The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

Our world has faced a lot of evils in the past, but few can claim to be as heinous or as atrocious as apartheid. We can try to define apartheid as a political or a social system but the fact remains that it was nothing but the legalization of the crime of discrimination against the differently colored. The segregation started in South Africa as early as the 1600s when the Europeans started maintaining hierarchy between themselves, their slaves (Asians), and the Africans. The 1806 Cape Articles of Capitulation, which safeguarded the Dutch settlers’ submission in trade for the protection of their present rights and privileges, bound British to value prior Dutch legislation and gave segregation an everlasting place in the legal system of the South African colonies.

In the 1800s, various laws were passed by the British which limited the political, economic as well as social rights of the Non- whites in South Africa which included but were not restricted to the Right to vote, the Right to own land as well as the Right to free movement between colonies.

We have seen various people trying to defend this monstrosity by saying it was what was beneficial for the country at that time, some even said that it was God’s will but none of them accept the true reason which is the hunger for power.

Apartheid was a political as well as a social system that was prevalent in South Africa during the era of the minority rule that is from 1948 until early 1990. It governed the relations between non-white and white populations and facilitated discrimination against the non-white population. In the Afrikaans language, apartheid means apartness.[1]

In the roots of the phenomena, it was an evil, immoral to its core. It was a living vestige of the colonial racism that has continued to develop since the time of imperialism.

In 1950, the Population Registration Act racially classified all South Africans into three categories: white, black (African), or colored (of mixed descent). These categories were mainly determined by the appearance, descent, and social acceptance of the respective individual. When a person is determined as white it automatically accepted the both their parents were white or vice – versa, that is, if both the parents are white then only the person is considered to be white.[2]

National Party (NP) government introduced the ideology of apartheid in South Africa in 1948. It involved separate development of the various racial groups present in South Africa at the time. On paper, it seemed that there were equal development and freedom of cultural expression, but the way it had been implemented there was no way that such development was possible. Apartheid made laws forced the various racial groups to measure and develop separately, and with gross inequality. It abolished all inter-marriage and social integration between racial groups. During apartheid, to possess a friendship with someone of a special race generally brought suspicion upon you, or worse.[3]

Apartheid didn’t differ much from the segregation policy of the South African governments that existed before the Afrikaner Nationalist Party came to power in 1948, in the basic principles. The primary difference between these two policies was that one of them incorporated apartheid into the law. Apartheid did nothing apart from separating people with horrifying cruelty and punished those who refused to fall in line. Apartheid was also seen as an evil worse than segregation, was because the former was introduced during a period when other countries were moving far away from racist policies. Before the war, Africa was colonized and the world wasn’t this critical of racism, mostly because they were privileged enough to not hear about it.

The Second war highlighted and helped recognize the issues of racism, making the planet shy away from such policies and inspiring demands for decolonization. It had been during this era that South Africa brought into force a much more rigid policy of apartheid.

It is often wondered why such a policy was introduced and moreover, how it gained so much support. Various reasons are given for apartheid, and even though they are all closely linked most of the reasons dwell ideas of racial superiority and fear. Across the planet, racism is subjected to the thought that one race must be superior to a different. Such ideas are found altogether in different population groups. The opposition’s main reason for apartheid was fear, as in South Africa the White race is within the minority, and lots of were worried they might lose their jobs, culture, and language. This obviously cannot possibly justify apartheid, but at least explains how people were thinking.[4]


P.W. Botha, a hard-line president of South Africa in the mid-1980s in an interview with a BBC reporter tried to justify why they continued showing such apathy towards South African Blacks and quite surprisingly he had an answer. His justification for such degrees of racial discrimination was that they had housing and work problems and therefore could not let black men move around freely in their own country. When questioned about the fact that such discrimination goes against the very definition of Justice, he replied that justice only ensured a black man’s right to live a healthy life and have a job, where possible. He felt apartheid fulfilled that purpose.[5]

Another Justification was provided by the church and various scriptures of the Bible. Christians until the modern times used to firmly believe in the fact that the Bible endorsed slavery and this whole phenomenon has been justified in reference to this belief. Today, it is asserted that the Bible disapproves of slavery laying down the groundwork for the abolition of slavery.[6] During that time the most common church in the country was The Reformed Church of South Africa. In the 20th century, all the respected members of all the respected churches were busy finding excuses to support the practice of apartheid through religion. They searched every verse and argued how God created humans and asked them to restrict to their own regions. So different races had their own geographic area which was to develop itself on their own. They used the Bible to justify the very thing that the Bible condemns.[7] 

Apartheid Laws

Numerous laws were passed within the creation of the apartheid state. Here are a couple of the pillars on which it rested:                              :

Population Registration Act, 1950 This Act stipulated that folks be registered consistent with their racial group. This meant that the Department of Home affairs would carry a record of every white, black, colored, Indian or Asian and people would then be treated in consistence with their population group. This law formed the idea of apartheid.

Group Areas Act, 1950 This was the act that set off all the physical separations between races in the upcoming times, more in the urban areas than rural. The act also involved the removal of some groups of individuals into areas put aside for his or her racial group.

The Bantu Authorities Act In 1951, this was the act that established a basis for ethnic government in areas that were restricted to Africans, referred to as “homelands.” These homelands were independent states to which each African was allocated by the govt consistent with the record of origin (which was frequently inaccurate). They had no political, or more specifically voting right outside of their restricted area. It was believed that many of them were residents of South Africa and the South African Parliament had caused them the loss of their citizenship as well as any sort of rights over their motherland. From 1976 to 1981, four of those homelands were formed, denationalizing nine million South Africans. They were not even offered nominal independence within the country as an entire. Furthermore, Africans residing within the homelands needed passports to enter South Africa, the treatment which meant that they were treated like aliens in their own country.[8]

In 1953, The Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act was approved. This authorized the govt to declare rigorous states of emergency and increased penalties including fines, imprisonment, and whippings for raising their voices against or in support of the repeal of a law. In 1960, an outsized group of black residents in Sharpeville refused to support their passes; the govt announced an emergency. The emergency went on for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead and 187 people wounded. Having the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act under their belts, the whites had no intention of altering the unjust laws of apartheid. There were severe punishments levied on political protest, even non-violent ones. During these times, anyone might be detained without a hearing by a low-level police official for up to 6 months. Thousands of people died in custody, frequently after despicable acts of torture. There were people who were even punished and tortured and some like Mandela were imprisoned for life.

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, 1959 This Act said that various racial groups were measured in several areas. Only a fraction of the South Africans were left for the homes of the black people (who comprised the vast majority). This Act also achieved obviate ‘blackspots’ inside properties owned by the whites, by moving all black people out of the town. These black people were then consigned in townships outside of the town. Only renting of property was allowed and not owning. This Act was very tiresome for the people and brought along with it many hardships. People lost their homes, were moved off the land that they had owned for several years, and were moved to other underdeveloped areas that were nearer to the places where they were forced to work.

Some other important laws were:

Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, Immorality Amendment Act, 1950, Separate Representation of Voters Act, 1951, Resistance before 1960 and others.                                

In the 1960s, a plan of grand Apartheid was introduced which introduced territorial separations along with the existing regime and allowed police repression. This was the final nail in the coffin after which the blacks decided to start protesting against these eons of wrongs and deceptions and led to the movement of resistance under Nelson Mandela.

Resistance to apartheid came from every organization, and not only the black-dominated protestant groups, as is usually presumed, from those that suffered the negative effects of discrimination. Criticism also originated from other countries, who finally decided to unite against this wrong and a few of those even gave support to the South African freedom movements which would finally start the movement against the oppressive whites.

A few of those foremost important organizations involved in the struggle were the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). There have been also Indian and colored organized resistance movements (e.g. the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), the Coloured People’s Organisation), white organized groups (e.g. the novel Armed Resistance Movement (ARM), and Black Sash) and church-based groups (the Christian Institute).


The ANC was founded in Bloemfontein in 1912 after the Union of South Africa. Initially, it had been called the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). It had been started as an organization for the Black elite of educated Blacks. In 1919, the ANC sent a delegate to London to plead for a replacement deal for South African blacks, but there was no change to their position.[9]

The history of resistance by the ANC goes through three phases. 

The primary was dialogue and petition; then direct opposition and finally the amount of exiled armed conflict. In 1949, the ANC started on a military path, with the Youth League having a more pivotal role. The ANC introduced their Programme of Action in 1949, supporting strike action, protests, and other sorts of non-violent resistance. Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu began to play a crucial task within the ANC during this period. In 1952 the ANC commenced the Defiance Campaign. This campaign asked people to interrupt apartheid laws and offer themselves for arrest. It had been hoped that the rise in prisoners would lead to the system collapsing and obtain global support for the ANC. Blacks started getting on ‘white buses’, using ‘white toilets’, entering into ‘white areas’, and refusing to use passes. Although 8000 people ended up in jail, the ANC caused no threat to the apartheid regime.

The ANC continued an equivalent path during the remainder of the 1950s, till in 1959 few supporters broke away and founded the PAC. They wanted a more violent and militant route and felt that victory couldn’t be achieved through the ANC’s method.

Anti-Apartheid resistance dimmed during the 1960s owing to the tough subjugation of activist activities and therefore the arrests of the many anti-Apartheid leaders. But by the 1970s, it had been revitalized by a growing Black Consciousness Movement. Despite British and American governments branding the ANC as a terrorist organization during the 1980s, the growing international criticism of Apartheid, spurred by unsettling resistance in South Africa, and furthermore the denting of the anti-Communist imperative owing to the Cold War also moved those states to finally implement trade sanctions against Apartheid.

In September 1989, F.W. Klerk became the acting president and that’s when the conditions began improving. He freed Nelson Mandela, allowed a widely popular protestant march, unbanned anti- Apartheid political parties, and finally in June repealed various apartheid laws and paved the way for a gradual end of the apartheid movement.[10]


Apartheid reached an end within the early 1990s during a series of steps that led to the origin of a democratic government in 1994. After decades of violent domestic conflicts, weakening white allegiance, international economic, and cultural authorizations we reached the end of the conflict. U.S. policy towards the system undertook a slow but total transformation that played a crucial conflicting role in Apartheid’s initial survival and eventual downfall. Names like Nelson Mandela has been recognized in every household as a hero. After everything, there still is a lot that has not been attended to in this matter of discussion. If we look at the intensity of the crime and its place in our modern, progressive world, we would see that crimes related to black hatred are rife, the most recent having been taken place in America just a couple of days back.

[1] Apartheid, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[2] Monal Chokshi, Cale Carter, Deepak Gupta, Tove Martin, Robert Allen, History of Apartheid in South Africa,

[3] A history of apartheid in South Africa. (n.d.). South African History Online.

[4] A history of apartheid in South Africa. (n.d.). South African History Online.

[5] Ever wonder how South Africa’s former leaders justified apartheid? (n.d.). The World from PRX. 

[6] Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 65, cf 159. 

[7] Justifying injustice with the Bible: Apartheid. (n.d.). Home Page | CBE.

[8] Monal Chokshi, Cale Carter, Deepak Gupta, Tove Martin, Robert Allen, History of Apartheid in South Africa,

[9] A history of apartheid in South Africa, South African History Online,

[10] Robinson, D, World politics explainer: The end of apartheid, The Conversation, Oct 10, 2018,

Aishani Chakraborty from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam

Aishani is a first year law student and aspiring lawyer. She loves writing about prevalent socio-legal issues and other legal topics.” 

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