South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Unit 3. The Rise of Apartheid

The impact of apartheid on black education was profound. Verwoerd’s 1953 Bantu Education Act established an inferior education system for Africans based upon a curriculum intended to produce manual laborers and obedient subjects. Similar discriminatory education laws were also imposed on Coloureds, who had lost the right to vote in 1956, and Indians. The government denied funding to mission schools that rejected Bantu Education, leading to the closure of many of the best schools for Africans. In the higher education sector, the Extension of University Education Act of 1959 prevented black students from attending "white" universities (except with government permission) and created separate and unequal institutions for Africans, Coloureds, and Indians respectively. The apartheid government also undermined intellectual and cultural life through intense censorship of books, movies, and radio and television programs. Censorship reached absurd proportions, exemplified by the banning of the children’s book Black Beauty and the tardy introduction of television in 1976. After that date, government-controlled broadcast media regularly disseminated apartheid propaganda. Educational ties with the rest of the world gradually diminished as countries applied a cultural boycott to South Africa.

In the 1960s the pursuit of white domination led to a new policy of "Grand Apartheid." As a massive social engineering project, grand apartheid created ethnically defined "Bantustans" (or "Homelands") out of the "Tribal Reserves" carved out by the 1913 Land Act. Between 1960 and 1985, approximately 3.5 million Africans were forcibly removed to alleged "homelands." These rural dumping grounds functioned as reservoirs of cheap black labor for white employers, but the apartheid regime also envisioned them as "independent" territories that would ensure the denial of South African citizenship to millions of Africans. Some of these territories, such as Bophuthatswana, comprised dozens of isolated pieces of territory with no common frontier. Situated in the most unproductive regions of the country, Bantustans were inhabited largely by poverty-stricken women and children since men migrated annually to work in South African cities and towns, and farms as well. Generally, government-approved "tribal" leaders ruled over the Bantustans in violent and corrupt fashion with the full support of the South African government, which was responsible for their entire budgets and provided military assistance. Transkei (1976), Boputhatswana (1977), Venda (1979), and Ciskei (1981) accepted "independence" from South Africa, although no foreign government recognized them.

In spite of the white minority’s enormous financial, political, and military power, it never gained absolute control over South Africa. In reality, the daily suffering and humiliations brought about by apartheid, and the systematic and brutal repression of human and civil rights, did not prevent millions of black (and even some white) men, women, and youths from defiantly challenging apartheid in South Africa. This popular resistance, and the apartheid state’s repressive response, is the focus of the next section.
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