South Africa and Apartheid’s Enduring Legacy

Apartheid, literally defined as ‘apartness’ or ‘separateness’ in Afrikaans, refers to the policy of enforced racial segregation that defines the history of modern South Africa. Spanning from 1948 to 1994, when the National Party was in power and put into practice the culture of ‘baasskap’ or white supremacy, the national programme of apartheid forced black and white citizens apart for nearly fifty years. The first law, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, served as the forerunner for later legislation which sought to prevent interracial relationships and remove the political rights of black citizens. All public facilities, including hospitals and transportation vehicles were segregated; however, the effects of apartheid split up families and displaced them from their homes.

A sign enforcing racial segregation in a bayside area, South Africa, 1970s. (Credit: Keystone via Getty Images)

However, whilst the political doctrine of apartheid and its segregationist ideology ended in 1994, culminating in the election of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa, its socio-economic legacy extends into the present day. The apartheid economy was tailored to appeal to, and overwhelmingly benefit white citizens, and as a nation of significant inequality, the after-effects of enforced segregation still pervade twenty-first century discourses. This economic legacy of apartheid is still palpable within modern South Africa, which continues to be defined by the segregationist policies of the late twentieth century. Today, black citizens, compared to their white counterparts, arguably remain somewhat disadvantaged in the national economy and the opportunities afforded to them. As the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African left-wing political party emphasised in 2013, ‘political freedom without economic emancipation is meaningless.’ Statistical evidence supports the party’s observation, citing that in 2011, 54% of Africans compared to less than one percent of white citizens lived in poverty, attesting to the wider culture of division which had served as the central bastion of political authority. 

Even in the realm of education – particularly pertinent given the notable involvement of students within the anti-apartheid movement – the effect of segregation is demonstrable in the twenty-first century. Under the National Party, the funding of white schools was greater than that of black schools by tenfold, meaning that historical inequalities have become so deeply embedded in the framework of South Africa’s education system, that they are perpetuated nearly thirty years after the dissolution of apartheid. From 2015 to 2019, the school funding in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, one of the lowest-income communities in the nation, fell by a further 15%. What this evidence highlights is that whilst the official dogma of segregation is no longer directly involved in the fabric of the nation, the ghost of apartheid remains a ubiquitous element of life in South Africa, carving out an enduring and reprehensible modern socio-economic legacy. 

Maximus McCabe-Abel, President, History in Politics

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