About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Pressure Builds Up

By Amarnath Singh

Homelands created

Steve Biko

With the black opposition banned, detained or in exile, the decade was one of repressive tolerance, lubricated by relatively high economic growth. Steve Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement filled the political vacuum and symbolised a new phase of struggle against apartheid. The leadership of the Black People's Convention was tried and jailed in 1974 for fomenting student unrest. Biko's death in September 1977 sent shock waves through the land.

Forced removals of blacks from white areas continued, as did black migration to cities.

There were censorship battles with the Publications Control Board. The Schlebusch Commission declared students' union Nusas and the Christian Institute "affected organisations". Television was introduced in SA in 1976.

International pressure against apartheid mounted. SA's pursuit of detente with Africa raised hopes that were not fulfilled.

There were wildcat strikes in Natal and black unions came together as the Federation of SA Trade Unions.

The dominant event of the decade was the student uprising in Soweto and almost all black townships in June 1976, ostensibly against Bantu education and the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, but in reality symbolising general discontent with the system. About 700 were killed in police fire. Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger banned black consciousness organisations in October 1977, a month after the death in detention of Biko.

Coloured schools joined the riots, splitting that community and provoking a crisis between coloureds and government. In 1976, the Theron Commission of inquiry into the position of the coloured people called for greater rights for coloureds.

Prime Minister John Vorster visited Malawi in 1970; Hastings Banda visited SA in 1971. Africa was divided over contact with SA. In 1973 the UN reiterated that SA's presence in South West Africa was unlawful, and recognised Swapo. The 1974 coup in Portugal triggered independence for Angola and Mozambique. Vorster visited Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gabon and Botswana, and stressed SA's commitment to regional peace and growth, sovereignty and non-interference.

Student Revolt

The Transkei became the first "independent" homeland under Kaiser Matanzima in 1976, followed by Bophuthatswana under Lucas Mangope in 1977, Venda under Patrick Mphephu in 1979 and Ciskei under Lennox Sebe in 1980 - entailing the loss of SA citizenship for millions of blacks.

In 1975 SA's man at the UN, Pik Botha, admitted that Pretoria had made mistakes and said change was under way. But SA's intervention in the Angolan civil war in 1975 angered Africa; the UN Security Council condemned it and imposed an arms embargo on SA.

Relations with Lesotho under Leabua Jonathan worsened.

The "Info" scandal, revealed by Judge Mostert, erupted in 1978, when Vorster retired. He was succeeded by P W Botha. The Defence Force played a bigger role in foreign and home affairs. Botha pursued regional economic co-operation and proposed a "constellation of southern African states", but the SADCC, excluding SA, took off instead.

Towards the end of the Seventies, the Wiehahn and Riekert Commissions of inquiry into labour laws and black urbanisation, respectively, recommended reforms - in line with a growing recognition by government that the apartheid system could not hold.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.