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Even after the shift from the apartheid to free political elections in South Africa, racism still remains a huge issue. Although there are now laws in place to prevent racism, it hasn’t made much of a difference in the way that racism affects the people of the country.  It has been a challenge that the country has faced for years, and now is seen as a post-apartheid obstacle. The National Association of Democratic Lawyers had a panel discussion at the Cape Law society and stated that, “Racism in the current context has a different meaning to what it was during apartheid; and although the context is different the notion of non-racial activist is still the same as it was in the old days.” [1] In summary, the laws regarding racism in South Africa have changed, but the attitudes and thinking of the people have not changed much since the apartheid. Penelope Andrews, dean of the faculty of law at the University of Cape Town stated that people still unconsciously responded to different races the same way they did under apartheid. [1] Another aspect that contributes to the racism problem is that there is a huge gap between the wealth of black people and white people in South Africa. Andrews also says that racism is a problem, but economic inequality and poor governance creates that problem.” [1] This panel discussion raises historical questions about the root of racism in South Africa and how it has (or hasn’t) evolved over time. The panel also takes into account that the goal of non-racialism in South Africa has become more widely known since academics and intellectuals have been adding insight on the issue.

Racism in South Africa has been present for many years, but the beginning of the Apartheid was a major turning point in the history of South Africa that created even more severe segregation and horrific treatment of black Africans. This was a time frame that was full of corruption and created a very divided country and made things even worse than before. Since 1948, the society and politics of South Africa have been shaped by the apartheid. As years went on, there was improvement in the political world of South Africa when leaders stepped up to make a difference. The politics went from being extremely corrupt to being more realistic and productive. With this, came an improved society. More opportunities for black African Americans and less racism. However, the lingering issue of racism did not completely vanish. Although the country has improved in terms of segregation and distress, it still deals with the effects of the apartheid and the problems it brought to South Africa.

The history of South Africa has deep roots in racism, but it wasn’t until 1948 that the apartheid began to completely dominate the country. The National Party took control of the government from 1948 until 1994. [5] There were different ways this policy was implemented, as well as the ways it was resisted. At the beginning of this new policy known as the apartheid, the National Party put in place the system of extended racial discrimination throughout the country. According to Nigel Worden, the cornerstone of apartheid was “the division of all South Africans by race” and this was ensured by many laws that were put into place. [4] The prohibition of mixed marriages was put into place in 1949 and the Immorality Act banned all sexual contact between whites and other South Africans, including Indians and coloreds. These laws were aiming to achieve the extreme goal of complete division of whites and other South Africans in the country. Along with the laws that prohibit people of different race to have relations, there were also laws that prohibited them from living in the same area. They weren’t allowed to even be near each other. The Group Areas Act of 1950 “extended the principle of separate racial residential areas on a comprehensive and compulsory basis” and this was especially felt in the cities where forced removals happened consistently and were viewed as “justified” because of the laws that had been implemented. [4] This was just the beginning of segregation laws and soon the country was bringing segregation into all aspects of life. In 1953, there was enforced segregation in all public places, including transport, cinemas, restaurants, and sports facilities. [4] The apartheid was soon extended to education as well in set in place in schools all over South Africa. The division and separation of whites and other South Americans was seen in almost every aspect of human life. In 1958, there was another election in South Africa and the National Party obtained almost twice as many seats as its opponents, which was a result of all of incorporation of a predominantly white government and removal of colored South Africans. [4] This was the beginning of the apartheid and its aggressive start up in the early 1950s had lasting effects. Figure 1 is a sign that says “White Area” representing the very apparent racism in South Africa in the 1950s.




Figure 1: “White area” sign on a beach in South Africa, 1948.

Although the National Party held an extreme amount of power in South Africa, there was an unexpected amount of protest in the 1950s. There was resistance represented in the form of boycotts, stay-aways, strikes and civil disobedience. There were actions that were advocated in the African National Congress’s Programme of Action of 1949. The ANC was responsible for mass movements of resistance when it came to defying the unfair treatment of colored South Africans during the time of the apartheid. There were many protests that the ANC directed and one of the main forms of resistance was the Defiance Campaign in 1952 that was used to protest against the government’s new discriminatory legislation of unjust laws for colored South Africans. [4] Although, this campaign ended up getting shut down by the government, and many of its organizers being imprisoned, it started a movement for mass campaigns and protests against unjust actions. The anti-apartheid movement saw one of the first major turning points in the 1960s when there were protests in Sharpeville that resulted in 69 deaths, the detention of 11,000 people, and the banning of ANC and Pan-Africanist Congress. [6] Anti-apartheid movements by groups like the ANC and PAC had been non-violent in the past. More events like this took place and leaders of movement spoke up. Nelson Mandela was one of these leaders who was imprisoned for leading apartheid resistance. In 1964, after Mandela was sentenced to a life of imprisonment, he stated, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democracy and free society in which all persons live in harmony… It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” [6] Nelson Mandela was a huge leader when all of the protests were taking place, and he led the movement to a nation without apartheid.

In the year 1976, the apartheid in South Africa continued. Black South African’s definitely faced struggle against this system of control and did not have much power over the situations that they were dealing with. The struggle that got the most attention was the eruption of uncontrollable violence that occurred in June of 1976. [9] Hundreds of black South Africans died at the hands of the police, and many were tortured to death. There were boycotts and strikes that took place after this, but still there was not much change. The black South African’s tried to show the whites that they were taking a stand by staging a nationwide labor strike, which brought business institutions to a halt and students went on strike so schools were closed. South African millionaires and an American corporate vice-president set up a public relations campaign with advertisements in the American Press to convince the public that South Africa was all right, when it really wasn’t. There was a group called the “Club of 10” who worked to get advertisements out that would make South Africa look good. They distributed ads that appeared in several countries, including the United States and the Club denied that any South African government money was also used in this public relations campaign. [9] This shows how dishonest and manipulative the South African whites and government could be. They did whatever they wanted with no consequences. The amount of inequality in South Africa at this time was so severe that the white South Africans were enjoying the highest standard of living known to mankind while the black South Africans were living with a 25 percent mortality rate due to lack of hospitals, the highest crime rates known in history, unparalleled poverty, police brutality, run-down school houses, the pass system and high unemployment rates. [9] The extreme difference in living standards shows just how corrupt and racist South Africa is. This kind of inequality raises historical questions about how the government allowed and enforced this kind of racism. It also raises historical questions about the leaders of the country at the time and the thoughts they had for the future of their country.

Many other countries knew about the apartheid in South Africa. Even though the “Club of 10” was trying to make it seem like South Africa was perfectly fine and not doing anything wrong. On January 19, 1997, this article was published by the Oakland Post in Oakland, California showing that the apartheid was continuing in South Africa and the inequality was severe. The government was doing nothing to support black South Africans, in any way. This article would educate American citizens about the situation in South Africa and how severe it was in 1976. It would show them that there was more to the story than just South Africa being full of racism. The article talked about white domination, and even though it is a newspaper article, there is a tone that implies a sense of disappointment in the state that South Africa is in. The mention of continued violence also shows that the country is in an unsteady state and it was probably not going to change any time soon. This article also mentions the mortality, poverty and crime rates in South Africa at the time, which are all major issues and contributors to the country’s problem of inequality and prejudice.

In the 1980s, even more protests began to erupt all over the country. The government of South Africa responded by declaring a state of emergency and there were over 30,000 blacks jailed. The apartheid was beginning to break down. The government was unable to control or stop protests that were happening. South Africa was also starting to be shunned by other countries for the way their government was running the country. They were expelled from the United Nations in 1974, the Olympic Games in 1976, and in 1986, the U.S. Congress banned new investment by U.S. companies in South Africa. [10] Other countries did not want to be affiliated with South Africa. With all of these things happening, the Nationalists under President F.W. Klerk started to repeal the apartheid laws, slowly but surely. Klerk became president in 1989 and he knew that negotiations needed to begin. In February 1990, he made a speech that released Mandela and others from prison, as well as removing the ban on the ANC. [6] On February 11, 1990, Mandela and his imprisoned colleagues were freed. [6] This was the start of the negotiations between de Klerk and Mandela that ended apartheid and created a new constitution for a nonracial South Africa. Figure 2 shows a group of students protesting the apartheid in the 1980s. This was a very common occurence in South Africa at this time.

 Figure 2: Students protest against the apartheid in South Africa, 1985.

In 1986, the white rulers in South Africa revived a policy of removing blacks from wherever they are, even though there were promises that this practice would stop. Black community leaders have been uprooted and moved even when they have done nothing wrong. 30,000 black squatters have been moved to new places, where they are far from jobs, medical care, or schools and they are expected to live in shacks made from material of their homes that were destroyed. [2] George Mthobi, a man who had been uprooted and denied the right of choice, worked on Eastern Cape farms for most of his life but ended up at a squatter camp when the drought took his job away in 1982. On March 21, 1985, there were twenty-one blacks gunned down and killed by the police while they were marching to a funeral. [2] This is just one instance that uprooting of blacks and violence against them has taken place. Church groups have calculated that in the last 25 years, some 3.5 million blacks have been moved against their will to conform with race policies that decree where people may live according to the color of their skin and their ethnic descent.” [2] The removal of blacks has affected Langa (a squatter camp) and at least four other places. One of these places is Oukasie, which was near the town of Brits, north of Pretoria. In this area, there was no running water and no waterbourne sewage. In an area called Kwanobuhle, similar to Oukasie, there was “the very real possibility of a medical disaster with, for example, typhoid killing 30 people a day,” according to Dr. Luke Krige, a white physician who toured the area. [2] The blacks that were moved to new areas faced horrific challenges and living circumstances. This type of uprooting raises historical question about the intense racism that white South African leaders displayed, even after promising change to the people. It also raises historical questions about the other promises that were made, along with laws that were changed, that weren’t actually enforced or followed in South Africa. It also raises the historical question of whether the political power or economic power of the whites had the most control over this situation, or if they contributed equally.

The U.S. was aware of what was going on in South Africa at the time, although U.S. citizens may have paid attention or been fully aware of the extent of it. On November 23, 1986, Alan Cowell wrote this newspaper article for the New York Times, showcasing the way that white rulers in South Africa had been removing black South Africans from their homes and moving them into shacks and deserted areas with no opportunities for jobs or health care. This was an article that would educate citizens of the U.S. on what was happening in South Africa. Cowell did this by choosing one specific area of racism that was happening, which was the uprooting of blacks, which was a policy that was brought back after it had been promised to stop. Although this is a newspaper article and contains facts and quotes, there is a tone in Cowell’s writing that hints that he suggests that South Africa is in a very unsteady state and that even though leaders claim that they are taking action to change things, that these changes are unlikely to happen anytime soon. Cowell writes about the issues of medical care and being far away from jobs, and how this is affecting the black people of South Africa.

On May 10th, 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated president of South Africa and Thabo Mbeki and F.W. de Klerk were deputy presidents. This was a great success for South Africa and he achieved many great things to help reconstruct the broken country. There were many things that happened after he became president. In June, 1994, South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations after being banned from membership for thirty-three years. [7] This alone shows how big of a difference the country already had made by voting Mandela as president. This same month, the United Nations lifted its embargo on arms sales to South Africa. South Africa also reclaimed its seat in the UN General Assembly and later that year it rejoined UNESCO after forty years. There have been challenges since Nelson Mandela became president because although he has made significant improvements in the country, there are still many things that still need work. Welsh South Africa deals with the challenges of transforming its hard-earned multi-racial democracy. [8] According to Welsh, author of The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, “Democracy has survived, and even if it is democracy of a poor quality, South Africa is nevertheless a vastly better society than it was under apartheid.” [7] Although the government is back in control and is making positive changes, the white South Africans have not changed all of their attitudes when it comes to racism and their views on the colored South Africans that live in their country. Laws and regulations have changed, but that does not mean that the repercussions of the tragic events that occurred during apartheid don’t still affect the citizens of the country today. Figure 3 shows Nelson Mandela the day after he got out of prison. This was a very important event in South African history because it was a big part of the change in their political system.


Nelson Mandela raises a fist on the day after his release from prison. He spent the first night at Archbishop Tutu's residence in Bishopscourt.

Figure 3: Nelson Mandela on the day after his release from prison, 1990.

There has been a long history in South Africa that has contributed to the way things are there today. Although there have been drastic changes in the country, there are still traces of the past when it comes to racism. Many challenges were faced through the years, and there has been a huge shift in the way politics are ran. Movements and protests led by political leaders made a huge difference in the society of South Africa. These were crucial to the positive shift in the country. Historically, white South Africans had always had political and economic power and were extremely racist. With the work of leaders like Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and F.W. de Klerk, South Africa had a peaceful transition from apartheid to more of a democratic republic with a new constitution. The country is more under control politically and economically, but there is still racism, crime and violence present. The injustice of the apartheid is still felt by the black majority and the white majority still sees themselves as superior regardless of the new system. These are long-term effects from the past years that will most likely continue to be issues for years to come.




[1] “Academics weigh in on non-racism,” The Pretoria News, March 30, 2016, September 16, 2016)


[2] Cowell, Alan, “Uprooting of Blacks Resumes in South Africa: South Africa Apparently Reviving Its Policy on Forced Removals of Blacks,” New York Times Company. Nov 23, 1986.


[3] The Pretoria News, March 20, 2016.


[4] Worden, Nigel. Historical Association Studies: “The Making of Modern Africa: Conquest,       Apartheid, Democracy” (5). Wiley-Blackwell, Nov, 2011.


[5] Welsh, David. “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid,” Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2009, pp126-130.


[6] Gordon, Myles. “The Road to Freedom,” Scholastic Update. February, 25, 1994. Vol. 126       Issue 10, pp16.


[7] Beck, Roger B, “The History of South Africa,” Greenwood Press, June 2000.


[8] “Post-Liberation South Africa: Sorting Out the Pieces,” Journal of Asian and African Studies. June 2012, pp257-268.


[9] “A View of Southern Africa,” Oakland Post. Jan 19, 1977,


[10] Welsh, David. “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid,” Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2009, pp130-150.


[11] Welsh, David. “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid,” Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2009, pp153-158.



Figure 1:”White area” sign on a beach in South Africa, 1948.

Figure 2: Students protest against the apartheid in South Africa, 1985. 

Figure 3: Nelson Mandela on the day after his release from prison, 1990.