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Apartheid Ended 30 Years Ago Today — Poster of the Week

Break All Ties with Apartheid

Mary Nash

American Committee on Africa

Offset, 1977

New York, NY


On March 17, 1992, thirty years ago today, more than two-thirds of white South Africans voted to end apartheid. This poster is one of countless produced throughout the world demanding an end to this oppressive and racist system – which was modeled after the reservation system for Native Americans in the United States.

One of the most effective tools against apartheid was the international divestment/boycott campaign against South Africa. International boycotts began in the early 1960s, and gained momentum in the 1970s when students demanded that their colleges and universities divest. The US government didn’t support the boycott/divestment movement until the 1980s.

This poster includes some of the multinational corporations that were targeted by anti-apartheid campaigners during the 1970s and 1980s to divest.

  • Shell Oil provided fuel to the South African army and police and also violated the UN oil boycott of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

  • IBM supplied the South African military with all the computers it needed. They left in 1986.

  • GM pulled out in 1986

  • VW continued production throughout the apartheid years.

In 1987, the US Congress changed the tax law to prohibit US companies from claiming a tax benefit for the taxes their South African operations paid to the South African Government. This prompted many US companies to leave, including Ford, Mobil (which called the tax law foolish), and KFC.

Unfortunately, although the system of apartheid was outlawed, its legacy of racism, income inequality, and educational inequality persist.

Boycotts and divestment are among the best known and most effective forms of non-violent direct action. Developed by Gandhi and promoted by Martin Luther King, Jr., they continue to be used and debated. They also remain divisive and controversial.

It may be hard to imagine the intense emotions, broken friendships and divided families that resulted from the boycott/divestment campaign around South Africa. However, one only has to look at the impassioned divisions around the ongoing Boycott/Divest/Sanctions (BDS) movement to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine to understand what took place in the 1970s and 1980s around South Africa.

The latest call for an international boycott is directed at Russia — over 400 companies have withdrawn from Russia since it invaded Ukraine.


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