Apartheid in South Africa
Every country has its own history. The differences of the histories depend on the different cultures that created it. Some histories are full of ordeals and difficulties; some are filled with success and victories. Then there are some histories that are truly remarkable—tales of countries which have shown triumph and hope after a long struggle. South Africa has such history, and a significant part of that history is apartheid. Apartheid held a place in the history of South Africa, and still continues to be part of its present. This research paper aims to discuss apartheid in South Africa and the part it plays in the recent events in that country.
What exactly is apartheid? Why is it such an important part of the history of South Africa? The name itself, “apartheid” was derived from the Afrikaans term for the word “apartness” (Robinson). The name originated in the 1930s and was utilized by the National Party as a slogan in the early part of the 1940s. However, the notion behind the term has been in effect since the 17th century, when white settlers began to arrive in South Africa (Robinson).
The history of apartheid began when the Dutch colonized South Africa (Weigman, et al.). People from Holland began their settlement in 1652 and initially started persecuting the South Africans. By the 19th century, the South Africans were faced with another enemy—the British. England sought to take over South Africa by sending over troops armed with weapons such as rifles and cannons. Back then, South Africa was divided into kingdoms. One of those kingdoms, the Xhosa Kingdom, had already fought several wars against the Dutch; the arrival of the British made them prepare for war again. The struggle between the British and the Xhosa lasted for over a century before the latter were eventually defeated (Weigman, et al.).
The battle between the South Africans and the foreign settlers continued. The British were initially defeated by the Zulu, but the former fought back to claim glory. By the start of the 20th century, the British had gained control over all the African kingdoms and had ruled the country through a “colonial government” (Weigman, et al.). However, the British government faced conflict once again, this time from the descendants of the settlers from Holland. They were called Boers or Afrikaners. They fought with the British and emerged victorious in battle. In the 1940s, the Afrikaner Nationalist Party dominated the government (Weigman, et al.). This period marked the official start of apartheid as a policy.
In essence, apartheid was the oppression of the varied races by the dominant white race (United Nations). The Nationalist Party established apartheid as a policy to sustain their control over South Africa (Robinson). Under the government, only the rights and privileges of the white population are recognized and honored. On the contrary, the black people are deprived of their rights and have no privileges to speak of (Weigman, et al.).
The racist nature of the policy became more apparent with the apartheid laws which were enacted since 1948 (Weigman, et al.). The policy of apartheid was racism supported and affirmed by legislation (United Nations). The government imposed absolute control over the other races, manipulating every aspect of their life. The first piece of legislation which legitimized segregation of races was the 1950 Population Registration Act (Weigman, et al.). It defined the categories of races in South Africa into three: whites, Bantu or blacks, and “coloured”—those of interracial descent (Robinson; United Nations; Weigman, et al.). Afterwards, a fourth category was created—Asians; at that time, this category which specifically identified Indians and Pakistanis (Robinson). It was the Department of Home Affairs that was responsible for the distinction between races, and they gave severe punishment to whoever disobeyed the laws regarding racial segregation (SNU “H”). This made discrimination a legal matter.
There were other laws which supported the apartheid policy. In fact, there were 317 laws which upheld apartheid (Weigman, et al.). There were several laws passed from the 1950s onwards which continued to support apartheid. The Group Areas Act of 1950 designated which residential and business areas were to be occupied by the different races (Robinson). Land Acts of 1954 and 1955 imposed limitations on which areas nonwhite people can reside in. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 as well as the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 deepened the separation of races through the establishment of homelands which were created with the purpose of returning the system of tribes in South Africa. In addition, there was the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970; this law bound a black person to his homeland, which effectively prevented him or her from participating in politics. The Criminal Law Amendment Act and the Public Safety Act became laws in 1953 (Weigman, et al.). These laws gave the government permission to announce states of emergency and apply rigid rules according to them. During this time, the police would often abuse their power and arrest mostly black citizens for several months. The detainment allowed the police to torture the black people. Many people died during such ordeal (Weigman, et al.).
The injustice of apartheid policy was not left unnoticed. The main force in the opposition against apartheid was the African National Congress (ANC) (Weigman, et al.). In the beginning, the organization was only involved in political endeavors. They believed that every conflict can be resolved with a peaceful settlement. They believed disagreements could be settled through discussions with Congress. By the 1940s, ANC had changed and begun demonstrations in resistance to apartheid (Weigman, et al.).
Other countries have also been aware of the apartheid situation in South Africa. In 1976, the United Nations denounced the decision to make the homeland of Transkei independent from South Africa as it cannot stand on its own as a state (United Nations). No country acknowledged the Transkei as a state. After a year, the United Nations imposed sanctions on the South Africa; this inflicted damage to the government, but it remained resilient (Weigman, et al.). Five years later, an estimated one million blacks from South Africa were displaced to Swaziland without their choice (United Nations). By 1986, the United States Congress had already intervened and had started peace negotiations between ANC and the South African government (Weigman, et al.).
The end of apartheid began in 1990 (BBC News). F.W. de Klerk assumed the South African presidency a year before (Weigman, et al.). Contrary to what most people thought, de Klerk suggested that apartheid should end instead of supporting it. In February 2, 1990, he faced the media and announced that Nelson Mandela, an ANC leader, would be freed (BBC News). Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist who echoed the sentiment of all the suffering black South Africans from the 1940s to the 1960s (Weigman, et al.). He was incarcerated for three decades. Just as de Klerk promised, Mandela became a free man on February 11, 1990. A year later, he became the ANC president (United Nations). In 1993, Mandela was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize (United Nations).
The end of apartheid was not reached without a struggle. In 1994, a democratic election was set, something that has never occurred before with the prevalence of apartheid (Weigman, et al.). Black South Africans previously could not vote under a government which upheld the policy of apartheid. The Nationalist Party tried to keep the policy of apartheid in effect, and attempted to influence the vote. This resulted in violence. Nonetheless, the election took place as scheduled and Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa in the first democratic election (United Nations).
Apartheid had been eliminated since 1994 with President Nelson Mandela as head of a South Africa democracy. What is it that makes the issue of apartheid alive again at present? What is it about the current government that brings apartheid back into the center of global news? The recent development in South African politics has brought apartheid back into the spotlight. It does not mean that the policy of apartheid is back in South Africa. However, someone who used to be involved in the resistance movement against apartheid had assumed a relevant role in government.
On September 25, 2008, South Africa elected another president (“Elected”). The South African Parliament, mostly composed of members from the ANC, elected Kgalema Motlanthe as president. Motlanthe had 269 votes. When his victory was declared, the members of the Parliament stood up to celebrate. Soon after, he was sworn in office (“Elected”).
Motlanthe is the third South African President after the rule of the whites (“Become”). Motlanthe was from Johannesburg; when the policy of apartheid was still in effect, he resisted the policy as an underground fighter. Just like former South African President Nelson Mandela and ANC leaders Jacob Zuma, he was also incarcerated. He stayed in jail for a decade. When he casted his vote a week prior, members of the ANC sang anti-apartheid songs (“Become”). The victory of Motlanthe iss important because it echoed the triumph which resulted from the end of apartheid 14 years ago. While apartheid may no longer be the existing policy in present day South Africa, it is good news to hear that a man who was against that policy is leading the country now. With a man like Motlanthe, black South Africans can be assured that what they fought for in the past would be honored and not forgotten.
The history of South Africa was filled with tension and immeasurable conflict. The reason behind this is the policy of apartheid. The situation of discrimination, segregation and of inhumane treatment has caused the pain and suffering of non-whites for many decades. However, the black South African community struggled to free themselves from such oppression, and they were successful. Today, the fruits of their labor are still evident and still influential in modern day politics.
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