A combination of factors contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Many people point to the end of the this system as an illustration of what can happen when people from numerous governments and cultural backgrounds get together to oppose something, whether it be institutionalized racism or war. It is also important to remember that although apartheid is over in South Africa, it has left an indelible cultural legacy which will take decades to repair.
Before discussing how it ended, it might help to know what apartheid was. It was a system of institutionalized racial segregation which was created by the government of South Africa. In addition to giving preference to a very small minority of white South Africans, it also created class divisions between native South Africans, forcing people to migrate to “homelands” which were divided along ethnic grounds. Blacks, Indians, and Asians were treated as second class citizens in South Africa under apartheid, a system which endured from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.
One important factor in the end of apartheid was pressure from inside the country. Members of the government began to have doubts about the system, and several parties which were opposed to it also began to grow in South Africa, starting in the 1970s. Widespread opposition among both black and white South Africans essentially eroded the system from within.
There was also a lot of external pressure, especially from Western nations, some of whom had extensive civil rights legislation. As the power of the Soviet Union began to decline, Western nations felt that apartheid could no longer be tolerated, and they began to actively speak out against it. This period also marked moves toward democracy and self-determination in other African nations, as the West no longer feared the influence of Communism on nascent African governments. Numerous diplomats and public officials made derisive comments about the system, encouraging South Africa to bring it to an end.
South Africa also experienced immense economic pressure to end apartheid. Banks and investment firms withdrew from South Africa, indicating that they would not invest in the country until its institutionalized racism came to an end. Many churches also applied pressure. Combined with violent demonstrations from within and a mass organization of angry South Africans, these factors doomed the system, and repeals to laws started to occur in 1990; four years later, South Africa had a democratic election, and the last legal traces of apartheid were eliminated.