Q.8 Give a brief account of the struggle against ‘Apartheid’ in South Africa. [2006, 60 Marks]
Under Prime Minister Malan (1948-54), a new policy called apartheid (separateness) was introduced after the Second World War in South Africa.
The main features of apartheid
- There was complete separation of blacks and whites as far as possible at all levels. In country areas blacks had to live in special reserves; in urban areas they had separate townships built at suitable distances from the white residential areas. There were separate buses, coaches, trains, hospitals, beaches, picnic areas, sports and even churches.
- Every person was given a racial classification and an identity card. There were strict pass laws which meant that black Africans had to stay in their reserves or in their townships unless they were travelling to a white area to work.
- Marriage and sexual relations between whites and non-whites were forbidden; this was to preserve the purity of the white race.
- Africans lost all political rights, and their representation in parliament, which had been by white MPs, was abolished.
Struggle against ‘Apartheid’ inside South Africa
Inside South Africa, opposition to the system was difficult. Anyone who objected – including whites was accused of being a communist and was severely punished under the Suppression of Communism Act. Africans were forbidden to strike, and their political party, the African National Congress (ANC), was helpless. In spite of this, protests did take place.
- Chief Albert Luthuli, the ANC leader, organized a protest campaign in which black Africans stopped work on certain days. In 1952 Africans attempted a systematic breach of the Jaws by entering shops and other places reserved for whites. Over
8000 blacks were arrested and many were flogged. Luthuli was deprived of his chieftaincy and put in jail for a time, and the campaign was called off.
- In 1955 the ANC formed a coalition with Asian and coloured groups, and at a meeting at Kliptown (near Johannesburg), they just had time to announce a freedom charter before police broke up the crowd. The charter soon became the main ANC programme. It began by declaring: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.’ It went on to demand: equality before the law; freedom of assembly, movement, speech, religion and the press; the right to vote; the right to work, with equal pay for equal work; a 40-hour working week, a minimum wage and unemployment benefits; free medical care; free, compulsory and equal education.
- Many Church leader spoke out against apartheid .
- Later the ANC organised other protests. including the 1957 bus boycott: instead of paying a fare increase on the bus route from their township to Johannesburg ten mile away, thousands of Africans walked to work. and back for three month until fares were reduced.
- Protest, reached a climax in 1960 when a huge demonstration took place against the pass law at Sharpeville. an African township near Johannesburg. Police fired on the crowd, killing 67 African wounding many more. This was an important turning point in the campaign: until then most or the protest had been non-violent; but this brutal treatment by the authorities convinced many black leaders that violence could only be met with violence.
- A small action group of the ANC, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), or MK, was launched; Nelson Mandela was a prominent member. They organized a campaign of sabotaging strategic target: in 1961 there was a pate of bomb attacks in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. But the police soon clamped down, arresting most or the black leaders, including Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben bland.
- Chief Luthuli still persevered with non-violent protests, and after publishing his moving autobiography Let My People Go, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Pri1e. He was killed in 1967.
- Discontent and protest increased again in the 1970s because the wage of African failed to keep pace with inflation. In 1976, when the Transvaal authorities announced that Afrikaans (the language spoken by whites of Dutch descent) was to be used in black African school., massive demonstrations took place at Soweto, a black town hip near Johannesburg. Police opened fire, killing at least 200 black Africans.
Struggle Outside South Africa
Outside South Africa there was opposition to apartheid from the rest of the Commonwealth. Early in 1960 the British Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan had the courage to speak out against it in Cape Town; he spoke about the growing strength of African nationalism: ‘the wind of change is blowing through the continent ··· our national policies must take account of it’. His warnings were ignored, and shortly afterwards, the world was horrified by the Sharpeville massacre. At the 1961 Commonwealth Conference, criticism of South Africa was intense, and many thought the country would be expelled. In the end it ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth.
The United Nation and the Organization of African Unity condemned apartheid and were particularly critical of the continued South African occupation of South West Africa. The UN voted to place an economic boycott on South Africa (1962), but this proved useless because not all member states supported it. Britain, the USA. France. West Germany and Italy condemned apartheid in public, but continued to trade with South Africa. Among other things, they sold South Africa massive arms supplies. apparently hoping that it would prove to be a bastion against the spread of communism in Africa.
The end of apartheid
The new prime minister, P. W. Botha (elected 1979) decided that he must reform apartheid, dropping some of the most unpopular aspects in an attempt to preserve white control. This change was caused by the following reasons:
- Criticism from abroad gradually gathered momentum. External pressures became much greater in 1975 when the while-ruled Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique achieved independence.The African takeover of Zimbabwe (1980) removed the last of the white-ruled states which had been sympathetic to the South African government and apartheid. Now South Africa was surrounded by hostile black states, and many Africans in these new states had sworn never to rest until their fellow-Africans in South Africa had been liberated.
- There were economic problems – South Africa was hit by recession in the late 1970s, and many white people were worse off. Whites began to emigrate in large numbers, but the black population was increasing. In 1980 whites made up only 16 per cent of the population, whereas between the two world wars they had formed 21 per cent.
- The African homelands created by South African government were a failure: they were poverty-stricken, their rulers were corrupt and no foreign government recognized them as genuinely independent states.
- The USA, which was treating its own black people better during the 1970s, began to criticize the South African government’s racist policy.
Gradually Prime Minister Botha introduced some important changes which he hoped would be enough to silence the critics both inside and outside South Africa.
- Blacks were allowed to join trade unions and to go on strike (1979).
- Blacks were allowed to elect their own local township councils (but not to vote in national elections) (1981).
- A new constitution was introduced, setting up two new houses of parliament, one
for coloureds and one for Asians (but not for Africans) in 1984.
- Sexual relations and marriage were allowed between people of different races (1985).
- The hated pass laws for non-whites were abolished (1986).
This was as far as Botha was prepared to go. Far from being won over by these concessions, black Africans were incensed that the new constitution made no provision for them, and were determined to settle for nothing less than full political rights. Violence escalated, with both sides guilty of excesses. On the 25th anniversary of Sharpeville, police opened fire on a procession of black mourners going to a funeral near Uitenhage (Port Elizabeth), killing over forty people (March 1985). In July a state of emergency was declared in the worst affected areas, and it was extended to the whole country in June 1986.
However, it proved impossible to stop the process of change. By the late 1980s international pressure on South Africa was having more effect, and internal attitudes had changed.
In August 1986 the Commonwealth (except Britain) agreed on a strong package of sanctions British prime minister Margaret Thatcher would commit Britain only to a voluntary ban on investment in South Africa. Her argument was that severe economic sanctions would worsen the plight of black Africans, who would be thrown out of their jobs.
In September 1986 the USA joined the fray when Congress voted (over President Reagan’s veto) to stop American loans to South Africa to cut air links and to ban imports of iron, steel, coal, textiles and uranium from South Africa.
The black population was no longer just a mass of uneducated and unskilled labourers; there was a steadily growing number of well-educated, professional, middle class black people, some of them holding important positions.
The Dutch Reformed Church, which had once supported apartheid, now condemned it as incompatible with Christianity. A majority of white South Africans now recognized that it was difficult to defend the total exclusion of blacks from the country’s political life. So although they were nervous about what might happen, they became resigned to the idea of black majority rule at some time in the future.
The new president. F. W. de Klerk (elected 1989) had decided that apartheid would have to go completely. With great courage and determination. and in the face of bitter opposition from right-wing Afrikaner groups, de Klerk gradually moved the country toward black majority rule.
- Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in jail ( 1990) and became leader of the ANC. which was made legal.
- Most of the remaining apartheid laws were dropped.
- Namibia, the neighbouring territory ruled by South Africa since 1919, was given independence under a black government ( 1990).
- Talks began in 1991 between the government and the ANC to work out a new constitution which would allow blacks full political rights.
Meanwhile the ANC was doing its best to present itself as a moderate party which had no plans for wholesale nationalization, and to reassure whites that they would be safe and happy under black rule. Nelson Mandela condemned violence and called for reconciliation between blacks and whites. The negotiations were long and difficult; de Klerk had to face Right-wing opposition from his own National Party who claimed that he had betrayed them.
The ANC was involved in a power struggle with another black party, the Natal-based Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party led by Chief Buthelezi.
Transition to black majority rule
In the spring of 1993 the talks were successful and a power-sharing scheme was worked out to carry through the transition to black majority rule. A general election was held and the ANC won almost two-thirds of the votes. As had been agreed, a coalition government of the ANC, National Party and Inkatha took office with Nelson Mandela as the first black President and two white vice-president, one black and one white.
Although there had been violence and bloodshed, it was a remarkable achievement, for which both de Klerk and Mandela deserve the credit, that South Africa was able to move from apartheid to black majority rule without civil war.