Modern South Africa: Apartheid, African liberation and democracy module (HY41053)

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Module code


  • Level 4
  • Semester 1
  • History - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%


The module will allow students to explore and examine the modern history and politics of South Africa since 1948.

The module begins in the aftermath of World War II when the new National Party (NP) government set about extending and implementing institutionalised racial segregation under the system known as apartheid, and encompasses themes right through to the current Presidency of Jacob Zuma. Drawing upon a wealth of literature and sources from history and politics, students will explore a wide variety of themes, which will allow for a critical assessment of the political development of South Africa. Furthermore, South Africa in the twentieth century cannot be fully understood without placing it within the wider context of international developments such as the Cold War; students will therefore explore how unfolding events (particularly decolonisation and wars of liberation) across Africa and further afield served to affect South Africa.

The module will progress broadly chronologically, with themes including: how the white minority government enforced apartheid; the ways in which African political expression, particularly via the African National Congress (ANC) progressed from peaceful protest, through to a violent, armed liberation struggle; the political, military and economic responses of the apartheid state; the intricacies of South Africa's transition from apartheid to democratic rule; and an assessment of post-apartheid democratic rule since 1994.

Topics include:

  • South Africa's historical background: Diamonds, gold and war
  • The establishment of the apartheid state 1948-1980s
  • African political opposition: the 1955 Freedom Charter to the Rivonia Trial, 1964
  • The 1976 Soweto Uprising
  • South Africa's internal struggle
  • The ANC in exile and the progress of the armed struggle
  • The apartheid state's responses to political opposition
  • South Africa in transition, 1990-1994
  • Mandela's rainbow nation
  • Mbeki's African Renaissance
  • Mbeki's demise and the rise of Zuma


Dr Matt Graham


The module will be delivered through one 2 hour weekly lecture/seminar and 1 hour session for presentations and discussions over 11 weeks, which will incorporate a mix of mini-lectures, and student focused seminars consisting of structured tasks for group and individual work. These will allow for students to enhance a range of skills, including research, analysis and presentation.

Each week will explore a single specific theme (see module details). In addition, extra contact time will be offered for a discussion of the assessed essays where feedback will be given on a one to one basis.


This module is assessed as follows:

  • Essay 1 (3,500 words) (35%)
  • Essay 2 (3,500 words) (35%)
  • Independent research project 30%


Indicative Reading

  • J. Barber., South Africa in the Twentieth Century, A Political History: In Search of a Nation State. (Oxford, 1999) 
  • H. Giliomee., The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. (London, 2003)
  • A. Guelke., Rethinking the Rise and Fall of Apartheid: South Africa and World Politics. (Basingstoke, 2005)
  • R. Ross., A Concise History of South Africa, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2009)
  • W. Beinart., Twentieth-century South Africa. (Oxford, 1994)
  • R. Davenport and C. Saunders., South Africa: A Modern History. (Fifth Edition, Basingstoke, 2000)
  • T. Lodge., Black Politics in South Africa since 1945. (London, 1983)
  • S. Johnson (ed.)., South Africa: No Turning Back. (Bloomington, 1989)
  • N. Mandela., Long Walk to Freedom. (London, 1995)
  • A. Sparks., Tomorrow is another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Negotiated Revolution. (London, 1996)

Access the online reading list system

Module Aims

This module aims to give students a clear understanding of South Africa's historical and political trajectory from 1948 to the present. Students will develop a deeper knowledge of the system of apartheid, its place within the international system, the evolution of African protest against white minority rule, and the progress of post-apartheid rule since 1994 under the ANC.

Intended learning outcomes

  • To introduce to students to a diverse literature, and the ability to critically evaluate fiercely contested academic interpretations and explanations for the events addressed within the module, including from other disciplines.
  • The ability to present arguments and debates to fellow students and to defend intellectual positions.
  • The ability to work both individually and groups in set tasks, including designing and presenting seminars, and the capacity to identify and react appropriately to a large amount of written material.
  • The ability to work closely and critically with a wide-range of source materials including government documents, pamphlets, local and international newspapers, and film resources.