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Dynamics of Apartheid in South Africa

It is easy to forget that Apartheid only finished twenty six years ago in 1991 when the Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act was passed this subsequently led to the repealing of the laws enforcing racial segregation which included the Group Areas Act. Apartheid is the word given to racial segregation in South Africa; this was specifically a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa (Merriam-Webster, 2011). In this essay I will discuss both the political and economic discrimination that took place while also looking at the subtle but important undertones of religion that also affected Apartheid.  The essay will be split into three sections, with the first section discussing how the laws that were passed during the period of Apartheid were inextricably linked to an attempt to control the non-European in the society of the time in South Africa and to solidify the power of the political in power at the time. The second part of this essay will look at how this control worked economically and if there was anything that the non-Europeans in South Africa could do in an attempt to bypass them. It will also consider whether the control it exercised truly did result in the continuation of power being in the hands of the whites or if it actually ended up accelerating the process that led to the era of Apartheid being overturned and Nelson Mandela being inaugurated into being the first voted in Black president of South Africa as part of the African National Congress. Finally the essay will consider the role that religion had in this era of Apartheid. Whether religion ended up helping the formation of segregation or whether it was unhelpful towards the movement. Religion is always portrayed as a beacon of uniting those from different races and ethnicities around the world. This essay will consider whether this was the case or whether Apartheid made religion lose sight of its purpose and morals and promoted the political philosophy of Apartheid.

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When considering the laws that came into being during the time of the National Party it is important to consider the history of legislation in South Africa. There were long-standing laws from the time of the British and Afrikaner administrations in South Africa. A good example of this would be the Glen Grey Act of 1894, (Smythe N C, 1995) this was the original legislation of land reclamation to the white population from the native population. The Glen Grey act also created a tax on labour that forced Xhosa men, an ethnic group that is mainly situated around the south and south eastern part of South Africa, into work on farms and other industry. It is important to consider the effect that these laws from colonial times had on the laws that came into effect during the time of Apartheid.

With regards to Segregation, there were multiple laws that came into effect but none that had such a great impact as The Population Registration Act, 1950. This required that every person who was a citizen of South Africa be classified and registered into a racial class to divide the population up (Dugard, 2016). All inhabitants in South Africa at the time were divided into categories; these were Black, White and Coloured (mixed) later on in the period Indians were added to the category list, this was for those who originated from South Asia and India. This act was the foundation of everything that became Apartheid, it led to the forbidding for a white and a person of another race to marry and then a year later in 1950 it became a crime for any white person to have sexual intercourse with any person of another race (Robertson and Whitten, 1978). These laws were an attempt to divide the population and with which the administration that was leading the country would be able to demote who were not white into lesser positions in society and also to move them through land reclamation. This law was not repealed until June 17th 1991 by The South African Parliament. This was the first act of legislation with Apartheid being foreseen by the government and as mentioned earlier became the foundation of everything that apartheid became. This is a good example of a dynamic that occurred during the time of Apartheid in South Africa

Another piece of legislation that came in was in 1953, this was The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act 1953, this was again an initiative with which to exercise more racial segregation in South Africa and solidify the idea of apartheid. This act legalised the segregation of public places vehicles and services. This left only roads that were excluded from this law and meant they became the only area where all races were together.  Within this law there were multiple sections that had minor details in which became incredibly important. One of these was Section 3a; this made it permissible to completely exclude someone from public places, vehicles or services based solely on their race. This preceded section 3b; this bylaw meant that the facilities for the two races did not have to be equal, or anywhere near the same quality. This meant that in reality the best facilities were reserved for whites and those that were outdated or inferior where given to the other races. This led to total segregation between races and the creation of “white-only” jobs. This finally ended up with the cementing of the National Party’s control over the economic and social systems in the country. This ended up leading to the National Party’s plan for the “Grand Apartheid” a plan to emphasise the territorial separation and the continuation and enlargement of the police repression that had been occurring throughout the period of apartheid. This is an incredibly important part of Apartheid and the effects it had on the population in South Africa.

Secondly, with regards to legislation in an attempt to exercise control in 1953 the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed, this led to the empowerment of the government to declare a state of emergency at which there would be increased penalties for those who were considered in contempt of the laws. These penalties included fines, imprisonment and even whippings; there are multiple stories of the government declaring a state of emergency in an attempt to crush any potential uprising that there may have been potential for. One good example of this would be in 1960, a large groups of people classified as black, from an area called Sharepeville refused to carry their identification papers which identified which race class they were part of and also where they were from. The government decided that this was grounds for the declaration of a state of emergency; this emergency lasted for one hundred and fifty six days and involved sixty nine people dying and one hundred and eighty seven people wounded. These people died because of the demonstrations against what was perceived to be unfair pass laws, it led to the South African Police opening fire against the demonstrators and killing all these people. This is another example of how the imposing of Apartheid by the government of the day let to terrible and unjust treatment of certain races in South Africa at the time; it also went a long way to suggesting that the white regime had no intention of changing the unjust laws of Apartheid. This again discusses a key dynamic of Apartheid in South Africa

During Apartheid one of the ways that control was upheld by the government was through an extremely brutal and well ordered police force that was at the disposal at the government to quieten and extinguish and those who had become disenfranchised with the Apartheid regime. This was a non-white majority in the country that was growing increasingly restless with the regime and this ended up leading to the Sharepville massacre as mentioned above. When there was a State of Emergency ordered in the country the police would then be assisted by the military. The government of the time ordered multiple strategies to stifle any anti-apartheid activists and critics of the white minority government. Some of these tactics included counter-insurgency and intimidation. Over the period from 1960 to 1990 sixty seven people died in police custody or detention either from hanging or torture or what was put down to natural causes although there is strong evidence to suggest that this was in fact not the actual cause of death in many cases. (Goldberg, n.d.) This is another dynamic of Apartheid and the impacts it had on South Africa

Another way in which legislation led to forcible control by the minority white led government was through forcible relocation. This was a policy where over 86% of the country was granted to the white South African population. This meant that the other colour populations were forced to relocate from where they lived or even originally came from. Normally this would be relocation outside the city limits or if they were Black Africans they would be relocated to one of the ten Bantustans, these were communities that were set up specifically for to home major African ethnic groups. These were state-created communities usually put in the least desirable places where there was little to no natural resources industry or any kind of workable farmland. They also regularly had little to no public transport and were given little to no chance to build high quality communities. The government also passed laws saying that these were the only areas where Black political rights were recognised and accepted. Outside of these specific areas the Black Africans were unable to vote or even own land. This was regardless of whether their families had been there for or whether there were historical ancestors who had inhabited the area as well. This policy resulted in major relocation and devastating results for this demographic. From 1950 to 1986, there were more than 1.5 million Africans of colour that were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated from the urban centres or major mineral areas and also the most fertile land. These areas were given to the minority whites and the Black population was moved either to Bantustans or to newly formed townships that were springing up all over the country as people were looking for better environments for their families and relations. This is another example of a key dynamic of apartheid and how it had a dramatic effect.

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Finally, when looking at the dynamic of religion with regards to the time of Apartheid in South Africa there is a lot to consider. When looking at religion with a focus on Christianity it is important to consider that the church attempts to create an image of an all-inclusive and non-judgemental institution. However, the best example of the church and Apartheid would be to look at the Dutch Reformed Church. This is also a good example as during Apartheid Christianity was by far the most popular religion with over 85% of the total population. Apartheid became an incredibly difficult period for the church as it had to deal with segregation and whether there was a need to align itself with the rest of South Africa during the time and have split churches for congregations who were coloured and congregations for those who were white. This created huge tensions and then when the Dutch Reformed Church decided to actively promote racial divisions through endorsing Apartheid it was extremely controversial. The Dutch Reformed church became known as the “official religion” of the National Party during the Apartheid era. This was put down to Chruch leaders over the 1970s and 1980s, the assumption by church leaders that the congregation were in favour of Apartheid led to them being incredibly committed to Apartheid and even more so than much of their congregations. In the long run this commitment to the cause of Apartheid became increasingly damaging and led to the church becoming an impediment to political reform. This, however, is not to say that all clergy and leaders were for Apartheid, there were some very famous members of the church who openly spoke out against Apartheid. One of these was Reverend Beyers Naude who famously left his white only church and went to be part of a parish that was for all blacks, this created a huge stir within the church and was a huge show of support to the anti-Apartheid movement.

This, however, was not the case throughout the church there are many examples of church leaders being anti-Apartheid. One good example of this is senior officials within the Roman Catholic Church in South Africa opposing apartheid. This was not without opposition though and it led to the creation of the South African Catholic Defence League that ended up condemning any type of political involvement by the church and it also ended up opposing many other of the demands from the Catholic Church. This shows that religion was again a key factor in the period of Apartheid and that it contributed both in a negative and positive way.

The above then suggests that there were a multitude of dynamics that were in fact integral to the period of Apartheid in South Africa. The above shows that with these the white minority within South Africa at the time was able to exercise control through legislature that ended up confining those in society who were of different races to unfair treatment. This period of Apartheid has led to unimaginable suffering for those who were suppressed during the period of Apartheid and even when the period of Apartheid came to an end the damage done by this period was so severe that South Africa remains racially divided. Even though Apartheid ended over 20 years ago now the recovery from this systematic and brutal racial discrimination has been difficult and continues today. Apartheid means “apartness” in Afrikaans and this separation led to such irreparable damage that it has warranted the South African Government to create the National Development Plan (NDP) that has had to be aimed at eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. One of the main aims of this is to reduce inequality between races in the country. This is because the entrenched racism that was created by Apartheid was not easy to eliminate immediately. I think that the above factors discussed, show why this was so difficult to eliminate. For one demographic to sit on the top if the pile while all others were treated so badly would always result in bitterness and a feeling of the need for revenge. So above shows what the key dynamics of Apartheid were and also the terrible results that that has continued to have on South Africa today.


“Apartheid” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 16th May 2017.


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