Useful Notes / The Apartheid Era

"No, he's never met a nice South African
And that's not bloody surprising, mun!
'cause we're a bunch of arrogant bastards,
Who hate black people."
Spitting Image, "I've Never Met a Nice South African"

"Apartheid" is an Afrikaans word. It literally means "apart-ness"; more accurately, it means "segregation". And in practice, it refers to the overriding policy in South Africa from 1948 to 1994 of strictly enforced segregation.

During the Apartheid era, South Africa was the most visible nation in the modern world to have an official policy of "scientific racism" — the idea that certain races were scientifically, objectively, better than others (or were at least distinct enough to deserve protection). As an anthropological theory, it was mostly discredited after World War II, when millions died as a result of such theories. But South Africa did this to "protect" its white citizens, who made up only 15 to 20% of the population.

Apartheid South Africa divided people into various categories based on race, but in practice it was between "white" and "non-white". Whites got to rule the country despite being a minority, segregation was the order of the day, and the whole thing was propped up by a Police State.

    Background and Useful Notes on Apartheid 

How We Got Here — South Africa and the leadup to Apartheid.

South Africa draws its roots from the small, insular "settler" European communities along the Cape of Good Hope, largely divided between the British and the Dutch (who became known as the Boers or Afrikaaners). Conflict in the Cape was common, both between Europeans and against the native Africans; as such, these communities tended to structure their governments in a way that allowed their inhabitants to maintain power. The colonists tried to unify everyone under their own system; the British, in particular, tried to assimilate it like the rest of The British Empire, which saw staunch resistance from the fiercely independent Boers. This led to such bloody conflicts as the Boer wars. In the end, the whites stopped fighting with each other and adopted a common model of broad universal rights — but only for white citizens. It was under this model that the basic segregation policies were established.

The Boers, however, were particularly xenophobic and wanted assurances that the black population could be kept in line. Some were drawn to the Germans, who had set up a colony in neighboring Namibia and had their own brutal genocidal campaigns with a similar militaristic attitude to the Boers. The hardliners took advantage of World War I and the Germans tried to invade South Africa, but South Africa won and annexed Namibia (then known as South-West Africa). A tenuous alliance of white colonists ensued, until an attempted pro-Nazi revolt during World War II supported by a new generation of hardliner Afrikaaners.

The conspiracy didn't go anywhere, but it did open up the door for the formation of the National Party, who in 1948 defeated the more moderate government of Jan Smuts (who argued for the eventual dismantling of segregation). D.F. Malan became the new leader, and the Apartheid policy was formally instated.

How it worked

Apartheid codified several dozen "races", but for the most part they could easily be divided into:
  • "White" — ethnic Europeans
  • "Black" — ethnic Africans
  • "Indians" — ethnic Indians
  • "Coloured" — mixed-race between Africans and Europeans, or other ethnicities.

Only whites could be considered "true" citizens of South Africa or participate in South Africa's government. The government tried to confine everyone else to the countryside, where they set up ten Bantustans, "native homelands". Six of these were provinces of South Africa itself, while four were nominally independent microstates. In practice, all were effectively governed by and subservient to South Africa. Blacks and coloureds could get citizenship in one of the Bantustans, but this was effectively meaningless. The idea was that under the guise of "de-colonisation", blacks could form their own nations and societies separate from the European-colonized areas. In practice, that was impossible, as these places were poverty-ridden, completely devoid of healthcare, education, or infrastructure, and basically just sources of cheap labor for South Africa's mines.

Segregation was strictly enforced, even more so than in the U.S. at the time. Non-whites were formally prohibited from white areas, which could range from public facilities, to beaches, to neighborhoods, to effectively whole cities. Most jobs were completely closed to non-whites. Inter-racial relationships were strictly forbidden; although "coloured" was an officially-recognised "race", it consisted mainly of people whose mere existence was illegal.

The government dealt with political opponents by "banning" them. This meant that they could not communicate with more than one person at a time when not at home, they couldn't enter certain areas, and they could not be quoted in the media. (This legal measure is still on the books today, just not used as much.) Those suspected of "terrorism" could be detained indefinitely, without charge or trial — "terrorism" was broadly defined as anything from "communism" to "pissing the government off". South Africa, until 1993, had the dubious honor of having the highest percentage of its population in prison. (The U.S. has since overtaken it thanks to the "War on Drugs".)

And that's if you stayed alive. Hundreds of people were tortured in jail or killed with such explanations as "fell down some stairs". Public inquests would routinely back such findings, even over obvious evidence to the contrary. Security and intelligence services committed several outright assassinations, both in South Africa and abroad; their preferred method was the letter bomb, colloquially known as the "care package" (because they take care of you). Prominent exiled dissident Ruth First was murdered in this manner.

Since the 1960s, the government would justify such violence as a way of putting down protests, which became increasingly frequent. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 is seen as a turning point, as frightened police officers (both black and white) fired on an unruly protest, killing dozens, most of whom were shot in the back while fleeing. Anything could have sparked a protest; some of the biggest arose out of a government decree that at least 50% of the country's schools teach in Afrikaans rather than English, as many blacks considered Afrikaans in particular the language of the oppressors.

Foreign relations during Apartheid

The Apartheid era coincided with the Cold War. As was common in authoritarian colonial states, the largest and best-organized opposition group — in this case the African National Congress, or ANC — was very leftist and openly allied with the Communists. The white South Africans responded by being so vehemently anti-Communist that they attracted some support from the West, including the U.S., the U.K., and Israel. Israel and South Africa are even alleged to have collaborated on nuclear technology. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was doing what it could to support the insurgents.

When Apartheid began, South Africa was surrounded largely by other colonial governments that were similarly racist (in Angola, Rhodesia, and Mozambique). That started to change in the 1960s and 1970s, as the black majority in those countries — again, largely communist groups — overthrew the European colonial powers and established independence. South-West Africa also won an independence war from South Africa and split to form Namibia. South Africa saw itself surrounded by increasingly hostile nations.

In some sense, though, the experience of the newly independent neighbors caused South Africa to double down on its Apartheid policy. Rhodesia, for instance, became independent as Zimbabwe under its leader Robert Mugabe; but while the country had been one of the most successful in Africa under colonial rule in the 1960s, Mugabe's rule — while not explicitly racist — was centered around cronyism and incompetence, suggesting to whites in South Africa that blacks really didn't know how to run a country.

And although South Africa was nominally on the Allied side during World War II, there was a strong Nazi sympathy strain among Afrikaaners. That carried over into the Apartheid era, which led to the formation in the early 1970s of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, or AWB (literally "Afrikaner Resistance Movement"). They frequently clashed with the Apartheid government itself, thinking it was too soft.

Boycotts

Over time, South Africa became a pariah state, and from the 1960s onward, it was subject to a large-scale international economic and military boycott. About the only thing South Africa could get was secret collaboration with Israel over nuclear technology; the 1979 "Vela incident" is thought to have been a South African nuclear test captured by an American satellite.

South Africa already suffered from a serious shortage of skilled labour. Most of its black population was not allowed to hold desk jobs, and many of them were illiterate anyway. The country's insularity made it hostile to immigrants, and many people — black and white alike — were too disgusted with the country to want to move there.

Foreign investment in South Africa was decidedly lacklustre. This wasn't so much because the Mega Corps had any particular moral qualms with the regime, but more that the country looked increasingly dangerous and unstable as its neighbors turned to chaos and South Africa seemed ready to follow suit. Governments were also putting pressure on companies not to invest in South Africa; in the U.S., this was a big reason for the enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. South Africa was so desperate for investment that they gave "honorary white" status to East Asians, trying to entice Japanese and Taiwanese companies to invest.

The boycott was also cultural. South Africa was already notoriously strict on this front — television was considered morally corrupting and didn't arrive there until 1975. They also weren't very kind to people who went to the country to film there. If you did get to perform there as a musician, it was likely at the infamous Sun City resort (which was in a Bantustan, as South Africa itself banned gambling for being morally corrupting as well); many other musicians detested the regime and wrote numerous protest songs. They even criticized Paul Simon for recording Graceland in the country — with only black musicians.

South Africa also faced international sports boycotts; it was barred from the Olympics between 1964 and 1992. South African teams that did go abroad often sparked protests against the regime. Going to South Africa at all as an athlete would get you bad press. When the New Zealand Rugby Union team toured South Africa in 1976, the IOC was under huge pressure to ban New Zealand; when they didn't, twenty-five African countries boycotted that summer's Olympics in Montreal. But it really hit them hard with cricket, a favorite sport in South Africa; very few teams were willing to play there. South Africa made it worse on itself by refusing to allow non-whites to play cricket there, and they really got in hot water when they insisted that a mixed-race English cricketer (himself a South African who fled the regime) be subject to Apartheid law while on tour there and not interact with the rest of his team outside game action.

The end of Apartheid

There's some debate as to who exactly should get the most credit for ending Apartheid. Nelson Mandela gets much of the credit, but the foundation was laid even before he became the president. Mandela's predecessor, conservative F.W. de Klerk, announced the intention to end Apartheid when he was elected in late 1989, and many of the discriminatory laws were repealed over the next four years. In 1992, a referendum was held on whether Apartheid should be continued; over two thirds of white South Africans voted to end Apartheid. De Klerk also opened the door to the ANC, formerly the subversive terrorist group, for negotiations.

In 1994, ANC leader Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president. This election is considered the turning point for the country and the formal end of Apartheid; its anniversary, April 27, is now a national holiday in South Africa. But Mandela was determined to ensure a peaceful transition, and he allowed de Klerk to stay on as vice president until his retirement in 1996. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their efforts.

South Africa then set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way to address the crimes of the Apartheid era. Perpetrators of crimes on both sides were given amnesty if they confessed and asked for forgiveness.

They also strove to reform its then-current standing military, which was for years the enforcer of the Apartheid regime. Most soldiers resented being commanded by the Soviet-trained officers they had previously been fighting. Many of them became mercenaries (well, military contractors), either fighting in NATO-aligned mercenary groups in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, or becoming "private security" forces. As this generation ages, though, the "racist South African mercenary" trope is likely to die out.


In fiction

  • Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith
  • The Tom Sharpe novels Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, are satires of the regime. Sharpe spent 10 years in the country until thrown out in 1961.
  • Wonderella, as a teenager, thought it had something to do with elephant poaching.
  • Harry Turtledove's Alternate History novel The Guns of the South has bitter Afrikaners, members of the real-life Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), steal a time machine and provide the Confederate States of America with AK-47s in the hopes of building a powerful nation that supported "white power". They face opposition from Robert E. Lee and other moderates who, regardless of their personal feelings on slavery, recognize that following the AWB will lead the Confederacy down a path of violence and ostracism from the global community, especially when they discover future books the AWB men had brought back with them showing that slavery will be condemned and the Confederacy looked down on for association with it.
    • Of course, actual South Africans also know that the AWB aren't nice guys, which explains why the AWB has always been an irrelevant, extremist fringe organization. Even during apartheid. Everyone knows about them because they're Nazis, but they never had even the modicum of popular support the KKK had.
  • Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares is set in apartheid South Africa during the protagonist's childhood. The Afrikaners are a very unpleasant bunch.
  • In an episode of The Goodies, the Goodies move to South Africa just after all black natives have left. The regime starts a new form of segregation called Apart-Height. Which does not bode well for anyone under a certain height. Eventually the native Jockeys overthrow the government.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic book produced by Archie Comics, a supporting character was a black werewolf whose family moved to Jamaica from South Africa to escape apartheid.
  • The novel and film The Wilby Conspiracy (the movie starred Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine); the story concerns a black South African activist and a white English businessman hurtling across South Africa to try to elude a South African secret policeman which turned out to be a Batman Gambit for them to lead him to the titular Wilby, a black South African dissident living across the border and leading resistance against the regime.
  • The Sixth Battle has South Africa invaded by its neighboring communist states, backed by the Soviet Union Union of Eurasian Republics. The U.S. joins on South Africa's side and some of the Zulu population back South Africa, both on the "better the devil you know" principle.
    • At the beginning, Mandela and de Klerk are killed when someone crashes a remote-controlled Cessna into the South African parliament building.
    • The general scenario is more or less what happened in real life, since the Bantustan "homelands" were political allies of apartheid South Africa, and both SA and its homelands (Zulu and otherwise) were involved on the American side of the Cold War.
  • In The Third World War, South Africa is a key area in the conflict.
  • District 9, an Alien Among Us story set in Johannesburg, never explicitly mentions apartheid—but you can't help thinking about it anyway.
    • The South African writer stated that it wasn't supposed to be an allegory for anything, but was just his idea of what would realistically happen to aliens if they landed in South Africa during apartheid (it's stated they landed in 1983).
  • In World War Z, a Sociopathic Hero modifies an old Apartheid-era South African civil war plan to deal with the zombie threat. It works well and is adopted by many of the nations detailed in the book.
  • Red Dust is a film that explores the Apartheid Era through flashbacks during a truth and reconciliation hearing (hearings where those guilty of Apartheid-era crimes, on both sides, can admit their guilt, apologize and receive pardons).
  • Spitting Image released a song attacking Apartheid called "I've never met a nice South African" (the first chorus of which is at the top of the page) which does admit that nice (i.e. anti-Apartheid) South Africans exist, and that they either left the country or got put in prison.
  • Larry Bond, co-author of Red Storm Rising and creator of the Harpoon tabletop wargame, wrote a novel entitled Vortex, which chronicled a Mandela-less final war with Cuba, Angola, and Namibia on one side, South Africa on another side, the U.S. and Great Britain on a third, and the various revolutionary groups fighting everyone. Better than it sounds.
  • Invictus begins at the very end of the Apartheid era, and deals with the Mandela government's use of the South African national rugby team, long associated with whites in general and Afrikaners in particular, as a means of unifying the nation.
  • An episode of Silent Witness involves Nikki Alexander (born in the country) being hired to identify the bodies of ANC activists executed in 1985. It also features a woman getting "necklaced" for fleeing the house where she's held as a sex slave and telling the police, an ANC punishment for informers that involves placing a tyre around their neck, dousing it in petrol and setting it alight.
  • The Power of One, a novel by Bryce Courtenay, and the movie of the book discuss an English colonist, who boxes in illegal interracial tournaments, and inspires the native Black population, giving them lessons in English. The Afrikaner police are depicted as Nazi-like, and the main antagonist of the story is explicitly a Nazi sympathizer, who has a swastika tattoo, listens to the Horst Wessel Lied, and, as a teenager, swore allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Truth in Television somewhat, since many white South Africans were supportive of the Nazis during World War II.
    • In addition, as a possible Take That against the Apartheid regime, the aforementioned main antagonist is named Botha, after the then-recent leader of Apartheid South Africa.
  • The Disney Channel movie The Color Of Friendship is a fictionalized account of the 1977 visit of an Afrikaner exchange student to the home of African-American congressman Ron Dellums, himself an outspoken opponent of Apartheid. Steve Biko's imprisonment and later death in police custody become major plot points.
  • Almost anything by Wilbur Smith, but especially Power of the Sword and Rage from the Courtney series.
  • Lethal Weapon 2 featured a South African drug dealer hiding behind Diplomatic Impunity.
    • As did the Indio movies. The "South African drug dealer with diplomatic immunity" is turning out to be its own trope.
  • The Big Bad in the original Soldier of Fortune video game is an exiled South African Colonel named Dekker who blames the fall of Apartheid on the meddling of western nations. His ultimate plan for revenge is to drop a Neutron Bomb (Built in part on expertise he has from working on top-secret South African nuclear projects) on the U.S.
  • In the movie Blood Diamond Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a white man from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and former South African Apartheid soldier turned mercenary, along with the antagonist Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo, an actual white South African actor) and the officers of his mercenary platoon all also being ex-apartheid soldiers turned mercenary.
    • In a subversion of the usual portrayal however, they do not make racist statements (unless they are very, very pissed off with a black person) and Coetzee's troops include black South African mercenaries as well.
    • This is basically a realistic portrayal of what South Africa's military, and its mercenaries, are like. Even during apartheid, all races were represented in the Army—except that units were segregated, and only white South Africans were subject to conscription. While fighting against the Communist hordes on the border, South Africans were more concerned about staying alive than being racist. Danny specifically notes that he fought alongside black troops, and that his sergeant told them "there's no apartheid in the trenches."
    • As an added bonus to stack against the stereotype, consider the fact that all white South Africans in movies refer to black people by "the k-word", with this being more common among soldiers and government ministers. Except… even under apartheid, it was illegal to use that word. Those film South Africans may have had diplomatic immunity, but all the heroes had to do was record the bad guys insulting them, and they would get fired and probably fined several thousand Rand for being racially insensitive.
  • South African author Alan Paton is most well-known for his anti-apartheid literature, such as Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful, which displays several episodes during apartheid's beginnings in the 1950s. Paton's most famous novel is Cry, the Beloved Country, which explores the complex social interactions of Whites and Blacks during the turbulent upheavals of apartheid's emergence through the eyes of a black pastor and a white farmer. The book was adapted to film in 1951 and 1995, the latter one starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris; there was also a stage musical adaptation, Lost in the Stars, that was itself filmed in 1973.
  • The 1987 film Cry Freedom, based on books by investigative journalist Donald Woods, chronicled the friendship between the white Woods and black anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died from injuries sustained during police detention in 1977. Woods' books accused the apartheid regime of whitewashing Biko's death, which led to Woods being placed under house arrest and having to escape to Britain.
  • The apartheid South African Defence Force is one of the playable sides in Graviteam Tactics: Operation Hooper.

  • In the Wild Cards universe its mentioned that South Africa developed a policy of treating superpowered black aces as coloured, mirroring the real life policy the South African government had for the few black celebrities who would visit the country during Apartheid, and Japanese businesspeople, as they were essential for the country's economy during the boycotts.
  • Catch A Fire is a biopic of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a black South African worker wrongly arrested and tortured by white police officer Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) on suspicion of committing a bombing. After being released when Vos realizes he really didn't do it, Chamusso is so enraged he becomes what they accused him of, going across the border into Mozambique and joining the African National Congress (ANC) the main anti-apartheid group. He returns with guerrilla training to blow up the same target he was accused of bombing before. Ruth First's daughter Shawn Slovo wrote the script, while another daughter Robyn Slovo produced and starred as her in the film. Their father Joe Slovo is a character as well, since he ran the ANC's guerrilla military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), aka MK (Ruth First was murdered with a package bomb for their activities, sent by apartheid-era South African Intelligence).
  • A World Apart is a fictionalized account of Ruth First's struggle against apartheid in early 1960s South Africa, for which the state persecuted her by banning and repeatedly detaining her without trial, as seen through the eyes of her daughter. This film was written by another of First's daughters, Gillian First, and features the analogue character of Joe Slovo, who flees into exile (as the real Ruth First also would).
  • The Captain Planet episode If It's Doomsday, It Must Be Belfast, Verminous Skumm gives nuclear devices to people living in areas of ethnic conflict, expecting the other side to detonate them. One of the places is South Africa (This episode aired around the time apartheid was coming to an end), where a black protester and an Afrikaner extremist are both give devices.
  • Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 depicts an Alternate History where, amongst other wackiness, Magnus Malan becomes dictator of an even more extreme South Africa and implements (even worse) racist policies against black and even non-Afrikaner whites. South Africa in this timeline is a Neo-Nazi state in all but name, and is engaged in a losing war against the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, committing massacres against natives and using dirty bombs and chemical weapons against her enemies. When it becomes apparent to Malan that South Africa's gonna lose, he arranges to wipe out most of the continent with the country's nuclear arsenal. It's quite telling the setting is a Crapsack World when the POTUS Donald Rumsfeld openly supports this kind of place.
  • One chapter of Golgo 13 is set immediately after the election of President Mandela, when apartheid is still heavy on everyone's minds. Mandela, who met Golgo 13 during his imprisonment, hires the assassin to kill a white-supremist general who wants to take South Africa by force and reestablish apartheid.

Fan Works
  • In the Discworld Expanded Universe, the country of Rimwards Howondaland is the Expy of apartheid South Africa. The author considered that this added an extra touch of dramatic bite and drive for the plot, as well as the very idea of apartheid being so unsustainably crazy and unbelievable from the outside that it belonged somewhere on Terry Pratchett's world. And where better than a forgotten colony on the edge of Howondaland... ''Slipping Between Worlds explores the concept, with several Earth people crossing to the Discworld from 1985. Apartheid Rhodesia had fallen, but the old South Africa lived on. One of the men who crosses over is a Rhodesian career soldier still smarting over the loss of his homeland.
    • Discworld apartheid is strained by Igors, who see nothing wrong in replacing a damaged limb on a white Vondalaander (Afrikaner) with a healthy functioning one. From a black-skinned donor. Vampires also strain the system, as they are generally white-skinned Central Continent immigrants. But they mix the blood of black and white people in a novel way the Staadt is not happy with. And what if a white-skinned vampire wants to "make" a black-skinned protegee vampire?
    • And in a fantasy universe, how does an apartheid state racially classify Dwarfs, Trolls, Goblins and apparently ''blue-skinned'' Nac Mac Feegle?
    • It is thought Lord Vetinari actively encourages such emigration to Rimwards Howondaland for devious reasons of his own. He also nurtures liberally-inclined Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes, a Howondalandian native and Vondalaander whose opinions have changed after ten years in Ankh-Morpork. Vetinari insisted the Assassins' Guild School, many of whose graduates go into politics in their home nations, should take equal numbers of black and white Howondalandians as pupils and educate them side-by-side for seven years. He has also been seen to ask his Embassy in Rimwards Howondaland for details on certain "pacifistically-inclined black prisoners of conscience", who are currently incarcerated in the country's jails. This was after studying the Roundworld Project's observations of the history of South Africa on our world....
    • It was revealed, in a postscript to Terry Pratchett's posthumously published novel The Shepherd's Crown that Terry had at least an outline for a novel that would have explored "Howondaland" to the same level of detail that he gave to Australia. Its working title was The Dark Incontinent. Some possible fragments of this book, descriptions of people and places, were released in the recent Complete Discworld Atlas. The character of Howondaland Smith, Balgrog Hunter, for instance, is clearly depicted as a White Howondalandian.
  • Similar to the District 9 example, the South Africa subplot in the MLP FIM fanfic The Conversion Bureau: Not Alone is basically evolving (or rather, hinted at evolving) into The Apartheid Era for ponies.

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