The year 1950 marked a step backwards in the path to global racial equality. On 27th April the government of South Africa passed the Group Areas Act into law, thus institutionalising the policy of Apartheid that was advocated by the National Party that had formed the government since 1948.
What is meant by Apartheid?
Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that can be translated as “separate-hood”, by which was meant that the different races that constituted the population of South Africa would be forced to integrate as little as possible. The whites who ran the National Party preferred the term “separate development”, but there was little intention that any race other than the white one would do much developing.
Under the direction of Prime Minister Daniel Malan, the three racial groups of Whites, Blacks and Coloureds (meaning people of mixed race) would be forced to live in separate areas, with neighbourhoods reserved for each racial group. As might be imagined, this soon meant that the rich whites would have the best houses and facilities, with the blacks and coloureds consigned to sub-standard housing on the margins of the cities.
A second act, the Separate Amenities Act, was passed in 1953 to make the division even more pronounced. This required all sorts of services to be reserved for the sole use of whites, including shops, transport, beaches, and even park benches. Again, the minority white population was always accorded the best facilities with the majority blacks always being made aware of their inferior status.
Another Act, the 1956 Separate Representation of Voters Act, virtually disenfranchised all non-whites and ensured that their only purpose in society was to work as servants of white people and as the manual workforce in the farms and factories owned by their white masters.
The struggle for freedom
The opposition to Apartheid took a long time to bear fruit in South Africa. The protest movements of black activists were met with savage repression, most notably at Sharpeville on 21st March 1960 when 69 people, including women and children, were killed by armed police officers.
Underground opposition movements were founded, including the African National Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement, but activists were regularly arrested and imprisoned. However, prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo made plans for how they would eventually defeat Apartheid and form a government that had room for all the racial groups in South Africa.
Support for the cause grew rapidly during the 1960s and 70s in western countries, with the National Party coming under increasing scrutiny and various sanctions being imposed on South Africa.
Particularly noteworthy were bans on South African sports teams from international competition unless they were racially integrated. The country was not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988, for example, but some international sporting bodies were ambivalent and more accepting of South African participation during the Apartheid era.
One event that drew close attention to Apartheid in sport was the “D’Oliveira affair” of 1968. Basil D’Oliveira (1931-2011) was a mixed-race cricketer who was born in South Africa but emigrated to the United Kingdom and became a British citizen in 1964. He was selected to play for the England tour to South Africa in 1968-9 despite it being made known by the South Africans (led by Prime Minister John Vorster) that he would not be welcome. The affair escalated into a worldwide boycott of South African cricket that lasted until 1991.
The end of Apartheid
Worldwide pressure, coupled with largely peaceful internal demonstrations, eventually persuaded white South Africans that Apartheid could not be maintained and that majority rule would have to be conceded.
Credit for the peaceful transfer of power is due to two men in particular, namely President F W de Klerk and the leader of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela. De Klerk realised that Apartheid was a thing of the past, and that it could not be justified morally or in any other way.
The move that caught the world’s attention as marking the beginning of the end of Apartheid was the release from prison in 1990 of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in captivity. He was immediately recognised as the leader of the black community and he was clearly the person most suited to conduct the negotiations that culminated in the 1994 election of a new government. More than 20 million black South Africans cast their votes, which swept Mandela into power as the country’s first black President.
The stain of Apartheid has therefore been lifted from South Africa which, although it still has many problems to solve, has now been restored to the world community of nations.
© John Welford