that occurred between 1960 and the day Mandela took office. Offenders were allowed to confess their crimes and request amnesty.
The TRC was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. They heard testimony from more than twenty thousand witnesses from both sides. In 1998, the TRC published a report that roundly condemned all principal political actors under Apartheid, including the opposition, for committing and exacerbating violence. In 2003, the government, under the TRC’s guidance, started granting $4,000 USD reparation payments to Apartheid victims.
Apartheid remains a dark passage in the world’s history. South Africa is today one of the most racially diverse countries in the world, but is still recovering from the decades of racial oppression.