South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


Banned People in Apartheid-era South Africa

In 1962, Helen Joseph became the first person in South Africa to be placed under house arrest. Her activism had begun in 1951 in the union and women’s movements. She went on to serve as a nationwide organizer of women and to spearhead a project designed to ameliorate the conditions of banished people. Her banning orders restricted her movement to the city of Johannesburg and barred her from entering factories, black residential areas (since she was white), and communicating with other banned persons. Joseph’s bans also forbid visits from her family and friends and required her to report to the Central Johannesburg police station every day between 12 noon and 2 o’clock. Altogether, Joseph endured four periods of banning as well as repeated periods of imprisonment.

Phyllis Naidoo was another woman activist who was placed under house arrest. For five years she raised three children under these difficult conditions. She could not even take her children to school, because she was prohibited for entering any educational institution. Special branch [police] officers lived on both sides of her apartment and always had her under surveillance:
There was a special branch [police] fellow ... who told the kids, “Go into that house and tell us what's going on.” And when my kids found out about that, they said, “Don’t come to our house. We’ll play in the yard.”[Watch Naidoo interview segment]
For some black South Africans, the apartheid government meted out an even harsher form of banning called banishment. Banishment compounded the hardships of banned persons by removing them from their homes and families and forcing them to live in remote areas of the country. Banished people often lacked basic living necessities, suffered extreme feelings of alienation, and, because the government placed no term limits on banishment orders, lingered in a state of indefiniteness (Joseph; Baard and Schreiner).

Frances Baard was banished when she was released from prison in 1966, after serving a five-year sentence. Baard had been a union organizer and ANC activist while working in a fruit canning factory in Port Elizabeth. But upon her release, she was banished to an area near Pretoria located far from her children and home. In her new location, Baard was placed in a small corrugated house and given a bed, two blankets, one pillow, two sheets, one table, one chair, and a bag of porridge. During her two-year banning period she worked at a local factory to support herself. After her banning order expired, it took Baard two more years to save enough money to return to Port Elizabeth to see her children (Baard and Schreiner).

In 1977 the apartheid government banished anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela from her home in Soweto, an African residential area near Johannesburg, to a small Afrikaans-speaking town located in Brandfort, Free State. Prior to her eight-year banishment, Winnie Mandela had served as chairperson of the Orlando branch of the ANC Women’s League and had helped to establish the Black Women’s Federation and the Black Parents’ Association. In 1962 the South African government made a failed attempt to stop her political activity by banning her to Soweto; and in 1968 the authorities placed her in solitary confinement for seventeen months. In her autobiography she describes the moment in 1977 when she learned that she, along with her daughter Zindzi, would be banished:
These three men who were in the same cell interrogating me simply stood up and said, ‘You are now going to be banished to the Free State.’ I hadn’t the slightest idea of what was going on, I thought I was under arrest. And when Zindzi came with these men it was the first time I realized I was being banished… I had never known there was a place like Brandfort. We were dropped at the police station and handed over to the Security Branch of the Free State (Mandela, Benjamin and Benson 24-25).
 
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