Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace, meets with South African President P.W. Botha to discuss the nationwide state of emergency declared by Botha in response to the anti-apartheid protests. “This is not likely to help restore law and order and peace and calm,” Tutu said of the government crackdown after the meeting. “If we do have any calm, it will be very brittle, it will be superficial, it will be sullen, and at the slightest chance, it will be broken again.”
In 1948, South Africa’s white minority government institutionalized its policy of racial segregation and white supremacy known as apartheid–Afrikaans for “apartness.” Eighty percent of the country’s land was set aside for white use, and black Africans entering this territory required special passes. Blacks, who had no representation in the government, were subjected to different labor laws and educational standards than whites and lived in extreme poverty while white South Africans prospered. Organized anti-apartheid protests began in the 1950s, and in the 1960s Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders were imprisoned. In the 1970s, a new phase of protest began, with black trade unions organizing strikes and Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness movement, calling on blacks to defend their African culture.
After the Soweto uprising of June 1976, more than 500 black activists, including Biko, were killed by police. By the time Pieter W. Botha took power as South African prime minister in 1978, ongoing domestic turmoil and increasing international condemnation made it clear that the South African government could not long sustain the apartheid status quo. Botha’s administration undertook many reforms, including an end to some racial segregation, a repeal of the “pass laws,” and an end to the ban on black trade unions, but made no fundamental change to South Africa’s power structure. Protests continued, and Botha resorted to strong-arm tactics, using the military and police to suppress opposition to his minority government. Thousands of blacks were killed.
Meanwhile, a black Anglican minister named Desmond Tutu, who in 1975 became the first black dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, was emerging as an important leader of the anti-apartheid movement. He advocated nonviolence and pushed for international sanctions against South Africa. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. The next year, he was installed as Johannesburg’s first black Anglican bishop. In 1984, a new constitution took effect that made Botha president of South Africa but failed to grant blacks representation in his government. Demonstrations escalated, and on June 12, 1986, Botha declared martial law as a means of preventing demonstrations planned to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Thousands of black community leaders, clergymen, union organizers, and anti-apartheid activists were arrested, and heavily armed policemen and troops patrolled the black ghettoes.
On June 13, as a conciliatory gesture, Botha met with Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, but the meeting failed to temper Tutu’s public criticism of Botha’s policies. In the fall of 1986, the U.S. government and the European Community authorized economic sanctions against South Africa in an effort to end apartheid. In September, Desmond Tutu was elected the first black archbishop of Cape Town, thus becoming the spiritual leader of three million Anglicans in southern Africa. In his new position, he continued his outspoken criticism of apartheid and the oppressive South African government.
With the South African economy in decline, P.W. Botha stepped down as president in 1989 and was succeeded by F.W. de Klerk, who set about dismantling apartheid. Nelson Mandela was freed, a new constitution enfranchised blacks, and in 1994 Mandela and the African National Congress were elected to power in South Africa’s first free elections. Desmond Tutu retired as Anglican archbishop in 1996.