The Oxford dictionary definition of APARTHEID
NOUN [mass noun] historical
(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.
With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, I thought it would be an idea to begin the black history section of my blog on the history of pre-Apartheid to the separated South Africa, a brief mention of Mandela’s role and its impact on us today.
The history from when the Europeans invaded
South Africa had been invaded by Europeans from as far back as the late fifteenth century.
The Portuguese had invaded the land for the purpose of their ships but that was all. They used it as almost a “rest-bite” so that sailors could go onto Asia for cargo.
History books disregard where the natives were around this time.
Anyway, the Dutch invaded the land after the Portuguese with the intention to remain in the land more permanently. The Dutch’s presence settling in South Africa was the beginning of a colony. Of course, as the Dutch remained in the land local influences from a variety of groups evolved the current language into what is called Afrikaans or the Boers.
The British entered South Africa around the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century after realising the potential of having a coastline colony but at this time, the majority of the coastline was colonised by the Dutch later known as Afrikaners. Within a few short years, the British had gained control over the Afrikaners but with a large unhappy crowd the Afrikaners began revolts which lead to a division between the two groups and finally war known as the Boer War.
You may wonder why I keep italicising the word “invaded.” Whenever I searched online for more information about the “pre-apartheid” era I always came across the word “settled.” Now the free dictionary states that to settle means to “resolve or reach an agreement about.” My understanding is that the native people in South Africa (though my point could be stretched a lot further afield to other areas of history) were not given an opportunity to “reach an agreement” as the intrusion of the Europeans came upon them by force. Ooo did I say that? I sure did.
I read postmodernist literature at university and even though it’s a hard genre to define, a major section of it is based on writing someone back into history on the basis someone has been purposely written out. For example, the marginalised people in history – in this instance the black native South African (I’ll have to call it South Africa since I don’t know yet the name of the land before it was europeanised). It’s as if the victor (in this case the white folks) have been continuously been trying to write black folks out of history for the sake of their own glory. Ouch. Woah – Stop there but…
History is written by the victors. (Source unknown)
I’ll continue on with the history so that you’ll understand a bit more about the South African history.
The Boer War & the Apartheid Laws
The Boer War began in 1899 and ended in 1902 with the British, not only defeating the Afrikaners but gaining power of more the colonies. With more unhappy Afrikaners there was a widespread resentment towards the British power. The British were clearly aware of the high tension their victory had caused and they knew that they needed the cooperation of the Afrikaners and so they sought to unify the British and Afrikaners communities where they established in 1910, the Union of South Africa. With these powers unified, it began the foundation for white supremacy in South Africa.
Up until this point, there is very little mainstream information mentioning the natives in the land. Of course we could pop down to the British Library, but where would we begin? You could say, ‘boy none of this even matters – the natives are free that’s all that matters.’ My thing is why were they enslaved in the first place?
There were several actions that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, which began the foundation for apartheid to be legalised in 1948. A large number of acts stripped the rights and freedom of non-whites; blacks could only work in low paid jobs since the Mines and Works Act passed in 1911, their land was near enough stripped away from them due to the Native Land Act passed in 1913 forcing about 10 percent of blacks to become reserves. Since their finances were reduced they were confined to certain reserves – most probably the poor quality land at that. Lastly, the Native Affairs Act of 1920 where blacks were limited in where they could go and how often they could move into the towns and cities in South Africa.
The National Party (the Afrikaners) rose to power shortly after the second World War, where, realising that they were the minority, with the country’s population at nineteen million blacks to four and a half million whites, they quickly modified the laws they had in placed creating the Apartheid system in order for their security to remain successful. With this urgency, whites divided blacks into smaller zones with the hope that the black community would weaken.
Of course, the segregation in South Africa was in favour of white privileges where they had better support from the government and better facilities than the blacks.
These laws, on the other hand, only caused a resistance to begin where the most successful way of resistance was the formation of anti-Apartheid organisations. The government, however, removed any attempts of opposition for their assurance that their system wouldn’t ever crumble. But remember, the Afrikaners were outnumbered already but the non-whites of the country and so the government’s attempts to dispose of its opposition became harder as more blacks became involved with politics.
The African National Congress (ANC) would highlight the National Party’s major flaws putting them in trouble and leading to the end of the government’s inequitable policies. The ANC looked to using peaceful protesting and civil disobedience for opposition. The organisation was successful in its protests but now they would need a good leader – Nelson Mandela.
The United Nations eventually stepped in and got involved with South Africa’s problems. Many countries held out from South Africa in terms of international trade, blacks were boycotting wherever they could, the country was on a slippery slope to decline until the government had to remove the apartheid system as the country could survive no longer.
Woah that was a long post. But what does all of this mean in today’s society?
Apart from the fact that this a brief history lesson, it should just mean that learning about the apartheid is a part of history where our not too distance ancestors had fought so we can live the way we do in “harmony” with others.
Even though we do not have to physically fight in violent or non-violent ways, we still have to be aware of that racism hasn’t died, (and I think it may never die) as it’s just becoming more and more subtle.
“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught….”― Denis Leary
I totally agree.