Apartheid (Afrikaans for 'separateness') refers to the system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and Namibia from 1948 to the early 1990s. Its political structure was authoritarian based on white supremacy – referred to as baasskap in South Africa – where the minority white population oppressed the indigenous South Africans and Namibians. Here are 5 facts about apartheid.
1. Racial hierarchy
The racial hierarchy In South Africa and Namibia was just like it was everywhere else: the whites were at the top, the blacks were at the bottom. Asians and the Coloureds (multiracials), were in-between, with Asians on top of the Coloureds. This hierarchy is very visible up to today, and it exists all over the world, not just in South Africa.
2. Racial segregation
Racial segregation in South Africa (a British colony) and Namibia (German South-West Africa, a German colony) existed before apartheid and it was widely practised. For example, in South Africa, even though Africans were on their native land, they were limited in terms of owning land by acts such as the Glen Grey Act of 1894 which was a product of Cecil Rhodes. The General Pass Regulation Act of 1905 denied Africans the right to vote, limited them to fixed areas, and inaugurated the Pass System. Indians were included in the Pass System in 1906 by the Asiatic Registration Act of 1906 which required them to register and carry passes. The South Africa Act of 1910 gave whites complete political control over South Africa and prevented Africans from sitting in parliament. And those are just but a few examples.
Meanwhile, in Namibia, the Germans carried out the first genocide of the 20th century: the OvaHerero and Namaqua genocide. The OvaHerero and Nama people rebelled against the Germans who, amongst other things, dispossessed the Africans in the colony of their land and used them as slaves. The Germans responded by systematically killing them. Between 1904 and 1908, they systematically slaughtered 10,000 Nama (half the population) and 65,000 Herero (80 per cent of the population). They used the infamous concentration camps that they would later apply to the Jewish during the Holocaust. In the camps, they experimented with the Africans and even sent their skulls to Germany to prove that blacks are inferior to whites. The survivors, when finally released from detention, were subjected to a policy of dispossession, deportation, forced labour, racial segregation, and discrimination
3. The Union of South Africa
The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal Colony, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The Union, like Canada and Australia, was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) gave it the mandate to take over the administration of Namibia. It is under the Union of South Africa that Namibia underwent apartheid.
4. The National Party
The National Party was an Afrikaner ethnonationalism founded in 1914. It first took power in 1924 then again in 1948 after which it started implementing apartheid. It was disbanded in 1997 (South Africa gained independence in 1994). In 1950, through the Population Registration Act of 1950, the party formalised racial classification and introduced ID cards for all people over 18, specifying their race. The party then enacted the Group Areas Act of 1950 which established residential and business sections in urban areas for each race. The act barred members of other races from living, operating businesses, or owning land in them in these sections. Two other acts enacted in 1954 and 1955, together with the 1950 act, became known as the Land Acts. The Land Acts set aside more than 80 per cent of South Africa's land for the white minority. Existing pass laws were strengthened to deny nonwhites political rights and enforce segregation and these Land Acts.
Furthermore, in 1959, the Bantu Self-Government Act established Homelands, "Bantustans" for ten different black tribes with the goal of moving every black South African into one of these Homelands thus leaving the rest of South Africa "white". In 1970, the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act made every black South African, irrespective of residence, a citizen of the Bantustans and not of the nation of a whole. The black South Africans were expected to exercise their political rights only in the Homelands. The previous 3 token seats for white representatives of black South Africans in the Cape Province – the others didn't have any – were thus scrapped. Racial mixing by way of marriage was also illegal. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marriage between persons of different races and the Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offence. This is the reason why popular mixed-race South African comedian Trevor Noah says he was "born a crime".
5. Countries that supported apartheid
Many countries supported apartheid. The UK supported apartheid because it wanted the gold in South Africa and also maritime access because South Africa was a vital point in sea trade routes. The UK became especially desperate after South Africa pulled out of the Commonwealth in 1961, and it led the charge in resisting calls for punitive monetary and trade sanctions against South Africa.
The United States initially avoided criticizing South Africa because the country also had the same laws, for example, Jim Crow laws enforced in the Southern states. The US had, and still continues to have a deep-rooted racism problem. After the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the US voted against apartheid in the UN, put a severe armament embargo on the country, and avoided South African harbours. Financial and cultural ties still remained. However, under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, the US implemented the "Tar Baby Option" policy in which they strengthened relations white the white colonial rulers of Southern Africa, including the apartheid regime.
Ronald Reagan continued to support apartheid and even called the African National Congress (ANC) – one of the parties at the forefront of the fight against apartheid whose leadership included Nelson Mandela – a "terrorist organisation". Reagan also vetoed an anti-apartheid sanctions bill, although his veto was overridden by Congress, with anti-apartheid leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu telling him that he would be "judged harshly by history". ANC members were de-listed as terrorists in 2008. China and the Soviet Union also supported apartheid by providing money and military aid to the regime. Israel, which avoided establishing ties with South Africa at a time when other Western countries had good relations with the country during apartheid, supported the 1961 sanctions against South Africa and even recognized Biafra when it seceded from Nigeria. However, from the 1970s, Israel befriended the apartheid regime, established strong economic and military relations and it did not take part in later anti-apartheid sanctions.
Header Image Credit: Buzz South Africa