Campaigning against apartheid: The rise, fall and legacies of the South Africa United Front 1960-1962

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    The international struggle against apartheid that emerged during the second half of the twentieth century made the system of legalised racial oppression in South Africa one of the world’s great moral causes. Looking back at the anti-apartheid struggle, a defining characteristic was the scope of the worldwide efforts to condemn, co-ordinate, and isolate the country. In March 1961, the international campaign against apartheid achieved its first major success when Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd chose to withdraw South Africa from the Commonwealth following vocal protests at the Heads of State Summit held in London. As a consequence, it appeared albeit briefly, that external pressure would effectively serve as a catalyst for achieving far-reaching and immediate political change in South Africa. The global campaign, centred on South Africa remaining in the Commonwealth, was the first of its kind launched by South Africa’s national liberation movements, and signalled the beginning of thirty years of continued protest and lobbying. The contributions from one organisation that had a role in launching and co-ordinating this particular transnational campaign, the South Africa United Front (SAUF), an alliance of liberation groups, have been largely forgotten. Leading members of the SAUF claimed the organisation had a key part in South Africa’s subsequent exit from the Commonwealth, and the purpose of this article is to explore the validity of such assertions, as well as the role and impact it had in generating a groundswell of opposition to apartheid in the early 1960s. Although the SAUF’s demands for South Africa to leave the Commonwealth were ultimately fulfilled, the documentary evidence suggests that its campaigning activities and impact were not a decisive factor; however the long-term significance of the SAUF, and the position it had in the rise of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) has not been fully recognised. As such, the events around the campaign for South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth act as a microcosm of developments that would define the international struggle against apartheid.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1148-1170
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
    Issue number6
    Early online date2 Aug 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • African National Congress (ANC)
    • anti-apartheid
    • Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM)
    • apartheid
    • Commonwealth
    • Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)
    • South Africa
    • South Africa united front (SAUF)

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Development
    • Political Science and International Relations


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