Apartheid was a long shadow in the history of South Africa.Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: aninternational hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racialoppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency ofhis country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than aquarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the mostcompelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of theAfrican National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, hewas instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majorityrule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rightsand racial equality.
The election of Nelson Mandela in 1994 marked the firsttime all race elections were held in South Africa and the end of all white rulein South Africa. Prior to 1994, only white people held political control withthe majority of people living in South Africa having little to no realrepresentation in government. One word described the racist system that keptnon-whites from political and social equality and became infamously known aroundthe world: Apartheid. Apartheid was not a case of just “I am white and I don’tlike blacks.” It was a complex system of social separation – calledsegregation under British rule. It was a system of cheap labor enforced by laws,social, and industrial practices. There was also an ideology that justified it;whatever one did to question it, there was the pre-existing attitude “we arecivilized and they are not.
” In 1910 the British parliament passed the Act ofUnion that brought British and Afrikaans colonies together to create a unitedand independent South Africa. Unfortunately, the newly created country did notbreak from a tradition of discrimination and segregation. Instead thesepractices became even further entrenched as bills were passed to ensure whitedomination.
However, it wasn’t until 1948 and the election of Dr. D.F. Malan’sNationalist Party that the concepts of apartheid became officially governmentpolicy (Moodie, 1994, p12). Malan was victorious in the election, beating theUnited Party and its leader Jan Smuts by portraying Smuts and his party as tooliberal and not capable of dealing with the swart gevar (Afrikaans for”black peril”).
In a country controlled by a white minority, feartactics worked for the Nationalists, and they managed a slender parliamentarymajority. From 1948 on, official apartheid principles were put into practicaleffect, and Malan’s government passed bills designed to maintain political,economic, and social control by whites over non-whites (Robinson, 1968, p.87).
Under apartheid, people were classified into one of four categories: White,Colored, Indian, and Black. As a non-white, one was required to carry a passbookthat detailed ones racial grouping, employer, place of dwelling, andpermission to be (on a temporary basis only) in a white area. In 1954 theResettlement of Natives Act meant that entire towns and villages in which”non-whites” lived were suddenly designated to be”white-only” areas. The entire population would then be forced toresettle into “tribal reserves.” As well, Blacks not needed for laborin white communities (referred to as “superfluous Bantu” by thenationalist government) were sent to live in these homelands.
During the 1960’s,nearly three million Africans were moved onto the Bantustans (Porter, 1991,p.32). Blacks would be removed from their homes, trucked to their new homeland,and dumped on land with little or no agricultural value and no infrastructure.The result was mass starvation and major epidemics. In an effort to givecredibility to the reserves, the 1953 Nationalist government passed the BantuAuthorities Act allowing Bantustans to become “independent” homelands.In reality, however, Bantustans proved to be nothing more than holding areas forcheap labor for the white economy (Report of the Select Committee on theImmorality Amendment Bill, 1968, p. 9).
Meanwhile charges of racism were comingfrom both inside South Africa and around the world. Oliver Tambo, a leadingpolitical activist against apartheid and president of the African NationalCongress (ANC), outlines what it meant to be a non-white living in apartheidSouth Africa in his paper Human Right in South Africa: During the last twodecades human values in our country sank to primitive levels as elementary humanrights were trampled underfoot on a scale unparalleled in recent history. Thisoccurred in open and direct defiance of the United Nations and the entireinternational community. It is as well to remember that the men in power inSouth Africa today wholeheartedly supported Nazism and have never repented ofit. The African and other non-white people in Africa do not enjoy the right totake part in government nor can they vote for representatives who govern.
TheConstitution of the Republic of South Africa (passed in 1961) specificallyexcludes non-whites from any participation in the councils of the State. They donot have the right to assemble with others and join – or refrain from joining -any legitimate organization or group. They cannot enjoy a full cultural life inaccordance with their artistic, literary and scientific inclinations. On thecontrary, the majority of the people are excluded from places of culture orentertainment, from libraries, from scientific institutions. Our people do nothave the right to travel without hindrance within the country or leave thecountry.
The notorious pass laws and the Departure from the Republic RegulationAct prevent this. Africans do not have the right to a job and in fact arelegally prevented from doing a large variety of jobs which are reserved forwhites. They have no rights of collective bargaining, and cannot form or join alabor union, even one recognized by the State. Africans cannot agitate andcannot go on strike in order to better their working conditions and pay (Tambo,1968, p.29). In reaction to being excluded from political power by the 1910 Actof Union, due to the color of their skin, a group of chiefs, Christianministers, and intellectuals came together to form the South African NativeNational Congress.
In 1923 this organization changed its name to become theAfrican National Congress (ANC). The ANC believed that Africans should worktogether as a united force to bring about political change and racial equality(Mandela, 1995, pp. 12-15). Initially, the ANC stuck to a strict policy ofpacifist resistance. However, frustration with a lack of results led the ANC’smilitant “Youth League,” formed in 1944 under the leadership of NelsonMandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, to advocate becoming more aggressivein the struggle. At an ANC conference in 1949, Mandela and his colleagues passedthe Program of Resistance that was to change the nature of the ANC.
The Programof Resistance called for boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience to bring anend to racial discrimination (Thompson, 1996, p. 65). The fundamental principlesof the Program of Action of the African National Congress were inspired by thedesire to achieve national freedom. By national freedom, they meant freedom fromwhite domination and the attainment of political independence.
That implied therejection of the conception of segregation, apartheid, trusteeship, or whiteleadership, which were all, in one way or another, motivated by the idea ofwhite domination or domination of the whites over the Blacks (Thompson, 1996,pp. 13-21). In 1955, opponents of apartheid, including “The South AfricanIndian Congress,” “The Colored People’s organization,” the white’s”Congress of Democrats,” and the ANC, met at the “Congress of thePeople” where they drafted the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter became thedeclaration for all of these organizations fighting for democracy and humanrights. It declared that “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all ourcountry and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it isbased on the will of all the people” (Porter, 1991, p.31).
In 1949 theNational Party led government set up the “Eislen Commission,” aspecially appointed commission given the task of restructuring the educationsystem according to the apartheid philosophy. The commission recommended thatdifferent races should receive different forms of education. For example, Blackchildren were to be taught in such a way that the Bantu child will be able tofind his way in European communities, to follow oral or written instructions,and to carry on a simple conversation with Europeans about his work and othersubjects of common interest. These recommendations became law in the 1955 BantuEducation Act. In short, Blacks were to be trained to do manual labor and tofollow the instructions of whites (Porter, 1991, pp.
25-45). In response to theBantu Education Act, the ANC held a boycott of government schools, and set uptheir own schools. Nelson Mandela spoke out against the introduction of BantuEducation, calling for community activists to “make every home, every shackor rickety structure a center of learning” (Mandela, 1995, p. 45). Howevergovernment, forces cracked down on these private schools, declaring unlicensedschools illegal and forcing the students to return to the public schools.Education became a major rallying point for the fight against apartheid as theNationalist government’s racist policies radicalized the youth.
Black youthbecame reluctant to participate in an educational system designed to create amenial labor force for the white economy (Elder, 1993, pp.12-26). In 1959, amilitant group of “Africanists” split from the ANC and formed the PanAfrican Congress (PAC), led by Robert Sobukwe. For the first time, the ANC waschallenged as the leading voice against apartheid.
On March 21, 1960, RobertSobukwe initiated widespread anti-pass law demonstrations. People gathered inthousands at the police station where passes were to be destroyed. As themorning wore on, the crowd, which journalists found “perfectlyamiable,” appeared to the police increasingly menacing (Thompson, 1996, pp.74-82). In the early afternoon, seventy-five policemen fired some 700 shots intothe crowd, killing 69 Africans and wounding 180. Among them were women andchildren.
Most of the dead had been shot in the back. That evening, a thousandmiles away, outside Cape Town, the protest drew 10,000 people: again the panic,again the shooting. Two Africans were killed, and 49 injured.
Outrage swept thecountry, precipitating riots, strikes, and mass demonstrations. The governmentdeclared a state of emergency. Both the African National Congress and the PanAfrican Congress were outlawed. Some 20,000 people were detained.
Most wereAfrican men, both leaders and so-called “vagrants.” Men and women ofall races were rounded up, not just members of the Congress Alliance, butmembers of the Liberal Party (Jackson, 1987, pp. 27-45). It seemed that theliberation movement must surely be crushed, but detainees were able to conspirewhile in jail.
One group of whites, including members of the multi-racialLiberal Party, agreed that after Sharpeville non-violent protest was futile.Upon release, a group of African men began to recruit like-minded men and women,among them former leaders of the National Union of South African Students andjournalists. They formed a sabotage group, recruited black members, and calledthemselves the National Committee of Liberation (later changed to AfricanResistance Movement). Their first action in December 1960 went unnoticed, and itwas not until October 1961 that their sabotage was reported. During thefollowing two years, such actions continued sporadically (Jackson, 1987, pp.45-69). Among black detainees, it was decided to make one last attempt atnon-violent protest.
After their release, they called an “All AfricanConference” in March of 1961. Nelson Mandela, momentarily free of bans, waselected to lead a National Action Council, and to renew the demand for aNational Convention in order to establish a new union of all South Africans. Insupport of the demand, a nationwide stay-at-home strike was to take place overtwo days in May.
Organizing from the underground, Mandela was assisted in hisclandestine existence by comrades of all races. In the days leading up to thestrike, the government called out police and army. A massive display of forcewas directed at the African townships. On the second day, Mandela was obliged tocall off the strike.
Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Africans hadresponded to his call, and in Durban they had been joined by Indian workers. InCape Town, for the first time, there was a substantial response from the Coloredpeople. Mandela spoke of the immense courage this took, and he declared,”If the Government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violentstruggle, we will have to reconsider our tactics” (Mandela, 1995, pp.76-92) Early in June 1961, Mandela took part in secret deliberations with asmall group from the outlawed African National Congress. The crucial decisionwas made: after half a century of non-violence, the policy of the AfricanNational Congress must change. The main organization would continue itsunderground organizing and would remain non-violent, but a select few of theAfrican National Congress would unite to undertake controlled violence. Umkhontowe Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) was formed.
Sabotage was to be their first formof action because, as Mandela was to explain, “It did not involve loss oflife, and it offered the most hope for future race relations.” (Mandela,1995, pp. 78-79). Umkhonto’s first acts of sabotage took place on December 16,1961. A few days earlier, Chief Albert Lutuli had received the Nobel Peace Prizein Oslo.
It was as though this event set the seal on a long and extraordinaryhistory for, as he said in his address, the honor must be accepted in the nameof the “true patriots of South Africa,” all those in the AfricanNational Congress who had “set the organization steadfastly against racialvain-gloriousness” (Tambo, 1968, pp. 56-60). The shootings at Sharpevillehad sent waves of outrage around the world. It was as if the internationalcommunity had suddenly realized the full horror of apartheid and had seen howpolice violence had escalated through the long years of oppression. The award ofthe prize to Lutuli was a measure of the worlds sympathy, admiration, andperhaps its guilt (Robinson, 1990, pp.
135-162). In the 1980s, people took theliberation struggle to new heights. In the workplace, in the community, and inthe schools, the people aimed to take control of their situation. All areas oflife became areas of political struggle. These strugglers were linked to thedemand for political power. Botha, the president back then, was powerless andwas forced to resign.
The senate then appointed F.W. De Klerk (Robinson, 1990,p.
8). To end apartheid was a decision by President F.W. De Klerk, who thenreleased the imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela unconditionally in February1990, after he had served 27 years in jail. At this point, the ANC’s consistentadherence to the principle of non-racial democracy paid enormous dividends. Itcreated a ground base of trust that enabled all political parties, black andwhite, to meet and to hammer out a transitional constitution (Mandela, 1995, pp.140-152). The end of Apratheid led to a Government of National Unity far widerand more explicit than the attempts to heal political breaches made by previousSouth African presidents South Africa then reached a turning point in itshistory after the first democratic elections in 1994 and the rise to politicalpower of Nelson Mandela.
Still, one cannot begin to understand the history ofSouth Africa without considering the effects of four and a half decades ofApartheid. Most black people working today are engaged in dealing with thelegacy of the past as retold to them weekly in the South African press reportageon the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. For many, the new era in South Africahas brought little appreciable change in the standard of living partiallybecause foreign industries that divested their interests there during the 1980shave been slow to return despite the dramatic political changes that have takenplace (Elder, 1993, pp.152-163). The time of post-revolutionary euphoria iscoming to a close in South Africa.
Continued poverty, inadequate housing, anoverburdened education system, and many other leftovers from the Apartheid erastill hamper the forging of a new nation and the remaking of ideas aboutsociety. South African history has shown how effectively a distorted, butlegalized distribution of power can bring about a warped social system whenbacked by strong-willed security forces, how the moral authority of a determinedopposition, even outside the legalized structures, can challenge that power ifit can operate from a secure base and receive support from outside. Letstherefore unite our forces, fight, and challenge each one of us for a betterfuture of South African children and let apartheid be no more.BibliographyElder, G.S. (1993). The controls and regulations in apartheid South Africa.London: Mapping & Co.
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