Grand Apartheid in South Africa

Sign indicating "White Area" during Apartheid.
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Apartheid is often loosely divided into two parts: petty and grand apartheid. Petty Apartheid was the most visible side of Apartheid. It was the segregation of facilities based on race. Grand Apartheid refers to the underlying limitations placed on Black South Africans’ access to land and political rights. These were the laws that prevented Black South Africans from even living in the same areas as white people. They also denied Black Africans political representation, and, at its most extreme, citizenship in South Africa.

Grand Apartheid hit its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, but most of the important land and political rights laws were passed soon after the institution of Apartheid in 1949. These laws also built on legislation that limited Black South Africans’ mobility and access to land dating back as far as 1787.

Denied Land and Citizenship

In 1910, four previously separate colonies united to form the Union of South Africa and legislation to govern the “native” population soon followed. In 1913, the government passed the Land Act of 1913. This law made it illegal for Black South Africans to own or even rent land outside of "native reserves", which amounted to just 7-8% of South African land. (In 1936, that percentage was technically increased to 13.5%, but not all of that land was ever actually turned into reserves.)  

After 1949, the government began moving to make these reserves the "homelands" of Black South Africans. In 1951 the Bantu Authorities Act gave increased authority to "tribal" leaders in these reserves. There were 10 homesteads in South African and another 10 in what is today Namibia (then governed by South Africa). In 1959, the Bantu Self-Government Act made it possible for these homesteads to be self-governing but under the power of South Africa. In 1970, the Black Homelands Citizenship Act declared that Black South Africans were citizens of their respective reserves and not citizens of South Africa, even those who had never lived in "their" homesteads.

At the same time, the government moved to strip the few political rights Black and colored individuals had in South Africa. By 1969, the only people permitted to vote in South Africa were those who were white.

Urban Separations

As white employers and homeowners wanted cheap Black labor, they never tried to make all Black South Africans live in the reserves. Instead, they enacted the 1951 Group Areas Act which divided urban areas by race and required the forced relocation of those people – usually Black – who found themselves living in an area now designated for people of another race. Inevitably, the land allocated to those classified as Black was furthest away from city centers, which meant long commutes to work in addition to poor living conditions. Blamed juvenile crime on the long absences of parents who had to travel so far to work.

Limiting Mobility

Several other laws limited the mobility of Black South Africans. The first of these were the pass laws, which regulated the movement of Black people in and out of European colonial settlements. Dutch colonists passed the first pass laws at the Cape in 1787, and more followed in the 19th century. These laws were intended to keep Black Africans out of cities and other spaces, with the exception of laborers.

In 1923, the government of South Africa passed the Native (Urban Areas) Act of 1923, which set up systems—including mandatory passes—to control the flow of Black men between urban and rural areas. In 1952, these laws were replaced with the Natives Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act. Now all Black South Africans, instead of just men, were required to carry passbooks at all times. Section 10 of this law also stated that Black people who did not “belong” to a city – which was based on birth and employment – could stay there for no more than 72 hours. The African National Congress protested these laws, and Nelson Mandela famously burned his passbook in protest at the Sharpeville Massacre.

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Thompsell, Angela. "Grand Apartheid in South Africa." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Thompsell, Angela. (2021, February 16). Grand Apartheid in South Africa. Retrieved from Thompsell, Angela. "Grand Apartheid in South Africa." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).