Rise and Fall of Apartheid in South Africa

rise and fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The writer examines its elements, and the abuses and struggles that the Black population of South Africa had to go through because of its existence. In addition the writer explores the Black fight for freedom and the dismantling of Apartheid. There were seven sources used to complete this paper.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid in South Africa

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Apartheid ended in South Africa a dozen years ago, however, the Black South African community still struggles with increasing poverty levels, racially motivated decisions that are hidden in professional language, problems getting children to understand the historic significance of Apartheid and other issues that continue to rise up in the wake of Apartheid’s demise.

Apartheid was a system that kept the Black population of South Africa openly oppressed for many years until an organized effort to rise up against it became successful in the 1994.

Until then Blacks spent 50 years being racially segregated and held back from any really meaningful life goals due to nothing more than the color of their skin.

As history moves further away from the Apartheid issue it is important for people to remember what it was about and how it impacted the entire population of South Africa to ensure that society never allows it to happen again.

An Overview

Apartheid was a legally sanctioned system that was designed for the sole purpose of providing power to those who had European descent and resided in the nation of South Africa.

It allows those who were White to maintain not only economic power over Blacks but also provided them with 100% of the political power in the effort to insure compliance and the idea of dismantling its structure almost impossible to conceive.

The way Apartheid was set up each person was provided with a legal classification as to his or her skin color. The primary classifications included White, Black, Asian and Colored.

The importance of one’s classification during Apartheid should never be ignored. Once a person was classified, that classification determined everything about their life in South Africa. It was used to determine where they would live.

Forced geographic segregation based on skin color provided the avenue for oppression in all areas of life from that point on.

The reality of their geographic system however, was that even when Blacks were told they had to belong to a particular “home area” they often did not reside there. The problem became deep rooted however, because the Blacks were only allowed voting power in their home areas which meant that they were only allowed voting and decision rights in an area most likely far away and one that they had never seen. The actual areas that that they lived and worked in were controlled by Whites through votes, economics and legal rights.

If one wanted to compare the regional system used in South Africa’s Apartheid system one could compare it to the Native American Reservations that were provided for Native Americans in the United States except in South Africa the Blacks were not allowed to vote or have any decision making power, outside their home areas, and in America Native Americans are not relegated to those areas for voting rights, though at one time they were.

The delegation of a home area to anyone not White created problems in all walks and areas of life.

If a Black person needed medical care or wanted to obtain an education he or she had to attend or use the Black provided facility. This meant that the services were often substandard.


The history of the concept of Apartheid is often credited with its origin in 1948 but its actual concept and idea came into play during an early 1990’s speech given by J.C. Smuts who later became South Africa’s Prime Minister.

The actual skeleton frame of the Apartheid concept is attributed to early British colonialism that had used such a set of laws during the 19th century when it was interested in Natal.

It is a term that simply means domination by race or a group through the use of economic and political control.

Before Apartheid became a legally accepted way of life it was already being practiced in small segments of South African life.

One example can be found in the early 20th century when there were “Colored lounges.” These were places that Blacks were expected to gather for their after work beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Apartheid Begins Officially

In the years leading the actual adoption of Apartheid there were many areas of life that already hinted at its eventual life.

The Land Act of 1913 was one hint that a racial segregation was eventually going to be supported by the South African government.

Following the 1948 election, even though Smuts was not declared the winner, his idea of Apartheid took hold and began its journey to reality.

One of the first things the 1948 political powers did was pass a law that made inter-racial marriage illegal. It is hard to believe today, in other nations that South Africa would actually move backward with such a step but it happened and it set the stage for what was still to come.

The next step was to decide that the nation was going to legally classify each individual by race.

It is interesting to note the laws against mixed marriage coincided with the decision to segregate people by race.

It is human nature to want to protect one’s children from all evil and hardship.

It would be a natural progression under a system such as South Africa’s Apartheid for future parents to want to protect their future children and one of the ways that might be accomplished is for Blacks to enter into marriages with Whites. The first generation would be half Black and half White, and if that generation was taught to marry whites the Black blood line would be even further diluted therefore insuring that the classification would become more “acceptable” in terms of opportunities for their children and grandchildren.

This idea would have probably surfaced, as unfortunate as it would have been, because it would have caused Blacks to slowly give up their traditions and heritage. The legislators however quickly realized that this might be the outcome once Apartheid began its journey into South African society and moved to ban all inter-racial marriages.

With each passing year the government designed more ways to separate the races so that Whites would be provided with all the privileges and Blacks would be allowed to eke out a barely livable poverty stricken life.

By 1950 the geographic separation system was put into place.

While Blacks were not physically forced to move and reside in the geographic area that was designated to be “theirs,” they were relegated to that area when it came to any rights of voting or making changes.

By 1953 the government moved even further in its effort to oppress the Black population when it began to designate Black areas of all walks of life. The nation began to divide its beaches, colleges, hospitals and transportation into Black and White areas.

As America was moving toward the dismantling of such barbaric actions and ideas South Africa was just gearing up and took pride in relegating Blacks to the back of the bus.

In 1953 things took a turn for the worse when the government decided that Blacks must carry special identification paperwork that announced their Black status.

One only has to look at the Nazi Germany treatment of the Jewish to understand the basis behind this decision.

As soon as the Blacks were legislatively told they must carry this special paperwork announcing their race it was also provided that they were not allowed to enter or go to White towns with specific written permission.

Blacks were not allowed to reside in a White town without specific written permission either and that permission was rarely if ever granted for any reason other than positions of servitude.

Eventually the government allowed Blacks to live in a White city for the purpose of employment however they were not allowed to move their spouse, children or other relatives to the city with them. They were left with the option of living and working in a White city without their family, or leaving the White city and working in a Black area where of course the wages and life standards were extremely reduced.

Some Blacks in the effort to provide for their families financially did reside in White areas and work to send the money home however, this was extremely difficult for family life and it was not a common practice.

There was a large movement by 1955 to remove any voting rights of Blacks. This was argued over and over again in the highest courts of the land because of the nation’s constitutional promise of each person being able to vote. Eventually the people who wanted it done gave up on getting the rights removed and instead got a law passed that took the Black vote off of the regular roll and provided a separate roll for their votes which carried very little if any power at all when it came to the way things were run in South Africa. What it did was provide voting rights as stated in the constitution but removed any clout the Black vote carried.

In addition to the law being passed that prohibited mixed marriage the government took it a step further to prevent the Blacks mixing their offspring with White blood to try and protect their children from oppression.

The government passed a law making it illegal for two people of mixed race to have sexual relations.

The laws were also changed to provide separate and different government structures for different races.

Blacks responded to Apartheid in many ways. One of the common practices that they took part in was to set up shack villages and squat in and around the White areas where they could get work and support their families while still living with them.

It was not long however, before the government took care of that as well when it provided itself with permission to destroy any shack village it found.

Another law that looked on the surface to be a positive step for the Black population actually worked in the opposite direction.

The law stated that any White employer who hired a Black employee had to provide and construct a proper house for that Black to live in as they were recognized as legal residents of the White area.

This caused many White employers to refuse to hire Black workers and it caused many currently employed Black workers to lose their positions.

It became universally illegal for Blacks to use the same public amenities that Whites used which further ingrained the division between the races.

Even given all of the rules and regulations Blacks continued to find ways to migrate to White areas. They would find Whites and gain sympathy and get positions offered to them and move there.

They would work hard and become valued and then promote the hiring of other Blacks.

To combat this effect the government then passed a law that made it illegal for Blacks to migrate to White areas for any reason.

It is easy for one to see how determined the government was to oppress the Black population at any cost in all areas of life.

To be sure the Black population would not be able to get ahead financially the government moved to pass laws allowing the discrimination against Blacks in the workforce including below poverty wages, the ability for Whites to cost Blacks their positions if they were wanted by Whites and other things that provided the ability to completely mistreat Blacks in the workplace.

Blacks employed as domestic help were allowed to live on the property of their employer but could not bring their families to live there nor could their families come to visit which meant Black workers not seeing family members for long periods of time.

If a Black was caught in a White area and did not have proper documentation on file he or she was immediately arrested provided a short trial and deported to his or her designated “home area.” In addition the Black’s employer was prosecuted for employing a Black without making sure the Black had the proper documentation to be in the White area each day to work.

The entire process gave pause to White employers about hiring Blacks to work for them. This meant that the only jobs really available to the Blacks in the White areas were the very menial positions that no White would take.

Even as history moved forward the plight of Blacks in South Africa continued to tighten. Black employers were not allowed to hire White workers as it would disrupt the balance of power that Whites held over Blacks.

Black police officers were not allowed to arrest White criminals regardless of the crime or charge.

The Black areas were not often provided with running water or electricity and for many years Blacks were prohibited from purchasing or consuming any alcohol.

The laws of Apartheid further destroyed the hope of Blacks. A White driver could not have a Black passenger of the opposite gender in the front seat of the vehicle lest it give the appearance that they were a couple.

Whites were required to pay a higher tax rate than Blacks had to pay, further deepening the imbalance of power Whites held over their Black counterparts.

South African Blacks were essentially stripped of any citizenship as they were classified and designated to reside in an “independent” home area.

Almost 90% of South African land was reserved for White areas with 10% being designated as the Black home areas. The areas designated as Black home area were generally substandard in every way.

As the 1960’s through 1980’s arrived the government took a new turn when it began to force Blacks to relocate to their designated home areas to live or face the threat of prison or death.

More than 3 million Blacks were forcibly removed from their residences and moved to their home area.

The Beginning of the End

There were uprisings along the way. In 1960 a group attempted to severe all ties with White government and in doing so tried to form its own Pan Africa Congress designed as a militant group.

A large group of PAC members converged on a White police station offering to be arrested for not having documentation (pass papers) on them. It was their attempt to demonstrate the stupidity of the law however, 200 policemen met them and opened fire into the crowd in what later was deemed a massacre.

The South African government immediately moved to ban PAC and make membership in the organization illegal.

Following the massacre a massive stay away from jobs was called as well as other peaceful but meaningful demonstrations were organized and carried out.

The Prime Minister answered the call by declaring a state of emergency and announcing that people could be detained without a trial. There were almost 20,000 demonstrators arrested and detained following that announcement.

Famed Apartheid opposer, Nelson Mandela had been arrested several times already and was eventually tried for treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. In the government’s effort to squash the uprising of the Black population by putting Mandela and other leaders in prison for life, the exact opposite occurred and the uprising ramped up.

The End

The United Nations condemned the trial that imprisoned Mandela and the others which gave hope to South African Blacks that had lived under the Apartheid oppressive umbrella for so many years.

The government of South Africa answered the Black hope by escalating the enforcement of racial segregation laws.

Trade unions and other movements continued to grow in strength during the 1970’s and fight against Apartheid.

When the government then ordered that all classes in Black colleges bet taught in Afrikaans, students protested by refusing to go to their classes and instead organized large scale rallies to protest Apartheid.

It turned extremely violent with police shooting into the crowds on university campuses. The first killed that day was a 15-year-old. The next shot was a 12-year-old boy named Hastings Ndlova. Those two killings set off an angry cry around the world as people began to protest the confines and harshness of Apartheid.

By that day’s end there were more than 200 dead.

During the 1980’s a growing minority of Whites joined the protest against Apartheid and sided with a group called the Progressive Party.

By the late 1980’s many nations placed trade embargos and restrictions on South Africa as long as it insisted on maintaining its Apartheid laws.

By the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there was an international movement to shut out South Africa until it changed its Apartheid laws and dismantled its existence.

The pressure was systematically increased to the point that during the last few years of Apartheid the nation of South Africa was in a constant state of turmoil and crisis. Whether it was uprisings from within or pressure for international voices the nation constantly had issues and problems directly related to its insistence of its Apartheid regime.

By 1993 movement was underway to promote and achieve the peaceful dismantling of Apartheid, led by the Whites in South Africa who were against its existence, and backed by international forces that refused to lift their sanctions against South African trade and business until Apartheid was dismantled.

In 1994 Apartheid was officially over. Today, Blacks are considered equal and there are several affirmative action programs in place to try and reverse the damage that was done during the Apartheid reign.


Apartheid is evidence of what a government is capable of doing to violate human rights if it is given enough power to do so.

As the world moves forward it will continue to be important to monitor national governments to be sure that there is no attempt to ever implement such an unfair brutal system again.


Nevin, Tom (2006) Is apartheid still alive and kicking?(South Africa).African Business

Saul, John S (1986) South Africa: the crisis deepens. (anti-apartheid movement)

Monthly Review

Abdi, Ali (2003) Apartheid and education in South Africa: select historical analyses.

The Western Journal of Black Studies

Macrae, M. (1994). “A legacy of apartheid: The case of mathematical education in South Africa.” International Journal of Educational Development, 14(3), 271-287.

Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Toronto: Little, Brown & Company

Mattes, R. (2002). “South Africa: Democracy without the people?” Journal of Democracy, 13(1), 22-36.

McLaren, P. (1994). White terror and oppositional agency: Towards a critical multiculturalism. In D. Goldberg (Ed.), Multiculturalism: a critical reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell.

Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Toronto: Little, Brown & Company

Abdi, Ali (2003) Apartheid and education in South Africa: select historical analyses.

The Western Journal of Black Studies

Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Toronto: Little, Brown & Company

McLaren, P. (1994). White terror and oppositional agency: Towards a critical multiculturalism. In D. Goldberg (Ed.), Multiculturalism: a critical reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell.

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