USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Radical Racism in South Africa

Nowhere was colonial authority more oppressive, however, than in the self-governing colonies of white settlers – Northern and Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. South Africa – by far Africa’s most industrialized area – was dominated by white settlers, both British settlers in Cape Town and Dutch Afrikaners in the areas of Natal and the Transvaal. In 1908, when a South African delegation formed to write the Union’s constitution, not a single African was present. Though the major parties – foremost the British and the Dutch Afrikaners – disagreed on much, they were of one mind on the following issues. 1) The new South African Union would not allow sexual relations between Africans and whites. 2) No Africans were allowed to participate in South African politics. 3) White settlers and the political establishment were very concerned with preserving a cheap supply of African labor for use in the burgeoning diamond and gold mines. 4) As land was of chief importance, Africans were not allowed to own it.

South Africa’s 1908 constitution was only the beginning of a tyranny of laws that would grow into the modern Apartheid system. In 1911, South Africa prohibited labor strikes. 1913 saw the passing of the Native Lands Act, which initiated the settler’s strategy of territorial segregation – Africans, in other words, would only be allowed to live in “African zones.” In 1920, the Native Affairs Act came into effect, which established the principle of political segregation: the African community would select leaders who would meet annually with the all-white native affairs commission to voice their concerns. This was a further disempowering of the African people and was set the foundation for the complete segregation of all facets of society and creating of multiple barriers between them.

In 1933, a new government came to power in South Africa, which had as part of its platform the maintenance of “White Civilization” and a unified “white” political approach. In 1935, Afrikaner intellectuals, who advocated for strict racial separation, founded the South African League of Racial Studies. It was within this organization that a systematic approach to total racial segregation was first formed – the concept of Apartheid. After 1945, as the world was recovering from the long and deadly war, South Africa would launch a fresh wave of segregationist acts, which culminated in the great decade of Apartheid during the 1950s. The Apartheid regime was supported by massive investment and trade with Europe (especially Britain), Japan and the United States. Only in the 1980s would this Apartheid regime fall to a movement led by the latter half of the century’s new Gandhi – Nelson Mandela.

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