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South Africa 1960 – 1994

Troy Neale
Macquarie Fields High School

1. The apartheid system

a) Ideology: policy and practice

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word which basically means apartness. Apartheid, developed in the 193Os and 1940s, and was similar to the policy of segregation which it replaced. The term apartheid was used commonly in discussions about race and politics by Afrikaner Nationalists who wanted white domination in South Africa. During the 1930s and 1940s South Africa became a modern industrialized and urbanised nation and apartheid was a reaction by Afrikaners to this rapid change.1

Afrikaners were white South Africans whose ancestors were Dutch colonists. They felt disempowered by blacks in the workforce and by the power and economic success of English-speaking South Africans. Afrikaners believed that the Smuts government had not been able to adequately apply the policies of segregation to advance the living conditions of Afrikaners and deal with the problem of the ‘poor white’ status of many Afrikaners.2

The ideological foundation of apartheid was that the different races in South Africa needed to be separated for their own mutual benefit. The bulk of apartheid thinking was based firmly on the philosophy of ‘scientific racism’. Afrikaners held that it was impossible, impracticable and ungodly for the different races and cultures to live as one. Subsequently a policy of separate development would be pursued by the white government. This insistence on racial apartness became the political and legal doctrine of apartheid.

Questions to consider:

  1. What was apartheid?
  2. Describe the ideological foundations of apartheid.
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The Afrikaner National government under the leadership of Prime Minister D. Malan ordered Professor Tomlinson to conduct research into the implementation of the official policy of apartheid. Professor Tomlinson advised the government that separation of the races could work if the government were prepared to finance apartheid policy. It was recommended by the Tomlinson Report that homelands (reserves) be set up in seven areas and become Bantu (native) homelands or Bantustans3. These homelands such as Transkei, Kwazulu and Bophutatswana would remain separated from the white community and eventually become independent. Furthermore, factories should be constructed on the borders and, over time, all blacks in South Africa would live only on a prescribed Bantustan. They would enter a white area only for the purpose of work and with correct documentation in the form of a passbook. Apartheid became more and more complicated and severe in its control of non-white South Africans from the 1950s onwards. As stated, the purpose of the Bantu homelands did not have any altruistic purpose of saving the Zulu and Xhosa cultures by keeping them separate from whites. Their key function was to keep blacks and whites separated entirely and thus the white race ‘pure’. The exception was black Africans who worked as labourers for white employers.

It is accepted Government policy that the Bantu (native) are only temporarily residents in the European (white) areas of the Republic for as long as they offer their labour there. As soon as they become, for one reason of another, no longer fit for work or superfluous in the labour market, they are expected to return to their country of origins or the territory of the nations unit where they fit ethnically if they were not born in their homeland’.

(The Department of Bantu Administration and Administration 1957) 4

More than eighty percent of South Africa’s land was set aside for its white residents, despite the fact that they comprised less than ten percent of the population.

Question to consider:

  1. What role did the Bantustans play in the implementation of the apartheid policy?
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The white government was constantly paranoid and increasingly vigilant of the ‘black peril’. The government instituted ‘influx’ control laws to limit the number of passes issued to black South Africans to leave their Homelands and work in the cities or on white farms. At the same time the white government spent no significant finances on constructing services in the Bantu Homelands. Public services for the black population in the Homelands were either grossly insufficient or completely absent. ‘Schools hospitals and public transport, reliable electricity and running water, public telephones, sewerage systems, parks and playing fields were rare’5. Apartheid caused Black South Africans to live in poverty compared to whites for whom apartheid provided a paradise of prosperity and comfort.

The main tenets of the apartheid policy have been summarised by Professor J .P. Brits of the University of South Africa as:

Professor Brits states that apartheid was a ‘dynamic policy, the scope and objectives of which were continually adapted to changed circumstances.’ As South African society changed apartheid was customized into new laws and regulations which were inflexible and severely enforced by the white government.

Major Apartheid Laws : (Adapted from J P Brits, UNISA)

Questions to consider:

  1. According to Professor Brits what basic rights were taken away from non-whites by these laws?
  2. What was the purpose of the Bantu education Act?
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b) Political, economic, social and demographic issues in South Africa in 1960

As a result of the social engineering policies of apartheid, South Africa by 1960 existed in a unique world of its own making. South Africa’s political, economic and social policies were directly contrary to the decolonisation and desegregation rapidly taking place in the rest of the modern world8. South Africa was starting to face some international criticism over apartheid, yet diplomatic sporting and economic ties still existed.9 Condemnation of the apartheid system from other countries only strengthened the white government’s determination to defend and develop apartheid.

In 1961 the ruling National Party, led by Prime Minister Dr H.F Verwoerd (commonly known as the architect of apartheid because he developed comprehensive policies to expand separate development) held a referendum for South Africa to become a Republic. A popular National Party slogan stated: ‘Unite to keep South Africa white- A Republic now’.10 White South Africa voted in favour of a Republic and in 1961 the Republic of South Africa (RSA) cut all ties with the British Commonwealth and continued to strengthen the apartheid regime.

At the same time as white Afrikaner nationalism was reaching its peak, black opposition to apartheid was becoming more organised. Despite some differences in political ideology, the ANC (African National Congress) was working to educate and unite blacks against the common enemy ‘apartheid’ and to create a non-racial democracy in South Africa. Anti-apartheid splinter groups were formed including the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress). Many groups were also forming to demand equal rights for ‘coloureds’ and ‘Indians’ in South Africa. In 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre the ANC was banned and forced underground. ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (Spear of the Nation), known as the MK, the military wing of the ANC, was created by Nelson Mandela who was determined to bring down the apartheid state by whatever means possible.

The economy in South Africa in the 1960s boomed. Mining and minerals were the main reasons for the rapid increase in South Africa’s economy11. Johannesburg (igoli,) the City of Gold, was a modern and sophisticated centre of the South African Republic. During the 1960s the number of people employed in gold mining doubled. With new technology and cheap black labour the South African economy surged forward. The De Beers Diamond Company and the Rand Gold Fields traded on the International stock market. The government used this money to invest in national roads, dams and power plants. The government also used its wealth to purchase military equipment from France, Britain and the United States.12

Whites prospered most as a result of the booming economy. Large Afrikaner Corporations were formed and Afrikaners for the first time began to earn twice what the English -speaking South Africans were earning13. Except for some small pockets of urban and rural poverty, whites were living a comfortable life. Most whites worked in skilled jobs and most households could afford a maid and a gardener. Despite the prosperity in South Africa blacks lived in poverty.

Black workers, who were the backbone of the South African economy, had not benefited from an increase in wages. They were paid less than half the earnings of a white worker and their work was labour intensive and unskilled. Only in the 1970s due to relaxation in the apartheid laws concerning trade unions, were blacks were able to organise and demand better wages. The government decided it required more skilled workers, and paid some organised semi-skilled black workers a higher rate of pay.14

In 1960 South African society was divided sharply between black and white, coloured and Indian and Asian. During the 1960s, some wealthy and educated white South Africans travelled or migrated and criticised the apartheid regime from abroad. However, most whites supported the apartheid state and white protest was minimal. Those who did protest were harassed and interrogated by the South African police and Intelligence Organisations and were often ostracised by their own community. When whites interacted with black people it was in the context of the ‘master-servant’ relationship. Whites had rising incomes, big homes and plenty of freedom and blacks were their servants15. Commonly any elderly black South African man would refer to any white child as “Baas” or” Master” and all black men, regardless of age, were known as ‘boys’ or ‘kaffirs’ The words ‘yes Baas’ and ‘kaffir’ characterised the racial dynamics of South Africa.

During the 1960s, as white South African society began to urbanize, many black communities or what whites called ‘black spots’ (informal’ or illegal black townships), were being bulldozed out of existence to make way for white suburbs. This was also done to ease the fears of a black revolt, such as the one at Sharpeville in March 1960. Under the Groups Areas Act the government redrew the boundaries of the black homelands to include townships not far from white factories thus allowing a source of cheap labour.16 Blacks could commute to work yet live in Bantustans. Any existing black township too close to a white development was simply bulldozed.17

The facilities and services in the townships such as the one in SOWETO(South Western Township) were inferior in every respect. In the ‘informal settlement’ or ‘illegal settlements’ black South Africans were forced to live in shanty houses constructed of corrugated iron with no more than dirt floors, with no electricity or running water. The situation in the Bantustans was similar; overcrowded and poverty stricken. The land could not cope with the demands of a growing black population. Insufficient water and fertile soil made economic self-sufficiency and independence nonsense.18

Questions to consider

  1. What was the government’s reaction to international criticism of apartheid?
  2. What were the aims of the ANC in the 1960s?
  3. What impact did the 1960s booming economy have on white communities?
  4. Describe the social division between white and black South Africans?
  5. Describe the impact of apartheid on rural and urban communities.
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1. P. Brits, Modern South Africa: Afrikaner power, the politics of race, and resistance, 1902 to the 1970’s (Pretoria, University of South Africa Press, 2007), p37

2. ibid

3. M. Roberts, South Africa 1948-2000: The Rise and fall of Apartheid (England, Pearson Educational Limited, 2001), pp 29-30.

4. L. Thompson, A History of South Africa (USA, Yale Nota Bene, 2001), p 193.

5. L. Thompson, op cit, p 201.

6. JP. Brits, op cit, p 38.

7. JP. Brits, op cit, p 41.

8. L. Thompson, op cit, p 200.

9. JP. Brits, Modern South Africa: From Soweto to Democracy, p 12.

10. J, Bottaro, Oxford in Search of History (Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 2006) p 175.

11. M. Roberts, op cit, p 63.

12. ibid, p 66.

13. ibid, pp 67-68.

14. L. Thompson, op cit, p 202.

15. L. Thompson, op cit, p 200.

16. R.Ross, A Concise History of South Africa (London, Cambridge University Press, 1999) p 136.

17. ibid, p 138.

18. M. Roberts, op cit, p 75-76.

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