APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA: A Timeline
The Train Driver begins more than ten years after the end of apartheid—the legalized racial discrimination that dominated life in South Africa from 1948 to 1990. But not only is apartheid’s origin rooted deeply South Africa’s history, its impact has reached beyond the abolition of its discriminatory laws. In the new South Africa, the repercussions of decades of institutionalized racial oppression linger on .
Dutch settlers establish a colony on the Cape of Good Hope, taking land from indigenous tribes and bringing slaves from Asia.
Great Britain takes control of the colony.
The British abolish slavery. Seeking political freedom and new indigenous laborers, the Dutch, or “Boers,” migrate inland.
Following a series of wars, the British colonies and Boer republics merge into the Union of South Africa, with shared political power between the two white groups.
The African National Congress (ANC) forms to protect the rights of black South Africans.
The Native Land Act limits property ownership by blacks. “As against the European the native stands as an eight year old against a man of mature experience,” argues Boer politician JBM Hertzog.
The Color Bar Act prevents blacks from practicing skilled trades.
The Boers’ National Party is elected to power on a platform of systemized, legalized racial segregation, or “apartheid.”
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act outlaws interracial marriage.
The Population Registration Act identifies four racial classifications, in order of superiority: white, Asian, coloured (mixed heritage) and black. The Group Areas Act designates specific homelands for each race, and hundreds of thousands of blacks, coloureds and Asians are forcibly relocated. Blacks, comprising over 70% of the population, are restricted to 13% of the land.
The Bantu Authorities Act gives self-government to the ten black homelands, or “bantustans.”
The Pass Laws Act requires blacks to carry identification booklets at all times.
The Separate Amenities Act establishes “separate, but not necessarily equal” public facilities for whites and non-whites; the Bantu Education Act does the same to schools. “What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics…?” asks soon-to-be Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd.
In the town of Sharpeville, white police open fire on a group of black protesters burning their pass books. To suppress further resistance, the ANC and other black political organizations are banned.
Unfazed, a wing of the ANC led by Nelson Mandela threatens violence as a last resort. Mandela is arrested and imprisoned the following year: “a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities…is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve,” Mandela tells the court. “But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The UN condemns South African apartheid policy and passes an arms embargo the following year.
The Black Homeland Citizenship Act limits the citizenship of blacks to their homelands, revoking their legal status as South Africans.
In the black township of Soweto, students take to the streets to protest forced tuition in Afrikaans; 575 people are killed.
Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, is arrested and dies of head injuries in police custody. “Black is beautiful” had been Biko’s slogan.
As civil unrest increases and labor strikes threaten the economy, Prime Minister P.W. Botha declares a state of emergency and implements martial law. Over the next four years thousands of blacks are killed and thousands more detained. Media access is also restricted.
F.W. DeKlerk succeeds Botha as Prime Minister; in his opening address to Parliament, he announces a plan to desegregate public facilities and unban the ANC.
After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is released. Meetings between DeKlerk and Mandela begin a four-year negotiation process to abolish apartheid. “Today we have closed the book on apartheid,” De Klerk declares.
Disagreement about racial integration leads to violence between the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Free Party.
A Multiparty Negotiating Forum ratifies an interim constitution to guide the nation’s transition into democracy.
South Africa holds its first democratic election with universal suffrage; the turnout is so substantial that voting lasts three days. ANC leader Nelson Mandela is elected president and joins with the National Party in a Government of National Unity.
Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins investigations of apartheid crimes.
The ANC wins a second democratic election; Thabo Mbeki succeeds Mandela as president. Still, desegregation proves complicated: “homelands remain islands of dismal poverty,” reports the New York Times.
A declining economy and increasing poverty raise questions about the success of South Africa’s young democracy. ”Voting is supposed to change the lives of people who are disadvantaged,” explained one black citizen, ”But after voting, what did people get? In Soweto not much is changing.”
Social concerns escalate into political ones when the ANC deposes its own leader, president Thabo Mbeki. “Fourteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa…has lapsed into gloom and anxiety about its future,” reports the New York Times.