Apartheid: Story of racism in South Africa

South Africa’s policy of apartheid, in place from 1948 to 1991, was based on the idea that different races deserved separate treatment. Nelson Mandela’s uprising movements finally put an end to it.

Apartheid was implemented in a South Africa that already had a long history of racial discrimination, beginning with the country’s colonization by the Dutch in the 17th century and its subsequent status as a British dominion in 1910. Since its inception in 1948, this policy’s overarching goal had been the maintenance of white supremacy, even as it ostensibly promoted national progress and the preservation of diverse cultural traditions. Apartheid drew international condemnation because it intensified existing forms of racial segregation at a time when decolonization was widespread. Ultimately, the regime fell victim to the country’s political and social upheavals as well as the development of new ideas. In 1991, it finally ended because of protests led by people like Nelson Mandela.

Why were the nationalists rising to power?

The “Color Bar” (a discriminatory color barrier for blacks) was established in response to the escalation of racial tensions that followed the Boer War and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Whites, who made up a tiny minority of the territory’s population, formed the government and then aggressively fought to keep all of their privileges and privileges alone, despite the fact that the majority of the people living there were people of color (primarily black Bantus, half-castes, and Asians).

The African National Congress (ANC) was established in 1912 amid growing awareness of the majority population’s plight. The government of Louis Botha, however, was determined to round up the black population and place them in reserves, and this Bantu organization couldn’t stop it.

General Smuts succeeded Botha as Prime Minister and South African Party leader after Botha’s death in 1919. James Hertzog, who was born into a Boer family and was committed to maintaining racial segregation, became prime minister in 1924 after a coalition of Nationalists and Labour won power. However, South Africa’s government was once again altered by the difficulties of the 1929 crisis. Eventually, in 1934, Hertzog’s National Party merged with Smuts’ to form the United Party.

How did apartheid start?

This merger was roundly rejected by a number of Afrikaners (also known as Boers) from the old National Party, who instead chose to form their own nationalist party under the leadership of Minister Malan.

At the outbreak of World War II, Hertzog also handed over the reins as prime minister to Smuts. Shortly after, the South African Union declared war on Germany, and the first Nazi influences took root in the nationalist movements.

Malan, whose National Party had grown in strength by the late 1940s, proposed an electoral platform based on the development of the territory through racial separation.

He coined the term “apartheid,” from the Afrikaans word for “separation,” to describe this policy. He had already spent decades implementing racist policies before he was elected in May 1948. He promptly began carrying out his schemes.

How was the protection of white supremacy born?

From 1949 on, a set of laws were enacted to ensure that South Africa’s various racial and cultural minorities would be kept completely apart. First, there was a prohibition on interracial marriage.

Whites, blacks, and people of other colors were officially separated out as separate categories beginning in 1950. Then the “Group Areas Act” would be in effect, creating distinct territories for each community to call home.

The policies may have prioritized the cultural advancement of non-white ethnic groups, but apartheid’s end goal was to preserve white supremacy. This was evidenced by all the laws that have been passed since then, including those that require black people to carry passports, those that require segregation in public spaces and businesses, those that reform education, and those that enact less favorable labor laws for black workers.

After Malan left in 1954, racial segregation only grew worse. The black Bantu people were given their own designated territories beginning in 1959. These “Bantustans,” as they were known, were supposed to develop into sovereign nations. However, these regions, which would have made up only 13% of the country, were far too economically impoverished to function independently.

It was precisely because land was given to blacks in order to establish so-called independent states that they were denied membership in the South African Union. As an added bonus, it stoked ethnic tensions among the Bantu, which ultimately helped to suppress black nationalism.

How did revolts and oppositions unfold during apartheid?

Protests were predictable under such a regime, and the Sharpeville demonstration in March 1960, which was violently suppressed, was evidence of this (Sharpeville massacre). As a result of this tragedy, the government outlawed the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC), two black movements that opposed apartheid.

As a result, the ANC was compelled to operate clandestinely and, inspired by Nelson Mandela, made the decision to resort to violence. But in 1962 he was apprehended, and in 1964 he was given a life sentence.

Protests against apartheid were not confined within South Africa or limited to the country’s black population. Many white people, especially the British and the Catholics, were strongly opposed to it, and there was international effort to exert pressure.

In response to the complaints of other Commonwealth nations, Prime Minister Verwoerd had the South African Union declare independence, eventually becoming the Republic of South Africa. In 1962, the UN voted to impose new sanctions, which had no noticeable impact.

However, in the 1970s, black nationalism flourished and the government was weakened as a result of Mozambique and Angola’s independence. High school students in Soweto staged a demonstration in June 1976, and the government’s violent response shocked the world.

Prime Minister Vorster, who was roundly criticized, resigned in the wake of this incident. The new leader, Pieter Willem Botha, made some minor adjustments to apartheid after he took office.

How was apartheid abolished?

So, while continuing a policy of excluding blacks, Pieter Botha repealed some segregationist laws on the use of public places, the internal passport, and access to employment. In 1984, he made room in Parliament for Métis and Asians without making any concessions to the Black community.

The rationale for this shift was crystal clear: to show that the government meant business in the face of a Black majority. If anything, this reform only served to infuriate the opposition more. As the black population increased its number of revolts and strikes, the government’s support for apartheid was weakened.

The Republic of South Africa was in such political and social disarray that a state of emergency had to be declared. After international investors and partners began increasing economic sanctions against the country beginning in 1985, the Republic of South Africa saw no other option but to end apartheid.

Frederik de Klerk succeeded Pieter Botha and promised to end all forms of apartheid once he took office. Nelson Mandela was freed, and the ANC was back in the lawful fold.

Apartheid had been finally eliminated after more than 40 years. Everyone in South Africa carried the weight of the country’s history of racial segregation with them. As a result, for the first time ever, a member of the black majority led the country as president, ushering in a period of national and international reconciliation.

Thus, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to shed light on the wrongs committed by all sides. However, social inequalities needed to be combated after racial inequalities were addressed.


June 5, 1918-Foundation of the Afrikaner Broederbond

Johannesburg, South Africa was the site of the establishment of the Afrikaner Broederbond on June 5th, 1918. As it turned out, the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB) was a covert organization with the goal of strengthening and unifying the Afrikaner community.

White South Africans of European (primarily Dutch, French, German, and Scandinavian) ancestry were known as Afrikaners. The apartheid movement, which sought to enforce racial and ethnic segregation, found some of its inspiration in this organization.

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918

The Union of South Africa was still a young country when Nelson Mandela was born there on July 18, 1918. When he was younger, he was both a sports fan and a law student with aspirations of a legal career. He joined the African National Congress in 1943 because of his interest in politics.

Nelson Mandela rose to power in South Africa as president in 1994 after leading the charge against apartheid and racial segregation. Nelson Mandela was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize a year prior for his efforts.

May 26, 1948: Daniel Malan’s Nationalist Party wins

The rise of apartheid was inextricably linked to the success of the Nationalist Party led by Daniel Malan, a pastor at the Dutch Reformed Church at the time. South Africa’s then-Prime Minister, Daniel Malan, used his parliamentary majority to implement his policy of racial segregation. Racial segregation laws and policies began to be implemented.

1949-Ban on mixed marriages in South Africa

A law outlawing interracial marriage was passed as part of the apartheid framework. The goal of this new policy was to classify the various ethnic groups living there. A formal prohibition on intersex acts was added to the law at a later date.

1950-The different South African groups defined by apartheid

To better categorize the people who call the South African Union home, a new law called the “Population Registration Act” had been passed. There were thus four distinct groups: blacks (comprised of nine distinct ethnic groups), mestizos, Indians, and whites (of European descent).

March 21, 1960-Sharpeville Massacre

There were frequent demonstrations in Sharpeville over the “Pass Law Act,” which mandated that everyone must carry a passport at all times. The police cracked down hard on protesters despite backing from the African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress.

More than 60 demonstrators lost their lives, and nearly 180 others were injured. The incident increased the level of violence in other protests and drawn the ire of people around the world.

November 6, 1962-UN sanctions South Africa

Since the violence during the protests and throughout the country had only increased, the United Nations had issued a formal condemnation of the apartheid policy. After that, the European group urged other nations to cut off all diplomatic and commercial ties with South Africa. This punishment, however, had little effect. In South Africa, apartheid was still being actively enforced by the government.

June 12, 1964-Mandela is sentenced to life

Including Nelson Mandela, seven other ANC members given life sentences for treason. Nelson Mandela turned down an offer of freedom in exchange for giving up violence against apartheid. He checked in at Robben Island Prison with inmate number 46664 and began serving his time there. Living conditions for Nelson Mandela were just as harsh as they were for everyone else.

September 1989-de Klerk, President of the Republic of South Africa

South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Frederik de Klerk took office in September 1989. This marked the start of a period in which the apartheid regime was abandoned, spurred on by factors including the growing demands of the black population and South Africa’s economic isolation on the international stage. However, apartheid was not officially ended until June 1991, nearly two years later.

February 11, 1990-Nelson Mandela released

Nelson Mandela was released from Paarl Prison after serving 27 years of his sentence while Frederik de Klerk was president. He had fought against the apartheid regime and been convicted of treason in 1964, spending the rest of his life in prison.

Since his imprisonment, he had come to represent the struggle for black liberation in South Africa. Following his and de Klerk’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993, he was elected president of the Republic of South Africa in April 1994.

Apartheid ended in June 1991

Frederik de Klerk, in his capacity as President of the Republic of South Africa, finally put an end to apartheid. The various political parties in South Africa began negotiations to form a new government.

The African National Congress (ANC), spearheaded by Nelson Mandela, took part in these talks and ultimately succeeded in having a multiracial and democratic government imposed on the country.

October 15, 1993-Nobel Peace Prize for Mandela and de Klerk

For their efforts in ending apartheid and racial segregation, Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year, 1993. Nelson Mandela had been celebrated for his dedication to democracy and longstanding status as the world’s most renowned political prisoner.

Mandela was sworn in as president on April 27th, 1994

Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa just four years after he was released from prison and thirty years after his conviction. Frederik De Klerk, a strong supporter of Nelson Mandela’s release, was appointed Vice President, a position he held until 1996. Nelson Mandela fulfilled his promise to limit his presidency to a single term. Thabo Mbeki took over after him in 1999.


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By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.