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Resistance to Apartheid, Struggle with the United Nations

Sharpeville Massacre, SWAPO, peace talks, International Court of Justice, shootings

Beginning in 1952 the General Assembly of the United Nations took up the issue of South Africa’s racial policies annually. The tone of early UN resolutions and declarations was civil, even conciliatory, reflecting the hope that South Africa might be convinced to reform. The General Assembly at first simply called upon South Africa to recognize its obligations to end racial discrimination under the UN Charter. The assembly subsequently “regretted” South Africa’s refusal to end apartheid.

After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, a UN Security Council resolution blamed South Africa for the shootings, and the UN General Assembly’s first successful sanctions vote against South Africa occurred two years later. South Africa’s unwavering policy of whites-only representation on sports teams resulted in their expulsion from the Olympic Games and a dozen other international sports federations in the 1960s.

After World War II the UN made several attempts to control South Africa’s administration of South-West Africa. The UN General Assembly voted in October 1966 to terminate South Africa’s mandate over South-West Africa, which was renamed Namibia, and established a council to assume responsibility for the territory. South Africa rejected all UN actions and proceeded to integrate the territory into its own economy.

In June 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa’s presence in Namibia was illegal. The situation became critical when the Angola-based South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) stepped up its campaign of guerrilla attacks on targets in Namibia. South Africa responded by building up defenses, attacking Angola, and aiding the rebels who were fighting the Cuban-supported Angolan government. The war continued for almost 20 years until peace talks, sponsored by the United States, resulted in independence for Namibia in 1990. In 1974 South Africa was suspended from the UN General Assembly, and by the 1980s General Assembly resolutions referred to apartheid as a crime against humanity. This was a reflection of growing international opposition to apartheid.

Article key phrases:

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