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Who Were the Proponents of Apartheid in South Africa?

By Veronica Pamoukaghlián
Updated May 23, 2024
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South Africa had an extensive history of white domination long before the creation of Apartheid. Although both the British and the Dutch conquerors were adamant on keeping blacks and whites apart, the systematization of racial discrimination in the form of Apartheid only started in 1948.

Apartheid means apart-hood in Afrikaans, the language of the Dutch settlers in southern Africa. This set of policies that has been dubbed “racism made law” by the United Nations was not the work of just one man. It was developed over the years by an intelligentsia of Afrikaner scholars. The proponents of Apartheid included anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers and men of religion such as Piet Cillé and Phil Weber

The concept behind the original proposition of Apartheid was one of segregation for the good of every ethnic group. The first theoreticians and proponents of Apartheid claimed that blacks should be confined to black territories and live in self-governed communities. In this way, they would be able to preserve their African traditions.

In 1948, South African elections were held. When their result granted power to the Nationals, the party readily began to enforce Apartheid. Among the most distinct members of the party who played an important role in the creation of the new regime was Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd.

Verwoerd was a brilliant scholar in the fields of Psychology and Sociology. From his post in the pro-National Party newspaper Die Transvaler, he helped the National Party during the campaign. As repayment for his efforts, he was made senator. He then went on to become Minister of Native Affairs and, finally, Prime Minister. As he was one of the key proponents of Apartheid, and some of the most relevant policies of the system were established during his rule, he has been called “the architect of Apartheid”.

Despite its actual meaning, Apartheid not only meant that blacks and whites were to be kept apart. In a system that recalled the methods of Nazi Germany, people were to be classified into categories according to their color and origin. There were three main categories: white, black, and colored. “Colored” was used to refer to people of mixed race.

Black people were forced to carry passes at all times, and they were confined to reserves known as “homelands”. Within this closed system, black people were not considered South African, but nationals of their designated homeland. It was common for them to be denied access to white urban areas.

Following the constant riots and demonstrations, the government instituted a system of brutal repression, which was condemned by the international community until the final disappearance of Apartheid in 1994, but racial conflicts in South Africa are far from extinct. Apartheid has left an imprint on the mind of the population which is very hard to erase. For instance, white people with features even slightly recalling the African physiognomy who travel to South Africa are still, to this day, called “colored”.

Long after the deaths of some of the proponents of Apartheid, the scars left by the regime in South Africa are still held responsible for the violence that continues to pervade the country and the difficult racial relations between its people.

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Discussion Comments

By anon241331 — On Jan 18, 2012

As a white South African with a conscience, I applaud this short article. One doesn't often find this truth, that the original concept of apartheid was to protect everyone's ethnic group, published anywhere. The reason for this is probably the fact that all the ugly viciousness connected with apartheid raised its head so quickly and overwhelmingly.

Remember how Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years? I like the concept that they needed to do this so that the old generation, who saw themselves as slaves of the Egyptians, were no longer in power. I think it will take South Africa 40 years to "come right" as well.

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