History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 2006: Q.8

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Marriage and sexual relations  between whites and  non-whites  were forbidden;  this was to  preserve  the  purity of the  white race.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. Blacks were allowed to  join trade  unions and  to  go on strike  (1979).
  2. Blacks  were  allowed  to  elect  their  own local  township  councils  (but  not  to  vote  in national elections)  (1981).
  3. 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.
  4. Sexual  relations  and  marriage  were  allowed  between  people  of  different  races (1985).
  5. 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.


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