Apartheid South Africa

Apartheid South Africa (1948-1994)

Please note this page is still under construction.

“We speak out to put the world on guard against what is happening in South Africa. The brutal policy of apartheid is applied before the eyes of the nations of the world. The peoples of Africa are compelled to endure the fact that on the African continent the superiority of one race over another remains official policy, and that in the name of this racial superiority murder is committed with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”

— Che Guevara, speech to the United Nations as Cuba’s representative, December 11, 1964

Flag of Apartheid South Africa

Apartheid was an institutionalized system of racial segregation enforced by the National Party (Nasionale Party) government in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The term apartheid comes from the Afrikaans word meaning “separateness.”

The era of apartheid in South Africa is infamous for its utter genocidal dehumanization, deportation, impoverishment and all-around discrimination against a native population by Afrikaners. Apartheid lasted for over 40 years with the support of the United States and other world powers.

Flag of the National Party from 1936 to 1981
National Party’s final logo before its dissolution

One difference between South Africa’s apartheid era and other periods of racial segregation that have occurred in other countries is the systematic way in which the National Party formalized it through law.

The Afrikaaners, or white descendants of Dutch colonists, enforced strict domination of the black population. Under apartheid, the disfranchised African majority was, for the most part, poor, whilst the small white minority that had held power was conspicuously rich. The end of the apartheid system in South Africa left the country socio-economically divided by race.

Tens of thousands of black South Africans were killed, tortured or left maimed by the South African police forces.

South Africa today has the highest rate of AIDS and HIV in the world, with over 25% of the population testing positive for the diseases. This is due to the lack of medical care and the extremely poor (in many cases nonexistent) educational system for black people during apartheid.

Map of the so-called “homelands” under apartheid.

Poster made by the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the United Kingdom highlighting the discrimination of the apartheid system.

It was introduced by by DF Malan’s Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP – ‘Reunited National Party’) in 1948 and lasted until the end of FW De Klerk’s government in 1994.

The policy of consistent racial separation was introduced in 1910 through a group of laws that further curtailed the rights of the black majority. The “Mines and Works Act” of 1911, for example, limited black workers exclusively to menial work and so guaranteed the availability of cheap labour and secured the better positions for white workers. The “Native Land Act” of 1913 set aside 7.3 per cent of South African territory as reservations for black people and barred them from buying land outside these areas.

The NP was led by D.F. Malan, who stood for drastic measures against the “black menace,” coined the concept of “apartheid” and consistently enforced this devious policy. From then on, it was not “only” about the separation of the races in the economic sector, but increasingly the private domain of all non-white people was regulated and controlled as well. Marriage or any love relationship between members of different racial groups were forbidden, and in all public institutions and offices, in public transport and on public toilets, racial segregation was introduced. More detrimental because of long-term consequences was the education system, the so-called Bantu education, which tried to keep the black children at a very low standard. Subjects were even dish washing and the weeding of flower beds.

Woman and Child in Squatter Camp

Historical Background

South Africa is a land of abundant natural resources, mild climate, and fertile lands. Their resources range from diamond and gold to platinum and their land is fertile enough to feed the rest of the world if cultivated intensively. Yet many believed Africa to be the Dark Continent, a continent of poverty, harsh climate, and political turmoil (Woods 10). Though apartheid officially began in 1948, Africa’s history of racial domination and oppression began as early as the mid-17th century when the Dutch East India Company set up a provisioning station on the Cape (US Government Source).

White settlers from the Netherlands arrived in South Africa in the mid 17th century, forcing the occupants of South Africa out of their land or using them as laborers. The “Scramble for Africa” then came in the 18th and 19th century where the French, British, Portuguese, Germans, Belgians, Spanish, and Dutch colonized and took control of almost all of the Fifty states which make up the African nation (Woods 15). By the 20th century, the British controlled most of northeast, east, west, center, and South Africa, and the French controlled most of northwest Africa.

Southern Africa was separated into four territories in the end of the 19th century, two of which were under British rule and the other two in the hands of the Afrikaners. The Black people did not have any political rights in these four territories and segregation was already in full force at this point. The Dutch descendants, also known as the Boers or Afrikaners, revolted against the British in the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902, trying to claim the two other colonies. They did not succeed and British rule was established in all four colonies.

By 1910, the four colonies were joined together under the Act of the Union, and the British handed the administration of the country over to the White locals. The Union preserved all regulations on black rights and also removed all parliamentary rights for Black people. In the three decades to follow until the Apartheid was established, racial segregation and white domination could be seen in all aspects such as land ownership, legal system, distribution of wealth and in the social relations.


Initial emphasis was on restoring the separation of races within the urban areas. A large segment of the Asian and Coloured populations was forced to relocate out of so-called white areas. African townships that had been overtaken by (white) urban sprawl were demolished and their occupants removed to new townships well beyond city limits. Between the passage of the Group Areas Acts of 1950 and 1986, about 1.5 million Africans were forcibly removed from cities to rural reservations.

Apartheid in Action

Apartheid was a creation of three hundred and seventeen laws by Dr. D.F. Malan’s nationalist party, which was elected in 1948. The apartheid only proceeded to add structure to the racial segregation and domination that already existed within the nation. Even before 1948, the Nationalist Party feared the influx of Africans into White towns, and therefore restricted the areas in which they could live. The Whites passed various bills in the next four decades, to ensure that the movement of Africans into their towns were kept at a minimum, and also sought political, economical, and social domination.


  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, and Immorality Act, 1950, constituted the government’s first step in institutionalizing racial differentiation. These acts prohibited sexual intercourse and marriage between whites and blacks. All people over the age of sixteen were required to carry identity cards that grouped the people into various racial categories. Prohibited marriages between people of different races. Prohibited extramarital sex between white people and people of other races.

    The Original SB1070 – Police Checking Passbooks under Apartheid
  • The Groups Areas Act restricted the entrance of blacks into the urban, industrial, and agricultural areas, reserving these areas only for the whites. Most people who were allowed to be within the reserved areas were workers, housemaids or gardeners, who were given state permission. Spouses and other family members were also restricted from living with those who were granted permission. If blacks were caught with family members who did not have the permission to be in the area, they were arrested and imprisoned, once spotted by the inspectors. Racial groups assigned to different residential and business sections. Forced physical separation between races by creating different residential areas for different races. Non-whites are forbidden from living in the most developed areas, such as Sea Point. Non-whites will be forcibly removed from the “wrong” areas. Pass Laws require that non-whites carry pass books to enter the white parts of the country.

  • The Population Registration Act, also in 1950, required that all Africans were classified into three categories according to race. These were Black, Colored, or White, and the government made these classifications according to a person’s habits, education, appearance, and manner. Rules were given according to race and had to be followed to prevent dire consequences.

    Funeral and Political Rally Against Apartheid
  • The Bantu Authorities Act, 1951, assigned all Africans to their native land. This stole power away from the Africans, and instead allowed them to vote solely within their homeland. This allowed the denationalization of Africans possible. The Bantu Education Act applied apartheid to the educational system. The education of Whites, Blacks, and Colored was separately administered and financed.
  • The Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act, 1952, required all Africans to carry a pass-book, similar to a passport. The pass-book contained all personal information, such as name, photograph of holder, fingerprints, and also gave a detailed explanation on where a person could be employed, and their performance at work. If Africans did not obey the rules, they were kicked out from the area, and their crime would be reported in their pass-books. The penalty for not carrying the book at all times was also severe, ranging from imprisonment and fines, to a torturous death.


Prisoners Chipping Stones on Robben Island under Apartheid

Starting in 1948, the Nationalist Government in South Africa enacted laws to define and enforce segregation.

The main laws are described below.

Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Act No 55 of 1949
Prohibited marriages between white people and people of other races. Between 1946 and the enactment of this law, only 75 mixed marriages had been recorded, compared with some 28,000 white marriages.

Immorality Amendment Act, Act No 21 of 1950; amended in 1957 (Act 23)
Prohibited adultery, attempted adultery or related immoral acts (extra-marital sex) between white and black people.

Population Registration Act, Act No 30 of 1950
Led to the creation of a national register in which every person’s race was recorded. A Race Classification Board took the final decision on what a person’s race was in disputed cases.

Group Areas Act, Act No 41 of 1950
Forced physical separation between races by creating different residential areas for different races. Led to forced removals of people living in “wrong” areas, for example Coloureds living in District Six in Cape Town. Suppression of Communism Act, Act No 44 of 1950
Outlawed communism and the Community Party in South Africa. Communism was defined so broadly that it covered any call for radical change. Communists could be banned from participating in a political organisation and restricted to a particular area.

Bantu Building Workers Act, Act No 27 of 1951
Allowed black people to be trained as artisans in the building trade, something previously reserved for whites only, but they had to work within an area designated for blacks. Made it a criminal offence for a black person to perform any skilled work in urban areas except in those sections designated for black occupation.

Separate Representation of Voters Act, Act No 46 of 1951
Together with the 1956 amendment, this act led to the removal of Coloureds from the common voters’ roll.

Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act, Act No 52 of 1951
Gave the Minister of Native Affairs the power to remove blacks from public or privately owned land and to establishment resettlement camps to house these displaced people.

Bantu Authorities Act, Act No 68 of 1951
Provided for the establishment of black homelands and regional authorities and, with the aim of creating greater self-government in the homelands, abolished the Native Representative Council.

Natives Laws Amendment Act of 1952
Narrowed the definition of the category of blacks who had the right of permanent residence in towns. Section 10 limited this to those who’d been born in a town and had lived there continuously for not less than 15 years, or who had been employed there continuously for at least 15 years, or who had worked continuously for the same employer for at least 10 years. Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, Act No 67 of 1952
Commonly known as the Pass Laws, this ironically named act forced black people to carry identification with them at all times. A pass included a photograph, details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the police. It was a criminal offence to be unable to produce a pass when required to do so by the police. No black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities. On arrival in an urban area a permit to seek work had to be obtained within 72 hours.

Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act of 1953
Prohibited strike action by blacks.

Bantu Education Act, Act No 47 of 1953
Established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs which would compile a curriculum that suited the “nature and requirements of the black people”. The author of the legislation, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister), stated that its aim was to prevent Africans receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn’t be allowed to hold in society. Instead Africans were to receive an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the homelands or to work in labouring jobs under whites. Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Act No 49 of 1953
Forced segregation in all public amenities, public buildings, and public transport with the aim of eliminating contact between whites and other races. “Europeans Only” and “Non-Europeans Only” signs were put up. The act stated that facilities provided for different races need not be equal.

Natives Resettlement Act, Act No 19 of 1954

Poster calling to Boycott Apartheid

Group Areas Development Act, Act No 69 of 1955Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act, Act No 64 of 1956
Denied black people the option of appealing to the courts against forced removals.

Bantu Investment Corporation Act, Act No 34 of 1959
Provided for the creation of financial, commercial, and industrial schemes in areas designated for black people.

Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959
Put an end to black students attending white universities (mainly the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand). Created separate tertiary institutions for whites, Coloured, blacks, and Asians.

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, Act No 46 of 1959
Classified black people into eight ethnic groups. Each group had a Commissioner-General who was tasked to develop a homeland for each, which would be allowed to govern itself independently without white intervention.Coloured Persons Communal Reserves Act, Act No 3 of 1961

Preservation of Coloured Areas Act, Act No 31 of 1961

Urban Bantu Councils Act, Act No 79 of 1961
Created black councils in urban areas that were suppoed to be tied to the authorities running the related ethnic homeland.

Terrorism Act of 1967
Allowed for indefinite detention without trial and established BOSS, the Bureau of State Security, which was responsible for the internal security of South Africa.

Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970
Compelled all black people to become a citizen of the homeland that responded to their ethnic group, regardless of whether they’d ever lived there or not, and removed their South African citizenship.

Various segregation laws were passes before the Nationalist Party took complete power in 1948. Probably the most significant were The Natives Land Act, No 27 of 1913 and The Natives (Urban Areas) Act of 1923. The former made it illegal for blacks to purchase or lease land from whites except in reserves; this restricted black occupancy to less than 8% of South Africa’s land.


Use with the handout “Introduction to Apartheid”, used in Section B of the lesson on Racial Discrimination.

· 1651: Dutch settlers arrive in South Africa. In 1756, they import slaves from West Africa, Malaysia, and India, establishing the dominance of whites over non-whites in the region.

· 1700s: Riding on horseback and covered wagons, Dutch farmers (called Boers) migrate across land inhabited by Bantu and Khoi peoples. Armed with shotguns, the Boers seize land used by the tribes for cattle and sheep grazing — the basis of their economy. Without land, the tribes must work on Boer farms to support themselves.

· 1810s: British missionaries arrive and criticize the racist practises of the Boers. They urge the Boers to treat the Africans more fairly. Boers justify their practises in the belief that they are superior to Africans.

· 1867: Diamond mining begins in South Africa. Africans are given the most dangerous jobs, are paid far less than white workers, and are housed in fenced, patrolled barracks. Oppressive conditions and constant surveillance keep Africans from organizing for better wages and working conditions.

· 1908: A constitutional convention is held to establish South African independence from Britain. The all-white government decides that non-whites can vote but cannot hold office. A few people in the new government object, believing that South Africa would be more stable if Africans were treated better.

· 1910: The South Africa Act takes away all political rights of Africans in three of the country’s four states.

· 1912: The African National Congress is formed. This political party aims to organize Africans in the struggle for civil rights. The early leaders are pictured on the right.

· 1913: The Native Lands Act gives 7.3% of the country’s land to Africans, who make up 80% of the population. Africans are prohibited from owning land outside their region. Africans are allowed to be on white land only if they are working for whites.

· 1920s: Blacks are fired from jobs which are given to whites.

· 1910s-1930s: Africans educated at missionary schools attempt to organize to resist white rule and gain political power. Their efforts are weakened because few Africans are literate, communication is poor, and access to money or other resources is limited.

· By 1939, fewer than 30% of Africans are receiving any formal education, and whites are earning over five times as much as Africans.

· 1936: Representation of Voters Act: This law weakens the political rights for Africans in some regions and allows them to vote only for white representatives.

· 1946: African mine workers are paid twelve times less than their white counterparts and are forced to do the most dangerous jobs. Over 75,000 Africans go on strike in support of higher wages. Police use violence to force the unarmed workers back to their jobs. Over 1000 workers are injured or killed.

· 1950: The Population Registration Act. This law classifies people into three racial groups: white, colored (mixed race or Asian), and native (African/black). Marriages between races are outlawed in order to maintain racial purity.

· 1951: The Group Areas Act sets aside specific communities for each of the races (white, colored (mixed race or Indian), and native (African/black) ). The best areas and the majority of the land are reserved for whites. Non-whites are relocated into “reserves.” Mixed-race families are forced to live separately.

· 1951: The Bantu Homelands Act. Through this law, the white government declares that the lands reserved for black Africans are independent nations. In this way, the government strips millions of blacks of their South African citizenship and forces them to become residents of their new “homelands.” Blacks are now considered foreigners in white-controlled South Africa, and need passports to enter. Blacks only enter to serve whites in menial jobs.

· The homelands are too small to support the many people in them. In Soweto, for example, seventeen to twenty people live in a four-room house. Typical living conditions are shown in the picture above.

· The African National Congress (ANC), a political organization for Africans, encourages peaceful resistance to the discriminatory laws of apartheid. The ANC issues a Freedom Charter that states, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.” The government reacts by arresting people and passing more repressive laws.

1952: Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act. This misleadingly-named law requires all Africans to carry identification booklets with their names, addresses, fingerprints, and other information. (See picture at right.) Africans are frequently stopped and harassed for their passes. Between 1948-1973, over ten million Africans were arrested because their passes were “not in order.” Burning pass books becomes a common form of protest.

· 1953: The Preservation of Separate Amenities Act establishes “separate but not necessarily equal” parks, beaches, post offices, and other public places for whites and non-whites. At right are signs for segregated toilets in English and Afrikaans.

· 1960: A large group of blacks in the town of Sharpeville refused to carry their passes. The government declares a state of emergency and responds with fines, imprisonment, and whippings. In all, 69 people die and 187 people are wounded. The African political organizations, the African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress, are banned.

· 1962: The United Nations establishes the Special Committee Against Apartheid to support a political process of peaceful change. The Special Committee observes the International Day Against Racism to mark the anniversary of the people who died in the Sharpeville protest.

· 1963: Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress, is jailed.

· 1953: Preservation of Separate Amenities Act. This law created “separate but not necessarily equal” beaches, parks, post office, and other public places for Africans (blacks), coloreds (the term used for Asian and mixed-raced people) and whites.

· 1953: Bantu Education Act: Through this law, the white government supervises the education of all blacks. Schools condition blacks to accept white domination. Non-whites cannot attend white universities. · 1970s: Resistance to apartheid increases. Organizing by churches and workers increases. Whites join blacks in the demonstrations.

· 1970s: The all-black South African Students Organization, under the leadership of Steven Biko, helps unify students through the Black Consciousness movement. A typical protest poster is shown below.

Hector Pieterson (1964 – June 16, 1976) became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto Uprising in apartheid South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Mzima of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 12 when the police opened fire on protesting students.

· 1976: The Soweto uprising: People in Soweto riot and demonstrate against discrimination and instruction in Afrikaans, the language of whites descended from the Dutch. The police react with gunfire. 575 people are killed and thousands are injured and arrested. Steven Biko is beaten and left in jail to die from his injuries. Protesters against apartheid link arms in a show of resistance.

· 1980s: People and governments around the world launch an international campaign to boycott (not do business with) South Africa. Some countries ban the import of South African products, and citizens of many countries pressure major companies to pull out of South Africa. These actions have a crippling effect on the South African economy and weaken the apartheid government.

· 1980s: Hundreds of thousands of Africans who are banned from white-controlled areas ignore the laws and pour into forbidden regions in search of work. Civil disobedience, demonstrations, and other acts of protest increase.

· late 1980s: Countries around the world increasingly pressure South Africa to end its system of apartheid. As a result, some of the segregationist laws are repealed (reversed). For example, the laws separating whites and non-whites in public places are relaxed or repealed.

Non European South Africans Defy Apartheid Restrictions

· 1991: South Africa President F.W. de Klerk repeals the rest of the apartheid laws and calls for the drafting of a new constitution.

· 1993: A multiracial, multiparty transitional government is approved.

· 1994: Elections are held. The United Nations sends 2,120 international observers to ensure the fairness of the elections. The African National Congress, representing South Africa’s majority black population. Nelson Mandela, the African resistance leader who had been jailed for 27 years, is elected President.

The Africa Fund

Southern Africa PERSPECTVES 2/84


Richard Knight, October 2002


Bophuthatswanaone of ten areas called bantustans allocated for black occupation by the South African governmenthas become internationally known as the home of a casino resort complex, Sun City. Big name American performers and athletes earn rich rewards for appearances at the pleasure center, which caters mainly to visiting white South Africans. Diversions forbidden elsewhere in South Africa flourish at Sun City. Yet behind this luxurious facade, the people of Bophuthatswana live in terrible poverty and the bantustan itself plays a central role in South Africa’s apartheid system.

Bantustans, the fragmented areas designated for Africans, comprise only 13 percent of South Africa’s territory. Yet these areas are to be the “homelands” for all Africans, or 72 percent of the population. Already the government has declared four of these bantustans, including Bophuthatswana, “independent,” thus stripping 8 million people of their South African citizenship. The intention of the white minority government is to declare all ten bantustans independent, arriving at a time when, by the stroke of a white pen, every African will be a foreigner in South Africa. These pseudo-states are recognized by no government on earth except South Africa.

Land has always been at the center of racial exploitation in South Africa. The basic system of “native reserves,” as bantustans were originally called, was created long before the Nationalist Party came to power in 1948 under the slogan of apartheid. White seizure of the land was codified into law by the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, which set aside a maximum of 13 percent of all the land for African occupation. Outside these areas it is still illegal for Africans to purchase land. Originally the land allotted for African occupation consisted of more than 100 separate scraps of territory. A proposed consolidation plan will reduce the number of pieces to 36. Out of this fragmented territory, the ten bantustans have been created.

History and Government

Bophuthatswana consists of seven pieces of land which are located in three different provinces of South Africa. The 1980 resident population is estimated at two million people with an annual growth rate of over 4 percent (1).

The South African government claims that each bantustan is the real homeland for a particular ethnic group, the Tswana in the case of Bophuthatswana. In fact, almost half of all Tswana live outside Bophuthatswana while one-third of Bophuthatswana residents are non-Tswana.

South Africa granted Bophuthatswana independence in December 1976. At that moment, every Tswana, whether living in the rest of South Africa or in Bophuthatswana, was stripped of South African citizenship and arbitrarily made a citizen of the new “country” even if they had never lived in, or visited the bantustan.

The white minority government justifies the complete absence of political rights for Africans in South Africa on the grounds that Africans will exercise these rights in the bantustans. The vast majority of Tswana reject this system. The government of Bophuthatswana consists of a national assembly of 72 elected members and 24 members nominated by local chiefs. In the first election for the national assembly in 1977, only 163,141 people or 12 percent of those eligible in Bophuthatswana cast a vote(2). Polling booths were set up in the urban areas outside the bantustans for Tswana residents to vote. Three hundred thousand Tswana live in Soweto, the black township outside Johannesburg. Only 600 voted in the 1977 election. In 1982, only 135 voted(3).

Since 1976 Chief Lucas Mangope has headed the government as President. If the vast majority of people in Bophuthatswana are poor, Mangope is not. In an area where the average income per capita is estimated between $339-$495, Chief Mangope receives a salary of $27,500 a year and runs an expense account(4).

Bophuthatswana is the showcase bantustan, and proudly boasts a bill of rights. On paper it guarantees equality before the law, the right to freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading punishment and the right to freedom and liberty. But in reality, opposition is curtailed. The government maintains the power of detention without trial and the right to declare any organization illegal. Local chiefs have considerable power, and can arrest and pass sentence for certain offenses. In 1982 three men died after being locked up by police on the orders of a local chief.

In spite of “independence,” the movement of Africans is still rigidly controlled. Instead of the hated “passbook,” Africans wishing to go to the white areas now carry a “passport,” but to seek work outside the bantustan it is still necessary to go through the labor bureau. No one can just go to the city to look for a job.


So-called independence has not changed the basic economic function of Bophuthatswana as a labor reservoir for white-owned mines, farms and industry. In 1982, 236,000 migrant workers from Bophuthatswana, or over 12 percent of the de facto population, worked in the white areas. Another 163,000 people who lived in Bophuthatswana “commuted” to work in the white areas because they were not allowed to live in those areas(5). The people of Bophuthatswana are overwhelmingly dependent on this outside employment. The bantustans are the poorest parts of South Africa, with only about 3 percent of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product produced in all the bantustans combined(6). Bophuthatswana is the only bantustan with significant mineral wealth. In spite of this, as stated earlier, the annual average income in Bophuthatswana is between $339-$495 a year, and approximately 60 percent of the earnings come from those who work outside the bantustan(7).
Winterveld is a place where 600,000 black South Africans live in tin shanties and mud hits. The vast majority have been forced out of the white areas of South Africa. Ninety percent are non-Tswana and many are considered illegal even within Bophutantswana. They live without the most basic services such as waterborne sewerage or a single health clinic and are subject to police harassment.

Migrant Labor

There are few jobs in Bophuthatswana; un- employment was conservatively estimated at 19.4 percent in 1981. Only about one-third of those who enter the labor market each year can expect to find work in the bantustan. The South African policy of removals which dumps more people into already overcrowded areas makes matters worse. Because Africans have no free access to the places where jobs are, they have little choice but to join the ranks of migrant workers.

The migrant workers from Bophuthatswana and elsewhere are usually hired on one year contracts, and are not allowed to take their families with them. They spend most of their lives far from home, living in squalid, single-sex, barracks-style hostels in the white areas. They rarely see their wives and children more than once a year, during brief visits home between contracts. Women, children and the elderly are left in the bantustans to survive as best they can on the meager remittances sent by family members, sometimes supplemented by subsistence agriculture.

Migrant workers are not allowed to go out and seek work directly with an employer. Employers submit their labor needs to a central labor bureau, which then goes out and recruits in the bantustans. The damage done to family life under this system is incalculable, and the Africans are reduced in the eyes of both government and employers to “units of labor.”


In addition to providing migrant workers, Bophuthatswana provides some 163,000 “commuter” workers. These workers actually live in Bophuthatswana but “commute” by bus or train on a daily basis to jobs in the white areas. Not permitted to live near their place of employment, they are forced to travel several hours to and from work. Commuters frequently have to leave as early as three a.m. and do not return until eight or nine in the evening.

To be as near as possible to their place of employment, people have built squatter settlements in Bophuthatswana, especially near the Pretoria- Witwatersrand industrial areas. Over 40 percent of the Bophuthatswana population now lives in these squatter camps. They provide much of the labor for the industries of the southern Transvaal.

Agriculture, Mining and Manufacturing

About 85 percent of the economically active population in Bophuthatswana is involved in some kind of agriculture, although the land has extremely limited rainfall. Thus there is almost no commercial agriculture, but the women and children in the families left behind by the migrants at work in the white areas struggle to grow a little food. This subsistence agriculture accounted for 5.6 percent of Bophuthatswana’s GDP in 1980, compared to 0.5 percent for commercial agriculture(8).

Bophuthatswana is the only homeland with any significant mineral deposits. Bophuthatswana’s mines, which are owned by South Africa’s large mining houses, provide the single largest amount – 53 percent of – Bophuthatswana’s GDP. About 30 per- cent of all platinum produced worldwide comes from Bophuthatswana(9). The US firm Union Carbide owns a vanadium mine.

The mines, which employ some 40,000 people, impose many of the same restrictions on black advancement that exist in the rest of South Africa. For example, blacks are prohibited from obtaining blasting certificates. Wage statistics for the mines in Bophuthatswana are not available, but are probably comparable to the wage figures for other South African mines, where an average monthly income for Africans is $260 compared to $1,395 for whites.

Bophuthatswana has relatively little industrial development. Most significant industry is owned by South Africa’s large industrial companies which have been attracted by wages which are low, even by South African standards, and by significant tax incentives.


Bophuthatswana has taken a hostile attitude toward the black trade unions emerging in South Africa. The minister of manpower is Rowan Cronje, former Rhodesian minister of manpower in the white minority government of Ian Smith. A new labor law, based on Rhodesian legislation, took effect in March 1984. Under this legislation, unions based outside the bantustan are barred from operating. Three unions, the National Union of Mineworkers, the South African Allied Workers Union and the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union, have been thus affected(10). This directly affected the workers at a mine owned by Union Carbide, who were seeking company recognition for the National Union of Mineworkers. In contrast, the bantustan has made an exception in the case of the all-white Mine Workers’ Union, which will be allowed to continue to operate.

The legislation places other obstacles in the way of effective union activity. All unions are required to register with the government, which determines if a union is representative of the workers in an industry or category which the union is seeking to represent. It is illegal for a union to either support or be supported by a political party.

There is no minimum wage law in Bophuthatswana, and high unemployment keeps wages low. As the president of the Bophuthatswana Chamber of Mines and Industry put it, “Wages are determined by supply and demand.”


In the proclaimed towns (as opposed to the “informal” squatter settlements) 333,620 people live in 34,444 houses, an average of over 9.5 people per house(11). Few houses have waterborne sewerage, electricity or more than two rooms.

Instead of building homes for ordinary people, the Bophuthatswana government is spending $120 million on a capital city, Mmabatho. Four hundred new houses are included in the plans, but they will sell for a minimum of $13,00012 and are out of reach for all but a tiny percentage of the population.


The crowded living conditions in the towns and squatter settlements have had serious adverse effects on health. Africans suffer from the many diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and malnutrition. In Bophuthatswana there is only one doctor for every 16,000 people compared to one doctor for every 400 whites throughout South Africa. There is one hospital bed for every 224 people in Bophuthatswana compared to one for every 61 whites in South Africa.


The Bophuthatswana administration claims to have greatly improved the educational system. The total number of secondary school pupils more than doubled between 1977 and 1981, from 64,650 to 143,168, but the number of primary school students has actually declined.

Bophuthatswana spends $111.55 per pupil per year. The South African government spends $1050 to educate each white pupil in South Africa.

Rejection and Resistance

Despite South African propaganda that the bantustans are an answer to African demands for political rights, the black majority has strongly resisted the imposition of phony “independence” for puppet states and continues to demand full citizenship in a united South Africa.

During the 1976 uprisings that began in Soweto, students in Bophuthatswana boycotted classes and burned down schools, government buildings and vehicles. On August 9, the students burned down the Legislative Assembly building to dramatize their rejection of bantustan independence. President Mangope’s son was one of the students arrested during the uprisings.

Fearing the challenge to his rule, Mangope has openly sided with the white minority government. He told a group of parents that the police had been too lenient when dealing with strikes, that they should shoot indiscriminately. “In fact, I have told the police to even shoot my own child,” Mangope said.

Africans have rejected the fraud of bantustan independence. They see it as an attempt to divide and disorganize the black majority in order to maintain white minority rule. They see it as a way to organize society so that the white economy has access to a regulated labor pool. They see it as part of South Africa’s image building, an attempt to convince the outside world that change is taking place.

The puppet leaders of the bantustans play their part, insisting that they are doing away with apartheid. The African majority knows better, understands that the bantustans are themselves apartheid. They will not be satisfied until they have equal access to the wealth of South Africa and full political rights in a unitary state.

The Discarded People

Africans have for centuries lived across the face of their country, and not only in the small areas determined by apartheid. To carry through its policy, the white minority government has, since 1960, forcibly removed 3.5 million people from areas designated for whites to areas designated for Africans, and a further 1.7 million are threatened with removal. By 1983, approximately 11 million people or 54 percent of the African population lived in the bantustans and fewer than 10 million or 46 percent remained in so-called white areas.

Every month victims of this policy are dumped by government trucks into the bantuatans. A recent example is the community of Mogopa.

For over 70 years, these people had lived on good land which their forefathers purchased before the 1913 Land Act made this impossible. Then their land was designated a “black spot” in a white area and they were ordered to move to Pachsdraai, in Bophuthatswana. They refused to move. The government, confronted by organized and strong resistance, mounted a counterattack. It imposed a new corrupt chief whom the community refused to recognize. Bulldozers razed the school, the church, and some houses. It withdrew servicesno pensions were paid out, no annual labor contracts were issued and the bus service was suspended. Still the people of Mogopa stood fast.

Then a removal squad arrived, complete with tractors, trucks and buses, and camped on their land. Challenged in court for trespass, the government backed down temporarily. But soon the people of Mogopa received an order to leave by November 29, 1983. Hundreds of supportersblack and white church people, students, political groups and the press arrived to wait with the Mogopa people for the government trucks. They did not come. The supporters returned home.

The Mogopa people began to rebuild their battered community. They raised money to buy a new water pump. The men rebuilt the school. The women repaired the roads.

But in the early hours of the morning of February 14, 1984, heavily armed police arrived in Mogopa and declared it an “operational zone”a term usually reserved for the war zones of Namibia. No outsiders were allowed in. Lawyers, priests, diplomats and the press were all turned away at the entrance. The police, working with dogs, forcibly loaded people and belongings onto buses and trucks and took them to Pachsdraai. They arrived to a barren welcome, with their furniture broken, many belongings lost, their cattle sold at a pittance to white farmers, who were the only civilians allowed into the area. Pachsdraai offered little. It was far from towns and job opportunities. The depleted soil was unsuitable for the non-irrigated farming that was the basis of their subsistence agriculture, and the hated imposed headman was given complete control of the allocation of all resources.

The Mogopa people refused to stay, and moved to another area of Bophuthatswana, Bethanie, which is under the jurisdiction of their paramount chief. But their life is still painfully difficult; the strong community now lives, divided into three groups, without water, without permission to hold meetings, without grazing grounds, without plots to farm, a witness to the real meaning of the bantustan system.

Sun City
The Glitter of Apartheid

Sun City is a $90 million pleasure resort stuck into the vast rural poverty of Bophuthatswana. It plays a significant part in the South African effort to break out of its isolation and win back foreign favor. The large complex includes an artificial lake, a casino, soft porn movies, discotheques, and scantily clad chorus girls. Near by, the Pilanesberg game reserve was created for the tourists’ delight by evicting 100 families from their homes. And there is the Superbowl, a large auditorium that regularly features big name international entertainers.

The Superbowl was opened by Frank Sinatra, who was paid $1.6 million for a nine day stand. Performances by US entertainers and athletes any- where in South Africa are very controversial. Anti- apartheid organizations and the United Nations have long advocated a cultural and sports boycott of South Africa. When Ray Charles went in 1981 he was forced to cancel his performance in the black township of Soweto because of strong opposition from the community. US performers who have defied the boycott have come home to criticism and picket lines.

Artists going to Sun City justify themselves by claiming on the one hand that they are not political and on the other that they are not performing in South Africa but in an independent country. They choose to ignore the fact that Bophuthatswana’s in- dependence is entirely unrecognized outside South Africa and is rejected by the majority of South Africans.

The big bucks have drawn well-known American stars to Sun City. These include Millie Jackson, Cher, The Beach Boys, Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt.

Audiences are not officially segregated at Sun City. But the cost of the more expensive tickets often makes this the de facto reality. Liza Minelli performed her opening night to a crowd of 4,500 people, of which about 200 were black. There was only one black face in the most expensive seatsthe rest were high up in the auditorium in seats that sold for $13.00. And Southern Sun, which owns the hotel, admitted to giving tickets to blacks free. It does this not out of generosity but so that artists do not per- form to all-white audiences. “I don’t mind about anything except that I’m playing in front of mixed audiences,” said Liza Minelli, ignoring the fact that by performing there she was helping apartheid score propaganda points.

Sun City, sometimes called Sin City, exists as it does largely because of the apartheid fiction of independence. Laws in South Africa which make it illegal to gamble or for a black and white to have sex together do not apply in Bophuthatswana. It is not unusual for white men to come to Bophuthatswana to do what they cannot do in Johannesburg. This has led to a growth in prostitution. Apologists for Sun City suggest that this inter-race mixing will lead to changed attitudes of whites and thus to change in South Africa. But white men can go home to Johannesburg while black women must stay in the poverty of Bophuthatswana, and to suggest that casual integrated sex and black access to slot machines will break down the structures of apartheid is an insult to the long and costly struggle blacks have waged against the oppression of minority rule. Because Sun City helps camouflage the reality of that rule, it does far more damage than good to the people of Bophuthatswana.

The fact is that Sun City is controlled by political and economic interests that are part and parcel of apartheid. The Bophuthatswana government, which would not exist if it were not for apartheid, holds a minority interest in the resort, as do a number of South African companies.

Blacks who work in Sun City have complained that they are paid less than whites who do the same jobs, and that some jobs are reserved for whites only. Seven black employees who complained to management about these conditions in March 1983 were tired and evicted from their homes which were owned by Sun City.

Not all performers have succumbed to the large sums offered to perform at Sun City. There is a growing list of those who have refused lucrative contracts, including Tony Bennett, Ben Vereen, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Eiton John, Roberta Flack, The Kool (Newport) Jazz Festival and the Harlem Globetrotters. John McEnroe has twice refused million dollar offers to play in Sun City. As protests mount against those who do go to Sun City, the ranks of those who choose conscience over dollars will also surely grow.


Richard Knight, September 1984, Literature Director

Special thanks to Karen Joikouski for proof-reading and Jim Artis for lay-out.

1. South African statistics, especially for the Bantustans, should be treated with great care. For example, many sources list the number of pieces of Bophuthatswana as 6, the number scheduled to exist after consolidation. The official de facto population figure for 1980 is 1.3 million, as opposed to the 2 million used by the author. This means that many per capita figures cited in this paper, such as 1 doctor per 16,000 people, although bad, are worse in reality. Forced Removals in South Africa, Surplus People Project, Cape Town 1983, Vol. 5, p. 95 and Bophuthatswana: An Economic Survey and Businessman’s Guide, Barclays National Bank, Johannesburg 1980, p. 7.
2. Development Studies Southern Africa, Bureau for Economic Research: Co-operation and Development (Benso), Pretoria, Vol. 5, No. 1, October 1982, p. 95 and Bophuthatswana: South Africa’s Second ‘Independent’ Bantustan, Fact Paper on Southern Africa No. 4, November 1977, International Defence & Aid Fund, London, p. 16. :
3. The Guardian (UK), October 21, 1982.
4. “Huge Pay Packets for Homeland Leaders,” Pace, February 1983.
5. Benso, op. cit. Vol. 6, No. 1, October 1983, pp. 83-87.
6. Benso. op. cit. Vol. 5, No. 1, October 1982, pp. 106-109; Benso, op. cit. Vol. 6, No. 1, October 1983, p. 98, and Quarterly Bulletin, South African Reserve Bank, June 1982. p. 83.
7. Figure for 1981. Survey of Race Relations in South Africa 1982, Institute of Race Relations, Johannesburg 1983. p. 413.
8. Benso, op. cit. Vol. 5, No. 1, October 1982, p. 107.
9. Barclays National Bank, op. cit. p. 31.
10. The Guardian (UK), January 18, 1984.
11. Surplus People Project, op. cit. p. 95.
12. Financial Mail, March 6, 1981.

© The Africa Fund 1984

Post-Apartheid South Africa

South Africa “peacefully transitioned” to bourgeois democracy without a revolution or any sort of reparations paid to the victims, nor punishment to the wrongdoers for the four decades of suffering.

The South African truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) has granted amnesty to nearly 1,000 people, but in practice it has mostly covered up and whitewashed apartheid-era atrocities. The stalling on reparations has upset many victims, who have watched hundreds of perpetrators receive amnesty for racist crimes while they got nothing.

Although former secret policemen and other operatives have confessed to murders, only one apartheid-era cabinet minister, Adriaan Vlok, has pleaded guilty to an attack.

The former president PW Botha, who has refused to testify to the TRC, was found by a court to have directly authorised “unlawful activity which included killing.” However, his conviction was overturned on appeal. Botha died in 2006.

Other former cabinet ministers, including a later president, FW de Klerk, pleaded “ignorance” of apartheid atrocities and so declined to apply for amnesty.

The most high-profile figure to be convicted of apartheid-era crimes is Eugene de Kok, known as Prime Evil, who will die in jail after being sentenced to 212 years for crimes against humanity in 1996. He was the commander of the Vlakpaas counter-insurgency group, which executed dozens of opponents of the apartheid government.

Some 19,000 victims of apartheid who appeared before the TRC have received reparations grants of about £2,500.

Legislation List
Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Act No 55 of 1949
Immorality Amendment Act, Act No 21 of 1950; amended in 1957 (Act 23)
Population Registration Act, Act No 30 of 1950
Group Areas Act, Act No 41 of 1950
Suppression of Communism Act, Act No 44 of 1950
Bantu Building Workers Act, Act No 27 of 1951
Separate Representation of Voters Act, Act No 46 of 1951
Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act, Act No 52 of 1951
Bantu Authorities Act, Act No 68 of 1951
Natives Laws Amendment Act of 1952
Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, Act No 67
Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act of 1953
Bantu Education Act, Act No 47 of 1953
Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Act No 49 of 1953
Natives Resettlement Act, Act No 19 of 1954
Group Areas Development Act, Act No 69 of 1955
Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act, Act No 64 of 1956
Late 1950s
Bantu Investment Corporation Act, Act No 34 of 1959
Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959
Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, Act No 46 of 1959
Coloured Persons Communal Reserves Act, Act No 3 of 1961
Preservation of Coloured Areas Act, Act No 31 of 1961
Urban Bantu Councils Act, Act No 79 of 1961
Terrorism Act, Act No 83 of 1967
Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970

19 thoughts on “Apartheid South Africa

  1. Hi, im a student and im using your page as a resource for my history internal assessment. your work has been a great help but i need to know the date this page was constructed. excellent page, would love a reply thanks.

  2. I hold without any malice and Vice–let the Apartheidist, Color Biased, Capitalist, Colonial, Consumerist Economic-Political-Military and Diplomatic Class rot in Hell for Eternity.

  3. Kindly help me! I wish to know the author of this page as I am to quote part of the page in my thesis

  4. Hello. I’m having a presentation about Apartheid in South-Africa and I found this site very helpful. The only thing I’m a bit concerned about is that all the facts on this page is not true. I’m using your timeline to help get an overlook of what happened but that a short trip to Wikipedia shows me that some of the years are wrong. Also some of the Acts have wrong names. I would really like you to fix this because I found the site so helpful that it’s such a pity that there are some details that makes this page unreliable.

    1. if you are relying on wikipedia as truthful fact finding, you are going to be in for a rude awakening. ANY ONE can edit any paragraph, name, date or letter on wikipedia.

  5. Can you please tell me the photographer and/or copyright holder of the photo entitled “The Original SB1070 – Police Checking Passbooks under Apartheid”?

  6. I am a young black woman in South Africa and i wept when i went through your article, i posted it on my timeline in facebook so others can read and reflect. thank you for this, it means a lot and i printed it out and i am saving it for my children. This is important so we know were we come from and never undermine our freedom.

  7. Could you please provide an authors name and if any their credentials on the subject for the paper citation i am writing

  8. Could you please provide more detail on the picture “ApartheidHomeland” placed after the 2nd paragraph under “Historical Background”? When and where and by whom was the picture taken. Could I use this picture? – properly cited of course! Many thanks!

  9. Great collection of visuals on this site. And thank you for bringing people’s attention to such a shameful place in history. However, just a query – I believe the sign that says “Colored” is in fact an American sign. If you could check your sources that’d clear it up – but I’m pretty sure that the Apartheid government always used the British spelling of “Coloured” on all their signs and legislation, and few signs actually specified “Coloureds only”, preferring to say “non white” or “Blacks and coloureds”. But hey, maybe I’m wrong! (From E.J., a mixed-race girl with a Coloured father born in South Africa.)

  10. I would very much like to cite your work in my PhD, but require the following information to do so please. I would appreciate your response.
    (1) author; (2) publication year

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