After apartheid became the law in South Africa in 1948, establishing a rigid system of racial discrimination, the policy did not immediately receive international condemnation. Many countries, including the United States, still practiced racial segregation and did not criticize apartheid in South Africa. After the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, however, in which protesters against racial laws were killed in South Africa, the international community directed its attention to apartheid. In 1962, the United Nations passed Resolution 1761 condemning apartheid, and the next year, the UN called for a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa. The arms embargo became mandatory in 1977, following the South African government's brutal suppression of the Soweto Uprising of 1976.
As many countries pushed for economic sanctions against South Africa, some western nations, such as the United Kingdom and the US, still sought strong economic ties with South Africa. Over time, however, movements in their own countries against racial segregation, including the Civil Rights movement in the US, made it increasingly difficult for them to support apartheid. In the 1980s, Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK supported South Africa as a defense against the spread of communism in Africa during the last days of the Cold War. However, as communism began to collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Western countries no longer relied on South Africa as a bastion against communism, and, in 1993, apartheid was officially ended in South Africa.
The international reaction to Apartheid was very strong. Global political and economic factors played into this. From a political standpoint, it was difficult for leaders of various governments to stand by and watch how poorly the Black Africans were being treated. Within their own countries, there had been a push for equality and equal rights. When citizens of the world saw on television and in pictures the poor conditions the Black Africans faced, they put pressure on their leaders to demand change. The same pressure also occurred when people realized the Black African majority was being denied political power and freedom. This further intensified the pressure on governments to demand change. Economically, many countries did business with countries that followed the policy of Apartheid. This business amounted to huge sums of money. By threatening to boycott products produced in these countries, the countries of the world exerted economic influence to try to get the policy of Apartheid to end. It was a long struggle, but eventually, in part because of political and economic pressure, Apartheid came to an end.