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AFRICA into the 1990s (1 of 8)

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Africa into the 1990s

South Africa and Apartheid | End of Apartheid | Nkrumah's Socialism | Socialist Experiment in Tanzania | Idi Amin Dada Oumee | Algeria and Civil War in the 1990s | Children at War in Liberia and Sierra Leone | Rwanda and Genocide

South Africa and Apartheid, 1940s to 1964

As Africans were moving to self-rule elsewhere on the continent, whites in South Africa were determined that they would maintain their way of life, which to them meant maintaining power. Whites in South Africa were roughly 20 percent of South Africa's population. Asians (mainly Indians) were roughly 2 percent. Blacks were about 70 percent, and those classified as coloreds (of mixed race) were about 8 percent. Many of the more conservative whites – largely farmers of Dutch descent, saw God as having given them the land of South Africa, and they saw no reason to surrender that gift to others.

White farmers had become dependent upon blacks for cheap labor, as were white manufacturers. South Africa had become urbanized. The movement of blacks in the urban areas had exacerbated race relations. Fifty percent of the black population became urban dwellers, living under white controlled city governments. They were working for white businesses and in white homes.

Blacks operating machinery had replaced the white master-craftsmen of previous generations. The labor of black people had become a mainstay of South Africa's economy, but with wage discrimination. A law had been passed creating what was called a Civilized Labor Policy, which protected the wage levels of white workers and left employers free to hire blacks at wages as low as possible. And there was the Bantu Act of 1953, which took schools away from missions and assured that whites would receive an education that was different from and superior to that of blacks.

In 1948 the most conservative of white political parties, the Nationalist Party, won the national elections – elections in which only whites participated. The Nationalist Party was predominately rural and consisted largely of those of Dutch heritage. The Nationalist Party wanted to undo what appeared to them to be an unacceptable integration that had crept into their society. In the cities, blacks had been living in enclaves. They had their own facilities and doors of entry to public places, and other restrictions. Party members were holding to the old apartheid dogma that blacks were "temporary sojourners" in the cities. They intended to intensify restrictions, and in doing so they moved South Africa into a new era of conflict.

The Nationalist Party's new segregation wiped out so-called urban black spots. This included neighborhoods where people of different races had been living beside one another peacefully, including the black suburb called Sophiatown and the heart of the Colored community in Capetown. Those who had worked for the same employer for ten years or for different employers for fifteen years were allowed to continue living in cities and towns, but in urban areas they were forbidden to own their own homes. They had to rent less than satisfactory housing from local administration boards. Other non-whites were regarded as migrant workers. They too had to have work permits, which were to be renewed every year. Blacks were now obliged to carry passbooks, open to inspection by any policeman or agent of the government whenever asked. Blacks had to acquire special permission for travel to various activities. Those no longer allowed in the cities, including the old and no longer useful, were to be forcibly removed to areas outside the cities designated as reserves for blacks – dusty places with abject poverty and far from what blacks considered home.

Every square inch of South Africa was designated as belonging to a racial grouping, and blacks were removed from villages and lands where generations had lived and had worked fields they believed they owned.

Non-whites responded to the new laws with increased agitation. An organization called the African National Congress (ANC) turned to boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience. In the early 1950s they began their Defiance Campaign, together with persons of heritage from India. The government arrested 8,500, which outraged many more, and tens of thousands mobilized for defiance.

In 1956, the government indicted 156 opposition leaders, including Nelson Rolihiafia Mandela, leader of the African National Congress. The ANC issued what it called a Freedom Charter, asserting that South Africa belonged to all who lived in it, "black and white," and it called for universal suffrage and the individual freedoms found in the US Bill of Rights.

The British government was less than thrilled over the new repressions in South Africa, and there was criticism from other members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The white majority responded by approving a new constitution that in 1961 withdrew South Africa from the Commonwealth and made it a republic.

By now, the Communist Party of South Africa, originally all white, had joined with blacks and Asians against the repressions. Already the Party had been banned by the Communism Act of 1950 – the act denying people the right to function peacefully in the political party of their choice. The Communist Party in South Africa had been gaining from its identity as an opponent of the apartheid system. It had been forced "underground." The government was associating anti-Apartheid politics with communism and used this in an attempt to gain favor in the West, including the United States, without much success.

In March, 1962, while posturing righteously against Communism and perpetrators of rebellion, government forces created what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. In the black township of Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg, police fired on a crowd of about 10,000 that had gathered in front of a police station to protest against pass laws, the police killing 67 and wounding 186, including 40 women and 8 children, most of them shot in the back while trying to flee.

On November 6, 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, condemning apartheid policies. On August 7, 1963 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 181 calling for a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa, and that year a Special Committee Against Apartheid was established to encourage and oversee plans of action against the regime.

The ruling National Party continued on course and outlawed the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, forcing these two organizations to join the Communist Party underground. For a while, only black labor activists were protesting publicly. The African National Congress had been committed to non-violence, but ANC leaders led by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were considering the tactics of armed revolution, and they allied their movement with the Communists to form Spear of the Nation (Umkhonto we Sizwe).

In 1963, government forces discovered the headquarters of Spear of the Nation and found Nelson Mandela. They arrested him and others, and in 1964 Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.

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Copyright © 2000-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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