Apartheid (“apartness” in the language of Afrikaans) was a system of legislation that upheld segregationist policies against non-white citizens of South Africa.
Who Started Apartheid in South Africa?
Racial segregation and white supremacy were central aspects of South African policy long before apartheid. The 1913 Land Act forced black Africans to live in reserves and made it illegal for them to work as sharecroppers. Opponents formed what would become the African National Congress (ANC).
The Great Depression and World War II brought economic problems to South Africa and convinced the government to strengthen its policies of racial segregation. In 1948, the Afrikaner National Party won the election under the slogan “apartheid.” They separated the white minority from the non-white majority, the non-whites from each other, and black South Africans along tribal lines.
Apartheid Becomes Law
The government banned marriages between whites and people of other races. South Africans were classified by race, including Bantu (black Africans), Coloured (mixed race), white, and Asian (Indian and Pakistani).
Land Acts set aside 80 percent of the country’s land for the white minority. There were separate public facilities for whites and non-whites, and non-whites could not participate in national government.
Apartheid and Separate Development
In 1959 the government created 10 homelands, known as Bantustans. Every black South African was designated as a citizen of a Bantustan. By separating black South Africans from each other, the government claimed there was no black majority.
From 1961 to 1994, the government forcibly removed more than 3.5 million black South Africans from rural areas to the homelands and sold their land at low prices to white farmers.
Opposition to Apartheid
Resistance took many forms, from non-violent demonstrations and strikes, to political action and armed resistance.
By 1961, most resistance leaders had been captured and sentenced to long prison terms or executed. Nelson Mandela, a founder of the military wing of the ANC, was jailed from 1963 to 1990.
Apartheid Comes to an End
In 1976, when thousands of black children in the black township of Soweto demonstrated, the police opened fire on them. In response, the UN Security Council imposed a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. Some countries imposed economic sanctions.
In 1989, President F.W. de Klerk cancelled the Population Registration Act and other apartheid laws. De Klerk freed Mandela a few months later. A new constitution took effect, leading to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority.
President de Klerk and Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work creating a new constitution for South Africa.
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