Racist Attitudes in South Africa

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In order to examine changes in racist attitudes in South Africa, I shall review South African history and the evolution of the colony itself. As will be seen racist attitudes within a society are very deeprootedand the case with South Africa is no different.

The South African colony originated with the Bantu speaking tribes settling on the land with the current indigenous San and Khoikhoi people. Historic rock paintings and carvings illustrate that both the tribes interacted in a civilised and peaceful way.

Europeans first settled on the cape when the Dutch East India Company established a permanent settlement for the purposes of trade, under the command of Jan van Riebeeck on April 6, 1652.

Embedded in European thinking at the time was the notion of European colonialism, “the subjugation of other people in territorial conquest and black enslavement”. Europeans were very keen proponents of expansion at this time, considering other nations as inferior to Europe, its culture, religion and everyday way of life. Part of the justification for the landgrab of Africa was the European’s need to ‘civilize inferior natives’; as far as Europe was concerned this theory of other natives being ‘inferior’ was not a matter of opinion but rather a fact.

This was also a period where Darwinist theories of evolution and hierachy were being applied to the human race; the idea that races are inherently different, whites were at the top of the evolutionary scale, were technically more advanced and they were expansive and progressive. Blacks, on the other hand, were at the bottom and were primitive and less intelligent. This Social Darwinistic view fitted the way in which Europe saw itself and the world around it.

White superiority became evident quickly after the Dutch had settled on the Cape. They legally categorised the inhabitants into five separate groups; Dutch East Indian Company officials, free burghers (settlers), slaves, ‘Hottentots’ (Khoisan) and Free Blacks (manummitted slaves). The first two groups comprised only the white population, while the other groups comprised the mixed race and black population.. Before any European settlers came to South Africa the indiginous population lived without racial conflict, but clearly it was the Europeans that first introduced racist thinking and a racial divide.

The slave trade between1658 and 1834 did much to create racial divide and thereby enhance racial descrimination. This was because all slaves and most labourers were black and they were not working on land of which they owned but land that was owned by rich white landowners and employers. Landowners wanted very different things in society to the slaves thus it was inevitable that there would be conflict between the whites and blacks. However Freund (1976), when asked if this is what led to the structured racism of the twentieth century argued, “these prejudices and the close identification of status and race were not entrenched in the legal order of the early cape” . However, a number discriminatory laws and regulations were introduced by the end of the eighteenth century and Khoi and slaves were now being descriminated against in the church and the courts. In 1760 it was made compulsory for all slaves and Khoi to carry passes to prove that they were not runaways. The British rule also made the labour force a lot more immobile, by making any Khoi children indentured for ten years until the age of 18, preventing their families to move in order to keep them working the same farm.

In the early nineteenth century racial descrimination decreased in order for capitalism and expansion to thrive. In 1828, when the white population needed to increase the supply and mobility of labour, Ordinance 50 was introduced, removing the controls of passes and indenture over the Khoi, as well as abolishing slavery. This represented a significant reduction in the controls over blacks. Clearly the need for capitalist expansion...
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