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The History of Apartheid in South Africa

Oct 08, 1999 1262 Words
The History of Apartheid in South Africa

Apartheid was a system employed by the dominantly white government that held the people of Africa apart for over half a century, and is only now being uplifted. It literally means ‘apartness’, and that states a lot about the system itself. The basis of it was to classify all the different people of Africa into races - of which there were four basic ones: White (European and Caucasian), Black (any native African), Indian (Pakistani and Indian) and Coloured (A mix of any of the above). Furthermore, these were sub-divided even more.

Apartheid officially came into use in 1948, when the National Party came into power, by a slim margin, but the history of discrimination goes much further back than that, to the beginning of the European settlement of South Africa in the 1600’s. The East India Trading Company set up a post at Cape of Good Hope to supply passing ships with fruits, vegetables and meat. The post was not meant to be a settlement, but those posted there built homes, cultivated crops, and got ‘settled in’.

The natives of the are understandably disliked strangers invading their land. The East India Company tried to keep the tension at a minimum, and limited the amount of land the settlers could use and the amount of crops they could grow. The amount grown was to be sold to the Company for a low price. The settlers did not take that well, and resorted to smuggling.

During the Napoleonic wars, the British took over the post as a naval station. Although the Dutch had been unhappy under the rule of the East India Company, the British turned out to be much worse for them. The British had a different language, different church, and a different way of dealing with the natives. Some of the more independent farmers sold their farms, and headed further inland, battling natives on the way. They established two independent countries, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal South African Republic. The two, however, did not stay independent for long.

In the 1870’s, diamonds and gold was discovered in Transvaal, and the prospectors, especially the British, rushed in. The Boers, as they now were known, feared the ‘invasion’ of people. And they were right to be - because Britain had decided that Transvaal would fit in well within their dream of a African British Empire. In 1899, after several incidents planned to increase the tensions, war broke out.

The British style of fighting was very unorganized, but they still outnumbered the Boers. They burnt farms and crops, and sent women and children to camps, where most of them died - more, in fact, than on the actual battle fields. The Boers surrendered in 1902, but they never forgot or forgave the British for their treatment.

When the British finally came into power, they gave more freedom to the region. Most of the Boers were eager to make peace and a former Boer general, Louis Botha was elected as prime minister. Some however still remembered the war wounds. The angry Afrikaners, as they were now called, formed their own political party - the National Party.

The United Party, headed by Botha, ruled the union most of the time, except for a brief period in the 30’s. Only during World War I was the country split, and was there some actual armed rebellion against the United Party which joined the war against Germany. The Nationalist Party turned towards Hitler in the 1930’s, and added a hate of Jews to their hate of English-speakers, the natives and indians. They preferred a one-party system where the English-speaking population would have most of their rights removed, and where the natives would be stripped of their rights completely.

When outright war broke out, the United Party won the argument of whether South Africa would enter the war on Britain’s side by a slim majority in the parliament. After the war, the United party wanted to bring in more immigrants, and promote equality between the races. The National party, however, wanted to control immigration, and wanted to keep the natives ‘in their place’. The National Party won by a narrow margin in the 1948 election, and officially implemented the Apartheid system.

All the different ‘races were strictly separated. The blacks were placed in special reservations, ‘for their safety’. In reality, these reservations took up about 14% of the total land allotted, even though they outnumbered whites about 6:1. The people living on the land were not African citizens and had no rights or parliamentary representation. However, the government still had total control over them and the land - which was quite poor, and next to impossible to live on it. Most males worked in the mines and cities, all of which owned by their white men. The paychecks were sent back home, and barely paid the rent, since a large population also lived in townships near large cities. The conditions in these were horrible. The rooms were small, and often as many as 10 people were crammed into a small four-room house. More so, there was usually no electricity, plumbing, or paved roads, and nevertheless, rent was outrageous. No one could own a house, only rent them from the government.

Medical care was nearly unheard of. The ratio of doctors/people in the native areas was 1/44,000, and infant mortality rate was 20%. The white population had the ‘luxury’ of 1 doctor per 400 people, and infant mortality was only 2%. Education was only for the luckiest, and the teacher/student ratio was three times as high in the white areas as in the native ‘reservations’.

Mingling of the races was strictly prohibited, so that they would not learn to understand each other, for ignorance breeds mistrust, which breeds hate. There was no interaction allowed, and restaurants, movie theaters, restrooms, bus stations, etc. were reserved for all the different groups. Universities and schools were strictly white or black, with the white universities getting most of the funding and the good teachers. This policy was called ‘separate development’.

Newspapers and other media was strictly censored, and most foreign publications were banned. Reporters and authors were not allowed to enter the country, and those dealing in creativity (sculptors, writers, painters, etc.) were strictly controlled. Organizations that opposed Apartheid were struck down and outlawed. Anyone suspected of communism was either imprisoned for life or executed - this became a handy tool for getting rid of opposition.

In 1990, the end to Apartheid was finally within reach. The President of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other Black Rights groups. He also desegregated all public facilities. However, the people did not recognize the end to Apartheid until Nelson Mandela was released from prison February 11, 1990 after 28 years. In June of 1991 the laws that separated people by race were repealed, along with the restrictions of black land ownership. In 1994 everyone in South Africa was allowed to vote. Nelson Mandela, the ‘symbol of black South Africans’ struggle for equality’ was elected president.

As there was hatred before Apartheid came into use, there is still hatred afterwards. It cannot be expected that a country can change it’s views in so short of time. But it is on it’s way.

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