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The University of Southampton

HIST2082 Nelson Mandela: A South African life

Module Overview

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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Nelson Mandela’s beliefs and actions
  • a variety of primary sources, including memoirs and letters, government and ANC records, newspapers, art and music
  • some of the key events that shaped modern South Africa, such as the 1948 National Party victory and the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse primary and secondary sources and discuss and present your ideas cogently in class discussions and written exercises
  • adopt a clearer approach to concepts that are sometimes difficult to negotiate, such as race, nation and the morality of violence
  • think more critically about the ways that sources are constructed
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • find and analyse primary source materials
  • develop your time management skills
  • debate with others in small and large group discussions
  • develop your communication skills
  • structure and produce coherent pieces of work.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work effectively within set guidelines on how to produce essays at undergraduate level
  • weigh up the relative merits of different ways other historians have approached the topic


Topics to be studied might typically include the following: • The legacy of imperial rule: Mandela and the Xhosa • The formation of the apartheid state: 1948 and the National Party • Non-violence and the Defiance Campaign • Anti-state sabotage: Mandela and Umkhonto we Sizwe • The Commonwealth: Britain and South Africa • Incarceration and the international dimension to the anti-apartheid struggle • Mandela and de Klerk: anatomy of a relationship • Post-1994 reconciliation and the Mandela Presidency • Long Walk to Freedom as a historical text

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Short introductory lectures which may include some group work/participation • Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources – these could be texts, images or objects Learning activities include: • In depth analysis of primary sources • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. This module, like all of the 15 credit History modules offered to second year students, will be research led and it will focus heavily on primary sources. You will study an individual source in depth each week. As such, this module will provide you with a sound preparation for the source-based work undertaken in year 3 during the Special Subject and the dissertation.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Worden, Nigel (2007). The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Apartheid, Democracy. 

Feinstein, Charles (2005). An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development. 

Mandela, Nelson (2003). Long walk to freedom. 

Marks, Shula, and Stanley Trapido (eds) (1987). he Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth-century South Africa. 

Price, Robert (1991). The Apartheid State in Crisis: Political Transformation in South Africa, 1975-1990. 

Dubow, Saul, and Alan Jeeves (eds) (2005). South Africa’s 1940s: Worlds of Possibilities. 

Beinart, William (2001). Twentieth-century South Africa. 

Dubow, Saul (1989). Racial segregation and the origins of apartheid in South Africa. 


Assessment Strategy

Formative assessment includes: • Oral feedback in weekly seminars • Individual tutorials concerning the essay • Feedback from tutors and fellow students on presentations The weekly seminars will provide you with a forum to discuss the primary sources and relate them to the historical context and the historiography. They will also allow for the development of interpersonal skills; through the use of class presentations you will be able to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular subject areas and to enhance your oral communication skills. The essay and exam will test your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, your capacity to deploy interdisciplinary approaches and to develop a coherent written argument. In addition, the source-based focus of the essay and the exam will prepare you for the Special Subject and Dissertation in the third year.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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