Apartheid (segregation; lit. “aparthood”) was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South-West Africa (now Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap (or white supremacy), which ensured that South Africa was dominated politically, socially, and economically by the nation’s minority white population. According to this system of social stratification, white citizens had the highest status, followed by Asians and Coloureds, then black Africans. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.
Broadly speaking, apartheid was delineated into petty apartheid, which entailed the segregation of public facilities and social events, and grand apartheid, which dictated housing and employment opportunities by race. Prior to the 1940s, some aspects of apartheid had already emerged in the form of minority rule by white South Africans and the socially enforced separation of black Africans from other races, which later extended to pass laws and land apportionment. Apartheid was adopted as a formal policy by the South African government after the ascension of the National Party (NP) during the 1948 general elections.
A codified system of racial stratification began to take form in South Africa under the Dutch Empire in the eighteenth century, although informal segregation was present much earlier due to social cleavages between Dutch colonists and a creolised, ethnically diverse slave population. With the rapid growth and industrialisation of the British Cape Colony, racial policies and laws which had previously been relatively relaxed became increasingly rigid, discriminating specifically against black Africans, in the last decade of the 19th century. The policies of the Boer republics were also racially exclusive; for instance, the Transvaal’s constitution barred black African and Coloured participation in church and state.
The first apartheid law was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, followed closely by the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, which made it illegal for most South African citizens to marry or pursue sexual relationships across racial lines. The Population Registration Act, 1950 classified all South Africans into one of four racial groups based on appearance, known ancestry, socioeconomic status, and cultural lifestyle: “Black”, “White”, “Coloured”, and “Indian”, the last two of which included several sub-classifications. Places of residence were determined by racial classification. Between 1960 and 1983, 3.5 million black Africans were removed from their homes and forced into segregated neighbourhoods as a result of apartheid legislation, in some of the largest mass evictions in modern history. Most of these targeted removals were intended to restrict the black population to ten designated “tribal homelands”, also known as bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government announced that relocated persons would lose their South African citizenship as they were absorbed into the bantustans.
Apartheid sparked significant international and domestic opposition, resulting in some of the most influential global social movements of the twentieth century. It was the target of frequent condemnation in the United Nations and brought about an extensive arms and trade embargo on South Africa. During the 1970s and 1980s, internal resistance to apartheid became increasingly militant, prompting brutal crackdowns by the National Party government and protracted sectarian violence that left thousands dead or in detention. Some reforms of the apartheid system were undertaken, including allowing for Indian and Coloured political representation in parliament, but these measures failed to appease most activist groups.
Between 1987 and 1993, the National Party entered into bilateral negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC), the leading anti-apartheid political movement, for ending segregation and introducing majority rule. In 1990, prominent ANC figures such as Nelson Mandela were released from prison. Apartheid legislation was repealed on 17 June 1991, pending multiracial elections held under a universal suffrage set for April 1994.
Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning “separateness”, or “the state of being apart”, literally “apart-hood” (from Afrikaans “-heid”). Its first recorded use was in 1929.
Under the 1806 Cape Articles of Capitulation the new British colonial rulers were required to respect previous legislation enacted under Roman Dutch law and this led to a separation of the law in South Africa from English Common Law and a high degree of legislative autonomy. The governors and assemblies that governed the legal process in the various colonies of South Africa were launched on a different and independent legislative path from the rest of the British Empire.
In the days of slavery, slaves required passes to travel away from their masters. In 1797 the Landdrost and Heemraden of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet extended pass laws beyond slaves and ordained that all Khoikhoi (designated as Hottentots) moving about the country for any purpose should carry passes. This was confirmed by the British Colonial government in 1809 by the Hottentot Proclamation, which decreed that if a Khoikhoi were to move they would need a pass from their master or a local official. Ordinance No. 49 of 1828 decreed that prospective black immigrants were to be granted passes for the sole purpose of seeking work. These passes were to be issued for Coloureds and Khoikhoi, but not for other Africans, who were still forced to carry passes.
The United Kingdom’s Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) abolished slavery throughout the British Empire and overrode the Cape Articles of Capitulation. To comply with the act the South African legislation was expanded to include Ordinance 1 in 1835, which effectively changed the status of slaves to indentured labourers. This was followed by Ordinance 3 in 1848, which introduced an indenture system for Xhosa that was little different from slavery. The various South African colonies passed legislation throughout the rest of the nineteenth century to limit the freedom of unskilled workers, to increase the restrictions on indentured workers and to regulate the relations between the races.
In the Cape Colony, which previously had a liberal and multi-racial constitution and a system of franchise open to men of all races, the Franchise and Ballot Act of 1892 raised the property franchise qualification and added an educational element, disenfranchising a disproportionate number of the Cape’s non-white voters, and the Glen Grey Act of 1894 instigated by the government of Prime Minister Cecil John Rhodes limited the amount of land Africans could hold. Similarly, in Natal, the Natal Legislative Assembly Bill of 1894 deprived Indians of the right to vote.
In 1896 the South African Republic brought in two pass laws requiring Africans to carry a badge. Only those employed by a master were permitted to remain on the Rand and those entering a “labour district” needed a special pass.
In 1905 the General Pass Regulations Act denied blacks the vote and limited them to fixed areas, and in 1906 the Asiatic Registration Act of the Transvaal Colony required all Indians to register and carry passes. The latter was repealed by the British government but re-enacted again in 1908.
In 1910, the Union of South Africa was created as a self-governing dominion, which continued the legislative programme: the South Africa Act (1910) enfranchised whites, giving them complete political control over all other racial groups while removing the right of blacks to sit in parliament, the Native Land Act (1913) prevented blacks, except those in the Cape, from buying land outside “reserves”, the Natives in Urban Areas Bill (1918) was designed to force blacks into “locations”, the Urban Areas Act (1923) introduced residential segregation and provided cheap labour for industry led by white people, the Colour Bar Act (1926) prevented black mine workers from practising skilled trades, the Native Administration Act (1927) made the British Crown, rather than paramount chiefs, the supreme head over all African affairs, the Native Land and Trust Act (1936) complemented the 1913 Native Land Act and, in the same year, the Representation of Natives Act removed previous black voters from the Cape voters’ roll and allowed them to elect three whites to Parliament. One of the first pieces of segregating legislation enacted by Jan Smuts’ United Party government was the Asiatic Land Tenure Bill (1946), which banned land sales to Indians.
The United Party government began to move away from the rigid enforcement of segregationist laws during World War II. Amid fears integration would eventually lead to racial assimilation, the National Party established the Sauer Commission to investigate the effects of the United Party’s policies. The commission concluded that integration would bring about a “loss of personality” for all racial groups.
Election of 1948
South Africa had allowed social custom and law to govern the consideration of multiracial affairs and of the allocation, in racial terms, of access to economic, social, and political status. Most white South Africans, regardless of their own differences, accepted the prevailing pattern. Nevertheless, by 1948 it remained apparent that there were gaps in the social structure, whether legislated or otherwise, concerning the rights and opportunities of nonwhites. The rapid economic development of World War II attracted black migrant workers in large numbers to chief industrial centres, where they compensated for the wartime shortage of white labour. However, this escalated rate of black urbanisation went unrecognised by the South African government, which failed to accommodate the influx with parallel expansion in housing or social services. Overcrowding, increasing crime rates, and disillusionment resulted; urban blacks came to support a new generation of leaders influenced by the principles of self-determination and popular freedoms enshrined in such statements as the Atlantic Charter. Whites reacted negatively to the changes, allowing the Herenigde Nasionale Party (or simply the National Party) to convince a large segment of the voting bloc that the impotence of the United Party in curtailing the evolving position of nonwhites indicated that the organisation had fallen under the influence of Western liberals. Many Afrikaners, white South Africans chiefly of Dutch descent but with early infusions of Germans and French Huguenots who were soon assimilated, also resented what they perceived as disempowerment by an underpaid black workforce and the superior economic power and prosperity of white English speakers. In addition, Jan Smuts, as a strong advocate of the United Nations, lost domestic support when South Africa was criticised for its colour bar and the continued mandate of South West Africa by other UN member states.
Afrikaner nationalists proclaimed that they offered the voters a new policy to ensure continued white domination. This policy was initially expounded from a theory drafted by Hendrik Verwoerd and was presented to the National Party by the Sauer Commission. It called for a systematic effort to organise the relations, rights, and privileges of the races as officially defined through a series of parliamentary acts and administrative decrees. Segregation had thus been pursued only in major matters, such as separate schools, and local society rather than law had been depended upon to enforce most separation; it should now be extended to everything. The party gave this policy a name – apartheid (apartness). Apartheid was to be the basic ideological and practical foundation of Afrikaner politics for the next quarter of a century.
The National Party’s election platform stressed that apartheid would preserve a market for white employment in which nonwhites could not compete. On the issues of black urbanisation, the regulation of nonwhite labour, influx control, social security, farm tariffs, and nonwhite taxation the United Party’s policy remained contradictory and confused. Its traditional bases of support not only took mutually exclusive positions but found themselves increasingly at odds with each other. Smuts’ reluctance to consider South African foreign policy against the mounting tensions of the Cold War also stirred up discontent, while the nationalists promised to purge the state and public service of communist sympathisers.
First, to desert, the United Party were Afrikaner farmers, who wished to see a change in influx control due to problems with squatters, as well as higher prices for their maize and other produce in the face of the mine-owners’ demand for cheap food policies. Always identified with the affluent and capitalist, the party also failed to appeal to its working class constituents. Populist rhetoric allowed the National Party to sweep eight constituencies in the mining and industrial centres of the Witwatersrand and five more in Pretoria. Barring the predominantly English-speaking landowner electorate of the Natal, the United Party was defeated in almost every rural district. Its urban losses in the nation’s most populous province, the Transvaal, proved equally devastating. As the voting system was disproportionately weighted in favour of rural constituencies and the Transvaal in particular, the 1948 election catapulted the Herenigde Nasionale Party from a small minority party to a commanding position with an eight-vote parliamentary lead. Daniel François Malan became the first nationalist prime minister, with the aim of implementing the apartheid philosophy and silencing liberal opposition.
When the National Party came to power in 1948, there were factional differences in the party about the implementation of systemic racial segregation. The “baasskap” (white domination or supremacist) faction, which was the dominant faction in the NP, and state institutions, favoured systematic segregation, but also favoured the participation of black Africans in the economy with black labour controlled to advance the economic gains of Afrikaners. A second faction was the “purists”, who believed in “vertical segregation”, in which blacks and whites would be entirely separated, with blacks living in native reserves, with separate political and economic structures, which, they believed, would entail severe short-term pain, but would also lead to the independence of white South Africa from black labour in the long-term. A third faction, which included Hendrik Verwoerd, sympathised with the purists but allowed for the use of black labour while implementing the purist goal of vertical separation.
in South Africa
|Precursors (before 1948)|
Franchise and Ballot Act (1892)
Glen Grey Act (1894)
Natal Legislative Assembly Bill (1894)
Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act (1906)
South Africa Act (1909)
Mines and Works Act (1911)
Natives Land Act (1913)
Natives (Urban Areas) Act (1923)
Immorality Act (1927)
Native Administration Act (1927)
Women’s Enfranchisement Act (1930)
Franchise Laws Amendment Act (1931)
Representation of Natives Act (1936)
Native Trust and Land Act (1936)
Native (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act (1945)
Asiatic Land Tenure Act (1946)
|Malan to Verwoerd (1948–66)|
Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949)
Immorality Amendment Act † (1950)
Population Registration Act (1950)
Group Areas Act (1950)
Suppression of Communism Act (1950)
Native Building Workers Act (1951)
Separate Representation of Voters Act (1951)
Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951)
Bantu Authorities Act (1951)
Native Laws Amendment Act † (1952)
Pass Laws Act (1952)
Public Safety Act (1953)
Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act (1953)
Bantu Education Act (1953)
Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)
Natives Resettlement Act (1954)
Group Areas Development Act (1955)
Riotous Assemblies Act (1956)
Industrial Conciliation Act (1956)
Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act (1956)
Immorality Act (1957)
Bantu Investment Corporation Act (1959)
Extension of University Education Act (1959)
Promotion of Bantu Self-government Act (1959)
Unlawful Organizations Act (1960)
Indemnity Act (1961)
Coloured Persons Communal Reserves Act (1961)
Republic of South Africa Constitution Act (1961)
Urban Bantu Councils Act (1961)
General Law Amendment Act (1963)
Coloured Persons Representative Council Act (1964)
|Vorster to Botha (1966–90)|
Terrorism Act (1967)
Separate Representation of Voters Amendment Act (1968)
Prohibition of Political Interference Act (1968)
Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act (1970)
Bantu Homelands Constitution Act (1971)
Aliens Control Act (1973)
Indemnity Act (1977)
National Key Points Act (1980)
List of National Key Points
Internal Security Act (1982)
Black Local Authorities Act (1982)
Republic of South Africa Constitution Act (1983)
Negotiations to end Apartheid (1990–93)
Interim Constitution (1993)
Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act (1995)
NP leaders argued that South Africa did not comprise a single nation, but was made up of four distinct racial groups: white, black, Coloured and Indian. Such groups were split into 13 nations or racial federations. White people encompassed the English and Afrikaans language groups; the black populace was divided into ten such groups.
The state passed laws that paved the way for “grand apartheid”, which was centred on separating races on a large scale, by compelling people to live in separate places defined by race. This strategy was in part adopted from “left-over” British rule that separated different racial groups after they took control of the Boer republics in the Anglo-Boer war. This created the black-only “townships” or “locations”, where blacks were relocated to their own towns. In addition, “petty apartheid” laws were passed. The principal apartheid laws were as follows.
The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act of 1950, which formalised racial classification and introduced an identity card for all persons over the age of 18, specifying their racial group. Official teams or boards were established to come to a conclusion on those people whose race was unclear. This caused difficulty, especially for Coloured people, separating their families when members were allocated different races.
The second pillar of grand apartheid was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Until then, most settlements had people of different races living side by side. This Act put an end to diverse areas and determined where one lived according to race. Each race was allotted its own area, which was used in later years as a basis of forced removal. The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951 allowed the government to demolish black shanty town slums and forced white employers to pay for the construction of housing for those black workers who were permitted to reside in cities otherwise reserved for whites.
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marriage between persons of different races, and the Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offence.
Under the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating, among other things, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and universities. Signboards such as “whites only” applied to public areas, even including park benches. Black South Africans were provided with services greatly inferior to those of whites, and, to a lesser extent, to those of Indian and Coloured people.
Further laws had the aim of suppressing resistance, especially armed resistance, to apartheid. The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 banned any party subscribing to Communism. The act defined Communism and its aims so sweepingly that anyone who opposed government policy risked being labelled as a Communist. Since the law specifically stated that Communism aimed to disrupt racial harmony, it was frequently used to gag opposition to apartheid. Disorderly gatherings were banned, as were certain organisations that were deemed threatening to the government.
The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 created separate government structures for blacks and whites and was the first piece of legislation to support the government’s plan of separate development in the bantustans. The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act of 1959 entrenched the NP policy of nominally independent “homelands” for blacks. So-called “self–governing Bantu units” were proposed, which would have devolved administrative powers, with the promise later of autonomy and self-government. It also abolished the seats of white representatives of black South Africans and removed from the rolls the few blacks still qualified to vote. The Bantu Investment Corporation Act of 1959 set up a mechanism to transfer capital to the homelands to create employment there. Legislation of 1967 allowed the government to stop industrial development in “white” cities and redirect such development to the “homelands”. The Black Homeland Citizenship Act of 1970 marked a new phase in the Bantustan strategy. It changed the status of blacks to citizens of one of the ten autonomous territories. The aim was to ensure a demographic majority of white people within South Africa by having all ten Bantustans achieve full independence.
Interracial contact in sport was frowned upon, but there were no segregatory sports laws.
The government tightened pass laws compelling blacks to carry identity documents, to prevent the immigration of blacks from other countries. To reside in a city, blacks had to be in employment there. Until 1956 women were for the most part excluded from these pass requirements, as attempts to introduce pass laws for women were met with fierce resistance.
Disenfranchisement of Coloured voters
In 1950, D. F. Malan announced the NP’s intention to create a Coloured Affairs Department. J.G. Strijdom, Malan’s successor as Prime Minister, moved to strip voting rights from black and Coloured residents of the Cape Province. The previous government had introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill into Parliament in 1951, turning it to be an Act on 18 June 1951; however, four voters, G Harris, W D Franklin, WD Collins and Edgar Deane, challenged its validity in court with support from the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but reversed by the Appeal Court, finding the act invalid because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution. The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill (1952), which gave Parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. The Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court declared this invalid too.
In 1955 the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to 11, 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. The parliament met in a joint sitting and passed the Separate Representation of Voters Act in 1956, which transferred Coloured voters from the common voters’ roll in the Cape to a new Coloured voters’ roll. Immediately after the vote, the Senate was restored to its original size. The Senate Act was contested in the Supreme Court, but the recently enlarged Appeal Court, packed with government-supporting judges, upheld the act, and also the Act to remove Coloured voters.
The 1956 law allowed Coloureds to elect four people to Parliament, but a 1969 law abolished those seats and stripped Coloureds of their right to vote. Since Asians had never been allowed to vote, this resulted in whites being the sole enfranchised group.
A 2016 study in the Journal of Politics suggests that disenfranchisement in South Africa had a significant negative impact on basic service delivery to the disenfranchised.
Division among whites
Before South Africa became a republic in 1961, politics among white South Africans was typified by the division between the mainly Afrikaner pro-republic conservative and the largely English anti-republican liberal sentiments, with the legacy of the Boer War still a factor for some people. Once South Africa became a republic, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd called for improved relations and greater accord between people of British descent and the Afrikaners. He claimed that the only difference was between those in favour of apartheid and those against it. The ethnic division would no longer be between Afrikaans and English speakers, but between blacks and whites.
Most Afrikaners supported the notion of unanimity of white people to ensure their safety. White voters of British descent were divided. Many had opposed a republic, leading to a majority “no” vote in Natal. Later, some of them recognised the perceived need for white unity, convinced by the growing trend of decolonisation elsewhere in Africa, which concerned them. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “Wind of Change” speech left the British faction feeling that the United Kingdom had abandoned them. The more conservative English speakers supported Verwoerd; others were troubled by the severing of ties with the UK and remained loyal to the Crown. They were displeased by having to choose between British and South African nationalities. Although Verwoerd tried to bond these different blocs, the subsequent voting illustrated only a minor swell of support, indicating that a great many English speakers remained apathetic and that Verwoerd had not succeeded in uniting the white population.
Under the homeland system, the government attempted to divide South Africa and South-West Africa into a number of separate states, each of which was supposed to develop into a separate nation-state for a different ethnic group.
Territorial separation was hardly a new institution. There were, for example, the “reserves” created under the British government in the nineteenth century. Under apartheid, 13 percent of the land was reserved for black homelands, a small amount relative to its total population, and generally in economically unproductive areas of the country. The Tomlinson Commission of 1954 justified apartheid and the homeland system but stated that additional land ought to be given to the homelands, a recommendation that was not carried out.
When Verwoerd became Prime Minister in 1958, the policy of “separate development” came into being, with the homeland structure as one of its cornerstones. Verwoerd came to believe in the granting of independence to these homelands. The government justified its plans on the ostensible basis that “(the) government’s policy is, therefore, not a policy of discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, but a policy of differentiation on the ground of nationhood, of different nations, granting to each self-determination within the borders of their homelands – hence this policy of separate development”. Under the homelands system, blacks would no longer be citizens of South Africa, becoming citizens of the independent homelands who worked in South Africa as foreign migrant labourers on temporary work permits. In 1958 the Promotion of Black Self-Government Act was passed, and border industries and the Bantu Investment Corporation were established to promote economic development and the provision of employment in or near the homelands. Many black South Africans who had never resided in their identified homeland were forcibly removed from the cities to the homelands.
The vision of a South Africa divided into multiple ethnostates appealed to the reform-minded Afrikaner intelligentsia, and it provided a more coherent philosophical and moral framework for the National Party’s policies, while also providing a veneer of intellectual respectability to the controversial policy of so-called baasskap.
In total, 20 homelands were allocated to ethnic groups, ten in South Africa proper and ten in South West Africa. Of these 20 homelands, 19 were classified as black, while one, Basterland, was set aside for a sub-group of Coloureds known as Basters, who are closely related to Afrikaners. Four of the homelands were declared independent by the South African government: Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981 (known as the TBVC states). Once a homeland was granted its nominal independence, its designated citizens had their South African citizenship revoked and replaced with citizenship in their homeland. These people were then issued passports instead of passbooks. Citizens of the nominally autonomous homelands also had their South African citizenship circumscribed, meaning they were no longer legally considered South African. The South African government attempted to draw an equivalence between their view of black citizens of the homelands and the problems which other countries faced through the entry of illegal immigrants.
International recognition of the Bantustans
Bantustans within the borders of South Africa and South West Africa were classified by degree of nominal self-rule: 6 were “non-self-governing”, 10 were “self-governing”, and 4 were “independent”. In theory, self-governing Bantustans had control over many aspects of their internal functioning but were not yet sovereign nations. Independent Bantustans (Transkei, Bophutatswana, Venda and Ciskei; also known as the TBVC states) were intended to be fully sovereign. In reality, they had no significant economic infrastructure and with few exceptions encompassed swaths of disconnected territory. This meant all the Bantustans were little more than puppet states controlled by South Africa.
Throughout the existence of the independent Bantustans, South Africa remained the only country to recognise their independence. Nevertheless, internal organisations of many countries, as well as the South African government, lobbied for their recognition. For example, upon the foundation of Transkei, the Swiss-South African Association encouraged the Swiss government to recognise the new state. In 1976, leading up to a United States House of Representatives resolution urging the President to not recognise Transkei, the South African government intensely lobbied lawmakers to oppose the bill. Each TBVC state extended recognition to the other independent Bantustans while South Africa showed its commitment to the notion of TBVC sovereignty by building embassies in the TBVC capitals.
During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, the government implemented a policy of “resettlement”, to force people to move to their designated “group areas”. Millions of people were forced to relocate. These removals included people relocated due to slum clearance programmes, labour tenants on white-owned farms, the inhabitants of the so-called “black spots” (black-owned land surrounded by white farms), the families of workers living in townships close to the homelands, and “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 abbreviation for South Western Townships).
Until 1955, Sophiatown had been one of the few urban areas where black people were allowed to own land and was slowly developing into a multiracial slum. As industry in Johannesburg grew, Sophiatown became the home of a rapidly expanding black workforce, as it was convenient and close to town. It had the only swimming pool for black children in Johannesburg. As one of the oldest black settlements in Johannesburg, it held almost symbolic importance for the 50,000 black people it contained. 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 forced residents out of their homes and loaded their belongings onto government trucks. The residents were taken to a large tract of land 19 kilometres (12 mi) from the city centre, known as Meadowlands, which the government had purchased in 1953. Meadowlands became part of a new planned black city called Soweto. 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 black South Africans alone. 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. Nearly 600,000 Coloured, Indian and Chinese people were moved under the Group Areas Act. Some 40,000 whites were also forced to move when the land was transferred from “white South Africa” into the black homelands.
Society during apartheid
The NP passed a string of legislation that became known as petty apartheid. The first of these was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 55 of 1949, prohibiting marriage between whites and people of other races. The Immorality Amendment Act 21 of 1950 (as amended in 1957 by Act 23) forbade “unlawful racial intercourse” and “any immoral or indecent act” between a white and a black, Indian or Coloured person.
Blacks were not allowed to run businesses or professional practices in areas designated as “white South Africa” unless they had a permit – such being granted only exceptionally. They were required to move to the black “homelands” and set up businesses and practices there. Trains, hospitals and ambulances were segregated. Because of the smaller numbers of white patients and the fact that white doctors preferred to work in white hospitals, conditions in white hospitals were much better than those in often overcrowded and understaffed, significantly underfunded black hospitals. Residential areas were segregated and blacks were allowed to live in white areas only if employed as a servant and even then only in servants’ quarters. Blacks were excluded from working in white areas, unless they had a pass, nicknamed the dompas, also spelt dompass or dom pass. The most likely origin of this name is from the Afrikaans “verdomde pas” (meaning accursed pass), although some commentators ascribe it to the Afrikaans words meaning “dumb pass”. Only blacks with “Section 10” rights (those who had migrated to the cities before World War II) were excluded from this provision. A pass was issued only to a black with approved work. Spouses and children had to be left behind in black homelands. 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 arrest and trial for being an illegal migrant. This was often followed by deportation to the person’s homeland and prosecution of the employer for employing an illegal migrant. Police vans patrolled white areas to round up blacks without passes. Blacks were not allowed to employ whites in white South Africa.
Although trade unions for black and Coloured workers had existed since the early 20th century, it was not until the 1980s reforms that a mass black trade union movement developed. Trade unions under apartheid were racially segregated, with 54 unions being white only, 38 for Indian and Coloured and 19 for black people. The Industrial Conciliation Act (1956) legislated against the creation of multi-racial trade unions and attempted to split existing multi-racial unions into separate branches or organisations along racial lines.
Each black homeland controlled its own education, health and police systems. Blacks were not allowed to buy hard liquor. They were able to buy only state-produced poor quality beer (although this law was relaxed later). Public beaches, swimming pools, some pedestrian bridges, drive-in cinema parking spaces, graveyards, parks, and public toilets were segregated. Cinemas and theatres in white areas were not allowed to admit blacks. There were practically no cinemas in black areas. Most restaurants and hotels in white areas were not allowed to admit blacks except as staff. Blacks were prohibited from attending white churches under the Churches Native Laws Amendment Act of 1957, but this was never rigidly enforced, and churches were one of the few places races could mix without the interference of the law. Blacks earning 360 rand a year or more had to pay taxes while the white threshold was more than twice as high, at 750 rand a year. On the other hand, the taxation rate for whites was considerably higher than that for blacks.
Blacks could never acquire land in white areas. In the homelands, much of the land belonged to a “tribe”, where the local chieftain would decide how the land had to be used. This resulted in whites owning almost all the industrial and agricultural lands and much of the prized residential land. Most blacks were stripped of their South African citizenship when the “homelands” became “independent”, and they were no longer able to apply for South African passports. Eligibility requirements for a passport had been difficult for blacks to meet, the government contending that a passport was a privilege, not a right, and the government did not grant many passports to blacks. Apartheid pervaded culture as well as the law, and was entrenched by most of the mainstream media.
The population was classified into four groups: African, White, Indian and Coloured (capitalised to denote their legal definitions in South African law). The Coloured group included people regarded as being of mixed descent, including of Bantu, Khoisan, European and Malay ancestry. Many were descended from people brought to South Africa from other parts of the world, such as India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and China as slaves and indentured workers.
The Population Registration Act, (Act 30 of 1950), defined South Africans as belonging to one of three races: White, Black or Coloured. People of Indian ancestry were considered Coloured under this act. Appearance, social acceptance and descent were used to determine the qualification of an individual into one of the three categories. A white person was described by the act as one whose parents were both white and possessed the “habits, speech, education, deportment and demeanour” of a white person. Blacks were defined by the act as belonging to an African race or tribe. Lastly, Coloureds were those who could not be classified as black or white.
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 White, or if another person should be categorised either Coloured or Black. The tests included the pencil test, in which a pencil was shoved into the subjects’ curly hair and the subjects made to shake their head. If the pencil stuck they were deemed to be Black; if dislodged they were pronounced Coloured. Other tests involved examining the shapes of jawlines and buttocks and pinching people to see what language they would say “Ouch” in. As a result of these tests, different members of the same family found themselves in different race groups. Further tests determined the membership of the various sub-racial groups of the Coloureds.
Discriminated against by apartheid, Coloureds were as a matter of state policy forced to live in separate townships, as defined in the Group Areas Act (1950), in some cases leaving homes their families had occupied for generations, and received an inferior education, though better than that provided to Africans. They played an important role in the anti-apartheid movement: for example, the African Political Organization established in 1902 had an exclusively Coloured membership.
Voting rights were denied to Coloureds in the same way that they were denied to Blacks from 1950 to 1983. However, in 1977 the NP caucus approved proposals to bring Coloureds and Indians into central government. In 1982, final constitutional proposals produced a referendum among Whites, and the Tricameral Parliament was approved. The Constitution was reformed the following year to allow the Coloured and Asian minorities participation in separate Houses in a Tricameral Parliament, and Botha became the first Executive State President. The idea 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. The Tricameral reforms led to the formation of the (anti-apartheid) United Democratic Front as a vehicle to try to prevent the co-option of Coloureds and Indians into an alliance with Whites. The battles between the UDF and the NP government from 1983 to 1989 were to become the most intense period of struggle between left-wing and right-wing South Africans.
Education was segregated by the 1953 Bantu Education Act, which crafted a separate system of education for black South African students and was designed to prepare black people for lives as a labouring class. In 1959 separate universities were created for black, Coloured and Indian people. Existing universities were not permitted to enrol new black students. The Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 required the use of Afrikaans and English on an equal basis in high schools outside the homelands.
In the 1970s, the state spent ten times more per child on the education of white children than on black children within the Bantu Education system (the education system in black schools within white South Africa). Higher education was provided in separate universities and colleges after 1959. Eight black universities were created in the homelands. Fort Hare University in Ciskei (now Eastern Cape) was to register only Xhosa-speaking students. Sotho, Tswana, Pedi and Venda speakers were placed at the newly founded University College of the North at Turfloop, while the University College of Zululand was launched to serve Zulu students. Coloureds and Indians were to have their own establishments in the Cape and Natal respectively.
Each black homeland controlled its own education, health and police systems.
By 1948, before formal Apartheid, 10 universities existed in South Africa: four were Afrikaans, four for English, one for Blacks and a Correspondence University open to all ethnic groups. By 1981, under apartheid government, 11 new universities were built: seven for Blacks, one for Coloreds, one for Indians, one for Afrikaans and one dual-language medium Afrikaans and English.
Women under apartheid
Colonialism and apartheid had a major impact on Black and Coloured women since they suffered both racial and gender discrimination. Judith Nolde argues that in general, South African women were “deprive[d] […] of their human rights as individuals” under the apartheid system. Jobs were often hard to find. Many Black and Coloured women worked as agricultural or domestic workers, but wages were extremely low, if existent. Children suffered from diseases caused by malnutrition and sanitation problems, and mortality rates were therefore high. The controlled movement of black and Coloured workers within the country through the Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 and the pass laws separated family members from one another because men could prove their employment in urban centres while most women were merely dependents; consequently, they risked being deported to rural areas. Even in rural areas, there were legal hurdles for women to own land, and outside the cities jobs were scarce.
Sport under apartheid
By the 1930s, association football mirrored the balkanised Society of South Africa; football was divided into numerous institutions based on race: the (White) South African Football Association, the South African Indian Football Association (SAIFA), the South African African Football Association (SAAFA) and its rival the South African Bantu Football Association, and the South African Coloured Football Association (SACFA). Lack of funds to provide proper equipment would be noticeable in regards to black amateur football matches; this revealed the unequal lives black South Africans were subject to, in contrast to Whites, who were much better off financially. Apartheid’s social engineering made it more difficult to compete across racial lines. Thus, in an effort to centralise finances, the federations merged in 1951, creating the South African Soccer Federation (SASF), which brought Black, Indian, and Coloured national associations into one body that opposed apartheid. This was generally opposed more and more by the growing apartheid government, and – with urban segregation being reinforced with ongoing racist policies – it was harder to play football along these racial lines. In 1956, the Pretoria regime – the administrative capital of South Africa – passed the first apartheid sports policy; by doing so, it emphasised the White-led government’s opposition to inter-racialism.
While football was plagued by racism, it also played a role in protesting apartheid and its policies. With the international bans from FIFA and other major sporting events, South Africa would be in the spotlight internationally. In a 1977 survey, white South Africans ranked the lack of international sport as one of the three most damaging consequences of apartheid. By the mid-1950s, Black South Africans would also use media to challenge the “racialisation” of sports in South Africa; anti-apartheid forces had begun to pinpoint sport as the “weakness” of white national morale. Black journalists for the Johannesburg Drum magazine were the first to give the issue public exposure, with an intrepid special issue in 1955 that asked, “Why shouldn’t our blacks be allowed in the SA team?” As time progressed, international standing with South Africa would continue to be strained. In the 1980s, as the oppressive system was slowly collapsing the ANC and National Party started negotiations on the end of apartheid. Football associations also discussed the formation of a single, non-racial controlling body. This unity process accelerated in the late 1980s and led to the creation, in December 1991, of an incorporated South African Football Association. On 3 July 1992, FIFA finally welcomed South Africa back into international football.
Sport has long been an important part of life in South Africa, and the boycotting of games by international teams had a profound effect on the white population, perhaps more so than the trade embargoes did. After the re-acceptance of South Africa’s sports teams by the international community, sport played a major unifying role between the country’s diverse ethnic groups. Mandela’s open support of the predominantly white rugby fraternity during the 1995 Rugby World Cup was considered instrumental in bringing together South African sports fans of all races.
Asians during apartheid
Defining its Asian population, a minority that did not appear to belong to any of the initial three designated non-white groups, was a constant dilemma for the apartheid government.
The classification of “honorary white” was granted to immigrants from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – countries with which South Africa maintained diplomatic and economic relations – and to their descendants.
Indian South Africans during apartheid were classified many ranges of categories from “Asian” to “black” to “Coloured” and even the mono-ethnic category of “Indian”, but never as white, having been considered “nonwhite” throughout South Africa’s history. The group faced severe discrimination during the apartheid regime and were subject to numerous racialist policies.
In a study done by Josephine C. Naidoo and Devi Moodley Rajab, they interviewed a series of Indian South Africans about their experience in South Africa. Their study highlighted education, the workplace, and general day to day living. One participant who was a doctor said that it was considered the norm for Non-White and White doctors to mingle while working at the hospital but when there was any downtime or breaks, they were to go back to their segregated quarters. Not only was there severe segregation for doctors, Non-White, more specifically Indians, but were also paid three to four times less than their White counterparts. Many described being treated as a “third-class citizen” due to the humiliation of the standard of treatment for Non-White employees across many professions. Many Indians described a sense of justified superiority from Whites due to the apartheid laws that, in the minds of White South Africans, legitimised those feelings. Another finding of this study was the psychological damage done to Indians living in South Africa during apartheid. One of the biggest long-term effects was inter-racial mistrust. Inter-racial mistrust is emotional hatred towards Whites. There was such a strong degree of alienation that left damaging psychological effects of inferiority.
Chinese South Africans – who were descendants of migrant workers who came to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg in the late 19th century – were initially either classified as “Coloured” or “Other Asian” and were subject to numerous forms of discrimination and restriction. It was not until 1984 that South African Chinese, increased to about 10,000, were given the same official rights as the Japanese, to be treated as whites in terms of the Group Areas Act, although they still faced discrimination and did not receive all the benefits/rights of their newly obtained honorary white status such as voting.
Indonesians arrived at the Cape of Good Hope as slaves until the abolishment of slavery during the 19th century. They were predominantly Muslim, were allowed religious freedom and formed their own ethnic group/community known as Cape Malays. They were classified as part of the Coloured racial group. This was the same for South Africans of Malaysian descent who were also classified as part of the Coloured race and thus considered “not-white”. South Africans of Filipino descent were classified as “black” due to historical outlook on Filipinos by White South Africans, and many of them lived in Bantustans.
The Lebanese population were somewhat of an anomaly during the apartheid era. Lebanese immigration to South Africa was chiefly Christian, and the group was originally classified as non-white; however, a court case in 1913 ruled that because Lebanese and Syrians originated from the Canaan region (the birthplace of Christianity and Judaism), they could not be discriminated against by race laws which targeted non-believers, and thus, was classified as white. The Lebanese community maintained its white status after the Population Registration Act came into effect; however, immigration from the Middle East was restricted.
Alongside apartheid, the National Party implemented a programme of social conservatism. Pornography and gambling were banned. Cinemas, shops selling alcohol and most other businesses were forbidden from opening on Sundays. Abortion, homosexuality and sex education were also restricted; abortion was legal only in cases of rape or if the mother’s life was threatened.
Television was not introduced until 1976 because the government viewed English programming as a threat to the Afrikaans language. Television was run on apartheid lines – TV1 broadcast in Afrikaans and English (geared to a White audience), TV2 in Zulu and Xhosa, TV3 in Sotho, Tswana and Pedi (both geared to a Black audience), and TV4 mostly showed programmes for an urban Black audience.
Apartheid sparked significant internal resistance. The government responded to a series of popular uprisings and protests with police brutality, which in turn increased local support for the armed resistance struggle. Internal resistance to the apartheid system in South Africa came from several sectors of society and saw the creation of organisations dedicated variously to peaceful protests, passive resistance and armed insurrection.
In 1949, the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) took control of the organisation and started advocating a radical black nationalist programme. The new young leaders proposed that white authority could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. In 1950 that philosophy saw the launch of the Programme of Action, a series of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience actions that led to occasional violent clashes with the authorities.
In 1959, a group of disenchanted ANC members formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which organised a demonstration against pass books on 21 March 1960. One of those protests was held in the township of Sharpeville, where 69 people were killed by police in the Sharpeville massacre.
In the wake of Sharpeville, the government declared a state of emergency. More than 18,000 people were arrested, including leaders of the ANC and PAC, and both organisations were banned. The resistance went underground, with some leaders in exile abroad and others engaged in campaigns of domestic sabotage and terrorism.
In May 1961, before the declaration of South Africa as a Republic, an assembly representing the banned ANC called for negotiations between the members of the different ethnic groupings, threatening demonstrations and strikes during the inauguration of the Republic if their calls were ignored.
When the government overlooked them, the strikers (among the main organisers was a 42-year-old, Thembu-origin Nelson Mandela) carried out their threats. The government countered swiftly by giving police the authority to arrest people for up to twelve days and detaining many strike leaders amid numerous cases of police brutality. Defeated, the protesters called off their strike. The ANC then chose to launch an armed struggle through a newly formed military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which would perform acts of sabotage on tactical state structures. Its first sabotage plans were carried out on 16 December 1961, the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River.
In the 1970s, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was created by tertiary students influenced by the Black Power movement in the US. BCM endorsed black pride and African customs and did much to alter the feelings of inadequacy instilled among black people by the apartheid system. The leader of the movement, Steve Biko, was taken into custody on 18 August 1977 and was beaten to death in detention.
In 1976, secondary students in Soweto took to the streets in the Soweto uprising to protest against the imposition of Afrikaans as the only language of instruction. On 16 June, police opened fire on students protesting peacefully. According to official reports, 23 people were killed, but the number of people who died is usually given as 176, with estimates of up to 700. In the following years, several student organisations were formed to protest against apartheid, and these organisations were central to urban school boycotts in 1980 and 1983 and rural boycotts in 1985 and 1986.
In parallel with student protests, labour unions started protest action in 1973 and 1974. After 1976 unions and workers are considered to have played an important role in the struggle against apartheid, filling the gap left by the banning of political parties. In 1979 black trade unions were legalised and could engage in collective bargaining, although strikes were still illegal. Economist Thomas Sowell wrote that basic supply and demand led to violations of Apartheid “on a massive scale” throughout the nation, simply because there were not enough white South African business owners to meet the demand for various goods and services. Large portions of the garment industry and construction of new homes, for example, were effectively owned and operated by blacks, who either worked surreptitiously or who circumvented the law with a white person as a nominal, figurehead manager.
In 1983, anti-apartheid leaders determined to resist the tricameral parliament assembled to form the United Democratic Front (UDF) in order to coordinate anti-apartheid activism inside South Africa. The first presidents of the UDF were Archie Gumede, Oscar Mpetha and Albertina Sisulu; patrons were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Allan Boesak, Helen Joseph, and Nelson Mandela. Basing its platform on abolishing apartheid and creating a nonracial democratic South Africa, the UDF provided a legal way for domestic human rights groups and individuals of all races to organise demonstrations and campaign against apartheid inside the country. Churches and church groups also emerged as pivotal points of resistance. Church leaders were not immune to prosecution, and certain faith-based organisations were banned, but the clergy generally had more freedom to criticise the government than militant groups did. The UDF, coupled with the protection of the church, accordingly permitted a major role for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served both as a prominent domestic voice and international spokesperson denouncing apartheid and urging the creation of a shared nonracial state.
Although the majority of whites supported apartheid, some 20 percent did not. Parliamentary opposition was galvanised by Helen Suzman, Colin Eglin and Harry Schwarz, who formed the Progressive Federal Party. Extra-parliamentary resistance was largely centred in the South African Communist Party and women’s organisation the Black Sash. Women were also notable in their involvement in trade union organisations and banned political parties. The public intellectuals too, such as Nadine Gordimer the eminent author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1991), vehemently opposed the Apartheid regime and accordingly bolstered the movement against it.
International relations during apartheid
South Africa’s policies were subject to international scrutiny in 1960 when UK 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 afterwards, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd announced a referendum on whether the country should become a republic. Verwoerd lowered the voting age for Whites to eighteen years of age and included Whites in South West Africa on the roll. The referendum on 5 October that year asked Whites; “Are you in favour of a Republic for the Union?”, and 52 percent 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. India had become a republic within the Commonwealth in 1950, but it became clear that African and Asian member states would oppose South Africa due to its apartheid policies. As a result, South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth on 31 May 1961, the day that the Republic came into existence.
The apartheid system as an issue was first formally brought to the United Nations attention, in order to advocate for the Indians residing in South Africa. On June 22 of 1946, the Indian government requested that the discriminatory treatment of Indians living in South Africa be included on the agenda of the first General Assembly session. In 1952, apartheid was again discussed in the aftermath of the Defiance Campaign, and the UN set up a task team to keep watch on the progress of apartheid and the racial state of affairs in South Africa. Although South Africa’s racial policies were a cause for concern, most countries in the UN concurred that this was a domestic affair, which fell outside the UN’s jurisdiction.
In April 1960, the UN’s conservative stance on apartheid changed following the Sharpeville massacre, and the Security Council for the first time agreed on concerted action against the apartheid regime. Resolution 134 called upon the nation of South Africa to abandon its policies implementing racial discrimination. The newly founded United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid scripted and passed Resolution 181 on August 7, 1963, which called upon all states to cease the sale and shipment of all ammunition and military vehicles to South Africa. This clause was finally declared mandatory on 4 November 1977, depriving South Africa of military aid. From 1964 onwards, the US and the UK discontinued their arms trade with South Africa. The Security Council also condemned the Soweto massacre in Resolution 392. In 1977, the voluntary UN arms embargo became mandatory with the passing of Resolution 418. In addition to isolating South Africa militarily, the United Nations General Assembly encouraged the boycotting of oil sales to South Africa. Other actions taken by the United Nations General Assembly include the request for all nations and organisations, “to suspend cultural, educational, sporting and other exchanges with the racist regime and with organisations or institutions in South Africa which practise apartheid”. Illustrating that over a long period of time, the United Nations was working towards isolating the state of South Africa, by putting pressure on the Apartheid regime.
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 disinvestment from South Africa 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.
Pope John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. In 1985, while visiting the Netherlands, he gave an impassioned speech at the International Court of Justice condemning apartheid, proclaiming that “no system of apartheid or separate development will ever be acceptable as a model for the relations between peoples or races.” In September 1988, he made a pilgrimage to countries bordering South Africa, while demonstratively avoiding South Africa itself. During his visit to Zimbabwe, he called for economic sanctions against the South African government.
Organisation for African Unity
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was created in 1963. Its primary objectives were to eradicate colonialism and improve social, political and economic situations in Africa. It censured apartheid and demanded sanctions against South Africa. African states agreed to aid the liberation movements in their fight against apartheid. In 1969, fourteen nations from Central and East Africa gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, and formulated the Lusaka Manifesto, which was signed on 13 April by all of the countries in attendance except Malawi. This manifesto was later taken on by both the OAU and the United Nations.
The Lusaka Manifesto summarized the political situations of self-governing African countries, condemning racism and inequity, and calling for Black majority rule in all African nations. It did not rebuff South Africa entirely, though, adopting an appeasing manner towards the apartheid government, and even recognizing its autonomy. Although African leaders supported the emancipation of Black South Africans, they preferred this to be attained through peaceful means.
South Africa’s negative response to the Lusaka Manifesto and rejection of a change to its policies brought about another OAU announcement in October 1971. The Mogadishu Declaration stated that South Africa’s rebuffing of negotiations meant that its Black people could only be freed through military means, and that no African state should converse with the apartheid government.
In 1966, B. J. Vorster became Prime Minister. He was not prepared to dismantle apartheid, but he did try to redress South Africa’s isolation and to revitalise the country’s global reputation, even those with Black majority rule in Africa. This he called his “Outward-Looking” policy.
Vorster’s willingness to talk to African leaders stood in contrast to Verwoerd’s refusal to engage with leaders such as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria in 1962 and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in 1964. In 1966, he met the heads of the neighbouring states of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. In 1967, he offered technological and financial aid to any African state prepared to receive it, asserting that no political strings were attached, aware that many African states needed financial aid despite their opposition to South Africa’s racial policies. Many were also tied to South Africa economically because of their migrant labour population working down the South African mines. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland remained outspoken critics of apartheid but were dependent on South African economic assistance.
Malawi was the first non-neighbouring country to accept South African aid. In 1967, the two states set out their political and economic relations. In 1969, Malawi was the only country at the assembly which did not sign the Lusaka Manifesto condemning South Africa’ apartheid policy. In 1970, Malawian president Hastings Banda made his first and most successful official stopover in South Africa.
Associations with Mozambique followed suit and were sustained after that country won its sovereignty in 1975. Angola was also granted South African loans. Other countries which formed relationships with South Africa were Liberia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritius, Gabon, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the Central African Republic. Although these states condemned apartheid (more than ever after South Africa’s denunciation of the Lusaka Manifesto), South Africa’s economic and military dominance meant that they remained dependent on South Africa to varying degrees.
Sports and culture
South Africa’s isolation in sport began in the mid-1950s and increased throughout the 1960s. Apartheid forbade multiracial sport, which meant that overseas teams, by virtue of them having players of different races, could not play in South Africa. In 1956, the International Table Tennis Federation severed its ties with the all-White South African Table Tennis Union, preferring the non-racial South African Table Tennis Board. The apartheid government responded by confiscating the passports of the Board’s players so that they were unable to attend international games.
In 1959, the non-racial South African Sports Association (SASA) was formed to secure the rights of all players on the global field. After meeting with no success in its endeavours to attain credit by collaborating with White establishments, SASA approached the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1962, calling for South Africa’s expulsion from the Olympic Games. The IOC sent South Africa a caution to the effect that, if there were no changes, they would be barred from competing at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The changes were initiated, and in January 1963, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) was set up. The Anti-Apartheid Movement persisted in its campaign for South Africa’s exclusion, and the IOC acceded in barring the country from the 1964 Olympic Games. South Africa selected a multi-racial team for the next Olympic Games, and the IOC opted for incorporation in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Because of protests from AAMs and African nations, however, the IOC was forced to retract the invitation.
Foreign complaints about South Africa’s bigoted sports brought more isolation. Racially selected New Zealand sports teams toured South Africa, until the 1970 All Blacks rugby tour allowed Maori to enter the country under the status of “honorary Whites”. Huge and widespread protests occurred in New Zealand in 1981 against the Springbok tour – the government spent $8,000,000 protecting games using the army and police force. A planned All Black tour to South Africa in 1985 remobilised the New Zealand protesters and it was cancelled. A “rebel tour” – not government sanctioned – went ahead in 1986, but after that sporting ties were cut, and New Zealand made a decision not to convey an authorised rugby team to South Africa until the end of apartheid.
On 6 September 1966, Verwoerd was fatally stabbed at Parliament House by parliamentary messenger Dimitri Tsafendas. John Vorster took office shortly after, and announced that South Africa would no longer dictate to the international community what their teams should look like. Although this reopened the gate for international sporting meets, it did not signal the end of South Africa’s racist sporting policies. In 1968, Vorster went against his policy by refusing to permit Basil D’Oliveira, a Coloured South African-born cricketer, to join the English cricket team on its tour to South Africa. Vorster said that the side had been chosen only to prove a point, and not on merit. D’Oliveira was eventually included in the team as the first substitute, but the tour was cancelled. Protests against certain tours brought about the cancellation of a number of other visits, including that of an England rugby team touring South Africa in 1969/70.
The first of the “White Bans” occurred in 1971 when the Chairman of the Australian Cricketing Association – Sir Don Bradman – flew to South Africa to meet Vorster. Vorster had expected Bradman to allow the tour of the Australian cricket team to go ahead, but things became heated after Bradman asked why Black sportsmen were not allowed to play cricket. Vorster stated that Blacks were intellectually inferior and had no finesse for the game. Bradman – thinking this ignorant and repugnant – asked Vorster if he had heard of a man named Garry Sobers. On his return to Australia, Bradman released a short statement: “We will not play them until they choose a team on a non-racist basis.” Bradman’s views were in stark contrast to those of Australian tennis great Margaret Court, who had won the grand slam the previous year and commented about apartheid that “South Africans have this thing better organised than any other country, particularly America” and that she would “go back there any time.”
In South Africa, Vorster vented his anger publicly against Bradman, while the African National Congress rejoiced. This was the first time a predominantly White nation had taken the side of the multiracial sport, producing an unsettling resonance that more “White” boycotts were coming. Almost twenty years later, on his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked a visiting Australian statesman if Donald Bradman, his childhood hero, was still alive (Bradman lived until 2001).
In 1971, Vorster altered his policies even further by distinguishing multiracial from multinational sport. Multiracial sport, between teams with players of different races, remained outlawed; multinational sport, however, was now acceptable: international sides would not be subject to South Africa’s racial stipulations.
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 UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ambivalent attitude towards sporting links with South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the Games and thus thrusting apartheid into the international spotlight.
In the 1960s, the Anti-Apartheid Movements began to campaign for cultural boycotts of apartheid South Africa. Artists were requested not to present or let their works be hosted in South Africa. In 1963, 45 British writers put their signatures to an affirmation approving of the boycott, and, in 1964, American actor Marlon Brando called for a similar affirmation for films. In 1965, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain called for a proscription on the sending of films to South Africa. Over sixty American artists signed a statement against apartheid and against professional links with the state. The presentation of some South African plays in the United Kingdom and the United States was also vetoed. After the arrival of television in South Africa in 1975, the British Actors Union, Equity, boycotted the service, and no British programme concerning its associates could be sold to South Africa. Similarly, when home video grew popular in the 1980s, the Australian arm of CBS/Fox Video (now 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) placed stickers on their VHS and Betamax cassettes which labeled exporting such cassettes to South Africa as “an infringement of copyright”. Sporting and cultural boycotts did not have the same impact as economic sanctions, but they did much to lift consciousness amongst normal South Africans of the global condemnation of apartheid.
While international opposition to apartheid grew, the Nordic countries – and Sweden 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 sympathisers 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. In Switzerland, the Swiss-South African Association lobbied on behalf of the South African government. The Nixon Administration implemented a policy known as the Tar Baby Option, pursuant to which the US maintained close relations with the white supremacist South African government. The Reagan administration evaded international sanctions and provided diplomatic support in international forums for the South African government. The United States also increased trade with the white supremacist South Africa regime, while describing the ANC as “a terrorist organisation.” Like the Reagan Administration, the government of Margaret Thatcher termed this policy “constructive engagement” with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions. U.S. government justification for supporting the Apartheid regime publicly given as a belief in “free trade” and the perception of the right-wing South African government as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa, for example, by the military intervention by the South African government in the Mozambican Civil War in support of right-wing insurgents fighting to topple the government. The U.S. and the U.K. declared the ANC a terrorist organisation, and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was “living in cloud cuckoo land”. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative lobbying organisation, actively campaigned against divesting from South Africa throughout the 1980s.
By the late-1980s, with no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions (realised as the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986), 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.
The UK’s significant economic involvement in South Africa may have provided some leverage with the South African government, with both the UK and the US applying pressure and pushing for negotiations. However, neither the UK nor the US was willing to apply economic pressure upon their multinational interests in South Africa, such as the mining company Anglo American. Although a high-profile compensation claim against these companies was thrown out of court in 2004, the US Supreme Court in May 2008 upheld an appeal court ruling allowing another lawsuit that seeks damages of more than US$400 billion from major international companies which are accused of aiding South Africa’s apartheid system.
Impact of the Cold War
During the 1950s, South African military strategy was decisively shaped by fears of communist espionage and a conventional Soviet threat to the strategic Cape trade route between the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The apartheid government supported the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as its policy of regional containment against Soviet-backed regimes and insurgencies worldwide. By the late-1960s, the rise of Soviet client states on the African continent, as well as Soviet aid for militant anti-apartheid movements, was considered one of the primary external threats to the apartheid system. South African officials frequently accused domestic opposition groups of being communist proxies. For its part, the Soviet Union viewed South Africa as a bastion of neocolonialism and a regional Western ally, which helped fuel its support for various anti-apartheid causes. From 1973 onwards, much of South Africa’s white population increasingly looked upon their country as a bastion of the free world besieged militarily, politically, and culturally by Communism and radical black nationalism. The apartheid government perceived itself as being locked in a proxy struggle with the Warsaw Pact and by implication, armed wings of Black nationalist forces such as Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), which often received Soviet arms and training. This was described as “Total Onslaught”.
Israeli arms sales
Soviet support for militant anti-apartheid movements worked in the government’s favour, as its claim to be reacting in opposition to aggressive Communist expansion gained greater plausibility, and helped it justify its own domestic militarisation methods, known as “Total Strategy”. Total Strategy involved building up a formidable conventional military and counter-intelligence capability. It was formulated on counter-revolutionary tactics as espoused by noted French tactician André Beaufre. Considerable effort was devoted towards circumventing international arms sanctions, and the government even went so far as to develop nuclear weapons, allegedly with covert assistance from Israel. In 2010, The Guardian released South African government documents that revealed an Israeli offer to sell the apartheid regime nuclear weapons. Israel denied these allegations and claimed that the documents were minutes from a meeting which did not indicate any concrete offer for a sale of nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres said that The Guardian‘s article was based on “selective interpretation…and not on concrete facts.”
As a result of “Total Strategy”, South African society became increasingly militarized. Many domestic civil organisations were modelled upon military structures, and military virtues such as discipline, patriotism, and loyalty were highly regarded. In 1968, national service for White South African men lasted nine months at a minimum, and they could be called up for reserve duty into their late-middle age if necessary. The length of national service was gradually extended to twelve months in 1972 and twenty-four months in 1978. At state schools, white male students were organised into military-style formations and drilled as cadets or as participants in a civil defence or “Youth Preparedness” curriculum. Compulsory military education and in some cases, paramilitary training was introduced for all older white male students at state schools in three South African provinces. These programmes presided over the construction of bomb shelters at schools and drills aimed at simulating mock insurgent raids.
From the late-1970s to the late-1980s, defence budgets in South Africa were raised exponentially. In 1975, Israeli defence minister Shimon Peres signed a security pact with South African defence minister P.W. Botha that led to $200 million in arms deals. In 1988, Israeli arms sales to South Africa totalled over $1.4 billion. Covert operations focused on espionage and domestic counter-subversion became common, the number of special forces units swelled, and the South African Defence Force (SADF) had amassed enough sophisticated conventional weaponry to pose a serious threat to the “front-line states”, a regional alliance of neighbouring countries opposed to apartheid.
Foreign military operations
Total Strategy was advanced in the context of MK, PLAN, and Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) guerrilla raids into South Africa or against South African targets in South West Africa; frequent South African reprisal attacks on these movements’ external bases in Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and elsewhere, often involving collateral damage to foreign infrastructure and civilian populations; and periodic complaints brought before the international community about South African violations of its neighbours’ sovereignty.
The apartheid government made judicious use of extraterritorial operations to eliminate its military and political opponents, arguing that neighbouring states, including their civilian populations, which hosted, tolerated on their soil, or otherwise sheltered anti-apartheid insurgent groups could not evade responsibility for provoking retaliatory strikes. While it did focus on militarizing the borders and sealing up its domestic territory against insurgent raids, it also relied heavily on an aggressive preemptive and counter-strike strategy, which fulfilled a preventive and deterrent purpose. The reprisals which occurred beyond South Africa’s borders involved not only hostile states but neutral and sympathetic governments as well, often forcing them to react against their will and interests.
External South African military operations were aimed at eliminating the training facilities, safehouses, infrastructure, equipment, and manpower of the insurgents. However, their secondary objective was to dissuade neighbouring states from offering sanctuary to MK, PLAN, APLA, and similar organisations. This was accomplished by deterring the supportive foreign population from cooperating with infiltration and thus undermining the insurgents’ external sanctuary areas. It would also send a clear message to the host government that collaborating with insurgent forces involved potentially high costs.
The scale and intensity of foreign operations varied and ranged from small special forces units carrying out raids on locations across the border which served as bases for insurgent infiltration to major conventional offensives involving armour, artillery, and aircraft. Actions such as Operation Protea in 1981 and Operation Askari in 1983 involved both full-scale conventional warfare and a counter-insurgency reprisal operation. The insurgent bases were usually situated near military installations of the host government so that SADF retaliatory strikes hit those facilities as well and attracted international attention and condemnation of what was perceived as aggression against the armed forces of another sovereign state. This would inevitably result in major engagements, in which the SADF’s expeditionary units would have to contend with the firepower of the host government’s forces. Intensive conventional warfare of this nature carried the risk of severe casualties among white soldiers, which had to be kept to a minimum for political reasons. There were also high economic and diplomatic costs associated with openly deploying large numbers of South African troops into another country. Furthermore, military involvement on that scale had the potential to evolve into wider conflict situations, in which South Africa became entangled. For example, South Africa’s activities in Angola, initially limited to containing PLAN, later escalated to direct involvement in the Angolan Civil War.
As it became clearer that full-scale conventional operations could not effectively fulfil the requirements of a regional counter-insurgency effort, South Africa turned to a number of alternative methods. Retributive artillery bombardments were the least sophisticated means of reprisal against insurgent attacks. Between 1978 and 1979 the SADF directed artillery fire against locations in Angola and Zambia from which insurgent rockets were suspected to have been launched. This precipitated several artillery duels with the Zambian Army. Special forces raids were launched to harass PLAN and MK by liquidating prominent members of those movements, destroying their offices and safehouses, and seizing valuable records stored at these sites. One example was the Gaborone Raid, carried out in 1985, during which a South African special forces team crossed the border into Botswana and demolished four suspected MK safe houses, severely damaging another four. Other types of special forces operations included the sabotage of economic infrastructure. The SADF sabotaged infrastructure being used for the insurgents’ war effort; for example, port facilities in southern Angola’s Moçâmedes District, where Soviet arms were frequently offloaded for PLAN, as well as the railway line which facilitated their transport to PLAN headquarters in Lubango, were common targets. Sabotage was also used as a pressure tactic when South Africa was negotiating with a host government to cease providing sanctuary to insurgent forces, as in the case of Operation Argon. Successful sabotage actions of high-profile economic targets undermined a country’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength and made it likelier to accede to South African demands rather than risk the expense of further destruction and war.
Also noteworthy were South African transnational espionage efforts, which included covert assassinations, kidnappings, and attempts to disrupt the overseas influence of anti-apartheid organisations. South African military intelligence agents were known to have abducted and killed anti-apartheid activists and others suspected of having ties to MK in London and Brussels.
During the 1980s the government, led by P.W. Botha, became increasingly preoccupied with security. It set up a powerful state security apparatus to “protect” the state against an anticipated upsurge in political violence that the reforms were expected to trigger. The 1980s became a period of considerable political unrest, with the government becoming increasingly dominated by Botha’s circle of generals and police chiefs (known as securocrats), who managed the various States of Emergencies.
Botha’s years in power were marked also by numerous military interventions in the states bordering South Africa, as well as an extensive military and political campaign to eliminate SWAPO in Namibia. Within South Africa, meanwhile, vigorous police action and strict enforcement of security legislation resulted in hundreds of arrests and bans, and an effective end to the African National Congress’ sabotage campaign.
The government punished political offenders brutally. 40,000 people annually were subjected to whipping as a form of punishment. The vast majority had committed political offences and were lashed ten times for their crime. If convicted of treason, a person could be hanged, and the government executed numerous political offenders in this way.
As the 1980s progressed, more and more anti-apartheid organisations were formed and affiliated with the UDF. Led by the Reverend Allan Boesak and Albertina Sisulu, the UDF called for the government to abandon its reforms and instead abolish the apartheid system and eliminate the homelands completely.
State of emergency
Serious political violence was a prominent feature from 1985–89, as Black townships became the focus of the struggle between anti-apartheid organisations and the Botha government. Throughout the 1980s, township people resisted apartheid by acting against the local issues that faced their particular communities. The focus of much of this resistance was against the local authorities and their leaders, who were seen to be supporting the government. By 1985, it had become the ANC’s aim to make Black townships “ungovernable” (a term later replaced by “people’s power”) by means of rent boycotts and other militant action. Numerous township councils were overthrown or collapsed, to be replaced by unofficial popular organisations, often led by militant youth. People’s courts were set up, and residents accused of being government agents were dealt with extreme and occasionally lethal punishments. Black town councillors and policemen, and sometimes their families, were attacked with petrol bombs, beaten, and murdered by necklacing, where a burning tyre was placed around the victim’s neck after they were restrained by wrapping their wrists with barbed wire. This signature act of torture and murder was embraced by the ANC and its leaders.
On 20 July 1985, 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. An increasing number of organisations were banned or listed (restricted in some way); many individuals had restrictions such as house arrest imposed on them. 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. It became a criminal offence to threaten someone verbally or possess documents that the government perceived to be threatening, to advise anyone to stay away from work or to oppose the government, and to disclose the name of anyone arrested under the State of Emergency until the government released that name, with up to ten years’ imprisonment for these offences. Detention without trial became a common feature of the government’s reaction to growing civil unrest and by 1988, 30,000 people had been detained. The media was censored, thousands were arrested and many were interrogated and tortured.
On 12 June 1986, four days before the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising, the state of emergency was extended to cover the whole country. The government amended the Public Security Act, including the right to declare “unrest” areas, allowing extraordinary measures to crush protests in these areas. Severe censorship of the press became a dominant tactic in the government’s strategy and television cameras were banned from entering such areas. The state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), provided propaganda in support of the government. Media opposition to the system increased, supported by the growth of a pro-ANC underground press within South Africa.
In 1987, the State of Emergency was extended for another two years. Meanwhile, about 200,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers commenced the longest strike (three weeks) in South African history. The year 1988 saw the banning of the activities of the UDF and other anti-apartheid organisations.
Much of the violence in the late-1980s and early-1990s was directed at the government, but a substantial amount was between the residents themselves. Many died in violence between members of Inkatha and the UDF-ANC faction. It was later proven that the government manipulated the situation by supporting one side or the other whenever it suited them. Government agents assassinated opponents within South Africa and abroad; they undertook cross-border army and air-force attacks on suspected ANC and PAC bases. The ANC and the PAC in return detonated bombs at restaurants, shopping centres and government buildings such as magistrates courts. Between 1960–1994, according to statistics from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Inkatha Freedom Party was responsible for 4,500 deaths, South African security forces were responsible for 2,700 deaths and the ANC was responsible for 1,300 deaths.
The state of emergency continued until 1990 when it was lifted by State President F.W. de Klerk.
Final years of apartheid
Apartheid developed from the racism of colonial factions and due to South Africa’s “unique industrialisation”. The policies of industrialisation led to the segregation of and classing of people, which was “specifically developed to nurture early industry such as mining”. Cheap labour was the basis of the economy and this was taken from what the state classed as peasant groups and the migrants. Furthermore, Philip Bonner highlights the “contradictory economic effects” as the economy did not have a manufacturing sector, therefore promoting short term profitability but limiting labour productivity and the size of local markets. This also led to its collapse as “Clarkes emphasises the economy could not provide and compete with foreign rivals as they failed to master cheap labour and complex chemistry”.
The contradictions in the traditionally capitalist economy of the apartheid state led to considerable debate about racial policy, and division and conflicts in the central state. To a large extent, the political ideology of apartheid had emerged from the colonisation of Africa by European powers which institutionalised racial discrimination and exercised a paternal philosophy of “civilising inferior natives.” Some scholars have argued that this can be reflected in Afrikaner Calvinism, with its parallel traditions of racialism; for example, as early as 1933; the executive council of the Broederbond formulated a recommendation for mass segregation.
External Western influence, arising from European experiences in colonisation, may be seen as a factor which greatly influenced political attitudes and ideology. Late twentieth-century South Africa was cited as an “unreconstructed example of western civilisation twisted by racism”.
In the 1960s, South Africa experienced economic growth second only to that of Japan. Trade with Western countries grew, and investment from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom poured in.
In 1974, resistance to apartheid was encouraged by Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola, after the 1974 Carnation Revolution. South African troops withdrew from Angola early in 1976, failing to prevent the MPLA from gaining power there, and Black students in South Africa celebrated.
The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith, signed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz in 1974, enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all. Its purpose was to provide a blueprint for South Africa by consent and racial peace in a multi-racial society, stressing opportunity for all, consultation, the federal concept, and a Bill of Rights. It caused a split in the United Party that ultimately realigned oppositional politics in South Africa with the formation of the Progressive Federal Party in 1977. The Declaration was the first of several such joint agreements by acknowledged Black and White political leaders in South Africa.
In 1978, the National Party Defence Minister, Pieter Willem Botha, became Prime Minister. His white minority regime worried about Soviet aid to revolutionaries in South Africa at the same time that South African economic growth had slowed. The South African Government noted that it was spending too much money to maintain segregated homelands created for Blacks, and the homelands were proving to be uneconomical.
Nor was maintaining Blacks as third-class citizens working well. Black labour remained vital to the economy, and illegal Black labour unions were flourishing. Many Blacks remained too poor to contribute significantly to the economy through their purchasing power – although they composed more than 70% of the population. Botha’s regime feared that an antidote was needed to prevent the Blacks’ being attracted to Communism.
In July 1979, the Nigerian Government alleged that the Shell-BP Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) was selling Nigerian oil to South Africa, though there was little evidence or commercial logic for such sales. The alleged sanctions-breaking was used to justify the seizure of some of BP’s assets in Nigeria including their stake in SPDC, although it appears the real reasons were economic nationalism and domestic politics ahead of the Nigerian elections. Many South Africans attended schools in Nigeria, and Nelson Mandela acknowledged the role of Nigeria in the struggle against apartheid on several occasions.
In the 1980s, anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe were gaining support for boycotts against South Africa, for the withdrawal of US companies from South Africa, and for release of imprisoned Nelson Mandela. South Africa was sinking to the bottom of the international community. Investment in South Africa was ending and an active policy of disinvestment had begun.
In the early-1980s, Botha’s National Party government started to recognise the inevitability of the need to reform the apartheid system. Early reforms were driven by a combination of internal violence, international condemnation, changes within the National Party’s constituency, and changing demographics – whites constituted only 16% of the total population, in comparison to 20% fifty years earlier.
In 1983, a new constitution was passed implementing what was called the Tricameral Parliament, giving Coloureds and Indians voting rights and parliamentary representation in separate houses – the House of Assembly (178 members) for Whites, the House of Representatives (85 members) for Coloureds and the House of Delegates (45 members) for Indians. Each House handled laws pertaining to its racial group’s “own affairs”, including health, education and other community issues. All laws relating to “general affairs” (matters such as defence, industry, taxation and Black affairs) were handled by a Cabinet made up of representatives from all three houses. However, the White chamber had a large majority on this cabinet, ensuring that effective control of the country remained in the hands of the White minority. Blacks, although making up the majority of the population, were excluded from representation; they remained nominal citizens of their homelands. The first Tricameral elections were largely boycotted by Coloured and Indian voters, amid widespread rioting.
Reforms and contact with the ANC under Botha
Concerned over the popularity of Mandela, Botha denounced him as an arch-Marxist committed to violent revolution, but to appease Black opinion and nurture Mandela as a benevolent leader of Black’s, the government transferred him from the maximum-security Robben Island to the lower security Pollsmoor Prison just outside Cape Town; where prison life was more comfortable for him. The government allowed Mandela more visitors, including visits and interviews by foreigners, to let the world know that he was being treated well.
Black homelands were declared nation-states and pass laws were abolished. Black labour unions were legitimised, the government recognised the right of Blacks to live in urban areas permanently and gave Blacks property rights there. Interest was expressed in rescinding the law against interracial marriage and also rescinding the law against sexual relations between different races, which was under ridicule abroad. The spending for Black schools increased, to one-seventh of what was spent per white child, up from on one-sixteenth in 1968. At the same time, attention was given to strengthening the effectiveness of the police apparatus.
In January 1985, Botha addressed the government’s House of Assembly and stated that the government was willing to release Mandela on condition that Mandela pledge opposition to acts of violence to further political objectives. Mandela’s reply was read in public by his daughter Zinzi – his first words distributed publicly since his sentence to prison twenty-one years before. Mandela described violence as the responsibility of the apartheid regime and said that with democracy there would be no need for violence. The crowd listening to the reading of his speech erupted in cheers and chants. This response helped to further elevate Mandela’s status in the eyes of those, both internationally and domestically, who opposed apartheid.
Between 1986–88, some petty apartheid laws were repealed, along with the pass laws. Botha told White South Africans to “adapt or die” and twice he wavered on the eve of what were billed as “rubicon” announcements of substantial reforms, although on both occasions he backed away from substantial changes. Ironically, these reforms served only to trigger intensified political violence through the remainder of the 1980s as more communities and political groups across the country joined the resistance movement. Botha’s government stopped short of substantial reforms, such as lifting the ban on the ANC, PAC and SACP and other liberation organisations, releasing political prisoners, or repealing the foundation laws of grand apartheid. The government’s stance was that they would not contemplate negotiating until those organisations “renounced violence”.
By 1987, South Africa’s economy was growing at one of the lowest rates in the world, and the ban on South African participation in international sporting events was frustrating many whites in South Africa. Examples of African states with Black leaders and White minorities existed in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Whispers of South Africa one day having a Black President sent more hardline whites into supporting right-wing political parties. Mandela was moved to a four-bedroom house of his own, with a swimming pool and shaded by fir trees, on a prison farm just outside of Cape Town. He had an unpublicised meeting with Botha. Botha impressed Mandela by walking forward, extending his hand and pouring Mandela’s tea. The two had a friendly discussion, with Mandela comparing the African National Congress’ rebellion with that of the Afrikaner rebellion and talking about everyone being brothers.
A number of clandestine meetings were held between the ANC-in-exile and various sectors of the internal struggle, such as women and educationalists. More overtly, a group of White intellectuals met the ANC in Senegal for talks known as the Dakar Conference.
Presidency of F. W. de Klerk
Early in 1989, Botha suffered a stroke; he was prevailed upon to resign in February 1989. He was succeeded as president later that year by F.W. de Klerk. Despite his initial reputation as a conservative, de Klerk moved decisively towards negotiations to end the political stalemate in the country. Prior to his term in office, F.W. de Klerk had already experienced political success as a result of the power base he had built in the Transvaal. During this time, F.W. de Klerk served as chairman to the provincial National Party, which was in favour of the Apartheid regime. The transition of de Klerk’s ideology regarding apartheid is seen clearly in his opening address to parliament on 2 February 1990. F.W. de Klerk announced that he would repeal discriminatory laws and lift the 30-year ban on leading anti-apartheid groups such as the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the United Democratic Front. The Land Act was brought to an end. F.W. de Klerk also made his first public commitment to release Nelson Mandela, to return to press freedom and to suspend the death penalty. Media restrictions were lifted and political prisoners not guilty of common-law crimes were released.
On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison after more than 27 years behind bars.
Having been instructed by the UN Security Council to end its long-standing involvement in South West Africa/Namibia, and in the face of military stalemate in Southern Angola, and an escalation in the size and cost of the combat with the Cubans, the Angolans, and SWAPO forces and the growing cost of the border war, South Africa negotiated a change of control; Namibia became independent on 21 March 1990.
Apartheid was dismantled in a series of negotiations from 1990–91, culminating in a transitional period which resulted in the country’s 1994 general election, the first in South Africa held with universal suffrage.
In 1990, negotiations were earnestly begun, with two meetings between the government and the ANC. The purpose of the negotiations was to pave the way for talks towards a peaceful transition towards majority rule. These meetings were successful in laying down the preconditions for negotiations, despite the considerable tensions still abounding within the country. Apartheid legislation was abolished in 1991.
At the first meeting, the NP and ANC discussed the conditions for negotiations to begin. The meeting was held at Groote Schuur, the President’s official residence. They released the Groote Schuur Minute, which said that before negotiations commenced political prisoners would be freed and all exiles allowed to return.
There were fears that the change of power would be violent. To avoid this, it was essential that a peaceful resolution between all parties be reached. 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. CODESA adopted a Declaration of Intent and committed itself to an “undivided South Africa”.
Reforms and negotiations to end apartheid led to a backlash among the right-wing White opposition, leading to the Conservative Party winning a number of by-elections against NP candidates. De Klerk responded by calling a Whites-only referendum in March 1992 to decide whether negotiations should continue. 68% voted in favour, and the victory instilled in de Klerk and the government a lot more confidence, giving the NP a stronger position in negotiations.
When negotiations resumed in May 1992, under the tag of CODESA II, stronger demands were made. The ANC and the government could not reach a compromise on how power should be shared during the transition to democracy. The NP wanted to retain a strong position in a transitional government, and the power to change decisions made by parliament.
Persistent violence added to the tension during the negotiations. This was due mostly to the intense rivalry between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC and the eruption of some traditional tribal and local rivalries between the Zulu and Xhosa historical tribal affinities, especially in the Southern Natal provinces. Although Mandela and Buthelezi met to settle their differences, they could not stem the violence. One of the worst cases of ANC-IFP violence was the Boipatong massacre of 17 June 1992, when 200 IFP militants attacked the Gauteng township of Boipatong, killing 45. Witnesses said that the men had arrived in police vehicles, supporting claims that elements within the police and army contributed to the ongoing violence. Subsequent judicial inquiries found the evidence of the witnesses to be unreliable or discredited, and that there was no evidence of National Party or police involvement in the massacre. When de Klerk visited the scene of the incident he was initially warmly welcomed, but he was suddenly confronted by a crowd of protesters brandishing stones and placards. The motorcade sped from the scene as police tried to hold back the crowd. Shots were fired by the police, and the PAC stated that three of its supporters had been gunned down. Nonetheless, the Boipatong massacre offered the ANC a pretext to engage in brinkmanship. Mandela argued that de Klerk, as head of state, was responsible for bringing an end to the bloodshed. He also accused the South African police of inciting the ANC-IFP violence. This formed the basis for ANC’s withdrawal from the negotiations, and the CODESA forum broke down completely at this stage.
The Bisho massacre on 7 September 1992 brought matters to a head. The Ciskei Defence Force killed 29 people and injured 200 when they opened fire on ANC marchers demanding the reincorporation of the Ciskei homeland into South Africa. In the aftermath, Mandela and de Klerk agreed to meet to find ways to end the spiralling violence. This led to a resumption of negotiations.
Right-wing violence also added to the hostilities of this period. The assassination of Chris Hani on 10 April 1993 threatened to plunge the country into chaos. Hani, the popular General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), was assassinated in 1993 in Dawn Park in Johannesburg by Janusz Waluś, an anti-Communist Polish refugee who had close links to the White nationalist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB). Hani enjoyed widespread support beyond his constituency in the SACP and ANC and had been recognised as a potential successor to Mandela; his death brought forth protests throughout the country and across the international community, but ultimately proved a turning point, after which the main parties pushed for a settlement with increased determination. On 25 June 1993, the AWB used an armoured vehicle to crash through the doors of the Kempton Park World Trade Centre where talks were still going ahead under the Negotiating Council, though this did not derail the process.
In addition to the continuing “black-on-black” violence, there were a number of attacks on white civilians by the PAC’s military wing, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). The PAC was hoping to strengthen their standing by attracting the support of the angry, impatient youth. In the St James Church massacre on 25 July 1993, members of the APLA opened fire in a church in Cape Town, killing 11 members of the congregation and wounding 58.
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”.
Violence persisted right up to the 1994 general election. Lucas Mangope, leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland, declared that it would not take part in the elections. It had been decided that, once the temporary constitution had come into effect, the homelands would be incorporated into South Africa, but Mangope did not want this to happen. There were strong protests against his decision, leading to a coup d’état in Bophuthatswana on 10 March that deposed Mangope, despite the intervention of white right-wingers hoping to maintain him in power. Three AWB militants were killed during this intervention, and harrowing images were shown on national television and in newspapers across the world.
Two days before the election, a car bomb exploded in Johannesburg, killing nine people. The day before the elections, another one went off, injuring 13. 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 was held on 27 April 1994 and went off peacefully throughout the country as 20,000,000 South Africans cast their votes. There was some difficulty in organising the voting in rural areas, but people waited patiently for many hours to vote amidst a palpable feeling of goodwill. An extra day was added to give everyone the chance. International observers agreed that the elections were free and fair. The European Union’s report on the election compiled at the end of May 1994, published two years after the election, criticised the Independent Electoral Commission’s lack of preparedness for the polls, the shortages of voting materials at many voting stations, and the absence of effective safeguards against fraud in the counting process. In particular, it expressed disquiet that “no international observers had been allowed to be present at the crucial stage of the count when party representatives negotiated over disputed ballots.” This meant that both the electorate and the world were “simply left to guess at the way the final result was achieved.”
The ANC won 62.65% of the vote, less than the 66.7 percent that would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution. 252 of the 400 seats went to members of the African National Congress. The NP captured most of the White and Coloured votes and became the official opposition party. As well as deciding the national government, the election decided the provincial governments, and the ANC won in seven of the nine provinces, with the NP winning in the Western Cape and the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal. On 10 May 1994, Mandela was sworn in as the new President of South Africa. The Government of National Unity was established, its cabinet made up of 12 ANC representatives, six from the NP, and three from the IFP. Thabo Mbeki and de Klerk were made deputy presidents.
The anniversary of the elections, 27 April, is celebrated as a public holiday known as Freedom Day.
The following individuals, who had previously supported apartheid, made public apologies:
- F. W. de Klerk: “I apologise in my capacity as leader of the NP to the millions who suffered wrenching disruption of forced removals; who suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences; who over the decades suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination.”
- Marthinus van Schalkwyk: “The National Party brought development to a section of South Africa, but also brought suffering through a system grounded on injustice”, in a statement shortly after the National Party voted to disband.
- Adriaan Vlok washed the feet of apartheid victim Frank Chikane in an act of apology for the wrongs of the Apartheid regime.
- Leon Wessels: “I am now more convinced than ever that apartheid was a terrible mistake that blighted our land. South Africans did not listen to the laughing and the crying of each other. I am sorry that I had been so hard of hearing for so long”.
International legal, political and social uses of the term
The South African experience has given rise to the term “apartheid” being used in a number of contexts other than the South African system of racial segregation. For example: The “crime of apartheid” is defined in international law, including in the 2007 law that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), which names it as a crime against humanity. Even before the creation of the ICC, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of the United Nations, which came into force in 1976, enshrined into law the “crime of apartheid.”
The term apartheid has been co-opted by Palestinian and Anti-Zionist organisations, referring to occupation in the West Bank, legal treatment of illegal settlements and the West Bank barrier.
Social apartheid is segregation on the basis of class or economic status. For example, social apartheid in Brazil refers to the various aspects of economic inequality in Brazil. Social apartheid may fall into various categories. Economic and social discrimination because of gender is sometimes referred to as gender apartheid. Separation of people according to their religion, whether pursuant to official laws or pursuant to social expectations, is sometimes referred to as religious apartheid. The treatment of non-Muslims and women by the Saudi rulers has been called apartheid.
The concept in occupational therapy that individuals, groups and communities can be deprived of meaningful and purposeful activity through segregation due to social, political, economic factors and for social status reasons, such as race, disability, age, gender, sexuality, religious preference, political preference, or creed, or due to war conditions, is sometimes known as occupational apartheid.
A 2007 book by Harriet A. Washington on the history of medical experimentation on African Americans is entitled medical apartheid.
The disproportionate management and control of the world’s economy and resources by countries and companies of the Global North referred to as global apartheid. A related phenomenon is a technological apartheid, a term used to describe the denial of modern technologies to Third World or developing nations. The last two examples use the term “apartheid” less literally since they are centred on relations between countries, not on disparate treatment of social populations within a country or political jurisdiction.