Apartheid is a mind-set that took 300 years to put in place in South Africa, which relied on racist attitudes of successive white-settlers who accumulated power over time. The major social-engineers of apartheid included prime minister Daniel Malan (the 4th prime minister of the Union of South Africa), prime minister Johannes Strijdom, and prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. Apartheid was able to function due to the rule of the National Party – a far-right racist white-run party and through non-political affiliations such as the Afrikaner Broederbond (the Afrikaner Brotherhood).
In 1963 South Africa had a population of 12 million non-white people, composed of 10 million supposedly “unmixed” Africans, 1.5 million colours (mixed whites which white South Africans considered the offspring of “white” and “black” African sexual unions), and 0.5million Asians mainly of Indian ancestry. The population of the white South Africans was less than 5%.
South Africa claimed to be the most advanced nation in Africa. Their definition of advancement was not diminished by holding morally abhorrent values. They believed that because South Africa mined diamonds, uranium, and gold with forced labour, assembled cars, exported rock lobster and provided a safari industry, it was the most industrialised, Western, and economically stable country in Africa. The white South Africans wanted black South Africans to be beast of burdens at all times. A lot of Africans were kept out of work in order to ensure that labour costs were low at all times.
Apartheid (meaning “separateness”) was a fancy name for total enforced segregation – at every levels in businesses, in government, and in every area of life. It is total political, economic and social segregation. A lot of ministers and government officials of the Union of South Africa were pro-Nazis. They called their political system which excluded black South Africans by law a democracy.
The white-minority Apartheid government thought that white people were created differently to black people. They believed white people and black people had different hopes and dreams. They believed that white South Africans were following a different evolutionary growth path and that this ethically justified their policy. A lot of white South Africans believed in a debunked Christian heresy called the Curse of Canaan.
They called all native Africans in South Africa “Bantu” although linguistically and academically it was “an idiotic label” since South Africa contained Xhosa, Khoi speakers and San speakers.
Black South Africans could not live with Coloureds, Indians, Chinese people or White people. White people could not live among the Black South Africans, Coloureds or Asians. All native Africans were in general forced to live up to 20 miles away from cities. The white South Africans feared having hundreds of thousands of blacks in their midst. Black Africans were continuously evicted from their lands as the white population expanded to force them to create more room.
There were constant segregation signs everywhere. Europeans meant white and non-European meant black. There were separate entrances, bus stations, railway cars, eating and drinking utensils.
All black or coloured South Africans had to carry passes at all times. They faced fines, imprisonment, floggings or beatings if they did not carry a pass. Every day people got arrested for past offences. They would do spot checks on any day, enter family homes, search their homes, strip search black Africans and leave their house in a mess at any unspecified time. Each year 17,000 prisoners received 81,000 floggings to keep black South Africans in fear and submission.
White South Africans who felt the behaviours of the apartheid regime were immoral and depressing were suppressed and humiliated to bring them back in line.
White South Africans felt that black South Africans were barbarous people and Asians were semi-barbarous. They felt that South Africa would fall to pieces if there was no longer a white aristocracy and bourgeois. They tied their ability to main a white civilised race to being able to keep the black South Africans in a lower caste.
Only 2,000 out 11.5 million black or “coloured” South Africans were allowed to get a university education.
The mines had a high turnover rate (of leavers and replacement staff) of over 400,000 per year. All potential mine workers were humiliated and inspected nude for physical fitness before being hired like animals. 76% of mining interests were owned by American and British interests. Within the mining industry non-white South Africans had NO right to strike. The wealth of mining financed infrastructure projects, tax revenue and the armed forces. Black South African miners were only be paid circa 2 cents per day. The bureau of mines made sure wage levels always kept black South Africans in extreme poverty. They believed the black man was not a worker prior to their invasion of south Africa but was a warrior. They said they had to “teach the black man” the “dignity of work”.
Natives were considered primitive, dumb, uneducated and tribal. It did not occur to them that the tribes were the result of assembling land across multiple pre-conquest kingdoms and confederacies. Representatives of the natives, such as the Chief Minister of Transkei, had a basic job to get black South Africans to accept segregation, to get them to never protest, and to also get them to accept laws enacting discrimination such as the Bantu Authorities Act. Representatives who caused any trouble were stripped of status and re-located to another location in South Africa where they would have no influence and no ability to cause trouble as a lesson to demoted “chiefs” and the replacement “chiefs”.
Black South Africans were forced to live in concentration camps called “independent black lands” or in apartheid legislation referred to as “Bantustans”, irrespective of what their previous place of residence was prior to the implementation of apartheid laws.
If you were black in South Africa, you could be imprisoned without trial or deported without trial and without charge sent into exile. White South Africans who spoke out against apartheid were banned from freely speaking and limited to the equivalent of house arrest.
Any critic was a traitor. Those who spoke out against apartheid were called enemies of the state. Protest was called treason. Criticism was called sabotage. Opponents were banned from public life or arrested.
Incidents of violence were many. Women, children, elderly people all unarmed were generally shot in the back during peaceful protests – regularly. Accurate statistics were not kept of the number of deaths, because the apartheid government didn’t think it was killing human beings.
South Africa had a terrible reputation amongst many countries.
Black South Africans who wanted to liberate themselves by force were called terrorists. What did these terrorists want? To be recognised as humans not animals and to be treated as equals. Clearly, no other country on earth was willing to end apartheid by force. This led people like Oliver Tambo to speak out against South Africa from abroad.
White South Africans who wanted the injustice to stop formed a human rights organisation called the black sash. The members of the black sash were subjected to house arrest based on how often they caused trouble. All friends and family of white south Africans put under house arrest would be cut off and those under house arrests would be made to report to the police a certain number of times each week, usually daily, to prevent them from having any positive effect on the public. This was considered “civil death”.
The activists that fought apartheid from within were many*.
The apartheid government had death squads whose function was to torture or kill anti-racism anti-apartheid activists, through the efforts of operatives such as Eugene de Kock and Barend Strydom.
The countries which boycotted apartheid South Africa were mainly other African countries and Sweden. The United States of America (USA) called apartheid immoral but the USA considered international boycotts impractical and illegal.
South Africa became a republic, instead of remaining a Union, due to condemnation of the Sharpeville Massacre by the United Kingdom.
Organisations which opposed apartheid included the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Catholic Church, the United Nations and the Commonwealth – due to opposition by African countries, South Asian and Southeast Asian countries to the Republic of South Africa to South Africa being a member of the Commonwealth.
Today apartheid is considered a crime against humanity in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted on 17 July 1998. Too little too late:
For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
- Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
- Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
- Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
- Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
- Enforced disappearance of persons;
- The crime of apartheid;
- Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health
Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated in 1966, by an anti-apartheid, anti-racist and anti-colonial activist called Dimitri Tsafendas who believed that cutting the head of the snake (the leader of apartheid government) would kill the snake (apartheid). The assassinated did not stop apartheid.
Churches were segregated in South Africa. Almost daily, some of South Africa’s racists would claim that Jesus was white, that Christianity was a white man’s religion, and that “white” and “black” humans were created differently, in a hierarchy with the white predestined to enslave all blacks, in contradiction to knowledge from modern genetic science as of 2022 and the position of the United Nations. One of the consequences of this constant misrepresentation of the Christian faith and prolonged experience of racial hatred, particularly this white supremacist version of the Christian faith, is that today many black South Africans not only see Christianity as a white man’s faith but they actually believe Christianity is a white man’s faith. Therefore, they consider any Black African that chooses to be a Christian an immense moron, incapable of exercising basic common sense, self-preservation, and find it difficult, if not impossible, to choose Christian as a belief system.
As a result, many South Africans often have a different perception of Christianity to Africans outside of South Africa since their contact with that religion came through far-right racists.
To learn more about apartheid, I highly recommend also doing your own research. This is a crash course for many Africans who have heard about apartheid but who never really got to learn what it was like.
* Activists who opposed apartheid:
- A. P. Mda, co-founder of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (1916–1993)
- Abdul Kader Asmal, South African politician (1934–2011)
- Abdullah Haron, South African Muslim cleric and anti-apartheid activist (1924–1969)
- Abdullah Mohamed Omar, anti-Apartheid activist and lawyer (1934–2004)
- Abram Onkgopotse Tiro, South African student political activist (1945–1974)
- Abu Baker Asvat, founding member of Azapo (1943–1989)
- Adelaide Tambo political activist and wife to Oliver Tambo (1929–2007)
- Adolph Malan, fighter pilot and civil rights activist (1910–1963)
- Ahmed Kathrada, political activist (1929–2017)
- Ahmed Timol, anti-apartheid activist, political leader and activist in the underground South African Communist Party (SACP) (1941–1971)
- Albert Nzula, political activist (1905–1934)
- Albertina Sisulu, political activist and wife of Walter Sisulu (1918–2011)
- Albie Sachs, political activist (born 1935)
- Alexander Hepple, trade unionist, politician, anti-apartheid activist and author and the last leader of the original South African Labour Party (1904–1983)
- Alfred Nzo, political activist (1925–2000)
- Alfred Xuma, political activist and ANC president (1893–1962)
- Alice Kinloch (born 1863), human rights activist and writer
- Ama Naidoo, anti-apartheid activist (1908–1993)
- Amina Cachalia, South African anti-Apartheid activist, women’s rights activist, and politician (1930–2013)
- Amina Desai, political prisoner (1920–2009)
- Andrew Mlangeni, political activist (1925–2020)
- Annie Silinga, South African anti-pass laws and anti-apartheid political activist (1910–1984)
- AnnMarie Wolpe, sociologist, feminist, anti-apartheid activist and wife to Harold Wolpe (1930–2018)
- Anton Lembede, political activist (1914–1947)
- Archie Sibeko, political activist and trade unionist (1928–2018)
- Arthur Goldreich, abstract painter and anti-apartheid (1929–2011)
- Ashley Kriel, South African activist (1966–1987)
- Aziz Pahad, political activist (born 1940)
- Bantu Holomisa, political activist (born 1955)
- Bavelile Gloria Hlongwa, South African chemical engineer and politician (1981–2019)
- Ben Turok, anti-apartheid activist and Economics Professor (1927–2019)
- Bertha Gxowa, anti-apartheid, women’s rights activist and trade unionist (1934–2010)
- Bettie du Toit, trade unionist and anti-apartheid activist (1910–2002)
- Billy Modise, political activist (1930–2018)
- Billy Nair, political activist (1929–2008)
- Bob Hepple, political activist, leader in the fields of labour law, equality and human rights (1934–2015)
- Caroline Motsoaledi, political activist and wife to Elias Motsoaledi (died c.2015)
- Chris Hani, political activist (1942–1993)
- Clarence Makwetu, political activist (1928–2016)
- Clarence Mini, anti-apartheid activist (1951–2020)
- Colin Eglin, South African politician (1925–2013)
- Collins Chabane, South African Minister of Public Service and Administration (1960–2015)
- David Sibeko, South Africa politician and journalist (1938–1979)
- Denis Goldberg, political activist (1933–2020)
- Dora Tamana, South African anti-apartheid activist (1901–1983)
- Duma Kumalo, South African human rights activist and one of the Sharpeville Six (died 2006)
- Duma Nokwe, political activist (1927–1978)
- Dumisani Kumalo, South African politician (1947–2019)
- Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, South African anti-apartheid activist (1937–2021)
- Eddie Daniels, anti-apartheid activist (1928–2017)
- Edward Bhengu, founder member of the PAC (1934–2010)
- Elias Motsoaledi, political activist (1924–1994)
- Elizabeth ‘Nanna’ Abrahams, political activist and trade unionist (1925–2008)
- Ellen Kuzwayo, political activist (1914–2006)
- Emma Mashinini, trade unionist and political leader (1929–2017)
- Epainette Mbeki, political activist, mother of Thabo Mbeki and wife to Govan Mbeki (1916–2014)
- Essop Pahad, political activist (born 1939)
- Esther Barsel, South African political activist, long-standing member of the South African Communist Party and wife to Hymie Barsel (1924–2008)
- Farid Esack, political activist and opposition to apartheid (born 1959)
- Fatima Meer, scientist and political activist (1928–2010)
- Florence Matomela, South African anti-pass law activist (1910–1969)
- Fort Calata, political activist and one of The Cradock Four (1956–1985)
- Frances Baard, trade unionist, organiser for the African National Congress Women’s League and a Patron of the United Democratic Front (1909–1997)
- Frederick John Harris, South African schoolteacher and anti-apartheid (1937–1965)
- Gert Sibande, political activist (1907–1987)
- Gertrude Shope, South African trade unionist and politician (born 1925)
- Govan Mbeki, political activist and father of Thabo Mbeki (1910–2001)
- Griffiths Mxenge, anti-apartheid activist (1935–1981)
- Harold Hanson, politician and advocate (1904–1973)
- Harold Strachan, anti-apartheid activist (1925–2020)
- Harold Wolpe, lawyer, sociologist, political economist and anti-apartheid activist (1926–1996)
- Harry Gwala, revolutionary leader in the African National Congress and South African Communist Party (1920–1995)
- Harry Schwarz, South African lawyer, statesman and long-time political opposition leader against apartheid in South Africa (1924–2010)
- Helen Joseph, anti-apartheid activist (1905–1992)
- Helen Suzman, South African anti-apartheid activist and politician (1917–2009)
- Hymie Barsel, South African activist (1920–1987)
- Irene Grootboom, housing rights activist (c. 1969–2008)
- Isaac Bangani Tabata, political activist (1909–1990)
- Isaac Lesiba Maphotho, political activist (1931–2019)
- Ismail Ahmed Cachalia, South African political activist and a leader of Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress (1908–2003)
- J. B. Marks, politician activist (1903–1972)
- Jabulile Nyawose, trade unionist and anti-apartheid activist (died 1982)
- Jack Simons, political activist (1907–1995)
- Jackie Sedibe, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Major General and politician activist and wife to Joe Modise (born 1945)
- Jafta Jeff Masemola, political activist (1929–1990)
- James Calata, political activist and ANC secretary (1895–1983)
- James Kantor, politician, lawyer and writer (1927–1974)
- James Moroka, political activist (1891–1985)
- James Mpanza, political activist (1889–1970)
- James Seipei, teenage United Democratic Front (UDF) activist (1974–1989)
- Jean Bernadt, anti-apartheid activist (1914–2011)
- Jean Middleton, anti-apartheid activist and wife to Harold Strachan (1928–2010)
- Jeremy Baskin, trade unionist (born 1956)
- Joe Matthews, political activist and son of ZK Matthews (1929–2010)
- Joe Modise, political activist (1929–2001)
- Joe Nhlanhla, African National Congress national executive and the former South African Minister of Justice (Intelligence Affairs) (1936–2008)
- Joe Nzingo Gqabi, political activist (1929–1981)
- Joe Slovo, South African politician, and an opponent of the apartheid system (1926–1995)
- John Gomomo, South African Unionist and activist (1945–2008)
- John Nkadimeng, politician and anti-apartheid activist (1927–2020)
- John Nyathi Pokela, political activist (1922/1923–1985)
- Johnson Mlambo, political activist (1940–2021)
- Joseph Mathunjwa, Trade union leader and the head of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) (born 1965)
- Josiah Tshangana Gumede, political activist (1867–1946)
- Joyce Nomafa Sikakane, South African journalist and activist (born 1943)
- Joyce Piliso-Seroke, South-African educator, activist, feminist and community organizer (born 1933)
- Khoisan X, political activist (1955–2010)
- Laloo Chiba, South African politician and revolutionary (1930–2017)
- Lennox Lagu, political activist (1938—2011)
- Letitia Sibeko, political activist and wife to Archie Sibeko (1930–??)
- Lilian Diedericks, South African activist (1925–2021)
- Lilian Ngoyi, anti-apartheid activist (1911–1980)
- Lionel Bernstein, anti-apartheid activist and political prisoner (1920–2002)
- Looksmart Ngudle, political activist (1922–1963)
- Lucinda Evans, women’s right activist (born 1972)
- Mac Maharaj, political activist (born 1935)
- Maggie Resha, political activist and wife of Robert Resha (1923–2003)
- Makhenkesi Stofile, political activist (1944–2016)
- Mapetla Mohapi, political activist (1947–1976)
- Mary Ngalo, South African anti-apartheid activist and was also active in fighting for women’s rights (died 1973)
- Mary Thipe, anti-apartheid and human rights activist (1917–2002)
- Matthew Goniwe, political activist and one of the Cradock four (1946–1985)
- Mbuyisa Makhubo, anti-Apartheid activist (born 1957/1958)
- Mohammed Tikly, South African educator and struggle veteran (1939–2020)
- Molefi Sefularo, Deputy Minister of Health (1957–2010)
- Monty Naicker, South African anti-apartheid activist and medical doctor (1910–1978)
- Moosa Moolla, political activist (born 1934)
- Moses Kotane, anti-apartheid activist (1907–1978)
- Moses Mabhida, anti-apartheid activist (1923–1986)
- Moses Twebe, South African politician (1916–2013)
- Mosibudi Mangena, South Africa politician (born 1947)
- Motsoko Pheko, politician, lawyer, author, historian, theologian and academic (born 1933)
- Mthuli ka Shezi, South African playwright, political activist (1947–1972)
- Neil Aggett, political activist and trade unionist (1953–1982)
- Nelson Mandela, political activist and first President of South Africa (1918–2013)
- Neville Alexander, revolutionary and proponent of a multilingual South Africa (1936–2012)
- Nimrod Sejake, labour leader in South Africa, leading member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and secretary of the Iron Steel Workers (1920–2004)
- Nkululeko Gwala, prominent member of the shackdwellers’ social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (died 2013)
- Nkwenkwe Nkomo, SASO nine member
- Nomhlangano Beauty Mkhize, political activist, shop steward and wife to Saul Mkhize (1946–1977)
- Nosipho Dastile, community and anti-Apartheid activist (1938–2009)
- Nthato Motlana, physician and anti-apartheid activist (1925–2008)
- Oliver Tambo, political activist (1917–1993)
- Oscar Mpetha, political activist and unionist (1909–1994)
- Peter Mokaba, political activist (1959–2002)
- Phakamile Mabija, anti-apartheid activist (died 1977)
- Philip Kgosana, political activist (1936–2017)
- Pregs Govender, human rights activist, former ANC MP, anti-apartheid campaigner (born 1960)
- Priscilla Mokaba, political activist and mother of Peter Mokaba (died 2013)
- Rachel Simons, communist and trade unionist and wife to Jack Simons (1914–2004)
- Rahima Moosa, anti-apartheid activist (1922–1993)
- Randolph Vigne, anti-apartheid activist (1928–2016)
- Raymond Mhlaba, political activist and the former Premier of the Eastern Cape (1920–2005)
- Reggie September, activist (1923–2013)
- Rita Ndzanga, anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist (born 1933)
- Robert McBride, anti-apartheid assassin and later police chief (born 1963)
- Robert Resha, political activist (1920–1978)
- Robert Sobukwe, political activist and founder of PAC (1924–1978)
- Roy Padayachie, politician and Minister of Public Service and Administration of the Republic of South Africa (1950–2012)
- Ruth First, South African anti-apartheid activist, scholar and wife to Joe Slovo (1925–1982)
- Ruth Hayman, anti-apartheid campaigner (1913–1981)
- Ruth Mompati, political activist (1925–2015)
- Sabelo Phama, revolutionary (1949–1994)
- Sefako Makgatho, political activist (1861–1951)
- Seth Mazibuko, youngest member of the South African Students’ Organisation that planned and led the Soweto uprising
- Sheila Weinberg, anti-apartheid activist (1945–2004)
- Sibusiso Bengu, politician (born 1934)
- Sicelo Mhlauli, political activist and one of the Cradock four (1952–1985)
- Sol Plaatje, political activist (1876–1932)
- Solomon Mahlangu, Umkhonto we Sizwe operative (1956–1979)
- Sonia Bunting, journalist, political and anti-apartheid activist (1922–2001)
- Sophia De Bruyn, political activist (born 1938)
- Sparrow Mkhonto, political activist and one of the Cradock four (1951–1985)
- Stephen Bernard Lee, anti-apartheid and political prisoner (born 1951)
- Steve Biko, nonviolent political activist (1946–1977)
- Steve Tshwete, political activist (1938–2002)
- Thabo Edwin Mofutsanyana, political activist (1899–1995)
- Thamsanga Mnyele, anti-apartheid (1948–1985)
- Timothy Peter Jenkin, anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and writer (born 1948)
- Tony Yengeni, anti-Apartheid activist (born 1954)
- Tsietsi Mashinini, South African anti-Apartheid activist and student leader of the Soweto uprising on 16 June 1976 (1957–1990)
- Vernon Nkadimeng, political activist (1958–1985)
- Veronica Sobukwe, political activist and wife to Robert Sobukwe (1927–2018)
- Victoria Mxenge, anti-apartheid activist (1942–1985)
- Vusumzi Make, political activist (1931–2006)
- Vuyisile Mini, unionist and Umkhonto we Sizwe activist (1920–1964)
- Walter Rubusana, first deputy president of the ANC (1856–1936)
- Walter Sisulu, political activist (1912–2003)
- William Frederick Nkomo, medical doctor, community leader, political activist and teacher (1915–1972)
- Wilton Mkwayi, political activist (1923–2004)
- Winnie Kgware, anti-Apartheid activist (1917–1998)
- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, political activist and former 2nd wife to Nelson Mandela (1936–2018)
- Wolfie Kodesh, South African Communist party activist (1918–2002)
- Yunus Mohamed, (sometimes Mahomed) South African lawyer and activist (1950–2008)
- Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, South African Communist and an anti-apartheid activist (1909–1983)
- Z. K. Matthews, political activist (1901–1968)
- Zacharias Richard Mahabane, political activist (1881–1971)
- Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist (born 1962)
- Zainab Asvat, South African anti-apartheid activist (1920–2013)
- Zephania Mothopeng, political activist (1913–1990)
- Zola Skweyiya, political activist (1942–2018)
- Zollie Malindi, political activist (1924–2008)
- Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of COSATU, and Trade union leader SAFTU (born 1962)
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