Jack Marcou, Rachel Smith, and Ali Williams

Fall 2021

The origins of the international Boycott Movement against the apartheid government of South Africa date to the June 1959 meeting of the Committee of African Organizations (CAO) held in London. This group of exiled South Africans and British supporters aimed to internationalize the boycott campaign implemented by the African and Indian Congresses beginning in 1952. The 1950s in South Africa were marked by mass arrests of leaders and unfair
trials that hindered the opportunity for peaceful demonstrations. With few options left at their disposal, a multitude of proliberation organizations worked within their networks to launch a campaign for the boycott of South African products. While leftwing political organizations had moderate success on a national level, it became clear as 1960 approached that the expansion of the boycott system needed to be implemented in Britain and throughout the globe.
Britain was split as a nation regarding its attitude towards the South African government’s treatment of black Africans. Conservative ideology reflected the notion that Britain was largely dependent on South Africa as a trading and investment partner, and it was not their place to meddle in its internal affairs. On the other hand, Christian and leftwing Brits felt a moral obligation for the country to take a stance against racism and human rights violations. By the 1960s, the issue of South Africa had become mainstream in Britain, with many leftwing organizations acting against apartheid.

The movement’s goal was to get shoppers from all over the world to boycott apartheid products. This meant products from South Africa were not purchased. People who had never been a part of any meetings or protests showed their support by boycotting South African goods.
The CAO launched pickets and protests at shopping centers to encourage Britons to boycott purchasing items produced in South Africa. Demonstrators told shoppers, “Don’t Buy Slavery, Don’t Buy South Africa.”

One of the first moves for the boycott was boycotting fruits from South Africa. Leaders told shoppers to be mindful of the labels on the fruits, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. This eventually led to a campaign for stores to stop stocking South African products altogether. Activists were trying to make sure these shops understood the significance of this boycott and how the adverse effects could continue if they continued to carry these products. Another example was when a shop worker from Dublin refused to ring up a cape grapefruit which eventually led to a strike. To follow up on that was a total ban on all imports from South Africa by the Irish government. This shows how bold and determined these protesters were to make achange so much so they would refuse to ring a customer up, and in doing so, they succeeded. As time went by, all the protests and boycotts were successful, and it turned out to be one of the most successful antiapartheid movement campaigns.

The March 1960 shootings at Sharpeville, South Africa where policed killed 69 African protestors fueled the boycott movement into an international antiapartheid movement. The AntiApartheid Movement (AAM) demanded the termination of British diplomatic relations withSouth Africa and for the UN to impose sanctions ending oil shipments to South Africa. The principles and goals of the Boycott Movement were crucial in the international fight against Apartheid that continued in later decades. By the 1960s, The Boycott Movement had established a nonpartisan mass movement that aimed to dismantle oppression in South Africa by cutting off its vital international recourses.

Three years after the Sharpeville Massacre, the United Nations took its first significant step towards stopping apartheid by creating the Special Committee on the Policies of Apartheid of the Government of the Republic of South Africa; the first meeting of the committee was on April 2, 1963. The committee later renamed the Special Committee Against Apartheid would become the UN’s primary mechanism for antiapartheid action (“Special Committee Against Apartheid”). The committee quickly pushed through an arms and oil embargo the same year. In 1966 the committee organized the International Seminar on Apartheid in conjunction with the Brazilian government. It was a firstofitskind series of antiapartheid talks and presentations held 23 August4 September 1966.

The UN General Assembly also took actions against South Africa and their Apartheid Regime. This resistance primarily came in the form of a resolution and two conventions. On December 2, 1968, the assembly passed General Assembly resolution 2396, which condemned the South African government and requested states “to suspend cultural, educational, sporting and other exchanges with the racist regime and with organizations or institutions in South Africa which practice apartheid (General Assembly resolution 2396).

The first convention passed by the General Assembly was the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). It was adopted in 1965 but
did not enter into force until January 4, 1969. While it may not seem like a specific and direct attack on apartheid, the horrors in South Africa directly influenced the creation of this
convention (Heyns and Viljoen). The benefit of not making it overly specific was that the convention could also be applied to other decolonization efforts around the globe; the downside is it gave the convention even less power over apartheid specifically than it already had. The second convention the General Assembly passed was an attempt to ratify this. On November 30, 1973, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression & Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; it did not go into effect until July 18, 1976. The convention openly calls apartheid “a total negation of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and […] a crime against humanity.” (General Assembly resolution 3068).

When none of these efforts worked, the General Assembly took a vote on November 12, 1974. With a vote of 9122, the general assembly suspended South Africa from participating in the UN. This was not a complete suspension of membership, but rather the “[South African] delegation will not be permitted to take its seats, speak, make proposals or vote.” (Teltsch) This was a significant action in the international community and the capstone of a decade of UN condemnation of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

aamarchives.org. “Boycott South African Goods.” Forward to Freedom, https://www.aamarchives.org/campaigns/boycott.html.

General Assembly resolution 2396, The Policies of Apartheid of the Government of South Africa,
A/RES/2396(XXIII), (02 December 1968), available from


General Assembly resolution 3068, International Convention on the Suppression & Punishment
of the Crime of Apartheid, A/RES/3068(XXVIII), (30 November 1963), available from


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Heyns, Christof and Frans Viljoen. “The Impact of the United Nations Human Rights Treaties on
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