The word apartheid means “separateness”, which was the policy of legal
separation followed in South Africa. The apartheid laws classified people
according to three major racial groupswhite; Bantu, or black Africans; and
Colored, or people of mixed descent. The laws determined where members of each
group could live, what jobs they could hold, and what type of education they
could receive. Laws prohibited most social contact between races, authorized
segregated public facilities, and denied any representation of nonwhites in the
national government. People who didn’t agree with apartheid were considered as
Before apartheid became the official policy, South Africa had a long history of
racial segregation and white supremacy. In 1912, the African National Congress
(ANC) was founded to fight these unfair government policies. In the 1950s, after
apartheid became the official policy, the ANC declared “South Africa belongs to
all who live in it, black and white,” and worked to abolish apartheid. After
antiapartheid riots in Sharpeville in March 1960, the government banned all
black African political organizations, including the ANC. Race laws touched
every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between
non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of ”white-only” jobs. All blacks
were required to carry ”pass books” containing fingerprints, photo and
information on access to non-black areas.
In 1951 the Bantu authorities act established a sort of background for ethnic
reserves known as homelands. They were independent states to which each African
was assigned to by the government. These assignments were based on their record
of origin. All political rights, including voting, held by an African were
restricted to the designated homeland.
In 1953, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed,
which empowered the government to declare stringent states of emergency and
increased penalties for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law.
The penalties included fines, imprisonment and whippings. In 1960, a large group
of blacks in Sharpeville refused to carry their passes; the government declared
a state of emergency. The emergency lasted for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead
and 187 people wounded. The penalties imposed on political protest, even
non-violent protest, were severe. Those who were tried were sentenced to death,
banished, or imprisoned for life, like Nelson Mandela.
The 1984 constitution opened parliament membership to Asians and Colored, but
it continued to exclude black Africans, who made up 75 percent of the
population. Apartheid continued to be criticized internationally, and many
countries, including the United States, imposed economic sanctions on South
Africa. In 1990, the new president, F. W. de Klerk, proclaimed a formal end to
apartheid with the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison and the
legalization of black African political organizations.