By Soop-Mai Tang, Project Assistant


On April 27th 1994, the first democratic and multiracial elections in South Africa marked the end of several decades of a segregationist regime. Apartheid, a political system based on racial discrimination, had been in place since 1950. This policy of racial segregation promoted the so-called superiority of the white ethnic groups not just geographically but also into the social and economic spheres (for example, the country was divided into several zones to which each ethnic group was geographically tied).


The apartheid era

South Africa lived through several colonial periods, starting with the Dutch followed by the English. Following the victory of the National Afrikaans Party in 1948, the country fell under a racist and segregationist regime: apartheid. From then onwards, a political system biased towards the white community, in particular the Afrikaans who represented the largest white ethnic group in the country, was enforced. Moreover, the South African population was structured on skin colour, with the black population at the bottom of the social ladder. Severe laws applied specifically to the ethnic origin of the individual were introduced. As a result, the black population suffered from discrimination in the areas of education, employment and housing. They were stripped of other basic rights and inter-ethnic marriages were banned.


The post-apartheid period

In 1912, the African national Congress (ANC), a political party that would be led by Nelson Mandela, was founded as a political organization of struggle for black rights. Despite numerous measures to put an end to the country’s racial segregation, inequalities persisted and violence continued to rise daily. Soon some of these organisations were banned and Nelson Mandela became the scapegoat of the authorities. In 1963, Mandela found himself condemned to life imprisonment for terrorism. Three decades of anti-apartheid struggle by the ANC and other militant organisations followed.

In 1990, anti-apartheid organisations were made legal and Nelson Mandela freed. Apartheid was abolished in 1991 and 1994 saw the first democratic and multi-racial elections. Nelson Mandela became the first black president and symbolizes freedom and equality in South Africa from then onwards. His government pledges its commitment to the political, economic and social reconstruction of the country.



The road to democracy is not without obstacles. Today, South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy and freedom. The right to vote, access to an education and a job for the black population represent the most significant victories of the end of apartheid. A model of economic and social development, the country, nevertheless, faces huge challenges, particularly economic and social. Persistent high unemployment, inequalities, poverty and crime are the current difficulties with which the citizens are confronted every day.