Apartheid. What is it? Essay

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Imagine living in an actual time and place similar to George Orwell’s “1984.” There was a chillingly similar place for “non-whites” in South Africa from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. I believe that enforcing Apartheid is unjust and immoral. Reading this paper you will learn: What is apartheid? Who were involved? And how did apartheid end in South Africa?

What is apartheid? The system of apartheid–“apartness” between races–began in 1948 and in the time span of one generation, it wove itself into every aspect of life. Apartheid was a radical and extreme extension of segregation originating in colonial conquest in the seventeenth century by the Dutch (known as Boers or Afrikaners) and English.

Apartheid was separation by race and by location. Apartheid laws were enacted in 1948, these laws institutionalized racial discrimination. These laws touched every aspect of life, including: The prohibition of interracial marriage between whites and non-whites and the reservation of white-only jobs. In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified. The four groups of race were: Whites (or Europeans), Coloreds (people who were a mixture of different groups including whites), Asians (Indians), and Bantu (or Africans).

In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act was established. This act forced all non-whites to move to reserves known as “homelands” or Bantustans. These homelands were independent states to which every African was assigned by the government according to the record of origin (which was often inaccurate). All political rights, including voting, were restricted to the designated homeland. The idea behind this was that non-whites would be citizens of their homeland, losing any right of involvement with the South African Parliament that held complete control over the homelands. From 1976 to 1981, four of these homelands were created, denationalizing nine million South Africans. Africans living in the homelands needed passports to enter South Africa: aliens in their own country.

In 1953, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. They allowed the government to declare severe states of emergency and increased penalties for anti-apartheid protest. In 1960, a large group of blacks refused to carry their passes; the government declared a state of emergency; it lasted 156 days, leaving 69 people dead, 187 wounded. The penalties of political protest, even non-violent protest, were severe. A low-level police official could hold anyone for up to six months without a hearing. Thousands died in custody, often after gruesome acts of torture. Those who were tried were sentenced to death, banishment, or imprisonment for life. There were also large fines and public whippings.

Who or what were involved? The African National Congress (ANC) was developed in 1912. The ANC was one of the strongest parties of protest against discrimination in South African society and one of the oldest nationalist parties in Sub-Sahara Africa. It moved, over the years, from its early petitioning methods to non-violent protest, then to open defiance, and followed by underground rebellions (which lead to its banning and exile until 1990). The ANC’s defiance campaign in 1952 represented the first mass civil disobedience in South Africa. In the 1960’s, the ANC leadership, together with white and Indian communists, formed a paramilitary sabotage unit known as the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). This signified the end of non-violent protest. The MK purpose was to draw attention to the ANC’s opposition to apartheid.

Another person involved was Peter W. Botha who was been in the National Party (which supports apartheid). He succeeded John Vorster as prime minister in 1978. Botha’s administration was both “good” and “bad.” Botha administration’s “good”: It repealed the bans on interracial sex and marriage and desegregated many hotels, restaurants, trains, and buses. It removed the reservation of skilled jobs for whites and it registered black trade unions; they could access a new industrial court and they were permitted to strike. And the administration also repealed the pass laws. And a new constitution created separate parliamentary bodies for Indians and for Coloreds.

Put great powers in an executive president, namely Botha. But, Botha administration’s ‘bad” was: it allowed the white parliamentary chamber to override the Colored and Indian chambers on matters of national significance and it maintained that schools and health and welfare services for non-whites remained segregated and inferior. It did not aid non-whites, especially Bantu, they remained desperately poor. And the State Security Council–which was dominated by military officials rather than cabinet members–became the major policy-making body. He started a massive military buildup.

A thing with a lot of influence was computers. Computer technology allowed the government to organize such an atrocious system of segregation and control. The computer helped to concentrate executive power to the hands of South Africa’s white leaders. The U.S. was the largest supplier of computer technology in South Africa, despite the heavy embargoes placed by the United Nations. American computers were in use in almost every governmental agency, the police system, and the military. Computers not only supported apartheid control, they were completely depended upon to keep control.

The government absorbed 41% of all South African computers in 1986. Even if the computers were sold to “non-repressive” agencies or sold for “non-repressive” purposes. The most important contribution to apartheid was the computerized population register. The Plural Affairs Department maintained the passbook system on the more that twenty-five million Bantu. The passbook records included: “racial classification,” name, sex, date of birth, residence, photo, marital status, drivers license, dates of departure from and return to the country, place of work or study, and fingerprints. The passbooks, which were given automatically to every Bantu at age 16, guaranteed the instant identification and history of one’s government opposition. Failure to produce the passbook resulted in immediate arrest (often without informing the family). The Department of the Interior maintained the “Book of Life” files on the other seven million citizens classified as non-blacks.

Other foreign products like X-ray machines to check personal possessions, passbook fingerprinting equipment, electronic sensing equipment, infrared alarm systems, and photo identification systems were available to police for aid in controlling citizens. IBM marketed a “Law Enforcement System” software package, but later denied it when it realized the product might endanger sales in the U.S. Computers even found their way into the military (against military embargoes). They were used to aid the invasion and occupation of neighboring Namibia.

Nelson Mandela played a major role in the demise of apartheid. In 1990, he who had been devoted to democracy, equality and learning for all South Africans, was released from prison after serving almost 30 years for those beliefs. He was elected president of the ANC in 1991.

How did apartheid end in South Africa? In 1986, a high-level Commonwealth mission went to South Africa in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the government to suspend its military actions in the townships. Because of the renewed protests spawned by the arrival of outside help, the government declared a massive stated of emergency. For three years police and soldiers embarked on a savage campaign to eliminate all opposition. They patrolled the African homelands in armed vehicles: destroying black squatter camps, arresting, abusing, and killing thousands. Rigid censorship laws tried to hide those actions by banning television, radio, and newspaper coverage.

Finally, the decision by the South African government to reform and eventually abandon the apartheid system came for many reasons. There was and enormous strain on South African society arising from both within and outside the country. By the 1980s international criticism and pressure worsened its problems to the point of social disruption. The creation of the Bantustans and townships eventually backfired as well: the South African economy felt the oppressive weight of the segregation. The new president, F.W. de Klerk (the National Party’s provincial leader of Transvaal, a homeland) gave a dramatic address to Parliament on Feb. 2, 1990. He announced a program of radical change. During 1991, Parliament repealed the basic apartheid laws, including the Population Registration Act. The state of emergency was lifted and many political prisoners were freed and exiles allowed return.

Both Mandela and de Klerk sponsored meetings of representatives of most of the political parties in the country. Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1993. By the end of 1993 Mandela, de Klerk, and leaders of 18 other parties approved a new, temporary constitution, to take effect immediately after South Africa’s first election in April 1994. The laws enacted under this constitution were: the homelands abolished, all citizens over the age of 18 were given rights and privileges of a citizen, including voting rights, and the country was divided into nine new provinces. (the provincial governments were given significant powers). The new parliament was also given the job of writing a permanent constitution.

In the April 1994 election the ANC won 63% of the vote, the National Party 20%, and a new party called the Inkatha 10%. The ANC got 20 seats in the cabinet, the National Party 7, and the Inkatha 3. The ANC also became the majority party in seven of the provinces.

On May 10, Mandela was sworn in as president of the new South Africa before a large, euphoric crowd including the secretary-general of the UN, 45 heads of state, and representatives from many other countries. The new “government of national unity” aimed to provide Africans with improved education, housing, electricity, running water, and sanitation. Recognizing that economic growth was necessary, the ANC started a moderate economic policy. Mandela and his colleagues campaigned vigorously for foreign aid and investment. But few invested, foreign investors waited to see whether the new South Africa would become stable.

Apartheid was a stubborn beast that took five decades to overcome; through much discontent and bloodshed. As proven throughout history, when the majority lower class is oppressed, it only creates instability. And eventually, the oppressed class will rise and balance the scale once more, often any way they can. Apartheid in South Africa is a “contemporary country caught in the morals of Imperial Europe.” It just doesn’t work.