South Africa and the Birth of Apartheid

Map showing the division of South Africa into separate homelands, or bantustans. Areas in pale yellow were designated for so called non-blacks.
Mud road in a rural area which during apartheid was considered part of KwaZulu.

Boers, who are whites of primarily Dutch descent, had since the early 19th century had their own independent republics in present-day northern South Africa. After losing a war to Britain in 1902 though, these Boer republics ceased to exist, and the Boers were forced into the newly-formed country of South Africa. Here they became a minority, although together with the English-speaking whites they were still in control of the new nation.

Fear of cultural assimilation

The Boers, or Afrikaners as they are also called, in the first half of the 20th century, were wary of having their language, their culture and their properties engulfed by the majority of people who had other backgrounds in the recently created country of South Africa. Therefore, or partly therefore, the ruling Afrikaner-dominated National Party government, in 1948, instituted a political system called apartheid. Apartheid came to establish separate development of separate peoples, with the proclaimed aim of preserving cultural traditions of both black and white peoples. As a consequence, the white people of European origin, the black Zulu people, the black Tswana people and other black peoples were given their own separate homelands, which were put on track to becoming independent, or at least semi-independent.

Unequal distribution

Dividing South Africa into homelands, according to the government, was a way to bring justice to all peoples. However, in line with the ethnic makeup of the country’s de facto land owners, the system came to be skewed in favor of the whites. Among other things, despite being a minority, the whites were allowed to exert control over most of the land, most of the natural resources and the central government.

The obvious racial inequalities notwithstanding, through the institution of apartheid, black peoples had been granted land that had historically been theirs. Here, they could live together in cultural and ethnic unity and many blacks enjoyed the premise of this set up. Nonetheless, generally, black people didn’t agree with being confined to such small homelands. They were also, not surprisingly, firmly against being displaced to make room for whites. The overall sentiment towards the system of apartheid by a majority of South Africans, in other words, was rather negative, but the government still went ahead and built their new segregationist society. A reason for this was that, in most of Africa in 1948, colonial coercion of black majorities was still the norm.