History of South Africa

Apartheid, 1948-76

The Legislative Implementation of Apartheid

Malan and the National Party, fearing that they might lose office in the next election, immediately set about introducing laws to give apartheid a legislative reality that could not easily be overturned. Such laws aimed at separating whites and blacks, at instituting as a legal principle the theory that whites should be treated more favorably than blacks and that separate facilities need not be equal, and at providing the state with the powers deemed necessary to deal with any opposition.

Separating Black from White

The Population Registration Act (No. 30) of 1950 provided the basis for separating the population of South Africa into different races. Under the terms of this act, all residents of South Africa were to be classified as white, coloured, or native (later called Bantu) people. Indians, whom the HNP in 1948 had refused to recognize as permanent inhabitants of South Africa, were included under the category "Asian" in 1959. The act required that people be classified primarily on the basis of their "community acceptability"; later amendments placed greater stress on "appearance" in order to deal with the practice of light-colored blacks "passing" as whites. The act also provided for the compilation of a population register for the whole country and for the issuing of identity cards.

Other laws provided for geographic, social, and political separation. The Group Areas Act (No. 41) of 1950 extended the provisions of the Natives Land Act (No. 27) of 1913, and later laws divided South Africa into separate areas for whites and blacks (including coloureds), and gave the government the power to forcibly remove people from areas not designated for their particular racial group. The Tomlinson Commission in 1954 officially concluded that the areas set aside for Africans would support no more than two-thirds of the African population even under the best of conditions, but the government ignored its recommendation that more land be allocated to the reserves and began removing Africans from white areas.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (No. 55) of 1949 made marriages between whites and members of other racial groups illegal. The Immorality Act (No. 21) of 1950 extended an earlier ban on sexual relations between whites and blacks (the Immorality Act [No. 5] of 1927) to a ban on sexual relations between whites and any non-whites. The Bantu Authorities Act (No. 68) of 1951 established Bantu tribal, regional, and territorial authorities in the regions set out for Africans under the Group Areas Act, and it abolished the Natives Representative Council. The Bantu authorities were to be dominated by chiefs and headmen appointed by the government. The government also sought in 1951 to remove coloured voters in the Cape from the common roll onto a separate roll and to require that they elect white representatives only (Separate Representation of Voters Act [No. 46] of 1951). The Supreme Court immediately declared the act invalid on constitutional grounds, but after a long struggle it was successfully reenacted (the Separate Representation of Voters Amendment Act [No. 30] of 1956).

Separate and Unequal

The concept of unequal allocation of resources was built into legislation on general facilities, education, and jobs. The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (No. 49) of 1953 stated that all races should have separate amenities--such as toilets, parks, and beaches--and that these need not be of an equivalent quality. Under the provisions of this act, apartheid signs were erected throughout South Africa.

The Bantu Education Act (No. 47) of 1953 decreed that blacks should be provided with separate educational facilities under the control of the Ministry of Native Affairs, rather than the Ministry of Education. The pupils in these schools would be taught their Bantu cultural heritage and, in the words of Hendrik F. Verwoerd, minister of native affairs, would be trained "in accordance with their opportunities in life," which he considered did not reach "above the level of certain forms of labour." The act also removed state subsidies from denominational schools with the result that most of the mission-run African institutions (with the exception of some schools run by the Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists) were sold to the government or closed. The Extension of University Education Act (No. 45) of 1959 prohibited blacks from attending white institutions, with few exceptions, and established separate universities and colleges for Africans, coloureds, and Indians.

The Industrial Conciliation Act (No. 28) of 1956 enabled the minister of labour to reserve categories of work for members of specified racial groups. In effect, if the minister felt that white workers were being pressured by "unfair competition" from blacks, he could recategorize jobs for whites only and increase their rates of pay. Under the terms of the Native Laws Amendment Act (No. 54) of 1952, African women as well as men were made subject to influx control and the pass laws and, under Section 10 of the act, neither men nor women could remain in an urban area for longer than seventy-two hours without a special permit stating that they were legally employed. The Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents Act (No. 67) of 1952, which was designed to make the policy of pass restrictions easier, abolished the pass, replacing it with a document known as a "reference book." The act stated that all Africans had to carry a reference book containing their photograph, address, marital status, employment record, list of taxes paid, influx control endorsements, and rural district where officially resident; not having the reference book on one's person was a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence.

Security Legislation

Whereas the above laws built largely on existing legislation, police powers underwent a much greater expansion. The Suppression of Communism Act (No. 44) of 1950 had declared the Communist Party and its ideology illegal. Among other features, the act defined communism as any scheme that aimed "at bringing about any political, industrial, social, or economic change within the Union by the promotion of disturbance or disorder" or that encouraged "feelings of hostility between the European and the non-European races of the Union the consequences of which are calculated to further . . ." disorder. The act allowed the minister of justice to list members of such organizations and to ban them, usually for five-year periods, from public office, from attending public meetings, or from being in any specified area of South Africa. The Public Safety Act (No. 3) of 1953 gave the British governor general power to suspend all laws and to proclaim a state of emergency. The Criminal Law Amendment Act (No. 8) of 1953 stated that anyone accompanying a person found guilty of offenses committed while "protest[ing], or in support of any campaign for the repeal or modification of any law," would also be presumed guilty and would have the burden of proving his or her innocence. The Native Administration Act (No. 42) of 1956 permitted the government to "banish" Africans, essentially exiling them to remote rural areas far from their homes. The Customs and Excise Act of 1955 and the Official Secrets Act (No. 16) of 1956 gave the government power to establish a Board of Censors to censor books, films, and other materials imported into or produced in South Africa. During the 1950s, enforcement of these various laws resulted in approximately 500,000 pass-law arrests annually, in the listing of more than 600 inhabitants as communists, in the banning of nearly 350 inhabitants, and in the banishment of more than 150 other inhabitants.

White Politics

The National Party's legislative program received increasing support from the white electorate. The NP won re-election in 1953 and in 1958, each time with increased majorities. Malan retired in 1955 and was replaced as prime minister by J.G. Strydom, leader of the Transvaal branch of the party. After Strydom's death in 1958, Hendrik F. Verwoerd, the Dutch-born minister of native affairs as well as a former professor of applied psychology and the preeminent proponent of apartheid, became prime minister. The United Party (UP) competed aggressively for white votes by adopting a pro-white platform, by rejecting government expenditures on acquiring more land for African reserves, and by supporting the removal of coloured voters from the common roll. In 1959 the more liberal members of the UP broke away to form the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) but with little impact. Practically all Afrikaners and increasing numbers of English-speaking whites voted for the National Party. In 1960 a majority of white voters, irritated by growing world condemnation of apartheid, especially by the newly independent Asian and African members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, supported Verwoerd's proposal to make South Africa a republic, whereupon it left the Commonwealth. In the 1961 general election, the NP won 105 seats, the UP forty-five, and the PFP only one.

Black Resistance in the 1950s

The Congress Youth League and the Programme of Action

In 1943, during World War II, young members of the ANC, critical of what they considered its passivity, formed their own organization, the Congress Youth League (CYL). Anton Lembede, president of the CYL from 1944 until his death in 1947, stressed that South Africa was "a black man's country," in which the concerns of Africans should take precedence. He argued that African society was socialistic, but, because he considered the conflict in South Africa to be primarily a racial rather than a class struggle, he repudiated any alliance with the Communist Party in bringing about "national liberation." After the war and Lembede's death, and faced by the implementation of apartheid, the CYL's leaders, Peter Mda, Jordan Ngubane, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, strove to take charge of the ANC. They called on the organization to adopt the use of strikes, boycotts, stay-at-homes, and various forms of civil disobedience and non-cooperation to make the apartheid system unworkable. Overcoming the opposition of ANC president Alfred Xuma, the CYL succeeded in 1949 in electing James Moroka to the presidency, in seating three CYL members (Sisulu, Tambo, and Mandela) on the party's national executive body, and in persuading the congress formally to adopt the program of action.

The ANC's new leaders formed a Joint Planning Council with leaders of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) (unlike Lembede, the Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo team believed strongly in working with other groups) and in February 1952 called on the government to repeal all unjust laws or face a Defiance Campaign starting on April 6, the tercentenary of Jan van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape. Malan rejected the ultimatum. The ANC and the SAIC, led by Yusuf Dadoo, then organized mass rallies and stay-at-homes for April 6 and June 26. These actions drew the support of thousands of men and women. The government reacted by banning leaders and newspapers under the Suppression of Communism Act and by arresting participants in the demonstrations. By December 1952, approximately 8,500 people had been arrested, most of them in the Cape, and the Defiance Campaign had largely come to an end without bringing about any change in the laws. The ANC had grown enormously, however: its paid membership had increased from fewer than 7,000 at the beginning of 1952 to more than 100,000 by the end of the year. Its leadership had also changed: James Moroka had been dismissed in disgrace for having pleaded guilty to charges placed under the Suppression of Communism Act, and Albert Luthuli had been made president.

The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter

House arrests, bannings, and other forms of government restriction limited the ability of ANC and SAIC leaders to organize publicly in 1953 and 1954, but in 1955, approximately 3,000 delegates met on June 25 and June 26 near Soweto in a Congress of the People. They represented black (the ANC), white (the Congress of Democrats), Indian (the SAIC), and coloured (the Coloured People's Congress) political organizations and the multiracial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). The congress was held to develop a new vision for a future South Africa, one that reached beyond protest politics. The prime document discussed was the Freedom Charter, which had been drafted several weeks before the congress met. The charter emphasized that South Africa should be a nonracial society with no particular group assumed to have special rights or privileges. The charter stated that all people should be treated equally before the law, that land should be "shared among those who work it," and that the people should "share in the country's wealth," a statement that has sometimes been interpreted to mean a call for nationalization. The congress delegates had ratified almost all the sections of the charter when the police surrounded the meeting, announced that they suspected treason was being committed, and recorded the names and addresses of all those in attendance.

The Congress Youth League and the Programme of Action

In 1943, during World War II, young members of the ANC, critical of what they considered its passivity, formed their own organization, the Congress Youth League (CYL). Anton Lembede, president of the CYL from 1944 until his death in 1947, stressed that South Africa was "a black man's country," in which the concerns of Africans should take precedence. He argued that African society was socialistic, but, because he considered the conflict in South Africa to be primarily a racial rather than a class struggle, he repudiated any alliance with the Communist Party in bringing about "national liberation." After the war and Lembede's death, and faced by the implementation of apartheid, the CYL's leaders, Peter Mda, Jordan Ngubane, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, strove to take charge of the ANC. They called on the organization to adopt the use of strikes, boycotts, stay-at-homes, and various forms of civil disobedience and non-cooperation to make the apartheid system unworkable. Overcoming the opposition of ANC president Alfred Xuma, the CYL succeeded in 1949 in electing James Moroka to the presidency, in seating three CYL members (Sisulu, Tambo, and Mandela) on the party's national executive body, and in persuading the congress formally to adopt the program of action.

The ANC's new leaders formed a Joint Planning Council with leaders of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) (unlike Lembede, the Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo team believed strongly in working with other groups) and in February 1952 called on the government to repeal all unjust laws or face a Defiance Campaign starting on April 6, the tercentenary of Jan van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape. Malan rejected the ultimatum. The ANC and the SAIC, led by Yusuf Dadoo, then organized mass rallies and stay-at-homes for April 6 and June 26. These actions drew the support of thousands of men and women. The government reacted by banning leaders and newspapers under the Suppression of Communism Act and by arresting participants in the demonstrations. By December 1952, approximately 8,500 people had been arrested, most of them in the Cape, and the Defiance Campaign had largely come to an end without bringing about any change in the laws. The ANC had grown enormously, however: its paid membership had increased from fewer than 7,000 at the beginning of 1952 to more than 100,000 by the end of the year. Its leadership had also changed: James Moroka had been dismissed in disgrace for having pleaded guilty to charges placed under the Suppression of Communism Act, and Albert Luthuli had been made president.

The Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter

House arrests, bannings, and other forms of government restriction limited the ability of ANC and SAIC leaders to organize publicly in 1953 and 1954, but in 1955, approximately 3,000 delegates met on June 25 and June 26 near Soweto in a Congress of the People. They represented black (the ANC), white (the Congress of Democrats), Indian (the SAIC), and coloured (the Coloured People's Congress) political organizations and the multiracial South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). The congress was held to develop a new vision for a future South Africa, one that reached beyond protest politics. The prime document discussed was the Freedom Charter, which had been drafted several weeks before the congress met. The charter emphasized that South Africa should be a nonracial society with no particular group assumed to have special rights or privileges. The charter stated that all people should be treated equally before the law, that land should be "shared among those who work it," and that the people should "share in the country's wealth," a statement that has sometimes been interpreted to mean a call for nationalization. The congress delegates had ratified almost all the sections of the charter when the police surrounded the meeting, announced that they suspected treason was being committed, and recorded the names and addresses of all those in attendance.

The Pan-Africanist Congress and Sharpeville

Struggles over apartheid legislation continued through the remainder of the 1950s. In 1956 the police arrested 156 leaders, including Luthuli, Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, and others, and put them on trial for treason in a court case that dragged on for five years. Mass resistance, however, continued in a variety of forms. Thousands of people participated in bus boycotts on the Rand, preferring to walk to work rather than to pay high fares to travel on substandard vehicles. Thousands of African women, organized by the newly formed Federation of South African Women (FSAW), protested the extension of the pass laws. In 1956, 20,000 of them marched on the Parliament buildings in Pretoria and presented a petition with the signatures of tens of thousands of people opposed to the pass laws. Yet these efforts had little effect on the Nationalist government, which was determined to implement apartheid.

The failure to achieve any real success caused a major split in black resistance in 1959. Critics within the ANC argued that its alliance with other political groups, particularly the white Congress of Democrats, caused their organization to make too many compromises and to fail to represent African interests. Influenced by the writings of Lembede, the Africanists, led by Robert Sobukwe, called on the ANC to look to African interests first and to take more action to challenge the government. They were, however, forced out of the ANC, and they formed their own organization, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). In March 1960, the PAC began a national campaign against the pass laws and called on Africans to assemble outside police stations without their passes and to challenge the police to arrest them. One such demonstration outside the police station at Sharpeville, a "native" township in the industrial area of Vereeniging to the south of Johannesburg, ended in violence when the police fired on the demonstrators, killing at least sixty-seven of them and wounding 186. Most of the dead and wounded were shot in the back. Stoppages and demonstrations continued, including a peaceful march of 30,000 Africans on the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. Verwoerd's government reacted by declaring a state of emergency, by arresting approximately 18,000 demonstrators, including the leaders of the ANC and the PAC, and by outlawing both organizations.

South Africa History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress