Apartheid was a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s. The word “apartheid” is an Afrikaans word that means “separateness.”
Under apartheid, the government divided the population into racial groups and classified individuals based on their skin color, ethnic origin, and social status.
The white minority government used this classification to justify separate facilities, education systems, and living areas for different racial groups.
The apartheid system was characterized by racial discrimination, human rights abuses, and the denial of political and economic rights to non-white South Africans. It was officially abolished in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa
How Apartheid Affected People’s Lives and How They Responded
Limited Access to Education
Under apartheid, the education system was segregated based on race. White students received the best education, while non-white students received an inferior education. Non-white schools had fewer resources, poorly trained teachers, and overcrowded classrooms.
This limited the opportunities for non-white students to succeed academically and professionally.
Non-white students and their families responded to this injustice by protesting and boycotting schools, demanding better education and equal opportunities.
The Soweto Uprising in 1976, where thousands of students protested against being taught in Afrikaans, is a notable example of this resistance.
The apartheid government forcibly removed non-white communities from their homes and relocated them to segregated areas known as townships.
This caused great upheaval and trauma for many families, as they were often removed from their ancestral lands and forced to live in overcrowded, under-resourced areas.
Many families resisted these forced removals, with some refusing to leave their homes and others engaging in protests and acts of civil disobedience.
The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, where 69 black protesters were killed by police while protesting against forced removals, is a notable example of resistance against this policy.
The government introduced laws that required non-white South Africans to carry identification documents, known as “passes,” at all times. This allowed the government to control the movement of non-white people and limit their access to certain areas of the country.
Non-white people responded to the passed laws by engaging in acts of civil disobedience and protest. The Defiance Campaign in 1952, led by the African National Congress (ANC), encouraged non-white South Africans to refuse to carry their passes and engage in acts of civil disobedience.
This campaign was met with brutal repression, with many protesters being arrested and imprisoned.
Limited Employment Opportunities
Apartheid limited the employment opportunities available to non-white South Africans, with many jobs being reserved exclusively for white people. This meant that non-white people were often forced to work in low-paying, menial jobs with little opportunity for advancement.
Non-white workers responded to this injustice by engaging in strikes and protests, demanding better working conditions and equal pay.
The 1973 Durban strikes, which involved over 100,000 non-white workers demanding better wages and working conditions, is a notable example of this resistance.
Under apartheid, non-white South Africans were denied the right to vote and participate in the political process. Political parties representing non-white people were also banned, and activists were routinely harassed, arrested, and imprisoned.
Non-white South Africans responded to this political repression by engaging in acts of civil disobedience and protest.
The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976 are examples of protests against political repression.
The ANC and other political organizations also engaged in armed resistance against the apartheid government, with the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, launching a campaign of sabotage and guerrilla warfare against government targets.
Limited Access to Healthcare
Non-white South Africans had limited access to healthcare under apartheid, with segregated healthcare systems providing inferior services to non-white patients.
Non-white communities responded to this injustice by setting up their healthcare facilities and engaging in acts of civil disobedience.
The 1985 Vaal Triangle protests, which were sparked by a lack of access to healthcare facilities, are a notable example of this resistance.
Under apartheid, non-white South Africans were denied the right to express their cultural identities and were forced to conform to white cultural norms.
Non-white communities responded to this cultural suppression by engaging in acts of cultural resistance and protest. The use of traditional dress, music, and dance was a way for non-white South Africans to assert their cultural identity and resist the cultural hegemony of the apartheid state.
The cultural boycott of South Africa, led by the international community, was also an important form of resistance against apartheid.
Apartheid was a violent system, with the government using violence to suppress opposition and enforce its policies. Non-white South Africans also engaged in violence as a means of resistance, with some resorting to armed struggle against the government.
The violence associated with apartheid had a profound impact on South African society, with many families and communities experiencing loss and trauma.
However, violence was also seen by some as a necessary means of resistance against an oppressive regime.
Apartheid created massive economic inequality in South Africa, with non-white people being denied access to economic opportunities and resources.
Non-white South Africans responded to this economic inequality by engaging in acts of protest and boycotts. The consumer boycotts of the 1980s, which targeted companies that supported the apartheid regime, were an important form of economic resistance against apartheid.
Non-white South Africans also received support from the international community in their struggle against apartheid. The anti-apartheid movement, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, mobilized people around the world to support the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
International solidarity took many forms, including boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions against South Africa.
The international pressure exerted on South Africa played a key role in bringing about the end of apartheid, with the international community imposing economic and political sanctions on South Africa that helped to isolate the apartheid regime and bring about its downfall.
Apartheid had a profound impact on the lives of South Africans, with many people responding to its injustices through acts of resistance and protest.
From the Sharpeville Massacre to the consumer boycotts of the 1980s, the struggle against apartheid involved a wide range of tactics and strategies, and ultimately led to the end of apartheid and the emergence of a new, democratic South Africa.
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Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.