South Africa: Apartheid and After

Picture from Pixabay Heinrich Botha free image downloaded 31/05/2020 EC
South Africa: Apartheid and After
Graham Hedley | 2020 - April to June | Africa
In the first of a two part series on the legacy of Apartheid, Graham considers its early history. Did it really begin in 1948?

Apartheid, which means ‘separateness, the state of being apart’, did not start in 1948, although the election of the National Party to government in that year brought it to international prominence: the British colonial government required each black immigrant to carry a pass, and such a pass would only be granted for the purpose of seeking work. That was in 1828.  

When the Union of South Africa was created, three of the four colonies that formed it only allowed the vote to white men (and I mean ‘men’); the Cape Colony allowed men of any race to vote. This exception was gradually whittled away until, by 1931, only white men could vote there, too.  

During the Second World War, rapid economic development, and a consequent shortage of labour, attracted black migrant workers into the country, but the United Party government did not provide houses or social services for the new workers. Voters (all white, of course) responded to higher population, higher crime and overcrowding by electing a government that promised a market for white employment in which non-whites could not compete.  

The National Party argued that South Africa was not one nation, but four races: White, Black, Coloured and Indian. “Grand apartheid” separated the races by requiring them in separate places – the Whites reserved the best areas (and most of the country) for themselves, and anybody else needed a pass to enter a White area.   The Coloureds and Indians had their own areas, poorer and smaller than the White areas. And the Blacks? The majority of the population had to make do with the least land, and the worst conditions.  

Marriage, or even sexual relations, with a member of a different race was banned. Schools, universities, municipal grounds and beaches were segregated for use by a specified race. Public parks and benches were marked “Whites only”. As in the United States during segregation, “separate development” was allowed – but the Whites had the best, then Coloureds and Indians, with Blacks getting what was left – if there was anything left.  

Blacks were given citizenship of a “homeland”, independent of South Africa in name only, and had their South African citizenship removed, meaning that they had no right to love or work in South Africa, and that they were always liable to be deported to their “homeland”, which often they had never seen or visited.  

Apartheid was killed by a variety of weapons. Chief among them was the economy: the White minority relied on the Black majority to produce its goods, mine its minerals, and staff its hotels, but did not give them enough money to buy the goods, use the minerals, or stay in the hotels. By creating an under-class – and a wretchedly poor under-class at that – apartheid contained the poison that would eventually kill it.  

There were, though, other factors: economic boycotts, the cost of supporting the homelands, a re-alignment of political opposition behind a racially-mixed leadership, the experience of Portugal withdrawing from Mozambique and Angola.   

The dismantling of apartheid began in 1990, when Prime Minister F W de Klerk met representatives of the African National Congress, and continued through years of negotiations, as well as unilateral acts by the government, such as lifting the ban on anti-apartheid groups, ending media restrictions, ending the state of emergency that had existed since 1985, and freeing Nelson Mandela (in prison since 1964).  The rule of the National Party ended with the election of an African National Congress government in April 1994.  

As I will show in the second part of this series, the legacy of apartheid lives on for South Africans of all races.