South Africa and the Apartheid System

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The main aim of the paper is to analyze how South Africa overpowered the apartheid system, the economic changes, the political changes, and how the countries react. The apartheid is a system in South Africa that upheld segregationist policies against all non-citizens of the country. Therefore, the non-white citizens faced discrimination and social stratification affecting their livelihood within the economy. The apartheid system ended after a series of negotiations from 1990 to 1993 through steps undertaken by the government of F. W. de Klerk. The negotiations took place due to political violence within the country affecting the societies. The efforts of Nelson Mandela and the negotiations led to the first non-racial election in South Africa in the year 1993, which ultimately signified the end of the apartheid system.

Economic and political changes before Apartheid

The concept of apartheid policy came from the legal and social structures that were used by the Europeans in the mid-17th century while settling in South Africa. In their study, Smelser and Baltes (2001) explain that in 1652, after the European successfully settled in modern-day Cape Town, the started the process of transforming their station into expansion territory. For many years, these settlers aimed at consolidating their power and control of the land and livestock. This was done through controlling the indigenous Bantu people and the Khoisan through war and diseases. Other studies indicate that British colonial authorities controlled the Cape colony from 1806, and implemented segregation and discriminatory policies (Bradford, 1996; Deacon, 1996; Boonzaaier et al., 2014). Although the British ended slavery and gave people putative political rights to Khoisan in 1828, the same administration denied them any meaningful political representation.

Moreover, prior studies indicate that the discovery of gold deposits and vast diamond in South Africa, especially in the late 1800s increased the political and economic appetite of the colonialists in the area (Feinstein, 2005; Arnold, 2005). For example, whilst the 1902 peace agreement entrenched the property rights of white settlers, research shows that the Union of South Africa, which was established in 1910, reasserted the policies that were race-based, denying the franchise to non-white people in their colonies. As if that was not enough, the Native Land Act of 1913 delineated reserves for local people, eventually barring them from acquiring land in more than 80% of the country land (Claassens, and Matlala, 2014). Consequently, this forced thousands of indigenous people into the labor market by banning share-cropping on white land.

Further to note, during the 1930s, many political leaders focused on stimulating the nationalist ambitions of the Afrikaans-speaking people (Holleman, 1969; Webb, & Kriel, 2000). Mostly influences by the strict, Calvinist, Dutch reforms, the Afrikaners majorly constituted a while underclass of workers and small farmers. More so, the Reunited National Party’s idea to downturn British domination, campaign against the South African government’s force alliance with Great Britain and economic and social units that focused on preserving white control and privilege, earned a surprise victory in the 1948 general election (Waddy, 2010). However, many principles within the National Party (NP) were influenced by the Nazi ideology, and aimed at complete separation of whites and other people in the country. A point to note, Waddy highlighted that NP realised that complete separation would limit them from cheap labor, which the whites relied on to create wealth, and this would undermine the party’s plans of positioning the Afrikaners economically. As such, apartheid started evolving as the whites looked for better ways of exploiting the black labor while maintaining political and economic control based on racial separation.

The Apartheid Era

The history of South Africa involves many political and economic events that continues to affect the country in the modern days. In the 1960s, during the implementation of apartheid policy, the repression of indigenous people, especially the internal opposition continued even when there was a growing world criticism of the policies that racially discriminated South Africans. As Christopher (2001) paints, most of the South Africans, Asians, and colored were separated from the white areas and pushed them into the land that was set aside for them. Christopher (1991) indicates that some of these areas such as black homelands were readied for independence despite their lack of physical cohesiveness. For example, Bophuthawana consisted of 19 non-contiguous pieces of land needed to make economic and political independence a believable move (Butler, Rotberg, & Adams, 1978). However, none of the homelands declared independent received any recognition both at home and abroad.

Despite the growing international condemnation of Verwoerd’s government, the prime minister continued to track down the opposition leaders and their allies. The government suppressed all the efforts of the opposition leaders and controlled both political and economic activities in the country (Feinstein, 2005). Consequently, attracted by the controversial political stability created in the country, South Africa attracted many foreign investors. The country registered a return on capital running of about 15 to 20 percent per annum. Moreover, it is projected that the foreign on investment in the country doubled, especially in the period between 1963 to 1972. As such, high immigration rate increased the white population in the country by almost 50 percent during that period. With this in mind, it is worth noting that apartheid and economic boom seemed to work in tandem.

Even with the above registered economic boom between 1963 to 1972, it is arguable that these contradictory developments depicted a shaky background of the apartheid structure. As explained in the study conducted by Feinstein (2005), in the 1973, wildcat strikes started on the Durban waterfront, and these strikes spread very fast all over the country. However, Deacon (1996) assert that since Africans were not allowed to start, or belong to any trade unions, they did not have strong leaders in organised matter to represent their grievances. Due to fearful of arrests, torture and general police repression, people behind the strikes did not come out publically. At this point, employers who were somewhat willing to negotiate had no employees’ representatives with whom they could negotiate about their issues. Besides, there was no one to lead any established labor agreements. As a result, the country lost a lot in terms of working hours (work hours lost in labor actions). As if that was not enough, in the same year (1973),

Global Reaction

The economy of South Africa was closed during the apartheid with a reduction of trade activities between South Africa and other countries. However, a strong manufacturing industry signified the growth of local markets during the period. The government and other political bodies mainly suppressed the non-whites resulting in constant violence and lack of harmony in the country. The increasing violence led to the decision of ending the apartheid in the year 1993. Many countries across the globe intended on boycotting South Africa from trading activities during the apartheid period. International boycotts also included consumer boycotts, cultural boycotts, and sports boycotts.

During the young days of Apartheid, the US supported the Nationalist Party through diplomatic relations, military support and investment but during the final days they isolated themselves and sanctioned Apartheid South Africa. Other countries that supported the South Africa broke up relations with it in protest of the apartheid. For example, when Raúl Alfonsín came to power in 1983, in Argentina, he broke the ties (Lechini, 2005). Alfonsín based his decision on the imposition of apartheid. Alfonsín decided to suspend relations in 1986. Also, when President Menem came to power in 1989, he maintained the same stance, though trade and other behind-the-curtains deals were made between Argentina and South African businesspeople, and the Menem administration turned a blind eye. Finally, in 1991, Menem reestablished relations with apartheid South Africa, basing his decision on economy and trade. But he continued to question the apartheid system. And finally, in 1994, when Mandela came to power, Menem showed this sympathy by paying a state visit to the South Africa.

However, countries such as Germany and France were supplying the South African Military with submarines, jet fighters, helicopters and engines for its trucks and armored vehicles (Mills, 1999). On the civilian front, European, Japanese and American commercial vehicle brands such as Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, M.A.N., Renault, Citroen, Toyota and Freightliner trucks were freely available. South African-produced products were sold especially in Europe. However, sanctions only started to have a telling effect on South Africa after 1986. That year, the USA entered the sanctions arena with full force when it became clear the Cold War with the USSR was ending and South Africa would no longer be needed as a bulwark in Southern Africa (Borstelmann, 1993). Consequently, the US and the UK stopped ignoring the excesses of the Apartheid regime. For one thing, international sanctions were not all that ‘international.’ Individuals, companies, and whole nations broke the sanctions at their convenience.

Furthermore, Sanction busting became a sophisticated game and the country managed to circumvent many critical material shortages needed but at a cost and longer delivery times (Naylor, 2001). Sanctions enhanced the minority to develop many locally industrial applications and significantly enhanced weapon system designs and other military applications in Telecom, Radar, Eavesdropping, Drones, among others. On the same note, UAE discontinued their Arab-African relations leading to South Africa facing a decline in oil imports within the country during the apartheid regime.

The breaking point

From early 1974, revolutionary action that was groundbreaking defeated the dictatorship of the Portuguese in Lisbon; thus, allowing the former colonies (Mozambique and Angola) of Portugal to demand their independence. Their revolutionary movements were much committed to overthrowing the colonialism in a bid to overcome racial discrimination that was happening in most countries in Southern Africa. Following these successful events, such as the independence of countries that opposed apartheid, opposition leaders in South Africa started to get places to run to. Several studies indicate that in the 1976, South Africa witnessed a fueled internal and external opposition to apartheid, especially when Soweto uprising started (Christopher, 2002; Gilbert, 2007). These demonstrations started with high school students, who were protesting against the policy on using Afrikaans language. Students staged these demonstrations for weeks as they matched and boycotted several white-led programs. According to Sonneborn (2010), protests became violent and about 500 people were killed and thousands arrested. As if that was not enough, it is highlight that more thousands were exiled, especially members affiliated to PAC and ANC.

However, following the fearful factor that was growing in South Africa, most foreign investors started to get biased about the future of the country. Many of them started to cancel their investment plans and withdraw their money. Those who remained started investing into short-term ventures rather than long term investments. As such, this affected the economy as it increasing declined. In a bid to settle the increasing issue of the labor unrest and to convince the investors that the country was safe, the South African government started allowing some black workers to start unions, which was seen as a critical step towards industrial peace. To the black South Africans and other minority groups, this was seen as one of the signs that the apartheid policies would end. Such decisions undermined the very core principles of apartheid, which was premised on the idea that blacks were not recognized as full citizens of the country; thus, they were seen as unfit to be entitled to anything officially. Besides, other studies like (Bradford, 1996; Deacon, 1996; Boonzaaier et al., 2014) discuss most of the issues that helped black South Africans to gain a footprint in their own country. For example, these studies indicate that some employers wanted a change in policy where the workers would be represented.


Major reforms to end apartheid in South Africa started to happen under the regime of P. W. Botha, and F. W. de Klerk.

P. W. Botha

Since the early 1980s, the South African government started making some reforms to end apartheid due to increasing pressure from different directions. While reflecting on the demographic trends, Botha, who was the Prime Minster advised the government to implement new constitutional arrangement; and he advised something that would embrace the issues of multiracial society. Despite these suggestions, the Prime Minister continued to embrace racial discrimination practices. Ironically, the new constitution created racially separated houses of parliament, and these were for the whites, Asians, and colored citizens, but most shockingly, blacks were not recognized. As stated in the study conducted by Roherty & Roherty (1992), Botha and his government thought that changes that empowered colored people and Asians would increase support among these groups.

F. W. de Klerk’s Reforms

Following the above events, it was a matter of time the apartheid comes to an end. The opposition knew that apartheid would go through various reforms before it ends. Thus, after the resignation of Botha and the coming of de Klerk, it did not take long before the apartheid ended. Politically, de Klerk moved very fast to make reforms regarding apartheid compared to other white politicians that came before him. During his time, so many events were happening very fast, and Kamwangamalu (2003) suggests that it was events rather than de Klerk that created the desired change for black South Africans. For example, Klerk set Nelson Mandela free from life imprisonment in 1990, and overturned the ban on the ANC, PAC, and other organisations that were considered illegal during apartheid.

Interestingly, from 1991, the government was in negotiations with representatives from various political organisations discussing approaches to establish democracy in the country. However, Kamwangamalu (2003) notes that the negotiations were not smooth sailing as different organisations came with different demands to the table. Apartheid government and it laws ended officially in 1994 when the ANC, a black multiracial political party won the first democratic election with Nelson Mandela being the first black president in the country.

Present South Africa

When the world is thinking that South Africa is on the cusp of Radical Economic Transformation, the only solution to keep alive its democratic principles and to ensure equal rights to all native blacks; the current political turmoil is telling a different story. The African National Congress (ANC) has been in power in the country since its victory in the nationwide election of 1994. While they were initially hailed by the majority of South Africans as a necessary and forward thinking bringer of change following the end of white minority rule, the party’s time in power has been characterized by high levels of unemployment, mounting violence, a faltering economy, blatant corruption, cronyism and downright incompetence. This has worsened over time and in the absence of a unifying figure such as Nelson Mandela looked to have reached a tipping under the controversial Presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009–2018).

Zuma, a long time ANC activist, who is also known as JZ Msholozi (his clan name) was the one-time deputy President of South Africa (1999–2005). He was dismissed by then President Thabo Mebeki after one of his advisors (a conman Schabir Shaik) was found guilty of soliciting bribes. Zuma would later stand against Mbeki defeating the latter at the ANC conference in December 2007 forcing Mbeki’s resignation the following year. He would eventually take over as President in 2009. In the 2009 national election the ANC re-confirmed its paramountcy in South Africa and Zuma himself was re-elected as party head again in 2012. However, controversy continued to follow him. In 2005 he had been charged with rape but was acquitted. The sting of the charges sat over him like a bad vapor as did the Shaik affair with more scandals emerging with rapidity. The transfer of power from Mbeki had not been a smooth one by any measure with allegations of corruption and National Prosecuting Authority interference tarnishing the transition.

Moreover, it was clear that the ANC had fractured along a political axis into pro and anti-Zuma camps. To make matters worse the Far-Left Economic Freedom Fighter founded by former ANC Youth leader Julius Malema, who had broken from the ANC, was siphoning off support with its Anti-Capitalist Pan-African ideology version of Identity politics. Therefore, the current and the future of South Africa is faced with so many political and economic uncertainties that need to be further investigated.


In summary, as discussed in the previous sections, apartheid was the continuation of a process that started in 1652. This process systematically deprived indigenous people of the right to own land and businesses and forced many into near-slavery in white-owned projects. Since the South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, strides have been made to reverse this process. Apartheid practices such as segregation and hunting down the opposition members stopped, among other unfair practices that sidelined black South Africans on their motherland. The police force is now a crime-fighting force rather than a tool to crush opposition to Apartheid. However, none of this means that South Africa does not face issues. Economic growth is too low, unemployment is massive, corruption is rife, numerous government agencies are ineffective, crime continues to ravage various cities, and the majority of black Africans continue to be marginalized. None of these problems are new, but the country cannot recover from many decades of exploitation in 28 years.


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