02 Feb 2010

Sample Essay: The Impact Of Apartheid In South Africa

After a long history of imperialism by Europe the election of the National Party in 1948 ushered in a new historic dispensation in the South African political, social and economic landscapes. The party officialised and intensified the thrust of racial segregation put in place under the Dutch and the British colonial rule. Ayittey George (1996) notes that the Union which constituted the national party and other subsequent South African governments systematized separatist regulation which resulted in the effective classification of people according to races. The system orchestrated such that the White minority subjected the black majority to its control in a devious system known collectively apartheid. The dispensation put the white minority on a favorable pedestal than the black majority. The dominant white minority being at the helm of the South Africa society was in charge of the political reins as well socio-economic affairs. Ayittey George (1996) states that whites put themselves in a position where they fully enjoyed the fruits of the country’s 1950s, 60s and 70s industrialization while the black majority wallowed in poverty and alienation in the margins of a devious and racist regime.

The economic effects of apartheid

Esler Anthony (1996) notes that the white minority enjoyed a high standard of life comparable to that of first world countries whilst the black majority remained in the realms of poverty, mediocre education and poor standards of living in all the aspects of life which culminated in the low life expectancy of the blacks. The country became a republic following the implications of a Whites-only referendum. The country subsequently fell out of the Commonwealth group of British colonies and former colonies. Apartheid was a detested political ideology which was roundly condemned the world over, Esler Anthony (1996) notes that apartheid was instituted at a time when the world has already experienced the impact of racism and imperialism culminating from the wily system of slavery in America and the scramble for Africa. The system of apartheid led to divestment and the isolation of South Africa from mainstream global activity in economic, political and social realms.

The racist and separatist apartheid laws kept the black on the margins of mainstream economic activity as the enacted coterie of pass laws made it impossible for blacks to access lucrative job or income generating opportunities in ‘White’ zones. Hayward Jean (1989) states that the apartheid regime made it difficult and nearly impossible for blacks to take part in any economic activity. “Most women who attempted venturing into commercial beer brewing were often raided by the police and labeled as deviants”. (Op.cit)Testimony to the economic restraint imposed on women by the apartheid regime was the reality that the presence of women in urban areas was illegal in the regulatory premise of pass laws. Black men were also prevented from earning a living in the coveted ‘White Zones’ which enlisted urban areas and the great part of productive rural areas.

A significant proportion of blacks worked in White owned farms where wages were phenomenally low. Access to urban areas where there could have been lucrative job or income earning opportunities was closely guarded by the racist regime through stringent pass laws. The pass laws came with an ‘endorsement in’ and ‘endorsement out’ clause. The clause was set for use by employers would make use of the clause to recommend or condemn pass holders. On the other end the stage managed economic dispensation restricted the blacks to poor rural areas known then as Bantustans. Many of these reserves were held in deliberate poverty by means of prohibition of private property as part of the pervasive stratagem tailored to gag the economic prosperity of black South Africans.

The pass law conditions created for the black South African were part of a holistic stratagem to leverage the capitalist system on cheap labor. Pass laws enabled the regime to confine most of the black South Africans to places were their labor was needed most like in the farms. The conditions came with massive law pass related arrests in towns where ‘criminals’ were transported to white farms to serve as the prison laborers. Verwoerd outlined that emigration controls must be tightened to prevent manpower leaving the white farming areas to become loafers in the city. (Hayward, Jean 1989)

One illuminant social impact of apartheid in South Africa was its significant impact on women. Women suffered the double brunt of racial and gender segregation. Lowis Peter (1996) notes that oppression of black women was different from that directed at men. “Women under apartheid had no rights” (Lowis Peter, 1996). The scholar underscore that Under the heavy hand of apartheid women had no access to education, no legal rights and also had no rights to own property. Many black women find their only economic solace in mean jobs in the farms and as domestic workers for meager wages. Most women had to face the grim reality of abject poverty which escalated the mortality rate of children who suffered heavily from malnutrition.

The social effects of Apartheid

On the social front, one major hallmark of the devious system of apartheid was the classification and stratification of people according to race. The Population Registration Act of 1950 was enacted to facilitate the classification of all South African citizens according their race. Classifications established were White; Black as well colored (The people of mixed descent). From another front the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 created separate public facilities’ to be used by Whites and blacks. This was the thrust of the apartheid ideology which upheld the racial differences as the basis for separatist social, economic and political policies. Mallaby Sebastian (1992) underscores that the implementation of the system of apartheid meant that South Africa was the first country in the world to legalize racism.

Mallaby Sebastian (1992) cites that apartheid was an extremely oppressive system that was aimed among other things at controlling the economic lives of all black people as well their geographical location. The writer notes anyone found without an approved job would be relocated off the urban or ‘white zones’. This resulted in a scenario where blacks working in urban areas lived as annual immigrants. The black were forced to live a life of two worlds were they could only live with their families in distant rural areas once in along while and then relocate into urban areas for 11 months of the year to fend for their families in urban areas, farms or in the mines.

On the international social pedestal the system of apartheid in South Africa resulted in the isolation of South Africa in international sport in the mid 1950s. It must be underscored that apartheid prohibited multiracial sport which implied that South Africa could not engage international teams as these were composed of multiple races. Pressure from organizations such as the Non-Racial South African Sport Association applied pressure on South Africa. The organization managed to lobby the International Committee to pressure the South African government to affect a redress to its racial sports establishments and policies. The racialist antics of the apartheid were perpetuated and international as well local pressure groups pressed for more effective isolation of South Africa.

The apartheid stratagem constituted a coterie of integrated economic and political policies complemented by social policies tailored to confine the black majority to fringes of the South Africa society. The pass laws resulted in a systematic destruction of the family unit and entire cultural and social fabric of the black majority. The prevalence of crime in the slums is closely associated with unfavorable conditions in which children are brought by largely struggling single mothers in the slums where the regulative father element is consistently missing. Mermelstein David (1987) states one dimension in which the social fabric of the black majority was dealt a heavy blow was on the aspect of education. The blacks were fed with a doctored Bantu education curriculum which only prepared the black to minister to the capitalist needs of their white masters.

The actual shape of education programs crafted in spurious means to keep blacks at the service of their white masters meant that education was not enforced as compulsory as was the case for white children. The subject policies in critical subjects such as science and math and languages were such that the blacks remained with limited career opportunities where they would not be in a position to compete with their white counterparts. The education crisis was aggravated by University segregation which was implemented in 1959 to yield disastrous results for the blacks. Mermelstein David (1987) notes that the impact of education policies is far grim that the scenario painted by South Africa’s school attendance and literacy figures. The scholar asserts that most of the South Africans allegedly literate are in fact functionally illiterate from an industrial functionality perspective while many of those listed as attending school make minimal progress  over the years owing to low attendance and pass rates.

The Apartheid regime confined blacks in the strata of oppression by enacting laws to forbid the protest of blacks against the evils of the status quo. The national labor law for instance was promulgated to restrict blacks and the people of color from protesting the enactment of the native labor Act of 1953. Under the premise of the Act Suckling, John et al (1988) notes that the regime’s officials were given the power to declare states of emergency and increase the penalties that the government were to enforce. One such remarkable state of emergency occurred at Sharpeville where about 69 blacks lost their lives in a violent clash between the state forces and the black protestors. Blacks had taken to the streets in numbers without the dompas as a protest gesture against the oppressive pass laws which required blacks to be in possession of the dompas while also facilitated the exploitation of the blacks by the capitalist as cheap labor.

The apartheid regime had so many grips on the social lives of the blacks. Suckling John et al (1988) notes that the laws which specifically dealt with personal rights required that couples seek state permission before they could live together. State authorities would either grant or withhold the rights of the black couples for flimsy reasons often based on what the state would normally consider to be ‘surplus blacks’. The previously cited scholar states that under the personal laws families which were considered as surplus were forced out of the Bantustans and condemned to live in places distant from the protected white zones. The social lives of South African were also subjected to the inhuman Immorality Act of 1950 which held marriage between different races as illegal. Further more the amendment of the Immorality Act in 1957 enlisted that even the show of intentions to form relations with someone of a race different than yours was illegal.

The political effects of apartheid

Under apartheid rule blacks were gagged from all political activity. The blacks’ democratic rights were usurped from them together with all their civil rights which were forfeited under several laws passed by the national government. Any political formations especially those formed with the intent of articulating opposition politics was outlawed through the enactment and implementation of the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. This act provided the premise for crackdown on any kind of political activity regardless of whether it was communist or otherwise. The separate Representation of Voters Act usurped the suffrage from the hands of the blacks and prohibited them from participating in national elections. Sunter Clem (1987) notes that the laws passed to regulate political activity were strict to an extent that any black who sought to violate them risked imprisonment and death.

Sunter Clem (1987) details that by 1963 the security police had killed more than 100 blacks in political confrontations. “Dozens of thousands were confined to prison many without any trial nor legal representation” (Op.cit) The writer also details that owing to the oppressive and volatile political dispensation many blacks died in political protests and confrontations as police and the military gunned down black activists. By extension The South African Statute Laws gave premise to the South African premise to incarcerate any citizens to distant regions or states. The incarceration cluauses entailed that blacks were not allowed by the state to travel, write, or speak publicly. To make matters worse for the blacks those incarcerated had no power to appeal against the imposed sanctions.

Independence and Reconstruction

The doctored apartheid educational policy not only damaged the black social fabric but also weakened the apartheid economy and created inhibiting environs which were not in tandem with creation of a vibrant democratic economy. Mermelstein David (1987) notes that Apartheid education policies resulted in setting back human capital creation beyond a single generation which resultantly created the most critical of all economic constraints on the future and prospects of the growth and development of the country economy and democratic  society at large. Albert Luthuli was the first president of black liberation movement the African National Congress from 1925 to 1960. The black movement icon received a Nobel Peace award for the role that he played in fighting racial violence in the 1960s. The struggle was fought from various angles featuring various heroes at different cadences of the struggle which culminated in the election of the ANC into power in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.

Political changes

The South African Black consciousness movement studded with multiple heroes of the struggle such as Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and many others set the ball rolling for the delivery of emancipation for the oppressed South Africans entangled in the fetters of apartheid. The dawn of democracy has seen the development of the country’s political landscape into a multi-party democracy. General elections held in April 22 2009 saw the participation of over 40 political parties of all races. South Africa has bicameral parliament which is made up of the National Council of Provinces (known as the upper house) which comprises 90 members and the national Assembly (the lower house) which is made up of 400 members. Members of the National Assembly are elected into office on a population basis of proportional representation. Mermelstein, David (2005) specifies that half of the members are chosen from national lists while the other half are chosen from provincial lists. The political framework entails the election of ten members to represent each province at the level of the national Council of Provinces irrespective of the population of the province. Elections for the national Assembly and the national Council of Provinces are held every five years. The government is established in the lower house and the head of the majority party in the National Assembly becomes the country’s president.

Mermelstein David (2005) states that South African Law is largely derived and premised in Roman-Dutch mercantile law and personal Law with English Common law. The influence came through the Dutch and British settlements in colonial South Africa. Dating back from 1910 South Africa ahs adapted and applied its laws derived from those passed for specific member colonies. Contemporary South Africa political landscape is dominated by the National African Congress (ANC) which managed to get close to  a two thirds majority in the recent 2009 April 22 elections. The movement has managed to maintain its two thirds majority in the past elections since its historic victory in 1994.The main opposition movement has been Democratic Alliance led by Helen Zille while a break away party from ANC , Congress of the People (COPE) has brought with it new dynamics in the country’s political terrain.

Economic changes

The United Nations categorise South Africa as a middle income nation with a formidable supply of resources. United Nations also recognize SA as a country with well developed financial, legal, communication and transport sectors among other pillars of one of Africa’s economic and political powerhouses. The South African stock exchange, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is ranked among the top twenty in the world. Ayittey, George  (2006) notes that the post-apartheid black regime inherited a generally well laid economic infrastructure from the apartheid regime. The writer notes that the economy leverages much on modern infrastructure which supports an efficient distribution of goods to major centers throughout the Southern African region. As of 2007 South Africa was ranked as 25th in the world in the measure of Gross Domestic product (PPP) in 2007.

Development in modern South Africa is still largely marginal with significant strides notable in mainly four areas Johannesburg/Pretoria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. The previously cited scholar cites that across the country beyond the mentioned areas development is still minimal despite multi-concerted government efforts to turn around the fortunes of the country and achieve the chief goal of a better life for all. The majority of South Africans therefore still live in poverty although principal marginal areas have experienced comparatively more rapid development. Areas such as Mossel bay, Plettenberg Bay, Rustenburg area, Bloemfontein, Cape West Coast, etc. Esler Anthony (2006) states that South Africa has had the seventh highest per Capita income in Africa. The writer nonetheless underscores that South Africa still suffers from grim income gaps in its social structure and hierarchy. The country has remained a dual economy which has led to its classification as developing country despite its classification in contemporary socio-economic researches as an emerging economy.

Esler Anthony (2006) states that South Africa has one of the highest proportions of income inequality in the world. International Monetary Fund has detailed that in the past years South Africa has sustained record levels of economic growth which have contributed significantly to the reduction of unemployment although challenging economic and social ills still exist. Esler Anthony (2006) details that the mean South African household income went down from significantly between 1995 and 2000. In a racial picture the writer presents that for racial inequality in 1995 Statistics South Africa (SSA) reported that the average white household earned as much as four times what the was earned by an average black household. The 2002 statistics had an even grim picture depicting that the white average household was earning six times more than the average black household.

The South African government policy has come up with various black empowerment policies aimed at addressing the grim economic in equalities as indicated by the wide income gaps. Policies have not precipitated much anticipated economic emancipation for the majority of blacks although it is evident that a black middle class is emerging thanks to the broad based black empowerment policies. The government under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki worked to promote economic growth as well as foreign investment by easing stringent labor laws and fueling the privatization pace. The policies were coupled with integrated government policies aimed at cutting unnecessary government spending. The policies have raised protracted tensions from the leftist formation such as labor associations such the Confederation of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU).

IMF details that the South African rand is the most traded currency among emerging economies in the world. Ayittey George (2007) details that the Country’s Currency has joined the elite club of fifteen currencies, the Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS) where foreign exchange transaction are settled immediately. This lowers risks which come with executing transactions cross time zones. The Bloomberg recorded that the Rand was the best performing currency against the USD in the global economic landscape in period of 2002 to 2005.

The country’s currency has remained volatile which has negatively impacted on the country’s economic activity. The rand dropped sharply during 2001 to the record 13.85 ZAR to the USD triggering fears of inflation. The sharp fall prompted the Country’s Reserve Bank to increase interest rates. Since then the rand has recovered trading above 7.13 ZAR to the greenback since January 2008. The rand has nonetheless suffered protracted pressure from the global economic recession which has kept the rand in the 8- 10 ZAR range against the greenback.

On the international economic play field key trade partners for South Africa beyond the African continent are Germany, USA, China, Japan, UK and Spain. The country economy’s taps from the exports sectors of corn, diamonds, gold, metals, minerals and sugar. Ayittey George (2003) notes that Machinery and transportation equipment make up more than one third of the value of the country’s imports. The country also imports chemicals, finished good and petroleum.

Social changes

Ayittey George (2003) notes that although the African National Congress has steered the nation in the pursuit of goals of Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), millions of South Africans mostly black still in live in poverty. Christine Dodson (2008) cites the disparities can be largely attributed to the difficulty in quickly compensating for generations of educational and social marginalization. The other trend notable is that poverty among the whites which was unheard of in the past has been increasing steadily since the dawn of a new era. Reason for such scenarios has been attributed the legacy of the pervading system of apartheid although partly of the blame is placed on the current government which has failed to address pertinent social issues of the African society in their entirety.

On another scale, South Africa outperforms many countries in the Southern African region and across the continent on the economic and political fronts.. This has made South Africa a common destination for millions of economic and political refugees from around the continent and the globe. Christine Dodson (2008) states that the country also boasts of favorable investment climate which attracts business players from various quarters of the world. The scenario has resulted in the prevalence of xenophobia which has culminated in violent protests at some points.  South African locals decry the presence of foreigners arguing that these have taken away the scarce job opportunities from them. The dynamics around the foregoing is that many employers have shown preference foreign labor as means to avoid legal obligations of paying stipulated minimum wages applicable to South African natives. Christine Dodson (2008) states industries which include the booming construction industry, tourism and agriculture as well as domestic services are flooded with foreign cheap labor. The previously cited scholar cites that the majority of foreigners live in poor conditions in South Africa and the influx of foreigner has triggered the stiffening of immigration laws since 1994.

South Africa is ethnically diverse as evident through the language policy which holds 11 languages as official languages. The diverse music, food and dance from a plethora of cultures have been one of the main tourist attractions. The society is nonetheless dogged by the grim crime levels which remain as a haunting dent to the Southern African powerhouse loaded with numerous potentials.

The crime dimension has been attributed to various factors chief among is the reality of huge income gaps in the country’ social structures where millions are without jobs. The other dimension is the HIV/AIDS factor. South Africa is one of the countries heavily affected by the AIDS pandemic in the world. The false conception held by many that sleeping with a virgin would cure AIDS has been one of the reasons why there has been an escalation of grievous crimes such as rape and murder in South Africa. In a 1998-2000 survey report released by United Nations South Africa was rated as second for murder and first for assaults and rapes per capita. According to the details of the report total crime per capita is 10th out of 60 countries in the research data set. The significant impact of crime in South Africa has seen the shift of many middle class South Africans to gated residences fleeing the central business areas. The crime factor has also been cited as one of the major reasons behind the emigration of South Africans into other countries especially in Europe.

The position of South Africa in the region

The country has remained an economic powerhouse in the region and across the continent. The current global economic crisis nonetheless threatens to stall the progress that the country has made in the past years. IMF has recommended SA for a sustained period of economic growth in the past decade which yielded macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability. IMF has detailed that the global economic crises is hitting hard on African exports which trade with mostly USA and European counties which have been hard hit by the global financial crunch.

The report also states that the deterioration of the world economy is also hitting hard on the remittances from African emigrants. Christine Dodson (2008) cites that the Report by IMF forecasts that exporters like South Africa, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and other emerging markets will continue to be on the receiving end of the ripples of the global crisis. The report highlights that Africa as a whole will experience economic decline from 5.25 percent recorder in 2008 to a meager 2 percent this year and South Africa is not an exception.


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Bradley, Catherine. Causes and consequences of the end of apartheid. Massachusetts: Raintree Steck

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Esler, Anthony. The Human Venture: A World History. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996

Hayward, Jean. South Africa since 1948. New York: Bookwright Press, 1989.

Lowis, Peter. South Africa: free at last. Massachusetts: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1996.

Mallaby, Sebastian. After Apartheid: The Future of South Africa. London: Kirkus Associates,


Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. New York: Little Brown, 1994.

Mermelstein, David. The Anti-Apartheid Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1987.

Suckling, John and White, Landeg. After Apartheid: Renewal of the South Africa Economy.

London: Villers Publications, 1988.

Sunter, Clem. The World and South Africa in the 1990’s. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau, 1987.

Christine Dodson (1979-10-22). “South Atlantic Nuclear Event (National Security Council, Memorandum)” (PDF). George Washington University under Freedom of Information Act Request. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB190/01.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-06-23.

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