The South African freedom struggle is a compelling story of the sacrifices made by the people in overcoming the oppression of colonialism and apartheid. The freedom struggle of South Africa began soon after the arrival of Dutch settlers in 1652 and continued until 1994.

Did you know?

Nelson Mandela was known as the Black Pimpernel during the South African freedom struggle.

The South African freedom struggle is a fascinating aspect of our history. There are struggle heritage sites all over the country – for example you can follow Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom or visit where Mahatma Gandhi lived while in South Africa.

The South African freedom struggle began when the KhoiKhoi resisted the establishment of a refreshment station at Table Bay by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. But until January 1912, when the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC) was established, the battle against growing oppression was localised. And even then it would remain fairly passive until the advent of apartheid in 1948, which ushered in a period of repression infinitely worse than anything experienced before.

At the behest of young activists like Nelson Mandela, the ANC began to change its direction to a mass-based movement intent on liberation from apartheid. Growing resistance culminated in the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960 in which 69 protestors were killed by police. In panic the government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC and other liberation movements.

The ANC responded by taking the struggle in South Africa underground and establishing an armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), which was at the forefront of the freedom struggle. The government, in turn, tightened its repressive measures and attempted to crush the movement, forcing those leaders who were not incarcerated on Robben Island to flee overseas. With the ANC inactive in the country, movements such as the Black Consciousness Movement grew in popularity, particularly among students.

Student involvement in that movement culminated in the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising. On that day, the youth staged protests against the government's attempts to change the medium of instruction at black schools to Afrikaans. The uprising was violently crushed, with many of the students shot dead by the police. Many who survived left the country to join the struggle. The famous image of a shot Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo during that uprising became the symbol of youth resistance in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the ANC in exile and internal underground structures were able to bring such pressure to bear on the apartheid government during the freedom struggle of South Africa that it unbanned all liberation movements in 1990, freed imprisoned leaders and entered negotiations, which culminated in the first democratic elections being held on 27 April 1994.

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