History of South Africa in the apartheid era

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Recent History

"Petty apartheid": sign on Durban beach in English, Afrikaans and Zulu (1989)
"Petty apartheid": sign on Durban beach in English, Afrikaans and Zulu (1989)

Apartheid (literally "apartness" in Afrikaans and Dutch) was a system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. South Africa had long since been ruled by whites and apartheid was designed to form a legal framework for continued economic and political dominance by people of European descent.

Under apartheid, people were legally classified into a racial group - the main ones being White, Black, Indian and Coloured - and were geographically, and forcibly, separated from each other on the basis of the legal classification. The Black majority, in particular, legally became citizens of particular "homelands" that were nominally sovereign nations but operated more akin to United States Indian Reservations and Australian/Canadian Aboriginal Reserves. In reality, a majority of Black South Africans had never resided in these "homelands."

In practice, this prevented non-white people — even if actually resident in white South Africa — from having a vote or influence, restricting their rights to faraway homelands that they may never have visited. Education, medical care, and other public services were sometimes claimed to be separate but equal, but those available to non-white people were generally regarded as inferior.

Creation of apartheid

The first recorded use of the word "apartheid" ( International Phonetic Alphabet [ə.ˈpɑː(ɹ).teɪt] or [-taid̥]) was in 1917 during a speech by Jan Christiaan Smuts, who later became Prime Minister of South Africa in 1919. Although the creation of apartheid is usually attributed to the Afrikaner-dominated government of 1948-1994, it is partially a legacy of British colonialism which introduced a system of pass laws in the Cape Colony and Natal during the 19th century. This resulted in regulating the movement of blacks from the tribal regions to the areas occupied by whites and coloureds, and which were ruled by the British. Pass laws not only restricted the movement of blacks into these areas but also prohibited their movement from one district to another without a signed pass. Blacks were not allowed onto streets of towns in the Cape Colony and Natal after dark and they had to carry a pass at all times.

The practice of apartheid can thus be viewed as a continuation, magnification and extension of the segregationist policies of previous White colonial administrations in what is now South Africa. Examples include the 1913 Land Act and the various workplace "colour bars". These laws flowed from the peace treaty signed between the Boer Republics and the British Empire at the end of the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. However, it is claimed that the original idea behind the concept of apartheid was more one of political separation (later called "grand apartheid") than segregation (later called "petty apartheid"). For instance, during the Second World War, Smuts' United Party government began to move away from the rigid enforcement of segregationist laws.

In the run-up to the 1948 elections, the National Party (NP) campaigned on its policy of apartheid. The NP narrowly defeated Smuts' United Party, and formed a coalition government with the Afrikaner Party (AP), under Protestant cleric Daniel Francois Malan's leadership. It immediately began implementing apartheid: legislation was passed prohibiting miscegenation (mixed-race marriage), individuals were classified by race, and a classification board was created to rule in questionable cases. The Group Areas Act of 1950 became the heart of the apartheid system designed to geographically separate the racial groups. The Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya which lasted from 1952 to 1960 may have influenced both thinking and policies in South Africa. The Separate Amenities Act of 1953 created, among other things, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and universities. The existing pass laws were tightened further: blacks and coloureds were compelled to carry identity documents. These identity documents became a sort of passport by which prevention of migration to 'white' South Africa could be enforced. Blacks were prohibited from living in (or even visiting) 'white' towns without specific permission. For Blacks, living in the cities was normally restricted to those who were employed in the cities. Direct family relatives were excluded, thus separating wives from husbands and parents from children.

J.G. Strijdom, who succeeded Malan as Prime Minister, moved to strip coloureds and blacks of what few voting rights they had. The previous government had first introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill in parliament in 1951. However, its validity was challenged in court by a group of four voters who were supported by the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but the Appeal Court upheld the appeal and found the act to be invalid. This was because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed in order to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution. The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill, which gave parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. This too was declared invalid by both the Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court. In 1955 the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to eleven, and appointed pro-Nationalist judges to fill the new places. In the same year they introduced the Senate Act, which increased the senate from 49 seats to 89. Adjustments were made such that the NP controlled 77 of these seats. Finally, in a joint sitting of parliament, the Separate Representation of Voters act was passed in 1956, which removed coloureds from the common voters' roll in the Cape, and established a separate voters' roll for them.

The principal " apartheid laws" were as follows:

  • Amendment to The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949)
  • Amendment to The Immorality Act (1950)
    • This law made it a criminal offence for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race.
  • The Population Registration Act (1950)
    • This law required all citizens to be registered as black, white or coloured.
  • The Suppression of Communism Act (1950)
    • This law banned the South African Communist Party as well as any other party the government chose to label as 'communist'. It allowed the government to ban any 'communist' simply by naming them. It made membership in the SACP punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. The South African minister of justice, R.F. Swart, drafted the law.
  • The Group Areas Act ( 27 April 1950)
    • This law partitioned the country into different areas, with different areas being allocated to different racial groups. This law represented the very heart of apartheid because it was the basis upon which political and social separation was to be constructed.
  • Bantu Authorities Act (1951)
    • This law created separate government structures for black people.
  • Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951)
    • This law allowed the government to demolish black shackland slums.
  • Native Building Workers Act and Native Services Levy (1951)
    • This law forced white employers to pay for the construction of proper housing for black workers recognized as legal residents in 'white' cities.
  • The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)
    • This law prohibited people of different races from using the same public amenities, such as drinking fountains, restrooms, and so on.
  • The Bantu Education Act (1953)
    • This law brought all black schooling under government control, effectively ending mission-run schools.
  • Bantu Urban Areas Act (1954)
    • This law curtailed black migration to the cities.
  • The Mines and Work Act (1956)
    • This law formalised racial discrimination in employment.
  • The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act (1958)
    • This law set up separate territorial governments in the 'homelands', designated lands for black people where they could have a vote. The aim was that these homelands or ' bantustans' would eventually become independent of South Africa. In practice, the South African government exercised a strong influence over these separate states even after some of them became 'independent'.
  • Bantu Investment Corporation Act (1959)
    • This law set up a mechanism to transfer capital to the homelands in order to create jobs there.
  • The Extension of University Education Act (1959)
    • This law created separate universities for Blacks, Coloureds and Indians.
  • Physical Planning and Utilization of Resources Act (1967)
    • This law allowed the government to stop industrial development in 'white' cites and redirect such development to homeland border areas. The aim was to speed up the relocation of blacks to the homelands by relocating jobs to homeland areas.
  • Black Homeland Citizenship Act (1970)
    • This law changed the status of the inhabitants of the 'homelands' so that they were no longer citizens of South Africa. The aim was to ensure whites became the demographic majority within 'white' South Africa.
  • The Afrikaans Medium Decree (1974)
    • This law required the use of Afrikaans and English on a fifty-fifty basis in high schools outside the homelands.

The apartheid system

Apartheid from day to day

Apartheid was implemented by the law. The following restrictions were not only social but also strictly enforced by law. For example (the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act specifically allowed government to provide different levels of amenities for the different races):

South Africa's national flag, from 1928-1994. The symbolism of the flag defines South Africa as an inherently white nation, recognizing the country's British and Dutch ethnic roots, but offering no symbolic recognition of the black majority.
South Africa's national flag, from 1928-1994. The symbolism of the flag defines South Africa as an inherently white nation, recognizing the country's British and Dutch ethnic roots, but offering no symbolic recognition of the black majority.
  • Non-whites were not allowed to run businesses or professional practices in those areas designated as 'white South Africa' (i.e. all economically significant towns and commercial areas) without a permit. They were supposed to move to the black "homelands" and set up businesses and practices there.
  • Transport and civil facilities were segregated.
  • Blacks were excluded from living or working in white areas, unless they had a pass - nicknamed the 'dompas' ('dumb pass' in Afrikaans). Only blacks with "Section 10" rights (those who had migrated to the cities before World War II) were excluded from this provision. Strictly speaking, whites also required passes in black areas.
    • A pass was issued only to a black person with approved work. Spouses and children had to be left behind in non-white areas. Many white households employed blacks as domestic workers, who were allowed to live on the premises— often in small rooms external to the family home.
    • A pass was issued for one magisterial district (usually one town) confining the holder to that area only.
    • Being without a valid pass made a person subject to immediate arrest and summary trial, often followed by deportation to the person's homeland and prosecution of the employer. Police vans patrolled the "white" areas to round up the "illegal" blacks, causing enormous harm to the economy by removing willing workers from employers who were chronically short of labour.

Black areas rarely had plumbing or electricity.

Hospitals and ambulances were segregated: the white hospitals were generally of a very good standard with well-educated staff and ample funds, while black hospitals were seriously understaffed and underfunded, with many black areas without a hospital at all.

In the 1970s each black child's education cost the state only a tenth of each white child's. The Bantu Education Act specifically aimed to teach blacks only the basic skills they would need in working for whites. Higher education was provided in separate universities and colleges after 1959. Very few places were provided for blacks and all the existing and reputable universities remained white.

Trains and buses were segregated. Black buses, known as "green" buses because they had a green marker on the front windscreen, stopped at black bus stops and white buses at white ones. 1st and 2nd class train carriages were for whites only. 3rd class carriages were for blacks only.

Public beaches were racially segregated, with the best ones reserved for whites. Public swimming pools and libraries were also segregated. There were practically no pools nor libraries for blacks.

Since 1948, sex and marriage between the races was prohibited. A white driver was not allowed to have a black in the front of the car if that person was of a different sex.

Black people were not allowed to employ white people.

Black police were not allowed to arrest whites.

Cinemas and theatres in "white areas" (i.e. all significant towns and economic areas) were not allowed to admit blacks. There were practically no cinemas or theatres or restaurants or hotels in black areas. Most restaurants and hotels in white areas were not allowed to admit blacks except as staff, unless the government had given specific prior permission (such as when African diplomats needed to be accommodated).

Blacks were not allowed to buy hard liquor (although this was relaxed later).

Black Africans were prohibited from attending "white" churches under the Churches Native Laws Amendment Act (1957). This was never rigidly enforced, and churches were one of the few places races could mix without the interference of the law.

Although trade unions for black and " coloured" (mixed race) workers had existed since the early 20th century, it was not until the 1980s reforms that membership of a trade union by black workers became legal.

Taxation was unequal - the yearly income at which tax became payable by blacks was 360 rand (30 rand a month), while the white threshold was much higher, at 750 Rand (62.5 rand per month). On the other hand, the taxation rate for whites was considerably higher than that for blacks.

Most blacks were stripped of their South African citizenship when the "homelands" were declared "independent". They thus were no longer able to apply for South African passports. Eligibility for a passport had, in any case, been difficult. A passport was a privilege, not a right, and the government saw fit not to grant many applications by blacks.

Apartheid pervaded South African culture, as well as the law. This was reinforced in many media, and the lack of opportunities for the races to mix in a social setting entrenched social distance between people.

Pedestrian bridges, drive-in cinema parking spaces, graveyards, parks, pedestrian crossings, public toilets and taxis were also segregated.

The "homeland" system

A rural area in Ciskei, one of the apartheid-era "homelands"
A rural area in Ciskei, one of the apartheid-era " homelands"

Proponents of apartheid argued that once apartheid had been implemented, blacks would no longer be citizens of South Africa; rather, they would become citizens of the independent "homelands". In terms of this model, blacks became (foreign) "guest labourers" who merely worked in South Africa as the holders of temporary work permits.

The South African government attempted to divide South Africa into a number of separate states. Some eighty-seven percent of the land was reserved for whites, coloureds and Indians. About thirteen percent of the land was divided into ten 'homelands' for blacks (80% of the population) and some were given independence, though this was never recognised by any other country. Once the homelands were granted 'independence', those who were designated as belonging to such a homeland had their South African citizenship revoked, and replaced with homeland citizenship. These people would now have passports instead of passbooks. Those remaining parts of the 'autonomous' homelands also had their South African citizenship circumscribed, and remained less than South African. The South African government attempted to draw an equivalence between their view of black "citizens" of the "homelands" and the problems other countries faced through entry of illegal immigrants.

While other countries were dismantling discriminatory legislation and becoming more liberal on issues of race, South Africa was continuing to construct a labyrinth of racial legislation. Some white South Africans' support of apartheid was motivated by demographics as it allowed them to continue to dominate a country in which they were a shrinking minority.

Forced removals

During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, the government implemented a policy of 'resettlement', to force people to move to their designated 'group areas'. Some argue that over three and a half million people were forced to resettle during this period. The victims of these removals included:

  • Labour tenants on white-owned farms
  • The inhabitants of the so-called 'black spots', areas of African-owned land surrounded by white farms
  • The families of workers living in townships close to the homelands
  • 'Surplus people' from urban areas, including thousands of people from the Western Cape (which was declared a 'Coloured Labour Preference Area') who were moved to the Transkei and Ciskei homelands.

The best-publicised forced removals of the 1950s occurred in Johannesburg, when 60,000 people were moved to the new township of Soweto (an acronym for South Western Townships).

Until 1955, Sophiatown had been one of the few urban areas where blacks were allowed to own land, and was slowly developing into an entirely multiracial settlement. As industry in Johannesburg grew, Sophiatown became the home of a rapidly expanding black workforce, as it was convenient and close to town. It could also boast the only swimming pool for black children in Johannesburg. It was, however, one of the oldest black settlements in Johannesburg and held an almost symbolic importance for the 50,000 blacks it contained, both in terms of its sheer vibrance and its unique culture. Despite a vigorous ANC protest campaign and worldwide publicity, the removal of Sophiatown began on 9 February 1955 under the Western Areas Removal Scheme. In the early hours, heavily armed police entered Sophiatown to force residents out of their homes and load their belongings onto government trucks. The residents were taken to a large tract of land, thirteen miles from the city centre, known as Meadowlands (now part of Soweto), that the government had purchased in 1953. Sophiatown was destroyed by bulldozers, and a new white suburb named Triomf (Triumph) was built in its place. This pattern of forced removal and destruction was to repeat itself over the next few years, and was not limited to people of African descent. Forced removals from areas like Cato Manor (Mkhumbane) in Durban, and District Six in Cape Town, where 55,000 coloured and Indian people were forced to move to new townships on the Cape Flats, were carried out under the Group Areas Act of 1950. Ultimately, nearly 600,000 coloured, Indian and Chinese people, and a further 40,000 white people, were moved in terms of the Group Areas Act.

Colour classification

The population was classified into four groups: Black, White, Asian (mostly Indian), and "Coloured". (These terms are capitalised to denote their legal definitions in South African law). The Coloured group included people of mixed Bantu, Khoisan, and European descent (with some Malay ancestry, especially in the Western Cape), together with some racially "pure" Khoisans. The Apartheid bureaucracy devised complex (and often arbitrary) criteria at the time that the Population Registration Act was implemented to determine who was Coloured. Minor officials would administer tests to determine if someone should be categorised either Coloured or Black, or if another person should be categorised either Coloured or White. Different members of the same family found themselves in different race groups. Further tests determined membership of the various sub-racial groups of the Coloureds. Many Coloureds do not like the term "coloured", but it continues to be used in the post-apartheid era, even if it has lost its legal, Apartheid era consequences. The expressions 'so-called Coloured' (Afrikaans sogenaamde Kleurlinge) and 'brown people' (bruin mense) have acquired a wide usage in recent years.

Discriminated against by apartheid, Coloureds were as a matter of state policy forced to live in separate townships — in some cases leaving homes their families had occupied for generations — and received an inferior education, though better than that provided to Black South Africans. They played an important role in the struggle against apartheid: for example the African Political Organisation established in 1902 had an exclusively coloured membership.

During most of the era of legally formalised apartheid, from about 1950 to 1983, voting rights were essentially denied to Coloureds in the same way that they were denied to blacks (see Coloured). In 1983, the Constitution was reformed to allow the Coloured and Asian minorities participation in separate Houses in a Tricameral Parliament, a development which enjoyed limited support. The theory was that the Coloured minority could be granted voting rights, but the Black majority were to become citizens of independent homelands. These separate arrangements continued until the abolition of apartheid.

Other minorities

Defining its East Asian population, which is a tiny minority in South Africa but who do not physically appear to belong any of the four designated groups, was a constant dilemma for the apartheid government. Chinese South Africans who were descendents of migrant workers who came to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg in the late 19th century, were usually classified as 'Indian' and hence 'non-white', whereas immigrants from Taiwan and Japan, with which South Africa maintained diplomatic relations, were considered 'honorary white', and thus granted the same privileges as whites. It should be noted that "Non-Whites" including Blacks were sometimes granted an 'honorary white' status as well, based on the government's belief that they were "civilized" and possessed western values.

The UN and the International Criminal Court

South African apartheid was condemned internationally as unjust and racist. In 1973 the General Assembly of the United Nations agreed on the text of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The immediate intention of the Convention was to provide a formal legal framework within which member states could apply sanctions to press the South African government to change its policies. However, the Convention was phrased in general terms, with the express intention of prohibiting any other state from adopting analogous policies. The Convention came into force in 1976.

The Rome Statute defined Apartheid as one of eleven crimes against humanity. Citizens of the majority of states, including South Africa, which have ratified the statute can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for committing or abetting the crime of apartheid.

Internal resistance

The ANC and the PAC

These developments pushed the hitherto relatively conservative African National Congress into action. In 1949, they developed an agenda that for the first time advocated open resistance in the form of strikes, acts of public disobedience, and protest marches. These continued throughout the 1950s and resulted in occasional violent clashes. In June 1955, at a congress held near Kliptown, near Johannesburg, a number of organisations, including the Indian Congress and the ANC, adopted a Freedom Charter. This articulated a vision of a non-racial democratic state and is still central to the ANC's vision of a new South Africa.

The Sharpeville Massacre

In 1959, a group of disenchanted ANC members, seeking to sever all ties with white government, broke away to form the more militant Pan Africanist Congress. First on the PAC's agenda was a series of nationwide demonstrations against the hated pass laws. On 21 March 1960, black people congregated in Sharpeville, a township near Vereeniging, to demonstrate against the requirement for blacks to carry identity cards (under the Pass Law). Estimates of the size of the crowd vary wildly, from as low as 300 to as high as 20,000. The crowd converged on the local police station, singing and offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books. A group of about 300 police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring 186. All the victims were black, and most of them had been shot in the back. The crowd was effectively unarmed; many witnesses stated that the crowd was not violent, but Colonel J. Pienaar, the senior police officer in charge on the day, said, "Hordes of natives surrounded the police station. My car was struck with a stone. If they do these things they must learn their lesson the hard way". The event became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. In its aftermath the government banned the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

The Sharpeville Massacre was a powerful factor in the ANC's decision to take up armed resistance against the government. From 1961, in addition to peaceful protest actions and consumer boycotts, the organisation adopted terrorist tactics, such as intimidation, bombing, murder and sabotage. Although their units detonated bombs in restaurants, shopping centres, cinemas and in front of government buildings over the following years, the military wings of the ANC and PAC were not a major military threat to the state, which had a monopoly of modern weapons.

Resistance goes underground

To many domestic and international onlookers, the struggle had crossed a crucial line at Sharpeville, and there could no longer be any doubt about the nature of the white regime. In the wake of the shooting, a massive stay-away from work was organised and demonstrations continued.

Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd declared a state of emergency, giving security forces the right to detain people without trial. Over 18,000 demonstrators were arrested, including much of the ANC and PAC leadership, and both organisations were banned. As activists continued to be arrested, the ANC and PAC began a campaign of sabotage through the armed wings of their organisations, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, MK) and Poqo ("Pure" or "Alone"), respectively. In July 1963, members of the ANC underground movement, including Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg, were arrested.

Together with ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who had already been arrested on other charges, they were tried for treason at the widely publicised Rivonia Trial. In June 1964, Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorism. Oliver Tambo, another member of the ANC leadership, managed to escape South Africa and was to lead the ANC in exile for another thirty years.

The trial was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, and was a major force in the introduction of international sanctions against the South African government. With the ANC, PAC and South African Communist Party banned, and Mandela and his fellow leaders in jail or exile, South Africa entered some of its most troubled times. Apartheid legislation was increasingly enforced, and the walls between the races were built even higher, culminating in the creation of separate Homelands for blacks. In 1966, Verwoerd was stabbed to death in parliament, but his policies continued under B.J. Vorster and later P.W. Botha.

Black Consciousness Movement

During the 1970s, resistance again gained force, first channelled through trade unions and strikes, and then spearheaded by the South African Students' Organisation under the charismatic leadership of Steve Biko. Biko, a medical student, was the main force behind the growth of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement, which stressed the need for psychological liberation, black pride, and non-violent opposition to apartheid.

In 1974 the government issued the Afrikaans Medium Decree which forced all schools for blacks to use the Afrikaans language as the medium for instruction in mathematics, social sciences, geography and history at the secondary school level. Punt Janson, the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education, was quoted as saying: "I have not consulted the African people on the language issue and I'm not going to. An African might find that 'the big boss' spoke only Afrikaans or spoke only English. It would be to his advantage to know both languages."

The policy was deeply unpopular, since Afrikaans was regarded by some as the language of the oppressor. On 30 April 1976, students at Orlando West Junior School in Soweto went on strike, refusing to go to school. Their rebellion spread to other schools in Soweto. The students organised a mass rally for 16 June, which turned violent — police responded with bullets to stones thrown by the students. The first student to be shot by the police was Hastings Ndlovu, aged 15. The image of Hector Pieterson who was killed at age 13 became an international icon of the uprising. The official death toll on the day was 23 dead, but some placed it as high as 200. The incident triggered widespread violence throughout South Africa, which claimed further lives.

In September 1977, Steve Biko was arrested. Unidentified security police beat him until he lapsed into a coma; he went without medical treatment for three days and finally died in Pretoria. At the subsequent inquest, the magistrate ruled that no one was to blame, although the South African Medical Association eventually took action against the doctors who had failed to treat Biko. South Africa was never to be the same again. A generation of young blacks committed themselves to a revolutionary struggle against apartheid under the catchphrase of "liberation before education," and the black communities were politicised.

White resistance

While the majority of white South African voters supported the apartheid system, a substantial minority opposed it. In parliamentary elections during the 1970s and 1980s between 15% and 20% of white voters voted for the liberal Progressive Party, whose MP Helen Suzman provided for many years the only Parliamentary opposition to apartheid. Suzman's critics argue that she did not achieve any notable political successes, but helped to shore up claims by the Nationalists that internal, public criticism of apartheid was permitted. Suzman's supporters point to her use of her parliamentary privileges to help the poorest and most disempowered South Africans in any way she could.

Non-violent resistance to apartheid came from the Black Sash, an organisation of white women formed in 1955 to oppose the removal of Coloured (mixed-race) voters from the Cape Province voters' roll. Covert resistance was expressed by banned organisations like the largely white South African Communist Party, whose leader Joe Slovo was also Chief of Staff of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Whites also played a significant role in opposing apartheid during the 1980s through the United Democratic Front and End Conscription Campaign. Cultural opposition to apartheid came from internationally known writers like Breyten Breytenbach, André P. Brink and Alan Paton (who founded the Liberal Party of South Africa) and clerics like Beyers Naudé.

South African Jews though they accounted for only 2.5% of South Africa's white population and 0.3% of South Africa's total population, played notable roles in the anti-apartheid movement. For example, when 156 political leaders were arrested on December 5, 1956, more than half of the whites arrested were Jewish. They were charged with high treason resulting in the Treason Trial which lasted from 1956-1960. And, all of the whites initially charged in the 1963 Rivonia Trial were Jewish. Jewish politicians like Helen Suzman attempted to stop the abuse of black political prisoners. Jews also played a significant role in providing humanitarian assistance for black communities, see South African Jews, Anti Apartheid activities.

International relations

South Africa officially took possession of South-West Africa after it was captured from the Germans during World War I. Following the war, the Treaty of Versailles declared the territory to be a League of Nations Mandate under South African administration. South Africa formally excluded Walvis Bay from the mandate and annexed it as an enclave. The Mandate was supposed to become a United Nations Trust Territory when League of Nations Mandates were transferred to the United Nations (UN) following World War II, but the Union of South Africa refused to agree to allow the territory to begin the transition to independence. Instead it was treated as a de facto 'fifth province' of the Union. The South African government turned this mandate arrangement into a military occupation, and extended apartheid to South-West Africa — later re-named Namibia by the UN.

In 1960, South Africa's policies received international scrutiny when British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan criticised them during his Wind of Change speech in Cape Town. Weeks later, tensions came to a head in the Sharpeville Massacre resulting in more international condemnation. Soon thereafter, Verwoerd announced a referendum on whether the country should sever links with the British monarchy and become a republic instead. Verwoerd lowered the voting age for whites to 18 and included whites in South West Africa on the voter's roll. The referendum on 5 October that year asked whites "Do you support a republic for the Union?" — 52% voted 'Yes'.

As a consequence of this change of status, South Africa needed to reapply for continued membership of the Commonwealth, with which it had privileged trade links. Even though India became an independent state within the Commonwealth in 1947 it became clear that African and Asian member states would oppose South Africa due to the apartheid policies being enforced. As a result, South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth on 31 May 1961, the day that the Republic came into existence.


On 6 November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, condemning South African apartheid policies. On 7 August 1963 the United Nations Security Council established a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa. Following the Soweto uprising in 1976 and its brutal suppression by the apartheid regime, the arms embargo was made mandatory by the UN Security Council on 4 November 1977 and South Africa became increasingly isolated internationally. Numerous conferences were held and the United Nations passed resolutions condemning South Africa, including the World Conference Against Racism in 1978 and 1983. A significant divestment movement started, pressuring investors to refuse to invest in South African companies or companies that did business with South Africa. South African sports teams were barred from participation in international events, and South African culture and tourism were boycotted.

After much debate, by the late 1980s the United States, the United Kingdom, and 23 other nations had passed laws placing various trade sanctions on South Africa. A divestment movement in many countries was similarly widespread, with individual cities and provinces around the world implementing various laws and local regulations forbidding registered corporations under their jurisdiction from doing business with South African firms, factories, or banks.

In an analysis of the effect of sanctions on South Africa by the FW de Klerk Foundation, it was argued that they were not a leading contributor to the political reforms leading to the end of Apartheid . The analysis concluded that in many instances sanctions undermined effective reform forces, such as the changing economic and social order within South Africa. Furthermore, it was argued that forces encouraging economic growth and development resulted in a more international and liberal outlook amongst South Africans, and were far more powerful agents of reform than sanctions.

Western influence

While international opposition to apartheid grew, the Nordic countries in particular provided both moral and financial support for the ANC. On 21 February 1986 – a week before he was murdered – Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme made the keynote address to the Swedish People's Parliament Against Apartheid held in Stockholm. In addressing the hundreds of anti-apartheid sympathizers as well as leaders and officials from the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement such as Oliver Tambo, Palme declared:

"Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated."

Other Western countries adopted a more ambivalent position. Until 1986, both the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the US and UK followed a 'constructive engagement' policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions on South Africa, as they both fiercely believed in free trade, and seeing South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation , and in 1987 famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was "living in cloud cuckoo land".

By the late 1980s, however, with the tide of the Cold War turning and no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience with the apartheid government began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/ Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions, the release of Nelson Mandela, and a negotiated settlement involving the ANC. Thatcher too began to take a similar line but insisted on the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle . Britain's significant economic involvement in South Africa provided some leverage with the Botha administration, with both the UK and the US applying pressure on the government, and pushing for negotiations.

Total onslaught

By 1980, South Africa was the only country in Africa with a white government and a constitution discriminating against the majority of its citizens. As international opinion turned decisively against the apartheid regime, the government and much of the white population increasingly saw the country as a bastion besieged by communism, atheism, and black anarchy. Considerable effort was put into circumventing sanctions, and the government even developed nuclear weapons, with the help of Israel , which have since been destroyed, making South Africa the only country to date that has developed and then voluntarily relinquished a nuclear arsenal.

Negotiating majority rule with the ANC was not considered an option (at least publicly); this left the government to defend the country against external and internal threats through sheer military might. A siege mentality developed among whites, and although many realised that a civil war against the black majority could not be won, they preferred this to "giving in" to political reform. Brutal police and military actions seemed entirely justifiable. Paradoxically, the international sanctions that cut whites off from the rest of the world enabled black leaders to develop sophisticated political skills, as those in exile forged ties with regional and world leaders.

The term ' front-line states' referred to the countries in Southern Africa geographically close to South Africa. Although the front-line states were all opposed to apartheid, many were economically dependent on South Africa. Thus, in 1980 they formed the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC). The aim of SADCC was to promote economic development in the region and to reduce dependence on South Africa. Furthermore, many SADCC members also allowed the exiled ANC and PAC to establish bases in their countries.

Other African countries also contributed to the fall of apartheid. In 1978, Nigeria boycotted the Commonwealth Games because New Zealand's sporting contacts with the South African government were not considered to be in accordance with the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Nigeria also led the 32-nation boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games because of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's ambivalent attitude towards sporting links with South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the games and putting apartheid into the international spotlight.

A number of African countries also contributed materially and morally to the resistance movement in South Africa.

Destabilisation and sabotage

South Africa's policy of 'destabilisation' aimed to combat SADCC support of the ANC and PAC, by destroying their bases, weakening support for these organisations, and hindering social economic development in SADCC countries. Destabilisation included:

  • Support for anti-government guerrilla groups such as UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique
  • South African Defence Force (SADF; now the South African National Defence Force; SANDF) hit-squad raids into front-line states. Bombing raids were also conducted into neighbouring states.
  • A full-scale invasion of Angola: this was partly in support of UNITA, but was also an attempt to strike at SWAPO bases.
  • Targeting of exiled ANC leaders abroad: Joe Slovo's wife Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb in Maputo, and 'death squads' of the Civil Co-operation Bureau and the Directorate of Military Intelligence attempted to carry out assassinations on ANC targets in Brussels, Paris and Stockholm, as well as burglaries and bombings in London.

The project met with much 'success', in Angola and Mozambique hundreds of thousands were killed in bitter civil wars, food production ceased in large areas, millions were made homeless, and thousands were maimed in land mine accidents. All of South Africa's white males were liable for national service and thousands fled into exile to avoid conscription. Many more were scarred mentally and physically by their participation in vicious struggles in the region, or in the townships.

In 1984 Mozambican president Samora Machel signed the Nkomati Accord with South Africa's president P.W. Botha, in an attempt to rebuild Mozambique's economy. South Africa agreed to cease supporting anti-government forces. In 1986 President Machel himself was killed in an air crash in mountainous terrain near the South African border after returning from a meeting in Zambia. South Africa was accused of continuing its aid to RENAMO and of having caused the crash using a new advanced electronic beacon capable of luring aircraft into crashing. This was never proved and is still a subject of controversy. The South African Margo Commission found that the crash was an accident while a Soviet delegation issued a minority report implicating South Africa .


The National Party government implemented, alongside apartheid, a program of social conservatism. Certain movies, gambling and other vices were banned. At the same time, it instituted the International Freedom Foundation, which funded such movies as Jack Abramoff's Red Scorpion. Printed or filmed pornography (of even the mildest variety) was banned and its possession was punishable by incarceration.

Television was not introduced until 1975 because it was viewed as immoral by the authorities. Even after the introduction of TV, broadcasting was initially restricted to a few hours a day.

Sunday, as the Sabbath, was considered holy. Cinemas, bottle stores and most other businesses were forbidden from operating from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. Abortion and sex education were also restricted; abortion was legal only in cases of rape or if the mother's life was threatened.

State security

Towards the end of the 1970s, the government became increasingly preoccupied with security. The South African media had always been supportive of the regime, the Afrikaans-language press particularly so. However, after the Soweto riots, the government began to impose more formal measures of censorship to protect its interests.

Things changed even more with the coming to power of Prime Minister and later State President P.W. Botha. Under Botha, while the government began reforming apartheid, the state security apparatus grew even more. As states of emergency prompted by violence continued intermittently throughout the 1980s, the government became increasingly dominated by Botha's circle of generals and police chiefs.

Botha's years in power were marked by numerous military interventions in the states bordering South Africa and by an extensive military and political campaign to eliminate SWAPO in Namibia. Within South Africa, vigorous police action and strict enforcement of security legislation resulted in hundreds of arrests and bannings and an effective end to the ANC's stepped-up campaign of sabotage in the 1970s.

State of emergency

During the last years of apartheid rule in South Africa, the country was more or less in a constant state of emergency.

Increasing civil unrest and township violence led to the government declaring a state of emergency on 20 July 1985. Then president P.W. Botha declared a state of emergency in 36 magisterial districts. Areas affected were the Eastern Cape, and the PWV region ("Pretoria, Witwatersrand, Vereeniging"). Three months later the Western Cape was included as well. During this state of emergency about 2,436 people were detained under the Internal Security Act. This act gave police and the military sweeping powers. The government could implement curfews controlling the movement of people. The president could rule by decree without referring to the constitution or to parliament.

Four days before the 10-year commemoration of the Soweto uprising, another state of emergency was declared on 12 June 1986 to cover the whole country. The government amended the Public Security Act, expanding its powers to include the right to declare certain places "unrest areas". This allowed the state to employ extraordinary measures to crush protests in these areas. The government Censorship Board monitored the press and the publication of content related to all "unrest activities". Despite the government's claims that the media in South Africa was free, the independent media in South Africa was forbidden from reporting on the state of emergency. The state mouthpiece, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) provided daily propaganda in support of the government. This version of reality was challenged by a range of alternative publications.

The state of emergency continued until 1990, when F.W. de Klerk became the State President, and lifted the 30-year ban on leading anti-apartheid group the African National Congress, the smaller Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party. He also made his first public commitment to release jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela, returned to press freedom and suspend the death penalty.

HIV/AIDS epidemic

In 1982, the first recorded death from AIDS occurred in the country. Within a decade, the number of recorded AIDS cases had risen to over 1,000, and by the mid-1990s, it had reached 10,000.

In the late 1980s, the South African Chamber of Mines began an education campaign to try and stem the rise of cases. But without a change in the underlying conditions of mine workers, a major factor contributing to the epidemic, success could hardly be expected. Long periods away from home under bleak conditions and a few days leave a month were the apartheid-induced realities of the life thousands of miners and other labourers worked. Compounding the problem was the fact that as of the mid-1990s, many health officials still focused more on the incidence of tuberculosis than HIV.

Winds of change

White settlement was concentrated in only a few areas of South Africa.
White settlement was concentrated in only a few areas of South Africa.

The most violent time of the 1980s was 1985–88, when the P.W. Botha government embarked on a campaign to eliminate opposition. For three years police and soldiers patrolled South African towns in armed vehicles, destroying black squatter camps and detained thousands of blacks and coloureds. Some of those who were detained died in incidents ranging from outright murder by the authorities to suicide. Exact numbers are impossible to ascertain but is estimated by some to be hundreds and by others to be more than a thousand. Rigid censorship laws tried to conceal the events by banning media and newspaper coverage.

The ANC and the PAC retaliated by exploding bombs in restaurants, shopping centres and in front of government buildings such as magistrates courts, killing and maiming civilians and government officials in the process. Attempts were also made by the ANC to make black townships ungovernable by forcing residents to stop paying for services and attacking town councillors and their families with petrol bombs.

Residents who resisted such tactics were murdered by placing a burning tire around their necks, a process known as necklacing. During this period an average of more than 100 people died as a result of black-on-black violence in the black townships every month with the figure increasing to as high as 259 per month between 1990 and 1993.

In the early 1980s, the white government began to admit the need for change, due to a combination of internal violence, international condemnation, and changing demographics — whites constituted only 16% of the total population and dropping, in comparison to 20% fifty years earlier. Recognising the inevitability of change, P.W. Botha told white South Africans to "adapt or die". In 1984 some reforms were introduced. Many of the apartheid laws were repealed, including the pass laws. A new constitution was introduced, which gave limited representation to certain non-whites, although not to the black majority. But Botha stopped short of full reform, and many blacks as well as the international community felt that the changes were only cosmetic. Protests and resistance continued full force, as South Africa became increasingly polarised and fragmented and unrest was widespread. A white backlash also arose, giving rise to a number of neo-Nazi paramilitary groups, notably the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), led by Eugène Terre'Blanche. The opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) was also formed at this time. With a broad coalition of members, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Reverend Allan Boesak, it called for the government to abandon its proposed reforms, and instead to abolish apartheid and eliminate the homelands.

International pressures also increased as economic sanctions began to dig in harder and the value of the rand collapsed. In 1985, the government declared a state of emergency that was to stay in effect for the next five years. The media was censored, and by 1988, 30,000 people had been detained without trial and thousands tortured. Media sympathy to the system was reaching a low.

In 1986, President Botha announced to parliament that South Africa had "outgrown" apartheid. The NP government began a series of minor reforms in the direction of racial equality, while maintaining an iron grip on the media and all anti-apartheid demonstrations. The police entered the townships and Homelands in this time to clamp down strongly on any protests, killing many people in the process which caused even larger protests. As the security situation in South Africa continued to deteriorate, many white South Africans fled the country as refugees.

International pressure on Botha's government continued to grow, with the US and UK now actively promoting the solution of a negotiated settlement with the black majority. Early in 1989 Botha suffered a stroke, resigned on 13 February 1989 and was succeeded later that year by FW de Klerk. In his opening address to parliament in February 1990, in what has come to be known as the 'unbanning speech', President De Klerk announced that he would repeal discriminatory laws and lift the ban on the ANC, the UDF, the PAC, and the Communist Party. Media restrictions were lifted, and De Klerk released political prisoners not guilty of common-law crimes. On 11 February 1990, 27 years after he had first been incarcerated, Nelson Mandela walked out of the grounds of Victor Verster Prison a free man.

F. W. de Klerk took the initiative to abolish Apartheid in 1990
F. W. de Klerk took the initiative to abolish Apartheid in 1990

Having been forced by the UN Security Council to end its long-standing military occupation in Namibia, South Africa had to relinquish control of the disputed territory, and it officially became an independent state on 21 March 1990.

From 1990 to 1991, the legal apparatus of apartheid was abolished. In a referendum in March 1992, the last whites-only vote held in South Africa, voters gave the government authority to negotiate a new constitution with the ANC and other groups.

In December 1991, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) began negotiations on the formation of a multiracial transitional government and a new constitution extending political rights to all groups. Months of wrangling finally produced a compromise and an election date, although at considerable human cost. Political violence exploded across the country during this time, particularly in the wake of the assassination of Chris Hani, the popular leader of South Africa's Communist Party. It is now known that elements within the police and army contributed to this violence. There have also been claims that high-ranking government officials and politicians ordered or at least condoned massacres.

In 1993, a draft constitution was published, guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion, access to adequate housing and numerous other benefits, and explicitly prohibiting discrimination on almost any ground. Finally, at midnight on 26– 27 April 1994, the old flag was lowered, and the old (now co-official) national anthem Die Stem ("The Call") was sung, followed by the raising of the new rainbow flag and singing of the other co-official anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika ("God Bless Africa"). The election went off peacefully amidst a palpable feeling of goodwill throughout the country.

The ANC won 62.7% of the vote, less than the 66.7% that would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution. As well as deciding the national government, the election decided the provincial governments, and the ANC won in all but two provinces. The NP captured most of the white and Coloured vote and became the official opposition party.

Since then, 27 April is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa known as Freedom Day.

In 1993, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa".

Legacies of apartheid

Many of the inequalities created and maintained by apartheid still remain in South Africa. The country has one of the most unequal income distribution patterns in the world: approximately 60% of the population earns less than R42,000 per annum (about US$7,000), whereas 2.2% of the population has an income exceeding R360,000 per annum (about US$50,000) . Poverty in South Africa is still largely defined by skin colour, with black people making up around 90% of the country's poor . Subsequently, the government has implemented a policy of Black Economic Empowerment. Eighty percent of farming land still remains in the hands of white farmers ; the requirement that claimants for restoration of land seized during the apartheid era make a contribution towards the cost of the land "excludes the poorest layers of the population altogether" , while a large number of white farmers have been murdered since 1994 in what campaign groups claim is a campaign of genocide.

Race still remains a major factor in the way South Africa is governed. In September 2006 the ANC government demanded that every employed person in South Africa sign a race classification document. In this document a person had to classify himself or herself as White, Indian, Coloured or African. The reasons given by the government was that the classification was necessary to see if companies followed the ANC's policy of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)

The government has passed affirmative action laws and what they call employment equity targets. In terms of this, companies are assessed on the government's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy. Government contracts and a few in the private sector are also preferentially awarded to companies with good BEE ratings. Appointments in local, provincial and national government are frequently dictated by affirmative action.

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