Apartheid, the South African government's policy of 'separate development' for all groups 'within their own communities', was a series of systematic acts of oppression and discrimination against the overwhelming majority of the population of South Africa. It rendered non-whites political and social outcasts in their own fatherland; violated human rights, especially the right to self-determination; and permeated all aspects of life. Blacks, as part of the policy of total social segregation, were forced to live in 'homelands', a move which not only caused great suffering, but also bred crime, violence and oppression caused by rivalries between 'haves' and 'have-nots'; and hunger, disease, and starvation became the marks of many communities. As apartheid translated into extreme poverty for the black community, it was the women and children who suffered most. Able-bodied men often worked and lived in urban areas, while their wives and families were unable to secure passes for these areas and remained on the homelands, thus negating prospects for a normal family life, and also engendering high numbers of illegitimate children. 'Pass laws' were strictly enforced in the white urban areas and the fines imposed on those who illegally employ blacks had a marked effect on the scope for employment of women. In order to remain in the area, married women had to be included in the residential rights of their husbands, who had to be present after the 'lawful entry' of the wives. If a black woman became widowed or divorced, she might lose her eligibility to live and work in the urban area.
Forced removal to the homelands resulted in uneven population growth; huge tracts of the country could well become perpetual wastelands if development was neglected in the areas made barren by the removals. On the homelands, large numbers of people had no land to cultivate and had to spend most of their money on imported basic foodstuffs. Children were often forced to work in an effort to counter the shortage of male labour, and were severely exploited; those who were not offspring of farm labourers lived in squalid communal huts and had to cook for themselves. They had an inadequate diet and received no education.
Apartheid viewed blacks as cheap labour without rights of their own. Black agricultural workers were excluded from unemployment and sickness benefits; black miners had to work in mines where lax or non-existent safety measures resulted in many accidents, some fatal, and those who refused to work in unsafe mines might be fired without notice; violations of trade union freedoms were rampant; and all blacks, regardless of their trade, had little or no hope for job improvement. Dissenters of apartheid, even women and children, were often subjected to brutal and sophisticated torture; political trials might last 3-4 years, with the accused spending all that time in goal; suspicious deaths of detainees were known; the press was forbidden to publish reports or photographs of people under 'banning orders', and those banned could not communicate with more than one other person at a time.
A tragic vestige of colonial domination, apartheid in many ways recalls slavery. The system meant, in economic terms, complete and effective enjoyment by a white minority of all the wealth and natural resources of a people dominated and excluded on racial grounds. It was erected into a system of government and applied for about a century accompanied by violations of human rights, both economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights. These massive and grave violations have never been remedied in any way, although they have been characterized in their aggregate as crimes against humanity and thus not subject to any statute of limitations.
From the time of the first Dutch colony, the "whites" gradually extended their domination over the whole of South Africa. This trend intensified with the arrival of the British and other "white" population groups which, by violence or cunning, appropriated nearly all the agricultural and residential lands in South African territory. The "whites", who represented 20 per cent of the population, had control over and use of 80 per cent of the territory, whereas the "blacks", who represented 70 per cent of the population, controlled only 13 per cent of the lands. As stated above, this situation, maintained at the expense of the blacks, lasted for more than a century. That system was not peculiar to South Africa only. what is today Namibia was governed for a very long time by the same process consisting of a black majority dominated by a white minority. Even today, survivals of the system continue to produce victims.
Examples of the effects of apartheid include:
(a) A 1982 ILO report showing that out of every 1000 white South Africans, 16 had not progressed beyond primary school; of every 1000 Asian South Africans, 257 had not progressed beyond primary schools; for coloureds and blacks the numbers were 590 and 840 respectively. Again, 16.7% of whites had received university diplomas or degrees, 1.3% of coloureds, and 2% of blacks.
(b) A 1983 WHO study showed that the white community had a mortality pattern identical to that of developed countries (12 per 1000), whereas that of the black South African, particularly the rural black South African, is less than that found in a typical Third World African country, with widespread malnutrition leading to a heavy toll of infant deaths from infectious disease.
(c) A WHO 1983 study in the Ciskei revealed that in both urban and rural groups, 60% of malnourished children were illegitimate, whereas 80% of well-nourished children were legitimate. Less than half of the malnourished children were looked after by their mothers; such widespread malnutrition leads to the heavy toll of infant deaths from infectious diseases.
(d) As an example of the imprisonment of dissidents, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned since 1962 for inciting violence against the apartheid regime; and his wife was briefly arrested for meeting, while she was under a banning order, with more than one other person; and for refusing to leave her home to live in another area of the country.