History Detective

Apartheid 101 with special guest William Palk

Episode Summary

William Palk from the High School History Recap talks with Kelly Chase about the basics of apartheid.

Episode Notes

Kelly Chase has her first special guest on History Detective Podcast.

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William Palk from the High School History Recap Podcast sits down with Kelly ad chats about all things Apartheid.

Where does the word Apartheid come from? What were the laws of Apartheid? Who were the ANC and what role did Nelson Mandela play?

This is a great introduction to the concept of Apartheid or a refresher for those studying the topic.

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All original music written and performed by Kelly Chase.


Episode Transcription

Hi, this is Kelly Chase and you are listening to a very special collaboration episode between History Detective and the High School History Recap podcast. 

History Detective is a podcast where I usually delve into the past to uncover the mysteries of history and then I explore how that story might be reimagined through song. And if you are new to High School History Recap Podcast, it is a podcast for students and teachers where William Palk and Colin Du Plessis, who are based in South Africa, discuss and interview experts on a variety of historical topics. Today I have William as a guest on the podcast and I will I will be turning the tables and he will be explaining some of the basics of Apartheid. William has been teaching history in South Africa for almost 20 years and he is going to share his vast wealth of knowledge on the topic. 

William, you have the honour of being my very first special guest on the podcast! So welcome.

Kelly: William, you have the honour of being my very first special guest on the podcast! So welcome. Now, I want to start at the very basics, especially with the word Apartheid. What language does the word Apartheid come from, what does it translate to and when did it start being used for this system of segregation in South Africa?

William: Well first of all Detective Kelly Chase it’s my pleasure to be here. It’s quite a hefty topic, but let’s talk about Apartheid. The word is actually from Afrikaans the Afrikaans language, it means "separateness", or better translated as separate development (according to race and tribe). This is something that is not mentioned too often that it is race and tribe.  Not "good neighbourliness" as PW Botha wanted us to believe- he was first Prime Minister and President of Apartheid South Africa in the late 70s 1980s, But  the ideology of apartheid was developed by Afrikaner intellectuals during the 1930s.So it didn’t really exist as a concept of word before the 1930s Apartheid became the official policy of the National Party when they won the election in 1948 (it is actually because they proposed this policy that the white electorate voted for them). Apartheid built on the laws and practices of segregation which had begun in the early 20th century- actually even before that. Apartheid was unique though, in the sense that it allowed the white minority (about 20% of the population) to discriminate against the black majority.

Kelly: Wow it’s just fascinating that just 20% of the population can rule 80% with such a hash system. Now, this is probably a question with a huge answer, but maybe you can try to do it in a nutshell.  This system of segregation was not always the way, can you give a brief outline of how South Africa got to the point where the minority white government came into a position of power making rules for a majority black population?

William: Maybe I should start by saying that South Africa only became a united country in 1910, that’s when the two British colonies and two Boer republics united. Some form of segregation or discrimination did exist in all four areas. It was only in the Cape Colony that African and coloured men had a qualified vote (it called the Cape franchise). Qualified in the sense you had to earn a certain income or own property. In the 1920's segregationist laws reserved skilled positions in mines and in factories for white workers. It really gave white workers a protected place in the economy. White people were given preference for jobs in government departments as well. I think, A big cornerstone for pre-apartheid segregation was the 1913 Land Act which stated that black people could own land only in the areas (reserves then) set aside for them. Now these reserves only covered about 7% of the country. It was extended to about 13% in 1936. Africans in urban areas had to live in special locations or townships. And then the government used a pass system to limit the movement of people from reserves to towns and cities. You know, they set up tribal councils to administer the reserves, but the thing is tribal chiefs were only given limited powers. Africans they were represented in parliament by elected white representatives. The thing is, apartheid went much further than segregation. It meant the complete segregation of all races in South Africa under white domination. Supporters of apartheid believed that the identity of each race (and tribe) would be destroyed in an integrated society. 

Kelly: So, what were some of the laws that were included in the Apartheid policy and how long did it continue?

William: There were quite a number of Apartheid laws, so the National Party (NP), also called the apartheid government, they came to power in 1948 and remained in power for the next 46 years until 1994. The first big apartheid law was introduced in 1950, and that was the Population Registration Act. It classified all South Africans into race groups, for examples. white, coloured, Indian and African. Some groups were further subdivided into, Malay and Griqua, if you look at African people, Zulu and Xhosa. It's clear that the government wanted to maintain white control by creating divisions among the black majority -that principle of divide and rule. A Race Classification Board was set up to review cases where the race classification was unclear. So, this board will then look at for example, hair, facial features, language, socio-economic status, even eating and drinking habits. That’s the first big Apartheid law, the other one of course is The Group Areas Act of 1950 which set aside separate areas for each race group. This meant that all other people living there would be moved out. In many cases whole communities were torn apart. The best examples of this is what happened in District Six in Cape Town and Sophiatown in Johannesburg. Coloured and black residents were evicted, and these areas became white group areas. Ironically after they moved the people from Sofiatown, they actually renamed Sofiatown, Triomf which meant triumph, to show that it was a Triumph for the national party government. Separate areas, called homelands or bantustans, were set aside for each tribal group. These homelands were based on the reserves created in 1913. Millions were moved to homelands, and this intensified the migrant labour system, ensuring a cheap source of labour for mines, industries and farms. To add to that, the dreaded pass system controlled the movement of people from homelands to towns and cities. All African men had to carry these passes, called a dompas, which contained their names, addresses, names of employers. You now they wanted to extend this system to African women during the 1950s, not too successful though. We had a huge protest against passes for African women. Then there's of course the Separate Amenities Act of 1953 which forced people to use separate transport, entrances, counters, parks, toilets, ambulances, benches, beaches, you name it. That is the very obvious Apartheid that is showcased with all the signs and so on. These signs reminded people that everything was divided by race. Sporting activities were strictly segregated. Then there’s The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 and the Immorality Act of 1950 made marriages and sexual relations between people of different races illegal. One that damaged the country extensively was the Bantu Education Act of 1953. This law made provision for black children to receive an inferior education. This is unprecedented that any education system should aim at an inferior education. But the idea was that the government wanted black people to remain or become manual workers only. Far less money and resources were set aside for the education of black children. Schools were understaffed, overcrowded. This was, off course, extended to universities in 1959 with the Separate Universities Act of 1959. One last law, and this is telling about the way in which the NP justified many of its actions, was the Suppression of Communism Act. The Government used this act to ban the Communist Party and gain the favour of the West in the Cold War, that is very important context to consider for Apartheid. But the problem was, communism was defined so broadly that it was really used to suppress almost any opposition.

Kelly: I mean, the way that most people get out of poverty is by getting an education and suppressing education is really a way that you can control the people. Isn’t is, by just not allowing them to educate themselves. It’s terrible.

William: Now that’s true, and I’m not going to go into that too much now, but it is also going to contribute to the collapse of Apartheid in the 1980s when the South African economy needed skilled people and they were in limited supply.

Kelly: So, who were the ANC and what was their role in protesting against apartheid?

William: OK, maybe just to go back, The Union of South Africa was inaugurated on the 31 May 1910. The Union kept the existing franchises in the four colonies, that is, only white men could vote, except in the Cape Colony. Unification along these lines led to protests from black people. A delegation was even sent to Britain to petition the Parliament there against passing the South African Act, which actually created the union of South Africa. But, their actions had no effect. In response to this, in 1912, at a conference in Bloemfontein, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was inaugurated with John Dube as its first president. And Eleven years later, it changed its name to the African National Congress (ANC). But, in the first couple of decades, until the late 1940s the ANC was in the hands of the mission-educated Christian elite and they remained in this tradition of petitions until the late 1940s. With the creation of the ANC Youth League (or Congress Youth League), people like by Anton Lembede, AP Mda, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and others who created the Congress Youth League, they adopted the Programme of Action which called for boycotts, strikes, and other forms of non-violent protest. In 1952 there was a joint campaign of peaceful resistance against the apartheid laws called the Defiance Campaign. This campaign really turned the ANC into a mass-based organization we see that they ANC’s membership grew from 7,000 to 100,000 members. On 26 June 1955, the ANC and other opposition parties adopted the Freedom Charter, this became the foundation of ANC ideology. Charterism called for a non-racial South Africa with political rights for all. That is the ideological foundation for the ANC. A change came after the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, when the apartheid government outlawed the ANC under the Unlawful Organizations Act. The ANC had to rethink its strategy. Up to that point, they have used peaceful methods of protest, which the NP government crushed with violence. The ANC sent people out of the country to set up branches in exile. Other leaders decided to operate underground and they opted for a strategy of armed resistance. So,  in June 1961, the ANC established a military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), well they were just called MK, to conduct sabotage campaigns and prepare for guerrilla warfare. They targeted government installations, such as power lines, to force the government to the negotiation table. It was only in the early 1990s, that negotiations became a reality when FW de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC. 

Kelly: So Nelson Mandela was a part of the ANC, but many of our student, especially here in Australia are coming up through, they are a little bit too young to have hear, or they might have even heard of the name Nelson Mandela, but not exactly know who he is or what he did. Can you talk about who he was and what role he played in the anti-apartheid movement?

William: As mentioned, he was instrumental in founding the ANC Youth League, and he was a leading figure in resisting apartheid in the 1950s. He was one of the ANC leaders who opted to stay in South Africa and he became a key figure in MK until the police raid on its secret headquarters at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia (just outside Johannesburg) in July 1963. There the government uncovered Operation Mayibuye. Mayibuye contained detailed plans for guerrilla warfare. Mandela and seven others were found guilty of treason, i.e. planning the violent overthrow of the government they were planning revolution and sentenced to life imprisonment. Up to that time he already served some time in prison on other accounts He served much of his sentence on Robben Island before his release 25 years later. In total he spent about 27 years in jail. In fact, because of the efforts of the Release Mandela Campaign, the NP offered him release in 1985, but he rejected it because his release was conditional. Mandela became an international symbol of the struggle against apartheid. His face appeared on T-shirts and campaign posters. He only walked out of jail a free man in February 1990 and became South Africa's first democratic president in 1994. Now I think I can’t stress this enough that his appeal for calm did a lot to prevent a civil war in South Africa. He was also a firm believer in Reconciliation. We see that in the in Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up from 1995-6. We honour him today as almost the founder of the democratic South African Nation. I think to many people he is this symbol of

Hope and reconciliation.

Kelly: It is interesting that he was convicted for trying to incite guerrilla warfare, but then by the time he is out of jail 27 years later he is a symbol of peace and hope and reconciliation.

William: Being in jail and spending all that time thinking about life and the future of SA, I think we are fortunate that he preached and stood for reconciliation.

Kelly: So, I know in the early 1970s there were some protests in Queensland, there I’m from, when the South African Rugby team toured Australia. What other kind of boycotts and protests occurred globally in response to Apartheid?

William: Yes, there was actually a lot of international pressure on the Apartheid government.  There’s the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain formed in 1959. That movement gained support from the British Labour Party and from trade unions. But, the British government did not support the AAM, even after the Labour Party came to power in 1964. In fact, in the 1980s, British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was firmly opposed to sanctions against South Africa. She obviously wanted to protect British investments in South Africa and the British economy relied on many of South Africa's rare and valuable minerals and products. But even more important than this was that the West really feared the communist influence in the ANC and saw them as a threat in the Cold War era. The UN, for their part, did establish a Special Committee Against Apartheid which played a critical role in imposing an oil embargo on South Africa, which would obviously have an effect on the economy. In the United States, support for sanctions was strong, even though Reagan (Ronald Regan) was opposed to these sanctions. The US Congress and American companies applied sanctions to try to force the apartheid government to change its policies. In 1986, the US Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act and this Act banned all new investments and loans to South Africa. Large corporations, such as General Electric, Coca-Cola, Mobil, etc. closed down operations in South Africa. I mentioned the Release Mandela Campaign as well. But the sports boycott was really an important part of the international anti-apartheid campaign. South African teams were increasingly isolated and barred from international competitions, especially after the Gleneagles Agreement in 1977, which called on Commonwealth countries to cut all sporting links with South Africa. Not all countries supported this, New Zealand for example, we actually, SA the Springboks toured there in 1981, but what we then see were massive local protests during this tour. It really showed the risk of disobeying this agreement, you had New Zealanders protesting the Bok tour. Historians often debate how international sanctions and so forth how it affected SA, there is an interesting twist here. It did have an effect, unintentional on the one hand is that is actually allowed the SA economy to become self-reliant. But on the other, it only really started to affect the SA economy in the 1980s, especially the late 80s. IF you think of the effectiveness of it, it’s got that double edged sword almost here, with the economy becoming self-reliant and only being effective in the late 1980s.

Kelly: So, how did Apartheid come to an end, was it a smooth or a rough transition period?

William: No, it was definitely rough! We see from the mid 80s, 1984-85, we see many township revolts and violence will really continue until on the day of our first democratic election- 27 April 1994. So it is quite a violent period. It is definitely one of the most significant events in our history. The Apartheid government was under internal and external pressure. Many people predicted a violent revolution or a civil war. The transition period started with the unbanning of opposition parties, including the ANC, and release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. This happened in February 1990. The next four years saw a difficult process of negotiation between the NP government and liberation movements. They convened what was called the convention for a democratic SA.Negotiations broke down at several points because of ongoing violence, e.g. Sebokeng, Boipatong Massacre, Bisho, murder of Chris Hani, AWB invasion of the World Trade Centre, there were violent attacks by APLA, Shell House Massacre. Ultimately, a compromise was reached, and a democratic election held. The Government of National Unity (GNU) required the majority ANC to share power with the NP and IFP. The Record of Understanding, signed in September 1992, made it possible for negotiations to continue. The ANC agreed to a government of national unity, i.e. a coalition government (as part of Joe Slovo's Sunset Clause- Joe Slovo was actually the leader of the SA communist party but he managed to put this on the table, and it became a way to move negotiations forward). They agreed on a 5-year period just for the old order to gradually fade away- just for a smooth transition really. The NP agreed to do more to curb violence. In the first four months of 1994, i.e. the year of our first democratic elections, there were an estimated 40 bomb blasts targeting political party offices and voting venues. Fortunately, all attempts to disrupt the elections had failed. From 27 to 29 April 1994, 20 million people voted in South Africa's first democratic elections. The ANC with its alliance partners won nearly 63% of the votes cast. The NP won the Western Cape and Inkatha won KZN. The president, Nelson Mandela, appointed FW de Klerk (the last leader of the Apartheid National Party) as one of his deputies. In 1995, the new government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate politically motivated violations of human rights during the apartheid era. The final constitution was adopted in May 1996. So that is more or less the transition period. 

Kelly:  For the final question, you know I have a podcast where I like to take a lesser known person from history and research more about their life and then write a song about their experiences. Do you have any suggestions of a person that you think I should do an episode of History Detective on for Season 4?

William: Yes, I think I will suggest 2 people and I choose them for their courage. Lydia Kompe, a Black Sash member, who formed the Rural Women's Movement in the mid-1980s. She encouraged rural black women to contest laws and customs which prevented them from owning and inheriting land in their own names. Well she became a member of parliament after 1994, but I think her example really gave women the courage to speak out.

The other one is a man called Philip Kgosana, he was actually a young students when this occurred,. a young PAC leader he was only 23. The PAC (Pan African Congress) was another liberationist movement. He was also a UTC student. But he led a peaceful march of 30,000 people from Langa to the centre of Cape Town to protest against police action at Sharpeville and really to protest the pass laws.. He met police at their headquarters at Caledon Square and, in return for the promise of a meeting with the Minister of Justice, led the marchers peacefully out of the city centre back to the towns hip. Now imagine this young 23 year old leading this huge crowd of 30000 people. He even wore shorts on the day. And he brought them in and took them out peaceful. And he in fact went back then to meet for this promised meeting with the minister of justice, but he was then arrested and imprisoned.

Now Philip Kgosana, he died on the 19th of April 2017 because of cancer, but in his honour they have now named part of the M3 into Cape town, they named after him. So I think those 2 would be my suggestions.

Kelly: They both sound fascinating, Lydia has got a bit of spark to her, I like her.

William: Are you biased in any way?

Kelly: Maybe, I do have a lot of women’s stories on my podcast.

William: Yeah, well that’s necessary.

Kelly: I have one last question. Currently in Australia, some of the anti-vaxxer protestors, because Australia is starting to open up and we’re requiring vaccine passports. They have started to refer to the situation as segregation and apartheid, which I find highly offensive because having a vaccine is a choice, whereas the colour of your skin and being subject to laws because of your race is certainly not a choice. And some of the terrible atrocities that happened to the African people of South Africa is really atrocious. So what do you think about that, of these anti-vaxxer movements appropriating words like apartheid and segregation.

William: Well maybe we should just put it in context and just add, how many, and we are really talking many hundreds of thousands, millions of people were actually detained because of the pass law. Put in jail and they would then be deported back to their home lands to bantustans. So I mean, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen if you don’t show your vaccination passport, you’ll probably just be barred from entering a place or booking a flight or whatever. But, these people had to go to prison, and prisons became overcrowded because of this, especially in the 1980s. On that point and the scale of the pass law system in SA, I don’t think there’s any comparison and yes then it would make  appropriation very unfortunate. And as you pointed out, they had to carry pass books because of their skin colour, because they weren’t really considered citizens of SA, they were considered citizens of their homelands, the bantustans. And they had to carry this passport because they were seen as almost foreigners in their own country. And I really don’t think that is the extent of the vaccine passports at all. 

Kelly: I think that perhaps the anti-vaxxers need to learn a little bit more about history.

William: I think so to. I don’t think that comparison is going to hold up.

Kelly: Well thank you very much for being my very first guest on History Detective. It has been a pleasure interviewing you, I have learned so much about Apartheid today. Thank you so much.

William: Thanks for the opportunity, it is always an honour. I hope to do this in future again. Thank you Kelly.

Kelly: Thank you everyone for tuning in to this special episode of History Detective. If you liked what you heard and know someone who might enjoy History Detective or High School History Recap too, please share and subscribe and I would love it if you could support the podcast by leaving a review on Apple or Podchaser. This Kelly Chase, on the Case. See you next time.