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Tales from Dystopia XXII: Apartheid and me

17 June 2018

What was apartheid?

This is a question that has been asked on Quora, a site where people ask questions, and people who know the answers to those questions, or think they do, try to answer them.

Several questions were asked about apartheid, and some of them were quite personal, and I tried to answer some of them. I’ve now copied some of the answers here, somewhat edited. Though the questions were asked by different people, the result is a bit like an interview.

If you click on the questions themselves, they will take you to the original question and answer on Quora, but here I’ve tried to link them, and add some linking material.

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes, former Senior editor and junior lecturer at University of South Africa (1986-1999)

I lived through the entire period of apartheid. I was 7 years old when it started and I was 53 when it stopped.

It was evil, stupid, wasteful and unjust in both its conception and in its implementation.

It was based on the premise (which I believe to be wrong) that “race” is the most important and significant thing about a person, and that every person should be arbitrarily be assigned to a “race” by the government, and that (among other things) your “race” should determine where you could live, where you could work, what work you could do (and how much you should be paid for it), where you could go to school, where you could worship, and who you could associate with.

Anyone who disagreed with this fundamental premiss, and who spoke against it, was liable to be harassed by the police (and sometimes by their neighbours who believed in the apartheid ideology), and in some cases banned, detained without trial or imprisoned.

It denied people fundamental human rights, and was enormously wasteful of human and other resources.


As a policy it was devised by the Purified National Party whose aim was to secure white Afrikaner supremacy in South Africa, and apartheid was one of the policies with which they fought (and won) the 1948 election, in which most of the voters were white and very few non-whites were allowed to vote (and under the apartheid policy the right to vote was taken away even from those few).

It could perhaps have been avoided if, at the time of Union in 1910, the right of black people to vote had been extended to the whole of South Africa, and if black people had taken part in the National Convention that had led to the formation of the Union but at that time (from about 1870–1915, the time of the New Imperialism) racism and the idea of white supremacy was very strong among those who made decisions on such things, So in part the roots of apartheid go back a long way.

Initially by repression and suppression of those who criticised apartheid, and by developing a police state.

A series of laws were passed, such as the Suppression of Communism Act (Act 44 of 1950), which gave the government power to ban organisations and their leaders to prevent them from speaking in public or even in private.

In 1961 B.J. Vorster became Minister of Justice, and he passed a series of laws that give more and more powers to the police, so that when he became Prime Minister in 1966 South Africa was a fully-fledged police state.

When P.W. Botha (who had been Minister of Defence) became Prime Minister, the focus shifted from the police to the military, and the strategy became a Total Strategy to meet what the government described as a Total Onslaught.

But after P.W. Botha became an executive president more and more members of his own party began to see that ultimately the military strategy could not work, and began to see the need for dialogue. When illness removed P.W. Botha from power, therefore the strategy changed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Rossouw permalink
    18 June 2018 5:08 am

    A well written article, Fr Stephen. I remember the system of Apartheid and the hurt that it caused our citizens. As a 9 year old boy I remember the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Verwoerd at the Rand Show and the tragic events of Sharpeville. I remember when as a little boy we all took part in the Union Festival marking 50 years of Union in 1960, only to celebrate the birth of the Republic in 1961. All “Imperial” and British symbols were removed from our schools. Our own Regiment’s colours had to be changed. At 16, I also remember the assassination of Verwoerd in the House of Assembly.
    What a pity the euphoria around the 1994 elections has brought about a state which is now, in 2018 worse off than it was when the ANC inherited the government post Apartheid.nelson Mandela must be turning in his grave.
    “Cry the beloved country” indeed.

  2. 25 November 2018 12:04 am

    This is amazing

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