African Americans - South africa

By the mid-1950s, only in South Africa could U.S. diplomats be committed and outspoken racists. The State Department sent envoys to South Africa whose own outlook aligned closely with that of their hosts. In light of U.S. reliance on South African raw materials, mutual anticommunism, and interest in free trade, policymakers acquiesced to South African segregation laws that paralleled those that were still current in the United States. As civil rights insurgency and changing views toward race worldwide eroded segregation at home, U.S. official acceptance of South African racial practices could no longer be direct. Washington attempted to distance itself rhetorically from apartheid while continuing harmonious relations with South Africa.

As noted, the State Department and USIA often sponsored goodwill tours of African-American entertainers to foreign countries, and these included South Africa. U.S. authorities may have believed that exposure to the diversity of U.S. society would give proponents of apartheid pause. Visits to South Africa by American performers were not limited to government-sponsored ventures. South African promoters signed U.S. artists to lucrative contracts, but they were often required to perform before segregated audiences.

The gap between U.S. democratic beliefs on one hand, and government and private sector ties to the South African regime on the other, led in the 1980s to an international protest movement against apartheid. Anti-apartheid activists set out to discourage artist exchanges in the belief that they had no effect on apartheid, degraded the artist involved, and lent credibility to the South African regime. Through adverse publicity and boycott, many U.S. entertainers were pressured into avoiding South Africa. Similar actions were mounted when the South African government sent African troupes to the United States if they apologized for conditions in their homeland.

Pressure from advocacy groups was a crucial factor in leading the United States to impose economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s. Thus, in February 1990, South African President F. W. de Klerk released the African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela from his twenty-seven-year imprisonment, and in March 1992 white South Africans passed a referendum that would end white minority rule.

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