By Ahmed Tayob
Apartheid (Afrikaans, "apartness") is the name given to the South African policy of "separate development," a rigid system of racial segregation designed to maintain white supremacy. The policy officially came into effect when South Africa's National Party came to power in 1948. It officially classified the South African population into whites, constituting about 13 per cent, Africans seventy seven percent, coloreds (of mixed descent) eight percent, and Asians two percent.
In accordance with the theory of separate development, the government set aside certain areas as homelands for each of the officially recognized African ethno-linguistic groups. The government contended that these groups were as culturally distinct from one another as from the white, colored and Asian communities (and the Africans, thus broken up, ceased to form a majority). Four of the ten homelands were declared independent, although this independence was recognized only by the South African government. Strict residential segregation and many other restrictions were imposed on the majority of blacks who worked in white areas. The implementation of apartheid over the years involved massive resettlement of peoples and great hardship, and the policy was widely condemned by the international community.
"Progress is being made to end apartheid."
During the late 1970's and the 1980's the government relaxed the apartheid laws slightly, lifting some occupational restrictions, desegregating certain public facilities, and repealing (1985) the 1948 law prohibiting intermarriage. The pass laws, requiring blacks in white areas to have a permit, were repealed in 1986. The Constitution of 1983 gave colored and Asians, but not blacks, limited representation in the formerly all-white national parliament.
In 1990, President FW de Klerk committed himself to the abolition of apartheid and said that the homelands would be reincorporated into South Africa. The Group Areas Act of 1966 and the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, which had enforced residential segregation and reserved 87 percent of the land for whites, were repealed in June 1991. The Population Registration Act of 1950, which had required all South Africans to record their race with the government, was repealed that same month.
Economic power was still in white hands, however, and much de facto segregation remained. Negotiations to devise a new constitution that would enfranchise all South Africans while protecting white interests began in 1990. Slowly, progress is being made to end apartheid.
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