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

The module examines the system of apartheid in South Africa, the struggle for liberation against white-minority oppression, and the implementation of democracy

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Module code


This module explores and examines the modern history of South Africa.

The module progresses broadly chronologically, and begins in the aftermath of World War II when the Afrikaner National Party (NP) government began extending and implementing institutionalised racial segregation - apartheid. We will study events up to the current Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa.

The main focus of the module is on South African history, but you will develop a deeper understanding of a variety of issues concerning social justice, human rights, and resistance to white-minority rule, using South Africa as a case study.

To fully understand the modern history of South Africa, we will place it within the wider context of international developments such as the Cold War. You will therefore learn how unfolding events (particularly decolonisation and wars of national liberation) across Africa (and further afield) affected the political, social, and economic development of South Africa.

What you will learn

In this module, you will:

  • learn how the white minority government enforced apartheid
  • understand how political expression, particularly via the African National Congress (ANC), progressed from peaceful protest to an armed liberation struggle
  • examine the political, military, and economic responses of the apartheid state
  • gain an insight to the intricacies of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democratic rule
  • assess post-apartheid democratic rule since 1994

By the end of the module, you will:

  • have a detailed understanding of the key events which shaped the economic, political, social and cultural development of South Africa, from apartheid through to democracy
  • develop your critical skills allowing you to identify and debate the challenges, successes and legacies of apartheid
  • be able to evaluate and understand evidence and opposing historical interpretations
  • gain transferable skills such as oral and written communication and group work

Assignments / assessment

The module is 100% coursework made up of the following assignments

  • Essay (30%)
  • Primary source analysis (30%)
  • Exam (40%) 

Teaching methods / timetable

  • Recorded mini-lectures
  • Workshops
  Indicative content
Week 1 The implementation and evolution of the apartheid state (1948 - c.1980)
Week 2 Opposition and resistance. Mass struggle, the Defiance Campaign (1952), and the Freedom Charter (1955)
Week 3 Division and uncertainty. The PAC, the Sharpeville Massacre, and the 'turn to violence'
Week 4 The liberation movements in exile. Survival, diplomacy, and the armed struggle
Week 5 The Black Consciousness Movement and the Soweto Uprising (1976)
Week 6 Global opposition: The Anti-Apartheid Movement
Week 7 The internal struggle and 'peoples power'
Week 8 The crisis of apartheid. Reform, resistance, and the end of minority rule in the 1980s
Week 9 South Africa in transition. Negotiations for a democratic future (1990-1994)
Week 10 The Rainbow Nation?
Week 11 The dream deferred


This module is available on following courses: