Apartheid was a strict segregation, or separation, of the races in South Africa. Apartheid began as a program of the white Afrikaner government and was intended to oppress the black South Africans. The apartheid system denied equal rights in every aspect of life to black South Africans. (apartheid pronunciation: uh – pahrt – heyt)
Apartheid was a violent system of oppression.
The meaning of apartheid was clear: whites led, blacks served.
Fast Apartheid Facts
- Apartheid meaning: strict separation of the races in South Africa during the Twentieth Century
- Apartheid became official government policy under the Nationalist Government of Hendrick Frensch Vorwoerd in the 1950s
- Apartheid separated South Africans into classifications such as White, Black and Coloured based on physical characteristics
- Apartheid laws used these classifications to grant special status to whites and restrict the freedom of non-whites
- The end of Apartheid came through internal unrest and international condemnation
- F.W. de Klerk became President of South Africa in 1989 and worked to end apartheid by repealing unjust laws and releasing ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison
- F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their joint work to end apartheid
- Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa in 1994
- 1600s: South Africa was colonized by Dutch settlers who called themselves Afrikaners.
- 1700s: The British arrive and colonize South Africa.
- 1910: The Union of South Africa Formed
- 1911: Native Labor Regulation Act Passed
- 1911: The Mines and Works Act
- 1912: The Native National Congress Forms – later became known as the African National Congress (ANC)
- 1913: Native Lands Act Passed
- 1936: Representation of Natives Act Passed
- 1946: Black South African Mine Workers Strike
- 1948: Afrikaner National Party Rises to Power
- 1950: Population Registration Act
- 1951: Bantu Authorities Act
- 1952: Abolition of Passes Act
- 1953: Reservation of Separate Amenities Act
- 1960: The ANC Radicalizes
- 1960: Sharpeville Massacre
- 1962: UN Special Committee Against Apartheid
- 1964: Nelson Mandela Imprisoned
- 1970s: Anti-Apartheid Movement Grows
- 1970s: Resettlements of Black South Africans to Shanty Towns
- 1976: Soweto Uprising
- 1977: Steve Biko Dies
- 1985: State of Emergency Declared by President P.W. Botha
- 1986: US Congress Calls for Sanctions Against Apartheid Government in South Africa
- 1989: F.W. de Klerk Becomes President; Relaxes Apartheid Laws
- 1990: Nelson Mandela Released from Prison
- 1991: President F.W. de Klerk Issues Call for New Constitution
- 1993: Transitional Government Approved
- 1994: Nelson Mandela Elected President in the Nation’s First Free, Democratic, Multi-Party Elections
What was apartheid? How did it develop? The white minority South African government had worked to strip rights from black South Africans for decades. Parts, Apartheid was institutionalized in the 1950s after the Afrikaners Nationalist Party came to power. National Party member Hendrick Frensch Verwoerd became South African Prime Minister in 1958. Although parts of apartheid, like the pass laws, were a legacy of British colonialism, Voerwoerd is known as the “architect of Apartheid.”
Despite his positive description, the resulting legislation in the 1950s solidified the power of the white minority over the black majority. Apartheid laws such as the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act and the Pass Act of 1952 worked to separate black South Africans in all areas of public and private lives. Black South Africans as well as Indians and Coloreds were forced to carry reference books that contained records of their race, origin, and previous encounters with police. They encountered separate and completely unequal facilities throughout the country.
Black African protest against unfair treatment was met with a swift show of force from the government. One of the most famous protests was the Defiance Campaign in 1952. Protestors engaged in small acts of defiance while giving the thumbs up sign and crying “Afrika!” or “Mayibuye!” (a Xhosa word that means “to return”). Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Thambo and 52 other blacks and Indians marched into Johannesburg without passes. Thirty other black South Africans entered the rail station using the “Europeans Only” entrance. All who engaged in acts of defiance were arrested including over 8,000 non-whites. The Defiance Campaign succeeded in getting the attention of the United Nations, who condemned the system of racial segregation.
The Congress of the People met in Kliptown, South Africa in 1955. Over 3,000 delegates attended this meeting where the Freedom Charter was publicly read and adopted. The Freedom Charter, a collection of demands of black South Africans, included ideals such as “The People Shall Govern,” “The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth,” and “The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!”
The government responded to the Freedom Charter by putting 156 of its supporters on trial for high treason. Although charges were dropped against 73 of the initial 156 defendants, the Treason Trial continued for four years. The government sought to prosecute black African resistance leaders including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, and Walter Sisulu.
On March 29 1961, the remainder of the defendants were all acquitted. Justice Rumpff stated: “On all the evidence presented to this court and on our findings of fact, it is impossible for this court to come to the conclusion that the African National Congress has acquired or adopted a policy to overthrow the state by violence, that is, in the sense that the masses had to be prepared or conditioned to commit direct acts of violence against the state.”
Feeling as if they had no choice, Mandela and other African National Congress leaders advocated armed resistance. Mandela went underground and sought money from outside nations and groups to support the armed struggle. Caught re-entering South Africa, Mandela was arrested and tried for leaving the country without a passport and incitement. He was convicted, sentenced to five years imprisonment, and sent to Pretoria Local Prison.
While in prison, the government discovered evidence that enabled them to try Mandela, Thambo, and SIsulu, along with others, for sabotage. They were handed life sentences of hard labor to be served at Robben Island an infamous prison off the coast of South Africa.
By the 1980s, the violent apartheid system caught the attention of the international community. Subject to economic sanctions from other countries and continued domestic unrest, Pik de Botha resigned the presidency. F.W. de Klerk was elected president in 1989. De Klerk took action to return the country to peace. He announced that Mandela would be released from prison unconditionally on February 11, 1990 after twenty seven years in prison.
South Africa held its first free, democratic election on April 27, 1994. South Africans of all ethnicities voted in this historic election. The African National Congress won 62.65% of the vote. The National Party won 20.39%. The remainder of the vote spread over several parties include the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front, and the Pan-Africanist Congress. This election brought about the end of Apartheid, a new Government of National Unity, and a new constitution which protected South Africans of all races.
The new government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to heal the wounds of apartheid. Individuals who had committed politically motivated crimes between 1960 and 1994 could receive amnesty for their crimes if they made a full confession before the commission. The TRC granted 849 of the 7,112 applications for amnesty; however, the public nature of the trials brought about a sense of healing and forgiveness allowing the nation to move forward.
Anyone was eligible to participate in the TRC process including former South African president, F.W. de Klerk. He stated, “I have made the most profound apology in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and on other occasions about the injustices which were wrought by apartheid.”
Bringing about the end of apartheid seemed impossible in the 1950s. Half a century later, it is a part of South Africa’s past. As President Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Key Apartheid Laws
While segregation in South Africa had been practiced for decades, the newly elected Nationalist Party government enacted many new racist laws in the 1950s to firmly institutionalize the system of racial segregation.
- Native Labor Regulation Act, 1911: Prohibited strikes by black South African workers, primarily aimed at those in the diamond and gold mines
- The Mines and Works Act, 1911: Denied industrial competency certificates to black South Africans which excluded them from higher paying mining positions
- Native Lands Act, 1913: Gave 10 percent of the land to black South Africans who made up 80 percent of the population
- Representation of Natives Act, 1936: Severely limited the right to vote of black South Africans and in some cases only allowed them to vote for white representatives
- Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949: Forbade marriages between whites and non-whites
- Population Registration Act, 1950: Registered and classified the entire South African population into three categories based on physical characteristics: White, Black, and Coloured which included Indians and Asians
- Immorality Amendment Act, 1950: Forbade sexual relations between whites and non-whites
- Group Areas Act, 1950: This act reserved the most desirable locations in South Africa for those classified as White; everyone else was restricted to the least desirable lands
- Separate Representation of Voters Act, 1951: Sought to remove black voters from the electoral rolls
- Bantu Authorities Act, 1951: Stripped black South Africans of citizenship by creating ten “homelands” and requiring them to carry passports in order enter white areas
- Abolition of Passes Act, 1952: This law ended the pass system but required all black South Africans to carry individual “reference” books which contained photographs, information about origin, employment records and encounters with police
- Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, 1953: Gave legal sanction to the separate, unequal facilities for blacks, whites, and coloreds that had been established since 1948
- Bantu Education Act, 1953: Further segregated the already segregated educational system in South Africa
Quotes on Apartheid
- To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. – Nelson Mandela
- I said to myself, “The only thing they can do is kill my body. They are not going to get my mind, and my soul will live on in my children and in other people. – Shahieda Issel
- In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. – Desmond Tutu
- I dream of an Africa that is at peace with itself. – Nelson Mandela
- There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires. – Nelson Mandela
- In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. – Desmond Tutu
- Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid and white minority racist rule. – Nelson Mandela
- I’ve devoted my life to see equality for blacks, and at the same time, I’ve denied the needs of my family. Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites. – Steve Biko
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