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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
The birth and death of apartheid
By Michael Gallagher
Describing apartheid as a discredited idea ought to be impossible. But to some people, such formalised racism did have moral and intellectual credibility. Ultimately though, it could not stand the test of time.
South African political expert Stanley Uys believes it was at this moment that apartheid was born.
He said: "Faced with an immense problem, the National Party came up with an immense solution. Although there wasn't a single administrative district in South Africa in which Africans did not outnumber whites, the party's 'social engineers' started to draw the dividing lines.
Apartheid, or racial separation, overshadowed South Africa for the next four decades. The country's old national anthem was its unofficial refrain. The system's chief objective was to deny non-whites the fruits of supposedly white labours: commerce and industry. So for its proponents - like Hendrick Verwoerd, South Africa's president in the 1950s and 60s - apartheid was a perfectly moral idea.
Mr Verwoerd said: " ... the white man, therefore, not only has an undoubted stake in - and right to - the land which he developed into a modern industrial state from denuded grassland and empty valleys and mountains. But - according to all the principles of morality - it was his, is his, and must remain his."
"The way Afrikaners justified apartheid was to say it was God-ordained," said Stanley Uys. "Most Afrikaaners are Calvinists and there is a strong streak of determinism in their makeup.
"Their churches found theological justification for apartheid. And their assorted theoreticians, academics and others argued the case for the separation of colours. So it was basically through this determinism - found both in social science and religion - that apartheid was justified."
The system decreed that black Africans should be unable to move freely into urban areas. Much-hated "pass laws" - which effectively required them to carry internal passports - were introduced. The entire nation was split up and categorised according to race. Even park benches and shops were reserved according to the colour of one's skin.
In the 1950s, the National Party perfected apartheid's grand design: The Bantustans or homelands, constituted less than a tenth of South Africa's most infertile territory. But the plan was to house the entire black population there.
This was effectively the partition of South Africa into different states. Black people were to become citizens of the impoverished bantustans. More than three million of them were uprooted from their homes to be sent there, while the rest of the country became a first world, white-majority state. But already voices of dissent were being raised, on both sides of the colour divide.
Archbishop Trevor Huddleston - who died in 1998 - was one white South African who witnessed apartheid's barbarity at first hand in the 1950s.
Archbishop Huddleston said: "I found after three or four years I just had to declare myself in terms of fully supporting the resistance movement of the African National Congress, and identifying with it to the best of my ability. Of course, as a white man, you can never identify with it to the fullest extent.
But in order to survive, the apartheid state came down heavily on its opponents. In 1960 police shot dead 69 demonstrators in the town of Sharpeville. Most of them were black. Most of them were running away as they were fired upon. The incident provoked outrage in South Africa and beyond.
Among those it stirred into action was a black lawyer called Nelson Mandela.
"There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence - against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people," said Mr Mandela.
Former sports minister Steve Tshwete said: "Youngsters began to ask questions: 'Why are we not able to pit our skills against the best in the world? Why are we being demonstrated against whenever we venture into foreign lands?' The answer of course, was: 'Because of the policies your government is pursuing, so you are going to remain the skunks of the world.'"
But according to Stanley Uys, external pressure, although important, was not responsible for bringing about apartheid's long decline:
"International sanctions were the coup de grace," he said. "What happened was that, as the blacks became more restive - there were endless strikes and demonstrations. One of the most decisive moments was the uprising of black schoolchildren in the black township of Soweto in 1976.
"After that, a lot of the motivation seemed to go out of apartheid. Within three years, the apartheid government was starting to reform. And one saw reforms being introduced throughout the 1980s. The whole motivation was draining away."
It number of turbulent years though, before the apparatus of apartheid was finally dismantled. Not until 1994 were all of South Africa's people able to vote in a general election. An election that cast out the National Party and introduced black majority rule. By then the inhumanity of colour-prejudice in politics had been exposed in other countries too: in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and even in the United States.
But it is apartheid that will perhaps be remembered as the biggest such blemish on the 20th century, and one whose legacy South Africa is even now only beginning to clean away.
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