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Apartheid in South Africa

Daniel Pelz / mc April 23, 2014

For almost 90 years, white nationalists repressed the black population in South Africa.

- A bayside sign-post indicates a 'White Area' during Apartheid in South Africa, June 23, 1976 (photo: AP Photo)
Image: AP


Four colonies, Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony and Orange Free State unite to form the Union of South Africa. The black population is subject to repression from the beginning. A year later the Mines and Works Act gives "white workers a monopoly of skilled operations."


The Natives Land Act imposes restrictions on where the black population can buy land.


The Urban Areas Act introduces residential segregation. Blacks need official permission to live or work in cities.


The National Party (NP) wins parliamentary elections in which only whites are allowed to vote. The apparatus of repression is expanded. The era of "grand apartheid" begins in which a person's race determines where they are permitted to live. The NP will remain in power until 1994.


The Population Registration Act classifies the race of every individual South African according pseudo-scientific criteria.


At least 69 people are killed in the Sharpeville massacre on March 21 when police open fire on black demonstrators. The African National Congress (ANC) and other resistance movements are banned. Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders launch a guerrilla war against the government.


International pressure on South Africa increases. The UN Security Council imposes an arms embargo. One year later, South Africa is excluded from the Olympic Games. It loses its seat in the UN General Assembly. Economic sanctions are imposed in the years that follow.


In the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto, black students protest against government plans to make Afrikaans mandatory in schools. The police open fire and 600 people die.


Protests against the apartheid regime escalate. In the townships there are frequent clashes between the police and the population in which people are killed or injured. The government declares a state of emergency which remains in force until 1990. More countries impose sanctions against South Africa.


F.W. de Klerk is elected president of South Africa. The rest of the world looks on in astonishment as he demolishes apartheid step by step. The ban on the ANC and other groups is lifted. Nelson Mandela is released from prison. In 1991 the ANC begins negotiations with the government about the country's future political system which are concluded in 1993.


Jubilation across the whole country as all South Africans are allowed to take part in a free election width a secret ballot for the first time. Many black citizens are voting for the first time in their lives. The ANC wins a landslide victory. International sanctions are lifted.


A new constitution comes into force giving all citizens equal rights.