In 1948, Daniel Malan’s National Party took power in South Africa. Malan’s election victory over the Jan Smuts-led United Party and Labour Party alliance was only a slender one, and few of the National Party’s opponents could have envisaged that it would remain in power until 1994. Although racist laws had been introduced in South Africa before 1948, the period between 1948 and 1994 saw the extension and formalisation of the apartheid state of segregation and limited opportunity for black Africans. The fight against apartheid was conducted by forces that were limited in resources and often fragmented ideologically and tactically. Hampered as it was by state repression – including its being banned outright by the government in 1960 – the African National Congress (ANC) was at the heart of much of this struggle.
However, the histories of the ANC, of the apartheid state and resistance to this more broadly, and of the dismantling of this state from 1994 onwards, are complex, particularly for those who have never studied Africa before. This module will examine the history of modern South Africa through the lens of one key individual at the centre of the anti-apartheid struggle and of post-apartheid political life: Nelson Mandela. The aim is not to provide a completist account of Mandela’s life, but the module will run in a broadly chronological fashion, examining some of Mandela’s key political experiences. The module will draw heavily on the vast array of primary evidence available to the modern historian, from Mandela’s own writings, to government reports, contemporary newspaper articles and books, and popular culture such as art and music. Besides providing an introduction to modern South African history, therefore, the module will give you the opportunity to examine at first hand the primary documents that helped shape this history, and will get you to think about the ways that political motives and other forms of bias shape contemporaneous documents and historical memory. The module will also get you to consider different historiographical approaches to this topic.