Apartheid In South Africa

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Segregation is a concept as old as time, and it is not unique to the United States.

South Africa still suffers from the effects of an organized and government mandated

system of segregation called apartheid that lasted for over a quarter of a century.

Apartheid, literally translated from Afrikaans, means apartness (Mandela 40). It is

defined as a policy of racial segregation and “political and economic discrimination

against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa” (“Apartheid”). According

to Robin Cohen, South African apartheid was based on four basic premises: “white

monopoly of political power, the manipulation of space to achieve racial segregation, the

control of black labor, and urban social control” (qtd. in Massie 385). Apartheid was

widely supported by powerful nations, including the United States. However, the validity

of the arguments and actions that those supporters used was questionable and not based in



The brief history on South African apartheid that follows is essential to

understanding the whole picture.

The 1940s

Apartheid began as an implied law in the seventh century with the start of the

slave trade where an estimated 25 million blacks were sold into slavery over a period of

12 centuries (Stock 65). However, it was not until 1948 that the South African

government actually passed apartheid laws (“Timeline”). The Prohibition of Mixed

Marriages Act of 1949 strictly prohibited people of different races marrying and having

offspring (Stock 21).

The 1950s

The 1950s were the era of Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, the Minister of Native

Affairs, and later, Prime Minister of South Africa. The Population Registration Act of

1950 required all people to be designated and registered by a specific race: white, black,

or of mixed decent, considered colored (“History”). This designation was primarily

based on appearance, often by means of the “pencil in the hair” test. Officials would

begin by placing a pencil in a person’s hair. If the hair was curly enough to hold the

pencil while bending over, the person was black, and if the pencil fell out, the person was

colored (Massie 21). In 1951 homelands, or bantustans, were established (“Timeline”).

The homelands were South Africa’s equivalent to America’s reservations. Blacks, who

had no rights outside their h...

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