The focus of my research in South Africa was centered around the resistance to apartheid. This culminated in my capstone project, a workbook for teachers titled The Rainbow Revolution. This workbook breaks down the resistance that brought down apartheid in South Africa into 10 categories, including resistance through religious organizations, music, boycotts, and economics. By focusing on how people resisted apartheid, students learn not just about the diversity of how apartheid was brought down, but also about how these same tactics have been used throughout world history as forms of resistance to oppression. Students can also learn about the diverse ways that they can bring about change in their communities and in the world through these tactics and how they have been used in the past.
It came out of a need in both American and South African secondary school History classrooms for a resource that conveys the importance of the diversity of the anti-apartheid movement and the broader theme of helping students learn how to create change in linking the past with the present and future.
In 2012, I spent five months in South Africa as a Distinguished Fulbright Teacher from the United States. I had been interested in and teaching about 20th century South African history in my World History and World Cultures classes at Bellows Falls Union High School in Vermont for years. The Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching program provided me the unique opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of South African history and its importance in the world.
Hosted by the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, I was able to study, research, and work with experts, professors, teachers, and students to further my understanding of South African history, specifically the apartheid era. While in South Africa, I attended university courses, visited historical sites around the country, visited numerous primary and secondary schools, and gave several presentations on various historical and educational topics to everyone from university students to History teachers, including even primary school students. I worked closely with both the Education and History departments on campus, as well as with other professors, museum curators and educational directors, historians, local history teachers, community activists, and local South Africans to try and understand its complex history and its role in world history.
The focus of my research in South Africa was centered around the resistance to apartheid. I focused on the various tactics, strategies, and ways that individual people, groups, and organizations, both within and outside of South Africa, resisted and opposed the apartheid regime. The anti-apartheid movement was multifaceted, involving boycotts, marches, hunger strikes, music, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, international sanctions, divestment, labor strikes, and student protests. It involved both violent and non-violent methods, and was active not only in South Africa, but also on the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. It involved a diverse array of participants which included both black and white South Africans, Afrikaners and English-speaking whites, Xhosa and Zulu black Africans, Indian and “Coloured” South Africans, Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, students and the elderly, the free and the imprisoned, the exiled and the banned, communists and capitalists, mine workers and newspaper editors, and so many more. I wanted to study and research how the anti-apartheid movement was being taught in schools throughout South Africa, including its coverage in the curriculum, how teachers taught this era, and how students are trying to make sense of it.
The broader connections I focused on were the numerous ways that people resist and try to create change. I have been interested in this in many historical eras, including resistance and dissent to Hitler and the Nazi regime, the Soviet Union and the satellite states of Eastern and Central Europe, the Chinese Communist Party over the last 30 years, and in numerous other areas of the world. I am interested in resistance and dissent because many students that I work with tend to think that violence is the only way to create change, and that is what they resort to as the only solution to any problem. In my experience, when students think of non-violence, they tend to regard the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as anomalies whose tactics wouldn’t be successful in our modern world. There are endless examples of ordinary people standing up for what they believe in, and risking their lives in doing so, and these courageous stories need to be told more frequently because it can provide students with alternatives to violence and numerous ways that change can be brought about. These stories can empower students to see not only that they can play an active role in creating change in their community, country, and world, but also the various strategies and tactics that they can utilize to bring about this desired change.
This classroom resource booklet came out of a need in both American and South African secondary school History classrooms for a resource that conveys the importance of the diversity of the anti-apartheid movement and the broader theme of helping students learn how to create change in linking the past with the present and future. Providing students with an understanding of the many ways that people have courageously resisted injustice and oppression provides them with options when thinking how to react to a system of injustice around the world, in their country, or even in their school. It empowers students will the knowledge and skills to analyze a situation, think about their skills and abilities, and then decide as to what the best way they can actively work to create change.
With one of the most global and diverse revolutions in history, resistance to apartheid South Africa offers opportunities to learn about the multitude of ways people can effectively change a system of oppression and injustice.
HOW TO USE
This educational resource booklet covers the 20th century global resistance against enforced racial segregation, discrimination, and oppression in South Africa. It is intended for use by high school History teachers and students, not merely when covering the apartheid era in South Africa, but more importantly when covering the broader theme of teaching resistance and change.
This resource works best when teachers selectively use the sections that fit in best with the content and curriculum that they are covering to make global connections. It is not designed as a curriculum on teaching 20th century South African history or the apartheid era as it does not include the basic aspects of how and why apartheid came into effect. This is meant to complement other educational resources to aid in the teaching about apartheid and the broader theme of resistance and change.
Each chapter includes an introduction, a timeline, and examples of some of the main individuals, groups, and events that fall under the chapter’s main topic. At the end of each chapter is a section entitled “Historical Connections,” providing examples from throughout the world where these same tactics and strategies were effectively used throughout the 20th century, as well as a section containing discussion questions to use with students in a classroom setting. At the end of the booklet, there is a vocabulary section, a resource section with books, films/documentaries, and websites that teachers and students can use to further learn about apartheid South Africa, and a selection of assignments and activities that can be used with students in a classroom setting.
Please note that this is not designed as a complete list of all of the individuals and organizations who courageously resisted apartheid, let alone all of the tactics and strategies that were used to bring about its demise. It is merely an introduction and an overview including some of the most important individuals, organizations, and strategies that were used both in South Africa and abroad. This booklet is not designed to be a complete and thorough description of all those who fought against apartheid, rather as a starting point for understanding the diversity of the resistance that collectively played a part in forcing the apartheid government to the negotiating table.
While much of the world only came to understand the true evils of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s through an outpouring of music, movies, books, and media coverage, the struggle to end the enforced racial segregation, discrimination, and oppression began even before apartheid formally came into effect in 1948. From the late 1800s, individuals and groups courageously fought against this system of white supremacy until its ultimate demise in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president in South Africa’s history.
The resistance to apartheid in South Africa was unique for many reasons. First of all, it was a truly global campaign, involving individuals and organizations not just within South Africa and the African continent, but throughout the world in a way that few other issues have ever been able to accomplish. In the view of Connie Field, producer/director of the documentary Have You Heard From Johannesburg?, it “historically was the most successful liberation movement to engage the rest of the world.” Field further pointed out that the anti-apartheid movement was “the most globalized human rights campaign” in history. American theologian Walter Wink agreed, stating that it was “probably the largest grassroots eruption of diverse nonviolent strategies in a single struggle in human history.”
Secondly, the anti-apartheid movement stands out amongst other revolutions and resistance movements due to its diversity. Desmond Tutu has referred to South Africa as “the rainbow nation” due to its ethnic and religious diversity, and similarly, the anti-apartheid movement can be viewed as a rainbow due to its diversity. This “rainbow resistance” was a worldwide movement that included people from various nations, religions, languages, ethnic groups, ages, and backgrounds. Too often the anti-apartheid movement is oversimplified into being purely a movement of the African National Congress (ANC) or even just Nelson Mandela. This is not only inaccurate, but discredits the actions of millions of courageous individuals around the world who fought to make South Africa free. What brought down apartheid was truly a rainbow of resistance.
Nelson Mandela, the icon of the struggle, realized what a unique victory this movement had brought about. During his acceptance speech at the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, he described the victory over apartheid as “one of the outstanding human victories of our century.” It was not just a success of South Africa or the global anti-apartheid movement, but of humankind.
The struggle to end apartheid serves to inspire and remind us of the incredible power, determination, and perseverance that people have to oppose, resist and change even the most oppressive, authoritarian, and tyrannical governments. It was individual people from all over the world who brought about the end of apartheid, and this resource booklet is a testament to them. May their courage and resolve be a model to all of us that we can emulate over and over again to bring about a more just and fair world.
Please contact me if you are interested in this booklet and all resources that are part of this project.