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Apartheid

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning "separation" or literally "apartness". In English, it has come to mean any legally sanctioned system of racial segregation, such as existed in The Republic of South Africa between 1948 and 1990. The first recorded use of the word is in 1917, during a speech by Jan Smuts, then Prime Minister of South Africa.

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History of Apartheid in South Africa

South Africa was colonised by the Dutch and English from the 17th Century onwards. As was typically the case in the African colonies, the European settlers dominated the indigenous population through political control and the control of land and wealth. In the years following the victory of the South African National Party in the general election of 1948, a flood of laws were enacted, formally instituting the dominance of white people over other races.

The principal apartheid laws were as follows:

  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949)
  • Amendment to The Immorality Act (1950)
    • This law made it a criminal offence for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race.
  • The Population Registration Act (1950)
    • This law required all citizens to register as black, white or coloured.
  • The Suppression of Communism Act (1950)
    • This law banned any opposition party the government chose to label as "communist".
  • The Group Areas Act (27 April 1950)
    • This law barred people of particular races from various urban areas.
  • The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)
    • This law prohibited people of different races from using the same public amenities.
  • The Bantu Education Act (1953)
    • This law brought in various measures expressly designed to reduce the level of education attainable by black people.
  • The Mines and Work Act (1956)
    • This law formalised racial discrimination in employment.
  • The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act (1958)
    • This law set up nominally independent "homelands" for black people. In practice, the South African government maintained control over these bantustans.
  • Black Homeland Citizenship Act (1971)
    • This law changed the status of the inhabitants of the 'homelands' so that they were no longer citizens of South Africa, and therefore had none of the rights that came with citizenship.

On 21 March 1960, 20,000 people congregated in Sharpeville[?] to demonstrate against the requirement to carry identity cards[?]. Police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring 180. All the victims were black. Most of them had been shot in the back. Colonel J. Pienaar[?], the senior police officer in charge on the day, was quoted as saying

"Hordes of natives surrounded the police station. My car was struck with a stone. If they do these things they must learn their lesson the hard way."

The event became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. In its aftermath the government banned the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress[?].

In 1964 Nelson Mandela, leader of the ANC, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 1974 the government issued the Afrikaans Medium Decree which forced all schools to use the Afrikaans language when teaching Mathematics, Social Studies, Geography and History at secondary school level. Punt Janson[?], The Deputy Minister of Bantu Education was quoted as saying

"I have not consulted the African people on the language issue and I'm not going to. An African might find that 'the big boss' only spoke Afrikaans or only spoke English. It would be to his advantage to know both languages."

The policy was deeply unpopular. On 30 April 1976, Children at Orlando West Junior School in Soweto went on strike, refusing to go to school. Their rebellion spread to other schools in Soweto. The students organised a mass rally for 16 June 1976, which turned violent - police responding with bullets to stones thrown by children. The incident triggered widespread violence throughout South Africa, which claimed many hundreds of lives.

Internationally, South Africa became isolated. Numerous conferences were held and United Nations resolutions passed condemning South Africa, including the World Conference Against Racism in 1978 and 1983. An immense divestment movement started, pressuring investors to refuse to invest in South African companies or companies that do business with South Africa. South African sports teams were barred from participation in international events, and South African culture and tourism were boycotted.

These international movements, combined with internal troubles, persuaded the South African government that its hard-line policies were untenable, and in 1984 some reforms were introduced. Many of the apartheid laws were repealed, and a new constitution was introduced which gave limited representation to certain non-whites, although not to the black majority. The violence continued throughout the 1980s.

In 1989, F. W. de Klerk succeeded P. W. Botha[?] as president. On 2 February 1990, at the opening of Parliament, he declared that apartheid had failed and that the bans on political parties, including the ANC, were to be lifted. Nelson Mandela was released from prison. De Klerk went on to abolish all the remaining apartheid laws.

On April 15, 2003, President Thabo Mbeki announced that the South African government will pay 660 million rand (85 million US dollars) to about 22,000 people who were tortured, detained, or lost family members under apartheid rule. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to investigate abuses from the apartheid era, had recommended the government to pay 3 billion rand in compensation, over the next five years.

Apartheid in international law

South African apartheid was condemned internationally as unjust and racist. In 1973 the General Assembly of the United Nations agreed the text of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The immediate intention of the Convention was to provide a formal legal framework within which member states could apply sanctions to press the South African government to change its policies. However, the Convention was phrased in general terms, with the express intention of prohibiting any other state from adopting analogous policies. The Convention came into force in 1976.

Article II of the Convention defines apartheid as follows:

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:

(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person
(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;
(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;
(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
(d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;
(f) Persecution of organisations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.

The crime was also defined in the formation of the International Criminal Court:

"The crime of apartheid" means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime [1] (http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/icc/statute/part-a.htm#2)

Alleged apartheid in the Arab world

The Kingdom of Jordan forbids Jews from becoming citizens, although peoples of any other group are allowed to do so. (Law No. 6, sect. 3, of April 3, 1954; restated in law no. 7, sect. 2, of April 1, 1963)

Saudi Arabia forbids non-Muslims from practising their religion in public. Christians who ask Muslims to convert to Christianity have been persecuted and arrested; Muslims who have converted to Christianity have been executed. Jews are forbidden from practising their faith.

Non-Wahhabi Muslims report apartheid-like discrimination in Saudi Arabia.

Jews and Christians have historically had fewer rights than Muslim citizens in all Muslim nations; all non-Muslim monotheists have been consigned to the status of dhimmis.

Alleged apartheid in Israel

A number of organisations, including the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights (LAW) and the Islamic Human Rights Commission[?], allege that Israel is an apartheid state under the UN definition. This view has been put forward, for example, by many Arab states at the World Conference against Racism in 1978, 1983, and 2001. This led to a boycott of the conference by the United States and Israel in all three cases, and by many European countries in the first two. (In each case, the United States also had other reasons for boycotting. In the first two, they objected to language critical of apartheid in South Africa. In 2001, they objected to language calling the transatlantic slave trade a crime against humanity, which would prepare the way for reparations.) The resolutions were not adopted at any of the conferences, although in 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, condemning Zionism as a form of racism and condemning Israel for supporting the South African apartheid regime. The resolution was repealed in 1991.

One official Israeli position against the allegation of apartheid is that the disputed policies against Palestinians are in place because of security-related reasons, and will be removed when circumstances change. The use of harsh techniques, and even torture, which constitutes a crime against humanity, against Palestinians are supported in order to minimise the risks of terrorist attacks, and crimes against humanity against Israelis.

Several other features of life in Israel are construed by some as showing that Israel does not give full citizen rights to Arabs living within its borders, to a degree that is tantamount to apartheid. They include:

  • different funding levels of education for Jews and Arabs in Israel.
  • ill-treatment and harassment of Palestinian Israelis. (see human rights violations in Israel)
  • inability of non Jews to buy property in Jerusalem and other areas.
  • laws which give special privileges to Jews, such as the law of return.
  • there is no provision in Israel for secular civil marriage, so in order to marry, one of the partners must convert to the religion of the other. Even if the couple are prepared to comply with this unreasonable demand on them, they still have to overcome innumerable religious and bureaucratic hurdles. (e.g. see [2] (http://oznik.com/words/021212)). It can be argued that this amounts to a de facto prohibition of mixed marriages.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading anti-apartheid campaigner in South Africa, stated, in a speech about Israel, "I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us blacks in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." (speech in Cape Town, April 2002 [3] (http://www.iap.org/tutu.htm))

See also: History of South Africa, racism, discrimination, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Stephen Biko, Jim Crow laws, White Australia policy, Afrikaner Calvinism, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli settlements

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