A look at Apartheid

by Dr. David Riep

Apartheid (the Afrikaans word for apartness) was the system of racial
segregation developed by the National Party in South Africa, which was repealed in the early
1990s. The purpose of apartheid was to separate and control the black cultures, in order for
the white minority to maintain political and economic power. This system, which was officially
enacted in 1948, was supported by race-based legislation, such as the Separate
Development Policy and the Group Areas Act, which attempted to create independent
“homelands” for the various indigenous cultures of South Africa. Under this system, each
culture became an independent nation unto itself, and its citizens were forcibly relocated to
small tracts of land across the country. Movement between homelands and other parts of
southern Africa was strictly regulated, and Africans were not allowed to vote or own land.

History Lesson
Throughout the period of colonial expansion, South Africa was under the political rule of both
Britain and the Dutch immigrants, or Afrikaaners. In 1909, after an extended period of war,
these two groups agreed to unite the British and Afrikaans territories, and create a united
South Africa. Under this agreement, South Africa was still considered a British territory, but
complete political authority was given to the Afrikaans minority. In 1961, South Africa
completely separated itself from Britain, and became an independent Republic. The United
Nations instituted sanctions against South Africa as a means of protesting the governmental
policy of apartheid.

In 1960, increasing numbers of black South Africans began protesting the restrictive
legislation of apartheid, ushering in a period of social unrest in the fight for equality. It was
during this time that Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, was arrested and sentenced
to life in prison for his involvement in the struggle for justice. Rioting spread throughout the
large cities, causing the government to declare a state of emergency in 1985. In 1989,
President F.W. de Klerk responded by relaxing apartheid restrictions and in 1990, freed
Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment. In late 1991, the government began efforts
to negotiate a new constitution and a transition to a multiracial democracy with majority rule.
The interim constitution was completed in 1993, ending nearly three centuries of white rule in
South Africa.

April 1994 brought the first multiracial election. The ANC (African National Congress) won
and Nelson Mandela became president. The United Nations reversed the sanctions against
the country soon thereafter. Throughout 1994-1996, the last vestiges of apartheid were
dismantled and a new national constitution was approved and adopted.

Nelson Mandela – South Africa’s Hero
Nelson Mandela, born in 1918, was the first President of South Africa to be elected in fully
representative democratic elections. Before his presidency he was a prominent antiapartheid
activist committed to non-violence, but later became involved in the planning of
underground armed resistance against military and government targets. He was eventually
arrested for his defensive action against the violence of apartheid, and was sentenced to life
in prison. Mandela’s imprisonment, for which he served 27-years (much of which was spent
on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town), became one of the most widely publicized
examples of the opposition to apartheid. Upon his release, he declared his commitment to
peace and reconciliation, and facilitated a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa.
He continues to voice his opinion as a revered statesman, and is graciously called Madiba
(an honorary and endearing title) throughout the nation.

The New South Africa
Post-apartheid South Africa has been called “the new South Africa”. The country has
miraculously transitioned peacefully into the new majority-rule government. Although
remarkable progress has been made since 1994, South Africa continues to face enormous
challenges. The country still faces many challenges resulting from its tortuous past, with
poverty being one of the largest obstacles to stability and growth in the country. Nearly half of
the country’s population lives below the poverty line, set at an income of R353
(approximately $60) per month. Three out of every four South African children live in poverty.
Despite a very pro-poor government housing policy, almost 10 million South Africans live in
sub-standard conditions; unemployment rates are extremely high nationwide. The economic
inequality found in South Africa is among the highest in the world.

Qwa Qwa, a former self-governing homeland, experiences increasing unemployment and
poverty, which has left many people frustrated with the new government.
However, the new South Africa is truly a “rainbow nation” (the term coined by Archbishop
Desmond Tutu), with many racial groups having come together in harmony. While the
country still faces many challenges, the future for South Africa is bright and hopeful.