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act white south africa

In Afrikaans, the language of Afrikaners, the word apartheid implies things set apart or separated. The concept and practice of apartheid grew from the history of human interaction in southern Africa. As Brian du Toit explains, “This relationship was born on the frontiers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, given legal recognition in the republican constitutions in the nineteenth century, and justified by church and state in the twentieth century. Essentially, it is a philosophy that assumes the superiority of whites and their responsibility of guardianship over blacks” (1982, p. 157).

By the end of the eighteenth century a variety of slaves (African and Malay) and Khoikhoi (non-Bantu speaking native Africans, or the so-called “Hottentots,”) were associated with European communities in South Africa. Settlers, and especially frontier communities, contrasted themselves with the indigenous peoples, who at the time were decidedly different in thought and action (e.g., practicing animism and ancestor worship, making sacrifices, and expressing values that contrasted with those of Europeans). They were also differentiated by color. Whites saw “Christian” and “European” (and “white”) as nearly equivalent concepts.

A number of preachers, including H. R. van Lier (in 1786) and M. C. Vos (in 1794), and religious societies, such as the London Missionary Society (in 1799), accepted the duty of serving “slaves and Hottentots.” In the early years of the nineteenth century, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) considered itself as having a monopoly on religious practice. Thus, the interest and involvement in mission work grew, marked by the establishment of separate churches drawn along lines of color. During the early years of the nineteenth century, following the freeing of slaves and the granting of rights to Khoikhoi in the Cape, frontiersmen trekked north to establish a number of independent republics. They saw this as essential for the preservation of their language (following permanent British Administration starting in 1806 and the arrival of the British settlers in 1820), religion (in contrast to Islam and indigenous religions), culture (civilization as they saw it), lifestyle, and especially color. In Colour and Culture in South Africa , Sheila Patterson notes, “Then as now, in the interest of self-preservation, the Boers closed their community…. Racial, cultural and religious criteria were by now completely linked…. The colour-line was to be drawn once and for all, and thereafter the blood was to be kept pure. There was to be one marriage law for the whites and another for the non-whites, and no provision for intermarriage” (1953, p. 173). Due to a labor shortage in the rapidly growing sugar industry in Natal Province, East Indians were imported as indentured laborers. They were mostly Hindus and Muslims, and few of them returned to India following the completion of their contracts. In time, they spread throughout South Africa, establishing themselves in various businesses. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colored peoples (the offspring of interracial unions) were on the common voters role in the Cape Province, although segregation was practiced widely. They were removed from these roles in 1955.

Following the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the separation of the population along lines of culture and color was increasingly glossed under the somewhat benign designation of “segregation.” This already meant that whites received favorable opportunities, choice residential locations, job opportunities, and security, as well as unobstructed chances for schooling and higher education. In 1913, General Louis Botha, the first prime minister after establishment of the Union of South Africa, passed the Natives’ Land Act, which prohibited Africans from purchasing land outside of the reserves (and a few other special areas). These reserves constituted about 13 percent of the area of the Union.

Following its establishment in 1918, the Afrikaner Broederbond, a secret nationalistic and Calvinistic society, started to give direction to Afrikaner aims and policies. Most historians recognize June 4, 1918, as the date of origin of this secret society. This was when a group of young Afrikaner males met in Johannesburg dedicating themselves to work for “the good right of the Afrikaner cause.” Their commitment was non-political, supporting Afrikaner economic conditions as well as Afrikaner art and culture. On December 9, 1919, they decided to become a secret society requiring of each member to take an oath of secrecy and a declaration “affirming his willingness to subject himself to the aim.”

Their power grew through their work in the Reunited National Party (Herstigte Nasionale Party, or HNP). The general election of 1948 pitted General Smuts and the United Party (with a strong majority in Parliament) against Daniel Francois Malan (an ex-DRC minister) and the HNP. During the election, the slogan “Keep South Africa White” was prominently used by the National Party. This Page 118  is the first clear use of “apartheid” as concept and policy. (In the 1982 general elections and after political changes in neighboring Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—the HNP employed billboards with a beautiful white girl and the words “for her sake don’t repeat Rhodesia—vote HNP.”) The spokesmen of the Afrikaner Broederbond and HNP proclaimed the importance of this policy everywhere, from church pulpits to academic publications. In 1942, Gerhardus Eloff had published his Rasse en rassevermeging ( Races and Racial Mixing ), in which he proclaimed that “the pure-race tradition of the Boer nation must be assured at all costs … the natives and coloureds—according to our Christian convictions as practiced by our forbears—must be treated as less endowed…. The guardianship must be one which can stand the strongest test” (p. 104). This philosophy was given shape by studies such as Geoffrey Cronje’s Voogdyskap en apartheid ( Guardianship and Apartheid , 1948), which laid out the white government’s philosophy and policy with reference to “the coloureds, the natives, and the Indians.” The official government policy in 1948 was that the Indians should be repatriated, coloreds should be segregated, and blacks should be returned to their homelands. Thus, Afrikaner nationalism and white supremacy, which brought the National Party to power, ultimately culminated in the establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1961. What Malan started in his term as prime minister (1948–1954) was carried to its extreme conclusion by Hendrik Verwoerd, first as minister of native affairs (1950–1958) and then as prime minister (1958–1966).

Almost immediately upon assuming the reins of government, the Nationalists started implementing apartheid. In the national elections of 1948 the National Party under Dr. Malan barely won, entering parliament having a majority of only five seats. In the provincial elections the following year the United Party recaptured the seats in Paarl and Bredasdorp and the National Party was convinced that this was the result of the Colored vote. This population category were the only “non-whites” who had full voting privileges. Thus the Nationalists decided to remove the Coloreds from the common voting role. These same considerations resulted in the abolition of African representation in 1959. In time this divided society consisted of the core dominant whites, racially and residentially separated Coloreds (served by the Department of Colored Affairs and the Colored Representative Council), Indians (served by the Department of Indians Affairs and the South African Indian Council), and finally Africans (supposed to be residents of different Bantustans or homelands and living in South Africa with temporary work permits).

Laws, acts, and amendments followed in quick succession. In 1949 they passed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. The following year the Group Areas Act made sure that white and nonwhite persons were residentially separated, which led to the creation of slums. In cases where whites had maids who lived on the premises, their quarters had to be physically separate from the employer’s residence. It is logical that the government, which was guided by the absurd notion of a pure white race, next passed the Immorality Act (1950), which made physical contact across racial lines a punishable offense. Next came the Population Registration Act No. 30 of 1950, which created a register of the total population of the Union. Every person on the register was to be classified as being white (a white person is described as being “a person who in appearance obviously is, or who is generally accepted as a white person”), Colored (which included “Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua, Chinese, Indian, other Asiatic, and other Coloured”) or native, according to the ethnic group to which a person belonged or with which the person identified and associated. An identity number was assigned to every person on the register, and that number was retired only when a person died or permanently left South Africa.

The Constitution of the Union of South Africa established English and Dutch (replaced by Afrikaans in 1925) as official languages of the country. These languages were employed as media of instruction throughout the country. In 1953 the government passed the Bantu Education Act, which enforced separate school facilities and mother-tongue instruction (in the lower grades). It should be kept in mind that especially in rural areas there was a traditional distribution of Africans, including the Nguni languages (Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa and Ndebele) the Sotho languages (Sotho, Rswana, Pedi) as well as Tsonga and Venda. In higher grades English and Afrikaans were employed both as medium of instruction and as course subjects. It is this latter enforcement that resulted in the Soweto student uprising of 1976. The Bantu Education Act also gave direct control of education by the minister of Bantu affairs. Church and mission schools were curtailed and centralized under the government, along with farm schools, secondary schools, and industrial and training institutions. Under the Separate Universities Act (1959) the government closed down a number of black educational and training institutions, including the century-old Adams College—which counted Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana), Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe), and Gasha Buthelezi (KwaZulu) among its alumni. It also forced all nonwhite students to attend black (at Fort Hare, Ngoya and Turfloop), colored (in Bellville), or Indian (Westville in Durban) universities. This assured that there would be all-white schools and institutions of higher learning. It also assured that opportunities for friendship, association, better understanding, and intimate relationships could be restricted and avoided where possible.

With separation envisioned in all aspects of living (except, of course, labor and the economy), Verwoerd quickly appointed a commission to look into total geographical apartheid. In 1964 he stated, “One either follows the course of separation, when one must accept the logical consequences right up to the final point of separate states, or else one believes in the course of assimilating the various races in one state and then one must also accept the eventual consequences. These are, domination by the majority, that is black domination.” The 13 percent of land surface that had been set aside for nonwhites was soon being designated “reserves,” “home-lands,” and finally “Bantustans.” Under separate development, blacks were supposed to become “citizens” of their black states. As Joel Mervis points out, “It could be described as a kind of bargain—full rights for Africans in the homelands in exchange for no rights for Africans in the White areas. The fact that this bargain is dictated by the Whites and thrust upon the Non-Whites, whether they like it or not is, again, another matter” (1972, p. 73).

The Group Areas Act (1950) assured residential separation and this included Coloreds and Indians. Blacks (through the hated Pass Laws) were assigned to certain “tribal homelands”. The pass was a document that every African had to carry and produce for identification. It contained a personal history and work history of the bearer. It was a term that referred to the pass but also involved curfew laws, location regulations, and mobility. When there was an outcry against the “dom pas” (glossed as “stupid pass”) government spokesmen excused them as “just like a passport that you and I carry.” All persons who were considered redundant, or not central to the industrial and labor needs of the white economy, were expected to return to their homelands. This included persons who had been born in, and spent half their lives in, (white) urban areas. Males who lived in black satellite cities and worked for whites were allowed to remain living either in bachelor quarters or homes, as long as they were employed. Section 58 Act 42 of 1964 (the Urban Areas Act) applied a countrywide system of influx control to women and men alike. They were prohibited (according to Article (10) 1 of this law) from remaining in any town for more than seventy-two hours. Authorities declared that a wife should be allowed into town only if she was needed on the labor market. Under the law a woman could qualify for permanent residence in town only if she was born there or had lived there lawfully and continuously for the last fifteen years.

Women who qualified under Section Ten of the Native (Urban Area) Consolidation Act could also remain. All other women needed work permits. Thus, all black women in urban areas needed to possess documentary proof of their right to be in a town or city. The wife or unmarried daughter of a man who was legally admitted and employed in the town or city had a fair measure of security on condition that she was lawfully admitted, satisfied the conditions of carrying an updated pass, and ordinarily resided with that African male in such an area. An “unqualified” woman who did not satisfy these requirements could take up employment in urban areas but she must receive prior consent from her guardian (if she was under twenty-one years of age), have a certificate of approval from the commissioner of her home district, possess a permit from the urban labor officer, and a certificate stating that housing was available issued by the municipality where she was to be employed. The employment was to be entered in her pass book. The hope of the government was that women in rural areas would draw men back to the reserves.

In the early twenty-first century, a decade after majority rule established a black government, many poor blacks are still stuck in hovels without light and water, and unemployment among urban blacks is higher than ever. The old reserves, which became Bantustans, are still cesspools of poverty and underdevelopment. In short, the legacy of apartheid lives on.


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