By Baba Galleh Jallow
FW de Klerk/The Right Perspective Photo
Following the passing of Nelson Mandela, it is perhaps useful to revisit the system he fought against, that put him in jail for 27 years, and that eventually crumbled in 1994 when he became South Africa’s first Black president. The word Apartheid was first coined in the mid-1930s as a means of asserting Afrikaner identity and independence from the British. Following the end of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902, Alfred Milner, the British governor of South Africa alienated the Boers (Dutch) through his policy of Dutch denationalization which banned the use of Duct in the schools and attempted to turn them into a minority by importing British immigrants into the colony. Apartheid was initially a response to Milner’s policy. The term entered the public lexicon during the 1947-1948 political campaign fought between Jan Smuts’ pro-British United Party and D. F. Malan’s hardline Afrikaner National Party. It first appeared in a dictionary in 1950.
As a policy of the nationalist government, Apartheid represented an insistence on the deepening and institutionalization of the racial segregation and separation that had been a feature of South African society since van Rieebeck’s arrival at the Cape in 1652. Once in power after the 1948 elections, Malan’s National Party government started promulgating legislation designed “to make the African the different kind of person that theory (apartheid) says he is” (Clark and Worger, p. 4).
In South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, Clark and Worger point out that long before 1948, racial segregation had been a prominent feature of South African society. Van Rieebeck’s arrival was soon followed by the introduction of slavery, and the suppression of the Khoi and San peoples in the following decades. The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 hardened the racial divides and attracted foreign capital and immigration of Europeans into the country. The white populations around the mines expanded rapidly and a steady stream of dispossessed Africans flowed into the urban and mining areas in search of work. The British conquest of African kingdoms in the 1870s and 1880s and the imposition of cash taxation on the conquered peoples forced Africans into seeking out wage labor and thereby providing the much-needed cheap labor for the mining industry. It was during South Africa’s industrial revolution that some of the most obnoxious features of Apartheid like pass laws, urban ghettoes, poor rural homelands, and cheap migrant labor emerged.
After the South African War of 1899-1902, a trend of visible British complicity in the construction of apartheid could be seen. At the peace of Vereeniging which ended the war (dubbed the white man’s peace), Britain promised the Boers that the question of African enfranchisement would not be decided until the introduction of self-government for the Boer republics. Godfrey Lagden, Governor Alfred Milner’s commissioner of Native Affairs in the Transvaal suggested that in order to guarantee a supply of cheap migrant labor, Africans should be granted limited access to land in the industrial areas. In a comment much like Apartheid jargon, Lagden argued that “as every rabbit must have a warren where he can live and burrow and breed, so must every African have a warren too” (ibid. p.17). As chairman of Milner’s Native Affairs Commission, Lagden was responsible for the formulation of key segregationist policies that laid the foundation for Apartheid. It was his recommendation that Africans be denied ownership of land, stripped of the right to decide where they lived or worked, or the right to vote for white candidates. Africans should be confined to separate locations and vote for separate, pre-approved white candidates to represent them in parliament.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, Afrikaner nationalism gathered steam as a widening rift grew between moderates and radicals. In 1905 Louis Botha and Jan Smuts established an all-Afrikaner party named Het Volk in the Transvaal. In 1906, J.B.M. Hertzog formed the Orangia Unie in the Orange River Colony. In 1914, the Orangia Unie morphed into the National Party. The ascension into power of Prime Minister Henry Bannerman’s government in Britain in 1906 represented a significant victory for the Afrikaner nationalists. Shortly after he assumed office, Bannerman set in motion a process that would lead to full self-government for the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony in 1907. A convention held by representatives from the four colonies of Transvaal, the Cape, the Orange River Colony and Natal between October 1908 and May 1909 led to the forging of the Union of South Africa on May 31, 1910. Only whites were considered voting citizens of this Union. Louis Botha took office as the first prime minister of the Union. The new union maintained pre-union segregationist policies designed to protect white interests and keep Africans in their role as a cheap source of labor.
From 1910 onwards, a stream of racist legislation flowed from the corridors of South African power wielders. Indeed, apartheid’s unholy odyssey is dotted with an incredible number of laws designed to uphold white supremacy and keep Africans down and out of the political process in their own country. The 1911 Mines and Works Act and the Native’s Labor Regulation Act decreed that Africans could be found guilty of a criminal offense if they broke an employment contract, however unfavorable they found the terms of such a contract. The Native’s Land Act of 1913 restricted African ownership of land to a mere 7 percent of the country’s total land area. This percentage was increased to 13 in 1936, but that did little to alleviate the Africans’ problems because they were confined to the worst tracts of land conceivable. In 1918, one of the key pillars of Apartheid, the Afrikaner Broederbond, was formed by a group of Afrikaner extremists. In 1923, the Natives (Urban Areas) Act restricted Africans to segregated townships or locations where they could rent accommodation provided by the urban municipality. The Industrial Coalition Act of 1924 and 1937 decreed that African unions would not be officially recognized in labor negotiations. After Hertzog entered into a coalition government with Smuts in 1924, the notorious “civilized labour” policy was introduced to give white workers wages that could support their ‘civilized’ living standards. The 1927 Native Administration Act gave the Department of Native Affairs control over all matters pertaining to Africans. Under this Act, the government ruled by decree rather than law in the African rural areas. In 1929, the Broederbond formed the FAK, the Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organizations, which was instrumental in constructing and propping the Apartheid infrastructure.
One of the most significant milestones in the history of apartheid happened in 1934 when D.F. Malan broke away from the Smuts-Hertzog administration and formed the Purified National Party whose manifesto was squarely based on the separation of the races. In 1936, the Representation of Natives Act removed all African political rights from the books in the Cape Province. In 1938, the FAK organized a centenary celebration of the Great Trek and the Voortrekkers’ defeat of the Zulu at the Battle of Blood River in December 1838. At this gathering, the pro-Nazi Ossenwabrandwag was formed to support the agitation for Afrikaner supremacy in South Africa and oppose South Africa’s entry into the war on the side of Britain. In 1942, War Measure 145 made it illegal for African workers to engage in strike activity. Six years later in 1948, Malan’s National Party was elected to power and from then on, while the rest of the world was moving towards greater respect for human rights, South Africa was moving in exactly the opposite direction at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, the road to 1948 had not been as smooth as the white supremacists would have liked. The harsh policies of the Milner administration led to the growth of a number of African resistance organizations. Gandhi’s Natal Indian Congress sprung up in 1894. In 1898 the African Native Congress was born; the Native Vigilance Association followed in 1901; and the African Political Organization and the Transvaal Native Vigilance Association were established in 1902. All these were formed in direct response to the oppressive policies of South Africa’s white regimes. At around the same time, a crop of vibrant African, Coloured and Indian press houses mushroomed around the country. In 1906, Bambatha, a Zulu chief rebelled against the forced labor, land confiscation, and taxation regime of the British authorities. In 1912, the ANC’s ancestor, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed under the leadership of John L. Dube, a U.S.-trained teacher and minister who derived inspiration from the ideas of Booker T. Washington. The SANNC was renamed the ANC in 1923.
A year after the formation of the SANNC in 1913, there was a massive women’s anti-pass protest in Bloemfontein. Because of this historic protest, South African women were exempted from carrying passes for the next forty years. In 1918, the Johannesburg Sanitation Workers and Rand Mineworkers went on strike for better working conditions and against discriminatory practices. In 1919 and 1920, a series of strikes organized by Clement Kadalie’s Industrial and Commercial Workers Union rocked South Africa. In 1928, the Non-European Trade Union Federation was formed; and in 1935, 400 hundred delegates from the majority of African political organizations met at Bloemfontein and established the All-Africa Convention (AAC). In 1941, the second year of the Second World War, the Africa Mineworkers Union was formed. The wartime economy had led to a massive influx of blacks into the urban areas and the government enacted influx control and other harsh legislation to stem the flow of the blacks and protect the jobs of white workers.
African agitation and resistance correspondingly gathered steam and in 1944 young members of the ANC decided to form the ANC Youth League to inject energy into what they thought was becoming a rather moribund organization. This event led to the emergence of young anti-apartheid leaders like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, and Robert Sobukwe. Thus, even as the party of Apartheid (the NP) was being born, its nemesis, the party of freedom (ANC), was also being born.
It seems as if the 1950s and 1960s saw more repressive legislation in South Africa than any other period in that country’s troubled history. These two decades certainly saw the systematic construction of the apartheid superstructure. Having campaigned and won the 1948 elections on an apartheid platform, D. F. Malan now embarked on the perilous task of fulfilling his promises to his racist constituency. While his National Party grew from strength to strength in the decades after 1948, the opposition United Party grew weaker and all but openly endorsed the NP’s racist policies. Rather than question the ethical legitimacy of the NP’s concept of white supremacy, the UP continuously harped on its practicality. Indeed, there were very little differences between the policies of the two parties over the racial question. Thus, from 1948, every aspect of life in South Africa was determined under race-based legislation. Race laws flew from the chambers of South Africa’s lawmakers like meteors and stung the increasingly dispossessed but defiant non-white races.
Determined to preserve the ‘purity’ of the white race, the Malan administration started off with the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act in 1949. This was followed by the Immorality Act of 1950, which extended the 1927 ban on sexual relations between whites and blacks to a ban on sexual relationships between whites and all non-whites. The Group Areas Act of 1950 imposed control over property rights requiring permits based on race and gave the government the power to forcibly remove existing occupants on any piece of land and give it to other occupants. 1950 also saw the enactment of the notorious Suppression of Communism Act which outlawed the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) and defined communism as “any scheme aimed at bringing about any political, industrial, social or economic change within the Union by the promotion of disturbance or disorder or that encouraged feelings of hostility between the European and non-European races of the Union” (ibid. p. 54). The Act gave the Justice minister the power to “list” and “ban” any individual or organization for up to four years. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 institutionalized the claim that the tribal reserves were the true homes of Africans and abolished the Natives Representation Council, the only official avenue for African political expression in the country. 1951 also saw the passing of the Separate Representation of Voters Act, which removed Colored voters from the Cape roll. When the Supreme Court declared this Act invalid, the government re-enacted it in 1956 as the Separate Representation of Voters Amendment Act. From this point on, only whites enjoyed political rights in South Africa.
In 1952, the Bantu Laws Amendment Act established labor bureaus to register African male workers aged 16 to 64. The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 allocated separate public amenities for the separate races. Under this Act, signs were posted all over the country designating parks, toilets, beaches and other public amenities to individual races. During 1953, the Native Labour Act denied Africans the right to legal union representation and the right to strike. In the same year, one of apartheid’s worst pieces of legislation and one that was to play a crucial role in its dismantling was promulgated: The Bantu Education Act decreed that blacks should have separate educational facilities under the control of the Department of Native Affairs rather than the Ministry of Education. The Act removed subsidies from mission schools that formerly catered to the educational needs of Africans with the result that most of them either sold their facilities to the government or simply closed down. Bantu education was designed to mold Africans into compliant kaffirs and productive workers. As Africans could and would never be absorbed into white society, the only education they needed was one that would prepare them for life within the African community and on the periphery of white society. The Bantu education curricula and textbooks were deliberately designed to glorify Afrikanerdom and demean the African kaffir as savages, thieves, thugs, clowns and lecherous lazybodies. The Public Safety Act of 1953 allowed the government to declare a state of emergency whenever it wanted to and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of the same year institutionalized the powers of the police to presume African detainees guilty until proven innocent. In 1955, the Customs and Excise and Official Secrets Acts established a Board of Censors to scrutinize and vet all films, books, and other materials imported or produced in South Africa. In 1956, the Riotous Assemblies Act outlawed any public gatherings which might ignite racial tensions and prohibited banned persons from attending or addressing public meetings. 1956 also saw the passing of the Native Administration Act, which permitted the government to banish Africans to remote rural areas, away from their homes and families for as long as it wished. In the same year (1956), police arrested 156 people including Luthuli, Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu and put them on trial on treason charges. The trial dragged on for five years. In 1957, the Transkeian Territorial Authority was opened as the first of the homelands to be groomed for independence.
Another landmark development in the history of apartheid was the coming to power of Hendrik Verwoerd in 1958. Commonly referred to as the architect of apartheid, Verwoerd charged forward with the apartheid project with unusual energy. Under Verwoerd, Justice minister and future prime minister John Vorster and Security Police chief Hendrik van der Bergh, both former members of the Ossenwabrandwag, headed the campaign to brutally crush all internal resistance. The General Laws Amendment Act of 1963 empowered the police to detain people without charges or access to lawyers for up to ninety days. After ninety days, detainees could be re-arrested and re-detained; and this process could continue for as long as the police desired. When Verwoerd was assassinated by a Colored parliamentary messenger in 1966, Vorster became the new Prime Minister.
Again, the efforts to entrench apartheid from 1948 were paralleled by a counter process of resistance by the ANC and other organizations. In 1949, the ANC adopted a program of action under the new leadership of James Moroka, with Sisulu, Tambo and Mandela on the executive committee. The ANC outlined a plan of passive resistance along Gandhian lines, organizing strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience marches, non-cooperation as well as a national day of work stoppage. In 1950 the South African Communist Party (SACP) organized a national strike and the ANC, in conjunction with the African People’s Organization (APO) and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) organized a national day of protest against the growing list of unjust apartheid legislation. In 1952, the ANC and SAIC staged a defiance campaign on April 6 and June 26. A significant milestone in the anti-apartheid struggle took place on June 25 and 26, 1955, when 3000 delegates representing the ANC, the SAIC, the Congress of Democrats, the Coloured Peoples Congress, and the multi-racial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) met near Soweto and issued the Freedom Charter, a document outlining a new vision for a multi-racial, democratic South Africa characterized by respect for human rights and the rule of law, as well as equal opportunities and responsibilities for all South Africans regardless of race. The Freedom Charter effectively became the manifesto of the liberation struggle in South Africa.
In 1959, a breakaway faction of the ANC led by Robert Sobukwe formed the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). The birth of the PAC is significant because it was the organization that initiated the anti-pass law campaign of 1960 that led to the historic Sharpeville Massacre on March 21 of that year when police opened fire on demonstrators, killing 69 and wounding 186. When 30,000 Africans marched on the House of Parliament in Cape Town to protest the massacre, Verwoerd declared a state of emergency. Police arrested 18,000 demonstrators including ANC and PAC leaders and both organizations were banned. At this point, the freedom fighters realized that the South African government could never be persuaded to dismantle apartheid though passive resistance. Accordingly, in 1961, the ANC formed its military wing, the
Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK – Spear of the Nation) and the PAC formed Poqo (Pure) as its armed wing. The era of guerilla warfare against apartheid had begun. In the words of Mandela, the African people “had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government” by violent means (ibid. p.58). From then on, both the ANC and PAC, with bases in nearby countries, launched violent attacks on government buildings and targeted government agents and stooges for assassination.
Vorster, however, was not about to back down. In 1967, the Terrorism Act expanded the types of activities that could be considered dangerous to include any action that could encourage resistance or further any political aim. In 1969, the notorious Bureau for State Security was established to supplement the activities of the secret police. In 1972, the State Security Council (SSC) was added to the long list of repressive state agencies to advise the prime minister on security policy formulation and strategy. The killing of school children during anti-Bantu education riots in Soweto on June 26, 1976 and the death in detention of Steve Biko in September 1977 intensified the struggle and condemnation of apartheid both inside South Africa and in the international community. Still determined to impose eternal apartheid, the South African government launched its Total Strategy in 1977 to overcome what it called ‘this Total Onslaught.’ The new prime minister P. W. Botha established the National Security Management Systems (NSMS) and embarked on a campaign of sabotage and assassinations of opponents. To facilitate his covert operations, Botha secretly established the Koevert (Crowbar) in 1979. Other covert units set up by the Botha regime included the Vlakplaas and a notorious unit made up of unemployed, illiterate black men, often with criminal convictions called the kitskonstables (instant police). Alongside these brutal covert operations, Botha presented a benign face to the public, recognizing African labor unions for the first time, and allowing the growth of an African political opposition, among other half-hearted reforms. By the time of his death in 1989, South Africa had become a pariah state in the community of nations. The country’s economy was collapsing at an alarming rate and international financial institutions operating in the country were curbing their investment, cutting back on loans to the government, and loudly clamoring for an end to apartheid. In October 1986, the U.S. Congress overrode a veto by President Reagan and passed legislation imposing mandatory sanctions against South Africa that included a ban on all new investments, the ending of air travel between the U.S. and South Africa, and the banning of any imports from South Africa. Inside the country itself, apartheid had been made unworkable and the country ungovernable in response to the ANC leadership’s call of April 1985.
Therefore F. W. de Klerk, the last leader of apartheid, inherited a government that had no choice but to compromise. At least, de Klerk reasoned, there was still a small window of opportunity to negotiate from a position of power. On February 2, 1990, he announced the lifting of the ban on the ANC, the SACP, the PAC and 31 other anti-apartheid organizations. About a week later on February 11, 1990, he had Nelson Mandela released from prison after serving 27 years and refusing to accept an earlier offer by Botha to gain his freedom by renouncing violence. A period of intense negotiations between the government and the ANC ensued in the face of stiff opposition from Afrikaner extremists like Eugene Terre Blanche and his murderous AWB, the Afrikaner Committee of Generals, the Freedom Alliance, the Freedom Front, and black organizations like Chief Buthelezi’s Inkhata Freedom Party. For a brief, tense moment, it seemed as if the negotiation process would collapse as right wing Afrikaner elements and the de Klerk regime itself employed underhand tactics to derail it. Against all odds, however, and with the growing realization that the time was up for apartheid, de Klerk reached an agreement with the ANC in September 1992. According to this new agreement, national elections were to be held by April 1994 in which all South Africans would participate. The interim constitution agreed upon guaranteed the safety of minorities and included arrangements for the possible formation of a government of national unity. In the April 1994 elections, the ANC won with over 62 percent of the vote. Nelson Mandela became the first president of a democratic, majority-ruled South Africa, with Thabo Mbeki as the First Deputy President and de Klerk as Second Deputy President. Under Mandela’s guidance, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 1995 to avoid the kind of bloodbath and vendetta that white South Africans rightly feared.
In conclusion, it is clear that the construction and dismantling of apartheid were two processes that ran concurrently over the years. From the very beginning, it was clear that a small minority of white people could not keep a great majority of black people under virtual servitude indefinitely. Black South Africans had suffered centuries of racial segregation before 1948, but formal apartheid itself lasted only about fifty years. Not that this is a short period of time for the oppressed people of South Africa. But the collapse of apartheid before the end of the twentieth century was certainly not what the architects of that hideous system anticipated. Malan, Verwoerd, Vorster, Botha, and to some extent de Klerk, believed that they could manage to indefinitely keep black South Africans in the tribal homelands, strip them of their South African citizenship, and carve a small Europe on African land. They were gravely mistaken. In the end, their very tactics spelled their doom.
Note: Nancy Clark and William Worger’s South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Edinburgh: Pearson Education Ltd., 2004) was widely consulted inputting together this piece.