Apartheid, or “separateness” in Afrikaans, was more than a system of segregation laws; it was the ideology of White supremacy codified. Under apartheid, the thought was that races must be kept separate to ensure tranquility and economic development. The laws created social strata based on race, with different racial groups receiving different amounts of political rights. The near total subjugation of the majority Black population in South Africa led to South Africa being pushed out from much of international politics, trade and academia as part of a sweeping boycott of South Africa by nations and organizations around the world.
Since early colonial times, White immigrants to South Africa found ways to segregate themselves from native South Africans and non-White immigrants. Today’s South Africa began as a Dutch colony and later a British colony. After the British granted South Africa independence in 1909, the Afrikaner government passed the Natives Land Act of 1913. Because of the Land Act, the Native majority in South Africa could only own land in less than 10% of the country.
Since early colonial times, White immigrants to South Africa had found ways to segregate themselves from native South Africans and non-White immigrants. South Africa was at one time a Dutch colony and later a British colony. After the British granted South Africa independence in 1909, the Afrikaner government passed the Natives Land Act of 1913. This law limited so-called Natives to “homelands” where they were allowed to own land. The majority of the people in South Africa could only own land in less than 10 percent of the country.
In 1948, the dominant political party, the United Party, was voted out. Under its successor, the Reunited National Party, a new level of conservatism had taken control of the House of Assembly, and Daniel François Malan, a Dutch Reformed clergyman, was elected prime minister. The Reunited National Party was deeply religious, believed in promoting Afrikaner culture over British culture and wanted to expand racial segregation. Referred to as “grand apartheid,” the government passed laws that made race an immutable legal classification, made interracial relationships illegal, kept non-Whites out of White designated areas and banned non-Whites from employing White people. This segregation meant people of color were relegated to “homelands,” rural areas (known as “townships”) and neighborhoods of makeshift houses often on the periphery of major cities. Laws that limited business ownership meant that it was impossible to create wealth or develop at the same rate as White South Africans who had access to the world economy. White supremacy had taken over every aspect of society. It would take a new constitution to change the laws.
The term Coloured has a problematic history. Today, many people refer to themselves as Cape Coloured, or just Coloured. To some, it is an identity that proved the impossibility of apartheid. By forming a new identity born from many, Cape Coloured people created their own language, cuisine and resisted the apartheid system that oppressed them. To others, this term is born out of a need to categorize multi-racial people so that they could be oppressed. Many of the people I interviewed said “so-called Coloured,” and believed the identity was invented by the apartheid regime and therefore must be renounced. By using the terms created by the oppressor, they said, they would give power to the underlying philosophy of separation. I use this term not give power to the historic classification, but to accurately show how this classification was used historically in South Africa.
Under apartheid, there were four racial categories: Native, Coloured, Asian, and White. Native referred to the native Black African population. Coloured referred to the multiracial people, who mostly live in the Western Cape. This group of people has ancestors from India, Europe, Malaysia and Africa. To some, this community of multiracial people became a racial identity distinct from other races. Asian South Africans have ancestry from slaves imported by the Dutch and from immigrants from other British colonies. White South Africans were afforded the most political rights, including voting and owning property; however, they were still not allowed in “group areas” without approval.
Each level of government service was separated by race, with Whites receiving the most funding and the Blacks receiving the least. Asian and Coloured groups received more funding for schools and municipal services than Natives but not as much as Whites. The apartheid system also created bureaucratic strata for each racial group. The Department of Coloured Affairs, for example, dealt only with services for Coloured people, including education and a separate parliament that offered Coloured people limited political rights.
Education for non-Whites was limited. In the 1950s, only three universities admitted non-Whites, and overall few non-whites attended universities. The Extension of University Education Act of 1959 officially segregated higher education and made it a criminal offense for a non-white student to register in a White designated university without permission from the minister of internal affairs. This lead to the creation of four new universities and the change of one university into a university for Xhosa-speaking Black people. Each of these universities was limited to one ethnic group or language. While these universities were placed near the majority of each group’s designated areas, some students traveled hundreds of miles to attend their designated university, a cost that prohibited many from attending.
Growing the higher education system for non-whites served two roles: to keep non-Whites out of the White education system and to enable non-Whites to continue the apartheid system on their own. “[The apartheid government was] looking for a way to convince the Coloured community that their future laid in accepting this separation, by living with their own people, by creating this sort of ‘Colouredness’ and nation. And the apartheid government would support that, and then they would reward you for embracing it,” said Brian O’Connell. Universities like UWC, the government hoped, would give people of color a reason to support apartheid.