South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Pass Laws

Video Interviews

"The court cases took an average of 3 minutes each ... it was like a sausage machine..."
Video interview segment with Jenny de Tolly [1:14]
May 23, 2005
"Very often, the first visit was prompted by the arrest of a family member in terms of the pass laws or the disappearance of somebody."
Video interview segment with Maria MacDiarmid (Mary) Burton and Diana Oliver [1:19]
May 23, 2005

Audio Interviews

"There were always raids at all hours ... They don't even wait for you to dress ..."
Audio interview segment with Ms G. Mayo [0:54]
April 25, 2002 Langa, Cape Town, South Africa.

"[My pass] was in order. He just crunched it and threw it at me and started dragging me into the van. Now I was going to be in violation."
Audio interview segment with Mr. V. Qunta [3:00]
April 18, 2002 Langa, Cape Town, South Africa.

Images

Documents

Historical Document: An Appeal to Thinking South Africans
By Johannesburg Joint Council of Europeans and Natives

Summary

Pass laws were designed to control the movement of Africans under apartheid. These laws evolved from regulations imposed by the Dutch and British in the 18th and 19th-century slave economy of the Cape Colony. In the 19th century, new pass laws were enacted for the purpose of ensuring a reliable supply of cheap, docile African labor for the gold and diamond mines. In 1952, the government enacted an even more rigid law that required all African males over the age of 16 to carry a "reference book" (replacing the previous passbook) containing personal information and employment history.

Africans often were compelled to violate the pass laws to find work to support their families, so harassment, fines, and arrests under the pass laws were a constant threat to many urban Africans. Protest against these humiliating laws fueled the anti-apartheid struggle - from the Defiance Campaign (1952-54), the massive women's protest in Pretoria (1956), to burning of passes at the police station in Sharpeville where 69 protesters were massacred (1960). In the 1970s and 1980s, many Africans found in violation of pass laws were stripped of citizenship and deported to poverty-stricken rural "homelands." By the time the increasingly expensive and ineffective pass laws were repealed in 1986, they had led to more than 17 million arrests.

For more information on these topics see Slavery: Unit 2; Migrant labor in the mines: Unit 2; Pass laws under apartheid: Unit 3

Related Multimedia Resources:

Web Documents

Magazine Article: "Johannesburg Advice Office", The Black Sash

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Magazine Article: "Sashers in Action: A Day at Langa and Nyanga", The Black Sash

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Magazine Article: "Where Shall I Go?", The Black Sash
By David Rabkin
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Newspaper Article: "Trialists Tell of Suffering under Pass Law System", Grassroots

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Speech: "Presidential Address by S.M. Makgatho, South African Native National Congress"
By S.M. Makgatho
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Magazine Article: "How It All Started", The Black Sash

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Magazine Article: "The Extension of the Pass Laws", Liberation
By Walter Sisulu
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Journal Article: "Memorandum on the Pass Laws and Influx Control", The Black Sash

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Suggested Reading

"The Pass Laws", Handbook on Race Relations in South Africa
By Ellison Kahn
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AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH