Read this article to learn about the freedom movements in Southern Africa after the Second World War!

Ghana and Guinea:

Just after the end of the Second World War, nationalist organizations were formed in almost all countries of southern Africa (sub-Saharan Africa).

The imperialist countries had realised that they would not be able to hold on to Africa for long.

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The first country to gain independence in southern Africa was Ghana (formerly Gold Coast). The struggle for freedom in Ghana was led by Kwame Nkrumah. He was an outstanding leader of African nationalism and played an important role in uniting the African people for freedom as well as for asserting their national sovereignty and independent role in world affairs.

In 1949, he formed the Convention People’s Party. In 1956, this party won more than 70 per cent seats in the elections and on 6 March 1957 Ghana became independent. In 1958, Guinea became the first French colony in southern Africa to become independent.

The Africa Year:

In 1960, 17 countries of Africa became independent. This has given that year the title of the Africa Year’. Out of them, 13 had been French colonies. These 17 countries were Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo (formerly ‘French), Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Belgian Congo, it was renamed Zaire until 1997), Central African Republic, Somalia and Madagascar.


The wave of anti-imperialism that engulfed Africa in 196Q influenced even the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. During a tour of British colonies in Africa in March 1960, he spoke about the wind of change which was blowing throughout the continent and said, “Whether we like it or not this growth of national consciousness is a political fact and our national policies must take account of it”.

The Struggle in Kenya:

British imperialism had long been trying to prevent this ‘wind of change’ from blowing. In Kenya the nationalist movement had been launched in the 1920s and one of its leaders who emerged into prominence was Jomo Kenyatta. In 1943, was formed the Kenya Africa Union which later became the Kenya African National Union which, besides Jomo Kenyatta, was led by Odinga Oginga.

In 1952, the Mau Mau rebellion broke out in Kenya. This rebellion was mainly a peasant rebellion of the Kikuyu tribe whose lands had been taken away by the British colonial authorities. Some Western writers have described Mau Mau rebels as terrorists who committed inhuman atrocities.

The British suppressed the rebellion with the use of brute force, killing about 15,000 Kenyans. In 1953, Kenyatta was arrested and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on the charge of leading the Mau Mau rebellion.


The British were compelled to end their repression which had won them world-wide condemnation. In 1961, Kenyatta was freed. On 12 December 1964, Kenya became a republic with Jomo Kenyatta as its first President.

End of Colonial Rule in Africa:

Most of the remaining British colonies in Africa became independent in the 1960s. These included Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika and Zanzibar) and Sierra Leone in 1961, Uganda in 1962, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) in 1964, Gambia in 1965, and Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho in 1968.

Ruanda (present Rwanda) and Burundi which had been under Belgian rule since the end of the First World War became independent in 1962. By the end of the 1960s, most countries of Africa had become free. The countries where the struggle for independence continued beyond the 1960s was the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde Islands. All these countries became free in the 1970s. Namibia (South West Africa) which had been ruled as a colony by South Africa since the end of the First World War became independent on 21 March 1990.


Another country which had to undergo a long period of struggle before she became independent was Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia). She had been a British colony but the White settlers there, under the leadership of Ian Smith, captured power in 1965.

They were alarmed at the prospect of the country being granted independence which would have meant Black majority rule. A White minority government was established there on the pattern of South Africa and with South African support and it declared what it called the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Most countries of the world at the instance of the United Nations and the

Commonwealth imposed sanctions against Southern Rhodesia. A powerful guerrilla movement grew in Southern Rhodesia. It was aided by the neighbouring African states, the Non-Aligned Movement and the socialist countries. Realising that they could never succeed in suppressing the war of national independence, in spite of South Africa’s support, the White minority government gave up.

In 1980, elections were held in Southern Rhodesia in which everyone—Black and White alike—had one vote. The nationalist parties swept the polls and the country became independent with a new name, Zimbabwe. The government there was headed by Robert Mugabe who became the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement at its conference held in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, in 1986.

One of the major forces which accelerated the process of the eradication of imperialist rule in Africa was the Organisation of African Unity. It was set up in 1963 at a Pan-African Conference held in Addis Ababa. Its role in the 1960s was particularly crucial in promoting African nationalism.

Colonial Powers’ Efforts to Retain Their Influence:

The transition to independence in the countries mentioned above has in no case been smooth. In most cases, the colonial powers have tried to retain their influence even while conceding independence to their colonies. In some countries, particularly when the colonial countries or their supporters thought that the colonial rule was being replaced by governments dominated by radical leaders, they tried to intervene more directly.


In 1953, under a new constitution, elections were held in British Guiana (now Guyana) in which the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) won 18 of the 25 seats. The party, led by Dr Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, had been the main anti-imperialist party in Guyana and drew its support from all sections of the population, mainly people of Indian origin and Black people. Cheddi Jagan became the prime minister and he started implementing, a radical social and economic programme.

However, after about four months the government was dismissed and the constitution suspended. British troops landed there and the leaders of the PPP—Jagan and Burnham—were arrested. All this was done in the name of repelling’ communism. After that, the British fomented ethnic conflicts in Guyana and the PPP was split.

In the 1957 elections, Dr Jagan’s party again won and intensified the demand for independence. In the 1961 elections his party again won a majority, but the government was denied financial help and ethnic disturbances and violence were fomented.

In the 1964 elections, Bumham’s party—he had broken away from the PPP—polled less votes than the PPP but by allying with another party, he became the Prime Minister of Guyana. In 1966, Guyana became independent with Bumham as prime minister (and later as president). In the 1992 elections, Dr Chhedi Jagan was elected president.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire and much earlier called the Belgian Congo), the freedom movement was led by Patrice Lumumba who had set up the National Congolese Movement (MNC). On 30 June 1960, Congo became independent with Lumumba as the prime minister. However, soon after, the governor of the province of Katanga, supported by Western companies which controlled the vast mineral (copper) resources of the province, announced the secession of the province from Congo.

A number of mercenaries were employed to support the secession. On the request of the government of Congo, United Nations troops were sent to Congo to end the secession and the foreign interventions. However, they failed to protect Lumumba, who was murdered.

Later, however, they succeeded in ending the secession of Katanga. In 1965, Colonel Mobutu who headed the army of Congo captured power and became the president of the country, which was renamed Zaire. Lumumba was regarded as one of the greatest leaders of the nationalist resurgence in Africa and his murder, it is believed, had been planned by the US intelligence agency, CIA. Mobutu’s authoritarian rule continued till 1997, when he was overthrown.

In 1996, a genocidal war broke out between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, with Mobutu supporting the Hutus. Kabilas, who had the support of various opposition groups and of the Tutsis, overthrew Mobutu in 1997 and became the president. He had also secured the help of foreign companies by giving those rights over the country’s natural resources. He was assassinated in 2001 and was succeeded by his son.

Similar efforts were made in Angola where a government led by Agostinho Neto was formed after independence. However, this government was sought to be overthrown by the US and South Africa aiding and arming rival groups of Angolans.

The South African troops also entered Angolan territory and fought against the Angolan troops. Angola requested Cuba’s help in resisting foreign invaders and attempts at destroying Angola’s independence were thwarted. After many years, agreements were reached on- the ending of foreign intervention in Angola and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from there.

South Africa: The Emergence as a Democratic Nation:

The most vicious system of racial oppression was set up in South Africa. The system of racial segregation, called apartheid, was enforced in the country by the government of the White minority led by Daniel Malan, who came to power in 1948, and by the successive governments.

The non-Whites, over 80 per cent of the population, were denied the right to vote, strikes were banned, Africans were deported from some specified areas, education was segregated, mixed marriages were declared illegal (and immoral) and all dissent was banned under what was called the Suppression of Communism Act.

Some of the greatest works of world literature, and not just political writings, were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. Strict restrictions were imposed on the movement of Africans and they were required to carry a pass permitting them to do so. South Africa left the Commonwealth when the policy of apartheid came under attack at the conference of the Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries.

The system of apartheid created widespread revulsion everywhere and most countries banned all relations with South Africa. The United Nations called for the imposition of military and economic sanctions against South Africa and under pressure from world opinion and from their own people, the Western countries also began to apply these sanctions.

However, despite the condemnation of her policies, South Africa, for a long time, was not deterred from pursuing her inhuman policy with a brutality comparable only to that of the Nazis. In 1960, an anti-apartheid rally at Sharpeville was dispersed by resorting to brute force. Later, many other acts of brutal repression took place.

By the early 1960s, most leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The others worked to overthrow the oppressive regime either from underground or from other countries.

The struggle against apartheid and the White minority rule was led for many decades by the African National Congress (ANC) which had been formed in 1912. In 1955, a Congress of the People was held which adopted “The Freedom Charter”. This Charter laid down the basic objectives of the South African people’s struggle. The Charter declared:

We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people:

that our people have been robbed of their birth right to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birth right without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief; And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together —equals, countrymen and brothers—adopt this Freedom Charter. And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.

The African National Congress had so far followed a policy of peaceful non-violent struggle. In the face of the brute force with which all peaceful protest was suppressed, it decided to launch an armed struggle. It trained its guerrillas and soldiers inside South Africa and in the independent states of Africa. Some of the prominent leaders of the ANC had been able to escape arrest.

A powerful underground movement was built up and many daring acts of sabotage were committed. In its struggle the ANC received full support from the African states, the Non-Aligned Movement and the socialist countries in its struggle.

With her almost total isolation in the world and the growing strength of the struggle inside the country, the White rulers of South Africa were forced to open negotiations to end the policy of apartheid. Nelson Mandela, who was the vice-president of the ANC, was released from jail in 1990 after about 26 years.

He had become the indomitable symbol of the struggle of the South African people. When he visited India in October 1990, he was given the honour of Head of State. He was also awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. Nelson Mandela’s release was followed by the lifting of ban on ANC and repeal-of many apartheid laws. Subsequently, agreement was reached to put an end to the system of racial oppression and for holding democratic elections on the basis of one person one vote.

No event in recent history has been acclaimed the world over as much as the elections and the formation of a new government in South Africa. In April 1994, the first ever democratic elections were held in that country. The ANC swept the polls and in May 1994, Nelson Mandela became the president of the first non-racist democratic government of South Africa.

This is known as the Government of National Unity (GNU) and almost every major political party of South Africa is represented in it. The emergence of a democratic South Africa can be truly considered a glorious event in recent world history. With this, the liberation of Africa was complete.