South Africa



Join Active Minds as we explore the history of South Africa, its struggle with Apartheid, and its journey to rejoin the international community since Apartheid's end in 1994. We will discuss the role of immigration/colonialism, Nelson Mandela, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other important aspects of this story. We will end with a look at the current challenges and opportunities for this important country.

Key Lecture Points

  • South African Apartheid finds its roots in the colonial era, when whites from the Netherlands and Britain established settlements in Southern Africa beginning in the 17th century.  The colonization of South Africa established the racial and socio-economic hierarchy that plagued the country during the apartheid era.
  • The Apartheid era in South Africa (1948-1994) was a time of brutal racial segregation aimed at maintaining the dominance of white South Africans of European descent over non-white South Africans (black and “Indian”).  Struggle and sacrifice by oppressed South Africans combined with international pressure and eventual government capitulation ended the apartheid era in 1994.  The end of apartheid was marked by the election of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa.
  • Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa has been grappling with its legacy and dealing with new and pressing issues.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that worked from 1995-1998 was an important step towards uniting a racially divided society.  Although the TRC’s work was groundbreaking, many argue that blacks still suffer from the economic disparities engendered by apartheid.  That said, the TRC’s success has served as a model for other divided nations.
  • Additionally, South Africa has the highest AIDS infection rate in the world, leaving many orphans to raise themselves.  This devastating epidemic will impact the future of the country.
  •  South Africa is a country rich in natural resources and economic opportunity.    It is the largest economy in Africa but it is still recovering from the global recession.  Its challenges include an unemployment rate of 25%, a sharp production decline in its mining sector, rising energy costs and a high rate of violent crime.  There is growing public disillusionment and frustration because of President Zuma’s inability to address the country’s economic problems and the latest corruption scandal surrounding him.
  • South Africa was the focus of international attention when Nelson Mandela died December 5, 2013. South Africans celebrated the life and mourned the death of the man who changed the course of his country’s history and who was a father figure to his people.  Leaders and dignitaries from more than 100 countries attended his memorial service.
  • Elections will be held May 2014—the first time the ANC will go to the voters without Mandela’s presence and moral authority.

Exploration Questions

  • How is the history of Apartheid continuing to affect life and politics in South Africa?
  • What are the economic challenges South Africa faces?  What is the lasting legacy of Nelson Mandela?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever been to South Africa? Other countries in Africa? What has been the impact of colonialism on these countries?
  • Do you think Mandela was a great leader? Why? What do you remember most about him?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Bay Back Books, 1995. 656 pages. Written five years after his release from prison, Mandela tells his own life story, a life so inextricably linked with the struggles of South Africans to end apartheid.
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  • Mandela, Nelson, Barack Obama. Conversations with Myself  Picador, 2011. 480 pages.  This book draws from Mandela’s personal journals, letters written from prison and conversations with friends to give insight into the man who is an inspiration to the world.
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  • Crais, Clifton, Thomas V. McClendon.  The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics.  Duke University Press, 2013. 606 pages. This book is a guide to the country’s politics, culture, history and the challenges of the future.
    Click here to order