Segregation, Racial, Africa

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Segregation, Racial, Africa

The arrival of Europeans in southern Africa in 1487 set in motion a long period of upheaval that transformed the region and eventually led to white domination of the black population. Years of violent clashes between the Portuguese, Dutch, Germans, and numerous African peoples, Dutch settlers and the British, and the British and Africans left millions dead and black Africans subject to white laws and regulations. Foremost among these was segregation, expropriation of African property, the restricting of Africans' movement and activities within their own countries, and the forcing of blacks to relocate to special "reserves" apart from white society. Throughout the southern Africa region (South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia), whites claimed a monopoly over political power, the right to exploit local people economically, and eventually the right to determine where people lived and worked and the type of education they received.

From 1487 until the 1870s southern Africa was a hodgepodge of African kingdoms, white Afrikaner republics, and European colonies. However, by the late nineteenth century all of southern Africa's peoples fell within the domain of a European power. The segregation policies that transformed Africans from independent producers to squatters, wage laborers, and primarily rural-based female reproducers of laborers were first set out on the preindustrial frontier in the Afrikaner republics and in the British colony of Natal. In the Afrikaner republics, the principle was established that only those of white ancestry were eligible for citizenship rights, creating a white monopoly on political power; in Natal, policies of territorial segregation designated separate living areas for blacks and whites. Each group coexisted, with the British focused on commerce and trade and the Africans and the Afrikaners concerned with farming.

Developing economies and the need for cheap labor led to laws created by whites that legally separated races to the benefit of those of European descent and to the detriment of those of African descent. In 1809 the British introduced the Hottentot Code. This racially discriminatory legislation forced Khoikhoi and other free blacks to work for low wages. The law required that Africans carry passes stating where they lived and who their employers were. The law compelled blacks to work for whites since whites issued the passes, and without a pass blacks could not move about freely.

In the late nineteenth century, when gold and diamonds were discovered in South Africa, and copper and other minerals, as well as rich agricultural lands, were encountered in other parts of southern Africa, white settlers established booming industries that relied heavily on low-paid black labor. These discoveries led to increased segregation and stratification between blacks and whites. To compel Africans to work in the migrant labor system, blacks throughout southern Africa were moved to reservations set aside as African homelands (sometimes called tribal trust lands, native purchase areas, or native reserves). Africans could not live outside the black areas without permission. The way they got permission was to work on a white-owned farm or in one of the many mines.

Mine owners organized a system to recruit and distribute black migrant labor from neighboring colonies. In South Africa, legislation was passed that required blacks to carry a pass stating their legal entitlement to work in an area, whether or not they had completed their contractual obligations, and whether they could leave the city. The passes limited the mobility of the workers and thus their ability to seek better-paying jobs. Segregation policies affected the rights of Africans to own land, to live or travel where they chose, and to enjoy job security or the freedom to switch jobs, leading finally to a limit on black power in southern Africa.

In the twentieth century, segregation restricted Africans to dangerous, unskilled, low-paid jobs in mining and industry or to laboring on white-owned farms, while supervisory jobs in all economic sectors were held by highly paid whites. Africans went to extensive lengths to avoid working in the white economy with its embedded discriminatory practices. Expropriation and hardship were not enough to force African men into mining work or work on commercial farms. In an effort to coerce the men to work, artificial monetary needs, mostly in the form of hut taxes, were introduced into the economy. Taxes—which had to be paid in cash—were imposed by white law. Unable to raise the necessary cash for taxes through subsistence farming, African men were forced to sell their labor-power in a white-designed system of male migratory work. The white political system completely colonized the life-world of black Africans. There was little room for autonomy on the part of Africans. By the 1940s many rural areas were nearly dependent on migrant remittances.

The men migrated to work, leaving their families in the rural native reserves; men were paid barely subsistence wages. Whites assumed that women and children in the African homelands produced their own income through subsistence farming, so they did not pay African males enough to support their families. This kept African wages very low and ensured poverty in the rural areas. The black homelands became domestic labor reservoirs and were used as a backup for the men when they were sick or could no longer work in the mines or on the farms.

Throughout southern Africa, whites maintained attitudes of superiority, paternalistic benevolence, and social distance toward Africans. Segregationist policies, legitimated by scientific claims from biologists, anthropologists, and other experts provided whites with higher social status and enabled them to maintain economic and political advantages. The system forced separation of African families, disenfranchised Africans from governance of their nations, and forced men to work in prison-like compounds. In South Africa, contemptuous superiority toward Africans created the most drastic form of white domination. South Africa's policy of segregation stripped nonwhite residents of virtually all their civil rights, including the right to move freely within the country. Blacks were forced into separate schools, driven out of white areas in towns and cities, and made into a permanent underclass with no chance of improving their lives. Apartheid sanctioned discrimination against nonwhites until it was abolished in the 1990s.

see also Apartheid.


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

Butler, Anthony. Contemporary South Africa. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Byrnes, Rita M., ed. South Africa: A Country Study, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, 1997.

Denoon, Donald, and Balaam Nyeko. Southern Africa Since 1800, rev. ed. London: Longman, 1984.

Lapping, Brian. Apartheid: A History, rev. ed. New York: George Braziller, 1990.

Sparks, Allister. The Mind of South Africa. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Vieira, Sergio, William G. Martin, and Immanuel Wallerstein. How Fast the Wind? Southern Africa, 1975–2000. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1992.

Zeleza, Paul T., and Dickson Eyoh, eds. Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century African History. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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