Celebrating the Life, Legacy and Values of Nelson Mandela
Chronology of the Free South Africa Movement
November 21, 1984 (Thanksgiving Eve)
- The Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) is born when Dr. Mary Frances Berry, then Commissioner and later chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy, and TransAfrica’s Executive Director Randall Robinson are arrested at the South African Embassy for attempting to stage a sit-in to protest against the South African apartheid government. Georgetown University law professor Eleanor Holmes Norton was also with the group at the South African Embassy, but was not arrested as she had stepped out to address the media when the other members of the group were taken away. Academic and community organizer Dr. Sylvia Hill, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists William Lucy and Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies Senior Fellow Roger Wilkins join Berry, Fauntroy and Robinson on the steering committee. This act marks the beginning of daily protests at the South African Embassy which will last for years to come.
Within a week, public demonstrations against South African consulates, Krugerrand coin dealers, and corporations tied to South Africa spread throughout the nation. Over the course of a year, more than 4,500 people are arrested nationwide and grassroots campaigns develop in more than 40 cities. Rosa Parks, Senator Lowell Weicker, more than twenty members of the House of Representatives, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Arthur Ashe, Tony Randall, Stevie Wonder, and Coretta Scott King are among the celebrities who join daily demonstrations at the South African Embassy.
November 23, 1984
- The Local 10 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union in San Francisco, California refuse to offload cargo from South Africa. The longshoremen are later joined by 250 people in their protest.
December 4, 1984
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu testifies before the House Subcommittee on Africa about the oppressive apartheid system in South Africa.
December 7, 1984
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets with President Ronald Reagan to discuss apartheid. President Reagan refuses to change his policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid government.
-Eleven of sixteen protesters detained in South Africa are released with many believing the release to be a direct result of the negative publicity the apartheid regime is now receiving.
April 5, 1985
- The FSAM organizes an anti-apartheid march of 4,000 Washington, DC city employees led by Mayor Marion Barry and TransAfrica Director Randall Robinson.
- During the spring of 1985 many students at campuses around the nation join the FSAM in its call for the end of apartheid. At Columbia University, U.C. Berkeley and many other institutions, students begin to demand their schools divest from the South African government. Their protests included rallies and sit-ins reminiscent of the student movement and civil rights movement of the 1960s.
May 7, 1985
- Due to pressure from students, Georgetown University votes to divest from companies not living up to the Sullivan Principles in South Africa.
May 8-9, 1985
- FSAM leaders Randall Robinson, Mary Frances Berry, Sylvia Hill, Roger Wilkins and Walter Fauntroy stage a sit-in at a foreign exchange company, Deak-Perera, to protest the company’s continued sale of South African Krugerrand. The protest lasts 42 hours until the five leaders are eventually arrested.
June 7, 1985
- Harvard University students protest their institution’s investments in South Africa during their graduation ceremony.
- After the apartheid government of South Africa declares a state of emergency and bans public funerals, Paul Newman, Jesse Jackson, major civil rights and labor leaders join 10,000 people in a “funeral march” to the State Department to protest the Reagan administration’s policy of “constructive engagement.”
- Public pressure influences the passing of a bill proposing sanctions on South Africa by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
-Senate Majority leader Bob Dole uses a procedural maneuver to prevent a final vote on the Congressional sanctions measure.
September 9, 1985
- President Reagan attempts to undermine the comprehensive bill proposed by the U.S. Congress with the creation of Executive Order 12532 which calls for less concrete action against South Africa.
- The FSAM joins with labor, religious, and civil rights organizations to launch a campaign against the Royal/Dutch Shell Group.
January 8, 1986
- The FSAM presents Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a “Freedom Letter” signed by one million people in support of his work for the anti-apartheid movement and criticizing Rev. Jerry Falwell for making disparaging remarks about the Archbishop.
May 13, 1986
- FSAM leaders Randall Robinson, Mary Frances Berry, Sylvia Hill and Walter Fauntroy are arrested for protest activities at a Washington D.C. Shell office.
June 7, 1986
- The FSAM hosts anti-apartheid activist Rev. Allan Aubrey Boesak to speak at TransAfrica’s Ninth Annual Dinner in Washington, D.C. At the dinner, Rev. Boesak gives a stirring speech about the perseverance of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and gives thanks for the continued support of U.S. citizens.
June 18, 1986
- A Comprehensive sanctions bill introduced by Congressman Ron Dellums (D-CA) passes the House. The bill calls for a total trade embargo against South Africa and for full divestment of U.S. companies from South Africa.
October 2, 1986
- Congress hands President Reagan his first major foreign policy defeat by overriding his veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposes limited sanctions against South Africa.
- African National Congress (ANC) President Oliver Tambo takes a tour of the United States organized by the FSAM. President Tambo attends many events, but his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz is seen as a major political break through for the ANC.
February 17-20, 1987
- Despite the 1986 Act’s strong support for coordinated international action against apartheid, the United States and Britain veto a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have made sanctions imposed by the Act global and mandatory.
- In March of 1987 the FSAM launch an ad campaign called “Faces Behind Apartheid”, running ads in newspapers and on television that expose the ties between U.S. politicians such as Senators Bob Dole and Jesse Helms and the apartheid government of South Africa.
- Throughout 1987 the FSAM and Randall Robinson in particular keep the antiapartheid movement in the news. Robinson publishes numerous articles in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times and grants interviews to numerous magazines in an effort to maintain the pressure on the apartheid regime.
March 2, 1988
- The FSAM organizes a 900 person march in Washington D.C. to protest increased oppression in South Africa, including the arrest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
- Prominent African American organizations including the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and TransAfrica, among others, publish a pamphlet entitled United States Foreign Policy and the Black World: Proposals for A New Leadership. The publication discusses many issues including the United States’ position on South Africa and how U.S. policy can be modified to improve the situation in the country.
- The FSAM extends the “Faces Behind Apartheid” campaign as ads air in Massachusetts, Iowa and North Carolina aimed at Bob Dole, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson.
- South Africa detains 30,000 people without charge, arrests thousands of children, and effectively bans every representative organization. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration construes almost every instance of ambiguity in the law of 1986 in favor of the South African economy.
- The U.S. House of Representatives passes HR. 1580, the Anti-Apartheid Amendments of 1988 despite an anti-sanctions corporate lobbying campaign led by Shell. The bill mandates disinvestment, a virtually complete embargo against South Africa, and prohibits any company involved in South Africa’s fuel sector from receiving new U.S. government coal, gas, and oil leases.
- Following a stroke he suffered in January P.W. Botha resigns as the leader of the National Party (NP). This begins the long process of transfer of power from P.W. Botha to F.W. de Klerk.
- Representatives from the National Party begin to conduct open meetings with ANC leaders.
- Many in the FSAM fear that these developments will cause the U.S. Congress to lose focus on the ultimate goal of ending apartheid.
May 17, 1989
- The FSAM organizes the American Forum on South Africa to increase awareness of the ongoing struggle against apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Allan Boesak, and Rev. Naude attend the conference.
May 18, 1989
- Archbishop Tutu, Rev. Boesak and Rev. Naude meet with President Bush in Washington D.C.
- Bush vows to use pressure, influence and leverage against the oppressive South African regime.
August 14, 1989
- After six months of internal strife within the NP, P.W. Botha resigns as president of South Africa and F.W. de Klerk is sworn in as president on August 15th. F.W. de Klerk had been elected president by the NP in March, but Botha refused to step down until the end of his term which would have been in March of 1990. A general election held on September 6 makes F. W. de Klerk President of South Africa for the next five years.
October 10, 1989
- Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and six others of the 19 ANC leaders convicted at the Rivonia Trial in 1963-64 are released from prison. This marks an important step in the negotiations between ANC leadership and the NP.
February 2, 1990
- In his opening address to parliament, President F.W. de Klerk lifts the ban on the ANC, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and other political organizations in South Africa.
February 11, 1990
- ANC leader, Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years of imprisonment.
- FSAM members join the Mandela Welcome Committee to organize an eleven-day, seven-city tour for Nelson Mandela and the ANC to raise awareness of the problems still confronting South Africa.
- Mandela is greeted by thousands of U.S. citizens, who support the antiapartheid struggle.
- This tour marks the end of the FSAM itself, but not the fight against apartheid. Many individual organizations continue the fight until apartheid is dismantled by the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa.
Researched by Alhaji Conteh, TransAfrica Intern