The Legacy of Apartheid

By now millions of people around the globe have heard the word apartheid mentioned at one stage or another. Some will define it as white* oppression over blacks or native Africans in South Africa – and perhaps that is what is was, in a nutshell. Apartheid played a very large part of South Africa’s history and to delve into this unfortunate period of the country’s history would grant the average person a much better insight into the average South Africa – regardless of their skin colour.

The word ‘apartheid’ basically means the separation and separate development of the races. The practise has its roots in 19th century political developments and slavery but much of what was practised in South Africa was only developed much later. In the early 20th century, British colonial administrators decided to adopt a policy of ‘separate development’ based on the teachings of John Ruskin. Ideally the ‘superior’ white race would assist the other races to work towards the eventual goal of equality and reintegration, all the while maintaining a degree of separation from them. These ‘lesser’ races would be given tasks more suited to their mental and physical progression. The work basically amounted to menial labour and it was in the whites best interests to ensure that black ascension to mental equality was not very quick.

In 1920 the notion of apartheid was taken further by right-wing Afrikaners who had made their way into power. Laws were passed that further increased the level of separation between whites and blacks and in 1948, under the rule of the National Party, apartheid was adopted as a national political scheme. Numerous ‘petty’ laws and regulations were adopted to further ensure the complete segregation of whites from blacks. Race was supposedly identified by various physical attributes and the majority of coloureds were classed as blacks by the whites. Africans were not allowed to enter white urban areas and failure to remain separate from other races was enforced by law officials. This effectively rendered both Europeans and Africans prisoners in their own country with the only difference being that Europeans had more rights and enjoyed greater luxuries.

The National Party struggled to implement their policy of apartheid for 30 years. During this time the media was heavily censored and there was a total lack of freedom of speech so many whites living in SA were completely ignorant of the plight the blacks. Many that were aware of the plights chose to simply look away.

However, not everyone in the country turned a blind eye to the unfairness brought about by this policy and protests from abroad grew steadily. Eventually, economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure forced change. President F.W. de Klerk responded to the pressure by allowing several political parties to become active again which culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela from jail. The first true free and fair elections to take place in the country resulted in the African National Congress being voted into power and Nelson Mandela taking the seat of President. The injustices of apartheid were explained away as an ‘experiment’ that did not work.

Apartheid may no longer be the national policy in South Africa but the system certainly took its toll on the country. While many citizens have moved forwards in leaps and bounds in an attempt to embrace those of every nationality and race as fellow South Africans, there are those who still have the outdated mindset of race superiority and rights. This is an unfortunate drawback to a time when the atrocities resulting from the immense suppression of one race was largely withheld from another. Unlike citizens of other countries, South African’s generally accept that there are those who simply cannot change their mindset and they look forwards to the day when this illogical way of thinking will die out with those who promote it. Perhaps it is in this way that South Africa has become one of the world leaders in dealing with racial issues and political inequities. Whatever the case, the country has by and large become unified by its many colourful people instead of being torn apart by its differences.

*In this article, ‘whites’ will refer to people of European decent, ‘blacks’ to dark-skinned native Africans and ‘coloureds’ to a mixed race of a lighter skin tone than Africans but a darker skin tone than Europeans.