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5. Historiographical views on the origin of Apartheid

The above conditions largely is the result of the Apartheid policy of the previous White minority government. But what constitutes the origin and the main motives behind the implementation of Apartheid? One date usually stands out in the history of Apartheid, that of 1948 when the National Party, the nationalist orientated Afrikaner party, came to power. However, Apartheid did not originate in 1948. Although the National Party turned the policy of racial segregation into an ideology, the origin of the system goes back much further. The origin must be sought in two distinct causes, Afrikaner nationalism and the interest of the gold mining industry.

White Afrikaners trace their origin back to the Dutch colonists who founded the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and French Huguenots who fled religious persecution in Europe. The Cape was under Dutch rule until 1806 when the British took over the colony. Differences between the British colonial administration and the Dutch farmers who settled on the eastern border of the colony flared up in the 1830s. Differences existed on, among other, the issue of slavery and the handling of the successive wars on the eastern frontier between the colony and the Xhosas. The animosity between the farmers and the British resulted in the ‘Great Trek’ of the farmers to the inland in 1838.

These farmers founded the ‘Boer republics’ in the northern and central parts of what now constitutes South Africa. However, this move did not improve the relations between the farmers and the British. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in Johannesburg and Kimberley, both lying in Boer territory, a large stream of fortune hunters and immigrants, mainly British, came to the mines. The large mining companies were all British owned. The largest of these companies was De Beers Consolidated Mines owned by Cecil John Rhodes, who was also the prime minister of the British controlled Cape Colony. The British wanted to unite the Boer republics and the British colonies in South Africa into a single colony under British rule. This caused further animosity between the British and the Boers. The animosity culminated in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 in which the Boer republics lost their independence.

[Gold and diamond production at Kimberley]

After the war Afrikaner nationalists capitalised on the resentment caused by the war and built an ideology based on Afrikaner ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘self-determination’. According to this ideology Afrikaners had to defend their ‘freedom to self-determination’ first and foremost against the British, but also against the African population. Because the African population constituted the majority, Afrikaner leaders saw the presence of Africans as a threat to Afrikaner ‘self-determination’. Hence the ideology of Apartheid was born.

However, Apartheid did not only serve the interests of Afrikaner nationalists. The mining industry in South Africa too benefited from racial segregation because it provided a source of relatively cheap labour. Job reservation, territorial segregation (the creation of so-called African ‘homelands’), influx control to control the movement of Africans and a discriminatory education policy ensured the maintenance of an almost unlimited supply of unskilled labour that resided in the African homelands. In addition, Africans were prohibited to belong to labour unions (unions were only legalised in 1979). As a result wages were low, ensuring higher profits for the mines.

Yudelman (Fourie & Beukes 1986:125-127) argues that Apartheid thus served the interests of both Afrikaners and the mining industry. Therefore, Apartheid represents a symbiotic relationship of mutual interest between Afrikaner nationalist aspirations and the mining industry’s pursuit of profit. However, the late 1970s and the 1980s saw the slow but steady drop in the importance of the gold mining industry and thus, an increase in the importance of other industry and commerce. The mounting international pressure against Apartheid made it increasingly difficult for the South African business sector to conduct business internationally. Hence the symbiotic relationship broke down and Apartheid seemed increasingly to be out of step with international opinion. In addition, the maintenance of Apartheid laws became increasingly difficult given the increasing urbanisation of Africans and the mounting social discontent brewing in African townships. Ultimately the White government recognised that even with the national state of emergency announced during the mid-1980s, it would in the longer-run be impossible to continue Apartheid. Because of this, negotiations between the White minority government and the liberation movements commenced during the early 1990s. This culminated in the transfer of power to a democratically elected government in 1994 and the acceptance of the new constitution in 1996. As mentioned in the introduction, the next step is the completion of economic and social transformation, which is a very complex process.

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created: September 2000; last alteration: June 7th 2002 - JL