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Dismantling apartheid

Subry Govender / mc June 18, 2015

25 years ago South Africa removed one of the pillars of apartheid when parliament voted overwhelmingly to scrap a law segregating public facilities, such as beaches, parks and hospitals.

Südafrika Fredrik Willem de Klerk Bekanntgabe Mandela Freilassung
Fredrik Willem de Klerk abolished apartheid legislation amid right-wing oppositionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

On June 9, 1990, South Africa's white minority parliament voted to end the segregation of public facilities

President FW de Klerk had delivered a landmark speech some four months earlier, on February 2, 1990, in which he lifted restrictions on the African National Congress (ANC) and two other political parties. Jailed ANC leader and future South African president Nelson Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990.

There were several laws enforcing racial segregation in South Africa. The Natives Land Act passed in 1913 restricted black ownership of land to just 13 percent of South African territory and this was land found in what could be described as the most arid and devastated areas of the country.

The Group Areas Act (1950) distributed residential areas according to race thereby keeping the most valuable property in the hands of the white minority.

Südafrika Apartheid Schild White Area
An example of racial segregation in a bayside area in South Africa in the 1970sImage: AP

The Population Registration Act (1950) recorded and classified people according to race and ethnic group and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953) enforced the segregation of all public facilities, reserving the best municipal amenities, such as swimming pools, beaches and sports grounds, for the white minority.

It was a common sight at that time to see the best beaches marked "white only" and the worst facilities for people of color.

All this legislation ensured that minority whites received preferential treatment in education, health, sport and in other services offered at municipal or national level.

Support from black majority leaders

Announcing measures to scrap these laws, de Klerk said they were in line with "government's declared intention to normalize the political process in South Africa." He also spoke of the desire for "a new democratic constitution, equality before an independent judiciary, a sound economy based on proven economic principles and private enterprise." De Klerk stressed the importance of "dynamic programs directed at better education, health service, housing and social conditions for all."

Bildergalerie Leben Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace PrizeImage: picture-alliance/AP

De Klerk's steps towards dismantling apartheid earned him the wrath of right-wing opposition parties and extremists, who claimed he was striking at the roots of white community life. South Africa, they mocked, had the only leader in the West who was negotiating himself, his party and his people out of power. De Klerk displayed steely resolve.

"I ask of parliament to assist on the road ahead, there is much to be done, I call on the international community to re-evaluate its position and to adopt a positive attitude towards the dynamic evolution which is taking place in South Africa," he said.

Black majority leaders congratulated de Klerk on his courage and bravery.

"Mr de Klerk has gone further than any other nationalist president in taking real steps to normalize the situation," Nelson Mandela told a mass rally in Johannesburg. "It must be added that Mr de Klerk himself is a man of integrity who is acutely aware of the dangers of a public figure not honoring his undertaking."

Another prominent anti-apartheid campaigner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, praised de Klerk's integrity at a rally in Cape Town.

"When you hear people like Mr de Klerk speaking that white domination must go, they acknowledge that they have been perpetrating a system of domination, racial domination,"

South Africa after apartheid

Apartheid legislation has disappeared from South Africa, but inequality has not. There has been little change, for instance, to land ownership. The black majority still complains that most of the land remains in the hands of the whote minority.

Yunus Carrim, a former minister of communications, told DW the government was aware of the problem and "was focusing more on ensuring that wealth is more evenly distributed."

The black majority now have political power and control over South Africa, but for many a better life remains a distant dream.