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Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1980

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Uncover the history of one of the twentieth century's most contentious and reviled systems of government.

This resource makes available the British government’s files on South Africa under the first thirty years of the apartheid regime. It will be of interest to all students, researchers and teachers of African history, the British Empire, race relations and the Cold War.


Apartheid South Africa provides comprehensive coverage of the British files on the apartheid Governments of South Africa from 1948 onward. These formerly restricted documents, sourced from The National Archives, UK, provide unprecedented levels of detail, with in-depth analysis of events, international reaction and policy dilemmas, accompanied by numerous first-hand accounts and reports.

Responding to apartheid in South Africa posed a challenge to British foreign policy for over forty years, involving policy-makers and diplomats in a complex balancing act. On the one hand, there were strong historic links between the two countries - South Africa had been successively a British colony, a self-governing dominion and (until 1961) a member of the Commonwealth - and British companies and investors were heavily involved in the South African economy. On the other hand, the National Party government elected in 1948, and continuously in power until 1994, presided over a South Africa which became increasingly isolated from post-war western governments and international public opinion.

The collection is available in three sections:

  • Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1966
  • Apartheid South Africa, 1967-1975
  • Apartheid South Africa, 1976-1980

“The National Party government elected in 1948, and continuously in power until 1994, marched South Africa in a policy direction directly at odds with the United Nations, resulting in sanctions and boycotts. Events such as the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto youth revolt in 1976 rendered the policy dilemmas for the international community acute. The release of this FO and FCO archival material shines fascinating light into how the relationship between South Africa, Britain, the Commonwealth and the rest of the world was perceived and managed”. 

Professor Colin Bundy, South African historian and former Director and Principal of SOAS and Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford

Apartheid South Africa is an Archives Direct collection and is cross-searchable with other Archives Direct content. Please see this link for further information.