AFSC's long and sometimes contentious effort to end apartheid began with divestment from Chase Manhattan Bank by our New York office in 1965.

In 1974, we hired veteran Africa activist Bill Sutherland to connect with the liberation movements and help inform our U.S. work on Southern Africa. A 1977 study tour and 1980 delegation visited the region to assess the problems, gather input, and develop strategies for AFSC involvement.

We focused primarily on how the U.S. government and businesses were supporting South Africa, and we called for sanctions and divestment to force an end to apartheid. Then we provided tools for college students, faith communities, and others to pressure their institutions to divest from South Africa. As part of this divestment strategy, our Atlanta office led a successful nationwide boycott of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1980s.

As the divestment effort grew, AFSC brought both organizing expertise and a national U.S. presence to the cause. We worked to connect the efforts of D.C. policy groups, students, unions, churches, and municipalities. Ultimately, public opinion shifted and the divestment campaign contributed to the downfall of apartheid in 1994.

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  • Two people hold signs that read "U.S. Hands Off Southern Africa" and "Up with African Liberation Down with Apartheid."
    AFSC struggled with questions inherent in South Africa: How could we support liberation groups that did not reject violence? Would divestment increase the suffering of Black South Africans?
  • Illustration of a crumbling temple with the word "Apartheid" across the top, with "Investment," "Technology," "Computers," and "Oil" labeling columns.
    AFSC’s National Action/Research on the Military Industrial Complex (NARMIC) revealed how U.S. computer companies supplied the hardware and software used by South African security forces to enforce apartheid.
  • Two men look at a piece of paper together.
    Jim Bristol (left), an AFSC staff and board member, wrote in his 1972 essay “Nonviolence not first for export” that Americans should stop preaching pacifism to revolutionaries elsewhere, while investing money in the very regimes that oppressed them.
  • One man speaks and gestures next to seated man at the same table.
    Bill Sutherland, who served time in prison as a conscientious objector during WW II, worked for AFSC from 1974-81. He communicated directly with Southern African liberation leaders and brought his insights to our decision makers.
  • Cover of a book published by AFSC titled "South Africa: Challenge and Hope."
    In 1982, AFSC’s Southern Africa Working Party published this comprehensive analysis of the South African crisis based on extensive, on-the-ground research.
  • Men hold up fists as they carry a casket.
    Many South African Blacks died in the custody of white police officials. One of the most noteworthy was activist and author Steven Biko, whom AFSC nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
  • Group of people stand on the sidewalk, holding signs.
    AFSC worked to foster better collaboration among groups striving for a free South Africa, such as the American Committee on Africa, TransAfrica, unions, churches, and municipalities.
  • Man speaks to a large group of people seated and standing on the sidewalk.
    AFSC’s network of programs and offices helped anti-apartheid voices reach audiences across the country. Here, African National Congress member Seloka Phirwa speaks at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1984.
  • One man looks on as another smiles at the audience.
    Bishop Desmond Tutu (right, with AFSC staffer Jerry Herman) was nominated by AFSC for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 1984. He visited our Philadelphia headquarters in 1979 and 1984.
  • Two women sit in chairs in a room.
    Thandi Gcabashe (right, with Leah Tutu in 1985), an exiled South African and daughter of African National Congress President Albert Luthuli, served as director of the Southern Peace Education program in our Atlanta office.
  • Graphic for the Coke Divestment Campaign that reads "Coke sweetens Apartheid."
    Thandi Gcabashe helped organize the successful boycott of Coca-Cola, headquartered in Atlanta and one of the largest U.S. employers to benefit from apartheid-based economics.
  • Group of people holding signs and banners, one of which reads "Apartheid kills."
    Caving to the boycott pressure in 1986, Coca-Cola was the first major corporation to directly link their departure to apartheid: “Our decision to complete the process of disinvestment is a statement of our opposition to apartheid and of our support for the economic aspirations of black South Africans."
  • Graphic with many buttons, each reading "Free Mandela."
    In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, we continued our commitment to South Africa, sending a mission to observe ongoing violence. Mandela was democratically elected president in 1994.