Apartheid in South Africa

  • Thabo Pienaar

Canadian Metis Man, one of our YouTube pipe smokers asked me to do a series on SA, apartheid and the new SA.

Despite very different views and opinions about the "old" and "new" South Africa, I share my experiencesApartheid in South Africa, views and opinion of our history; of apartheid in South Africa and of the "new" democratic South Africa. Its also available on my YouTube channel. #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7

I was born in 1960 in a time when Apartheid in South Africa was comfortably established - or so we thought. During the 70's the resistance grew stronger and stronger and the government's reaction equally so. There were quite a few watershed events, which I will address individually:

  • The Rivonia trial
  • Youth demonstrations 1976
  • PW Botha's so-called Rubicon speech (1983) (which he didn't cross)
  • Steve Biko's death

Where to start? To get a bigger understanding, it might be worthwhile to go back a few years more.  

Historical Background

South Africa with its diverse different cultural and language groups as we know it today, relates back to the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape of Good Hope in 1654 with the purpose to establish a half-way point between the Netherlands and India. The VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indiese Companje / roughly translated to United East-Indian Company) traded in spices with Apartheid in South Africa India; so Cape Town would prove to be a very handy half-way stop to get the necessary food, water and other necessities on their way. However, before Jan van Riebeeck, there were others who stopped in South Africa on their way around Africa like the Portuguese seafarer, Bartholomias Dias and Vasco da Gama. But Jan van Riebeeck not only stopped but was instructed to settle and establish a community. Of course, he was greeted with the local inhabitants at the time, which were mainly Khoi-San people. For many years, these people lived in harmony, establishing a vibrant community and harbour for passing ships. I suppose, as word got out that it seems to be a "nice place", other people followed. For example, during the 1700's, many French Huguenots who were persecuted for their faith in Europe, fled to South Africa. I'm a descendant of Jacques Pinard who fled and arrived here in 1768 and was given a wine farm. Until the English came - that was the period of the first occupation of the English as a colony of Great Britain. This brought many English and Scots to South Africa - so already the Cape Colony became a mixture of Dutch, French, English and Scottish people, living side-by-side with the local inhabitants. No apartheid; no segregation. Afrikaans as a language and cultural group spontaneously developed - that is why Afrikaans is so close to Dutch. The French and many Scots became "Afrikaans". In the 1800's, one could say that the community existed mainly from English inhabitants, local inhabitants and Afrikaans inhabitants. In 1836, many Afrikaans farmers was unhappy about the government and suppression of the English and decided to explore the northern parts of what is now, South Africa. This migration was called the "Groot Trek" groot trek(Great Trek). As they moved, they started to settle wherever they found or exchanged cattle for land. This is how the rest of South Africa was actually "found". The local inhabitants were different than those found in the Cape (that's another story), but mainly they were different black tribes (Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu etc.). Eventually, these farmers established three different "countries" - The Republic of the Orange Free State, The "Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR)" and "Natal". The Cape Colony was under the administration of the English. As time went by, the Cape Colony was not much bothered with these farmers trekking north, until gold was discovered. Then gold was discovered in the Free State and ZAR (today Gauteng, Johannesburg) and Cecil John Rhodes decided that Great Britain should invade and occupy these two "republics" for the resources. What they thought would be a "storm in a tea cup", became a devastating war between the English and the "Boere Republieke". Between 1899 and 1902, this was the Anglo-Boer War. The boere (farmers/Afrikaners) had an obvious advantage of knowing the territory and harsh conditions and conquered many battles, until the English decided the only way to win this war, is through the infamous "scorched earth" policy - in short; burn down the farms and houses of the farmers. The wives and children were the supporting structures and kept on farming while the men fought the war. This broke the back of the "Boere" and eventually peace was reached in 1902. GB might have won the war, but they lost everything else. The men were taken as POW to concentration campIndia and Ceylon while the women and children were put in concentration camps where hundreds of thousands died due to poor conditions, cold, starvation and poor health. This was the back-drop of the "rise of the Afrikaner Nationalism" which, in my opinion, was the basis for apartheid - that's why I included this brief historical introduction. After the boer war, the Afrikaans-speaking community (the Boers) were virtually wiped out and on the brink of extinction. At the time, South Africa was not "one country" but rather 3 or 4. Under the leadership of Jan Smuts, SA became a Union - the Union of South Africa (1910) - under the crown. Although apartheid is much accredited to the Afrikaners, it was already under the English that black people were excluded from government. The ANC was formed during that time - before the Nationalist government took power - to protest against the exclusion and discrimination against black people. The opposition at the time was the National Party (NP) - they stood for self-determination and nationalism and was against British rule. In 1948 the opposition (NP) won the election and took the already segregation concepts further. One could say that the NP legitimised the segregation which the Union-government under British rule established, and that's where the problem started. Segregation, or as it became known by the world as "apartheid", was no more a voluntary choice but government policy which needs to be implemented. As a side note: apartheid literally means in Afrikaans separateness. Ironically, by word play it can also be seen as "apart hate". From there, things just got worse and worse by the day, untill it ended up in an arms-struggle between the regime and the collective black peoples of South Africa. Verwoerd became Prime Minister in 1960 and, after not convincing the English Crown to become an independent republic, South Africa left the Commonwealth and unilaterally declared the Union of South Africa to be the Republic of South Africa; no more allegiance to the British Crown. That was obviously a nationalistic boom. Verwoerd established the, what is known as the "homelands" - a seperate and self-governing area for each black tribe, being Zulus, Xhosas, Venda and North & South Sothos. This was also the time where the ANC started with a more aggressive (arm's struggle) against the regime. Their motivation was that they cannot continue with a peaceful struggle when all government power and structures are implemented against them (see Rivonia trial below). apartheid-in-south-africa-beware-of-natives Verwoerd was murdered in parliament which gave way for John Vorster to become Prime Minister. John Vorster was a very charismatic leader and orator and soon had all Afrikaners united behind the NP. But it was also during his time that the forceful implementation of the apartheid system took form. It was in his time that Steve Biko was murdered in prison, covered up by stories that he committed suicide. Black people were forcefully removed and relocated (outside the towns) from property to make way for white communities, towns and business areas. After John Vorster was forced to resign due to the "Information scandal" (the government subsidised an English newspaper to promote the NP's policies), PW Botha became Prime Minister. He continued with the implementation of apartheid. He later made way for Indian coloured communities (coloured community were a group who, over the years since 1652, was formed from marriages between the then white and local communities - there was no apartheid then, until maybe around the mid 1800's,and the Indian community was mainly from Natal as they also came here during the spice trade) to join the government. One of the tactics of the government to quench the ANC and resistance was to prohibit the existence of the ANC. At one point, it was an offence to even mention the words, ANC or Nelson Mandela. Obviously, that didn't kill the resistance as they just went underground or in exile to launch the resistance from other countries, especially from African neighbouring countries and USSR. In the late 1980's, the world sanctions and pressure against apartheid grew to an extent where many of the white community started to realise that this is not sustainable. It also so happened that the world scene changed during the 1980's - the fall of communism and the Berlin wall, other independent African states and the pressure amounting against SA from the international community through sanctions. Resistance inside South Africa, from both white and black communities also grew stronger and stronger. In 1983, a vibe started, maybe a rumour, that PW Botha would make some concessions about the future of South Africa. It was dubbed the "Rubicon Speech". To everyone's disbelief and disappointment, it was exactly the contrary- a promise for more "iron fist" rather than concessions. For years we ridiculed PW Botha for not being able to cross the Rubicon. In 1989 PW Botha had a stroke and wanted to continue as President but was removed by the inner circles of the NP structures. This brought FW de Klerk to become State President. Not much was known of FW de Klerk as he was fairly quiet in his portfolio as minister, but for some reasons, there was an expectation that he is more progressive and that something might just change under his reign. I recall that him becoming SP brought a mandela3"buzz"; its as if we expected something to happen but his opening of parliament speech in 1990 exceeded all expectations. He actually ended apartheid, dis-banned the ANC and promised the release of Nelson Mandela - 27 years in prison - and all other political inmates. Many conservative white people thought that this would be the end of the NP and that they would take over and re-establish apartheid. But interestingly enough, most white people were relieved and agreed with the new direction. And that was the beginning of negotiations for a peaceful transition to a full democratic SA; what we call the new SA.  

Growing up in Apartheid

Growing up in apartheid was for us as kids just "normal". We had no idea of what was really going in in politics or in the country. Black people were allowed to work during the day in the cities, but had to return to their own townships, usually at the outskirts of each town/city. No black person was supposed to be seen on the streets in the white areas after 6 pm. Those who were allowed to stay in as domestic workers, had to have a specific permit. These domestic workers stayed in and usually just had a room and a bathroom. No family or kids were allowed.

As a side note... That to me, was one of the dumbest moves by the apartheid-government as it demolished family life and family structures and caused infidelity among black people. Mothers who were domestic workers had to leave their kids to be raised by grandmothers in the townships. I'm of the opinion that, that will haunt SA for generations to come.

The brain-washing was a massive orchestrated plan. All school curriculum and cultural structures were geared in maintaining this policy and ensured we were raised believing this is the best for all. All government services and structures upheld these beliefs. Some even went so far as to call Apartheid a God-given command as to preserve and expand Christianity in Africa. I was asked whether there were anything which I miss or long for from the old. I can, with full conviction say: NOTHING. There is absolutely nothing from that time, at least for the 30 years I've experienced, which I would want back. Many conservatives will refer to crime, work, prosperity etc. Let me explore those quickly:

  • Crime: Those exponents normally tell us that crime was less. I challenge those statements for the mere fact that the only crime reported and solved were those in the white areas. Yes, Cities were very safe at the time, as the police only served the white community and therefore kept the cities safe and clean. All government structures, police and legal systems were geared to keep the white areas safe. We had no idea what was happening in the black townships and I'm told by one of my black friends that, from their perspective, crime has actually improved. Now, the police and legal systems protect us all, not only white towns and/or people.
  • Work: Again, white people didn't struggle to get work because work was reserved for white people. Black people were rarely allowed in management or senior positions and mostly did the blue-collared, low income jobs. So of course they would say it was better then than now employment wise; now they have to compete with 100% of the population, not only 10%.
  • Prosperity: Again, what was generated by businesses was for the use of white people. Black people's salaries were lower than white people, even for the exact same position. Again, a black person would not agree because they all lived in poverty while white people had access to the resources. At least, no its equally available.

Therefore, the world we lived in then, was a superfluous world, a world where the majority of people in South Africa was kept at arm's length in order for whites to live safe, happy ever after. Despite this, I was lucky to be raised by parents who was Nationalists but despite this, had respect for all people and instilled those principles in me. My father often invited his black workers to our house and socialised with them on their terms and according to their cultural traditions. I took a black language as a subject in school which have also made me more aware of their culture and traditions. Added to my Christian views, it was not difficult to accept all people in South Africa as equal citizens with equal rights and opportunities. My turning point came after I converted and started to realise that what we were implementing and what we're doing to black people were not in line with the heart of God and can in no way be justified. Slowly I started to turn against apartheid due to the injustices I've seen around me. The one incident I vividly recall was being in the SA Police on patrol in a black township. A blakc person was seen in the street and marijuana (dagga) was planted on his and him then arrested. Back at the police station, we were called in to collaborate the story what we were supposed to witness in court. I remember (I don't know where I got the boldness from) replying to the captain that for me to swear "So help me God", I would only be able to tell the truth. I was called terrorist and all kind of names and was relegated to administrative work. After that I started studying Theology and my beliefs were just more and more verified that apartheid is an evil system and should be abolished. I could not reconcile Christianity with apartheid as it was implemented in South Africa. We only later, after 1994 hear about the atrocities which really happened during the 40+ years of apartheid.  

Rivonia Trial

The Rivonia Trial was a trial that took place in South Africa between 1963 and 1964, in which ten leaders of the African National Congress were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system. It was named after Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg where 19 ANC leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in July 1963. It had been used as a hideout for the ANC, which was at the time, a banned organisation and could therefore not operate and organise itself as a normal political organisation. Amongst those who were arrested, were Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi (trade union and ANC member), Ahmed Kathrada, Billy Nair, Denis Goldberg (a Cape Town engineer and leader of the Congress of Democrats), Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe (prominent attorney and activist against apartheid) and others. One can say, the core of the ANC leadership of the time which could've been seen as a blow to the ANC. The government hoped to, once and for all, end the influence of the ANC and its leaders. They were on trial for treason and the death penalty was the usual sentence for treason. However, it was clear that due to the prominence and nature of this trial (a trial of anti-apartheid activists), that the death penalty would not be proper and the government probably realised that a death sentence would do more harm to their cause. Opposition to the death penalty included both public campaigns internationally and the defence's arguments within the courtroom. A good ploy by the defence team was to compare the African struggle for rights to the earlier Afrikaans struggle against British domination. The charges against these 19 were

  • recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage
  • conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic,
  • acting in these ways to further the objects of communism
  • soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathizers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

At the beginning of the defence's proceedings, Nelson Mandela gave a three-hour speech in which he explained and defended the ANC's political position. He also justified the movement's decision, in view of the increasing restrictions on permitted political activity on the part of Africans, to go beyond its earlier use of constitutional methods and Gandhian non-violent opposition to the state, embracing a campaign of sabotage against property (designed to minimize risks of injury and death), while also starting to train a military wing for possible future use. His argument was: how can we as ANC use a non-violent opposition to apartheid, if we are being met by the power of the violent state machinery. Mandela's closing words have been much-quoted. They were reportedly spoken looking the judge full in the eyes. His statement that he was prepared to die for the cause was strongly resisted by his lawyers, who feared it might itself provoke a death sentence. In a concession to their concerns, Mandela inserted the words "if it needs be". These words are echoed still today, not only in our own country, but around the world:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. (Nelson Mandela, 20 April 1964)

At the end of the trial, they were sentenced to life imprisonment and were sent to Robben Island where political activists were serving there sentences. This was the beginning of Nelson Mandela's 27 year imprisonment. He was later moved to a safe house in the Paarl, from where he was released in 1990. Obviously, the trial was condemned by the United Nations Security Council and nations around the world, and lead to increased international sanctions against the South African government.  

1976 Youth Riots

Due to apartheid, the association of Afrikaans with apartheid prompted black South Africans to prefer English. Black high school students in Soweto protested sowet riotsagainst an Act of 1974, forcing all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction. A change in language of instruction forced the students to focus on understanding the language instead of the subject material. This made critical analysis of the content difficult and discouraged critical thinking. Earlier in 1976, children at Orlando West Junior School in Soweto went on strike, refusing to go to school. Their rebellion then spread to many other schools in Soweto. Black South African students protested because they believed that they deserved to be treated and taught equally to White South Africans. On the morning of 16 June 1976, between 10,000 and 20,000 black students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium for a rally to protest against having to learn through Afrikaans in school. The protest was planned by the Soweto Students' Representative Council's (SSRC) Action Committee,[15] with support from the wider Black Consciousness Movement. Teachers in Soweto also supported the march after the Action Committee emphasised good discipline and peaceful action. The students began the march only to find out that police had barricaded the road along their intended route. The leader of the action committee asked the crowdhector pietersen not to provoke the police and the march continued on another route, eventually ending up near Orlando High School, another township close to Johannesburg. However, the protesters were met with 1500 heavily armoured police who responded with fierce police brutality, killing an estimated 700 young adults. In later evidences, a Police Officer testified that some of the children started throwing stones as soon as they spotted the police patrol, while others continued to march peacefully. He then drew his handgun and fired a shot, causing panic and chaos amongst the students. Students started screaming and running and more gunshots were fired. The police loosed their dogs on the protesters, who responded by stoning the dogs to death. The police then began to shoot directly at the children. One of the first students to be shot dead was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson and and became the symbol of the Youth Day uprising. This laid bare the extent to which the Apartheid-regime would go to protect and instill their policy. Since 1994, 16 June is a public holiday in remembrance of these young activists against apartheid. The Soweto riots of 1976 were probably one of the most brutal and violent riots that had taken place against the apartheid-regime. The brutal response by the police during the riots, in my opinion, caused a world-wide opposition and led to more boycotts against South Africa. It also introduced an increased militancy of black people against apartheid.