Digitization of First-Hand Accounts and Analysis of Apartheid South Africa at The National Archives, UK

27 November 2013

Adam Matthew to publish unique papers on a turbulent period of South African history

Adam Matthew today announced an agreement with The National Archives (TNA), Kew - the UK government’s official repository - to digitize and publish all TNA materials relating to South Africa during the apartheid era.

These formerly restricted documents provide unprecedented levels of detail and scope with first-hand accounts and reports. Covering over three decades the collection will start at the implementation of Apartheid under the National Party in 1948 and go right through to the beginning of the 1980’s. This marked a period of major internal unrest and international sanctions that ultimately lead to the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela.

This unique collection of Colonial and Foreign Office analysis, dispatches, minutes, profiles of leading political figures and other materials represents a constant exchange of information between London and British diplomats in South Africa. In addition, a continual dialogue on South Africa between Britain, its Commonwealth partners, other African nations and the USA will provide fascinating content for students and researchers.

Director Khal Rudin commented:

'We’re privileged to be able to make these important files available to a worldwide audience. From its colonial past and strong economic ties, the British Government was central to this period in South African history. London was also the focal point of the anti-apartheid movement with many exiles moving to Britain. This is reflected in the truly amazing range of material and correspondence that we’ll release online'.

Notable items covered in these papers include:

  • The ‘Sharpeville Massacre’, 21 March 1960. A summary of the judicial enquiry into the incident which led to an arms embargo.
  • South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Discussions on the damage caused to South Africa as a results of its withdrawal in 1961, including removal of economic ‘privileges’.
  • The Rivonia trial (1963-1964). The trial of ten leaders of the African National Congress (including Nelson Mandela who was already in prison serving a five-year sentence). Generally seen as an attempt to mute the ANC by charging its leaders with acts of sabotage designed to ‘overthrow the apartheid system’, the trial was denounced by the United National and countries around the world, leading to sanctions against the South African government.
  • The reactions of Britain, Europe and the USA to apartheid, forced segregation, anti-apartheid demonstrations, sanctions and economic embargoes. 
  • Reactions to political arrests and detentions in South Africa, including the death of Steve Biko (12 September 1977): student leader, anti-apartheid activist and founder of the ‘Black Consciousness Movement’.
  • Papers relating to Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho that shed light on refugees, political prisoners, and events relevant to the history of apartheid.

Adam Matthew will publish the documents in three sections: 1948-1966; 1967-1975 and 1976-1980; the first section is due to publish in 2014.