TOPICS > Politics

Kennedy’s Steps in South Africa Helped Highlight Anti-apartheid Efforts

BY Larisa Epatko  August 27, 2009 at 5:30 PM EST

Nelson Mandela on his way to a campaign rally in 1994; Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

While President Reagan took the “constructive engagement” approach of dealing with South Africa in order to bring about political change, Kennedy worked to rally support in Congress for economic sanctions to pressure the South African government to end its white minority rule.

In 1985, at the height of a state of emergency in South Africa, Kennedy participated in a famous but controversial march toward the prison where anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela was being held. Eventually, Mandela and other political prisoners were released, and negotiations, which spanned from 1990 to 1993, culminated in the country’s first all-race elections in 1994.

Jeremy Sarkin, the former head of South Africa’s Human Rights Committee who currently chairs a U.N. task force in South Africa, describes Kennedy’s role: