Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1980

Sources from The National Archives, UK

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

This is an essential resource for the study of the apartheid era in Southern Africa, sourced exclusively from The National Archives UK. It provides unparalleled analysis of South African politics, trade relations, international opinion and humanitarian dilemmas against a backdrop of waning colonialism and mounting world condemnation.

The content spans 30 years, from the election of the National Party in 1948 through to 1980; a period in which South Africa faced increasing international resistance and boycotts, internal strikes and violent demonstrations.

Previously restricted letters, diplomatic dispatches, reports, trial papers, activist biographies and first-hand accounts allow students and researchers to explore in detail the changing relationship of the South African government with its own people and with the wider international community.

Apartheid South Africa, 1948-1980 is part of Archives Direct, a cross-searchable multi-product platform, sourced from The National Archives, UK.

Key Data


  • 1948-1966
  • 1967-1975
  • 1976-1980

Period Covered

  • 1948-1980


  • Embargos against South Africa
  • Expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations
  • Supply of arms and military equipment from Britain
  • Visit of Dr Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State, to Southern African countries
  • Discussions over the nuclear situation in South Africa
  • Repercussions of apartheid on sport, including the Olympic Games
  • Visit of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and his ‘Winds of Change’ speech
  • Reactions of neighbouring African nations to apartheid
  • Angola and the South African Border Wars
  • Black Sash Movement and Communist Party activities
  • Biographies and discussions on ‘90-Day Detainees
  • Treason and Rivonia Trial papers
  • Black Consciousness and the Soweto riots
  • Enquiry into the death of Steve Biko
  • Prison conditions on Robben Island
  • Educational reforms such as the mandatory use of Afrikaans
  • Forced removals from Sophiatown to Soweto and of over 60,000 inhabitants from District Six

Source Archive

  • The National Archives, UK

Material Types

  • British diplomatic dispatches between London and Pretoria and between London and British posts across Africa
  • Biographies of prominent political figures, activists, detainees and victims of apartheid
  • Cuttings, transcriptions and translations of press reports, including many from Afrikaans newspapers
  • Reports detailing visits to South Africa from UK and US politicians and vice versa
  • Letters and telegrams from government departments and officials and from private individuals
  • Minutes of ministerial meetings
  • Annual reports detailing events in South Africa and neighbouring countries during the previous year
  • Political, economic and military analyses
  • Statistical tables
  • Police and embassy investigation reports
  • Published booklets, leaflets, propaganda etc.
  • Maps, including regional and tribal authority areas, mineral-production areas (including gold) and Bantustans

Editorial Board

  • Colin Bundy, Former Director and Principal of SOAS and Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford
  • Peter Limb, Michigan State University
  • Lungisile Ntsebeza, University of Cape Town


  • The development of apartheid
  • International relations
  • Internal unrest
  • Forced removals
  • Bantustans and black 'self-government'
  • The growth of anti-apartheid organisations

Key Features

  • Formerly classified British government documents
  • Available within the cross-searchable Archives Direct platform
  • All printed documents are full-text searchable
  • Follow the course of South Africa’s apartheid policies and associated events through the 1948-1980 interactive chronology
  • View contemporary maps in the gallery
  • Read Professor Colin Bundy’s fascinating essay Awkward Relations, charting the rise and fall of apartheid
  • Popular searches offer quick links to important people, places and topics
  • Browse links to carefully selected websites for further information on South Africa and apartheid.
  • Available within the cross-searchable Archives Direct platform


Extraordinary collection available to students and scholars studying African history, apartheid, international relations, and global politics.

CONTENT: In its entirety, Apartheid South Africa (ASA) will make available British government files from the Colonial, Dominion, and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices spanning the period between 1948 and 1980. ......