The Nature of Apartheid

The degree of segregation in existence before 1948 has led some to argue that apartheid was simply a continuation of what was already in process. However, the election of the National Party brought a far more comprehensive kind of segregation to what had gone before. Between 1948 and 1951 a series of acts were passed to lay the foundation for complete segregation on grounds of race. H. F. Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 to 1966, said in 1948 that ''[n]obody has ever contended that the policy of apartheid should be identified with 'total segregation'. The apartheid policy has been described as what one can do in the direction of what you regard as ideal. Nobody will deny that for the Natives as well as for the European complete separation would have been the ideal if it had developed that way historically.'' Verwoerd's identification of the limits of total segregation derived from the dependence of the white economy on black labor, thus preventing the desired complete separation.

In order to achieve its objectives, the apartheid state passed a series of laws which maintained and extended existing segregation. The core policies, which encapsulated the ideology and intent of the state were rapidly passed into law, namely the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949), the Group Areas Act (1950), Population Registration Act (1950), the Immorality Act (1950), and the Bantu Authorities Act (1951). These five key policies were interlinked and created their own internal logic.

The Group Areas Act provided for areas within the urban environment to be declared for the exclusive use of one particular racial group. People were only allowed to own or rent residential property or businesses in areas classified for their racial group. Unlike previous acts, which proclaimed new areas for particular races, the Group Areas Act was also retrospective in its planning. It allowed for the rezoning of existing residential and business areas for particular race groups. It was estimated that by the end of 1976 although 32% of Chinese and Indian families and 20% of Coloured families had been spatially disqualified, just 0.2% of white families had been disqualified. The high proportion of Chinese and Indian families removed under the Act is a reflection of their previous level of integration in predominantly white areas as a wealthy subsection of the black majority. It has been suggested that one of the motivations for the Act was to restrict the further rise in status of these non white elite groups.

Black African South Africans were not provided for within the Group Areas Act, as they were not recognized as legitimate urban dwellers as a result of pre apartheid legislation. Black Africans were only allowed in cities as 'temporary sojourners', their 'home' being in the lands demarcated under the 1913 and 1936 Land Acts. The passing of the Bantu Authorities Act brought in a governmental system based on chiefs and 'tribal' authorities as the only political representation for black Africans. All black Africans were therefore assigned a 'homeland' according to their record of origin and were therefore effectively retribalized and ceased to be considered South African citizens.

These two grand spatial plans (national and urban) could not be implemented effectively without a rigid racial categorization. The Population Registration Act therefore required all citizens to be identified and registered as belonging to one of four core racial groups: white, Coloured, Indian, Bantu (black African). This classification influenced all spheres of life: political, economic, social, and spatial. It also facilitated other policies, for example, the Group Areas Act, to reinforce apartheid ideology. Apartheid could not allow these racial boundaries to blur and insisted on racial purity. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages and Immorality Acts therefore banned sexual contact between people of dif ferent races in an attempt to maintain these racial boundaries.

Once these core laws were in operation, the apartheid state then implemented a series of other laws reinforcing the unequal separation of people in South Africa, including the Abolition of Passes Act (1951), Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953), Bantu Education Act (1953), Natives Resettlement Act (1954), Natives (Urban Areas) Amendment Act (1955), Industrial Conciliation Act (1956).

In its implementation, apartheid was fundamentally spatial. As David Smith stated in 1982, apartheid was perhaps the ''most ambitious contemporary exercise in applied geography.'' The power of apartheid largely derived from its control of people's personal and community geographies at all scales of existence.

At the macro scale, South Africa was divided into black African homelands and the rest of the country. These ten homelands were nominally sovereign nations. Black Africans were denied citizenship of South Africa, as they were considered citizens of their allocated homeland. The homelands were economically, and often agriculturally, marginal and overcrowded places. Black African South Africans remained economically dependent on white capital as laborers, yet without the rights of citizens. At the mesoscale, the Group Areas Act divided urban areas along racial grounds residentially, economically, and recreationally, refining the 'segregation city' and reinforcing the racial hierarchy through spatial means (see Figure 3).

Model Apartheid City.

At the micro scale, the daily lives of people in public spaces and private spaces were dictated by laws designed to reflect the apartheid ideology. Separate benches, buses, hospitals, schools, etc, were all set in place. Businesses employing people of more than one race were obligated to provide separate toilets for people of each race. Public buildings, like post offices, had separate entrances for people of different races. Within this segregation, there was a clear racial hierarchy. Within education, for example, the ratio of per capita expenditure on education in South Africa for black Africans, Coloureds, Indians, and whites was 1:3.4:4.9:8.3 in 1984. This pattern of separate and unequal provisioning was reflected in all spheres of life. The interlinking of these policies at different spatial scales created a systematic web of oppression.

However, despite the best efforts of the state, the system was neither watertight nor internally coherent. Throughout the apartheid era cracks appeared in the system, most obviously in the form of protest, but also through periodic economic crises. The following section discusses some of the reasons for the ending of apartheid.