On 2 September, 1948, South African Prime Minister DF Malan explained to parliament what the new policy of apartheid would entail.
The following year, the first apartheid measure was introduced: the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949. In 1950, an amendment was made to the Immorality Act of 1927 that “extended this restriction to all people of colour”, and the Population Regulation Act was brought into law.
The Bantu Education Act was introduced in 1953, and was followed in a steep decline in the number of black teachers in training – from 8 817 in 1954, to 5 908 in 1961. The pupil/teacher ratio in black schools rose from 40:1 in 1953 to 50:1 in 1960.
With constant commentary in the media reminding us how far we have to go, this excerpt from A History of South Africa: From Past to Present, edited by Fransjohan Pretorius, serves to reminds us how far we have come.
The extract is taken from Chapter 15: The consolidation of the apartheid state, 1948–1966 by David M Scher.
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What was apartheid?
The first time that the term apartheid appeared in print appears to have been in a pamphlet issued at a conference on the missionary endeavours of the NG Church in Kroonstad in 1929. It was used in the speech delivered by the Rev. JC du Plessis of Bethlehem. In Die Burger it was first seen in 1943 in a leading article. At about this time Dr DF Malan, leader of the NP, began to use the term in Parliament to differentiate his party’s policy from the segregation plan of the ruling United Party (UP).
During the premierships of Generals JBM Hertzog and Jan Smuts, South Africa was a segregated society. Black people had extremely limited political rights, schools and residential areas were segregated, the pass law was enforced to keep black people out of the cities, and there were separate sport and recreation facilities. On the other hand, during Smuts’s second term as prime minister (1939–1948) there was an increase in the variety of social services available to black people and the level of these services was improved. Furthermore, virtually every government report, especially the report of the Fagan Commission in 1948, recommended that black people’s permanent residence in the cities should be officially recognised. However, the NP was determined to curb this line of reasoning and to extend and enforce the separation between white and black people.
Although the clever use of the apartheid slogan played a role in the NP’s victory at the polls in 1948, there was not yet unanimity on its exact meaning and implications. Eventually, in Parliament on 2 September 1948, Malan, now prime minister, explained what this new policy entailed. He said that although complete apartheid, or territorial apartheid, was the ideal, its implementation at that stage was not feasible because many sectors of the South African economy were reliant upon black labour. Nevertheless, separate spheres, not necessarily with absolute territorial divisions, would be established. Within these spheres, each population group would be able to develop fully its own ambitions and unique capabilities.
The NP government was convinced that social apartheid was crucial to the preservation and safeguarding of the white population’s identity and wellbeing. The first measure to implement social apartheid was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949. This made all marriages between white people and those of other races illegal.
In 1950 this law was supplemented by an amendment to the Immorality Act of 1927. The original act had prohibited sexual relations between white and black people; the amendment extended this restriction to all people of colour. CR Swart, the Minister of Justice, stated frankly in Parliament that the main purpose of the legislation was not so much to check immorality as to prevent further “admixture of blood” between white people and other races.
To facilitate the administration of social apartheid legislation, the Population Regulation Act of 1950 was passed. It provided for the classification of the population on the basis of racial categories. The racial group of an individual was determined by physical appearance (such as skin colour), general social acceptance and repute. In accordance with this Act racially based identity documents were issued. The NP ignored warnings that this classification system would bring hardship and anguish to coloured, black and Indian South Africans. In its defence the NP said this was a small price to pay in comparison to the advantages a strictly separated society would bring.
Few people personify the suffering that the Population Registration Act caused better than Sandra Laing. Although both her parents were white, at 10 years of age Sandra was removed from her school in Piet Retief (today emKhondo) and registered as a coloured person because of her dark complexion and curly hair.
When she married a black man 10 years later, her family rejected her. Her father died without ever speaking to her again and her two brothers avoided her. After about 30 years she was eventually reunited with her mother. In 2000 she was quoted in an article in the Sunday Times as saying: “In 1966, when I was 10, the police came to take me away from the school (Deborah Retief boarding school). Mr Van Tonder, the principal, said I was not white and could not stay. I was taken to the hostel and told to pack my things. Two policemen drove me to my father’s shop in Panbult. They said I was being expelled because I looked different … My father cried. I stayed at home for two years.
“In 1976 when there were uprisings against apartheid and the education system, I turned 21 and I thought things would change. I applied for an identity document then, but it took six years before I finally got my first ID as a Coloured. Until then I could not prove who I was or find work, or open an account or do whatever a person has to do. “Through those years I longed for my family, just to hear from them. I wrote several letters but they remained unanswered … Apartheid has ended, and I would like to shake Mr Mandela’s hand for that, but it is too late for me.”
According to TE Dönges, at the time the Minister of Internal Affairs, The Group Areas Act of 1950 was the cornerstone of apartheid. The aim of this Act was to make residential separation compulsory. This meant that the Union of South Africa would be divided into thousands of residential areas so that the different races could live completely separately.
Despite Dönges’s assertion that this Act would be administered with justice and without discrimination, in practice this was not the case. It proved to be one of the cruellest Acts ever passed by the South African legislature. The Act cut across all traditional property rights and led to the eviction of thousands of black, coloured and Indian people from their homes, causing deep resentment. An example of this was District Six in Cape Town. From 1966 about 55 000 residents were forced to move from their homes near the city centre to the remote, windswept Cape Flats.
The NP government also wanted separate public facilities for white people and those of other races. The outcome of the Separate Amenities Act of 1953 and its amendments was the implementation of “petty” apartheid (as opposed to “grand” apartheid on a larger scale). Notice boards in public places such as halls, post offices, and restrooms typically read: “Counter for non-whites”; “Entrance for delivery boys”; “Queue for nonwhite servants”; or “Whites only”. In terms of these laws social and cultural apartheid was increasingly imposed in South Africa.
The implementation of apartheid in public theatres regularly led to absurd situations and in most cases exposed the compelling motives of the apartheid ideology. In 1961, when the first drive-in theatre was opened for coloureds in Wetton, near Cape Town, the parking area was divided into two sections: one for coloured theatre-goers and another for white people. This while they were all parked in their cars viewing the very same film.
In 1966 the Minister of Community Development first had to give his permission before the concert pianist Jan Volkwyn, a coloured man who had just returned to South Africa from London, could perform with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra in front of a coloured audience in the coloured suburb of Coronationville. The permit stated that Volkwyn could not perform as a member of the orchestra but could merely be accompanied by the orchestra. It was also agreed that he would not be allowed to mix socially with members of the orchestra, nor could he use the same dressing rooms or other facilities as they did.
Another example was when Shakespeare’s drama Othello was being presented at the Maynardville open-air theatre in Cape Town in 1968. The character in the title role is a black person, but because of apartheid regulations it had to be played by a white actor.
The NP government also advanced apartheid in the field of labour. The Native Building Workers Act of 1951 reaffirmed the “civilised labour” policy of the 1920s. It sought to protect white and coloured workers against the threat of cheap black labour. Certain sections of the Act forbade the employment, unless special exemption had been granted, of black workers by whites at their homes, for bricklaying, carpentry and other skilled work. The Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act of 1953 also prohibited strikes by black workers. Although the Act did not expressly forbid black trade unions, it did not recognise them legally.
The high point of labour apartheid was reached with the passing of the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1956. It reserved several categories of work to safeguard the economic welfare of employees of any race in any undertaking, industry, trade or occupation. This legislation was in fact designed to protect the interests of white labour by preventing competition by black workers in the labour market. Black workers were trapped at the lowest level of the economic scale. One result of this law was that all lift attendants in Johannesburg were dismissed and replaced by white workers.
One of the most controversial measures passed by the NP government was the Bantu Education Act of 1953. Before 1948 most black schooling and virtually all black teachers’ training was provided at mission schools. Most NP supporters viewed this as a particularly dangerous situation, believing that liberal anti-government ideas would be pumped into young black minds by malicious outsiders. They were determined to restructure black education in accordance with the new apartheid society.
The Bantu Education Act of 1953 established state control over all black education and the state therefore also took control of existing mission schools. It is notable that the Department of National Education was not given the responsibility for black education; instead it fell under the Department of Native Affairs, headed by Dr HF Verwoerd. In the Senate’s discussion of the draft bill, Verwoerd declared that the black learner should only be equipped “to meet the demands which the economic life of South Africa will impose on him”. According to Verwoerd there was “no place for him in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour”. However, in their own communities they would, he said, have plenty of economic opportunities.
Verwoerd also suggested that black people had previously been subjected to a school system that was traditionally European, one which alienated them from their traditional social background. This had misled them by showing them the “green pastures of European society” in which they were “not allowed to graze”. According to Verwoerd it served no useful purpose to teach a black child a curriculum that was traditionally European. He went on to say that it would be unnecessary and even absurd to teach a black child mathematics, because he would never use it in practice. Black children should be trained and taught, he said, “in accordance with their opportunities in life”.
The Bantu Education Act aroused widespread protest, but Verwoerd was unmoved. The immediate result of the Act was a dramatic decline in the quality of black education. This could be seen in the decline in the number of black teachers in training from 8817 in 1954 to 5908 in 1961. At the same time the pupil/teacher ratio in black schools rose from 40:1 in 1953 to 50:1 in 1960. There was a corresponding deterioration in examination results.
The most telling criticism of Bantu Education was the fact that while the number of black children at school doubled between 1954 and 1965, there was no corresponding increase in government spending. Indeed, in this period the government expenditure on each black learner dropped considerably.