Students will:

  • Consider what it was like to live in South Africa under apartheid.
  • Hear firsthand from a South African anti-apartheid activist.
  • Examine the ways in which one activist worked to achieve justice and equality in South Africa.


Handout—The Activism of Fatima Meer

Biography of Fatima Meer

In the Classroom

Note: Students will get the most out of this lesson if they have read Parts 1 and 2 and the Epilogue of Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle, although the lesson can be adapted for students who do not have this background knowledge.

1. Contextualization

Write the word “apartheid” on the board. Give students five minutes to approach the board and write whatever comes to mind about South Africa under apartheid, including statements, questions, words, and impressions. Encourage them to think about what it might have been like to live in South Africa during that time period.

Review with students the way South African society was structured at the time. Upon coming to power in 1948, the apartheid government added new laws to an existing system of racial segregation in order to further limit the rights of Africans, coloureds (people of mixed-race background), and Asians (also called Indians). The extent of discrimination was based on one’s designated racial category. Africans, who made up the vast majority of South Africa’s population, faced the worst oppression at the hands of the white government.

2. Considering the Activism of Fatima Meer

Tell students that in today’s lesson they will be watching videos of Professor Fatima Meer, one of South Africa’s most distinguished anti-apartheid activists. A close friend of Nelson Mandela, Professor Meer was imprisoned and twice banned by the apartheid government. Over her life she worked tirelessly to improve race relations, and promote justice, reconciliation, and nonviolent action.

Give each student a copy of the handout and review Professor Meer’s bio together.  Students should use the handout to take notes as they watch the following videos:

How did apartheid affect the daily lives of Africans? [1:36]

How was life for Indians different or similar to life for Africans under white rule? [2:57]

How did whites instigate violence between Indians and Africans? [2:22]

Why did you form the Durban and District Women’s League? [3:20]

What was the Federation of South African Women and why was it created? [2:03]

How have things changed since the early 1990s? [2:03]

3. Discussion

Ask students to report on their answers to the questions on the worksheet. “Apartheid” is the Afrikaans (a Dutch-based language that developed in South Africa) word for “separateness.” How did the white government keep South African people separate? For example, how did the government keep people physically separate? How did the government treat people differently in order to create divisions among racial groups? Why do students think the government wanted to do this? Why did activists like Fatima Meer work to counter this separation?

What social, political, and economic issues was Fatima Meer most concerned with? What did the organizations she helped found do? Why do you think she thought that these organizations were necessary?

Professor Meer was banned by the government in 1952 and 1975. Show the video: Why did the government “ban” people? [2:24] From what you know about her political activism, why do you think the government saw her as a threat?

What does Professor Meer see as the biggest challenges facing South Africa today?

Why do you think she continued her political activism after 1994?

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