Anti-Apartheid Movement, British Isles

Dr Dean Allen

Centre for Human Performance Sciences
Stellenbosch University
South Africa

View Dr Dean Allen’s full profile here

Officially introduced in South Africa in 1948 by the newly elected Afrikaner National Party, Apartheid (meaning ‘separateness’) was the system of legalized racial segregation under which the rights of the majority ‘non-white’ inhabitants of South Africa were restricted and minority rule by white South Africans was maintained. While restriction of movement and segregation of races had begun in South Africa in British colonial times, it was with the introduction of the official policies of apartheid that both internal and international resistance began. Through segregation of residential areas, leisure facilities, education, medical care, and other public services, the new legislation classified South Africa’s population into distinct racial groups and was bitterly opposed by groups both within South Africa and abroad.

A site of significant opposition was Great Britain, where, in 1959, the Boycott Movement had been founded by a group of South African exiles and their British supporters. Originally formed to encourage a consumer boycott of South African goods in the UK, the events of 1960 and the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa lead to the subsequent formation of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) whose objective was to keep South Africa’s apartheid policy in the forefront of British politics. While successive British Governments were reluctant to sever economic ties with South Africa, member organizations of the AAM included the British Communist, Liberal and Labour Parties, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the National Union of Students (NUS) as well as several churches and other non-governmental organizations opposed to apartheid.

In 1960, the United Kingdom was South Africa’s largest foreign investor and the African National Congress (ANC) still committed to peaceful resistance. However with the formation of the break-away Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the events at Sharpeville, tension and violence escalated within South Africa and within Britain there were increased calls for boycotts and Government intervention. With the United Nations calling on sporting boycotts with South Africa, pressure by the AMM and other anti-apartheid groups, lead to South Africa being banned from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Five years later, a high-profile tour to Britain by the ‘Springboks’ (the South African Rugby Team) proved a disaster because of public demonstrations. Then, in 1970, the British Government was forced to stop the planned visit of the South African cricket team to England when Afro-Asian countries threatened to boycott the Commonwealth Games.

Public protests against apartheid sport continued in Britain and in 1977, with concern about further disruption of the Commonwealth Games, the white Commonwealth countries agreed to the “Gleneagles Agreement” to discourage competition with South African teams. There was pressure too from British sports organizations and in January 1980, the British Sports Council unilaterally sent a delegation to South Africa “for the purpose of examining and establishing independently, progress made, at all levels, with multi-racial integration in sport.”Despite the visit to South Africa of various ‘rebel’ British sports teams during the next decade, opposition to apartheid in the British Isles continued with the Anti-Apartheid Movement remaining in existence until 1994 when apartheid was finally consigned to history following the first democratic elections in South Africa.  


  • H. Giliomee, (2003), The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. Cape Town: Tafelberg.
  • D. Booth, (1998), The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa. London: Frank Cass.
  • J. Gemmell, (2004), The Politics of South African Cricket. London: Taylor & Francis.
  • See R. Archer & A. Bouillon, (1982) The South African Game: Sport and Racism. London: Zed Press, p.299.
  • British Sports Council, 1980, cited in Ibid., p.295.

Follow Conference Speakers on Twitter

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll Up