Essential Question

What was South African apartheid, and how did musicians unite to challenge it?


In the South African national anthem, each of the five stanzas is sung in a different language. The song features the regional languages Xhosa, Zulu, and Sesotho, as well as European English, and Afrikaans, or “African Dutch,” which developed as Dutch settlers became a fixture of the area in the 17th and 18th centuries. The varied tongues of the anthem reveal the strange relationships that emerged between local and foreign powers during colonialism. That the languages are found together within a single song demonstrates that the country, which languished in a state of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination known as apartheid for much of the 20th century, has progressed.

Apartheid became the official policy of South Africa in 1948, but segregation and discrimination had been the norm of the region since the “Boers”–landowning European farmers–of the Dutch East India Company established a settlement powered by the labor of slaves and indentured servants on the Cape of South Africa in the 17th century.

The Dutch sold the South African colony to Great Britain in 1815. Upset with new laws imposed by England, especially one abolishing slavery, the Boers moved further inland. The “Great Trek” of Boers led to skirmishes and wars between the Boers, the English colonists, and the indigenous African tribes, especially the Zulu, throughout the 19th century. The discovery of gold and diamonds in the mid-1800s caused tensions over mineral resources and the labor needed to extract them, intensifying violence in the region. These conflicts eventually ended in 1909, when the South Africa Act unified the British Colonies and the Boer Republics into a single country. Coupled with the union, however, came harsh segregation laws which denied blacks the right to vote and allocated only eight percent of the country’s land to the native Africans who made up 80% of the population.

South Africa joined the allied forces in World War II, and as young whites left for service, many rural blacks migrated to cities to work the jobs they vacated. Following the war, many returning soldiers felt threatened by the economically empowered blacks in their midst. The National Party of South Africa campaigned on a promise to return the country to an era when whites were economically secure. Upon winning power in 1948, the National Party enacted the legal system of apartheid, or “apartness,” which they claimed would ensure white dominance.

Under apartheid, blacks, South Asians and “coloured” (mixed-race) people were not allowed to vote. Blacks were forced to migrate from their residences to separate independent “Bantustans,” or supposed tribal “homelands” set aside for them, and interracial families were split apart. With little opportunities to make a living within the poor Bantustans, many travelled great distances to be employed as “migrant workers” in larger cities. Acts of resistance against such unjust policies were often met with violence by the army and the police. Peaceful protests against apartheid in Sharpeville and Soweto led to many deaths, including those of children. Anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were imprisoned, Steven Biko was beaten to death by the police while in jail.

The apartheid system would last over 40 years, finally ending in the early 90s, after decades of international outcry and protest.

In Part One of this lesson, students are introduced to apartheid in South Africa. They watch clips from Steven Van Zandt and Arthur Baker’s Sun City documentary to learn about apartheid, and  attempt to experience what life might have been like during apartheid through a classroom activity. Then, students consider ways in which apartheid could be fought, and whether elements of apartheid in South Africa also existed in the history of the United States.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • Understand the history of apartheid in South Africa, and how it affected South Africans
    • Understand the limitations imposed upon people who might have wanted to change the system
    • Understand possible connections between apartheid and continuing systems of segregation in the United States
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Through discussion, data analysis, and experiential activities, students will be able to explain the apartheid system in South Africa, compare and contrast apartheid with examples of segregation in the United States, and consider ways the apartheid system might be confronted and changed


Motivational Activity:

  1. Show class Image 1, Apartheid Sign, and ask students:
    • Where do you think this sign is located?
    • Why would this sign be displayed?
    • Do you recognize any of the languages on the sign?
    • What might this sign suggest to you about the society that created it?
    • What other forms of segregation might have existed in this place? (Encourage students to think about education, politics, voting, and employment).
  2. Once it is identified that the sign comes from South Africa, ask students:
    • Have you ever heard the word “apartheid?” What do you think it might refer to?
    • Can you think of any examples of situations similar to apartheid in other places?


  1. Tell students that they will now view a news story about the Sun City Resort and Casino in South Africa Show. Play Clip 1, At Sun City, and ask students:
    • Based on what you saw in the clip, what group of people might have vacationed in Sun City? What group of people might be the ones working at Sun City?
    • How did Sol Kerzner promote Sun City as beneficial to the black population?
    • While not practicing apartheid, how might have Sun City still benefited the South African apartheid government? (Encourage students to consider the tax revenue the casino brought in, as well as how the diversity of employees at the casino would provide a good public image of South Africa to foreign tourists).
    • Do you believe the woman worker when she asserts that whites and blacks are equal at Sun City? Why or why not?
  2. Tell students they will now view a conversation between musician Steven Van Zandt and Sun City owner Sol Kerzner that took place on a nationally televised talk show. Play Clip 2, Steven Van Zandt on Donahue, and ask:
    • Why might Van Zandt, a musician, be involved in a discussion about Sun City? What might have he witnessed in Sun City or South Africa that led him to create a protest song against Sun City? (if necessary, refer students to the previous footage from Sun City, which shows entertainers and audiences).
    • When Van Zandt says “Sun City isn’t the problem, it’s where it is,” what do you think he might be suggesting?
    • Van Zandt suggests that the barbed wire in his video is a symbol of Sun City and South Africa, what do you think it might symbolize?
  3. Show students Image 2, Apartheid Statistics 1, and ask them:
    • What facts are being presented in each of these graphs?
    • What do you think “Urban Blacks” and “Homeland Blacks” are? (Students should reach the conclusion that the Homelands were “independent” rural villages and slums outside of the large cities).
    • How would you summarize the data on the charts? (Students should reach the conclusion that, while Blacks made up the majority of the population, they remained much poorer and less healthy than whites).

  4. Show students Image 3, Apartheid Statistics 2, and ask them:
    • What facts are being presented in these graphs?
    • What does “GNP” refer to? (If students are unaware of the term, tell them it stands for “Gross National Product,” a measure of all the products and services produced in one year).
    • What conclusions can you make about these two graphs, taking into account the previous graphs you saw? (Students should understand that, while blacks were in the majority, they held the least amount of land and contributed the least to the economy).
    • What sort of governmental policies might be in place to create racial discrepancies such as these?
  5. Show students Clip 3, As a Black South African. Ask students to take notes while watching, so they can discuss the statistics presented in the clip. Ask students:
    • According to the clip, what sort of laws and policies were made against black South Africans during apartheid?
    • What might be the relationship be between the laws and the statistics you saw previously? Do you think these laws contribute to the statistics on the inequality between whites and blacks? Why or why not?
    • What sort of statistics did you see in the clip? How might these statistics affect a society?
    • In what ways might the policies of apartheid and the resulting statistics discussed in the clip be connected? (Encourage students to consider how policies that separate and alienate blacks from the cities perpetuate their poverty and second-class status).
  6. Tell students that in order to better understand apartheid, a short scenario will be introduce. Display Image 4, Classroom Scenario Activity. Read the scenario aloud as a class, then ask students:
    • Would you be happy if your class was organized this way? Why or why not?
    • Do you think this method of classroom management is fair? Should the group of new students be able to create rules for the old students?
    • How might a country organized in a similar way function?

Summary Activity:

  1. Pass out Handout 1 – “The Birth of the American Indian Movement,” and read it aloud as a class. Ask students:
    • In paragraph 1, what do you think Deloria means when he emphasizes that California Indians were systematically neglected by the government? Why does Deloria choose to use the word “systematically”?
    • What relationship does Deloria point to between land ownership and racism towards Indians? How might practices of racism lead to material benefits for the group that perpetuates them?
    • What are some of the similarities you see between the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians and the apartheid government of South Africa?
    • How do you think apartheid might speak to a greater history of racism in the world?

Homework Activity:

  1. Thinking back to the group you were in during the classroom activity (civilized, uncivilized, observer), write a reflection essay on the possible actions you might be able to pursue to change the apartheid system. Be prepared to share your thoughts at the next class. Consider the following limitations of each group:
    • By protesting the classroom system, members of the “Civilized” group might lose their preferential treatment.
    • For the “uncivilized” group, calls for a fairer system may be met with violence.
    • The “observer” group has little direct control over the system in the classroom.


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
  • Core Music Standard: Connecting
  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.

National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.3 Analyze the aesthetic value of a specific commercial work of art and defend that analysis from an industry perspective.
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.
    B8.3 Analyze the aesthetic principles that apply in a professional work designed for live performance, film, video, or live broadcast.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.

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