Apartheid in South Africa: Origin and Meaning - World History Edu (2022)

Apartheid in South Africa: Origin and Meaning - World History Edu (1)

Apartheid meaning and origin

For virtually all throughout the 20th century, the people of South Africa were forced to endure a system of governance known as Apartheid. What was apartheid? And what sorts of laws and policies did the apartheid government in South Africa enact and enforce? Below is a quick look at the origin and meaning of Apartheid in South Africa:

Meaning of Apartheid

The term “apartheid” is an Afrikaans word that means ‘apartness’. From the early 1950s, the predominantly white National Party (NP) of South Africa made apartheid their core doctrine. The ideology demanded for the segregation of South Africans on the basis of race. By so doing, the Apartheid government could roll out racial segregation laws and policies that made white minorities in South Africa superior to all other non-white races.

All throughout the apartheid era, the South African government insisted that it pursued a policy of equality and freedom. However, what was happening on the ground was a complete nightmare. All the laws passed by the government was aimed at compelling people of different races to live in separate neighborhoods; ride on separate buses; and go to separate schools.

The goal was to perpetually keep the non-whites, particularly the black South Africans, wallowing in a cesspool of underdevelopment, poverty, and high illiteracy. All forms of activities, both social and political, that brought the mixing of different races were quickly and brutally suppressed. For example, inter-marriage during apartheid era was strictly illegal. Contravening any of those discriminatory laws (truth be told, barbaric laws actually) saw the culprit end up behind bars, often without any form of legal counsel.

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So, while the white minority rulers of South Africa lived in what could only be described as paradise, the majority of the population, blacks particularly, was confined to bathe in abject poverty.

Origin of Apartheid

A quick look at the history of South Africa and one cannot help but notice that racial segregation was very much present long before the Nationalist Party took power in 1948. Therefore, did apartheid start before 1948?

The official definition of apartheid explains a situation where a government enacts explicit laws and policies aimed at making a particular race master of other races. Prior to 1948, there existed no laws of such. However, it does not mean that the few white South Africans did not dish out a flurry of racist behaviors towards other races. Under apartheid rule, however, racial segregation was staunchly enforced by the state. The citizens had no choice but to comply with those laws, least they would be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Officially, Apartheid policies were introduced by Herenigde Nasionale Party (the HNP) – the Reunited National Party. The HNP were led by D.F. Malan (Prime Minister of South Africa between 1948 and 1954) and a host of other influential Afrikaners from the Afrikaner Party. Three years after the 1948 general elections, the Afrikaner Party and the HNP formed a political alliance that culminated in the birth of the National Party.

Why were Afrikaners the key supporters of Apartheid?

After South Africa became a union in 1910, nationalists from the Afrikaner population were allowed to boss things around in the country. They were given free rein to do as they wanted. This few, but well resourced, sections of the population believed themselves to be superior to other races in South Africa. The Afrikaners were also in constant fear that their minority population could lead to them to being marginalized. Therefore, they decided to act by quickly subjugating the rest of the population.

What were some examples of Apartheid laws?

Apartheid in South Africa: Origin and Meaning - World History Edu (2)

Apartheid meaning and origin | Apartheid Laws

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As stated above, apartheid laws were solely aimed at keeping the various races in South Africa from interacting with each other. In order to do this, the state passed several laws. Starting in 1949, the state passed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949. As the name implies, this law made it illegal for South Africans of different races to get married.

Then, there was the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required South Africans to have a national identification card based on their racial affiliations. The implementing body was the Department of Home Affairs. Across the country, people would be given totally different treatment or social services depending on whether the person was white, black, colored, Indian or Asian.

The third major apartheid law was the Group Areas Act, which was passed in 1950. This law stated that people of different races should live in different places. What this meant was that, it was illegal for a black South African or an Indian to go live in a white-only neighborhood. And to make matters worse, the gentrification schemes of the Apartheid government were none like ever witnessed in human history. The whites that comprised a small fraction of the population were given the greatest chunks lands in South Africa. They also had the best urban spots in the country.

Similarly, the Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 resulted in the demolition of all black neighborhoods in predominantly white settlements. The government termed black settlement areas as ‘black spots’. The act forcefully moved the blacks to areas on the outskirts of town. Blacks were also stripped of the rights to own or buy house or any other forms of real estate. All in all, an estimated 3 million non-whites were forced off their lands and properties in the 1960s alone. Now, granted they had had those rights, the government would still have made sure to keep them economically marginalized, thereby dwindling their ability to acquire and own any property in the country.

Which South African organizations stood up against Apartheid?

Apartheid in South Africa: Origin and Meaning - World History Edu (3)

Apartheid meaning and origin

By the 1960s, Apartheid laws and policies had proved very successful at keeping the various races from relating with each other. The effect of apartheid could be felt in virtually every aspect of the South African society. Resentment, hatred and anger continued to build among blacks. The government had stripped them off all basic rights. Many of the organizations that came to aid of the blacks were shut down or completely banned. Their leaders were locked up and denied legal services.

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In spite of all the above, there were some organizations that simply did not back down. Organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC); the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP); the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC); and the United Democratic Front (UDF) worked extremely hard to free the blacks from the social, political and economic bondage of the white supremacist government.

The blacks weren’t the only ones in the struggle to bring down the apartheid government in South Africa; many other marginalized races also had their respective organizations and political parties that took the fight straight to the ruling elites. Examples of such organizations were the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the Colored People’s Organization.

There were even some white South African organizations that walked arms in arms to fight apartheid in South Africa. Honorable mention can be made of the slightly radical Armed Resistance Movement (ARM). Also, many Christian organizations vehemently campaigned against the inhumane apartheid policies. Likewise, some foreign countries, including a host of African countries, lent their voices to the course of anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa.

How did the Apartheid Government respond to pressures and calls to end its racial segregation policies?

Like any authoritarian government, the apartheid government’s response to domestic and external pressures was full of cunning. From the 1970s onwards, some of the apartheid laws were scrapped. However, in the new laws introduced weren’t much different from the old ones. The government continued to lie to the international community that all its laws were designed to promote equality and freedom.

With the situation not getting any better, the blacks were forced to act, sometimes in the most violent of ways. The PAC and other anti-apartheid organizations may have briefly dabbled in violent means to get their grievances heard. It must be noted however, that some ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo unequivocally rejected the use of violence. The ANC primarily deployed civil disobedience tactics. They defied the laws by using social amenities reserved for the white population. Also, they called for industrial strikes in critical areas of the economy. Their goal was to starve the government of vital resources- resources that the ANC believed were used to perpetuate the apartheid rule.


The government in turn meted out the harshest of punishments to all those it considered a threat to the apartheid regime. Several tens of thousands of activists and anti-apartheid leaders where jailed indefinitely, without any legal process. Obviously, the most famous of those political prisoners was none other than Nelson Mandela – Nobel Peace Laureate and South Africa’s first black president.

In the end, South Africa was plunged into about a decade or so of unrest. There were daily demonstrations that usually turned deadly. One of the darkest periods of the apartheid era occurred in 1976, when a group of secondary school students from the Soweto Township staged massive protests. The ensuing violence and deaths from the Soweto Protests cast a negative spotlight on the apartheid government in South Africa. The international community started paying full attention to the deplorable situation in apartheid South Africa. There were calls from around the globe for South African goods and companies to be boycotted.

How and when did apartheid end?

Apartheid in South Africa: Origin and Meaning - World History Edu (5)

Adopted in April 1994, the South African flag stands for the multicultural and multiracial nature of the country

All throughout the 1980s, the apartheid government’s legitimacy and credibility gradually eroded. Several concerts and protests were held across the globe, calling on the government to immediately release all political prisoners. Many countries imposed political and economic sanctions on the government.

The turning point came in 1990, when President FW de Klerk issued an order for the release of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela – a man who had been jailed for about 27 years. After a series of referendums and reforms, the apartheid government caved in to pressures to hold free and fair elections.

In the 1994 general elections, Nelson Mandela swept his way to victory, bringing an end to white-minority rule in South Africa. As part of the reconciliation efforts instituted by Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki were selected to serve as deputy presidents of South Africa.

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What is the origin and meaning of apartheid? ›

The first records of the word apartheid in English come from the 1940s. It's an Afrikaans word in which the suffix -heid means -hood, as in a state or condition. In this way, apartheid basically means “apartness” or “the state of being apart.” It can be interpreted as meaning “separation” or “segregation.”

What is the history of apartheid in South Africa? ›

When did apartheid start? Racial segregation had long existed in white minority-governed South Africa, but the practice was extended under the government led by the National Party (1948–94), and the party named its racial segregation policies apartheid (Afrikaans: “apartness”).

How and why did apartheid start in South Africa? ›

Apartheid begins

After facing opposition during World War II, the National Party returns to power and defeats the United Party in the General Election, promising to make laws severely restricting black-South African rights.

When did apartheid start and who started it? ›

Although many of the segregationist policies dated back to the early decades of the twentieth century, it was the election of the Nationalist Party in 1948 that marked the beginning of legalized racism's harshest features called Apartheid. The Cold War then was in its early stages.

What is the meaning of apartheid answer? ›

Discrimination based on the colour of skin and race is known as apartheid. It was practised in South Africa between 1948-1994 by the white minority government over the native population. Suggest Corrections.

Who started apartheid in South Africa? ›

Translated from the Afrikaans meaning 'apartness', apartheid was the ideology supported by the National Party (NP) government and was introduced in South Africa in 1948. Apartheid called for the separate development of the different racial groups in South Africa.

What is the introduction of apartheid? ›

Apartheid describes a system of laws and policies of total racial segregation in South Africa that began in 1948, when the National Party came to power, and ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected President in the first democratic elections.

What was the main idea of apartheid? ›

The National Party, which came to power in South Africa in 1948, made apartheid a State policy and espoused the vicious ideology that people of different racial origins could not live together in equality and harmony.

What is apartheid in South Africa essay? ›

Apartheid Essay Apartheid was the laws that separated different races in South Africa. Apartheid started in 1948 and ended in 1991. During Apartheid, the whites didn't treat the blacks as equals. Harsh living conditions, awful events, and determined people contributed to the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

What caused the fall of apartheid in South Africa? ›

It took decades of activism from both inside and outside the country, as well as international economic pressure, to end the regime that allowed the country's white minority to subjugate its Black majority. This work culminated in the dismantling of apartheid between 1990 and 1994.

When did the apartheid began? ›

The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act of 1950, which formalised racial classification and introduced an identity card for all persons over the age of 18, specifying their racial group.

When did apartheid start and end? ›

The apartheid era in South African history refers to the time that the National Party led the country's white minority government, from 1948 to 1994.

What is the another term for apartheid? ›

racism. nounprejudice against an ethnic group. apartheid. bias. bigotry.

What is the meaning of apartheid in Oxford dictionary? ›

The former South African policy of racial segregation of other groups from the white inhabitants.

Who was the leader of the apartheid? ›

F. W. de Klerk
His Excellency F. W. de Klerk OMG DMS
PresidentNelson Mandela
Preceded byAlwyn Schlebusch (Vice State President)
Succeeded byThabo Mbeki (solely)
Leader of the Opposition
35 more rows

How did apartheid affect South Africa? ›

Pass laws and apartheid policies prohibited Black people from entering urban areas without immediately finding a job. It was illegal for a Black person not to carry a passbook. Black people could not marry white people. They could not set up businesses in white areas.

What is apartheid and its effects? ›

Apartheid literally means “apartness” and was a system of government implemented in South Africa between 1948 and 1994 that separated people according to race in every aspect of daily life, entrenching white minority rule and discriminating against non-white population groups.

What are the main features of apartheid in South Africa? ›

Apartheid was a racist political and social system in South Africa during the era of white minority rule. It enforced racial discrimination against non-whites, mainly focused on skin colour and facial features. This existed in the twentieth century, from 1948 until the early-1990s.

What are the three features of apartheid? ›

Apartheid Law
  • The Race Classification Act. Every citizen suspected of not being European was classified according to race.
  • The Mixed Marriages Act. It prohibited marriage between people of different races.
  • The Group Areas Act. It forced people of certain races into living in designated areas.

How did apartheid came to an end? ›

The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of bilateral and multi-party negotiations between 1990 and 1993.

What events happened during the apartheid? ›

Pages in category "Events associated with apartheid"
  • 1948 South African general election.
  • 1953 South African general election.
  • 1956 Treason Trial.
  • 1958 South African general election.
  • 1960 South African republic referendum.
  • 1961 South African general election.
  • 1966 South African general election.

When was apartheid declared in South Africa? ›

The Apartheid Convention was adopted by the General Assembly on 30 November 1973, by 91 votes in favour, four against (Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) and 26 abstentions. It came into force on 18 July 1976. As of August 2008, it has been ratified by 107 States.

Who ended the apartheid movement? ›

When F. W. de Klerk became President of South Africa he called for a new society without apartheid. He lifted the ban on protest marches, and ended many of the restrictions of apartheid. In 1989, de Klerk lifted the ban on protest marches and ended the racial segregation of public facilities.

How long was the apartheid fight? ›

Over the next 95 years, Mandela would help topple South Africa's brutal social order. During a lifetime of resistance, imprisonment, and leadership, Nelson Mandela led South Africa out of apartheid and into an era of reconciliation and majority rule.

What was South Africa called before apartheid? ›

South African Republic

It was an independent and internationally recognised nation-state in southern Africa from 1852 to 1902.

What are some examples of apartheid? ›

Examples of Key Apartheid Laws

Population Registration Act 1950 Created a national register in which every individual's race was officially recorded. Group Areas Act 1950 Legally codified segregation by creating distinct residential areas for each race. Immorality Act 1950 Prohibited sex between whites and non-whites.

What were the laws during apartheid? ›

The Immorality Act, 1927 forbade extramarital sex between white people and black people. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949 forbade marriages between white people and people of other races. The Immorality Amendment Act, 1950 forbade extramarital sex between white people and people of other races.

What was the result of apartheid in South Africa? ›

Abstract. Apartheid has negatively affected the lives of all South African children but its effects have been particularly devastating for black children. The consequences of poverty, racism and violence have resulted in psychological disorders, and a generation of maladjusted children may be the result.

How did the apartheid end in South Africa? ›

De Klerk and Nelson Mandela agreed to dismantle the apartheid regime. On April 27, 1994, millions of South Africans, both black and white, were able to vote in the first multiracial elections held in South Africa since apartheid began in 1948. They voted Mandela into power.


1. Apartheid Explained
(First Rate Tutors)
3. Apartheid Explained | Nelson Mandela’s Battle
4. Origins of the Apartheid
(Roberto Jones)
5. Apartheid in South Africa: A History
(Averill Earls)
6. South Africa's Devastating History (Apartheid Overview)
(Clay Bowen)

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