Apartheid was racial segregation under a system of legislation that began after the National Party gained power in South Africa in 1948. The all-white government enforced race laws that affected every aspect of life for non-white South Africans, including a ban on interracial marriage, the sanctioning of “white-only” jobs, separated living areas and public facilities. The minority (white south africans) were able to control the majority (non-white south africans) because of their use of technology. The Apartheid Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1973, by 91 votes in favour, four against (Portugal, South Africa, the UK and the US), and it declared that apartheid criminal and a violation of  the Charter of the United Nations. In 1966 the General Assembly labelled apartheid a crime against humanity and it was 1984 by the time the Security Council endorsed this determination. Even with the U.N. introducing embargoes on arms and oil, sports and consumer boycotts of South Africa, and other sanctions against loans to or investments in South Africa, its laws remained in effect for the almost 50 years. In 1991, the government of President F.W. de Klerk began to repeal most of the legislation for apartheid.

Key Legal Issues

Apartheid created an issue of political and economic power, using of technology to support it. It took 50 years for the UN and other opposition to end the oppression even though the U.N. annually condemned apartheid by the General Assembly. Sanctions were discussed often, however the in the Security Council, main trading partners of South Africa continually voted against the introduction of mandatory sanctions. The U.N. never took any significant measures to enforce the arms embargo issued in 1977, which was only changed to mentioned computers in 1985. This creates an issue of too much power in the Security Council, and shows the ineffectiveness of U.N. sanctions. The International Criminal Court began in 2002, and can only prosecute crimes committed on or after that date, and so no one was or has been prosecuted for the crime of apartheid.


Nelson Mandela was working as a lawyer in South Africa, and was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities. He was a leader in African National Congress and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Influenced by Marxism, he joined the South African Communist Party (SACP). In association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted in the Rivonia Trial of 1) acts of sabotage with communist party, 2) preparation and 3) use of explosives for acts of violence, and participation in violent revolution and 4) soliciting money for campaign. He found guilty on all four counts and was sentenced to life imprisonment along with 6 other men, one man was only guilty on one count, and one man was acquitted. In the trial, South Africa fought to end antigovernment activity by imprisoning and discrediting leaders of African National Congress, however Mandela presented a powerful case against racist policy, which helped build international pressure to end the regime. He was released from prison 1990 and became the president of South Africa four years later.