U.S. Intellectual History Blog

“Free at Last” A course on the global anti-apartheid movement

I just finished teaching a J-term course entitled “Free At Last: The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement” and thought I would outline my course here in case anyone finds it of interest. J-term was a 18 day course (2 hours of in-class time everyday) in January. Students are required to take a course their freshmen year, which was the level I was teaching. Having just graded the finals, I have to say I was very pleased with the level of work. However, this has to be one of my favorite all time lines on a final exam (I asked an extra-credit question about what they learned about giving presentations and writing history papers in this class):

“By writing history papers in class I was able to learn one major thing; Context is important.”

Seriously. One of my students wrote that. I didn’t pay her or anything. I am so stoked.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

I used the 7 part documentary series “Have You Heard from Johannesburg” to structure the course and the website “South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy” was, roughly, our textbook. Mark Kornbluh did an excellent overview to the documentary, podcasted here, which helps introduce students to the major themes in the film and the idea that a movie could have an argument.

Oliver Tambo, ANC President in exile, and Trevor Huddleston, Anglican Priest and anti-apartheid activist

I had students read Trevor Huddleston’s Naught for Your Comfort and Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom during the first week before the documentary began. One of the requirements of these freshmen seminars is that they do presentations. I assigned them two (well three): the first, an individual one on an aspect of Mandela’s autobiography that I assigned ahead of time, the second, a group one on an aspect that the film covered (with the expectation that they go more in depth than the film could) and three, lead a discussion based on the extra readings for the day. They had a 3-4 page paper due on the subject of the group presentation and the day they led discussion.

Perhaps the greatest challenge was convincing the students to use the resources I had provided for their presentations, rather than going to your friendly local encyclopedia and getting all the information there. I really wanted students to 1. be exposed to scholarly sources and 2. go in-depth on a subject that was covered briefly in the film. Students wanted to stay at the same level of breadth (rather than depth) as the film or an encyclopedia and several resisted learning how to access JSTOR or go to the library for books. I gave them the opportunity to rewrite their papers, so it turned out ok. The other challenge (in discussion leadership) was to encourage them to ask broad, sweeping questions of the anti-apartheid struggle (i.e., how effective was the international boycott on South African sports?), but also to ask deep questions of the readings.  Finally, a note–a bad prezi is worse than a bad powerpoint, even as a good prezi far surpasses a good powerpoint.

Instead of a “midterm” I had students brainstorm everything we’d learned about so far and write them large on a piece of paper, and arrange the papers on the floor to get a sense of the timeline and scope of the movement. Our time line stretched the entire length of the classroom. This exercise popped up in several of the final exams, so I think students found it useful.

I have written about a similar class in the past, which I taught at the University of Kentucky, but this was really a very different class, one which stretched my knowledge of the global anti-apartheid movement (yay for learning new things!). The assignments were based on research, not just response to the film and short readings, and because there was so little time, I provided the research rather than asking the students to do the searching as well as the reading.

I think readers of this blog would find Have You Heard From Johannesburg’s Episode 5: “From Selma to Soweto” particularly useful in their classes because it is about the US anti-apartheid movement, including the boycott of the South African Embassy, sponsored by TransAfrica (founded by the Congressional Black Caucus), university divestment movements, and the push for economic sanctions (passed over Reagan’s veto). One of the underlying arguments of this episode is the influence of the 1965 Voting Rights Act–i.e. the significance of the new black members of congress and local black officials.

A South African man with his passbook.

Finally, a note about our “passbooks.” Students were each required to create a passbook by finding a black South African person and recreating what their  passbook might have looked like. I stamped them everyday as proof of their attendance. If they were not present when their passbooks were stamped, they did not get credit (even if they were there for the majority of the class period). They could make up this missed credit with a simple assignment: 1. How did you feel, being deprived of your attendance points even though you were present for the bulk of the class period? and 2. Watch one of the short videos at Overcoming Apartheid and tell me in a paragraph what you learned. I then ask students on the final exam to compare our passbooks with the passbooks that black South Africans were required to carry. Largely, students get the difference between the books (especially the level of oppression that black South Africans suffered under, being denied access to urban areas for not having a pass, being jailed and fined for forgetting it, having it ripped up by the police and then jailed), but they also recognize the “unfairness” of being denied attendance points after being only a few minutes late. It’s always interesting to read what they wrote. I find this experiential learning exceptionally useful and am trying to bring it into my US classes. The difficulty is that you can’t really recreate oppression because that would be truly unfair. In other words, everyone in the class gets passbooks, not just a certain subset.

Here is the organizational structure to the days:

Thurs January 3: NO CLASS (Lauren will be at a conference)

Reading: Trevor Huddleston’s book Naught for Your Comfort, (Chapters 1-6). Answer questions online by 5pm and respond to others by 10am Friday

Create your passbook by Tuesday the 8th. Instructions on Katie (our version of blackboard).

Fri January 4: NO CLASS (Lauren will be at a conference)

Reading: Trevor Huddleston’s book Naught for Your Comfort, (Chapters 7-Epilogue).

Answer questions online by 5pm and respond to others by 10am Saturday

Mon January 7: Class will meet but a proxy will show the film (Lauren will be at a conference)

            The documentary “Have You Heard from Johannesburg” Story One: “Road To Resistance, [1948 – 1964]”

Reading: Listen to Mark Kornbluh’s Introduction to “Have You Heard from Johannesburg” and Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Part 1-Part 3

Tues January 8: “The Struggle is my Life” Nelson Mandela

Introduction to each other.

Reading: Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Parts 4-5

Wed January 9: The Freedom Charter and the Rivonia Trialists

Reading: Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Parts 6-7

Student Presentations on an aspect of Mandela’s life

Thurs January 10: Documentary Story Two: “Hell of a Job”

Reading: Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Part 8

Fri January 11: Cold War Context

Student led discussion

Readings: Oliver Tambo Speeches and United Nations debates

Mon January 14: Documentary Story Three: “The New Generation [1960 – 1977]”

Tues January 15: Global Student Activism in the 1960s and Global Black Consciousness—

Readings: Don Woods, excerpt from Biko and Steve Biko, speeches online

Student Presentations and student led discussion

Wed January 16: Documentary Story Four: “Fair Play [1958 – 1981]”

Thurs January 17: Sports as Resistance

Readings: Harry Edwards, “Reflections on Olympic Sportpolitics: History and Prospects, 1968-1984” Crisis 90.5 (May 1983): 20-24. Available on books.google.com

Student Presentations and student led discussion

Fri January 18: Documentary Story Five: “From Selma To Soweto [1977 – 1986]”

Mon January 21: U.S. Involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Readings: New York Times articles; International Solidarity Movement at “Overcoming Apartheid”

Student Presentations and student led discussion

Tues January 22: Documentary Story Six: “The Bottom Line [1965 – 1988]”

Wed January 23: International Boycotts; Parallel realities in South Africa

Readings/Listenings: “Armed Struggle” and “Cross-Border Attacks on the Frontline States” at “Overcoming Apartheid”

Student Presentations and student led discussion

Wednesday evening at 7: Endgame

Thurs January 24: Documentary Story Seven: Free At Last [1979 – 1990]

           Reading: Nelson Mandela Part 10-11

Fri January 25: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Reading: Unit 7 “Overcoming Apartheid”

          Take-home Final due Friday, January 25 at Midnight