Turning Point #12: Apartheid in South Africa 1900s 1994



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Turning Point #12: Apartheid in South Africa - 1900s - 1994

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Essential Question for TP #12
What were the geographical, economic, cultural, and political effects of the policy of Apartheid on black South Africans?


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The History of Apartheid in South Africa


South Africa was colonized by the English and Dutch in the 1600s (Dutch descendants are known as Boers or Afrikaners). The discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the lands owned by the Afrikaners/Boers around 1900 resulted in an English invasion which sparked the Boer War. By the 1940s the Afrikaners had gained a strong majority in the government and could do what they wanted in South Africa. Officials in the National Party invented apartheid (the separation of racial and ethnic groups and limiting the rights of black Africans) to maintain white domination of South Africa, while extending racial separation.

The apartheid laws were enacted in 1948, and racial discrimination was part of the country. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, the designation of “white-only” jobs and “white-only” areas of the cities. In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), or colored (of mixed decent). A person could not be considered white if one of his or her parents were non-white. If a citizen did not obey the race laws they were dealt with harshly. All blacks were required to carry “pass books” containing fingerprints, photo and information on access to non-black areas.



In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act established ethnic “homelands.” These homelands were independent states to which each black African was assigned by the government according to the record of origin (which was frequently inaccurate). All political rights, including voting, held by an African were restricted to the designated homeland. The idea was that they would be citizens of the homeland, losing their citizenship in South Africa and any right of involvement with the South African Parliament, which controlled the homelands. From 1976 to 1981, four of these homelands were created, denationalizing nine million South Africans. The homeland governments tried for independence but were always refused. Africans living in these homelands needed passports to enter South Africa. In a sense they were aliens in their own country.

In 1953, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. This act allowed the government to declare “states of emergency” to control the townships (poor black-only areas of S. Africa), and to give increased penalties for protesting the government or laws. The penalties included fines, imprisonment and often, whippings. The penalties imposed on political protest, even non-violent protest, were severe as well. During the states of emergency which continued intermittently until 1989, anyone could be held in jail without a hearing by a low-level police official for up to six months. Thousands of individuals died in jail, frequently after gruesome acts of torture.

During the many years of Apartheid there were numerous protests. The African National Congress (ANC) was just one group that fought apartheid, but it was the best-known group. In the 1950s it launched a campaign of civil disobedience in which ANC members openly violated apartheid laws. In 1960, a large group of blacks in the township of Sharpeville refused to carry their passes; the government declared a “state of emergency” in which white Afrikaner police freely roamed the township. The emergency lasted for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead and 187 people wounded. World opinion condemned the massacre. Some ANC leaders—among them black lawyer Nelson Mandela—now felt that they would have to confront violence with violence. In response, the government banned the ANC.
In 1961 Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd proclaimed South Africa a republic, and it withdrew from the British Commonwealth. The government arrested Mandela and other ANC leaders in 1962. Found guilty of treason, they all received life jail terms. Yet the ANC continued to operate, primarily from bases outside South Africa. Inside the country leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Steven Biko, and others continued to speak out against apartheid. Some, such as Biko, paid with their lives. An increasing number of white South Africans joined the anti-apartheid movement.

Meanwhile the government continued its policy of repression. In 1976 it passed a law that Afrikaans must be spoken in all South African schools. Black schoolchildren in Soweto were peacefully marching in protest when police fired on them, killing many. Over the next months outraged Africans rioted all over the country. Many were no longer willing to wait for change.

In the 1980s, faced with protests at home and abroad, the government began to retreat from its strict apartheid policies. Constitutional reforms gave some political voice to "Colored," or mixed race, and Asian South Africans. Black Africans, however, were still denied any political participation. To pressure South Africa to change its racist policies the international community imposed economic sanctions (penalties).

In September 1989 F. W. de Klerk was elected president of South Africa. De Klerk lifted a 30-year ban on anti-apartheid rallies and legalized the ANC and other banned organizations. Mandela was released on February 11th, 1990.

De Klerk hoped that Mandela and other opposition leaders would meet with him to discuss ways to build a new South Africa. The promise of reform, however, did not end the violence. A fight for leadership of the black population broke out between the ANC and the largely Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party. Thousands of black South Africans died in the next 15 months. In addition, not all whites supported de Klerk.

In 1994 South Africa held its first all-races elections. Nelson Mandela was elected president. He called on the people to "heal the wounds of the past." However, Mandela's government faced the challenges of desperate poverty and an AIDS epidemic. Mandela retired in 1999 and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki.





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