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South Africa: Apartheid to Democracy: Overview

MAP of South Africa

Introductory Apartheid Reading



A policy of apartheid ("separateness") is adopted when the National Party (NP) takes power under Daniel Malan; the policy is continued by his successors Johannes Strijdom 1954–58, Hendrik Verwoerd 1958–66, B. J. Vorster 1966–78, and P. J. Botha 1978–89.


The entire population is classified by race; the Group Areas Act segregates blacks and whites; the ANC responds with a campaign of civil disobedience.


70 black demonstrators are killed at Sharpville; the ANC is banned.


South Africa becomes a republic and leaves the Commonwealth. Charles R. Swart steps down as governor-general and is named state president.


ANC leader Nelson Mandela is sentenced to five years in prison, later revised to life imprisonment.


Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd is assassinated and is succeeded in office by Johannes B. Vorster.


South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard performs world's first heart transplant.


Parliament passes Black States Constitution Act.


South African army starts recruiting blacks into its service.


Violent racial riots erupt in the black township of Soweto and are put down after much bloodshed. Transkei becomes the first "independent" homeland.


The black activist leader Steve Biko dies in police custody. Bophuthatswana is granted "independence."


Pieter W. Botha replaces Johannes Vorster as prime minister. Conservative leader C. P. Mulder is disgraced in "information scandal."


Venda is granted "independence."


Ciskei is granted "independence."


New constitution adopts state presidential form of government; office of prime minister is abolished; Pieter W. Botha is elected first president under the new constitution; separate houses of parliament are established for "coloureds" and Indians. Bishop Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


President Pieter W. Botha announces limited reform of apartheid, including repeal of the Mixed Marriage Act and the Immorality Act and amendment of the Prohibition of Political Interference Act. Continued racial violence forces the government to ban press and television coverage of anti-apartheid demonstrations. United States announces limited sanctions against South Africa.


Military coup topples government in Transkei.


Military coup in Bophuthatswana is crushed by Pretoria. Government announces new curbs on 17 leading black opposition groups. South Africa celebrates the 500th anniversary of the landing of Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias at the Cape of Good Hope.


President Pieter W. Botha suffers stroke and is incapacitated; following long power struggle Botha resigns; Frederik de Klerk is elected National Party leader and president. Amenities Act is repealed, and beaches are opened to all races. Johannesburg, East London, Durban, and other cities desegregate buses and pools.


ANC leader Nelson Mandela is released from prison.


A referendum by white voters overwhelmingly approves the government's plan to remove apartheid.


Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk are jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


South Africa holds its first fully inclusive multiracial elections, with Nelson Mandela elected president. Frederik de Klerk becomes a vice president.


The new constitution is fully instituted. Frederik de Klerk and the cabinet resign the day after the constitution is approved.



Brief Facts about South Africa

South Africa: At-A-Glance


Official Name:

Republic of South Africa (Republiek van Suid-Afrika; IRiphabliki yase Ningizimu Afrika)




54,841,552 (July 2017 est.)
Note: Estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected

Area Comparison:

Slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Head of Government:

President Cyril Ramaphosa (since 15 February 2018)

Chief of State:

President Cyril Ramaphosa (since 15 February 2018)




31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 31 May 1961 (republic declared) 27 April 1994 (majority rule)

Date of Constitution:

10 December 1996; this new constitution was certified by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996, was signed by then President MANDELA on 10 December 1996, and entered into effect on 4 February 1997


Rand (ZAR)


$736.3 billion (2016 est.)
Note: Data are in 2016 US dollars


Protestant 36.6% (Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%), Catholic 7.1%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1% (2001 est.)

Ethnic Groups:

Black African 80.2%, white 8.4%, colored 8.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5%
Note: Colored is a term used in South Africa, including on the national census, for persons of mixed race ancestry (2014 est.)

Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Citation Information

"South Africa: At-A-Glance." World Geography and Culture Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 6 Mar. 2018. < M0019847&SingleRecord=True>.

Starting a Research Project

First steps to starting a research project:

  1. open Noodletools (If you cannot remember how to access Noodletools see Ms. Bogas)
  2. create a project in Noodletools (check to see if your teacher wants you to share it with them) for citations and notecards

By entering all your sources into Noodletools as you do your research, you will avoid the dangers of plagiarism when you go to write and submit your project!

  1. evaluate potential sources
  2. get your feet wet by looking in reference resources to gain an overview of the topic
  3. start creating your list of keywords to help with finding information elsewhere
  4. incorporate primary source material

References sources are a type of secondary source.

 The information provided is usually quite broad, such as a subject summary or overview. 

Examples include:

  •  Encyclopedias
  •  Dictionaries
  •  Almanacs

Need Help?

If you have any questions or any suggestions please contact Ms. Bogas - I'm excited to help you, and I love a good hunt!   OR  925-283-2101 ext. 3226