It was since 1948 that the National Party imposed policies of racial segregation against the predominant non-white population of South Africa. Thus began what is considered by many to be the most tumultuous period of South African history. Historyplex traces the timeline of apartheid in South Africa.
Did You Know?
‘Apartheid’ is an Afrikaans word, which roughly means ‘being apart’, or more specifically, ‘the state of being apart’.
Racial discrimination and segregation had been a part of South Africa’s history, long before the “official” arrival of apartheid. The discrimination was blatant and omnipresent―non-white South Africans had to live in ghettos, had restricted access to common public facilities, and needed special permits to establish any kind of contact with the white population.
The striking aspect was that these repressive rules were applied by the minority rulers (whites) against an overwhelmingly non-white population of South Africa. Despite the nationwide outrage and rebellion, along with protests from the international community, apartheid lasted for close to 50 years in the country.
HISTORY OF APARTHEID
► The earliest instances of discrimination and segregation of non-whites in South Africa came along with the advent of European colonialism.
► Apartheid, as a formal method of governance was being developed in the 1930s and 1940s. The concept often cropped up during discussions on race and politics by the Afrikaner Nationalists (whites of European descent) looking to create a predominantly white presence in the country.
► Rapid industrialization came into being during post-WWII South Africa, and the Afrikaner populace began to feel marginalized by the overwhelming presence of non-whites in the workforce.
► The idea of apartheid germinated from the doctrine of scientific racism, which advocated the separation of races. An early example would be the Land Act of 1913, which legalized territorial segregation, forcing black Africans to live in segregated areas. The Act also included a clause, which made it illegal for them to work as sharecroppers.
► This was followed by several laws that made it mandatory for non-whites to carry documents authorizing their presence in “white” areas. The government went a step ahead and established separate public facilities for whites and non-whites, clamped down on non-white labor unions, and denied them a voice in issues of national interest.
► In one swift move, the government forced black citizens from rural areas to vacate their lands, which were later sold to white farmers at throwaway prices. It is estimated that between 1961 and 1994, more than 3.5 million people were affected by this policy and plunged into abject poverty.
LAWS FORMING THE LEGAL BASE FOR APARTHEID
Population Registration Act of 1950
This Act called for people being registered according to their racial group.
Group Areas Act of 1950
This was the Act that brought about the physical separation between races, particularly in urban areas. It demanded the removal of some groups of people into areas set aside for their racial group.
Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959
This Act enforced racial divide, causing different racial groups to live in different areas. A small percentage of South Africa was left for non-whites to form their ‘homelands’. Furthermore, it got rid of ‘black spots’ inside white areas, by moving all black people out of the city.
Bantu Education Act of 1953
This Act led to the establishment of an inferior education system for Africans. It aimed at propagating a curriculum intended to produce manual laborers and obedient subjects. Similar laws were also imposed on Coloreds and Indians.
Other Oppressive Laws
- Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949
- Immorality Amendment Act, 1950
- Separate Representation of Voters Act, 1951
- Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, 1953
RESISTANCE TOWARDS APARTHEID
► Although resistance to apartheid came from all quarters, the African National Congress (ANC) went on to become the face of the crusade.
► What began as a non-violent form of protest expanded to the creation of full-fledged armed forces, following the Sharpeville massacre (March 21, 1960), where 69 people were killed by the police for demonstrating against the use of passbooks (identification documents).
► As horrifying as the Sharpeville massacre was, it brought about a sea change in the resistance movement and led to the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC. The foundation was credited to a 42-year-old Nelson Mandela, who was incarcerated from 1963 to 1990 for his militant and anti-state activities.
► Years later on December 10, 1996, Sharpeville was chosen by President Nelson Mandela for the signing into law of the Constitution of South Africa.
WHY THE APARTHEID ERA STANDS OUT
► The apartheid era had a lot in common with other autocratic societies, which included Nazi Germany or several nations under European colonial rule.
► However, with the culmination of WWII, which also coincided with the collapse of colonialism, a lot of nations began to move towards a democratic setup.
► As the world had begun to realize the futility of racial discrimination and beginning to outlaw it entirely, that South Africa introduced the more rigid racial policy of apartheid.
► By 1973, the United Nations General Assembly had denounced apartheid, followed by vote by the UN Security Council in 1976 imposing a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and United States imposed trade sanctions on the country.
► The National Party government led by Pieter Botha was under tremendous pressure from the international community to relegate the reins of the nation to a more suitable F.W. de Klerk. In due time, De Klerk’s government repealed the highly controversial Population Registration Act, along with most of the other legislation that formed the legal basis for apartheid.
► Free and fair elections were conducted for the first time in 1994. A coalition government with a non-white majority was formed under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, marking the official end of the apartheid system.
FACTS ABOUT APARTHEID
► Apartheid was mainly aimed towards separating the races; however, this didn’t just refer to creating a divide between the whites from non-whites, but also among the 4 racial groups that comprised the non-white community. These were the Africans (called Bantu in South Africa) along with the Colored (people of mixed black, Malayan, and white descent) and Asian (mainly of Indian ancestry) populations.
► The non-white population was not allowed to vote in elections or own a piece of land. Access to jobs was next to nil. They weren’t allowed to reside in urban areas unless they possessed the necessary labor permits.
► In the rare event that a non-white did possess a labor permit, it did not include the spouse or family of a permit holder, resulting in the breakup of family life among many Africans.
► In 1961, still reeling under tremendous pressure to repeal apartheid, the South African government chose to withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations rather than change its racial policies.