Apartheid archives subject guide

Archives on Apartheid

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation, which was brought in by National Party governments in South Africa after the general election of 1948. Legislation divided citizens into four racial groups; "black", "white", "coloured", and "Indian". Residential areas were then segregated along those lines.

The imposition of apartheid prompted popular resistance within South Africa: arms and trade sanctions were imposed on the South African regime by the international community. These pressures began to take their toll. The last of the apartheid laws was finally repealed in 1991. Democratic elections took place in 1994, with the result that Nelson Mandela, whose life had been defined by the struggle against apartheid, became the President of South Africa.

This guide is not intended to be exhaustive. It complements the Archives Catalogue, which includes a subject search facility.

Ruth First papers

  • Ruth First (1925-1982) lived much of her life outside South Africa as a political exile, and was a fervent opponent of the South African regime. She was killed by a parcel bomb sent by the South African secret service. Her extensive papers include correspondence with many of her fellow activists, and drafts of her writings. Some of these archives have been digitised.


Mary Benson papers
Mary Benson papers, reference ICS 6/16/1

Mary Benson papers

  • Mary Benson (1919-2000) became secretary to the Treason Trials Defence Fund in 1957. She was served with a banning order in 1966 and left South Africa later that year for London where she continued to work tirelessly against apartheid. Her papers include correspondence with fellow activists, and photographs of Nelson Mandela, about whom she published a book.
    Mary Benson papers
    Mary Benson papers, reference ICS 6/16/1


Steve Biko speech

  • Steve Biko (1946-1977) became the first president of the South African Students' Organisation in 1968. In March 1973 the South African government placed heavy restrictions on his movements and activities and banned any quotation from his speeches or conversations. Despite this, Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement played a large role in organising the protests which led to the Soweto riots on 16 June 1976. Steve Biko died in prison in Pretoria on 12 September 1977, where he had suffered severe head injuries, believed to have been caused by police beatings.

African National Congress papers

  • The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 and banned in South Africa in 1960. In 1949 the Programme of Action, with mass opposition to apartheid at its heart, was adopted as ANC policy. The ban on the ANC was lifted in February 1990. This archive of the ANC includes papers relating to the treason trials of 1954-1961; public statements and publicity material 1953, 1972-1976; papers of South African Indian organisations including the Transvaal Indian Congress, 1939-1963.

Ben Turok  papers

  • Ben Turok became a full-time organiser for the Congress of the People after his return to South Africa in 1953. During the 1960 emergency, Turok went underground to help re-establish ANC organisation. In 1962 he was sentenced to three years in prison under the Explosives Act. After his release, he escaped via Botswana and was resident in the UK from 1972. He returned to South Africa in 1990. Subjects in his papers include political involvement in South Africa, 1961-1981, and correspondence, 1971-1980, with Oliver Tambo and others regarding ANC activities.

The Nelson Mandela Trials collection

  • This collection comprises
    Nelson Mandela
    Nelson Mandela (1964) Mary Benson papers, reference ICS 6/45. © University of Dundee, The Peto Collection
    papers collected by Joel Joffe, the lawyer acting for Nelson Mandela, relating to Mandela’s trial in Pretoria (1962) and the Rivonia Trial (1963-1964). The collection includes Mandela’s address to the court, detailing his political commitment and activities in the ANC; the initial statement made by Mandela to his lawyers, giving details of his early life; notes by Mandela on his life and ANC association; and manuscript notes by Mandela to use if he were sentenced to death.

Marion Friedmann papers

  • Marion Friedmann (1918-c1975) was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which was forced to disband under the Prohibition of Political Interference Act of 1968. Her papers, 1957-1963, concern South African politics, mainly apartheid and the oppression of black South Africans.

Peter Hjul papers

  • Peter Hjul (1929-1999) became active in the Liberal Party and chaired the Cape Provincial Division. He also chaired the editorial board of the radical fortnightly "Contact".  He and his family were harassed by South African security forces. The Hjul family emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1965, where Peter Hjul continued his career as a journalist. His papers, 1954-1968, include committee minutes, election material, and reports.

Ronnie Bethlehem South African economy collection

  • Ronnie Bethlehem (1935-1997) was an economist, whose papers illustrate the transition to democracy. Subjects include sanctions, the business community and the new South Africa, housing policy, and the restructuring of the economy.

University of Cape Town: students’ representatives

  • Papers on the South African disturbances, 1976, including comments on the disturbances by black, white and coloured individuals, accounts of incidents and papers by the Soweto Students' Representative Council, the South African Institute of Race Relations, the National Union of South African Students, and the Union of Black Journalists.