Apartheid in South Africa

Apartheid literally translates as “apartness” from Afrikaans. Apartheid was a system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Racial segregation and the dominance of whites had been traditionally accepted in South Africa prior to 1948, but the general election of that year, Daniel F. Malan officially included the policy of apartheid in the Afrikaner Nationalist party platform, bringing his party to power for the first time. Although most white acquiesced in the policy, there was bitter and sometimes bloody dissension over the degree and stringency of its implementation.

Under apartheid, people were legally classified into a racial group – the main one being White, Black, Indian and Coloured – and were geographically, and forcibly, separated from each other on the basis of the legal classification. The purpose of apartheid was separation of the races, not only of whites from nonwhites, but also of nonwhites from each other, and, among the Africans (called Bantu in South Africa), of one group from another. In addition to the Africans, who represent about 75% of the total population, those regarded as nonwhites include those people known in the country as Coloured (people of mixed black, Malayan, and white descent) and Asian (mainly of Indian ancestry) populations.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 established residential and business sectors in urban areas for each “race” and strengthened the existing “pass” laws, which required nonwhites to carry identification papers. Other laws forbade most social contacts between those of European descent and others, authorised segregated public facilities established educational standards, restricted each group to certain types of jobs, curtailed non-white labour unions, denied non-white participation in the national government, and established various black African “homelands”, partly self-governing units that were nevertheless politically and economically dependent on South Africa.

The Black majority, in particular, legally became citizens of particular “homelands” that were nominally sovereign nations but operated more akin to United States Indian Reservations and Australian/Canadian Aboriginal Reserves. In reality however, a majority of Black South Africans never resided in these “homelands”. In practise, this prevented non-white people – even if actually resident in white South Africa – from having a vote or influence, restricting their rights to faraway homelands that they may never have visited. Education, medical care, and other public services were sometimes claimed to be separate but equal, but those available to non-white people were generally inferior.

The end of apartheid started in 1993 when a draft constitution was published , which guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, access to adequate housing and numerous other benefits, and explicitly prohibiting discrimination on almost any ground. Midnight on 26-27 April 1994 the old flag, which represented an all white nation, was lowered. The old national anthem was sung, followed by the raising of the “rainbow flag” and the singing of the other co-official anthem. Since then the day is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa known as Freedom Day.

Apartheid was a reality for many South Africans!

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