How did the people of South Africa overcome apartheid?
Fourth edition. September 2012.

Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle explores the dilemma faced by black South Africans in the early 1960s of how best to battle the racial discrimination imposed by the apartheid system.

The curriculum addresses the development of apartheid, the responses to it, and the decision by some members of the anti-apartheid community to use violence to protest the government’s policies. This question−whether the use of violence against an oppressive regime is justified−has been discussed at length in recent years, often without a clear answer. This unit will introduce students to one instance in which violence was used, and will allow them to consider that question in the South African case.


The reading is intended to prepare students to consider thoughtfully the complexities of South African society. Students will explore the history of South Africa and the development of a race-based society, the effects of apartheid on individuals, and the challenges to the system of apartheid, and the end of apartheid and South Africa’s transition to a democratic, multi-racial society.


Colonial South Africa

By examining a series of letters from a Sotho king to the British government in South Africa, students consider the consequences of the Boers' Great Trek on one African society.

Poetry and Politics

Students explore the relationship between political events and literature through close readings of 1950s poetry from South Africa.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Students work cooperatively using primary sources to present the three options that anti-apartheid groups debated at the time.

Violence as Protest

Students analyze the effectiveness of the use of violence to oppose apartheid, consider the morality of armed struggle, and clarify their own views on the use of violence as a means to an end.

The Soweto Uprising Through Primary Sources

Students explore the Soweto student uprisings of 1976 through testimony given at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

Steve Biko and Black Consciousness

Students interpret the writings of Steve Biko and consider the effects of apartheid on people's minds.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Beinart, William. Twentieth-Century South Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 292 pages.

Carter, Gwendolen and Karis, Thomas, editors. From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964 (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1977). Volume III: 825 pages.

Lodge, Tom. Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945 (New York: Longman, 1983). 389 pages.

Omer-Cooper, J.D. History of Southern Africa (London: James Currey Publishers, 1994). 291 pages.

Waldmeir, Patti. Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997). 303 pages.

Worden, Nigel. The Making of Modern South Africa (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1996). 171 pages.

This site provides archival documents, photographs, chronologies, and historical analyses.
This interactive web atlas chronicles the course of colonization and decolonization, and post-colonial developments in Africa between 1879 and 2002. Economic and demographic changes are also covered.
This site provides firsthand accounts of the struggle against apartheid, and includes video, documents, photographs, and interviews as well as historical background and resources for teachers.
This site has links to transcripts of TRC testimony and amnesty decisions as well as links to other helpful sites.
This educational site of the Apartheid Museum provides resources and lesson plans for teachers.
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