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History of Apartheid

Apartheid; the word alone sends a shiver down the spines of the repressed African community. Apartheid was a mordant period in the history of South Africa. . The word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language and it described the rigid racial division between the governing white minority population and the nonwhite majority population.

The Afrikaners are a South African people of Dutch or French Huguenot descent. The Nationalist party of South Africa was founded in 1914 by James Barry Munnik Hertzog to protect and promote the interests of Afrikaners against the pro-British policies of the South African party, which was led by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. On May 26, 1948, the Nationalists reigned victorious and they won the parliamentary elections and gained control of the South African government. They began taking steps toward implementing apartheid. Over the next several decades, they consolidated their power. “The National Party used its control of the government to fulfill Afrikaners ethnic goals as well as white racial goals.” In 1961, South Africa became a republic and completed its separation from Great Britain. Apartheid turned into “a drastic, systematic program of social injuring” based on four ideas. First, the population of South Africa comprised four racial groups–white, colored, Indian, and African–each with its own culture.

Second, whites, as the civilized race, were entitled to have absolute control over the state. Third, white interests should prevail over black interests; the state did not have to provide equal facilities for the subordinate races. Finally, the white racial group formed a single nation, with Afrikaans, while Africans belonged to several (eventually ten) distinct nations or potential nations, a formula that made the white nation the largest in the country. Over the years, the government introduced a series of repressive laws. The implementation of the apartheid policy, later referred to as “separate development,” was made possible by the Population Registration Act of 1950. It provided for the racial classification of every person. The law put all South Africans into three racial categories: Bantu (black African), white, or Colored (of mixed race). While the statutory definitions of so-called “coloreds” under apartheid have shifted over time, they have been persistently raven with contradictions. The state has variously sought to demarcate the category “colored” on the basis of descent, parentage, physical appearance, language preference, cultural criteria, and “general acceptance” by “the community.” The Population Registration Act defined a “colored” as someone “who in appearance is obviously not white or Indian, and who is not a member of an aboriginal race or African tribe.”

The petty-bourgeois obsession with racial ‘purity’ and eugenics, was given expression in yet another set of repressive laws. The Group Areas Act of 1950 assigned races to different residential and business sections in urban areas, and the Land Acts of 1954 and 1955 restricted nonwhite residence in specific areas. These laws further controlled the already limited right of black Africans to own land, entrenching the white minority’s control of over 80 % of South African land. The laws are based on a fear of black insurgence and the desire to present the world with a picture of South Africa showing whites less heavily outnumbered by non-whites than they really are. As these Bantustans are gradually excised from the body politic of South Africa, the numerical situation of the whites changes dramatically. Non-whites outnumber whites six to one. Of the blacks the two largest groups are the Zulus and the Xhosas, numbering around 4,000,000 each. But this is a dream-a dream made possible in theory by the edicts of government. In South Africa, all things are possible.

One of the most repressive apartheid restrictions was the law requiring that blacks and all other nonwhites carry a “pass book” stating their legal residence and workplace. Those without the proper papers could be stopped by police and summarily expelled to the countryside. Interracial Marriage and Immorality Acts prohibited marriage and sexual relations across color lines. Group Areas Act defined residential areas by race. Under it, Colored and Indians were removed to special segregated townships. Bantu Education Act gave the central government control of African education, and closed private schools for Africans and forced them to attend a separate, inferior education system. Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister, states “Native education should be controlled . . . in accord with the policy of the state . . . If the native in South Africa today in any kind of school in existence is being taught to expect that he will live his adult life under a policy of equal rights, he is making a big mistake . . . There is no place for him in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor.” Extension of University Act segregated higher education sharply. It prohibited things such as established universities to accept black students except by special cabinet permission. The 1953 Reservation of Separate Amenities Act permitted the systematic segregation of train stations, buses, movie theatres, hotels, and virtually all other public facilities, and barred the courts from overturning such restrictions.

Labor regulations in the 1950’s all but outlawed the formation of trade unions except by whites, and reserved most skilled occupations for whites. The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 furthered geographic divisions between the races by creating ten so-called homelands or Bantustans for the black population. The government had power to grant each “independence” and thereby deprive the people of South Africa citizenship. The Homelands “remained economic backwaters.” They simply could not support the masses of people confined to them. The government tried to move all Africans, accept those needed by white employers, into the Homelands. Each Homeland consisted of fragments of land, separated by white farms. Kwa Zulu consisted of 29 major and 41 minor fragments. It is estimated that 3.55 million Blacks were removed between 1960 and 1983. The social implications were severe. Two examples: “In Soweto (a township near Johannesburg), with a population of over one million by 1978, seventeen to twenty people were living in a typical four room house; in Crossroads, outside Cape Town, there were more than six people to a bed.” Despite the conditions, the government continued to implement new apartheid regulations decade after decade. The Bantu Laws Amendment Act of 1964 gave the government complete authority to banish blacks from any urban area and from white agricultural areas. During the 1970’s, the government stripped thousands of blacks of their South African citizenship when it granted nominal independence to their homelands. Most of the homelands had few natural resources, were not economically viable, and being both small and fragmented, lacked the autonomy of independent states.

Apartheid extracted a huge human cost. In its efforts to create completely segregated residential areas, the South African government destroyed thousands of houses in racially mixed areas. With their homes destroyed, tens of thousands of people were forced into small, substandard houses, located in bleak townships and neighborhoods with poor services. Limits on black residence in urban areas also broke apart families in cases where one parent obtained a residence permit but the other did not. Restrictions on the size and location of black businesses squelched the economic aspirations of many blacks, preventing them from competing effectively with white-owned businesses. Apartheid educational policies condemned black South Africans to a severely overcrowded school system with educational policies designed to limit achievement. In the early 1950’s, the African National Congress began a passive resistance campaign which helped it form a broad coalition. It issues a Freedom Charter that said “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.” The government reacted by passing further repressive legislation and by arresting 156 people. The Pan-African Congress organized a campaign against the pass laws. People gathered at police stations without passes. The campaign led to the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 when police opened fire on an unarmed group killing 67 Africans and wounding 186. This led to widespread disturbances and the subsequent banning of both resistance coalitions.

The government declared a state of emergency, and arrested 98 Whites, 90 Indians, 36 Colored, and 11,279 Africans. Nelson Mandela and other leaders were jailed in 1963 and tried in 1964. The government crack-down succeeded and suppressed the resistance for several years. The spirit of resistance grew, and on June 16, 1976, thousands of Black schoolchildren in Soweto protested against being taught in Afrikaans. After the police killed a boy, the protests spread throughout the country. The government once again reacted brutally–killing over the next months 575 people. The date of the “Soweto Uprising” is now recognized in South Africa as National Youth Day. Soweto was another dramatic turning point. But it took 14 more years–years of repression, resistance, and violence, but no widespread civil war–before the transition to majority rule and democracy began. The transition began with President de Klerk’s election in 1990.