Apartheid Era Signs - Racial Segregation in South Africa

White area sign

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Telegraph Office 1955

Telegraph Office signs 1955
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Apartheid was a social philosophy which enforced racial, social, and economic segregation on the people of South Africa. The term apartheid comes from the Afrikaans word meaning 'separation'. It was introduced by DF Malan's Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP - 'Reunited National Party') in 1948 and lasted until the end of FW De Klerk's government in 1994.

Segregation meant that Whites (or Europeans) were given separate (and usually better) facilities than non-Whites ( Coloureds Indians, and Blacks).

Racial Classifications in South Africa

The Population Registration Act No. 30 was passed in 1950 and it defined who belonged to a particular race by physical appearance. People had to be identified and registered from birth as belonging to one of four distinct racial groups: White, Coloured, Bantu (Black African) and other. This was considered to be one of the pillars of apartheid. Identity documents were issued to each person and the Identity Number encoded the race to which they were assigned.

Reservation of Separate Amenities Act No 49 of 1953

The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act No 49 of 1953 forced segregation in all public amenities, public buildings, and public transport with the aim of eliminating contact between Whites and other races. "Europeans Only" and "Non-Europeans Only" signs were put up. The act stated that facilities provided for different races need not be equal.

Seen here are signs in English and Afrikaans, in Wellington railway station, South Africa, enforcing the policy of apartheid or racial segregation in 1955: "Telegraafkantoor Nie-Blankes, Telegraph Office Non-Europeans" and "Telegraafkantoor Slegs Blankes, Telegraph Office Europeans Only". The facilities were segregated and people had to use the facility assigned to their racial division.

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Road Sign 1956

Caution Beware of Natives sign
 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

This photo shows a road sign that was fairly common around Johannesburg in 1956: "Caution Beware Of Natives". Presumably, this was a warning to Whites to beware of non-Whites.

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Exclusive Use of European Mothers 1971

Exclusive Use of European Mothers sign -- 1971
 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

A sign outside a Johannesburg park in 1971 restricts its use: "This lawn is for the exclusive use of European Mothers with Babies in Arms". The Black women passing by would not have been allowed on the lawn. The signs are posted in both English and Afrikaans.

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White Area 1976

White Area sign on beach-- 1976
 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

This apartheid notice was posted on a beach in 1976 near Cape Town, denoting the area was for Whites only. This beach was segregated and non-White people would not be allowed. The signs are posted in both English, "White Area," and Afrikaans, "Blanke Gebied."

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Apartheid Beach 1979

Apartheid Beach sign -- 1979
 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

A sign on a Cape Town beach in 1979 reserves it for White people only: "WHITE PERSONS ONLY This beach and the amenities thereof have been reserved for White persons only. By order Provincial Secretary." Non-Whites would not be allowed to use the beach or its facilities. The signs are posted in English and Afrikaans. "Net Blankes."

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Segregated Toilets 1979

Segregated Toilets -- 1979
Apartheid Signs Image Gallery.  Hulton Archive / Getty Images

May 1979: Public conveniences in Cape Town in 1979 allocated to White people only are posted, "Whites Only, Net Blankes," in both English and Afrikaans. Non-Whites would not be allowed to use these toilet facilities.