There were many reasons why apartheid collapsed. You can read about the crisis of Apartheid in the 1980s in section 5 of the grade 12 material. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union was another major cause of the end of apartheid.

Under apartheid, South Africa was a fascist state with a capitalist economy. The National Party was strongly anti-communist and said they were faced with a 'Rooi Gevaar' or a 'Red Threat'. The apartheid state used the label 'communist' to justify its repressive actions against anyone who disagreed with their policies.

During the Cold War, there was a contest for influence in Africa, between the US and Western powers on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries on the other. Most of newly independent ex-colonies in Africa received military and economic support from one of the Superpowers.

Despite its racist policies, the South African government was supported by many governments in the West, particularly Britain and the USA. This was because the South African government was anti-communist. The British and American governments used political rhetoric and economic sanctions against apartheid, but continued to supply the South African regime with military expertise and hardware.

The collapse of the USSR in 1989 meant that the National Party could no longer use communism as a justification for their oppression. The ANC could also no longer rely on the Soviet Union for economic and military support. By the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union was in political and economic crisis, and it was increasingly difficult for the Soviet Government to justify spending money in Africa.

In 1989, President F.W de Klerk, the last apartheid Head of State, unbanned the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Pan Africanist Congress. He states that the collapse of the Soviet Union was decisive in persuading him to take this step:

"The collapse of the Soviet Union helped to remove our long-standing concern regarding the influence of the South African Communist Party within the ANC Alliance. By 1990 classic socialism had been thoroughly discredited throughout the world and was no longer a serious option, even for revolutionary parties like the ANC.

At about the same time, the ANC was reaching a similar conclusion that it could not achieve a revolutionary victory within the foreseeable future. The State of Emergency, declared by the South African Government in 1986, and the collapse of the Soviet Union - which had traditionally been one the ANC's main allies and suppliers - led the organisation to adopt a more realistic view of the balance of forces. It concluded that its interests could be best secured by accepting negotiations rather than by committing itself to a long and ruinous civil war."- Quote source:

Suggested activities and links:

  • "End of the Cold War" at (provides additional information from an international perspective. Includes activities)
  • "The Cold War Museum" at (This link gives a decade by decade breakdown of all major developments in the Cold War from an American perspective. This is helpful for general understanding. Also includes a trivia game and timeline) *needs Windows IE browser for quiz
  • "Learning Curve" at (This resource has some interesting clips and worksheets from a British perspective)
  • "Cartoon Stock" at (This site has a range of Cold War cartoons that could be used to practise cartoon analysis.)

To reflect on the impact of the collapse of the USSR in 1989 on the re-imagining of African nations in the 1990s the curriculum requires that certain countries are examined in detail.

The case studies for the examination are as follows:

  • Central Africa: Congo and Angola to be examined in 2009 (below)

  • West Africa: Benin and Guinea: to be examined in 2010

  • North Africa: Egypt: to be examined in 2011

Colonialism in the Congo

The present day Democratic Republic of Congo was formerly the Belgian Congo. The capital under colonial rule was Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).

The area was colonised in 1885 as a personal possession of the Belgian King Leopold II as the Congo Free State. It is one of the largest countries in Africa and one of the richest.

Leopold ideas reflected the racist ideas of most of his European counterparts at the time. He thought that Africa was "stagnant, primitive and dark", and that his rule would bring "progress, civilisation and light."

Belgium's brutal exploitation of the Congo is infamous. Leopold accumulated a vast personal fortune from ivory and rubber using Congolese forced labour. In 1891, the price of rubber began to increase following the invention of the inflatable rubber tyre, which increased his profits even further.

He was known locally as 'Bula Matadi' (He Who Breaks Rocks) to indicate the brutality of his regime. During Leopold's rule the population of the Congo declined from an estimated 20-30 million to less than nine million.

In 1907, administration of the colony shifted from the king to the Belgian Government, which renamed the country the Belgian Congo.

Independence in the Congo

Independence was granted in 1960, and the country was named the Republic of the Congo. The African elite in the colony was very small, and this suited the financial interests of Belgium, which planned to maintain its economic grip on the Congo's mineral resources and raw materials.

Elections were held, and Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister. Joseph Kasavubu became Head of State.

During the Cold War, there was a contest for influence in Africa, between the US and Western powers on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries on the other. The Cold War spread outside Europe to every region of the world. Most of newly independent ex-colonies in Africa got military and economic support from one of the Superpowers. The Congo was important because of its wealth and its size.

Lumumba followed a policy of "positive neutralism," - a return to African values and the rejection of foreign non-African ideologies, including that of the Soviet Union.

The West feared the consequences of a Lumumba's Congo government for its position in Africa. The USA had recently witnessed Fidel Castro's victorious revolution in Cuba, and Castro's friendship with Moscow.

The CIA quickly became involved in destabilising Lumumba's government. US President Eisenhower's government said Lumumba was a "very difficult if not impossible person to deal with, and was dangerous to the peace and safety of the world."

Within weeks of independence, the Katanga Province, which was rich in copper, led by Moise Tshombe, broke away from the new republic. Belgium sent in troops. It said the troops were to protect Belgian nationals. However, the Belgian troops mainly landed in Katanga, where they helped keep the regime of Moise Tshombe in power with the help of the USA.

Lumumba appealed to the United Nations to expel the Belgians and help restore internal order. The United Nations forces refused to help suppress the Katangese revolt.

Having been rejected by the West, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for planes to assist in transporting his troops to Katanga. The Western powers were alarmed. Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, the Soviet Union's support for Lumumba appeared at the time as a threat to the West.

On 5 September 1960, President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba, and Lumumba contested the move. There were therefore two groups now claiming to be the legal central government. On 14 September 1960, power was seized by the Congolese army leader Colonel Joseph Mobutu (president of Zaire as Mobutu Sese Seko), who later reached a working agreement with Kasavubu.

The assassination of Lumumba

In November 1960, Lumumba wanted to travel from Leopoldville, where the United Nations had provided him with protection, to Stanleyville where his supporters had control. With the secret help of the CIA, Joseph Mobutu sent his soldiers after Lumumba. Lumumba was caught, and spent three months in prison, while his enemies tried in vain to consolidate their power.

In January 1961, Lumumba was handed over to the Katanga secessionist regime, where he was executed. Documents from the USA which were released in 2000 revealed that President Eisenhower gave direct orders for the CIA to assassinate Lumumba. You can read an interesting article about Lumumba's assassination on this external link:

Mobutu seizes power

In 1965, army leader Joseph Mobutu seized control as the dictator of the Congo. Mobutu renamed the country, and called it the Republic of Zaire. All citizens had to adopt African names. He called himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He had the backing of the USA government, as he was willing to turn Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola. You can read about Angola in another section.

The USA considered Mobutu Sese Seko as a safeguard against Soviet-sponsored Communism in Africa. Mobutu received American support, including military aid, throughout his ruthless dictatorship. He was even received by American presidents at the White House. The Cold War support of Mobutu by the USA put Mobutu in a position to loot his country's riches and he became one of history's most corrupt dictators. He funnelled the wealth of the Congo into his own pockets. 

Lumumba had wanted to reform the Congo and use its riches to lift the Congolese out of poverty. In contrast, Mobutu chose King Leopold II as his role model. Leopold ran the Congo as his private rubber plantation. Mobutu outdid even Leopold, as he sold off the Congo's resources and stashed billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. Mobutu built himself a refuge on the French Riviera.

The Congolese continued to live in poverty.

Zaire and the Cold War

President Ford's American administration opposed the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Mobutu helped the USA against the MPLA. He supported his brother-in-law, Jonas Savimbi, who led UNITA.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration called Savimbi a "freedom fighter" worthy of CIA support. Thankful for the use of Zaire as a supply route to Savimbi's forces, Reagan praised Mobutu as "a voice of good sense and good will."

Between 1962 and 1991, the U.S. directly supported Mobutu and his government with more than $1.03 billion in development aid and $227.4 million in military assistance.

Reviewing America's support for Mobutu, the former US Assistant Secretary of State, Chester Crocker said: "I think we have no apologies to make. We were in a state of global rivalry with a global adversary."

The end of the Cold War

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reform policies in the USSR - called perestroika (restructuring of the Soviet economy) and glasnost (openness and transparency). After more than four decades, in December 1989, Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush Sr. declared the Cold War officially over.

With the Cold War ended, Zaire ceased to be of interest to the US, and US aid to Mobutu began to dry up.

There had been simmering anger and discontent with Mobutu's rule in Zaire for a long time. Mobutu could not stay in power without US help. The Zairian liberation movement led by Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu's dictatorship in 1997. It quickly reinstated the country's name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) and appointed a new government. Laurent Kabila declared himself President.

Mobutu went into exile in Togo and then in Morocco, and died of cancer in 1997. He had seventeen children. The accounts held by Swiss institutions containing the assets of the late Mobutu Sese Seko were frozen in 1997. Swiss authorities have repeatedly denied Mobutu's heirs access to the money, and in May 2009 the funds remained frozen.

Laurent Kabila banned all political parties except his own, and elections were never held. Kabila's policies differed little from his Mobutu's as he ran a dictatorship that was corrupt and rampant with human rights abuses. He was assassinated in 2001, and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila.


Case Study: Congo

The sources that appear in the Grade 12 examination are often quite long and difficult. The sources in this task on the Congo are taken from the Supplementary History Paper Two that was written in March 2009. It is good practice for you to try to answer all the questions, and then check your answers.

There are four sources A, B, C and D. Each source has a separate set of questions and answers.

Examine the sources and then answer the questions that follow.


The following extract is adapted from In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo:

The US played a major role in converting the newly independent Congo into a Cold War battleground. The US administration in the 1960s authorised the murder of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who had been voted into office just months earlier in the territory's first-ever democratic election. Washington, who was instrumental in helping Mobutu Seso Seko to power and kept him there for more than 30 years, bears heavy responsibility for the disastrous economic conditions, massive corruption, and suppression of human rights in the Congo.

Mobutu was regarded as a particularly valuable asset by the United States of America and they were determined to keep him in power at all costs so that the Congo remained a pro-Western defence against Soviet ambitions in Africa. When Mobutu visited Washington for the first time in May 1963, President Kennedy stated: 'General if it hadn't been for you, the whole thing would have collapsed and the Communists would have taken over...'

Subsequent US presidents believed that Mobutu was the only alternative to communism and continued to support him financially and militarily. The US, using Congo's bases as the conduit (pipeline) for arms destined for Angola's rebels, was determined to keep Mobutu on board. This despite having substantial knowledge that he was highly corrupt and an inefficient leader.

According to Roger Morris, US representative responsible for African affairs in the 1970s, keeping Mobutu on the US side was not cheap. It is argued that the CIA prolonged Mobutu's rule by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training ...

Look at Source A and answer the following questions:

1. Why do you think the US administration 'authorised the murder' of Lumumba?

2. Explain to what extent the USA was responsible for the installation of Mobutu as leader of the Congo.

3. How did the various US presidents continue to keep Mobutu's regime in power?

4. Why was the Congo important to the USA in the Cold War context?


The following has been taken from World History, A New Perspective. It focuses on Mikhail Gorbachev's reform measures.

Gorbachev, a reformist communist, became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985. He introduced reforms called Perestroika and Glasnost which allowed greater openness and freedom of speech.

When Gorbachev addressed the United Nations in 1988, he committed himself to ending the Cold War with the United States. He decided to abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine, renounced the Communist Party's emphasis on a world revolution dating back to 1917 and was intent on cutting back on nuclear weapons. With Russia's conservative and ailing economy, Gorbachev was no longer prepared to support Soviet dominated governments in Europe and Africa. By doing this Gorbachev effectively withdrew his support from hard-line communist regimes of Europe and Africa and he encouraged the leaders of these regimes to seek new ways of gaining support. By doing so, Gorbachev opened the way for political and economic reforms in Europe and Africa.

Look at Source B and answer the following questions:

1. Using the information in the source and your own knowledge, define the following concepts:
(a) Perestroika
(b) Glasnost.
Explain how the concepts differ from each other.

2. Explain why Gorbachev wanted to end Russia's participation in the Cold War.

3. List some of the criticism of Gorbachev's reforms.

4. Using the information in the source and your own knowledge, explain how African countries (such as the Congo) responded to Gorbachev's decision?


The following extract focuses on the impact of Gorbachev's reforms on Mobutu's regime. Taken from A History of Fifty Years of Independence.

With Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika transforming the Soviet Union, the Cold War priorities were fading. Democracy was sweeping across Africa and Mobutu was moving from useful US ally to an embarrassment. In the 1990s the World Bank noted that Congo's economy had shrunk to the level of 1958, while the population had tripled. Average life expectancy was fifty-two years, illiteracy was growing, Aids was rife and diseases such as bubonic plague and sleeping sickness were enjoying a vibrant comeback. It further noted that by the end of the century one of Africa's richest states was dipping below the daily takings of the US super store Wal-Mart.

Western self-interest made indulging Mobutu worthwhile, in fact Chester Crocker, the former US assistant secretary of state for Africa, stated that 'If we tried to attach 1990's governance conditionalities to Mobutu, we would have been calling for his overthrow and if we asked him to turn off the taps, his own people would have toppled him. We would, in effect, have been calling for a coup. I'm sure of that'.

However, when the Cold War ended, the US gradually stopped supporting Mobutu. On 29 April 1997 American negotiators met Mobutu, bearing a letter from President Clinton, trying to persuade him to leave 'with honour and dignity' and spare the capital from looting and destruction that seemed likely to accompany his downfall.

He was overthrown in 1997 and went into exile. A new government, under Laurent Kabila, took over and changed Zaire's name to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Look at Source C and answer the following questions:

1. Why, according to the source, did Mobutu prove to be an embarrassment to the USA?

2. Explain how Chester Crocker justified the US's support of Mobutu.

3. What factors contributed to Mobutu being overthrown as the leader of the Congo?


The following is a Cuban cartoon showing American arms pushing Mobutu over the cliff with the words 'the time for change has arrived' and putting Laurent Kabila in his place. Kabila and Mobutu both hold skulls as sceptres (symbol of a ruler).

Look at Source D and answer the following questions:

1. Identify the man on the left and the right and explain what is happening to both of them.

2. Who is 'the boss' being referred to by the man on the right?

3. What does the cartoonist suggest about the nature of the change of leadership?

4. Why do you think the USSR is not involved?

5. The cartoonist is Cuban. What is the cartoonist opinion of the USA?


Case Study: Angola

The sources that appear in the Grade 12 examination are often quite long and difficult. The sources in this task on the Congo are taken from the Supplementary History Paper Two that was written in March 2009. It is good practice for you to try to answer all the questions, and then check your answers.

There are four sources A, B, C and D. Each source has a separate set of questions and answers.

Examine the sources and then answer the questions that follow.


The following extract is from The Post Cold War Diplomacy in Angola: The Emergence of New Foci of Power by Dr. Skyne Uku-Wertimer.

Angola is potentially one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa with extensive petroleum reserves, rich agricultural land and valuable mineral resources. Few countries in the world have experienced as well as sustained the degree of violent conflict seen in Angola.

Intervention has diminished but has not disappeared. Angola's abundant natural resources continue to attract outside interests from industrialized nations globally. In the competition for oil, diamonds and other precious resources in Angola, interests external to Angola continue to play a large and decisive role, both in suppressing conflict and in sustaining it.

The end of the Cold War changed the political landscape of Africa since the 1990s and opened new vistas for the continent, it helped in reshaping international relations as well as the emergence of new concepts of security and self interest. It eliminated the division of Africa into two ideological camps and eliminated a source of external support that was taken for granted.

Look at Source A and answer the following questions:

1. What were the Cold War ideological camps referred to in the source? Lists some of the countries that belonged in both ideological camps.

2. What other reason does the source suggest is a reason for the violent conflict in Angola?


The Civil War has ended in Angola, but most of the country is still in chaos. Almost half of the land in Angola is considered too dangerous to walk on. Nobody knows how many landmines lie beneath the soil of Angola. Some say it may be somewhere between 500,000 and one million, others say there may be as many as six million landmines.

A child bearing the effects of conflict and landmines in civil war torn Angola.

Look at Source B and answer the following questions:

1. What does Source B suggest about one of the legacies of the Civil War?

2. What impact would the image in Source B have on Angola's economy?

Look at Source C and answer the following questions:

1. What four images in the cartoon tell you about the state of Angola?

2. Explain the play on words the cartoon is using.


This cartoon shows the USSR releasing its control of Africa. (Source unknown)


Look at Source D and answer the following questions:

1. What message does the source convey?

2. Using the information from the source and your own knowledge, explain the accuracy of the cartoonist's portrayal of events in Africa.

3. Why is this cartoon a reflection of the history of Africa that goes beyond its presence in the Cold War?

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