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Apartheid, an Afrikaans term that translates literally as "apartness," was the law of the land in South Africa from 1948 until 1990.


The first recorded use of the term "apartheid" is in a 1929 speech by Reverend Jan Christoffel du Plessis at a Dutch Reformed Church conference.[1]

It was brought into the party political arena during the mid-1940s, first in a 1943 article in the Nationalist newspaper Die Burger and then in a 1944 parliamentary speech by National Party (NP) leader D.F. Malan.[2] In 1945, it was adopted as the NP's official racial policy.[3]

The apartheid plan

Apartheid in practice

The apartheid era began with the National Party's unexpected electoral victory in the general election of 1948.

Apartheid's second phase began in 1960 as a result of two events that took place that year: the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, and the October 5 referendum vote to have South Africa become a republic.

Reforming apartheid

The impetus to reform apartheid stemmed from a resurgence of labor unrest and antiapartheid protest activity during the 1970s.

In response to these developments, in 1977, the government appointed the Commission of Inquiry into Labour Legislation, more commonly known as the Wiehahn Commission. Soon afterwards, a second commission, the Commission of Inquiry into the Utilization of Manpower, or Riekert Commission, was appointed.

The end of apartheid

On February 2, 1990, President F.W. de Klerk announced that his government would begin negotiations with representatives of the various racial communities in South Africa to produce a new, egalitarian constitution. In the same speech, he announced Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the legalization of banned and restricted organizations.

Repeal of apartheid policies

The government began repealing apartheid with its October 15 passage of the Discriminatory Legislation Regarding Public Amenities Repeal Act of 1990.

Democratic negotiations and regime transition

Apartheid legislation

Phase 1: 1948-1959

Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949): made it illegal for whites to marry non-whites.

Immorality Amendment Act (1950): amended the Immorality Act of 1927, which had prohibited sexual intercourse between "Europeans" and "Natives." The 1950 amendment extended the prohibition to all "non-European" racial groups.

Population Registration Act (1950): provided for the establishment of a national population registry and required that all South Africans be registered as either "a white person, a coloured person or a native."[4]

Group Areas Act (1950): required people to live in areas designated for their racial group.

Suppression of Communism Act (1950): empowered the government to ban subversive publications, organizations, and individuals. While the act was aimed most directly at the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), its very broad definition of "communism" enabled the government to rely on it for the repression of a wide range of antiapartheid organizations and dissidents.

Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951)

Bantu Authorities Act (1951): linked the natives reserves to specific ethnic groups and established a hierarchical system of tribal authorities to govern them. It also abolished the Natives Representative Council, which had been established in 1936 to provide Africans with a modicum of political representation in South African government.

Bantu Education Act (1953)

Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)

Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act (1953): prohibited mixed-race trade unions, redefined "employee" to exclude Africans so as to exclude them from all official collective bargaining procedures, and declared African trade union strikes to be illegal.

Natives Resettlement Act (1954)

Group Areas Development Act (1955)

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act (1959)

Phase 2: 1960-1973

Phase 3: 1974-1990


  1. Hermann Giliomee, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003) pp. 454, 458.
  2. Ibid. p. 475
  3. Ibid. p. 476.
  4. Population Registration Act, Act No 30 of 1950 [1]