The BDS Movement and South Africa


Freedom day, the 27th of April 1994 is a significant date in South African history. This is the year that South Africa become a free democratic nation. After enduring three decades of the Apartheid regime people were free to live their lives, and all were allowed to vote in free and fair elections. The struggle heroes of the time were applauded for having played an important role in bringing about change to the country.

The Power of Sanctions

Economic sanctions also played a massive role in bringing about that transition despite not receiving much fanfare. It’s clear to see why; economics, sanctions and divesting are very dry topics that don’t really hold much appeal. It is totally boring. Having said that, I actually think sanctions and the boycotts of South Africa were instrumental in bringing about the downfall of Apartheid.


Without foreign funding and investment, it was too costly to police a nation. We were in a situation were the vast majority of the population were being oppressed by a small minority. In the long run this never works, and you end up burning through too much cash and resources to maintain the status quo. Losing international funds was crippling to maintaining Apartheid.

Boycotts and Trade Restrictions

Even overseas regular folks decided not to consume South African products and in doing so, starved Apartheid of the growth it needed. All over the world, people decided to act ethically and not support the illegitimate system. Companies doing with business with South Africa were also lambasted by the public and this had powerful consequences.

Simple rules with Significant outcomes. That’s where change really starts!

The Cumulative Effect of Sanctions

No one would trade with us, and everyone sanctioned us. We had the international community squeezing us from all sides and the result is that our economy faltered.

In 1960 a rand could buy a US dollar; by 1994 a rand could only buy a US quarter.

Seeing that the situation was unsustainable, the South African regime at the time made the smart choice to manage a transition to a democratic system.

This is the profound effect that sanctions can have on a country. As much as sanctions sound boring, they’re a powerful tool by the international community to get errant nations to change behavior. Money Talks… or more accurately the Lack of money Talks!

As I see it, this was one of the very first implementations of the BDS movement.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divest and Sanction. The international community boycotted South African goods and services, they divested from businesses here and they sanctioned our country. This led to us emerging as a democratic country.


The first time I heard of BDS was when with respect to Israel. Apparently a BDS movement had emerged to boycott Israeli goods, divest from Israeli businesses and sanction the country. The big difference with what happened with South Africa way back then, and the BDS movement now, is that the BDS movement seems to have a stronger individual component. Basically individuals boycott and divest from something they don’t like, more so than countries.

I like this. I like it because it recognizes the we as the people have collective economic might to change things.

Due to globalization, I feel that countries are way too cozy with ethically bankrupt entities like dictatorships, banks and corporations.

But regular people don’t have this limitation. If you don’t like how a company does business, then don’t buy what they sell. If you think an institution is harming you, then don’t give them your money. If you don’t like what an industry is doing, then stop funding them.

The combined effect of this is potent. It has the ability to bring about massive positive change.

In a sense Veganism has many BDS concepts built into it, but I’ll delve into that later.

For now, its really great to know that this powerful idea exists, and it reaffirms the notion that collectively people have the power.

What you choose to do and what you choose not to do are equally potent. If you believe in something spend your money on it. If you don’t believe in something then don’t spend your money on it.

Simple rules with Significant outcomes. That’s where change really starts!

Photo by Samson on Unsplash


One response to “The BDS Movement and South Africa”

  1. The BDS Movement and Veganism – Jae Subramoney Avatar

    […] I wrote an article about how it was successfully used to dismantle Apartheid and you can read that article here. […]


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