Today in history: A day of tragic resonance for South Africa

June 29 marks the 90th anniversary since the date in 1925 when the South African parliament passed a bill excluding black, coloured (mixed race) and Indian people from all skilled or semi-skilled jobs. At that time, the most profitable industry in the country was mining, much of it centered in Gauteng, the area around Johannesburg, in which black South Africans were employed and cruelly exploited.

Twenty-four years later, in 1949, the South African government chose the same date to implementing the system of legal apartheid, which included the ban on mixed marriages.

Racial segregation began in colonial times under both Dutch and British rule. But it was only after the more or less openly fascistic National Party won the 1948 general election – in which only whites could vote – that the formal separation of races was codified and enforced. The National Party governed from 1948 to 1994.

Under apartheid, the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants and other ethnic groups were curtailed and Afrikaner minority rule, concentrated in the National Party, was maintained.

Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants of South Africa into four racial groups – black, white, coloured, and Indian – and residential areas were segregated. Older integrated communities, notably in Cape Town and Johannesburg, were intentionally dismantled. In the decades following implementation of apartheid, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were removed from their homes, and forced into segregated neighborhoods or townships (Soweto being the best known of them), in one of the largest mass population transfers in modern history.

Worldwide condemnation of the apartheid system began almost immediately, in the United Nations, within the British Commonwealth, among the socialist bloc countries, and in other international forums. The capitalist West, led by the United States, maintained its fervent and profitable military, industrial and financial support for the Nationalist regime. Within South Africa resistance emerged as well, led by blacks, who founded the South African Native National Congress in 1912 to increase the rights of the native South African population. That organization became the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923.

Since the 1950s, a gradually escalating series of popular nonviolent uprisings and protests was met with the banning of all opposition and the imprisonment of anti-apartheid leaders, much of it justified as the “suppression of Communism.” As unrest spread and became more effective, the South African state responded with ever greater repression and violence that shocked the global community.

Starting in 1970, black people were deprived of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands called Bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states, which, however, no other nation in the world recognized. The government segregated education, medical care, beaches, and other public services, and provided black people with services vastly inferior to those of white people.

In the 1970s and ’80s, governments and nongovernmental entities, such as sports leagues and performing artists, sponsored sanctions and an arms and trade embargo against South Africa. Combined with the establishment of the socialist bloc-supported military wing of the resistance movement, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in 1961, made inevitable by the inefficacy of peaceful protest, over time it became increasingly difficult for the government to maintain its legitimacy.

Beginning in the late 1980s, while many of the ANC leaders were still in prison, President Frederik Willem de Klerk entered cautious negotiations with the ANC to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, won by the ANC under Nelson Mandela, who served as president from 1994-1999.

Adapted from Peace History Index, Wikipedia, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” and other sources.

Photo: “ApartheidSignEnglishAfrikaans” by Dewet – Derived from Aprt.jpg on Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons



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People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.