Freedom Day – new perspectives on apartheid from the BLDS Legacy Collection

Today marks the 28th anniversary of South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections, now commemorated as Freedom Day. Previously, under the apartheid regime, non-whites in general had only limited voting rights, while black South Africans were unable to vote at all. The 1994 elections were the first non-racial national elections where everyone over the age of 18 from any race group was allowed to vote.

While working our way through the material from across the Global South held in the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS) Legacy Collection, it was noticeable that the issue of the apartheid regime would be addressed – in some way – in almost every country we encountered. As a consequence, we thought a blog post marking the anniversary of Freedom Day would be a great opportunity to draw attention to the multiple perspectives that the collection makes available to researchers and those interested in global reactions to events in the period from 1960-2000.

The most substantial engagement with the issue of apartheid can be found, unsurprisingly, in the material collected from other countries in Africa. The images below, found in information bulletins from Guinea and Senegal, give a snapshot of the debates around apartheid going on in these countries – the cartoons are especially striking in getting their message across.

Page from Fonike bulletin (Guinea), with cartoon condemning apartheid.
Fonike, BLDS Legacy Collection (Guinea, box 28)
Extract from Senegalese bulletin, Senegal D'aujourd'hui, with cartoon condemning apartheid.
Senegal D’aujourd’hui, BLDS Legacy Collection (Senegal)

In a similar way, the pages below, from a Ghanaian journal titled The Verdict, give us some insight into how apartheid was being discussed in Ghana, but also of how the issue was situated as being part of a wider ‘liberation front’ across Africa, with the idea of solidarity across this wider liberation struggle being an important theme. It is also worth noting that the article by Pius Yaokuma-Boateng specifically names the UK and American governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as ‘the two most formidable opponents’ of the struggle for emancipation for South African blacks. In this way, we can see how material from collections like these can offer new, non-Western perspectives on major global events.

Discussion of the apartheid regime is not, however, exclusive to material from the African continent. The pamphlets below from the South American country of Guyana show how the idea of solidarity in the ‘struggle for liberation’ continues across the South Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away, and ties apartheid to the wider issue of Southern African liberation.

Front covers of two Guyanese pamphlets about the Georgetown Declaration of Solidarity and Support for the Liberation of Southern Africa.
Pamphlets, BLDS Legacy Collection (Guyana, box 1)

The pamphlets mark the International Forum on the Liberation of Southern Africa that was held in Georgetown, Guyana in 1981, and give a fascinating insight into the ways in which countries from across the Global South convened to mobilise greater international support for liberatory causes.

In a slightly different way, the front page from India News below, published in London, gives an indication of how prominent the issues around apartheid and potential sanctions for South Africa were at the time.

Front page of India News from May 28 1981, with article titled 'Plea for sanctions against S. Africa'.
India News, BLDS Legacy Collection (India, box 1036)

We have also included some images from a couple of the non-governmental publications we hold in the BLDS Legacy Collection. The first two images, a front and back page from the ANC-produced magazine Voice of Women are of obvious relevance here, giving a view of the apartheid regime not only from within South Africa, but specifically from the perspective of women living under the oppressive system of apartheid.

The final two images are a 1976 front cover of the Cuban magazine Tricontinental and an African bulletin produced in 1984 by the International Union of Students. These offer us another perspective again, one of international condemnation of the apartheid regime from the standpoint of anti-colonial solidarity across the non-aligned movement and the international student movement respectively.

While we haven’t had the time to dig into the material in any real depth, we hope that these examples of how the BLDS Legacy Collection’s holdings engage with the issue of apartheid give an idea of the multiple and varied perspectives the collection can offer on global events from the second half of the twentieth century.

If you are interested in learning more about any of the materials mentioned above or about the BLDS Legacy Collection in general, then please feel free to contact us at

Happy Freedom Day!

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