Understanding South Africa's Apartheid Era

Common Questions About South Africa's Racial Segregation

A man sitting on a bench labelled NON-WHITES ONLY
A reminder of how things used to be in South Africa.

nicolamargaret / Getty Images

During most of the 20th century, South Africa was ruled by a system called Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning 'apartness,' which was based on a system of racial segregation. 

When Did Apartheid Start?

The term Apartheid was introduced during the 1948 election campaign by DF Malan's Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP - 'Reunited National Party'). But racial segregation had been in force for many decades in South Africa. In hindsight, there is something of an inevitability in the way the country developed its extreme policies. When the Union of South Africa was formed on May 31, 1910, Afrikaner Nationalists were given a relatively free hand to reorganize the country's franchise according to existing standards of the now-incorporated Boer republics, the Zuid Afrikaansche Repulick (ZAR - South African Republic or Transvaal) and Orange Free State. Non-whites in the Cape Colony had some representation, but this would prove to be short-lived.

Who Supported Apartheid?

The Apartheid policy was supported by various Afrikaans newspapers and Afrikaner 'cultural movements' such as the Afrikaner Broederbond and Ossewabrandwag.

How Did the Apartheid Government Come to Power?

The United Party actually gained the majority of votes in the 1948 general election. But due to the manipulation of the geographical boundaries of the country's constituencies before the election, the Herenigde Nasionale Party managed to win the majority of constituencies, thereby winning the election. In 1951, the HNP and Afrikaner Party officially merged to form the National Party, which became synonymous with Apartheid.

What Were the Foundations of Apartheid?

Over the decades, various forms of legislation were introduced which extended the existing segregation against Blacks to Coloureds and Indians. The most significant acts were the Group Areas Act No 41 of 1950, which led to over three million people being relocated through forced removals; the Suppression of Communism Act No 44 of 1950, which was so broadly worded that almost any dissident group could be 'banned;' the Bantu Authorities Act No 68 of 1951, which led to the creation of Bantustans (and ultimately 'independent' homelands); and the Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act No 67 of 1952, which, despite its title, led to the rigid application of Pass Laws.

What Was Grand Apartheid?

During the 1960s, racial discrimination applied to most aspects of life in South Africa and Bantustans were created for Blacks. The system had evolved into 'Grand Apartheid.' The country was rocked by the Sharpeville Massacre, the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned, and the country withdrew from the British Commonwealth and declared a Republic.

What Happened in the 1970s and 1980s?

During the 1970s and 80s, Apartheid was reinvented—a result of increasing internal and international pressures and worsening economic difficulties. Black youth was exposed to increasing politicization and found expression against 'Bantu education' through the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Despite the creation of a tricameral parliament in 1983 and the abolition of the Pass Laws in 1986, the 1980s saw the worst political violence by both sides.

When Did Apartheid End?

In February 1990, President FW de Klerk announced Nelson Mandela's release and began the slow dismantling of the Apartheid system. In 1992, a whites-only referendum approved the reform process. In 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, with people of all races being able to vote. A Government of National Unity was formed, with Nelson Mandela as president and FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki as deputy presidents.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Understanding South Africa's Apartheid Era." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/common-questions-about-apartheid-era-4070234. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2021, February 16). Understanding South Africa's Apartheid Era. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/common-questions-about-apartheid-era-4070234 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Understanding South Africa's Apartheid Era." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-questions-about-apartheid-era-4070234 (accessed September 27, 2021).