Apartheid In South Africa Essay
Segregation is a concept as old as time, and it is not unique to the United States.
South Africa still suffers from the effects of an organized and government mandated
system of segregation called apartheid that lasted for over a quarter of a century.
Apartheid, literally translated from Afrikaans, means apartness (Mandela 40). It is
defined as a policy of racial segregation and “political and economic discrimination
against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa” (“Apartheid”). According
to Robin Cohen, South African apartheid was based on four basic premises: “white
monopoly of political power, the manipulation of space to achieve racial segregation, the
control of black labor, and urban social control” (qtd. in Massie 385). Apartheid was
widely supported by powerful nations, including the United States. However, the validity
of the arguments and actions that those supporters used was questionable and not based in
The brief history on South African apartheid that follows is essential to
understanding the whole picture.
Apartheid began as an implied law in the seventh century with the start of the
slave trade where an estimated 25 million blacks were sold into slavery over a period of
12 centuries (Stock 65). However, it was not until 1948 that the South African
government actually passed apartheid laws (“Timeline”). The Prohibition of Mixed
Marriages Act of 1949 strictly prohibited people of different races marrying and having
offspring (Stock 21).
The 1950s were the era of Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, the Minister of Native
Affairs, and later, Prime Minister of South Africa. The Population Registration Act of
1950 required all people to be designated and registered by a specific race: white, black,
or of mixed decent, considered colored (“History”). This designation was primarily
based on appearance, often by means of the “pencil in the hair” test. Officials would
begin by placing a pencil in a person’s hair. If the hair was curly enough to hold the
pencil while bending over, the person was black, and if the pencil fell out, the person was
colored (Massie 21). In 1951 homelands, or bantustans, were established (“Timeline”).
The homelands were South Africa’s equivalent to America’s reservations. Blacks, who
had no rights outside their homeland, were often violently forced to move based on race
and origin (“History”). They were also forced to carry passbooks containing identity, tax,
race, and homeland information (Massie 29). During this time, Nelson Mandela began
his life of activism against apartheid in South Africa (“Timeline”).
In 1960 Verwoerd passed the Unlawful Organizations Act that enabled him to
prosecute members of existing organizations (Massie 69). This was primarily used to
allow him to outlaw the African National Congress. The ANC had been formed in 1912
to “transcend all tribal...
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Unit 1. IntroductionApartheid describes a system of laws and policies of total racial segregation in South Africa that began in 1948, when the National Party came to power, and ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected President in the first democratic elections. This online, multimedia educational resource explores apartheid (“apartness” in the Afrikaans language) and its historical roots, and the successful popular struggle waged against it. Personal stories told through evocative and original video and audio interviews, documents, photographs and other sources bring this remarkable history to life.
The fight against apartheid led to one of the most important democratic transformations of the 20th century. That the negotiated transfer of power in South Africa in the early 1990s did not unleash a racial bloodbath is especially striking considering the violent nature of apartheid and the crucial role of armed struggle in the history of the liberation movements. The victory over apartheid was an African success story: South Africans provided their own solution to institutionalized racism and intolerance, creating a pluralistic state out of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity.
Today, South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world; it guarantees the human and civil rights of all its people. Of the 48 million people living in South Africa, an estimated 79 percent is Black African, 9.6 percent is white, 8.9 percent is “Coloured, ” and 2.5 percent is Indian. There are eleven official languages: isiZulu, isiXhosa, English, Afrikaans, Sesotho, SePedi, Setswana, Tshivenda, isiNdebele, SiSwati, and Xitsonga. About 60% of the population lives in urban areas, including large, modern cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban, but a sizable minority of the population lives in rural areas. Despite being the most industrialized country in Africa, South Africa still faces complex health, housing, and employment problems, and the region as a whole suffers from periodic droughts.
Paths to Pluralism: South Africa’s Early History
The history of South Africa constitutes and informs crucial aspects of world history. South Africa’s past is marked by changing interactions among a broad diversity of peoples. Indigenous African peoples include Khoikhoi (or Khoekhoe) herders and San hunter-gatheres, as well as Bantu-speaking mixed farmers from two main linguistic groups: the Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Ndebele) and Sotho-Tswana. White South Africans are primarily people of Dutch (known as Afrikaners) and British origins. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company established a permanent “refreshment” station at the Cape of Good Hope. At first, they had no intention of colonizing or settling the area, but that would soon change. In about 1688, the French Huguenots arrived. In search of a better life, and, understanding the Mediterranean climate of Cape Town, they introduced wheat and wine to the Western Cape, which was gradually integrated into the expanding world economy. Imperial Britain wrested final control of the Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company in 1806. The 1820s saw the arrival of British settlers in the Eastern Cape and Natal. The racial and cultural diversity of South Africa is perhaps most notably embodied in the hybrid ethnic group labeled as “Coloureds,” a designation for South Africans of mixed race that gained primacy in the late 19th century. Finally, a small but significant portion of South Africans are people of Asian descent, mainly Indians brought to Natal as indentured workers in the 1860s and other “free” or “passenger Indians” from the merchant classes.
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