South Africa in the 1970s

Apartheid was rampant, with the Nationalist Government re-elected to power time and again. Repressive laws were enacted throughout the decade, stripping blacks of their South African citizenship, forcing them to be citizens of designated "homelands" and denying them the right to work in South Africa proper. All "Coloured" (mixed-race) people were removed from the common voters roll and the National Party reaffirmed its belief in separate development programmes for the white, black, Coloured and Indian population. On the sporting front, South Africa was banned from the Olympics, the Davis Cup, and all English cricket tours ceased. Such sporting bans were to continue for many years into the future.

Johannesburg skyline, 1970s

In October 1971, Ahmed Timol, a Moslem teacher, "jumped" to his death from the 10th floor of the main police building in Johannesburg - the 17th death in detention under security laws.  Winnie Mandela was banned and Nelson Mandela continued to serve his sentence on Robben Island. Meanwhile, opposition to apartheid was growing. Student and church leaders, and journalists were suspected of having "subversive intentions". One of the most significant events of the decade was the 1976 Soweto uprising led by high school students  in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. An estimated 20,000 students took part in the protests which were brutally put down by police. At least 176 people died, with some estimates as high as 700. Most of the victims were schoolchildren. The aftermath of the uprising established the leading role of the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Student protests at Wits (left) and UCT during the 1970s.

Racial Segregation

Signs like these were common all over South Africa during the period. They were meant to keep blacks from entering "white" sections of Post Offices, banks, beaches, and all public facilities. There were also separate park benches and bus stops for "Whites - Blankes" and "Non-Whites - Nie Blankes".

Student Protests

Early in the 1970s students at two of South African main universities - UCT (Cape Town) and Wits (Johannesburg) - were actively protesting against Apartheid. Police raided the UCT campus and arrested dozens of students. A week later, a major protest took place at Wits University, in which plain clothes police charged across a main road and beat up students lined up along the sidewalk bordering the University. I was covering the events for the Sunday Tribune and was beaten up and arrested by police. In a subsequent trial, I was acquitted of "impersonating a police officer" - as police rounded on me for taking photographs, I had shouted "I'm a press man, don't touch me...!" - and awarded damages against a police major for assault.

Standard-bearers of apartheid

​Dr. Hendrick Verwoerd (left), Prime Minister from 1958 to 1966, was a far right proponent of apartheid, in the strictest sense. He was stabbed to death by Dimitri Tsafendas, a parliamentary messenger, in the Houses of Parliament September 6, 1966. A week later, Verwoerd was succeeded by B. J. Vorster, also a far right Nationalist leader, who served as PM from 1966 to 1978.