In 1987, I was a high school sophomore and somehow, no doubt through rock music, became aware of the anti-apartheid struggle. As it was for President Obama, the movement to end apartheid was my political baptism. It’s what got me engaged and interested in global politics. I remember going to the Texas A&M campus and participating in meetings of Students Against Apartheid. I joined rallies to encourage the university to divest from any investments in U.S. companies doing business in South Africa.

Hearing of Nelson Mandela’s death today brought all those memories back and prompted me to look through my closet for some mementos of that time (pictured above). Far more eloquent words have been said and written elsewhere about what Mandela meant to South Africa and the world. Like most people, I simply admired his tenacity and willingness to sacrifice his private life for a cause bigger than himself. His passing also led me to wonder about what role, if any, that external movement had in bringing about apartheid’s end, a question for which there are ought to be a social science answer. Continue reading