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Davis Cup After Four Decades

Apartheid [apartness], was the Afrikaans name given by the white-ruled South Africa's Nationalist Party in 1948 to the country's harsh, institutionalized system of racial segregation. In South Africa, riots, boycotts, and protests by black South Africans against white rule had occurred since the inception of independent white rule in 1910.

An estimated 5,000 people turned out for the March 17, 18 and 19, 1978 protests against South African participation in the Davis Cup tennis tournament at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. By the mid-1970s, South Africa's sports teams were banned from international competitions due to the state's apartheid policies. Tennis was one of the last frontiers in the global sport boycott, a critical component of the global anti-apartheid struggle. Opposition to apartheid had moved from the fringe of American society in the early 1970s to become an influential mainstream protest movement across the United States.

Vanderbilt needed to sell 12,000 tickets over the three-day tournament to break even financially. Due to the protests, only 2500 tickets were sold. John Pike, then a senior at Vanderbilt, was the lead organizer of the protests. A few weeks later, he was expelled from Vanderbilt, one course short of his degree. This did not prevent the Vanderbilt fund raising department from pestering him for donations in subsequent decades.

By the late 1970s, grassroots movements in Europe and the United States had succeeded in pressuring their governments into imposing economic and cultural sanctions on Pretoria. After the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, many large multinational companies withdrew from South Africa. By the late 1980s, the South African economy was struggling with the effects of the internal and external boycotts as well as the burden of its military commitment in occupying Namibia.

In his opening address to Parliament in February 1990, South African President F. W. de Klerk, in a move that surprised observers, announced that he was lifting the ban on the African National Congress [ANC] and other black liberation parties, allowing freedom of the press, and releasing political prisoners. The country waited in anticipation for the release of Nelson Mandela, who walked out of prison after 27 years on 11 February 1990. In April 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa's first black president.

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