From 1948 to 1994, apartheid was the official policy implemented by South Africa’s National Party government to maintain separate government-demarcated racial groups. It was abolished by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1993. Literally meaning “separateness,” the word comes from Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa. A variant of Dutch, it originated from the seventeenth-century Dutch dialects spoken by the settlers of the area, where it developed independently.
From the Dutch word for “farmer,” Boer refers to a South African of Dutch, German or Huguenot descent, especially the descendants of the early seventeenth-century settlers. Friction with the British, who took possession of the Cape Colony in 1806 as a result of the Napoleonic wars, culminated in the South African War. After two years of fighting, using mainly guerilla tactics against the forces of the British Empire, they surrendered in 1902, ending the independent Boer republics. Though reintegrated into the British colonial system, the Boers retained their language and culture, including their policy of racial segregation.
Descendants of the Boers are commonly referred to as Afrikaners. More broadly, the term is used for all Afrikaans speakers, regardless of ethnic origins. Afrikaners make up about sixty percent of the white population of South Africa.
The Pass Laws Act
The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, 1952, commonly known as the Pass Laws Act, required all Africans to carry identification similar to an internal passport, with their name, address, photograph, fingerprints, and the name of their employer. Africans were frequently stopped and harassed, and between 1948 and 1973, over ten million Africans were arrested because their passes were “not in order.” Burning pass books was a common form of protest.
ANC, The African National Congress
Founded in 1912, the ANC fought to organize black Africans in the struggle for civil rights, in order to bring an end to white domination and create a multiracial South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the African resistance leader who was jailed for twenty-seven years, was elected President in the first multiracial elections. The ANC has remained the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa.
PAC, The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania
The PAC splintered from the ANC in 1959 over strategic differences; the PAC opposed including whites and Indians in the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1960 they organized campaigns against the Pass Laws, including a demonstration in Sharpeville; thousands of unarmed people gathered without their passes and were met with police brutality, resulting in the deaths of sixty-nine people, most shot in the back. The government responded to the massacre by banning the ANC and the PAC. The repression forced them underground, and served as a catalyst for a change in strategy from passive to armed resistance.
Pieter Willem “P. W.” Botha, nicknamed “Die Groot Krokodil” or “The Big Crocodile,” was the head of state of South Africa from 1978 to 1989. His Nationalist Party initiated the system of racial segregation that came to be called apartheid when it came to power in 1948. Under Botha’s leadership, the political crisis deepened and racial violence increased. Botha refused to testify before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was formed to probe apartheid-era crimes, and remained unapologetic throughout his life.
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