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.