Birth of apartheid
White supremacy and racial segregation had become main aspects of South African policy long before the start of apartheid. The debatable 1913 Land Act, passed three years following South Africa’s independence, marked the start of territorial segregation by making black Africans live in reserves and making it illegal for them to work as sharecroppers. Opposers of the Land Act formed the South African National Native Congress, which would become the African National Congress (ANC).
The Great Depression and World War II brought more economic troubles to South Africa, and convinced the government to reinforce its policies of racial segregation. The Afrikaner National Party won the general election in 1948 under the slogan “apartheid” (separateness). Their aim was not just to part South Africa’s white minority from its non-white majority, but to also separate non-whites from each other, and to split black South Africans along tribal lines in order to minimize their political power.
Apartheid becomes law
The government, by 1950, had prohibited marriages between whites and those of other races, and forbid sexual relations between black and white South Africans. The Population Restriction Act of 1950 supplied the general framework for apartheid by classifying all South Africans by race, including white, Coloured (mixed race) and Bantu (black Africans). Asian (meaning Pakistani and Indian), a fourth category, was added later. In some instances, the legislation divided families; parents could be classified as being white, and their children as coloured.
A sequence of Land Acts set aside over 80 percent of the South Africa’s land for the white minority, and “pass laws” needed non-whites to carry documents authorizing their presence in restricted places. In order to minimize contact between the races, the government created separate public facilities for whites and non-whites, hindering the activity of non-white labour unions and refused non-whites to take part in national government.
Apartheid and separate development
Prime minister from 1958, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, would filter apartheid policy further into a system he alluded to as “separate development.” The Promotion of Bantu Self-Governance Act of 1959 produced 10 Bantu homelands known as Bantustans. Dividing black South Africans allowed the government to claim black majority did not exist, and decreased the possibility that blacks would unite into one nationalist organization. Each black South African was designated as a citizen as one of the Bantustans, a system that apparently gave them full political rights, but efficiently eliminated them from South Africa’s political body.
In one of the most terrible aspects of apartheid, the government removed black South Africans by force from rural areas designated as “white” to the homelands, and gave their land at cheap prices to white farmers. From 1961 up until 1994, over 3.5 million people were removed by force from their homes and taken to the Bantustans, where they were thrown into poverty and hopelessness.
Opposition to apartheid
Over the years, resistance to apartheid within South Africa took many forms, from non-violent strikes, protests and demonstrations to political action and eventually armed resistance. Along with the South Indian National Congress, the ANC organized a mass meeting in 1952, during which those who attended burned their pass books. A group called the Congress of the People adopted a Freedom Charter in 1955 declaring that South Africa belongs to all who inhabit it, black or white. The meeting was broken up by the government and 150 people were arrested and charged with high treason.
At the black township of Sharpesville, in 1960, the police opened fire on a group of unarmed blacks connected to the Pan-African Congress (PAC), a branch of the ANC. The group had come to the police station without passes, inviting arrest as an act of resistance. A minimum of 67 blacks were killed and over 180 wounded. Sharpesville persuaded many anti-apartheid leaders that they could not attain their objectives by peaceful ways, and both the ANC and PAC created military wings. Most resistance leaders had been captured and sentenced to long prison terms or executed by 1961. A founder of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC, Nelson Mandela was incarcerated from 1963 to 1990; his incarceration would gain international attention and assist in gaining support for the anti-apartheid cause.
The end of apartheid
When thousands of black children in a black township called Soweto demonstrated in 1976 against the Afrikaans language requirement for black African students, the police opened fire with bullets and tear gas. The government crackdowns and protests that followed, as well as a national economic recession, drew more international attention to South Africa and eliminated all illusions that apartheid had brought prosperity and peace to the nation. The UN General Assembly had denounced apartheid in 1973, and the UN Security Council voted in 1976 to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of weapons to South Africa. The United States and United Kingdom imposed economic sanctions on South Africa in 1985.
Under pressure from the global community, the National Party government of Pieter Botha tried to institute some reforms. However, the reforms fell short of any substantial change and Botha was pressured to step aside in 1989 in favour of F.W. de Klerk. De Klerk’s government then revoked the Population Registration Act and many other laws that formed the legal basis for apartheid. In 1994, a new constitution which enfranchised blacks and other racial groups took effect, and elections that year resulted in a coalition government with a nonwhite majority, marking the official conclusion of the apartheid system.