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Author: Betty J. Harris
Editor: Maryanne Cline Horowitz
Date: 2005
New Dictionary of the History of Ideas
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 9
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 105


Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning "apartness," describes an ideology of racial segregation that served as the basis for white domination of the South African state from 1948 to 1994. Apartheid represented the codification of the racial segregation that had been practiced in South Africa from the time of the Cape Colony's founding by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Its emergence in 1948 was antithetical to the decolonization process begun in sub-Saharan Africa after World War II. Widely perceived internationally as one of the most abhorrent human rights issues from the 1970s to the 1990s, apartheid conjured up images of white privilege and black marginalization implemented by a police state that strictly enforced black subordination.

Historical Background

The Dutch East India Company occupied the Cape Colony uninterruptedly from 1652 until the British takeover in 1795. The company's conflict with the indigenous Khoisan was exacerbated by its granting of farmland to company members who had completed their term of service. The Khoisan, who became indentured servants, were landless by the time of the British occupation. Slaves were imported from Asia and elsewhere in Africa throughout the eighteenth century. Briefly restored to Dutch rule in 1803, the colony was again brought under British control in 1806. Two events to which Dutch settlers reacted negatively were the British abolition of the slave trade in 1806 and of slavery in 1833. The latter precipitated the Great Trek, in which many Dutch (Afrikaner) farmers migrated outside the Cape Colony.

A "mineral revolution," financed by British capital, began in South Africa with the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1868 and gold in Johannesburg in 1886. Later the British victory in the Boer War (1899–1902) brought the Transvaal and the Orange Free State under British rule. Natal was already a British colony. Collectively the four colonies formed the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Afrikaners, who suffered military defeat in the war, displayed intense anti-British sentiment as many of their farms were destroyed and their wives and children placed in concentration camps, resulting in a high mortality rate. Their efforts to increase their population contributed to proletarianization, precipitating their migration to cities for employment. They often became squatters alongside poor blacks. In 1928–1932 the Carnegie Corporation conducted a study of the "poor white problem" and made recommendations for improving the status of working-class Afrikaners. During that period, Afrikaans, a Dutch variant, became a written language. Members of the emerging Afrikaner bourgeoisie opened the first Afrikaner bank and insurance company.

Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism

After the Boer War, two Afrikaner generals, Jan Smuts and Louis Botha, sought conciliation with the British in forming the South African Party. Supporters also included enfranchised blacks. The South African Party defeated the Unionist Party in the 1910 elections. Cognizant of eroding political rights, members of the black educated elite formed the South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress) in 1912. Racist legislation enacted during this period of "fusion" included the Page 106  |  Top of Article
Apartheid 1913 Land Act, which prohibited a type of sharecropping called farming-on-the-half, in which black sharecroppers negotiated with white farmers to farm part of the latter's land. Furthermore, blacks could not own land outside of designated areas.

Another Afrikaner general, J. B. M. Hertzog, led dissidents against a South African alliance with the British in World War I. A schism developed between Smuts and Hertzog over South African involvement in World War II, signaling the end of fusion. It was then that Hertzog advocated a South African republic outside the British Commonwealth. Further racist legislation included:

The Urban Areas Act of 1923, which legislated urban racial segregation, discouraging blacks from becoming town-rooted.

The Industrial Reconciliation Act of 1926, which introduced job protections for poor whites.

The 1936 Land Act, which reinforced the 1913 Land Act and designated homelands as areas for African land ownership.

A 1936 decree that struck Africans in the Cape Province from the common voters' roll.

The historian T. Dunbar Moodie has suggested that Afrikaner nationalism was a civil religion representing the integration of key symbolic elements. These include major events in Afrikaner history, the Afrikaans language, and Dutch Calvinism. From Moodie's perspective, Afrikaners viewed their history in terms of a repeating suffering-and-death cycle at the hands of the British through major events such as the Great Trek and the Boer War. The Broederbond, a secret society composed of Afrikaner professionals, formed the Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organizations (FAK), affiliating cultural and language associations as well as church councils, youth groups, and scientific study circles in 1929.

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Segregated bathrooms in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1984. When the National Party came to power in 1948, many laws were passed to segregate the population, one of which banned blacks and Indians from using the same public facilities as whites. Segregated bathrooms in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1984. When the National Party came to power in 1948, many laws were passed to segregate the population, one of which banned blacks and Indians from using the same public facilities as whites. © IAN BERRY/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Black Resistance

Black activism increased after World War II in South Africa as elsewhere in Africa. When A. B. Xuma became president-general of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1940, he attempted to unify the organization ideologically, regulate its finances, and conduct a propaganda campaign. A major schism developed when Xuma and a few middle-class members advocated negotiation through African representative bodies, while more militant members leaned toward the Communist Party and more assertive political activism.

In the mid-1940s a group of young professionals, including Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, banded together to form the ANC Youth League. They made overtures to Coloured and Indian political organizations in their call for majority rule. Coloureds were descendants of "miscegenation" that occurred in the Cape after the Dutch East India Company's occupation. Indians were recruited as indentured servants to work on Natal's sugar plantations in the 1860s.

Apartheid Legislation

After the National Party victory in 1948, a battery of laws was enacted to strictly segregate South African society by race, ethnicity, and class. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 outlawed marriages between whites and blacks. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that each adult South African be classified by ethnic group as follows: white (Afrikaners and English), Coloured (mixed race, Asian [mostly Indian]), and African (Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi, Basotho, Batswana, Bapedi, Venda, and Tsonga). In 1951 South Africa's "African" population was approximately 8.5 million, nearly four-fifths of the entire population.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 enforced the residential segregation of Coloureds and Indians. These groups could not use public facilities outside residential boundaries.

The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 forced the disbandment of the South African Communist Party and a diplomatic break with the Soviet Union. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 abolished the Natives Representative Council, replacing it with indirect rule. The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act of 1952 required the assignment of detailed reference books to all pass holders detailing their background, employment, and residential rights outside the reserves.

Parliament also passed the Bantu Education Act of 1953, providing for state control of African schools, which had mostly been founded by missionary societies, at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The Ministry of Native Affairs planned a curriculum to prepare the "Bantu" (South African blacks) to occupy a servile position in South African society. Undocumented Africans were removed from urban areas to rural homelands under the provisions of the Native Resettlement Act of 1954. Cape Coloureds were removed from the common voters' roll in the Cape Province in 1956.

When Hendrik F. Verwoerd, minister of native affairs from 1950, became prime minister in 1958, he continued to initiate apartheid legislation compatible with his views regarding "separate development." The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 provided for the creation of eight national units for African self-government supposedly reflective of African ethnic groupings. Since urban blacks had no political representation, it devolved upon chiefs to act as roving ambassadors between African subjects in the urban areas and those resident in homelands. Homelands or reserve areas represented 13.7 percent of the land.

The Bantu Homelands Act of 1970 required that all Africans be given exclusive citizenship in a homeland, disregarding place of birth and current residence. In 1972 Zululand and Bophuthatswana were granted self-governing status, while Transkei, self-governing since 1963, was given more autonomy as the model homeland. Transkei's "independence" in 1976 was followed by Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981.

The Western Cape was declared a Coloured labor preference area in the 1950s. Indians, granted citizenship in 1963, experienced racial discrimination in residential and trading rights.

Gender Issues

Helen Suzman (1993), a long-term antiapartheid member of parliament (MP), observed that in 1953, her first year, there were actually four women in parliament. Two were fellow United Party members, and one was a member of the Liberal Party. Suzman, a liberal, dealt primarily with racial issues, although she also advocated equal rights for women regarding marriage, divorce, abortion, and employment. White women had been enfranchised in 1930 to counter the nonwhite male vote. In general racial and gender issues were not intertwined. However, in 1955 liberal white women founded the Black Sash to protest the proposed disenfranchisement of Coloured men. Members argued for respect for the South African constitution. In the 1970s the Black Sash set up "advice offices" in major cities to assist blacks with problems regarding "influx

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Nelson Mandela. Mandela was elected South Africas first black president in 1994 after having spent over twenty years in prison. A well-known political activist, Mandela was arrested in 1962 and charged shortly thereafter with sabotage and consp Nelson Mandela. Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994 after having spent over twenty years in prison. A well-known political activist, Mandela was arrested in 1962 and charged shortly thereafter with sabotage and conspiring against the government. © DAVID TURNLEY/CORBIS

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was born on 18 July 1918, to Chief Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, of Thembu royalty, and Noselkeni Fanny in the Eastern Cape village of Mveso, Transkei. After his father's death when Mandela was nine, the acting tribal chief, Jongintaba, assumed Mandela's guardianship. Mandela had access to the best education a black youth could have, attending Clarkesbury Boarding Institute, Healdtown College, and University College of Fort Hare. He eventually left Transkei to avoid an arranged marriage and moved to Johannesburg.

Mandela became politicized while living in Alexandra Township by attending African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) meetings. After receiving his B.A. in 1942, he entered law school at the University of Witwatersrand. His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, includes many names famous in the antiapartheid struggle—Walter Sisulu, A. B. Xuma, George Bizos, Bram Fischer, Robert Sobukwe, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Oliver Tambo, and Z. K. Matthews.

Viewing the ANC leadership as too conservative, Mandela in 1943 became a founding member of the ANC Youth League, which sought to motivate the leadership to action. Shocked by the National Party victory in 1948, he and other leaders of the ANC organized a "defiance campaign," employing a variety of passive-resistance tactics against apartheid legislation. Because of these activities, ANC activists were put under government surveillance, and Mandela was eventually served with a two-year banning order (1953–1955). A banning order restricted an individual to a magisterial district. He or she was expected to report regularly to the police and was under constant police surveillance. A banned individual could not be quoted in the press, could not work, and could not meet with more than one person at a time.

Mandela and 155 other ANC leaders were arrested during the defiance campaign. In 1956 ninety-one people were accused, and sixty-one charges were dropped due to lack of evidence (Saunders; Davenport). Thirty people were tried for treason, and all but one were acquitted, including Mandela, in 1961.

After the treason trial and the banning of the ANC and PAC, Mandela went underground in the newly formed military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), as chair of the high command. This office planned sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and open revolution. Mandela based his underground operations at a farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. Upon his return from the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa meeting in Ethiopia, he was arrested near Pietermaritzburg and charged with inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. He received a three-year prison sentence for the former charge and a two-year sentence for the latter. While in prison, he discovered that many members of the ANC high command were arrested in Rivonia in July 1963. They were charged under the Sabotage Act of 1962, with the onus being on the accused to prove their innocence. The state had requested the death penalty. The accused were given life imprisonment on 12 June 1964. International pressure had a great impact on sparing their lives. The nine-month trial ended in June 1963 with Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island, off Cape Town, for nearly three decades. In his autobiography he wrote of this experience, remarking about the degree to which apartheid permeated every aspect of life in South Africa, even for those in prison, where clothing and food were differentiated according to a prisoner's race.

There were a number of attempts to free Mandela, including a major campaign in 1980. He was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982 and to Victor Vester Prison in Paarl in 1988. During this time he was allowed increasing contact with his wife, Winnie Mandela, and their two daughters. Mandela began negotiations with the South African government for his freedom and the end of apartheid while at Pollsmoor. That continued in earnest at Victor Vester Prison in May 1988. Government representatives preferred to negotiate with Mandela alone and vetoed his request to discuss the first meeting with his ANC comrades. Mandela outlined the negotiated issues as "the armed struggle, the ANC's alliance with the Communist Party, the goal of majority rule, and the idea of racial reconciliation." The government representatives were concerned that the ANC might attempt "blanket nationalization of the South African economy" as stated in the ANC's Freedom Charter. The secret talks occurred against the backdrop of internal protests by the United Democratic Alliance and the Mass Democratic Movement, a state of emergency, and international economic sanctions.

The ANC, PAC, and SACP were legalized on 2 February 1990, and Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Vester Prison on 11 February 1990. When elected president in 1994, Mandela sought to create a "Rainbow Nation," and the ANC collaborated with other political parties to form a "Government of National Unity."

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control, unemployment, contracts, housing, and pensions" (Saunders).

Black women were particularly discriminated against with influx control and pass laws, extended to women in 1956. Influx control was a policy designed to direct the flow of black labor to "white" urban areas for employment and to rural farms. With the Nationalist victory in 1948, influx control regulations were enhanced. Pass laws regulated document requirements for black people. Jacklyn Cock examined their status as domestic servants in suburban white households. In Maids and Madams, Cock reports on a study of 800,000 black domestic servants. She examines their status as workers and mothers and their dependency relationships with their white

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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, often considered the architect of apartheid, was born in Amsterdam on 8 September 1901, six months before his parents moved to Wynberg, near Cape Town, South Africa. As a lay missionary in South Africa, Verwoerd's father received an assignment in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where the family lived for five years. Young Verwoerd performed well academically there and in Brandfort, Free State, South Africa, his next home. Developing a strongly anti-British political orientation in Zimbabwe, he immersed himself in Afrikaner life in Brandfort. Verwoerd completed secondary school in 1918 and proceeded to the University of Stellenbosch.

At Stellenbosch, Verwoerd was elected chair of the Students' Representative Council in 1923. He majored in sociology, psychology, and logic. After receiving his B.A., he was appointed to a position in the Psychology Department, completing his master's in 1923 and his doctorate in 1924. In 1925 Verwoerd traveled to Germany for study at Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin. In 1927 he and his wife, Betsie Verwoerd, returned to Stellenbosch, where he assumed a position as professor of applied sociology. Becoming chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work in 1933 at Stellenbosch, he began to work with social welfare organizations and undertook a committee assignment on housing and unemployment focusing on the plight of poor Afrikaner whites.

Verwoerd joined the Purified Nationalist Party in 1935 as Afrikaners were attempting to unite politically and also became a member of the nativist Broederbond. He left academia to establish the Nationalist paper Die Transvaler in 1937. The major objective of Die Transvaler was to lure Afrikaners away from the British-oriented United Party and foster the idea of a Christian-National republic. During World War II, Die Transvaler adopted a pro-German stance and was opposed to South African involvement with the Allies. That stance became more explicitly anti-Semitic when Nationalists sought to limit Jewish immigration, deny Jewish citizens party membership, and discourage support for their businesses.

Despite the party's national victory in parliament, Verwoerd lost his local election by a narrow margin in 1948. However, the new prime minister, Daniel F. Malan, appointed him to the senate, and in 1950 Verwoerd became minister of native affairs. In this role, which he described to his wife as the "Great Induna," or great chief, Verwoerd reviewed and restructured the entire ministry, considered the most important in the South African cabinet, and formulated a body of apartheid legislation. On the death of J. G. Strijdom, Malan's successor, Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958.

After organizing a successful whites-only referendum to create a South African republic, Verwoerd attended the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in London in 1961. There he explored the possibility of South Africa remaining a member of the British Commonwealth. Although rebuffed by the British, Canadians, and Afro-Asian bloc because of apartheid, the prime minister received a hero's welcome when he returned to South Africa in early 1961. He had hoped for commonwealth approval of South Africa's apartheid policy given the pro-British sentiment of English-speakers in the white electorate. Afrikaner Nationalists applauded South Africa's removal from the commonwealth.

Verwoerd was assassinated on 6 September 1966, before a parliamentary session in the presence of about four hundred people. The assassin, Demetrio Tsafendas, was later tried and incarcerated in mental institutions until his death in 1999. Officially classified white, he had been born in Mozambique to a Greek father and a Coloured mother. In a 2001 book Henk van Woerden argued convincingly that the assassination was politically motivated.

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madams. Black domestic workers neglected their own families to be at the beck and call of the white madams and often lived in servants' quarters near the madams' houses. This enabled the madam to engage in leisure activities or to pursue employment to enhance her family's income. Cock illuminates gradations of female exploitation in the South African context in focusing on the relationship between maid and madam.

Increasing Black Nationalism

In 1952 the African National Congress, whose membership was estimated at 100,000, organized a campaign of defiance to protest racially discriminatory laws, burning passes and defying regulations concerning segregated facilities. Eighty-five hundred people were arrested during the four-month campaign, which resulted in a treason trial and the eventual acquittal of the accused. In 1955 the African National Congress and similar political organizations met and drafted the Freedom Charter, which embraced the tenets of a nonracial, democratic society in which major capitalist enterprises would be nationalized.

Ideological differences within the ANC resulted in Robert Sobukwe breaking away to form the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959. In 1960 the PAC organized a campaign to protest pass laws and low wages. At Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, in March 1960, police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring some 180. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested 1,600 people. The massacre precipitated international condemnation of the South African government, diminished investor confidence, and threw the economy into recession.

After Sharpeville, the ANC and PAC were banned, initiating underground political activity. Nelson Mandela, who had already been imprisoned on other charges, and his compatriots, taken into custody at a farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia, site of the ANC's underground headquarters, were Page 112  |  Top of Article charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. In 1964 all but one of the codefendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Rivonia trial signaled the cessation of black nationalist resistance in South Africa. Many members of banned organizations sought refuge in other countries. Neighboring colonies provided South Africa a protective buffer against guerrilla insurgency, investor confidence was restored, and the country embarked on a period of economic prosperity. Meanwhile, after an all-white referendum, South Africa was declared a republic outside the commonwealth in 1961.

Dismantling of Apartheid

The outbreak of the Soweto riots in 1976 marked the denouement in the South African struggle. Students in the Johannesburg township rioted when the government made Afrikaans the language of school instruction in science subjects. Combating police bullets with sticks and stones, hundreds of students were killed. Others fled the country. The ANC set up recruitment stations in Mozambique from which refugees were transferred for military training. Coloured students in Cape Town intensified their activism. Unrest continued around the country and lasted well into 1977, having a deleterious effect on the economy. Refugees, both male and female, began to infiltrate the country to conduct acts of sabotage.

South Africa's protective buffers began to erode in 1975 with the independence of Angola and Mozambique, followed by that of Zimbabwe in 1980, allowing for increasing guerrilla infiltration into the country. After the Muldergate information scandal, P. W. Botha, minister of defense, became prime minister in 1978. Muldergate was an information scandal in which substantial sums of money allocated to buy international media support for apartheid was funneled to the Citizen, a pro-government newspaper in Johannesburg (Saunders, p. 116). The disclosure and attempted cover-up precipitated dissension within the ranks of the National Party. Botha's total strategy combined militarism and reform.

Recognizing the potential for a racial bloodbath, the Nationalists sought a "consociational democracy" in which no racial group would dominate. In an effort to bring legitimate leaders to the negotiating table, a campaign began to free the long-imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela in the early 1980s. The president (formerly prime minister) proposed a tricameral parliament with chambers for Asians, Coloureds, and whites. The exclusion of those classified African led to the formation of the United Democratic Front to coordinate activism within the country.

In the mid-1980s major Western powers initiated econ-omic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Governmental negotiations began in 1990, when Mandela was released from prison. The ANC and other liberation organizations were "unbanned," or legitimized. An interim constitution was written, and elections were held in 1994. The ANC was victorious nationally.

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Helen Gavronsky was born to Lithuanian Jewish immigrant parents near Johannesburg in 1917. She married Moses Suzman in 1937 and had two daughters. Later she returned to the University of the Witwatersrand to complete her B.A. Then she was hired as a lecturer in economic history. The United Party invited her to run for a seat in Houghton, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, in 1952. With the support of her husband, she successfully ran for the seat, which required her absence from her family while residing in Cape Town half a year. In parliament Suzman was a proponent of racial equality, South Africa's return to the commonwealth, rule of law, and the administration of justice. During her tenure in parliament she visited prisons, townships, and "resettlement areas" in the rural homelands. She was in parliament when Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated and visited Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison.

Often at odds with the United Party over apartheid legislation, she formed the Progressive Party in 1959 and became its sole representative. After fourteen years, six colleagues joined her in 1974. Although it was unpopular to participate in an increasingly oppressive apartheid parliament, Suzman was a vigorous advocate of racial equality. Despite their admiration, many black South Africans were critical of her antisanctions stance in the 1980s.

Suzman received many international honors, including honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard; the United Nations Human Rights Award (1978) and Medallion of Heroism (1980); and the Liberal International Prize for Freedom (2002). Suzman left parliament in 1989 but continued her activities in the Helen Suzman Foundation, which is devoted to liberal causes.


When South Africa celebrated its first decade of postapartheid government, it had rejoined the commonwealth and a number Page 113  |  Top of Article of international bodies. The ANC was returned to power for a third term in April 2004 with 70 percent of the vote. Some progress had been made toward racial equality despite inequities in the distribution of wealth. However, South Africa continued to grapple with the legacy of apartheid—high unemployment, low literacy rates, inadequate housing, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the dynamics of globalization. In the early twenty-first century the unemployment rate was estimated at 38 to 40 percent. According to the South African Survey 1999, one-third of South Africans needed adequate housing. The HIV rate in prenatal clinics was 22.8 percent in 1998.

South Africa is not viewed as competitive in global production due to high labor costs. A number of mining and manufacturing enterprises have established branches in other African countries. The government seeks to attract new investment and to enhance the skills of its black labor force. With regard to the Internet, in the early twenty-first century South Africa was the best-wired country in Africa.


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Betty J. Harris

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3424300046