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South Africa under apartheid

Related subjects Recent History

Apartheid in South Africa
Events and Projects

Sharpeville Massacre · Soweto uprising
Treason Trial
Rivonia Trial · Church Street bombing
CODESA · St James Church massacre


ANC · IFP · AWB · Black Sash · CCB
Conservative Party · ECC · PP · RP
Broederbond · National Party · COSATU


P. W. Botha · Oupa Gqozo · D. F. Malan
Nelson Mandela · Desmond Tutu · F. W. de Klerk
Walter Sisulu · Helen Suzman · Harry Schwarz
Andries Treurnicht · H. F. Verwoerd · Oliver Tambo
B. J. Vorster · Kaiser Matanzima · Jimmy Kruger
Steve Biko · Mahatma Gandhi · Trevor Huddleston


Bantustan · District Six · Robben Island
Sophiatown · South-West Africa
Soweto · Vlakplaas

Other aspects

Apartheid laws · Freedom Charter
Sullivan Principles · Kairos Document
Disinvestment campaign
South African Police

History of South Africa
General periods

Ancient (before 1652)
(1652 to 1815)
(1815 to 1910)
(1910 to 1948)
(1948 to 1994)
Modern (1994 to 1999)
2000s (2000-)

Specific themes
Apartheid · Economics · Military

Early history · Religious · Social

Apartheid (meaning separateness in Afrikaans, cognate to English apart and -hood) was a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1994. Apartheid had its roots in the history of colonisation and settlement of southern Africa, with the development of practices and policies of separation along racial lines and domination by European settlers and their descendents. Following the general election of 1948,, the National Party set in place its programme of Apartheid, with the formalisation and expansion of existing policies and practices into a system of institutionalised racism and Afrikaner domination. Apartheid was dismantled in a series of negotiations from 1990 to 1993, culminating in elections in 1994, the first in South Africa with universal suffrage. The legacies of apartheid still shape South African politics and society.

Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants and visitors into racial groups (black, white, coloured, and Indian or Asian). South African blacks were stripped of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based and nominally self-governing bantustans (tribal homelands), four of which became nominally independent states. The homelands occupied relatively small and economically unproductive areas of the country. The government based the homelands on the territory of Black Reserves founded during the British Empire period, akin to the US Indian Reservation, Canadian First Nations reserves, or Australian aboriginal reserves. Many black South Africans, however, never resided in their identified "homelands". The homeland system disenfranchised black people residing in "white South Africa" by restricting their voting rights to their own identified black homeland. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services; black people ended up with services greatly inferior to those of whites, and, to a lesser extent, to those of Indians and coloureds. The black education system was designed to prepare blacks for lives as a labouring class. There was a deliberate policy in "white South Africa" of making services for black people inferior to those of whites, to try to "encourage" black people to move into the black homelands.

The system of apartheid sparked significant internal resistance. The government responded to a series of popular uprisings and protests with police brutality, which in turn increased local support for the armed resistance struggle. In response to popular and political resistance, the apartheid government resorted to detentions without trial, torture, censorship, and the banning of political opposition from organisations such as the African National Congress, the Black Consciousness Movement, the Azanian People's Organisation, the Pan Africanist Congress, and the United Democratic Front, which were popularly considered liberation movements. Despite suffering extreme repression and exile, these organisations maintained popular support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and forged connections with the international anti-apartheid movement during this period.

White South Africa became increasingly militarised, embarking on the so-called border war with the covert support of the USA, and later sending the South African Defence Force into townships. The anti-apartheid organisations had strong links with other liberation struggles in Africa, and often saw their armed resistance to apartheid as part of the socialist struggle against capitalism.

Creation of apartheid

Racial segregation and colonialism prior to apartheid

Although the creation of apartheid is usually attributed to the Afrikaner-dominated government of 1948–1994, it is also partially a legacy of British colonialism which introduced a system of pass laws in the Cape Colony and Natal during the nineteenth century. This stemmed from the regulation of blacks' movement from the tribal regions to those occupied by whites and coloureds, ruled by the British.

There were similar regulations in Australia and New Caledonia (the French Code de L'indigenat).

Laws were passed not only to restrict the movement of blacks into these areas, but also to prohibit their movement from one district to another without a signed pass. Blacks were not allowed onto the streets of towns in the Cape Colony and Natal after dark and had to carry their passes at all times. Mahatma Gandhi, a young lawyer at the time, cut his political teeth by organizing non-violent protests against restrictions which hurt middle-class Indians. Jan Smuts' United Party government began to move away from the rigid enforcement of segregationist laws during World War II. Amid fears integration would eventually lead the nation to racial assimilation, the legislature established the Sauer Commission to investigate the effects of the United Party's policies. The commission concluded integration would bring about a loss of personality for all racial groups. The practice of apartheid retained many of the features of the above segregationist policies of earlier administrations. Examples include the 1913 Land Act and the various workplace "colour bars". However, Werner Eiselen, the man who led the design of apartheid, argued that the government could not sustain segregation and white supremacy. He also, in 1948, proposed apartheid as a "political partition" policy instead of segregation in public facilities. Hence, the idea behind apartheid was more one of political separation, later known as "grand apartheid," than segregation, later known as "petty apartheid." Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd is considered the most influential politician in the growth of apartheid and described it as "a policy of good neighbourliness" (a clip of this quote can be viewed at 7:20). Blacks were discriminated against in almost every facet of life. Legislation stated where and how they could live, travel, work, be educated, get married and mingle.

Up until 1956 woman were for the most part excluded from these pass requirements as attempts to introduce pass laws for woman were met with fierce resistance.

Some authors, such as David Yudelman and Hermann Giliomee, argued the system of Apartheid can be traced to the labour movement in South Africa and Cape Colony policies as early as 1907.

Elections of 1948 and the Group Areas Act

"Petty apartheid": sign on Durban beach in English, Afrikaans and Zulu (1989)
"Petty apartheid": sign on Durban beach in English, Afrikaans and Zulu (1989)

In the run-up to the 1948 elections, the main Afrikaner nationalist party, the National Party (NP) under the leadership of Protestant cleric Daniel Francois Malan, campaigned on its policy of apartheid. The NP narrowly defeated Smuts's United Party and formed a coalition government with another Afrikaner nationalist party, called the Afrikaner Party. Malan became the first apartheid prime minister. The coalition government immediately began implementing apartheid policies, passing legislation prohibiting miscegenation and classifying individuals by race. The Group Areas Act of 1950, designed to separate racial groups geographically, became the heart of the apartheid system. The Separate Amenities Act was passed in 1953. Under this Act, municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race. It created, among other things, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and universities. Signboards such as "whites only" applied to public areas, even including park benches.

Interracial contact in sport was frowned upon, but there were no segregatory sports laws. The government was able to keep sport segregated using other legislation, such as the Group Areas Act.

The government tightened existing pass laws, compelling black South Africans to carry identity documents to prevent the migration of blacks to 'white' South Africa. For blacks, living in cities required employment. Families were excluded, thus separating wives from husbands and parents from children.

Disenfranchisement of coloured voters

J.G. Strijdom, Malan's successor as Prime Minister, moved to strip coloureds and blacks of their voting rights in the Cape Province. The previous government had first introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill in parliament in 1951. However, a group of four voters, G Harris, WD Franklin, WD Collins and Edgar Deane, challenged its validity in court with support from the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but the Appeal Court upheld the appeal, finding the act invalid because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed in order to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution. The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill, which gave parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. The Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court declared this invalid too. In 1955 the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to eleven, and appointed pro-Nationalist judges to fill the new places. In the same year they introduced the Senate Act, which increased the senate from 49 seats to 89. Adjustments were made such that the NP controlled 77 of these seats. The parliament met in a joint sitting and passed the Separate Representation of Voters act in 1956, which removed coloureds from the common voters' roll in the Cape, and established a separate voters' roll for them.

Apartheid legislation

Apartheid legislation in South Africa

Natives' Land (1913)
Urban Areas (1923)

Prohibition of Mixed Marriages (1949)
Immorality Act (1950)
Population Registration (1950)
Group Areas Act (1950)
Suppression of Communism (1950)
Bantu Building Workers (1951)
Separate Representation of Voters (1951)
Prevention of Illegal Squatting (1951)
Bantu Authorities (1951)
Natives Laws (1952)
Pass Laws (1952)
Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) (1953)
Bantu Education (1953)
Reservation of Separate Amenities (1953)
Natives Resettlement (1954)
Group Areas Development (1955)
Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) (1956)
Bantu Investment Corporation (1959)
Extension of University Education (1959)
Promotion of Bantu Self-Government (1959)
Coloured Persons Communal Reserves (1961)
Preservation of Coloured Areas (1961)
Urban Bantu Councils (1961)
Terrorism Act (1967)
Bantu Homelands Citizens (1970)

No new legislation introduced, rather
the existing legislation named was amended.

From the 1950s onwards, various repressive and racist laws were passed. The principal " apartheid laws" were as follows:

  • An amendment to the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marital union between persons of different races.
  • An amendment to the Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offence.
  • The Population Registration Act of 1950 introduced an identity card for all persons over the age of eighteen, stipulating their racial group on the card.
  • The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 banned the South African Communist Party and any other political party that the government chose to label as 'communist'. It made membership in the SACP punishable by up to ten years imprisonment.
  • The Riotous Assemblies Act of 1956 prohibited disorderly gatherings.
  • The Unlawful Organisations Act of 1960 outlawed certain organisation that were deemed threatening to the government.
  • The Sabotage Act was passed 1962, the General Law Amendment Act in 1966, the Terrorism Act in 1967 and the Internal Security Act in 1976.
  • The Group Areas Act, passed on 27 April 1950, partitioned the country into different areas, with different areas allocated to different racial groups. This law was the basis upon which political and social separation was constructed.
  • The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 created separate government structures for blacks. It was the first piece of legislation established to support the government's plan of separate development in the Bantustans.
  • The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951 allowed the government to demolish black shackland slums.
  • The Native Building Workers Act and Native Services Levy of 1951 forced white employers to pay for the construction of housing for black workers recognized as legal residents in 'white' cities.
  • The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 prohibited people of different races from using the same public amenities, such as restaurants, public swimming pools, and restrooms.
  • The Bantu Education Act of 1953 crafted a separate didactic scheme for African students under the aegis of the Department of "Bantu" Education.
  • The Bantu Urban Areas Act of 1954 curtailed black migration to cities.
  • The Mines and Work Act of 1956 formalised racial discrimination in employment.
  • The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act of 1958 entrenched the NP's policy of separate development. It set up separate territorial governments in the "homelands", designated lands for black people where they could have a vote. The map of South Africa thus had a white centre with a cluster of black states along its borders.
  • Instead of all Native delegate systems founded under the Natives Representative Act of 1936, schemes for "self–governing Bantu units" were proposed. These national units were to have substantial administrative powers which would be decentralised to each "Bantu" unit and which would ultimately have autonomy and the hope of self-government. These national units were identified as North-Sotho, South-Sotho, Tswana, Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, Tsonga and Venda. In later years, the Xhosa national unit was broken further down into the Transkei and Ciskei. The Ndebele national unit was also added later after its "discovery" by the apartheid government. The government justified its plans on the basis that South Africa was made up of different "nations", asserting that "(the) government's policy is, therefore, not a policy of discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, but a policy of differentiation on the ground of nationhood, of different nations, granting to each self-determination within the borders of their homelands - hence this policy of separate development".
  • The Bantu Investment Corporation Act of 1959 set up a mechanism to transfer capital to the homelands in order to create employment there.
  • The Extension of University Education Act of 1959 created separate universities for blacks, coloureds and Indians. Under this act, existing universities were not permitted to enroll new black students. Fort Hare University in the Ciskei (now Eastern Cape) was to register only Xhosa-speaking students. Sotho, Tswana, Pedi and Venda speakers were placed at the newly-founded University College of the North at Turfloop, while the University College of Zululand was launched to serve Zulu scholars. Coloureds and Indians were to have their own establishments in the Cape and Natal respectively.
  • The Physical Planning and Utilisation of Resources Act of 1967 allowed the government to stop industrial development in 'white' cites and redirect such development to homeland border areas.
  • The Black Homeland Citizenship Act of 1970 marked a new phase in the Bantustan strategy. It changed the status of the inhabitants of the "homelands" so that they were no longer citizens of South Africa. All of them became citizens of one or other of the ten autonomous territories. The aim was to ensure whites became the demographic majority within South Africa by having all ten Bantustans choose "independence". Not all the homelands chose to become self-governing, as they understood that, while they would have absolutely no place in South Africa, they would still be controlled by the apartheid government (in spite of their "independence"). Those who did choose autonomy were the Transkei (1976), Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979) and the Ciskei (1981).
  • The Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 required the use of Afrikaans and English on a fifty-fifty basis in high schools outside the homelands.

To oversee the apartheid legislation, the bureaucracy expanded, and, by 1977, there were more than half a million white state employees. The purpose of these laws was to keep the races apart and any resistance in check. The essential thinking behind apartheid was straightforward: although South Africa was a unitary country, the Nationalists argued that the people did not comprise a single nation but, rather, were made up of four distinct racial groups, namely white, black, coloured and Indian. These races were split further into thirteen 'nations' or racial federations. White people encompassed the English and Afrikaans language groups; the black populace was divided into ten such groups. This had the result of making the white race the prevalent one. Whites were seen as the most sophisticated and, in nature, entitled to rule South Africa.

Unity among white South Africans

Before South Africa became a republic, white politics was typified by the division between the chiefly-Afrikaans pro-republicans and the largely English anti-republicans, with the legacy of the Boer War still a factor for some people. Once republican status was attained, Verwoerd called for improved relations and greater accord between the English and Afrikaners. He claimed that the only difference now was between those who supported apartheid and those in opposition to it. The ethnic divide would no longer be between Afrikaans and English, but rather white and black. Most Afrikaners supported the notion of white unanimity to ensure their safety. English whites were divided. Many had voted in opposition to a republic, especially in Natal, where most votes said "No". Later, however, some of them recognised the perceived need for white unity, convinced by the growing trend of decolonisation elsewhere in Africa, which left them apprehensive. Harold Macmillan's " Winds of Change" pronouncement left the English faction feeling that Britain had abandoned them. The more conservative English-speakers gave support to Verwoerd; others were troubled by the severing of ties with Britain and remained loyal to the Crown. They were acutely displeased at the choice between British and South African nationality. Although Verwoerd tried to bond these different blocs, the subsequent ballot illustrated only a minor swell of support, proving that a great many English speakers remained apathetic and that Verwoerd had not succeeded in uniting the white populace.

Black South Africans

The republic arrangement brought about greater harmony between English and Afrikaans white South Africans but intensified the split between those who supported and those who opposed apartheid. As black South Africans became more aware of the government's discriminatory policies, black resistance adopted a more drastic approach.

Blacks had no say in the construction of a South African republic. They had gone up against it, realising that it would cut them off from international security. Under a republic, white South Africans had absolute autonomy and the power to entrench apartheid even more. Nevertheless, condemnation by the Commonwealth and United Nations Organisation (UNO) encouraged them with the knowledge that exterior support for the liberation effort was not lost. The NP regime had outlawed the ANC and PAC after anti-pass protests and the carnage in the Sharpeville and Langa townships. Resistance organisations went underground. In May 1961, an assembly representing the banned ANC called for negotiations between the members of the different ethnic groupings. They cautioned the government that, if it disregarded their appeal, demonstrations would be held during the republic's inauguration. When the government overlooked them, the strikers carried out their threats. The government countered swiftly and clinically, giving police the authority to arrest people for up to twelve days. Many resistance directors were detained and numerous cases of police brutality were reported. Defeated, the protesters called off their strike. The ANC then chose to add armaments to the struggle and launched a martial wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which would perform acts of sabotage on tactical state structures. Its first sabotage plans were set to be carried out on 16 December 1961, the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River.

Apartheid system

The apartheid system is often classified into "grand apartheid" and "petty apartheid". Grand apartheid involved an attempt to partition South Africa into separate states, while petty apartheid referred to the segregationist dimension. The National Party clung to grand apartheid until the 1990s, while they abandoned petty apartheid during the 1980s.

Grand Apartheid, the "homeland" system

A rural area in Ciskei, one of the apartheid era "homelands"
A rural area in Ciskei, one of the apartheid era " homelands"

When the NP came into power in 1948, its primary endeavour was to attain a white supremacist Christian National State and implement racial segregation. The key building blocks to enforcement of racial segregation were

  • the arrangement of the population into African, coloured, Indian and white racial groups;
  • strict racial segregation in the urban areas;
  • restricted African urbanisation;
  • a tightly-controlled and more restricted system of migrant labour;
  • a stronger accent on tribalism and orthodoxy in African administration than in the past; and
  • a drastic strengthening of security legislation and control.

These were to form the foundation on which the "Homelands" guidelines were developed. Territorial separation was not a new-fangled institution. There were, for example, the "reserves" created under the British government in the Nineteenth Century. Under HF Verwoerd's jurisdiction, however, this land was seen as a way to control the increasing movement of black people into the city. Black people would work in the cities but live in their own areas, where they would be housed, educated, and vote for their own internal governments. The ultimate plan was to create ten independent national states out of these homelands.

The state passed two laws which paved the way for "grand apartheid", which was centred on separating races on a large scale, through spatial divisions; that is, compelling people to live in separate places defined by race. The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act 30 of 1950, which necessitated all citizens' being categorised according to race and this being recorded in their identity passes. Official team or Boards were established to come to an ultimate conclusion on those people whose race was unclear. This caused much difficulty, especially for coloured people, separating their families as members were allocated different races.

The second pillar of grand apartheid was the Group Areas Act 21 of 1950. Until then, most settlements had people of different races living side by side. This Act put an end to diverse areas and determined where one lived, how one survived and how one earned a living by virtue of racial inequality. Each race was allotted its own area, establishing the base for forced removals in later years.

The policy of separate development came into being with the accession to power of Dr HF Verwoerd in 1958. He began implementing the homeland structure as a cornerstone of separate development. Verwoerd came to believe in the granting of "independence" to these homelands. Border industries and the Bantu Investment Corporation, were established to promote economic development and the provision of employment in the homelands (to draw black people away from "white" South Africa).

The Tomlinson Commission of 1954 decided that apartheid was justifiable, but stated additional land ought to be given to the homelands, favouring the development of border industries. In 1958 the Promotion of Black Self-Government Act was passed, and proponents of apartheid began to argue that, once apartheid had been implemented, blacks would no longer be citizens of South Africa; they would instead become citizens of the independent "homelands". In terms of this model, blacks became (foreign) "guest labourers" who merely worked in South Africa as the holders of temporary work permits.

The South African government attempted to divide South Africa into a number of separate states. Some thirteen per cent of the land was reserved for black homelands - representing fifty per cent of South Africa's arable land. That thirteen per cent was divided into ten black "homelands" amongst eight ethnic units. Four of these were given independence, although this was never recognised by any other country. Each homeland was supposed to develop into a separate-nation state within which the eight black ethnic groups were to find and grow their separate national identity, culture and language; Transkei - Xhosa (given "independence"), Ciskei - Xhosa (given "independence" in 1981), Bophuthatswana - Tswana (given "independence"), Venda - Venda (given "independence"); KwaZulu - Zulu, Lebowa - Pedi, Kangwane - Swazi, QwaQwa - Sotho, Gazankulu - Tsonga, and KwaNdebele - Ndebele. Each homeland controlled its own education and health system.

Once a homeland was granted its "independence," its designated citizens had their South African citizenship revoked, replaced with citizenship in their homeland. These people were then issued passports instead of passbooks. Citizens of the supposedly "autonomous" homelands also had their South African citizenship circumscribed, and so became less than South African. The South African government attempted to draw an equivalence between their view of black "citizens" of the "homelands" and the problems which other countries faced through entry of illegal immigrants.

While other countries were dismantling their discriminatory legislation and becoming more liberal on racial issues, South Africa continued to construct a labyrinth of legislation promoting racial and ethnic separation. Many white South Africans supported apartheid because of demographics; that is, separation and partition were seen as a means of avoiding a one-person-one-vote democracy within a single unified South African state, which would render whites a politically-powerless minority. In addition, leaders of the above homelands became important defenders of apartheid, such as Kaiser Matanzima, Bantu Holomisa, Oupa Gqozo, Lucas Mangope and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Apartheid placed great emphasis on "self-determination" and "cultural autonomy" for different ethnic groups. For this reason, "mother-tongue" education was strongly emphasized. Thus, in addition to pouring resources into developing Afrikaans educational material, resources were also poured into developing school textbooks in black languages like Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, and Pedi. As a result, one of the consequences of apartheid was a South African population literate in black-African languages (a rare thing in Africa where schooling is normally carried out in colonial languages like English and French).

Forced removals

During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, the government implemented a policy of 'resettlement', to force people to move to their designated "group areas". Some argue that over three and a half million people were forced to resettle during this period. These removals included people re-located due to slum clearance programmes, labour tenants on white-owned farms, the inhabitants of the so-called 'black spots', areas of black-owned land surrounded by white farms, the families of workers living in townships close to the homelands, and 'surplus people' from urban areas, including thousands of people from the Western Cape (which was declared a 'Coloured Labour Preference Area') who were moved to the Transkei and Ciskei homelands. The best-publicised forced removals of the 1950s occurred in Johannesburg, when 60,000 people were moved to the new township of Soweto, an acronym for South Western Townships.

Until 1955 Sophiatown had been one of the few urban areas where blacks were allowed to own land, and was slowly developing into a multiracial slum. As industry in Johannesburg grew, Sophiatown became the home of a rapidly expanding black workforce, as it was convenient and close to town. It could also boast the only swimming pool for black children in Johannesburg. As one of the oldest black settlements in Johannesburg, Sophiatown held an almost symbolic importance for the 50,000 blacks it contained, both in terms of its sheer vibrancy and its unique culture. Despite a vigorous ANC protest campaign and worldwide publicity, the removal of Sophiatown began on 9 February 1955 under the Western Areas Removal Scheme. In the early hours, heavily armed police entered Sophiatown to force residents out of their homes and load their belongings onto government trucks. The residents were taken to a large tract of land, thirteen miles from the city centre, known as Meadowlands (that the government had purchased in 1953). Meadowlands became part of a new planned black city called Soweto. The Sophiatown slum was destroyed by bulldozers, and a new white suburb named Triomf (Triumph) was built in its place. This pattern of forced removal and destruction was to repeat itself over the next few years, and was not limited to people of African descent. Forced removals from areas like Cato Manor (Mkhumbane) in Durban, and District Six in Cape Town, where 55,000 coloured and Indian people were forced to move to new townships on the Cape Flats, were carried out under the Group Areas Act of 1950. Ultimately, nearly 600,000 coloured, Indian and Chinese people were moved in terms of the Group Areas Act. Some 40,000 white people were also forced to move when land was transferred from "white South Africa" into the black homelands. Forced removals continue in post-apartheid South Africa and are being vigorously contested by, amongst others, the shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.

Petty Apartheid

The National Party passed a string of legislation which became known as petty apartheid. The first of these was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 55 of 1949, prohibiting marriage between white people and people of other races. The Immorality Amendment Act 21 of 1950 (as amended in 1957 by Act 23) forbade "unlawful racial intercourse" and "any immoral or indecent act" between a white person and an African, Indian or coloured person.

Blacks were not allowed to run businesses or professional practices in those areas designated as "white South Africa" without a permit. They were supposed to move to the black "homelands" and set up businesses and practices there. Transport and civil facilities were segregated. Black buses stopped at black bus stops and white buses at white ones. Trains, hospitals and ambulances were segregated. Because of the smaller numbers of white patients and the fact that white doctors preferred to work in "white" hospitals, conditions in white hospitals were much better than those in often overcrowded black hospitals. Blacks were excluded from living or working in white areas, unless they had a pass — nicknamed the dompas ("dumb pass" in Afrikaans). Only blacks with "Section 10" rights (those who had migrated to the cities before World War II) were excluded from this provision. A pass was issued only to a black person with approved work. Spouses and children had to be left behind in black homelands. A pass was issued for one magisterial district (usually one town) confining the holder to that area only. Being without a valid pass made a person subject to arrest and trial for being an illegal migrant. This was often followed by deportation to the person's homeland and prosecution of the employer (for employing an illegal migrant). Police vans patrolled the "white" areas to round up "illegal" blacks found there without passes. Black people were not allowed to employ white people in "white South Africa".

Although trade unions for black and " coloured" (mixed race) workers had existed since the early 20th century, it was not until the 1980s reforms that a mass black trade union movement developed. In the 1970s each black child's education within the Bantu Education system (the black education system within "white South Africa") cost the state only a tenth of each white child's. Higher education was provided in separate universities and colleges after 1959. Eight black universities were created in the homelands; an Indian university built in Durban and a coloured university built in Cape Town. In addition, each black homeland controlled its own separate education, health and police system. Blacks were not allowed to buy hard liquor. They were able only to buy state-produced poor quality beer (although this was relaxed later). Public beaches were racially segregated. Public swimming pools, some pedestrian bridges, drive-in cinema parking spaces, graveyards, parks, and public toilets were segregated. Cinemas and theatres in "white areas" were not allowed to admit blacks. There were practically no cinemas in black areas. Most restaurants and hotels in white areas were not allowed to admit blacks except as staff. Black Africans were prohibited from attending "white" churches under the Churches Native Laws Amendment Act of 1957. This was, however, never rigidly enforced, and churches were one of the few places races could mix without the interference of the law. Blacks earning 360 rand a year, 30 rand a month, or more had to pay taxes while the white threshold was more than twice as high, at 750 rand a year, 62.5 rand per month. On the other hand, the taxation rate for whites was considerably higher than that for blacks.

Blacks could never acquire land in white areas. In the homelands, much of the land belonged to a 'tribe', where the local chieftain would decide how the land had to be utilized. This resulted in white people owning almost all the industrial and agricultural lands and much of the prized residential land. Most blacks were stripped of their South African citizenship when the "homelands" became "independent". Thus, they were no longer able to apply for South African passports. Eligibility requirements for a passport had been difficult for blacks to meet, the government contending that a passport was a privilege, not a right. As such, the government did not grant many passports to blacks. Apartheid pervaded South African culture, as well as the law. This was reinforced in many media, and the lack of opportunities for the races to mix in a social setting entrenched social distance between people.

Coloured classification

The population was classified into four groups: Black, White, Indian, and Coloured. (These terms are capitalized to denote their legal definitions in South African law). The Coloured group included people of mixed Bantu, Khoisan, and European descent (with some Malay ancestry, especially in the Western Cape). The Apartheid bureaucracy devised complex (and often arbitrary) criteria at the time that the Population Registration Act was implemented to determine who was Coloured. Minor officials would administer tests to determine if someone should be categorised either Coloured or Black, or if another person should be categorised either Coloured or White. Different members of the same family found themselves in different race groups. Further tests determined membership of the various sub-racial groups of the Coloureds. Many of those who formerly belonged to this racial group are opposed to the continuing use of the term "coloured" in the post-apartheid era, though the term no longer signifies any legal meaning. The expressions 'so-called Coloured' (Afrikaans sogenaamde Kleurlinge) and 'brown people' (bruin mense) acquired a wide usage in the 1980s.

Discriminated against by apartheid, Coloureds were as a matter of state policy forced to live in separate townships — in some cases leaving homes their families had occupied for generations — and received an inferior education, though better than that provided to Black South Africans. They played an important role in the struggle against apartheid: for example the African Political Organisation established in 1902 had an exclusively coloured membership.

Voting rights were denied to Coloureds in the same way that they were denied to blacks from 1950 to 1983. However, in 1977 the NP caucus approved proposals to bring coloured and Indians into central government. In 1982, final constitutional proposals produced a referendum among white voters, and the Tricameral Parliament was approved. The Constitution was reformed the following year to allow the Coloured and Asian minorities participation in separate Houses in a Tricameral Parliament, and Botha became the first Executive State President. The theory was that the Coloured minority could be granted voting rights, but the Black majority were to become citizens of independent homelands. These separate arrangements continued until the abolition of apartheid. The Tricameral reforms led to the formation of the (anti-apartheid) UDF as a vehicle to try and prevent the co-option of coloureds and Indians into an alliance with white South Africans. The subsequent battles between the UDF and the NP government from 1983 to 1989 were to become the most intense period of struggle between left-wing and right-wing South Africans.

Women under apartheid

Colonialism and apartheid had a major impact on women since they suffered both racial and gender discrimination. Oppression against African women was different from discrimination against men. Indeed, they had very few or no legal rights, no access to education and no right to own property. Jobs were often hard to find but many African women worked as agricultural or domestic workers though wages were extremely low if not non-existent. Children suffered from diseases caused by malnutrition and sanitary problems, and mortality rates were therefore high. The controlled movement of African workers within the country through the Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 and the pass-laws, separated family members from one another as men usually worked in urban centers, while women were forced to stay in rural areas. Marriage law and births were also controlled by the government and the pro-apartheid Dutch Reformed Church, who tried to restrict African birth rates.

Other minorities

Defining its East Asian population, which is a minority in South Africa but who do not physically appear to belong any of the four designated groups, was a constant dilemma for the apartheid government. Chinese South Africans who were descendants of migrant workers who came to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg in the late 19th century, were classified as "Other Asian" and hence "non-white", whereas immigrants from Republic of China (Taiwan), South Korea and Japan, with which South Africa maintained diplomatic relations, were considered "honorary whites", thus granted the same privileges as normal whites. It should be noted that "Non-Whites" were sometimes granted an 'honorary white' status as well, based on the government's belief that they were "civilised" and possessed Western values. This was frequently the case with black South Africans.

Internal resistance

Internal resistance to the apartheid system in South Africa came from several sectors of society and saw the creation of organisations dedicated variously to peaceful protests, passive resistance and armed insurrection.

In 1949 the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) took control of the organisation and started advocating for a radical black nationalist programme that combined the tenants of Africanism with those of Marxism. The new young leaders proposed that white authority could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. In 1950 that philosophy saw the launch of the Programme of Action, a series of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience actions that led to occasionally violent clashes with the authorities.

In 1959 a group of disenchanted ANC members formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which organised a demonstration against pass books on 21 March 1960. One of those protests was held in the township of Sharpeville, where 69 people were killed in the Sharpeville uprising.

The majority of whites supported apartheid. However there were some who opposed apartheid, such as Helen Suzman, Colin Eglin and Harry Schwarz.

In the wake of the Sharpeville incident the government declared a state of emergency, More than 18 000 people were arrested, including leaders of the ANC and PAC, and both organisations were banned. The resistance went underground, with some leaders in exile abroad and others engaged in campaigns of domestic sabotage and terrorism.

In the 1970s the Black Consciousness Movement was created by tertiary students influenced by the American Black Power movement. BC endorsed black pride and African customs and did much to alter the feelings of inadequacy instilled among black people by the apartheid system. The leader of the movement, Steve Biko, was taken into custody on 18 August 1978 and died in detention.

In 1976 secondary students in Soweto protested against forced tuition in Afrikaans. On June 16, in what was meant to be a peaceful protest, 23 people were killed. In the following years several student organisations were formed with the goal of protesting against apartheid, and these organisations were central to urban school boycotts in 1980 and 1983 as well as rural boycotts in 1985 and 1986.

In parallel to student protests, labour unions started protest action in 1973 and 1974. After 1976 unions and workers are considered to have played an important role in the struggle against apartheid, filling the gap left by the banning of political parties. In 1979 black trade unions were legalised and could engage in collective bargaining, although strikes were still illegal.

At roughly the same time churches and church groups also emerged as pivotal points of resistance. Church leaders were not immune to prosecution, and certain faith-based organisations were banned, but the clergy generally had more freedom to criticise the government than militant groups did.

Among the white population, some 20 percent of which did not support apartheid, resistance was largely centred in the South African Communist Party and women's organisation the Black Sash. Women were also notable in their involvement in trade union organisations and banned political parties.

International relations

International opposition
to Apartheid in South Africa

Disinvestment · Academic boycott
Constructive engagement

Instruments and legislation

UN Resolution 1761 (1962)
Crime of Apartheid Convention (1973)
Gleneagles Agreement (1977)
Sullivan Principles (1977)
Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (1986)


Anti-Apartheid Movement
UN Special Committee against Apartheid
Artists United Against Apartheid
Halt All Racist Tours
Organisation of African Unity


1964 Conference for Economic Sanctions
1978 World Conference against Racism

United Nations Security Council Resolutions

Resolution 181 · Resolution 191
Resolution 282 · Resolution 418
Resolution 435 · Resolution 591

Other aspects

Elimination of Racism Day
Biko (song) · Activists
Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute
Equity television programming ban

The Commonwealth

South Africa's policies were subject to international scrutiny in 1960, when British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan criticised them during his celebrated Wind of Change speech in Cape Town. Weeks later, tensions came to a head in the Sharpeville Massacre, resulting in more international condemnation. Soon thereafter, Verwoerd announced a referendum on whether the country should sever links with the British monarchy and become a republic instead. Verwoerd lowered the voting age for whites to eighteen and included whites in South West Africa on the voter's roll. The referendum on 5 October that year asked whites, "Do you support a republic for the Union?", and 52 per cent voted "Yes". As a consequence of this change of status, South Africa needed to reapply for continued membership of the Commonwealth, with which it had privileged trade links. Even though India became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1947 it became clear that African and Asian member states would oppose South Africa due to its apartheid policies. As a result, South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth on 31 May 1961, the day that the Republic came into existence.

United Nations

At the first UN gathering in 1946, South Africa was placed on the agenda. The primary subject in question was the handling of South African Indians, a great cause of divergence between South Africa and India. In 1952, apartheid was again discussed in the aftermath of the Defiance Campaign, and the UN set up a task team to keep watch on the progress of apartheid and the racial state of affairs in South Africa. Although South Africa's racial policies were a cause for concern, most countries in the UN concurred that this was a domestic affair, which fell outside the UN's jurisdiction.

In April 1960, the UN's conservative stance on apartheid changed following the Sharpeville massacre, and the Security Council for the first time agreed on concerted action against the apartheid regime, demanding an end to racial separation and discrimination. Instead, the South African government began further suppression, banning the ANC and PAC. In 1961, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld stopped over in South Africa and subsequently stated that he had been unable to reach agreement with Prime Minister Verwoerd.

On 6 November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, condemning South African apartheid policies. In 1966, the UN held the first of many colloquiums on apartheid. The General Assembly announced 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the Sharpeville massacre. In 1971, the General Assembly formally denounced the institution of homelands, and a motion was passed in 1974 to expel South Africa from the UN, but this was vetoed by France, Britain and the United States of America, all key trade associates of South Africa.

On 7 August 1963 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 181 calling for a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa, and in the same year, a Special Committee Against Apartheid was established to encourage and oversee plans of action against the regime. From 1964, the US and Britain discontinued their arms trade with South Africa. In 1977, the voluntary UN arms embargo became mandatory with the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418.

Economic sanctions against South Africa were also frequently debated as an effective way of putting pressure on the apartheid government. In 1962, the UN General Assembly requested that its members sever political, fiscal and transportation ties with South Africa. In 1968, it proposed ending all cultural, educational and sporting connections as well. Economic sanctions, however, were not made mandatory, because of opposition from South Africa's main trading partners.

In 1978 and 1983 the United Nations condemned South Africa at the World Conference Against Racism, and a significant divestment movement started, pressuring investors to disinvest from South African companies or companies that did business with South Africa.

After much debate, by the late 1980s the United States, the United Kingdom, and 23 other nations had passed laws placing various trade sanctions on South Africa. A divestment movement in many countries was similarly widespread, with individual cities and provinces around the world implementing various laws and local regulations forbidding registered corporations under their jurisdiction from doing business with South African firms, factories, or banks.

Organisation for African Unity

The Organisation for African Unity (OAU) was created in 1963. Its primary objectives were to eradicate colonialism and improve social, political and economic situations in Africa. It censured apartheid and demanded sanctions against South Africa. African states agreed to aid the liberation movements in their fight against apartheid. In 1969, fourteen nations from Central and East Africa gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, and formulated the 'Lusaka Manifesto', which was signed on 13 April by all of the countries in attendance except Malawi. This manifesto was later taken on by both the OAU and the United Nations.

The Lusaka Manifesto summarised the political situations of self-governing African countries, condemning racism and inequity, and calling for black majority rule in all African nations. It did not rebuff South Africa entirely, though, adopting an appeasing manner towards the apartheid government, and even recognising its autonomy. Although African leaders supported the emancipation of black South Africans, they preferred this to be attained through peaceful means. The manifesto's signatories did not support violent opposition to apartheid, because, for one thing, they could ill afford it and, for another, they dreaded retaliation.

South Africa's negative response to the Lusaka Manifesto and rejection of a change to her policies brought about another OAU announcement in 1971. The Mogadishu Declaration declared that South Africa's rebuffing of negotiations meant that her black people could only be freed through military means, and that no African state should converse with the apartheid government. Henceforth, it would be up to South Africa to keep contact with other African states.

Outward-Looking Policy

In 1966, BJ Vorster was made South African Prime Minister. He was not prepared to dismantle apartheid, but he did try to redress South Africa's isolation and the purported 'laager' mentality. He wanted to revitalise the country's global reputation and overseas dealings, even those with black-ruled nations in Africa. This he called his "Outward-Looking" policy: South Africa would look outwards, towards the global neighbourhood, rather than adopting a siege mentality and estranging it. The buzzwords for his strategy were "dialogue" and "détente", signifying arbitration and reduction of tension.

In 1967, Vorster proffered technological and financial aid gratis to any African state prepared to receive it, asserting that absolutely no political strings were attached. He gave great attention to financial advantages, aware of the fact that many African states were in material need and would require financial aid in spite of their rebuffing of South Africa's racial principles. Malawi and Lesotho were the first countries to enter discussions with the NP government. Angola and Mozambique soon followed.

One of the first steps to take in initiating dealings was to convene with the heads of these African countries. Here Vorster worked decidedly contrary to Verwoerd's policies. Where Verwoerd had declined to get together and engage in dialogue with leaders such as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria in 1962 and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in 1964, Vorster, in 1966, met with the heads of the states of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. There was still mutual suspicion, however, particularly after Vorster's denunciation of the Lusaka Manifesto in 1969. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland remained outspoken critics of apartheid, but they depended on South Africa's economic aid. This included pecuniary loans and the fact that many labourers from these states worked the South African mines.

Malawi was the first country not on South African borders to accept South African aid. It identified the monetary benefits of such a deal, for there were also many Malawians who were working in South African mines. In 1967, the two states set out their political and economic relations, and, in 1969, Malawi became the only country at the assembly which did not sign the Lusaka Manifesto. In 1970, Malawian president Hastings Banda made his first and most successful official stopover in South Africa.

Associations with Mozambique followed suit and were sustained after that country won its sovereignty in 1975. Angola was also granted South African loans. Other countries which formed relationships with South Africa were Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritius, Gabon, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Ghana and the Central African Republic. These African states slammed apartheid (more than ever after South Africa's denunciation of the Lusaka Manifesto), but fiscal reliance on South Africa, together with fear of her armed potency, resulted in their forming the aforementioned ties.

Cultural and sporting isolation

South Africa's isolation in sport began in the mid 1950s and increased throughout the 1960s. Apartheid forbade multiracial sport, which meant that overseas teams, by virtue of their having players of diverse races, could not play in South Africa. In 1956, the International Table Tennis Federation severed its ties with the all-white South African Table Tennis Union, preferring the non-racial South African Table Tennis Board. The apartheid government came back by confiscating the passports of the Board's players so that they were unable to attend international games.

In 1959, the non-racial South African Sports Association (SASA) was formed to secure the rights of all players on the global field. After meeting with no success in its endeavours to attain credit by collaborating with white establishments, SASA approached the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1962, calling for South Africa's expulsion from the Olympic Games. The IOC sent South Africa a caution to the effect that, if there were no changes, she would be barred from the 1964 Olympic Games. The changes were initiated, and in January 1963, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) was set up. The Anti-Apartheid Movement persisted in its campaign for South Africa's exclusion, and the IOC acceded in barring the country from the 1964 Games in Tokyo. South Africa selected a multi-racial side for the next Games, and the IOC opted to incorporate her in the 1968 Games in Mexico. Because of protests from AAMs and African nations, however, the IOC was forced to retract the invitation.

Foreign complaints about South Africa's bigoted sports brought more isolation. In 1960, Verwoerd barred a Maori rugby player from touring South Africa with the All Blacks, and the tour was cancelled. New Zealand made a decision not to convey an authorised rugby team to South Africa again.

B. J. Vorster took Verwoerd's place as PM in 1966 and declared that South Africa would no longer dictate to other countries what their teams should look like. Although this reopened the gate for sporting meets, it did not signal the end of South Africa's racist sporting policies. In 1968, Vorster went against his policy by refusing to permit Basil D'Oliveira, a Coloured South African-born cricketer, to join the English cricket team on its tour to South Africa. Vorster said that the side had been chosen only to prove a point, and not on merit. After protests, however, "Dolly" was eventually included in the team. Protests against certain tours brought about the cancellation of a number of other visits, like that of an England rugby team in 1969/70.

In 1971, Vorster altered his policies even further by distinguishing multiracial from multinational sport. Multiracial sport, between teams with players of different races, remained outlawed; multinational sport, however, was now acceptable: international sides would not be subject to South Africa's racial stipulations.

Sporting bans were revoked in 1993, when conciliations for a democratic South Africa were well under way.

In the 1960s, the Anti-Apartheid Movements began to campaign for cultural boycotts of apartheid South Africa. Artists were requested not to present or let their works be hosted in South Africa. In 1963, 45 British writers put their signatures to an affirmation approving of the boycott, and, in 1964, American actor Marlon Brando called for a similar affirmation for films. In 1965, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain called for a proscription on the sending of films to South Africa. Over sixty American artists signed a statement against apartheid and against professional links with the state. The presentation of some South African plays in Britain and America was also vetoed. After the arrival of television in South Africa in 1975, the British Actors Union, Equity, boycotted the service, and no British programme concerning its associates could be sold to South Africa. Sporting and cultural boycotts did not have the same impact as economic sanctions, but they did much to lift consciousness amongst normal South Africans of the global condemnation of apartheid.

Western influence

While international opposition to apartheid grew, the Nordic countries in particular provided both moral and financial support for the ANC. On 21 February 1986 – a week before he was murdered – Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme made the keynote address to the Swedish People's Parliament Against Apartheid held in Stockholm. In addressing the hundreds of anti-apartheid sympathizers as well as leaders and officials from the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement such as Oliver Tambo, Palme declared:

"Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated."

Other Western countries adopted a more ambivalent position. In the 1980s, both the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the USA and UK followed a ' constructive engagement' policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions on South Africa, justified by a belief in free trade and a vision of South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation,, and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was "living in cloud cuckoo land" and at the Conservative Party Conference that year members of the Young Conservatives wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" teeshirts.

By the late 1980s, however, with the tide of the Cold War turning and no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience with the apartheid government began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/ Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions (realized as the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act), the release of Nelson Mandela and a negotiated settlement involving the ANC. Thatcher too began to take a similar line, but insisted on the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle.

Britain's significant economic involvement in South Africa may have provided some leverage with the South African government, with both the UK and the US applying pressure on the government, and pushing for negotiations. However, neither Britain nor the US were willing to apply economic pressure upon their multinational interests in South Africa, such as the mining company Anglo American. Although a high-profile compensation claim against these companies was thrown out of court in 2004, the US Supreme Court in May 2008 upheld an appeal court ruling allowing another lawsuit that seeks damages of more than $400 billion from major international companies which are accused of aiding South Africa's apartheid system.

South African Border War

By 1966, SWAPO launched guerilla raids from neighbouring countries against South Africa's occupation of South-West Africa/Namibia. Initially South Africa fought a counter-insurgency war against SWAPO. This conflict deepened after Angola gained its independence in 1975 under the communist leadership of the MPLA when South Africa and the United States sided with the Angolan rival UNITA party. By the end of the 1970s, Cuba had joined the fray, in one of several late Cold War flashpoints throughout Southern Africa. The Angolan civil war developed into a conventional war with South Africa and UNITA on one side against the Angolan MPLA government, the Cubans, the Soviets and SWAPO on the other.

Total onslaught

By 1980, as international opinion turned decisively against the apartheid regime, the government and much of the white population increasingly looked upon the country as a bastion besieged by communism and radical black nationalists. Considerable effort was put into circumventing sanctions, and the government even went so far as to develop nuclear weapons, allegedly with the help of Israel.

The term " front-line states" referred to countries in Southern Africa geographically near South Africa. Although these front-line states were all opposed to apartheid, many were economically dependent on South Africa. In 1980, they formed the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), the aim of which was to promote economic development in the region and hence reduce dependence on South Africa. Furthermore, many SADCC members also allowed the exiled ANC and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) to establish bases in their countries.

Other African countries also contributed to the fall of apartheid. In 1978, Nigeria boycotted the Commonwealth Games because New Zealand's sporting contacts with the South African government were not considered to be in accordance with the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Nigeria also led the 32-nation boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games because of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's ambivalent attitude towards sporting links with South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the Games and thus thrusting apartheid into the international spotlight.

Cross-border raids

South Africa had a policy of attacking terrorist bases in neighbouring countries. These attacks were mainly aimed at ANC, PAC and SWAPO guerrilla-bases and safe houses in retaliation for acts of terror - like bomb explosions, massacres and guerrilla actions (like sabotage) by ANC, PAC and Swapo guerrillas in South Africa and Namibia. The country also aided organisations in surrounding countries who were actively combatting the spread of communism in Southern Africa. The results of these policies included:

  • Support for anti-government guerrilla groups such as UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique
  • South African Defence Force (SADF; now the South African National Defence Force; SANDF) hit-squad raids into front-line states. Bombing raids were also conducted into neighbouring states.
  • A full-scale invasion of Angola: this was partly in support of UNITA, but was also an attempt to strike at SWAPO bases.
  • Targeting of exiled ANC leaders abroad: Joe Slovo's wife Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb in Maputo, and 'death squads' of the Civil Co-operation Bureau and the Directorate of Military Intelligence attempted to carry out assassinations on ANC targets in Brussels, Paris and Stockholm, as well as burglaries and bombings in London.

In 1984, Mozambican president Samora Machel signed the Nkomati Accord with South Africa's president P.W. Botha, in an attempt to rebuild Mozambique's economy. South Africa agreed to cease supporting anti-government forces, while the MK was prohibited from operating in Mozambique. This was a setback for the ANC.

In 1986 President Machel was killed in an air crash in mountainous terrain in South Africa near the Mozambican border after returning from a meeting in Zambia. South Africa was accused of continuing its aid to RENAMO and having caused the accident by using a false radio navigation beacon to lure the aircraft into crashing. This conspiracy theory was never proven and is still a subject of some controversy, despite the South African Margo Commission finding that the crash was an accident. A Soviet delegation that did not participate in the investigation issued a minority report implicating South Africa.


The National Party government implemented, alongside apartheid, a program of social conservatism. Pornography, gambling and other such vices were banned. At the same time, it instituted the International Freedom Foundation. Printed or filmed pornography (of even the mildest variety) was banned and its possession was punishable by incarceration. Adultery and attempted adultery were also banned (by the Immorality Amendment Act, Act No 23 of 1957).

Television was not introduced until 1975 because it was viewed as dangerous by right-wingers. Television was also run on apartheid lines -- TV1 broadcast in Afrikaans and English (and was geared to a white audience); TV2 in Zulu and Xhosa (and geared to a black audience); TV3 in Sotho, Tswana and Pedi (and geared to a black audience); and TV4 mostly showed programmes for an urban-black audience. All TV channels were government-owned and acted as propaganda agents for apartheid.

Sunday was considered holy. Cinemas, shops selling alcohol and most other businesses were forbidden from operating on Sundays. Abortion and sex education were also restricted; abortion was legal only in cases of rape or if the mother's life was threatened.

State security

During the 1980s the government, led by P.W. Botha, became increasingly preoccupied with security. On the advice of American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, Botha's government set up a powerful state security apparatus to "protect" the state against an anticipated upsurge in political violence that the reforms were expected to trigger. The 1980s became a period of considerable political unrest, with the government becoming increasingly dominated by Botha's circle of generals and police chiefs (known as securocrats), who managed the various States of Emergencies.

Botha's years in power were marked also by numerous military interventions in the states bordering South Africa, as well as an extensive military and political campaign to eliminate SWAPO in Namibia. Within South Africa, meanwhile, vigorous police action and strict enforcement of security legislation resulted in hundreds of arrests and bans, and an effective end to the ANC's sabotage campaign.

The government punished political offenders brutally. Between 1982 and 1983, 40,000 people were subjected to whipping as a form of punishment. The vast majority had committed political offences and were lashed ten times for their trouble. If convicted of treason, a person could be hanged, and the government executed numerous political offenders in this way.

State of emergency

During the last years of apartheid rule in South Africa, the country was more or less in a constant state of emergency.

Increasing civil unrest and township violence led to the government declaring a State of Emergency on 20 July 1985, giving it the power to deal with resistance to apartheid. More human rights were violated during this period than ever before. It became a criminal offence to threaten someone verbally or possess documents that the government perceived to be threatening. It was illegal to advise anyone to stay away from work or oppose the government. It was illegal, too, to disclose the name of anyone arrested under the State of Emergency until the government saw fit to release that name. People could face up to ten years' imprisonment for these offences. However, although the government increased its repressive measures, it was not enough to secure a lasting position in power.

Then-President P.W. Botha declared the State of Emergency in 36 magisterial districts. Areas affected were the Eastern Cape, and the PWV region ("Pretoria, Witwatersrand, Vereeniging"). Three months later the Western Cape was included as well. During this state of emergency about 2,436 people were detained under the Internal Security Act. This act gave police and the military sweeping powers. The government could implement curfews controlling the movement of people. The president could rule by decree without referring to the constitution or to parliament.

Four days before the ten-year commemoration of the Soweto uprising, another state of emergency was declared on 12 June 1986 to cover the whole country. The government amended the Public Security Act, expanding its powers to include the right to declare certain places "unrest areas". This allowed the state to employ extraordinary measures to crush protests in these areas. Television cameras were banned from entering "unrest areas". The state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) provided propaganda in support of the government. This version of reality was challenged by a range of pro-ANC alternative publications.

In 1989, with the State of Emergency extended to a fourth year, Prime Minister Botha met Mandela and agreed to work for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the country. Talks commenced with the ANC, prominent business leaders, the Commonwealth and the Eminent Persons Group.

The state of emergency continued until 1990, when F.W. de Klerk became the State President, and lifted the 30-year ban on leading anti-apartheid groups the African National Congress, the smaller Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party. He also made his first public commitment to release jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela, to return to press freedom and to suspend the death penalty.

Final years of apartheid

Serious political violence was a prominent feature of South Africa from 1985 to 1995. There was virtually a civil war between the establishment and anti-apartheid forces, between right-wing and left-wing South Africans. From 1985 to 1989 the Botha government tried to crush left-wing organizations. For four years police and soldiers patrolled South African towns. Thousands of people were detained. Deaths mounted on both sides. Many of those detained by the government were interrogated and tortured; while anti-government activists used the " necklace method" (burning people alive) to kill black people suspected of supporting apartheid. The government banned television cameras from filming "unrest zones".

Government agents assassinated opponents within South Africa and abroad; they undertook cross-border army and air-force attacks on suspected opposition hide-outs, killing and maiming innocent civilians. The ANC and the PAC in return exploded bombs at restaurants, shopping centres and government buildings such as magistrates courts, killing and maiming civilians and government officials. By 1985, it had become the ANC's aim to make black townships "ungovernable" (a term later replaced by "people's power") by forcing residents to stop paying for services. The townships duly became the focus areas in the apartheid struggle.

Throughout the 1980s, township people resisted apartheid by acting against the local issues that faced their particular communities. The focus of much of this resistance was against the local authorities and their leaders, who were seen to be supporting the government. The fact that they were also the ones responsible for rent collection merely added to their unpopularity: a common form of township protest was rent boycott. The official governments of numerous townships were either overthrown or collapsed, to be replaced by unofficial popular organisations, often led by youth organisations but also involving workers and local residents of all ages. People's courts were set up, and township residents accused of supporting the government were "put on trial" and dealt extreme (and occasionally lethal) punishments. Black town councillors and policemen, and sometimes their families, as well as other residents accused of being government agents, were beaten and occasionally attacked with petrol bombs and with a method that became known as necklacing. "Necklace" victims were murdered by having a burning tyre placed around their necks.

Much of this unrest took the ANC by surprise. Its calls to make the townships "ungovernable" were certainly being heeded. Much of the unrest was directed at the government, but a substantial quantity was between the residents themselves. Rivalries existed between members of Inkatha and the UDF-ANC faction, and many people died as a result of this violence. It was later proven that the government manipulated the situation by supporting one side or the other when it suited it. Between 1984 and 1988, over 4,000 people died as a result of political violence.

In the early 1980s, Botha's National Party government started to recognise the inevitability of the need to reform apartheid. Early reforms were driven by a combination of internal violence, international condemnation, changes within the National Party's constituency, and changing demographics — whites constituted only 16% of the total population, in comparison to 20% fifty years earlier. Botha told white South Africans to "adapt or die" and twice he wavered on the eve of what were billed as "rubicon" announcements of substantial reforms, although on both occasions he backed away from substantial changes. In 1983 the so-called Tricameral reforms were introduced, when a new constitution was introduced to give coloureds and Indians parliamentary representation in their own national parliamentary chambers and voting rights. (Blacks were not affected: they remained nominal citizens of their homelands.) Ironically, these reforms served only to trigger intensified political violence through the remainder of the eighties as more communities and political groups across the country joined the resistance movement. Between 1986 and 1988, some petty apartheid laws were repealed. Of course, Botha's government stopped well short of substantial reforms, such as unbanning ANC, PAC and SACP and other liberation organisations, releasing political prisoners, or repealing the foundation laws of grand apartheid. The government's stance was that they would not contemplate negotiating until those organisations "renounce violence", a convenient catchphrase to postpone inevitable engagement with them.

Under the 1983 constitutional changes, parliament was divided along racial lines into three houses - the House of Assembly (178 members) for whites, the House of Representatives (85 members) for coloureds and the House of Delegates (45 members) for Indians. (One the face of it, this new terminology implied that coloured MPs could be trusted to represent coloured affairs, while Indian MPs had to be delegated on particular affairs. However, this is not what was intended: it was merely that the terminology had been ill thought out by the Botha government.) Each House handled laws pertaining to its racial group's "own affairs". These included health, education and other community issues. All laws relating to "general affairs" were handled by a cabinet made up of representatives from all three houses - although, naturally, the whites had the majority. "General affairs" normally concerned matters such as defence, industry and taxation, but it was up to the State President, of course, to decide upon what was "general" and what was not.

The 1983 Tricameral reforms led to both a right- and a left-wing backlash, such that unrest and political violence dramatically increased, as South Africa became increasingly polarised and fragmented, the government's hold on the country steadily weakening. As a result of increased pressure both within and outside the country, the state was forced to take measures to bring an end to apartheid.

The right-wing backlash gave rise to a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), led by Eugène Terre'Blanche. A left-wing United Democratic Front (UDF) was also formed at this time, as a direct response to the new constitution. The UDF was a cleverly-crafted, broad-based democratic coalition of affiliated organisations, calling for everyone opposed to the Tricameral System to "join hands"; its aim was to co-ordinate resistance within the country. It brought together 400 community-based, trade union, worker, educational and other anti-apartheid organisations, unifying the struggle under an avowedly non-racial umbrella: its founding principles closely followed those of the Freedom Charter. All told, the UDF had about 1,500,000 members and it came to play a major role in the remaining years of struggle against apartheid, providing an internal complement to the foreign-based ANC-in-exile, other exiled struggle organisations and foreign and internationally-based anti-apartheid campaigns.

The UDF called first for resistance against the 1983 constitution and later organised some more wide-ranging resistance against the government. Most resistance between 1984 and 1986 was UDF-organised, but another front organisation, the National Forum, also played a role, albeit comparatively minor. Like the UDF, the National Forum brought together a number of separate organisations; but unlike the UDF, the NF was not non-racial, believing that anti-apartheid whites should not be allowed to work together with the oppressed races to overthrow the government, although recognising that they had a separate role to play within the white community; the NF furthermore asserted that workers' interests were of prime importance in the struggle.

With so many political organisations banned at the time, the NF and UDF did important work in resistance to apartheid.

As the 1980s progressed, so more and more anti-apartheid organizations were formed and affiliated to the UDF. Led by the Reverend Allan Boesak and Albertina Sisulu, the UDF called for the government to abandon its reforms and instead abolish apartheid and eliminate the homelands completely.

Many Indians and coloureds also rejected the Tricameral system. Their lives were hardly any better, they still had to endure a battery of apartheid legislation, and they could do nothing with the limited power afforded them to make any real changes. The first Tricameral elections were largely boycotted, and there was widespread rioting.

Blacks saw the new constitution as an insult to both them and their struggle. Although they made up the majority of the population, they still found themselves, even after constitutional reforms, totally excluded from any real form of political representation. Rioting died down soon enough in the Indian and coloured areas, but it was sustained and far more violent in the black areas.

While these widespread protests were taking place, the ANC launched a series of violent attacks on the government, whose attempt with the new constitution to garner support among the non-white populace had failed miserably.

International pressure also increased as economic sanctions began to impact on the value of the rand, which all but collapsed. In 1985, the government declared a State of Emergency which was to stay in effect for the next five years. An increasing number of organisations were banned or listed (restricted in some way); many individuals had restrictions such as house arrest imposed on them. Detention without trial became a common feature of the government's reaction to growing civil unrest and by 1988, 30,000 people had been detained. Severe censorship of the press became a dominant tactic in the government's strategy and television cameras were banned from "unrest areas". Media opposition to the system increased, supported by the growth of a pro-ANC underground press within South Africa.

In 1987, the State of Emergency was extended for another two years. A number of clandestine meetings were held between the ANC-in-exile and various sectors of the internal struggle, such as women and educationalists; more overtly a group of white intellectuals met the ANC in Senegal for talks. Meanwhile, about 200,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers commenced the longest strike (three weeks) in South African history. Violence increased between the UDF and INKATHA supporters. 1988 saw the banning of the activities of the UDF and other anti-apartheid organisations.

International pressure on Botha's government continued to grow, with the US and UK now actively promoting the solution of a negotiated settlement with the black majority. Minor reforms gradually increased in number and magnitude. Early in 1989, however, Botha suffered a stroke; he was prevailed upon to resign on 13 February 1989 and was succeeded as president later that year by FW de Klerk. As international pressure grew, so too did internal unrest and by this time, the state's security forces were finding it harder and harder to contain the civic unrest and keep it away from high-profile city centres and out of the world's media view. In his opening address to parliament in February 1990, in what has come to be known as the "unbanning speech", de Klerk announced that he would repeal discriminatory laws and lift the ban on the ANC, the UDF, the PAC, and the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP). The Land Act was brought to an end. Media restrictions were lifted, and De Klerk released political prisoners not guilty of common-law crimes.

A number of reasons have been put forward for the NP's turning away from apartheid after having stood by it for so long:

  • With all the unrest in the country, the government was losing control.
  • The economy was getting weaker and weaker due to unrest, strikes, boycotts and economic sanctions. The value of the Rand had dropped significantly, and business leaders were putting pressure on the government to change.
  • The NP was losing support to more reactionary conservative white parties, such as the Conservative Party, formed in 1982 by a breakaway from the NP.
  • President De Klerk respected Mandela and knew that such was his international and internal profile and popularity that he would be indispensable in any sort of negotiated settlement.
  • With the Cold War now over, the government could no longer argue that apartheid was saving the country from communism, a rhetorical device long used by the NP as an excuse for repressive measures.
  • The NP and ANC had been meeting in secret. Both were willing to explore the grounds for a negotiated settlement.
  • Optimistic NP members naively believed that the ANC would not do well in an election and, moreover, that the NP would win it.
  • The more realistic members of the NP hoped that the ANC would share power with them in an interim government.

On 11 February 1990, 27 years after he had first been incarcerated, Nelson Mandela walked out of the grounds of Victor Verster Prison as a free man, immediately calling for an even more determined effort against apartheid and affirming his commitment to a peaceful and disciplined process. His release provoked unbridled joy and excitement throughout the country, and had a major and nigh-universal effect. Mandela had refused to be released until all the other political prisoners were let out and the ANC and other such organisations unbanned.

There were, however, several problems that Mandela and the rest of the ANC faced. In the face of the state's repression, resistance had been relatively disorganised and fragmentary. The ANC needed to get control over and the support of the people. There were also differences between members of the ANC who had been in exile and those who had remained in South Africa to fight apartheid.

Having been instructed by the UN Security Council to end its long-standing military occupation in South-West Africa /Namibia, and in the face of military defeats and the growing cost of its war of occupation there, South Africa had had to relinquish control of this territory; Namibia officially became an independent state on 21 March 1990.


From 1990 to 1991, the legal apparatus of apartheid was abolished. In 1990 negotiations were earnestly begun, with two meetings between the government and the ANC. The purpose of the negotiations was to pave the way for talks towards a peaceful transition of power. These meetings were successful in laying down the preconditions for negotiations - despite the considerable tensions still abounding within the country.

From 1990 to 1994, F. W. de Klerk led the National Party government in negotiating with the ANC in order to end apartheid.

At the first meeting, the NP and ANC discussed the conditions for negotiations to begin. The meeting was held at Groote Schuur, the President's official residence. They released the Groote Schuur Minute, which said that, before negotiations commenced, political prisoners would be freed and all exiles allowed to return.

De Klerk made further political changes in 1990, calling off the long-running State of Emergency (except in Natal) and abolishing the Separate Amenities Act. These changes were meant to make it patently clear that apartheid was ending. Mandela, however, called on other countries to persist with their economic sanctions, but, at the second 1990 meeting of the ANC and the NP at Pretoria, he announced the ANC's bringing an end to its armed struggle. However, although the Pretoria and Groote Schuur meetings had laid the foundations for peaceful negotiation, there were still ample tensions within the country.

The last major apartheid laws, the Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act, were removed in 1991, convincing numerous countries to bring to an end their cultural, economic and sporting boycotts.

There were fears that the change of power in South Africa would be violent. To avoid this, it was essential that a peaceful resolution between all parties be reached. In December 1991, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began negotiations on the formation of a multiracial transitional government and a new constitution extending political rights to all groups. CODESA adopted a Declaration of Intent and committed itself to an "undivided South Africa". Although the talks broke down several times, they were eventually successful in getting the ANC and NP to reach an agreement.

The opening CODESA meeting was a success. The government met with major political parties (apart from the PAC and Conservative Party) at the end of 1991. They agreed that the new South Africa should be free from racial segregation and that an interim government ought to run the country until a new constitution had been drafted.

Most of the persistent violence through the country was due to impatience for change on the part of those still living under repression, and also the intense rivalry between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC. Political violence exploded across the country, and, although Mandela and Buthelezi met to settle difference, they could not stem the tide of violence, creating more distrust between the two factions. One of the worst cases of ANC-IFP violence was the Boipatong massacre of 17 June 1992, when 200 IFP militants attacked the Gauteng township of Boipatong. 45 people met their end. Witnesses said that the men had arrived in police vehicles, supporting claims that elements within the police and army contributed to the general violence. There have also been claims that high-ranking government officials and politicians ordered or at least condoned these massacres. When De Klerk tried to visit the scene of the incident, he was driven away by angry crowds, on whom the police opened fire, killing thirty.

The Bisho massacre also added seriously to mounting tensions between the ANC and NP. It started off as an ANC march in protest against the leader of the Ciskei homeland, but 29 people were killed and 200 injured when, once more, the police opened fire as the marchers broke through their barriers. This marked something of a "last straw" for the already-strained CODESA process and the talks faltered at this stage.

The CP, meanwhile, not having taken part in CODESA, challenged the government to a general election so that white voters could decide on the future of South Africa. De Klerk responded by holding the last whites-only referendum in March 1992 to decide whether or not negotiations should continue. A 68-percent majority gave its support, and the victory instilled in De Klerk and the government a lot more confidence, giving the NP a stronger position in negotiations.

Thus, when negotiations resumed later in 1992, under the tag of CODESA II, stronger demands were made. The ANC and the government could not reach a compromise on how power should be shared during the transition to democracy. The NP wanted to retain a strong position in a transitional government, as well as the power to change decisions made by parliament. A background of escalating violence added to the tensions. Mandela argued that de Klerk, as head of state, was responsible for bringing an end to the bloodshed. He also accused the South African police of inciting the ANC-IFP violence. This formed the basis for ANC's withdrawal from the negoatiations, and the CODESA forum broke down completely at this stage. Although de Klerk denied the allegations, they are still strongly suspected to be true today.

The ANC and COSATU, meanwhile, launched a campaign of mass action, and a fervent strike forced the NP to give in. Though talks had come to an official end, they still continued on an unsanctioned basis. Without the media glare and the resultant posturing by participating parties that characterised the CODESA talks, the ANC's Cyril Ramaphosa and the NP's Roelf Meyer quietly and effectively took the negotiations forward. Both sides found common ground and were willing to compromise elsewhere, and, accordingly, came to an agreement. Mandela and de Klerk signed a Record of Understanding, agreeing that a constituent assembly would be created to draw up the new constitution and that there would also be a five-year Government of National Unity so that all political parties would have the chance to participate in government. The Government of National Unity was believed to be an important factor in the reduction of tensions between the political parties. To give the chance to as many political parties as possible, it was decided that any party with five per cent or more of the vote would be represented in government. Any party with more than twenty per cent would receive a deputy president position.

During this transitional period, in addition to the continuing "black-on-black" violence, there were a number of attacks on white civilians by the PAC's army, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA). The PAC was hoping to strengthen their standing by attracting the support of the angry, impatient youth. In one such attack, members of the APLA entered a Cape Town church and opened fire, killing and wounding members of the congregation.

Right-wing violence also added to the hostilities of this period. The assassination of Chris Hani threatened to derail talks altogether. Hani, the popular general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), was assassinated in 1993 in Dawn Park in Johannesburg by Janusz Walus, an anti-communist Polish refugee who had close links to the white nationalist AWB. Hani enjoyed widespread support beyond his constituency in the SACP and ANC and had been recognised as the most likely successor to Mandela; his death brought forth protests throughout the country and across the international community. Soon afterwards, the AWB used an armoured vehicle to crash through the doors of the World Trade Centre, the building where, despite everything, talks were still going ahead under the Negotiating Council. Even this failed to derail the process. Although final agreements were not directly attained from CODESA I or II, it was as a result of their foundations that further, lower-profile talks could be pursued and a peaceful resolution agreed upon.

In 1993, the Negotiating Council reached an agreement on the election date, choosing 27 April 1994. Preparations went ahead amidst a sustained climate of terrifying unrest. It was decided that everyone over the age of eighteen would be allowed to vote. In 1993, the Interim Constitution was published and accepted, guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion, access to adequate housing and numerous other rights, as well as explicitly prohibiting discrimination on almost any ground. The Transitional Executive Council was formed to supervise the elections and an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) set up to run them. Ballot papers were printed and election stations set up. Independent officials were appointed to supervise and ensure a free and fair process. Ironically, the army, which had only a few years before been zealously defending apartheid, was now ensuring that nothing got in the way of its peaceful dissolution.

The IFP refused to join the other parties in registering for the elections. It wanted a guarantee that the Zulu king and IFP supporters would not be subject to discrimination. After talks with Mandela and De Klerk, the IFP changed its stance, just a week before the elections. With the ballot papers already printed, the IEC now had to add IFP stickers to them.

Violence persisted right through to the 1994 elections. Lucas Mangope, leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland, declared that it would not take part in the elections. It had been decided that, once the temporary constitution had come into effect, the homelands would be incorporated into South Africa, but Mangope did not want this to happen. There were strong protests against his decision, and he eventually backed down. This did not, however, bring a halt to the right-wing violence as several militants came to Mangope's aid. Three of them were killed, and harrowing images were shown on national television and in newspapers across the world.

Two days before the elections, a car bomb exploded in Johannesburg, killing nine. The day before the elections, another one went off, injuring thirteen. Finally, though, at midnight on 26– 27 April 1994, the old flag was lowered, and the old (now co-official) national anthem Die Stem ("The Call") was sung, followed by the raising of the new rainbow flag and singing of the other co-official anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika ("God Bless Africa"). The election went off peacefully amidst a palpable feeling of goodwill throughout the country. International observers agreed that the elections were free and fair.

20,000,000 South Africans turned up to cast their votes. There was some difficulty in organising the voting in rural areas, but, throughout the country, people waited patiently for many hours in order to vote. An extra day was added to give everyone the chance. People had two votes to cast - one for a National Government and another for a Provincial Government. As part of the new governmental structure, each province - there were now nine - was given a degree of political power. This meant that not all decisions were made by the national government.

The ANC won 62.65% of the vote, less than the 66.7% that would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution. As well as deciding the national government, the election decided the provincial governments, and the ANC won in all but two provinces. The NP captured most of the white and coloured votes and became the official opposition party. The Government of National Unity was established, its cabinet made up of twelve ANC representatives, six from the NP and three from the IFP. Thabo Mbeki and FW De Klerk were made deputy presidents, and Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first democratically-elected president. The ANC won seven provinces, the NP the Western Cape and the IFP Natal.

Since then, 27 April is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa known as Freedom Day.

In 1993, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa".


The following individuals, who had previously supported apartheid, made public apologies:

  • FW de Klerk - "I apologise in my capacity as leader of the NP to the millions who suffered wrenching disruption of forced removals; who suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences; who over the decades suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination."
  • Marthinus van Schalkwyk
  • Adriaan Vlok - who washed the feet of apartheid victim Frank Chikane
  • Leon Wessels - who said "I am now more convinced than ever that apartheid was a terrible mistake that blighted our land. South Africans did not listen to the laughing and the crying of each other. I am sorry that I had been so hard of hearing for so long".

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