What was ‘Apartheid’?



Nelson Mandela / theclinic.cl

Nelson Mandela / theclinic.cl

  The word itself is Afrikaans or South African Dutch and means ‘separateness’. In the 50s of the last century a morbid joking pun was made in the music halls, calling it ‘apart-hate’, and one can understand why. It was the purely racial policy of a government, stemming from the Population Registration Act of 1950 in South Africa. The Act divided the population into three: Bantu if you were black, White, and Coloured if you were of mixed race. A little later a fourth section was added – Asian.

In all matters regarding land ownership, residence, marriage and any other social intercourse, work, education, religion and sport the above-mentioned groups were kept separate – hence the word. In fact the word itself goes back to 1943 when it was first used politically, but its concept goes back to the rigid segregation practised by white settlers since the seventeenth century. It found expression in statutes, job availability and reservation (if you were black you could work as a bus driver but not as a teacher at the university). It also existed in denial of the franchise and/or any parliamentary representation for black people.

In practice it meant the creation of ‘Bantu Homelands’ or districts reserved for blacks on impoverished land with scant natural reserves, such as water. This meant an unworkable independence for black people; it was no more than an illusion.

It was only in 1985 that certain restrictions were reduced by the creation of separate subordinate parliamentary chambers for Asians and Coloureds. Some draconic rules covering sport and leisure were relaxed, and the Pass Laws which forced non-Whites to carry on their person documentation which permitted them to pass through restricted areas were abolished.

Meanwhile international disgust with apartheid and lively press campaigns were focussed on South Africa. It was a white Boer President, de Klerk, who repealed all remaining apartheid legislation. It was July, 1991, only twenty-two years ago, though this may seem difficult to believe. The Population Registration Act was among the laws to be swept away.

In December of the same year the Convention for a Democratic South Africa was established, containing the Government and eighteen political groups, including the National African Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. This committee refused to behave like a committee for once and its creation led to the draft of a new transitional constitution in 1993 being presented by CODESA, later ratified by the Government. The Constitution gave the vote to all adult South Africans, and the first multi-racial elections were held in 1994. Pessimists wrote that this would lead to bloodshed in the streets and civil war. But it did not, and soon South Africa welcomed its first black government and President.

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