views updated May 23 2018


Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning "apartness," describes an ideology of racial segregation that served as the basis for white domination of the South African state from 1948 to 1994. Apartheid represented the codification of the racial segregation that had been practiced in South Africa from the time of the Cape Colony's founding by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Its emergence in 1948 was antithetical to the decolonization process begun in sub-Saharan Africa after World War II. Widely perceived internationally as one of the most abhorrent human rights issues from the 1970s to the 1990s, apartheid conjured up images of white privilege and black marginalization implemented by a police state that strictly enforced black subordination.

Historical Background

The Dutch East India Company occupied the Cape Colony uninterruptedly from 1652 until the British takeover in 1795. The company's conflict with the indigenous Khoisan was exacerbated by its granting of farmland to company members who had completed their term of service. The Khoisan, who became indentured servants, were landless by the time of the British occupation. Slaves were imported from Asia and elsewhere in Africa throughout the eighteenth century. Briefly restored to Dutch rule in 1803, the colony was again brought under British control in 1806. Two events to which Dutch settlers reacted negatively were the British abolition of the slave trade in 1806 and of slavery in 1833. The latter precipitated the Great Trek, in which many Dutch (Afrikaner) farmers migrated outside the Cape Colony.

A "mineral revolution," financed by British capital, began in South Africa with the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1868 and gold in Johannesburg in 1886. Later the British victory in the Boer War (18991902) brought the Transvaal and the Orange Free State under British rule. Natal was already a British colony. Collectively the four colonies formed the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Afrikaners, who suffered military defeat in the war, displayed intense anti-British sentiment as many of their farms were destroyed and their wives and children placed in concentration camps, resulting in a high mortality rate. Their efforts to increase their population contributed to proletarianization, precipitating their migration to cities for employment. They often became squatters alongside poor blacks. In 19281932 the Carnegie Corporation conducted a study of the "poor white problem" and made recommendations for improving the status of working-class Afrikaners. During that period, Afrikaans, a Dutch variant, became a written language. Members of the emerging Afrikaner bourgeoisie opened the first Afrikaner bank and insurance company.

Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism

After the Boer War, two Afrikaner generals, Jan Smuts and Louis Botha, sought conciliation with the British in forming the South African Party. Supporters also included enfranchised blacks. The South African Party defeated the Unionist Party in the 1910 elections. Cognizant of eroding political rights, members of the black educated elite formed the South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress) in 1912. Racist legislation enacted during this period of "fusion" included the 1913 Land Act, which prohibited a type of sharecropping called farming-on-the-half, in which black sharecroppers negotiated with white farmers to farm part of the latter's land. Furthermore, blacks could not own land outside of designated areas.

Another Afrikaner general, J. B. M. Hertzog, led dissidents against a South African alliance with the British in World War I. A schism developed between Smuts and Hertzog over South African involvement in World War II, signaling the end of fusion. It was then that Hertzog advocated a South African republic outside the British Commonwealth. Further racist legislation included:

The Urban Areas Act of 1923, which legislated urban racial segregation, discouraging blacks from becoming town-rooted.

The Industrial Reconciliation Act of 1926, which introduced job protections for poor whites.

The 1936 Land Act, which reinforced the 1913 Land Act and designated homelands as areas for African land ownership.

A 1936 decree that struck Africans in the Cape Province from the common voters' roll.

The historian T. Dunbar Moodie has suggested that Afrikaner nationalism was a civil religion representing the integration of key symbolic elements. These include major events in Afrikaner history, the Afrikaans language, and Dutch Calvinism. From Moodie's perspective, Afrikaners viewed their history in terms of a repeating suffering-and-death cycle at the hands of the British through major events such as the Great Trek and the Boer War. The Broederbond, a secret society composed of Afrikaner professionals, formed the Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organizations (FAK), affiliating cultural and language associations as well as church councils, youth groups, and scientific study circles in 1929.

Black Resistance

Black activism increased after World War II in South Africa as elsewhere in Africa. When A. B. Xuma became president-general of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1940, he attempted to unify the organization ideologically, regulate its finances, and conduct a propaganda campaign. A major schism developed when Xuma and a few middle-class members advocated negotiation through African representative bodies, while more militant members leaned toward the Communist Party and more assertive political activism.

In the mid-1940s a group of young professionals, including Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, banded together to form the ANC Youth League. They made overtures to Coloured and Indian political organizations in their call for majority rule. Coloureds were descendants of "miscegenation" that occurred in the Cape after the Dutch East India Company's occupation. Indians were recruited as indentured servants to work on Natal's sugar plantations in the 1860s.

Apartheid Legislation

After the National Party victory in 1948, a battery of laws was enacted to strictly segregate South African society by race, ethnicity, and class. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 outlawed marriages between whites and blacks. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that each adult South African be classified by ethnic group as follows: white (Afrikaners and English), Coloured (mixed race, Asian [mostly Indian]), and African (Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi, Basotho, Batswana, Bapedi, Venda, and Tsonga). In 1951 South Africa's "African" population was approximately 8.5 million, nearly four-fifths of the entire population.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 enforced the residential segregation of Coloureds and Indians. These groups could not use public facilities outside residential boundaries.

The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 forced the disbandment of the South African Communist Party and a diplomatic break with the Soviet Union. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 abolished the Natives Representative Council, replacing it with indirect rule. The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act of 1952 required the assignment of detailed reference books to all pass holders detailing their background, employment, and residential rights outside the reserves.

Parliament also passed the Bantu Education Act of 1953, providing for state control of African schools, which had mostly been founded by missionary societies, at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The Ministry of Native Affairs planned a curriculum to prepare the "Bantu" (South African blacks) to occupy a servile position in South African society. Undocumented Africans were removed from urban areas to rural homelands under the provisions of the Native Resettlement Act of 1954. Cape Coloureds were removed from the common voters' roll in the Cape Province in 1956.

When Hendrik F. Verwoerd, minister of native affairs from 1950, became prime minister in 1958, he continued to initiate apartheid legislation compatible with his views regarding "separate development." The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 provided for the creation of eight national units for African self-government supposedly reflective of African ethnic groupings. Since urban blacks had no political representation, it devolved upon chiefs to act as roving ambassadors between African subjects in the urban areas and those resident in homelands. Homelands or reserve areas represented 13.7 percent of the land.

The Bantu Homelands Act of 1970 required that all Africans be given exclusive citizenship in a homeland, disregarding place of birth and current residence. In 1972 Zululand and Bophuthatswana were granted self-governing status, while Transkei, self-governing since 1963, was given more autonomy as the model homeland. Transkei's "independence" in 1976 was followed by Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981.

The Western Cape was declared a Coloured labor preference area in the 1950s. Indians, granted citizenship in 1963, experienced racial discrimination in residential and trading rights.

Gender Issues

Helen Suzman (1993), a long-term antiapartheid member of parliament (MP), observed that in 1953, her first year, there were actually four women in parliament. Two were fellow United Party members, and one was a member of the Liberal Party. Suzman, a liberal, dealt primarily with racial issues, although she also advocated equal rights for women regarding marriage, divorce, abortion, and employment. White women had been enfranchised in 1930 to counter the nonwhite male vote. In general racial and gender issues were not intertwined. However, in 1955 liberal white women founded the Black Sash to protest the proposed disenfranchisement of Coloured men. Members argued for respect for the South African constitution. In the 1970s the Black Sash set up "advice offices" in major cities to assist blacks with problems regarding "influx

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was born on 18 July 1918, to Chief Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, of Thembu royalty, and Noselkeni Fanny in the Eastern Cape village of Mveso, Transkei. After his father's death when Mandela was nine, the acting tribal chief, Jongintaba, assumed Mandela's guardianship. Mandela had access to the best education a black youth could have, attending Clarkesbury Boarding Institute, Healdtown College, and University College of Fort Hare. He eventually left Transkei to avoid an arranged marriage and moved to Johannesburg.

Mandela became politicized while living in Alexandra Township by attending African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) meetings. After receiving his B.A. in 1942, he entered law school at the University of Witwatersrand. His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, includes many names famous in the antiapartheid struggleWalter Sisulu, A. B. Xuma, George Bizos, Bram Fischer, Robert Sobukwe, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Oliver Tambo, and Z. K. Matthews.

Viewing the ANC leadership as too conservative, Mandela in 1943 became a founding member of the ANC Youth League, which sought to motivate the leadership to action. Shocked by the National Party victory in 1948, he and other leaders of the ANC organized a "defiance campaign," employing a variety of passive-resistance tactics against apartheid legislation. Because of these activities, ANC activists were put under government surveillance, and Mandela was eventually served with a two-year banning order (19531955). A banning order restricted an individual to a magisterial district. He or she was expected to report regularly to the police and was under constant police surveillance. A banned individual could not be quoted in the press, could not work, and could not meet with more than one person at a time.

Mandela and 155 other ANC leaders were arrested during the defiance campaign. In 1956 ninety-one people were accused, and sixty-one charges were dropped due to lack of evidence (Saunders; Davenport). Thirty people were tried for treason, and all but one were acquitted, including Mandela, in 1961.

After the treason trial and the banning of the ANC and PAC, Mandela went underground in the newly formed military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), as chair of the high command. This office planned sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and open revolution. Mandela based his underground operations at a farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. Upon his return from the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa meeting in Ethiopia, he was arrested near Pietermaritzburg and charged with inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. He received a three-year prison sentence for the former charge and a two-year sentence for the latter. While in prison, he discovered that many members of the ANC high command were arrested in Rivonia in July 1963. They were charged under the Sabotage Act of 1962, with the onus being on the accused to prove their innocence. The state had requested the death penalty. The accused were given life imprisonment on 12 June 1964. International pressure had a great impact on sparing their lives. The nine-month trial ended in June 1963 with Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island, off Cape Town, for nearly three decades. In his autobiography he wrote of this experience, remarking about the degree to which apartheid permeated every aspect of life in South Africa, even for those in prison, where clothing and food were differentiated according to a prisoner's race.

There were a number of attempts to free Mandela, including a major campaign in 1980. He was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982 and to Victor Vester Prison in Paarl in 1988. During this time he was allowed increasing contact with his wife, Winnie Mandela, and their two daughters. Mandela began negotiations with the South African government for his freedom and the end of apartheid while at Pollsmoor. That continued in earnest at Victor Vester Prison in May 1988. Government representatives preferred to negotiate with Mandela alone and vetoed his request to discuss the first meeting with his ANC comrades. Mandela outlined the negotiated issues as "the armed struggle, the ANC's alliance with the Communist Party, the goal of majority rule, and the idea of racial reconciliation." The government representatives were concerned that the ANC might attempt "blanket nationalization of the South African economy" as stated in the ANC's Freedom Charter. The secret talks occurred against the backdrop of internal protests by the United Democratic Alliance and the Mass Democratic Movement, a state of emergency, and international economic sanctions.

The ANC, PAC, and SACP were legalized on 2 February 1990, and Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Vester Prison on 11 February 1990. When elected president in 1994, Mandela sought to create a "Rainbow Nation," and the ANC collaborated with other political parties to form a "Government of National Unity."

control, unemployment, contracts, housing, and pensions" (Saunders).

Black women were particularly discriminated against with influx control and pass laws, extended to women in 1956. Influx control was a policy designed to direct the flow of black labor to "white" urban areas for employment and to rural farms. With the Nationalist victory in 1948, influx control regulations were enhanced. Pass laws regulated document requirements for black people. Jacklyn Cock examined their status as domestic servants in suburban white households. In Maids and Madams, Cock reports on a study of 800,000 black domestic servants. She examines their status as workers and mothers and their dependency relationships with their white

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, often considered the architect of apartheid, was born in Amsterdam on 8 September 1901, six months before his parents moved to Wynberg, near Cape Town, South Africa. As a lay missionary in South Africa, Verwoerd's father received an assignment in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where the family lived for five years. Young Verwoerd performed well academically there and in Brandfort, Free State, South Africa, his next home. Developing a strongly anti-British political orientation in Zimbabwe, he immersed himself in Afrikaner life in Brandfort. Verwoerd completed secondary school in 1918 and proceeded to the University of Stellenbosch.

At Stellenbosch, Verwoerd was elected chair of the Students' Representative Council in 1923. He majored in sociology, psychology, and logic. After receiving his B.A., he was appointed to a position in the Psychology Department, completing his master's in 1923 and his doctorate in 1924. In 1925 Verwoerd traveled to Germany for study at Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin. In 1927 he and his wife, Betsie Verwoerd, returned to Stellenbosch, where he assumed a position as professor of applied sociology. Becoming chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work in 1933 at Stellenbosch, he began to work with social welfare organizations and undertook a committee assignment on housing and unemployment focusing on the plight of poor Afrikaner whites.

Verwoerd joined the Purified Nationalist Party in 1935 as Afrikaners were attempting to unite politically and also became a member of the nativist Broederbond. He left academia to establish the Nationalist paper Die Transvaler in 1937. The major objective of Die Transvaler was to lure Afrikaners away from the British-oriented United Party and foster the idea of a Christian-National republic. During World War II, Die Transvaler adopted a pro-German stance and was opposed to South African involvement with the Allies. That stance became more explicitly anti-Semitic when Nationalists sought to limit Jewish immigration, deny Jewish citizens party membership, and discourage support for their businesses.

Despite the party's national victory in parliament, Verwoerd lost his local election by a narrow margin in 1948. However, the new prime minister, Daniel F. Malan, appointed him to the senate, and in 1950 Verwoerd became minister of native affairs. In this role, which he described to his wife as the "Great Induna," or great chief, Verwoerd reviewed and restructured the entire ministry, considered the most important in the South African cabinet, and formulated a body of apartheid legislation. On the death of J. G. Strijdom, Malan's successor, Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958.

After organizing a successful whites-only referendum to create a South African republic, Verwoerd attended the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in London in 1961. There he explored the possibility of South Africa remaining a member of the British Commonwealth. Although rebuffed by the British, Canadians, and Afro-Asian bloc because of apartheid, the prime minister received a hero's welcome when he returned to South Africa in early 1961. He had hoped for commonwealth approval of South Africa's apartheid policy given the pro-British sentiment of English-speakers in the white electorate. Afrikaner Nationalists applauded South Africa's removal from the commonwealth.

Verwoerd was assassinated on 6 September 1966, before a parliamentary session in the presence of about four hundred people. The assassin, Demetrio Tsafendas, was later tried and incarcerated in mental institutions until his death in 1999. Officially classified white, he had been born in Mozambique to a Greek father and a Coloured mother. In a 2001 book Henk van Woerden argued convincingly that the assassination was politically motivated.

madams. Black domestic workers neglected their own families to be at the beck and call of the white madams and often lived in servants' quarters near the madams' houses. This enabled the madam to engage in leisure activities or to pursue employment to enhance her family's income. Cock illuminates gradations of female exploitation in the South African context in focusing on the relationship between maid and madam.

Increasing Black Nationalism

In 1952 the African National Congress, whose membership was estimated at 100,000, organized a campaign of defiance to protest racially discriminatory laws, burning passes and defying regulations concerning segregated facilities. Eighty-five hundred people were arrested during the four-month campaign, which resulted in a treason trial and the eventual acquittal of the accused. In 1955 the African National Congress and similar political organizations met and drafted the Freedom Charter, which embraced the tenets of a nonracial, democratic society in which major capitalist enterprises would be nationalized.

Ideological differences within the ANC resulted in Robert Sobukwe breaking away to form the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959. In 1960 the PAC organized a campaign to protest pass laws and low wages. At Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, in March 1960, police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring some 180. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested 1,600 people. The massacre precipitated international condemnation of the South African government, diminished investor confidence, and threw the economy into recession.

After Sharpeville, the ANC and PAC were banned, initiating underground political activity. Nelson Mandela, who had already been imprisoned on other charges, and his compatriots, taken into custody at a farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia, site of the ANC's underground headquarters, were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. In 1964 all but one of the codefendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Rivonia trial signaled the cessation of black nationalist resistance in South Africa. Many members of banned organizations sought refuge in other countries. Neighboring colonies provided South Africa a protective buffer against guerrilla insurgency, investor confidence was restored, and the country embarked on a period of economic prosperity. Meanwhile, after an all-white referendum, South Africa was declared a republic outside the commonwealth in 1961.

Dismantling of Apartheid

The outbreak of the Soweto riots in 1976 marked the denouement in the South African struggle. Students in the Johannesburg township rioted when the government made Afrikaans the language of school instruction in science subjects. Combating police bullets with sticks and stones, hundreds of students were killed. Others fled the country. The ANC set up recruitment stations in Mozambique from which refugees were transferred for military training. Coloured students in Cape Town intensified their activism. Unrest continued around the country and lasted well into 1977, having a deleterious effect on the economy. Refugees, both male and female, began to infiltrate the country to conduct acts of sabotage.

South Africa's protective buffers began to erode in 1975 with the independence of Angola and Mozambique, followed by that of Zimbabwe in 1980, allowing for increasing guerrilla infiltration into the country. After the Muldergate information scandal, P. W. Botha, minister of defense, became prime minister in 1978. Muldergate was an information scandal in which substantial sums of money allocated to buy international media support for apartheid was funneled to the Citizen, a pro-government newspaper in Johannesburg (Saunders, p. 116). The disclosure and attempted cover-up precipitated dissension within the ranks of the National Party. Botha's total strategy combined militarism and reform.

Recognizing the potential for a racial bloodbath, the Nationalists sought a "consociational democracy" in which no racial group would dominate. In an effort to bring legitimate leaders to the negotiating table, a campaign began to free the long-imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela in the early 1980s. The president (formerly prime minister) proposed a tricameral parliament with chambers for Asians, Coloureds, and whites. The exclusion of those classified African led to the formation of the United Democratic Front to coordinate activism within the country.

In the mid-1980s major Western powers initiated econ-omic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Governmental negotiations began in 1990, when Mandela was released from prison. The ANC and other liberation organizations were "unbanned," or legitimized. An interim constitution was written, and elections were held in 1994. The ANC was victorious nationally.

Helen Gavronsky

Helen Gavronsky was born to Lithuanian Jewish immigrant parents near Johannesburg in 1917. She married Moses Suzman in 1937 and had two daughters. Later she returned to the University of the Witwatersrand to complete her B.A. Then she was hired as a lecturer in economic history. The United Party invited her to run for a seat in Houghton, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, in 1952. With the support of her husband, she successfully ran for the seat, which required her absence from her family while residing in Cape Town half a year. In parliament Suzman was a proponent of racial equality, South Africa's return to the commonwealth, rule of law, and the administration of justice. During her tenure in parliament she visited prisons, townships, and "resettlement areas" in the rural homelands. She was in parliament when Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated and visited Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison.

Often at odds with the United Party over apartheid legislation, she formed the Progressive Party in 1959 and became its sole representative. After fourteen years, six colleagues joined her in 1974. Although it was unpopular to participate in an increasingly oppressive apartheid parliament, Suzman was a vigorous advocate of racial equality. Despite their admiration, many black South Africans were critical of her antisanctions stance in the 1980s.

Suzman received many international honors, including honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard; the United Nations Human Rights Award (1978) and Medallion of Heroism (1980); and the Liberal International Prize for Freedom (2002). Suzman left parliament in 1989 but continued her activities in the Helen Suzman Foundation, which is devoted to liberal causes.


When South Africa celebrated its first decade of postapartheid government, it had rejoined the commonwealth and a number of international bodies. The ANC was returned to power for a third term in April 2004 with 70 percent of the vote. Some progress had been made toward racial equality despite inequities in the distribution of wealth. However, South Africa continued to grapple with the legacy of apartheidhigh unemployment, low literacy rates, inadequate housing, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the dynamics of globalization. In the early twenty-first century the unemployment rate was estimated at 38 to 40 percent. According to the South African Survey 1999, one-third of South Africans needed adequate housing. The HIV rate in prenatal clinics was 22.8 percent in 1998.

South Africa is not viewed as competitive in global production due to high labor costs. A number of mining and manufacturing enterprises have established branches in other African countries. The government seeks to attract new investment and to enhance the skills of its black labor force. With regard to the Internet, in the early twenty-first century South Africa was the best-wired country in Africa.

See also Prejudice ; Race and Racism ; Segregation .


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Betty J. Harris


views updated May 29 2018


Apartheid, the Afrikaans word meaning separateness (literally, apartness), was coined during the 1930s by the Stellenbosch-based South African Bureau of Race Relations (SABRA) to denote the separate development of the races living in South Africa. It has subsequently come to be associated with the racial policy implemented by the National Party government of the Republic of South Africa during its rule in the period 1948 to 1994.

Concept of Apartheid

Perhaps the best synopsis of the policy of apartheid is to be found in the United Nations International Convention Against Apartheid in Sport of 1985:

The expression "apartheid" shall mean a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over another racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, such as pursued by South Africa.

Apartheid, as advocated and practiced in South Africa, was structured on three distinct bases:

  • separation of sections of the population along racial lines (segregation);
  • exploitation of persons of color for the benefit of a privileged white elite (discrimination); and
  • repression of opposition to the policy seeking to implement the above (persecution);

Apartheid does not denote the racist sentiments and practices that linger in the hearts and minds and in the personal conduct of many people living in plural societies, but is confined to institutionalized racism—that is, racial discrimination imposed by the laws and enforced practices of a political community. Race is here the essential criterion of enforced differentiations in the social, economic, political, and legal structures within an apartheid society. Racial distinctions constitute a particular modality of social reality and must not be confused with those distinctions founded on national, ethnic, or religious grounds. A racial group is conventionally defined on the basis of "the hereditary physical traits often identified with a geographical region, irrespective of linguistic, cultural, national, or religious factors" (Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, para. 513 [September 2, 1998]).

Historical Perspective

Of all pluralist communities, South African society is perhaps the most diverse. Segregation of the races has been part of the social structure of South Africa ever since the Dutch East India Company, seeking to establish an outpost that would provide the company's fleet with fresh produce while en route to its trading partners in the Far East, took possession of the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. In 1911 Lord Henry de Villiers (Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa) described the racial pattern within the social structures of the country in compelling terms:

As a matter of public history we know that the first civilized legislators in South Africa came from Holland and regarded the aboriginal natives of the country as belonging to an inferior race, whom the Dutch, as Europeans, were entitled to rule over, and whom they refused to admit to social or political equality. We know also that, while slavery existed, the slaves were blacks and that their descendants, who form a large proportion of the coloured races of South Africa, were never admitted to social equality with the socalled whites. Believing, as these whites did, that intimacy with the black or yellow races would lower the whites without raising the supposed inferior races in the scale of civilization, they condemned intermarriage or illicit intercourse between persons of the two races. . . . These prepossessions, or, as many might term them, these prejudices, have never died out, and are not less deeply rooted at the present day among the Europeans in South Africa, whether of Dutch or English or French descent (Moller v. Keimoes School Committee & Another, 1911 A.D. 635, at 643).

During the mid-twentieth century two sets of circumstances were decisive in prompting the National Party of Dr. D. F. Malan (1874–1959) to select racial segregation as the political mandate it would seek from the predominantly white electorate in the forthcoming elections of 1948. General J. C. Smuts (1870–1950), Prime Minister in the United Party government, was a man of mature years, and it was rumored that he favored Jan Hofmeyr (1894–1948), an outspoken liberal known for his nonracist ideology, to become his successor. The second decisive circumstance derived from South Africa's resolve to incorporate South West Africa (Namibia) into the Union of South Africa. South West Africa was placed under South African control in 1919 as part of the mandate system of the League of Nations, and Smuts in 1946 informed the United Nations (UN) of his government's intention to bring the mandate to fruition by transforming South West Africa into a province of the Union. Within the UN India raised objections to this incorporation of South West Africa into South Africa based on South Africa's treatment of Indians and other people of color, under the prevailing laws of the country. The UN offered its good offices to secure a solution to the South African–Indian dispute. In order to gain the support of India for the incorporation of South West Africa, Smuts proposed to extend political rights to South African Indians (the Indians had been disfranchised by the British colonial authorities in 1896). The National Party therefore decided to exploit "the racial scare" as its election strategy and proposed apartheid as a feasible solution to the problem of race relations. To everyone's surprise, it won the 1948 elections, albeit by a narrow margin, and apartheid thus became the official policy of the newly elected government.

Implementation of the Apartheid Policy

In terms of the Population Registration Act of 1950, all South Africans were classified for legal purposes according to the racial categories of white, black, and colored, with the Indian population group constituting a distinct section within the colored community. The racist laws of apartheid South Africa never attempted to define race as such and applied different criteria so as to be able to allocate racial classifications to all its citizens. Being "white" depended on a person's appearance and general acceptance by other members of the white community, whereas being Native/Bantu/black/African depended on a person's belonging to an aboriginal race or tribe of Africa. A "colored person" was defined as someone who was neither white nor black. It is perhaps interesting to note that although Chinese persons were classified as colored, Japanese persons were classified as white.

Based on this classification, apartheid was particularly noted for the totalitarian interference of the state in the private sphere of peoples' day-to-day lives. In apartheid South Africa, the state prescribed, with race as the prime criterion, whom one could marry, where one could reside and own property, what schools and universities one would be allowed to attend, and which jobs were reserved for one. The state dictated to sports clubs whom they could admit as members, and against whom they were permitted to compete. The sick had to be conveyed in racially exclusive ambulances, could receive blood transfusions only from donors of their own racial groups, and could qualify for treatment only in racially defined hospitals. The state even regulated, with race as the prime criterion, who would be allowed to attend church services in some regions, and where one could be buried.

The implementation of segregation in pre-1994 South Africa was designed to secure the political dominance and the economic and social privileges of the white population group. When the Union of South Africa was established in 1910, political rights in the provinces of Natal, the Orange Free State, and Transvaal were almost exclusively confined to whites. Indians had been disfranchised by the British colonial authorities of Natal in 1896, but those who at that time were already registered voters retained their right to vote for life. When the 1948 elections were held, only two Indians were still on the voter rolls. In the Cape of Good Hope, Africans and coloreds had (qualified) franchise rights, and those rights were afforded entrenched protection in the Constitution of the Union of South Africa; however, Cape of Good Hope African voters were disfranchised by the legislature under United Party rule in 1936, and Cape coloreds were deprived of their voting rights by the legislature under National Party rule in 1956. The South African Constitution of 1983 reinstated political rights for coloreds and Indians, but did so on a racist basis. It created segregated legislative chambers for the colored and Indian population groups, elected by the colored and Indian voters (respectively). The constitution was carefully crafted to afford dominance to the white chamber of Parliament in all matters, including those over which the coloreds and Indians supposedly had primary jurisdiction. Because of the constitution's racist design and the political dominance of whites it upheld, only small percentages of the colored and Indian communities exercised their newly acquired political rights.

As prescribed by the Bantu Land Act of 1913 and the Bantu Trust and Land Act of 1936, portions of South Africa were demarcated for exclusive occupation by Africans. Although the African communities comprised approximately 80 percent of the South African population, the land allocated for their occupation constituted no more than 13 percent of the territory comprising the South African state. In 1951 the South African government appointed a commission instructed by the governor-general "to conduct an exhaustive enquiry into and report on a comprehensive scheme for the rehabilitation of the Native Areas with a view to developing within them a social structure in keeping with the culture of the Native, and based on effective socioeconomic planning." The commission, chaired by Frederick Tomlinson, professor of Agricultural Economy at the University of Pretoria, submitted its report to Parliament in 1954. It among other things calculated the costs of extending the African homelands and of creating economic incentives that might prompt Africans to remain in, return to, or settle in their respective ethnic homelands. The government rejected those recommendations as being too costly and instead embarked on a policy of separating the races by means of legal coercion. H. F. Verwoerd (1901–1966), commonly regarded as the architect of apartheid, transformed the Tomlinson recommendations into a policy that promoted the political "independence" of the black homelands, demarcated on an ethnic (tribal) basis. In due course eight black self-governing territories were proclaimed: Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Lebowa, Transkei, Venda, Gazankulu, Qwaqwa, and kwaZulu. Four opted for independence: Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981. In the UN, South Africa claimed that the policy of separate development was congruent with the right of its population groups to self-determination as proclaimed in international law. Not so, responded the UN: The right to self-determination presupposes participation of the people in the legislative and executive structures of the state that determine their fate, whereas the independence of the black homelands was imposed on the peoples of those territories without their consent. Further, the black homelands were never accepted as independent political entities by the international community of states.

The movement of Africans to and within the main employment centers of the country was regulated by the Blacks (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act of 1945. Africans required special permission to enter and to remain within an urban area and had to carry a reference book at all times that would indicate their right to be at a particular place within the country—the so-called dom pass (dom meaning stupid). As part of the Group Areas Act of 1966 (which consolidated earlier similar legislation), separate residential areas were designated for occupation by whites, Africans, coloreds, and Indians within the towns and cities of the country.

The South African exploitation of the African population group, and to a lesser extent the Indian and colored communities, was carried out in such a way as to preserve the privileged political, economic, and social status of white South Africans in a racially defined elitist oligarchy. Educational facilities, residential areas, and job opportunities reserved for persons of color were considerably inferior to those at the disposal of the dominant white community—both in quality and in degree of availability. The group areas reserved for occupation by members of a particular population groups other than whites were almost invariably far removed from the business districts and employment centers, and the residential areas reserved for Africans and coloreds were conspicuously inferior, as far as locality, infrastructure, and aesthetic appeal were concerned. When Verwoerd, Minister of Bantu Affairs at the time, introduced in Parliament the Bantu Education Act of 1953, he sought to justify the inferior education of blacks by invoking the system of job reservation imposed on the black community as part of the apartheid system:

The school must equip the Bantu to meet the demands which the economic life . . . will impose on him. . . . What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when he cannot use it in practice?. . . Education must train and teach people in accordance with their opportunities in life.

Apartheid Enforcement and Apartheid Resistance

These racist accessories of a totalitarian and discriminatory regime did not reflect the "spirit" of those persons who were the victims of their practical impact, and who were a vast majority of the South African nation. Nor were these accessories supported by the moral convictions of the people, or of a majority of the people, or for that matter of any distinct section of the people. The state consequently had to resort to profoundly repressive measures—restrictions placed on freedom of speech and of assembly; erosions of the rule of law and the due process of law; and indifference to the prohibition of torture and of other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Included in the security laws of South Africa were those that could be used to authorize the banning of organizations and the subjection of opponents of the system to severe restrictions that could practically amount to house arrest. As part of the Terrorism Act of 1967, persons suspected of having information that pertained to subversive activities could be detained indefinitely. The grounds of their detention could not be contested in a court of law.

Resistance toward the repressive and discriminatory laws of South Africa has a long history. Within the Indian community, Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869–1948), who lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1915, initiated a strategy of passive resistance in the furtherance of satyagraha (from satya, meaning truth, and graha, meaning grasping—that is, grasping the truth, or holding onto truth). The African National Congress (ANC) was founded on December 16, 1913, as an organization designed to mobilize the political aspirations of black South Africans. ANC-sponsored anti-apartheid protests were initially entirely peaceful. In 1961 the ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli (1899–1967), became the first South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) was formed in 1959 to promote a blacks-only policy for Africa and a more aggressive agenda of resistance. When the ANC and PAC were banned in 1960, many of their leaders and followers went into exile and embarked on an armed struggle against the South African apartheid regime. Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) was established as the armed wing of the ANC, and Poqo as that of the PAC. The African Resistance Movement (ARM), which at times engaged in acts of sabotage, consisted mainly of white intellectuals.

As aggressive opposition to apartheid escalated, the South African government enacted draconian security laws, and engaged in clandestine strategies that amounted to state-sponsored terror violence, in order to retain its illegitimate regime. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established pursuant to the National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 to facilitate the political transition of South Africa to a democracy, and whose committee on human rights violations (chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu) was charged with investigating "gross violations of human rights" from 1961 to 1994, recorded the sordid details of overt and clandestine methods used by the security forces to suppress resistance under the headings of bannings and banishments; judicial executions; "public order" policing; torture and deaths in custody; and killing, including many instances of abduction, interrogation and killing, ambushes, the killing of persons in the process of arrest or while pointing out arms, entrapment killing, killing of weak links within the security forces itself; and attempted killings, arson, and sabotage.

Violent confrontation between the South African authorities and groups of persons protesting the atrocities inherent in the policy of apartheid became part of everyday life in the black townships. On March 21, 1960, PAC organized a demonstration in Sharpeville, a black township sixty-five kilometers south of Johannesburg and just north of Vereeniging, in the Transvaal province, protesting the laws that required black citizens to carry passes at all times. The police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing sixty-nine people. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sharpeville (March 21, 1985), the police opened fire on a funeral procession in Uitenhage, killing nineteen people (the mourners had come from the black township of Llanga to bury comrades who had been killed while protesting unemployment). States of emergency were proclaimed by the government in 1985 and 1986.

Perhaps the turning point of white rule in South Africa was the Soweto riots of June 16, 1976, when black students staged massive demonstrations protesting the inferior system of Bantu education and a government decision to impose Afrikaans as the language of instruction in the teaching of at least one subject in black schools. The ensuing unrest swept through the entire country, had far-reaching repercussions, and prompted large numbers of young blacks of school-going age to leave the country and join the liberation forces in exile.

Among those who lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid was Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko (1946–1977), who died on September 11, 1977, of head injuries inflicted by those who held him captive while he was in police custody. Among the religious leaders subjected to profound humiliation because of their opposition to apartheid was Desmond Tutu (1931–), Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches during the years 1979 to 1984. Perhaps the most celebrated person among the many incarcerated was Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela (1918–), who, after serving more than twenty-seven years of a sentence of life imprisonment (October 1962–February 1990), was released to become the first president of South Africa after its radical transition in 1994 to become a nonracist state.

The trials and tribulations of Mandela commenced with the infamous treason trial (1958–1961), at which he was among 156 political activists brought to trial following their arrest in December 1956. The accused were all members of a number of organizations comprising the Congress Alliance (the ANC, the Congress of Democrats, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Colored People's Organization, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions). In March 1961 a special criminal court in a unanimous decision acquitted all the accused, holding that the state had failed to prove that the Congress Alliance and its member organizations sought to overthrow the government by violent means or to replace it with a communist regime.

In July 1963 the police raided a house in Rivonia, a suburb on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and, using the newly enacted ninety-days detention law, detained seventeen persons found on the premises. Eleven of those detainees were subsequently brought to trial on charges of sabotage. The Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court (as it was then called) initially quashed the indictment owing to the state's failure to provide further particulars of the charges. The accused were then rearrested under the ninety-days detention law and thereafter charged with planning a violent revolution and with various acts of sabotage. On June 11, 1964, eight of the accused, including the leaders of Umkonto we Sizwe (Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki) were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. (At the time, Mandela was already serving a five-year sentence for incitement and leaving the country unlawfully, for both of which he was convicted in 1962.)

International Responses to Apartheid

Apartheid was being widely condemned throughout the world. In 1961 South Africa, on becoming a republic, was forced to withdraw its application to remain a member of the British Commonwealth because of apartheid (when the Union of South Africa acquired full sovereignty in 1931, it was constituted as a monarchy, with the king or queen of England its head of state). During the 1960s and 1970s many countries imposed economic, cultural, and sports events–related boycotts of South Africa. South Africa was forced out of the Olympic Games after the 1960 games and was formally expelled from the Olympic Games movement in 1970. Following the death of Biko, and in consequence of banning orders issued by the government against persons and organizations expected to be most vocal in their condemnation of his untimely death, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 418 (1977). The Resolution proclaimed that the situation in South Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security and imposed a mandatory arms boycott against South Africa as a means of counteracting that threat.

It is not uncommon for persons who (quite rightly) condemn criminal conduct perpetrated by state action to (unjustifiably) attach a label to that action that would give it as bad a name as one could possibly conceive, even in instances in which the conduct or condition being condemned does not fit the essential elements of the label. The UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973 contained in its circumscription of apartheid a passage that suggested that, as part of that policy, the South African government inflicted living conditions on one or more racial groups calculated to cause their physical destruction in whole or in part, which—if it were true—would amount to an act of genocide. In 1985 the UN established an ad hoc Working Group of Experts to investigate violations of human rights in South Africa. In its report, the working group proclaimed that apartheid was a special instance of genocide. However, such is not the case. Apartheid was not devised with special intent to destroy any racial group, in whole or in part, as required by the definition of genocide. Attempts to bring a state policy within the confines of practices that are likely to have an exceptionally strong emotional appeal (thereby distorting concepts that underlie that policy and those practices) may add emotional vigor to one's condemnation of the policy, but ought not to be taken as having literal meaning, for law enforcement purposes, by those charged with the administration of justice.

Apartheid does constitute a crime against humanity under customary international law. The 1965 UN Resolution, Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, thus proclaimed that "the practice of apartheid as well as all forms of racial discrimination threaten international peace and security and constitute a crime against humanity." Inhumane acts resulting from the policy of apartheid were also treated as a crime against humanity in the UN Convention of the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (1968) and in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973). The latter convention listed a number of acts that would constitute the crime of apartheid.

If committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, namely:

  • (a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:
    • i. By murder of members of a racial group or groups;
    • ii. By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
    • iii. By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of members of a racial group or groups.
  • (b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • (c) Any legislative measures or other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
  • (d) Any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
  • (e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;
  • (f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.

The task of delineating these "inhuman acts" as personal conduct that could attract criminal prosecution was initially delegated to the ad hoc Working Group of Experts under M. Cherif Bassiouni of De Paul University in Chicago. The draft statute (1980), prepared by the working group rather clumsily, confined criminal liability to "grave breaches of Article II of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, namely, murder; torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention." These breaches do not apply to the segregation and discrimination components of apartheid as such, but seemingly only to (some of ) the repressive measures designed to counteract opposition to the policy of apartheid.

Apartheid is identified in the Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted by the Rome Conference of Diplomatic Plenipotentiaries in 1998, as a crime against humanity. "The crime of apartheid" is defined in the statute as denoting:

. . . inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph (1), committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Paragraph (1) referred to in the statute's definition of apartheid makes mention of murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or the forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape or other (specified) forms of sexual violence, persecution, and enforced disappearances. But, again, the essentials of apartheid are not encapsulated in the definition to be applied in order to found the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) the definition is confined to (state security) action that might be resorted to for purposes of maintaining the regime of segregation and racial discrimination. That is, the repression component of the apartheid system becomes the only prosecutable offense. The act of segregation and discrimination will not come within the jurisdiction of the ICC if a state system of racial segregation and discrimination can be maintained without the state's resorting to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or the forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence, persecution, or enforced disappearances.

The Demise of Apartheid

Over a two-decade period commencing in 1971, the South African government gradually abandoned some of its practices associated with apartheid, making "concessions" in that year in regard to segregation in sports, and then extending those concessions to the areas of trade union rights for Africans, political rights for coloreds and Indians, and the like. The final demise of apartheid in South Africa was formally announced by President de Klerk (1936–) in his opening-of-Parliament address of February 2, 1990. This initiative culminated in the radical transformation of South Africa, as defined in the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act of 1996, into "an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom."

Comparable Systems of Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination has of course been practiced in many countries other than South Africa. In the United States, for example, the stratagems of racism were sanctioned in the 1895 judgment of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which decided that separate facilities for blacks and whites were constitutionally permissible provided the segregated facilities were equal. The U.S. doctrine of separate-but-equal received its death knell in the 1953 judgment of Brown v. Board of Education, wherein it was decided that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place." The principle enunciated in that case was subsequently extended to apply to all forms of segregation in public places.

In 1965, when Great Britain was contemplating the granting of independence to Southern Rhodesia under a one-person-one-vote dispensation, the minority white government of Prime Minister Ian Smith declared the country independent under a constitution that reserved political rights for whites only. The UN condemned the unilateral declaration of independence, and in Security Council Resolution 221 (1966) decided that the situation in Rhodesia constituted a threat to the peace. Security Council Resolution 232 (1966) imposed mandatory economic sanctions against Rhodesia with a view to bringing the racist regime of Smith to a speedy end. Following a bloody war between the Smith regime and internal resistance movements (with South Africa affording military support to the government forces of Rhodesia), the Lancaster House Agreement was concluded between Great Britain and the main political factions of Rhodesia. It culminated in the establishment of Zimbabwe as an independent state in 1980.

Although racial discrimination as practiced in the United States, Rhodesia, and elsewhere resembled apartheid, the policy as it existed in South Africa contained unique elements that one does not find in the history of any other country. It is perhaps fair to conclude that apartheid, as a special instance of racial discrimination that entails the exploitation of persons of a disadvantaged racial group for the purpose of retaining the privileged status of another, and requiring particularly stringent enforcement measure for its preservation, such as it existed in South Africa, has never found its equal in any other country.

SEE ALSO Convention on Apartheid; Mandela, Nelson; Namibia (German South West Africa and South West Africa); South Africa


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Johan D. van der Vyver


views updated Jun 08 2018



Apartheid is a word in Afrikaans that originally meant apartness or separateness. Now it is the internationally recognized term for the policies of strict racial segregation and political and economic domination of blacks (Africans, Coloreds, and Asians) pursued by the National Party government of South Africa from 1948 until its exit from power in the early 1990s.

Apartheid catapulted to prominence as a catchword used by the National Party in its successful 1948 electoral campaign to oust Prime Minister Jan Smuts and his United Party, who were accused of undermining racial segregation. The National Party, headed successively by Prime Ministers D. F. Malan, J. G. Strydom, H. F. Verwoerd, B. J. Vorster, P. W. Botha, and F. W. deKlerk, implemented an interlocking set of policies that together comprised apartheid: intensified segregation, separate development, and harsh political repression.

Intensified segregation was manifested in a plethora of new laws. Starting with the prohibition of marriage and sexual liaisons between races (Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, and Immorality Act, 1950), the National Party government defined criteria for racial categorization of individuals (Population Registration Act, 1950), mandated racially based residential segregation (Group Areas Act, 1950), required segregation of public facilities (Separate Amenities Act, 1953), established separate education for Africans (Bantu Education Act, 1953), banned trade unions from representing Africans in labor negotiations (Native Labour Act, 1953), and empowered government to reserve specific jobs for particular racial groups (Industrial Conciliation Amendment Act, 1956). State power confronted blacks at almost every turn.

Separate development distinguished post-1948 National Party policies from previous segregation in South Africa. All blacks were segregated residentially and commercially under the Group Areas Act. Millions of blacks were forcibly removed from urban white areas into crowded black areas. Additionally Africans were assigned to ten ethnic homelands (based upon existing tribal reserves) that were to be the sole legitimate space for black political expression and representation under the Bantu Authorities Act (1951) and the Promotion of Bantu Self Government Act (1959). From 1976 onward four homelands (Transkei, Bophututswana, Venda, and Ciskei) were granted fictive independence, recognized only by South Africa. Coloreds and Asians were granted nominal representation in separate political bodies.

Opposition to apartheid in the 1950s centered around the African National Congress (ANC), led by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo. The ANC organized nonviolent campaigns of defiance and boycott in alliance with the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured Peoples Organization, and radical whites in the Congress of Democrats. In 1955 representatives of the congresses, led by the ANC, adopted the Freedom Charter, a document demanding full civil rights for all South Africans, an end to racial discrimination, and major economic reform, including selected nationalization. In 1959 the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) broke from the ANC, accusing it of subservience to non-Africans and insufficient militancy. It echoed the ANC in calling for demonstrations against passes, the hated government control document carried by all Africans.

Following widespread demonstrations protesting the Sharpeville massacre of 1960in which sixty-nine unarmed Africans were shot after responding to a PAC call to turn in passes and submit to arrestthe government embarked on sustained repression of opposition. Prior to 1960 it had generally respected legal norms, relying upon the Riotous Assemblies Act (1914) and its amendments (1927, 1929), under which the government could declare a state of emergency and ban individuals from political activity, and the Suppression of Communism Act (1950), which granted additional powers to block political activity deemed communist under a broad definition. In 1960 the government enacted the Unlawful Organizations Act, under which it banned the ANC and the PAC. It followed with General Laws Amendment Acts in 1962 and 1963 and the Terrorism Act of 1966, which legalized house arrest and detention without habeus corpus and provided greater penalties up to death for sabotage and terrorism. Concomitantly police adopted the practices of solitary confinement, physical and mental torture, and assassination.

In the view of the government, harsh police state measures were a necessary response to the decision of the ANC in 1961 to abandon nonviolence for armed struggleto be led by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a military organization jointly directed by leaders of the banned ANC and the clandestine South African Communist Party (SACP)and to attacks on whites by POQO, an offshoot of the PAC, in 19621963. Relentlessly deploying its strengthened arsenal of repression, the government successfully decimated its internal opposition, as symbolized by the imprisonment in 1964 of ANC leaders, including Mandela and Sisulu, on Robben Island. Tambo, who had left the country in 1960, peripatetically undertook the difficult creation of ANC and MK structures in exile.

The Soweto uprising of June 1976 and the nationwide unrest that followed exploded the governments hopes that blacks might acquiesce to apartheid. The government responded with both reform and repression. African trade union rights were recognized in 1980 and 1981, a new constitution was enacted in 1984 granting subordinate voting privileges to Coloreds and Asians, and there was selective relaxation of rigid segregation, including the abolition of the pass system in 1985. Repression of opposition was intensified, however, as symbolized by the 1977 death in police custody of Steve Biko, the charismatic leader who founded the Black Consciousness movement in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, opposition inside the country grew. Post-1976 boycotts, strikes, and township demonstrations metamorphosed in the 1980s into open nationally organized opposition, led by the ANC-oriented United Democratic Front (UDF), a burgeoning trade union movement, and prominent church leaders, most notably the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Numerous acts of sabotage and armed attacksorganized by the resurgent ANC/MK underground and the ANC mission in exilewere carried out, complementing the external opposition of the worldwide antiapartheid movement and increasingly extensive economic sanctions.

On February 11, 1990, the newly elected president deKlerk freed Mandela and other ANC leaders from prison and legalized the PAC, ANC, and SACP. Negotiations between the National Party, headed by deKlerk, and its erstwhile antiapartheid opponents led by the ANC, headed by Mandela, commenced in mid-1990, leading in late 1993 to agreement upon a new nonracial democratic constitution. In 1993 the last apartheid laws were repealed.

In South Africas first election under the new constitution in April 1994, the ANC won a majority of votes, and Mandela became president. Mandela vigorously pursued a policy of reconciliation with those who had supported apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Tutu, exposed the workings of the apartheid police state. The ANC-led government adopted policies to reverse the consequences of decades-long apartheid, but apartheids entrenched legacies of inequality and black poverty proved hard to overcome.

SEE ALSO African National Congress; Boer War; Coloreds (South Africa); Discrimination; Discrimination, Wage, by Race; Inequality, Racial; Mandela, Nelson; Mandela, Winnie; Nobel Peace Prize; Racism; Separatism; Truth and Reconciliation Commissions


Adam, Heribert. 1971. Modernizing Racial Domination: South Africas Political Dynamics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Beinart, William, and Saul Dubow, eds. 1995. Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-Century South Africa. London and New York: Routledge.

MacDonald, Michael. 2006. Why Race Matters in South Africa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Price, Robert M. 1991. The Apartheid State in Crisis: Political Transformation in South Africa, 19751990. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sheridan Johns


views updated Jun 08 2018


Apartheid (ap-ar-taed) is an Afrikaans word meaning "separation" or literally "apartness." It was the system of laws and policy implemented and enforced by the "white" minority governments in South Africa from 1948 until it was repealed in the 1990s. As the idea of apartheid developed in South Africa, it grew into a tool for racial, cultural, and national survival.

While apartheid became official state policy only in 1948, its social and ideological foundations were laid by the predominantly Dutch settlers in the seventeenth century. Apartheid's body of laws, arising from legislation passed in the years following the 1910 unification, helped define it as a legal institution enforcing separate existence for South Africa's races. Not until the late 1980s did it crumble under pressure from international condemnation and Nelson Mandela's appeal to freedom and democracy in South Africa. Nevertheless, the ultimately failed system was one many Afrikaners and Europeans in southern Africa believed in, and it is important to appreciate how this racial and cultural policy developed.

The arrival of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC) at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 ushered in the first wave of colonial change for the region. As the relationship between Europeans and Africans developed, the VOC came to expect cooperation and subjugation from its Khoikhoi and Khoisan neighbors. Relations had been fairly equal at first, but a growing European population, as well as the requirements of foreign trade, increased demand upon the native Africans for resources, including the Khoikhoi's prized cattle. This demand could not be met, and native ranchers who formerly held contracts with the company were forced into its service. In addition to cattle trading, cattle rustling also occurred on both sides, and the company began fencing off VOC property, physically separating itself from African neighbors and thereby introducing the first racial divisions. Africans were still allowed within company boundaries, but only if they were slaves or there to conduct business.

This process continued to intensify, and over time Africans found themselves increasingly dependent upon the VOC for survival. They adopted European customs and came to be dominated by European ideas and culture. Regardless of these changes and the fact that many settlers intermarried with the Khoikhoi, the Europeans did not consider the Africans to be equal. Moreover, these developing notions of apartheid were not limited to Euro-African relationships. The VOC could be a stern taskmaster. It expected its workers to labor strictly in the interest of company venture. Over time, however, some of the more entrepreneurial employees yearned for a life apart from their service to the VOC. They felt the urge to settle down and raise families, and while the company allowed them to develop plots of land beyond the company boundaries, the VOC vigorously sought to contract with them for agricultural products. The wealthier freeburghers, as these independent farmers were called, managed to win the choicest contracts, leaving their poorer neighbors distrustful of the VOC's methods. Corruption among company officials, and the need to tax and administer the freeburghers, further inflamed tensions already growing between the two camps.

Added to this were the cultural ramifications of the presence of a developing freeburgher community. As more employees and settlers arrived at the Cape, neoCalvinism took root, enabling the VOC-recognized Dutch Reformed Church to build a local following. Cape Town had developed into a frontier community, with a varied population and myriad ideas. The more devout Calvinists were offended by a culture not aligned with the teachings of the church, and sought an existence separate from the debauchery of the growing town.

This moral conflict, combined with the Calvinist belief in a pure, divinely selected society, influenced many to leave. Administrative corruption also drove settlers out, and so the Cape settlement spun off new communities. One cannot understate the importance of this need to exist apart from the larger society. People were driven to create lives free from outside oppression in any form. Religion certainly played an important role, but so did this frontier mentality that space and opportunities were unlimited.

Britain's arrival to the region only enhanced this dynamic culture of separateness. After revolutionary France aided Dutch liberals with the creation of the Batavian Republic, Britain moved to protect the Cape from republican Dutch and French annexation. The Cape was an ideal refueling stop on the way to India, and France's acquisition of it would have been a strategic blow to Britain's naval supremacy. Britain's presence was only temporary, however, and the new administrators found it more efficient to maintain the established VOC methods of control. Britain quit the Cape in 1803 after making peace with France, but returned again in 1806 and established itself as the de facto power in the region. A formal assumption of control followed in 1814.

With its reappearance in 1806, Britain introduced its own administrative system, one that proved much more efficient than the VOC's. Tax revenues increased, and as a result more settlers, or Boers (farmers), considered themselves to be at the mercy of an oppressive power. The British also introduced a circuit court system (the Black Circuit) that brought justice to the outlying regions, specifically to those settlers who had removed themselves from the confines of Cape Town. It also brought justice to the Africans, who began to bring suit against their employers for wrongdoing.

For many settlers, the circuit court was a violation of their rights. This violation was reaffirmed in 1815 when a farmer, Frederick Bezuidenhout, was charged with assaulting his servant. He resisted arrest and was shot. When his brother attempted to raise a rebellion, the British hanged him and four accomplices. For the Boers this British response was clear proof that they could not be trusted, especially as they had sided with the Africans. Such an act was impossible to fathom for a people who believed in racial purity and superiority. Already the British had aided the Xhosa in their ongoing wars with the Cape settlers. Now it appeared that the authorities were dispensing African justice.

It was in this way that the relationship between the Boers and the British developed throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. Although many Boers left the Cape during the period of the Great Trek (1835–1843), Britain's reach extended into settlements in Natal and north of the Orange River. In the 1850s Britain recognized the establishment of the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. This did not stop the British from meddling in Boer affairs, however, and by 1902 the opponents had fought two wars, the second of which (1899–1902) cost Britain over £200 million and opened a seemingly permanent rift between the two cultures.

The Boers, by then known also as the Afrikaners, began to refer to a "century of wrong," citing ongoing British oppression, as well as the fresh wounds caused by the war and the British concentration camps. Once again, Afrikaner culture was threatened. However, the British government in Westminster recognized the danger in imposing harsh peace terms upon the Boers. The government wanted a peaceful empire. In addition to paying for the damage caused in the war, therefore, the British put off any discussion of African suffrage and civil rights until self-government was established. At that time, South Africans themselves could decide the suffrage question.

While the Cape maintained its theoretically colorblind franchise law, the Afrikaner territories opted for racial domination. Upon establishing the Union of South Africa in 1910 (a sovereign imperial dominion), Afrikaners finally were in control of their own destiny. In the coming decades apartheid would become increasingly formalized. Its future depended upon the path that Afrikaner politics and culture would follow, and the 1920s and 1930s witnessed the battle between the moderates and the conservatives for state control.

Jan Smuts, a one-time Transvaal state attorney and commando leader, had become a great friend of Britain. As prime minister, Smuts favored a pragmatic state administration, choosing to work with the empire for the benefit of South Africa. More conservative Afrikaners believed a complete separation from Britain was essential, but the moderates held sway, and South Africa supported Britain in the two World Wars. Many of the conservatives, if not openly hostile to Britain, assumed a position of neutrality, although there were those who identified with National Socialism's racial theories.

The moderation disappeared in 1948 when Daniel Malan's Reunited National Party defeated Smuts's government. Malan appealed to those Afrikaners who believed it was time that South Africa concentrated on its own development. Moreover, Smuts had loosened controls upon the flow of African labor to aid the war effort, and Malan now focused upon the evils of race mixing and the threat to a stable Afrikaner labor force. The new government formally enacted apartheid as state policy in 1948, and there followed a series of legislation targeting the non-white community.

Legislators envisioned a pure society, and drew on notions of unity and racial exclusivity when drafting new apartheid legislation. Laws promoting these principles were not new, for the 1913 Land Act stipulated who could and could not own certain lands. After the 1948 election, however, such legislation provided the new infrastructure of the Afrikaner state. The population was recategorized under the Population Registration Act of 1950, which spawned the issue of a new list of documents, and the creation of official, nationally recognized racial groups (White, Coloured, Asian, Bantu, and Others). With racial separation came physical separation as well, culminating in the Group Areas Act in 1950. The Group Areas Board identified zones based on race, clearing specific areas of families and entire communities for use by other groups. No longer would different races live in the same neighborhoods.

Movement between towns and cities had been required prior to the Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents Act (1952), but the new legislation mandated birth, residency, employment, marriage, and travel permits for all Africans. In 1953 the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act ensured that all services available to Afrikaners were also available to the other races. Although "separate but equal" was the theory, the reality was a marked difference in the quality and cleanliness of amenities. This reality was made painfully obvious in the Bantu Education Act (1953). The government provided racespecific educational institutions, along with curricula designed to meet racial needs. In the Afrikaner state, necessary topics of study included Afrikaans and Christianity.

Apartheid reached the epitome of its influence under H. F. Verwoerd's leadership (1958–1966). As prime minister, Verwoerd pulled South Africa out of the Commonwealth, declaring the state a republic in 1961. He introduced the Homeland or "Bantustan" system, whereby the South African government recognized selfgoverning, and eventually fully independent, African states within the nation's borders. Verwoerd took to heart the notion of separateness, and he preached a message of two streams of development, with the Afrikaner and African societies existing equally (in theory) and independently of each other. Often it was the less desirable land that comprised the newly independent African states. In 1971 the government completed the process with the Black Homeland Citizenship Act, which rescinded homeland residents' South African citizenship.

Although Verwoerd hoped that delegation of civil authority would free Afrikaners from managing millions of Africans, thereby helping to bring about that elusive, purely Afrikaner society, the Bantustans would serve to undercut the government's power in the years to come. Moreover, Verwoerd's death in 1966 signaled the beginning of apartheid's slow decline. While the system still had another two decades of life, it was increasingly undercut by an emerging progressivism.

Apartheid's peak in the 1960s coincided with the dissolution of European empires. The 1960s was the "decade of independence," and apartheid appeared increasingly as a tired, discredited system. Even as African colonies elsewhere in Africa prepared for sovereignty, the white South African government was arresting African nationalists, including Nelson Mandela, and trying them for treason. Nationalist organizations, such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), espoused socialism, reinforcing the National Party's argument that it was defending the state against militant revolutionary elements. This was an effective argument in a society traditionally concerned with white domination of the labor market. That African nationalism had become an increasingly divided movement in the 1950s and 1960s only made the National Party's job easier. The division, however, also forced a conversation among African nationalists, who began to hone their message in the 1970s.

Apartheid's last hurrah came in the mid1980s under P. W. Botha (prime minister, 1978–1984; president, 1984–1989). He wavered between a reluctant acceptance that the white-dominated state could not last in its current form, and a last-ditch battle to resurrect apartheid's exclusive culture. Botha faced Afrikaner liberals, African nationalists, and foreign governments on the left, and disenchanted reactionaries on the right. The latter were leaving the National Party to join the Conservatives. Botha held the advantage in the mid1980s, however, for African nationalists continued to face internal divisions over their movement's direction. Moreover, homeland leaders wanted nothing to do with African nationalism, because it threatened their sovereignty within apartheid South Africa. As the ANC attempted to undercut its opposition, Botha imposed a state of emergency in 1985 to contain a growing African insurgency. Boycotts and work stoppages had the desired effect, however, and, combined with the power of foreign sanctions, began to bring about the collapse of the apartheid government.

President F. W. de Klerk (president, 1989–1994) replaced Botha in 1989 and attempted to introduce limited reforms to improve conditions for minorities without removing Afrikaners from positions of power. Negotiations with the ANC proved that approach to be unrealistic, and de Klerk found himself forced by internal and external pressure to release Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. As Paul Kruger symbolized the Boers' steadfastness, so did Mandela personify the African struggle. It was Mandela and the ANC, and not de Klerk, who had the political momentum. The last vestiges of apartheid crumbled as the ANC guided the terms of the negotiations. Mandela was both adept and reasonable, seeking not to punish the Afrikaners, but rather to enable Africans to assume their rights as the majority population. Mandela's election to presidency in April 1994 sealed the fate of apartheid.

Although it is identified with white oppression in South Africa, apartheid also defined the Afrikaner struggle to maintain racial and cultural purity in a harsh land. The Boers competed with everyone, even themselves, to live the life in which they believed.

see also Afrikaner; Boer Wars.


Beinart, William. Twentieth-Century South Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

De Villiers, Marq. White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots as Witnessed by Eight Generations of an Afrikaner Family. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.

Harvey, Robert. The Fall of Apartheid: The Inside Story from Smuts to Mbeki, 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

Kruger, Paul. The Memoirs of Paul Kruger: Four Times President of the South African Republic. London: T. F. Unwin, 1902; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.

Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. New York: Avon, 1979.

Shillington, Kevin. History of Southern Africa. Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 1992.

Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa, 3rd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.


views updated May 21 2018


In Afrikaans, the language of Afrikaners, the word apartheid implies things set apart or separated. The concept and practice of apartheid grew from the history of human interaction in southern Africa. As Brian du Toit explains, “This relationship was born on the frontiers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, given legal recognition in the republican constitutions in the nineteenth century, and justified by church and state in the twentieth century. Essentially, it is a philosophy that assumes the superiority of whites and their responsibility of guardianship over blacks” (1982, p. 157).

By the end of the eighteenth century a variety of slaves (African and Malay) and Khoikhoi (non-Bantu speaking native Africans, or the so-called “Hottentots,”) were associated with European communities in South Africa. Settlers, and especially frontier communities, contrasted themselves with the indigenous peoples, who at the time were decidedly different in thought and action (e.g., practicing animism and ancestor worship, making sacrifices, and expressing values that contrasted with those of Europeans). They were also differentiated by color. Whites saw “Christian” and “European” (and “white”) as nearly equivalent concepts.

A number of preachers, including H. R. van Lier (in 1786) and M. C. Vos (in 1794), and religious societies, such as the London Missionary Society (in 1799), accepted the duty of serving “slaves and Hottentots.” In the early years of the nineteenth century, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) considered itself as having a monopoly on religious practice. Thus, the interest and involvement in mission work grew, marked by the establishment of separate churches drawn along lines of color. During the early years of the nineteenth century, following the freeing of slaves and the granting of rights to Khoikhoi in the Cape, frontiersmen trekked north to establish a number of independent republics. They saw this as essential for the preservation of their language (following permanent British Administration starting in 1806 and the arrival of the British settlers in 1820), religion (in contrast to Islam and indigenous religions), culture (civilization as they saw it), lifestyle, and especially color. In Colour and Culture in South Africa, Sheila Patterson notes, “Then as now, in the interest of self-preservation, the Boers closed their community.... Racial, cultural and religious criteria were by now completely linked.... The colour-line was to be drawn once and for all, and thereafter the blood was to be kept pure. There was to be one marriage law for the whites and another for the non-whites, and no provision for intermarriage” (1953, p. 173). Due to a labor shortage in the rapidly growing sugar industry in Natal Province, East Indians were imported as indentured laborers. They were mostly Hindus and Muslims, and few of them returned to India following the completion of their contracts. In time, they spread throughout South Africa, establishing themselves in various businesses. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colored peoples (the offspring of interracial unions) were on the common voters role in the Cape Province, although segregation was practiced widely. They were removed from these roles in 1955.

Following the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the separation of the population along lines of culture and color was increasingly glossed under the somewhat benign designation of “segregation.” This already meant that whites received favorable opportunities, choice residential locations, job opportunities, and security, as well as unobstructed chances for schooling and higher education. In 1913, General Louis Botha, the first prime minister after establishment of the Union of South Africa, passed the Natives’ Land Act, which prohibited Africans from purchasing land outside of the reserves (and a few other special areas). These reserves constituted about 13 percent of the area of the Union.

Following its establishment in 1918, the Afrikaner Broederbond, a secret nationalistic and Calvinistic society, started to give direction to Afrikaner aims and policies. Most historians recognize June 4, 1918, as the date of origin of this secret society. This was when a group of young Afrikaner males met in Johannesburg dedicating themselves to work for “the good right of the Afrikaner cause.” Their commitment was non-political, supporting Afrikaner economic conditions as well as Afrikaner art and culture. On December 9, 1919, they decided to become a secret society requiring of each member to take an oath of secrecy and a declaration “affirming his willingness to subject himself to the aim.”

Their power grew through their work in the Reunited National Party (Herstigte Nasionale Party, or HNP). The general election of 1948 pitted General Smuts and the United Party (with a strong majority in Parliament) against Daniel Francois Malan (an ex-DRC minister) and the HNP. During the election, the slogan “Keep South Africa White” was prominently used by the National Party. This is the first clear use of “apartheid” as concept and policy. (In the 1982 general elections and after political changes in neighboring Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—the HNP employed billboards with a beautiful white girl and the words “for her sake don’t repeat Rhodesia—vote HNP.”) The spokesmen of the Afrikaner Broederbond and HNP proclaimed the importance of this policy everywhere, from church pulpits to academic publications. In 1942, Gerhardus Eloff had published his Rasse en rassevermeging (Races and Racial Mixing), in which he proclaimed that “the pure-race tradition of the Boer nation must be assured at all costs … the natives and coloureds—according to our Christian convictions as practiced by our forbears—must be treated as less endowed.... The guardianship must be one which can stand the strongest test” (p. 104). This philosophy was given shape by studies such as Geoffrey Cronje’s Voogdyskap en apartheid (Guardianship and Apartheid, 1948), which laid out the white government’s philosophy and policy with reference to “the coloureds, the natives, and the Indians.” The official government policy in 1948 was that the Indians should be repatriated, coloreds should be segregated, and blacks should be returned to their homelands. Thus, Afrikaner nationalism and white supremacy, which brought the National Party to power, ultimately culminated in the establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1961. What Malan started in his term as prime minister (1948–1954) was carried to its extreme conclusion by Hendrik Verwoerd, first as minister of native affairs (1950–1958) and then as prime minister (1958–1966).

Almost immediately upon assuming the reins of government, the Nationalists started implementing apartheid. In the national elections of 1948 the National Party under Dr. Malan barely won, entering parliament having a majority of only five seats. In the provincial elections the following year the United Party recaptured the seats in Paarl and Bredasdorp and the National Party was convinced that this was the result of the Colored vote. This population category were the only “non-whites” who had full voting privileges. Thus the Nationalists decided to remove the Coloreds from the common voting role. These same considerations resulted in the abolition of African representation in 1959. In time this divided society consisted of the core dominant whites, racially and residentially separated Coloreds (served by the Department of Colored Affairs and the Colored Representative Council), Indians (served by the Department of Indians Affairs and the South African Indian Council), and finally Africans (supposed to be residents of different Bantustans or homelands and living in South Africa with temporary work permits).

Laws, acts, and amendments followed in quick succession. In 1949 they passed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. The following year the Group Areas Act

made sure that white and nonwhite persons were residentially separated, which led to the creation of slums. In cases where whites had maids who lived on the premises, their quarters had to be physically separate from the employer’s residence. It is logical that the government, which was guided by the absurd notion of a pure white race, next passed the Immorality Act (1950), which made physical contact across racial lines a punishable offense. Next came the Population Registration Act No. 30 of 1950, which created a register of the total population of the Union. Every person on the register was to be classified as being white (a white person is described as being “a person who in appearance obviously is, or who is generally accepted as a white person”), Colored (which included “Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua, Chinese, Indian, other Asiatic, and other Coloured”) or native, according to the ethnic group to which a person belonged or with which the person identified and associated. An identity number was assigned to every person on the register, and that number was retired only when a person died or permanently left South Africa.

The Constitution of the Union of South Africa established English and Dutch (replaced by Afrikaans in 1925) as official languages of the country. These languages were employed as media of instruction throughout the country. In 1953 the government passed the Bantu Education Act, which enforced separate school facilities and mother-tongue instruction (in the lower grades). It should be kept in mind that especially in rural areas there was a traditional distribution of Africans, including the Nguni languages (Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa and Ndebele) the Sotho languages (Sotho, Rswana, Pedi) as well as Tsonga and Venda. In higher grades English and Afrikaans were employed both as medium of instruction and as course subjects. It is this latter enforcement that resulted in the Soweto student uprising of 1976. The Bantu Education Act also gave direct control of education by the minister of Bantu affairs. Church and mission schools were curtailed and centralized under the government, along with farm schools, secondary schools, and industrial and training institutions. Under the Separate Universities Act (1959) the government closed down a number of black educational and training institutions, including the century-old Adams College—which counted Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana), Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe), and Gasha Buthelezi (KwaZulu) among its alumni. It also forced all nonwhite students to attend black (at Fort Hare, Ngoya and Turfloop), colored (in Bellville), or Indian (Westville in Durban) universities. This assured that there would be all-white schools and institutions of higher learning. It also assured that opportunities for friendship, association, better understanding, and intimate relationships could be restricted and avoided where possible.

With separation envisioned in all aspects of living (except, of course, labor and the economy), Verwoerd quickly appointed a commission to look into total geographical apartheid. In 1964 he stated, “One either follows the course of separation, when one must accept the logical consequences right up to the final point of separate states, or else one believes in the course of assimilating the various races in one state and then one must also accept the eventual consequences. These are, domination by the majority, that is black domination.” The 13 percent of land surface that had been set aside for nonwhites was soon being designated “reserves,” “home-lands,” and finally “Bantustans.” Under separate development, blacks were supposed to become “citizens” of their black states. As Joel Mervis points out, “It could be described as a kind of bargain—full rights for Africans in the homelands in exchange for no rights for Africans in the White areas. The fact that this bargain is dictated by the Whites and thrust upon the Non-Whites, whether they like it or not is, again, another matter” (1972, p. 73).

The Group Areas Act (1950) assured residential separation and this included Coloreds and Indians. Blacks (through the hated Pass Laws) were assigned to certain “tribal homelands”. The pass was a document that every African had to carry and produce for identification. It contained a personal history and work history of the bearer. It was a term that referred to the pass but also involved curfew laws, location regulations, and mobility. When there was an outcry against the “dom pas” (glossed as “stupid pass”) government spokesmen excused them as “just like a passport that you and I carry.” All persons who were considered redundant, or not central to the industrial and labor needs of the white economy, were expected to return to their homelands. This included persons who had been born in, and spent half their lives in, (white) urban areas. Males who lived in black satellite cities and worked for whites were allowed to remain living either in bachelor quarters or homes, as long as they were employed. Section 58 Act 42 of 1964 (the Urban Areas Act) applied a countrywide system of influx control to women and men alike. They were prohibited (according to Article (10) 1 of this law) from remaining in any town for more than seventy-two hours. Authorities declared that a wife should be allowed into town only if she was needed on the labor market. Under the law a woman could qualify for permanent residence in town only if she was born there or had lived there lawfully and continuously for the last fifteen years.

Women who qualified under Section Ten of the Native (Urban Area) Consolidation Act could also remain. All other women needed work permits. Thus, all black women in urban areas needed to possess documentary proof of their right to be in a town or city. The wife or unmarried daughter of a man who was legally admitted and employed in the town or city had a fair measure of security on condition that she was lawfully admitted, satisfied the conditions of carrying an updated pass, and ordinarily resided with that African male in such an area. An “unqualified” woman who did not satisfy these requirements could take up employment in urban areas but she must receive prior consent from her guardian (if she was under twenty-one years of age), have a certificate of approval from the commissioner of her home district, possess a permit from the urban labor officer, and a certificate stating that housing was available issued by the municipality where she was to be employed. The employment was to be entered in her pass book. The hope of the government was that women in rural areas would draw men back to the reserves.

In the early twenty-first century, a decade after majority rule established a black government, many poor blacks are still stuck in hovels without light and water, and unemployment among urban blacks is higher than ever. The old reserves, which became Bantustans, are still cesspools of poverty and underdevelopment. In short, the legacy of apartheid lives on.

SEE ALSO Afrikaner Broederbond; Anti-Apartheid Movement; South African Racial Formations.


Brooks, Edgar H. 1968. Apartheid: A Documentary Study of Modern South Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

du Toit, Brian M. 1970. “Afrikaners, Nationalists, and Apartheid.” Journal of Modern African Studies 8 (4): 531–551.

———. 1982. “Dynamic Factors in the Emergence of the Afrikaner.” In Beliefs and Self-Help: Cross-Cultural Perspectives and Approaches, edited by George H. Weber and Lucy M. Cohen. New York: Human Sciences Press.

Mervis, Joel. 1972. “A Critique of Separate Development.” In South African Dialogue: Contrasts in South African Thinking on Basic Race Issues, edited by Nic J. Rhoodie. Johannesburg: McGraw Hill.

Patterson, Sheila. 1953. Colour and Culture in South Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Rhoodie, Nic J., and H. J. Venter. 1960. Apartheid: A Socio-Historical Exposition of the Origin and Development of the Apartheid Idea. Cape Town: HAUM.

Stultz, Newell M. 1974. Afrikaner Politics in South Africa, 1934–1948. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brian M. du Toit


views updated May 11 2018


Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning literally "apartness," was first used in a political sense in 1948 by Daniel François Malan (1874–1959), prime minister of South Africa from 1948 to 1954. It refers to a political system in which different races are kept apart, or segregated, by law. Unlike forms of racial segregation practiced in the United States, however, the doctrine of apartheid called for each race to develop autonomously and almost entirely separately from one another. South Africa, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), described as "the classic example of organized and institutionalized racism," officially implemented such a policy over the course of fifty years (1949–1989). Eventually, with growing internal resistance from an increasingly restive and oppressed majority population of blacks, deepening opposition to apartheid by whites, and strong international pressure, the policy of apartheid was discontinued by South African President F. W. de Klerk (b. 1936) in 1989.

ideological history and meaning

Apartheid is a political system that nominally requires each race to be given separate territories and separate governments, thereby allowing each race to develop autonomously. The proponents of such a doctrine argued that racial separation was necessary because the mixing of the races was unnatural and would result in conflict and social degradation, and that the "purity" of the races was something to be preserved. Such purity was important because, the proponents of apartheid asserted, racial mixing would dilute the superior qualities of the white race. Supporters also claimed to find justification for their views in the Bible, an argument adopted by the Dutch Reformed Church in the mid-nineteenth century.

The racial views of apartheid supporters mirrored, to a great extent, the views of segregationists within the United States and elsewhere. The difference is that supporters of apartheid argued for a different, and more dramatic, response to those racial views than did racial segregationists in other parts of the world. The notion of creating separate homelands within the national territory, to be maintained by the government, was a key concept of apartheid, but it was not a concept seriously entertained by most American segregationists—and it never found support in U.S. government policy.

political history

Although the word apartheid would not be used to describe official government policy until 1948, the roots of this policy stretch back to the sixteenth century, when European settlers first began establishing control over both territory and native populations, often importing slaves from other parts of

Africa and Asia in the process. The imported slaves and native populations were used primarily for labor and given no real political or economic power. Over the years, the developing legal and political system of the colony—and eventually the nation—of South Africa came to reflect these racial inequalities. In 1910 South Africa was granted independence from its colonial status and became a self-described "white dominion" in the British Commonwealth . Although whites comprised less than 20 percent of the population, they retained total control over the government, the powers of which they used to perpetuate economic, social, and political racial inequalities.

By the 1948 elections (in which blacks and other nonwhites were not eligible to vote), many in the white minority were increasingly worried about their declining numbers relative to those of other races. Daniel François Malan, the National Party candidate, ran on a platform of what he called apartheid. The policy was intended to further strengthen whites' privilege—and assuage fears of losing that privilege—by removing the growing populations of other races to so-called group areas or homelands, which, supposedly, would allow each race to develop autonomously. Legislation passed under Malan transformed the system of racial segregation long practiced in South Africa into the system of apartheid. Blacks and other nonwhites lost their ability and right to live as official residents in South Africa. Many were removed to special territories, collectively known as Bantustan, after a somewhat pejorative nickname, Bantu, that was used to describe Africans in South Africa and elsewhere. The homelands existed inside South African borders. Those who did not voluntarily relocate to the Bantustan could be removed whenever the government deemed it necessary, and they were subject to stringent forms of racial segregation while living and working in South Africa.

The South African government administered these group areas in such a way as to ensure large unemployment among nonwhites, thereby providing a source of cheap labor to white industry owners. The government maintained this system through violence and terror tactics, such as the detention and torture of those suspected of opposition to apartheid (opposition to apartheid was defined by South African law as an act of sabotage, punishable by death), as well as the deployment of lethal force against otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

The gross denial of equal political, legal, and social rights to South Africans of nonwhite ethnicity led to deep condemnation by the international community. A resolution condemning apartheid as a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as a "crime against humanity" was passed in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1973. International opposition would come to include economic sanctions against trade with South Africa, and many companies divested themselves of their interests in South Africa.

The system of apartheid in South Africa, weakened from within by growing black (and white) opposition led most prominently by the African National Congress (ANC), and pressured from without by growing international outrage, eventually collapsed in 1989, and dramatic political reforms followed. A popular referendum held two years later resulted in the overwhelming rejection of apartheid policies: Two-thirds of whites voted against apartheid. In 1994 the first democratic elections were held, sweeping the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), a prominent black anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ANC, into the presidency, and the ANC, once banned, into the legislature. Shortly thereafter, in 1996, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate crimes committed by government officials and others during the struggle over apartheid, and to provide a sense of peaceful closure. Even into the early twenty-first century, under more equitable laws, South Africa struggles to address the poverty and anger that are, in part, the legacy of apartheid.

See also: Biko, Stephen; Mandela, Nelson; Racism; South Africa.


Gibson, James L. Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation? New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.

Harvey, Robert. The Fall of Apartheid. Houndsmill, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Neville, Alexander. An Ordinary Country. Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa. New York: Berghahn Books, 2003.

Andrew Costello


views updated May 11 2018



Apartheid is Afrikaans for separateness. From 1948 until 1990 apartheid was the government's official race policy in South Africa.

Apartheid is associated with 1948, when the National Party won elections. However, racial segregation was practiced long before 1948, just as in other European colonies. While after 1948, with the decline of European empires and liberation of colonies, racial segregation died away elsewhere, in South Africa apartheid in 1948 institutionalized what before were largely flexible social rules of racial segregation.

Apartheid's foundations were laid not only by social practice but also by the segregationist policies of British imperial rule. After the Anglo-Boer war (1899–1902) Boer generals negotiated with the British to craft a single "native policy" for South Africa. The British created the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC), which proposed far-reaching racial segregation with respect to land, labor, education, and politics. The 1910 Union government put the SANAC proposals into effect through laws designed to control the movement, settlement, and economic participation of blacks: the 1911 Mines and Works Act (created and regulated the category of black labor); the 1913 Natives' Land Act (provided for territorial separation of rural whites and blacks); the 1920 Native Affairs Act (proposed a system of government-appointed tribal district councils to govern blacks); and the 1923 Natives (Urban Areas) Act (regulated the presence of blacks in urban areas).

After 1948 the National Party aimed to preserve white Afrikaner power. Their apartheid meant "total segregation"—an all-white South Africa would be created by sending blacks to "homelands." In these ethnic "homelands" blacks supposedly could enjoy citizenship and civil rights, but could obtain no citizenship rights in "white" South Africa. However, economic realities dictated another story—the migrant labor system. White-owned mines, farms, and industries depended on cheap black labor. This created the strangeness and harshness of life under apartheid—black people, after being removed from "white" areas to "homelands," had to return to work in the white economy.

Many laws were enacted to give effect to total segregation and to regulate the continued presence of blacks in "white" areas. The first was the 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, followed by an amendment to the Immorality Act outlawing sexual relations between whites and individuals of any other race. 1950 saw the Population Registration Act, which defined race on the basis of physical appearance, and the Group Areas Act, which restricted racial groups to their own residential areas; and 1953 saw the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, which mandated separate amenities on public premises and transport. Other laws were the much-contested Pass Laws (1952), which forced blacks, under threat of criminal penalty, to carry passbooks wherever they went, and the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951) and Bantu Authorities Act (1951), the first steps toward "separate development" as the apartheid architect Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd's (1901–1966) vision for South Africa later became known.

As apartheid grew, resistance grew. The South African Native National Congress was established in 1912 as a moderate organization focusing on the political and social conditions of black people. It was renamed the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923. Throughout the 1950s the apart-heid government faced peaceful civic protest. The ANC, with groups from "colored," "indian," and "white" communities, staged a Defiance Campaign of peaceful resistance against apartheid laws. In 1956 the Women's March took place—20,000 women took to the streets to defy the Pass Laws. In 1955 the Freedom Charter was adopted at Kliptown during the Congress of the People. However, in December 1956 many leading activists were detained and charged with high treason. By 1961 the so-called Treason trial was over, with all the accused acquitted.

In 1959 the Pan-Africanist Congress was formed. Its first attack on apartheid was an anti–Pass Laws campaign that resulted in sixty-nine people being shot by police on 21 March 1960 at Sharpeville. In December 1961 the ANC turned to armed struggle, forming its military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe. In 1963 Nelson Mandela (b. 1918) and other antiapartheid activists were sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in the Rivonia trial. Now most of the ANC and PAC leadership was in jail or exiled, antiapartheid organizations were banned, and civil disobedience and dissent was criminalized. Nevertheless, resistance continued, even as repression grew more violent. In 1976 black children protested against apartheid "Bantu education" that forced them to be taught in Afrikaans, resulting in the Soweto uprisings of 16 June 1976, which were violently suppressed. Steve Biko (1946–1977), who created the South African Students' Organization in 1968, died in detention on 12 September 1977 after being brutally tortured by members of the security police.

Under the banner of the United Democratic Front, resistance to apartheid rule continued throughout the 1980s, through various forms of violent and nonviolent mass action. This era saw a series of states of emergency proclaimed and the widespread use of detention without trial and of assassination by the apartheid state against its opponents. Opposition to apartheid was not only internal to South Africa. The international community took a critical stance early on. With the establishment of the Republic of South Africa (1961) Verwoerd withdrew South Africa from the United Nations. The international community responded with a call for ecomonic, cultural, and other sanctions against South Africa.

Informally, apartheid ended on 2 February 1990, with the unbanning of antiapartheid organizations, the freeing of political prisoners, and the announcement that negotiations would commence for a resolution of conflict. Apartheid came to an official end with the 1994 democratic elections and the adoption of an interim (1994) and final (1996) constitution. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one attempt to reflect publicly on the atrocities that occurred under apartheid. The legacy of apartheid lingers in South Africa and it will take many years for its effects to be addressed in any sense.

See alsoPolitical Prisoners; Racism.


Asmal, Kader, Louise Asmal, and Ronald Suresh Roberts. Reconciliation through Truth. A Reckoning of Apartheid's Criminal Governance. Cape Town, 1996.

Dhansay, Hanifa. Apartheid and Resistance. Swaziland, 1996.

Lapping, Brian. Apartheid: A History. London, 1986.

Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. London, 1994.

Saunders, Christopher, ed. Illustrated History of South Africa. Cape Town, 1988.

Karinvan Marle


views updated May 29 2018

apartheid Policy of racial segregation practised by the South African government from 1948 to 1990. Racial inequality and restricted rights for non-whites were institutionalized when the Afrikaner-dominated National Party came to power in 1948. Officially a framework for “separate development” of races, in practice apartheid enforced white-minority rule. It was based on segregation in all aspects of life including residence, land ownership, and education. Non-whites, c.80% of the population, were also given separate political structures and quasi-autonomous homelands or bantustans. The system was underpinned by extensive repression, and measures such as pass laws which severely restricted the movements of non-whites. In 1990 the South African government, increasingly isolated internationally and beset by economic difficulties and domestic unrest, pledged to dismantle the system. Elections in April 1994 completed the transition to a nonracial democracy. See also African National Congress (ANC)


views updated May 18 2018

a·part·heid / əˈpärtˌ(h)āt; -ˌ(h)īt/ • n. hist. (in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. ∎  segregation in other contexts: sexual apartheid.


views updated Jun 08 2018

apartheid the former South African policy of racial segregation of other groups from the white inhabitants. Adopted by the successful Afrikaner National Party as a slogan in the 1948 election, apartheid extended and institutionalized existing racial segregation.

The word is recorded from the 1940s, and comes from Afrikaans, meaning literally ‘separateness’.