Pass Laws and Apartheid Lived…and Died.

This is a brief summary of how South Africa was subjected to apartheid (an Afrikaans word meaning “separateness”) and how apartheid ended. I summarized this from articles from and Wikipedia because the more I heard about it in South Africa, the more I realized that I didn’t have any chronology for how it all unfolded, and it’s impossible to gain any understanding of modern South Africa without knowing how apartheid happened. So….

The white attempts to control the non-white population began as early as 1760, when slaves were required to have passes in order to move between urban areas (mainly white) and rural areas (mainly black.) Blacks were restricted as to where they could live. These passes served white purposes in two ways. They controlled the number of Africans in “white” areas and ensured a supply of cheap labor for the urban areas.

The system was established in the early days of white settlements in Southern Africa, but were not written into law until after the British had taken control of the area for the final time during the Napoleonic Wars. It remained a British colony until 1910 when Britain created the Union of South Africa, which was comprised of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. The whites were British and Boers, descendants of the Dutch who had settled in the earliest times.

The Union of South Africa was a self-governing autonomous dominion of the British Empire. It was governed under Britain’s constitutional monarchy, and a governor-general represented the Crown. The Union of South Africa preceded the Republic of South Africa, which preceded modern South Africa.

The Natives Act of 1923, passed under the now-formalized governing body, declared that all urban areas in South Africa were “white.” Black men had to carry passes at all times. Anyone found without a pass was arrested and sent to the rural areas. Because virtually all employment was in the urban areas, this was a serious business. Black women were not required to have passes. It’s not exactly clear why, but probably because they were viewed as less of a threat and were employed mainly as domestic help.

The Natives Act of 1945 replaced the 1923 act, and set up guidelines for removing people living “idle lives” from urban (white) areas. In order for blacks to live in white urban areas, they had to prove that they were born in and had resided there since birth, and that they had worked continuously during a 10-year period for any employer.

The Population Registration Act of 1950 classified all South Africans as Bantu (Africans,) Coloureds (mixed race,) or white. A fourth category, Asian (Indians and Pakistanis,) was added later.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 outlined residential and business sections in urban areas for each race, and other races were barred from living, operating a business, or owning land in them. This, plus two other Land Acts, effectively reserved 80% of South Africa’s land for the white minority.

The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 re-established tribal organizations, although the exact purpose was not clear in the articles I read.

The Black Laws of 1952 amended the Natives Act of 1945 and established the modern “pass.” All blacks over 16 years of age had to carry a pass, and no black person could stay in urban areas for more than 72 hours unless specifically allowed “under Section 10.”

The Natives Act of 1952, commonly called the “Pass Laws Act,” added more restrictions. It repealed all of the regional pass laws, and replaced them with a national pass program. All blacks aged 16 or older must have a pass book and must carry it at all times within white areas. The Act also stipulated when, where, & how long a black person could remain.

In addition, this was no longer just a pass, it was a pass book, an “internal passport” that contained fingerprints, photos, the name of his/her employer, their address, how long they had been employed, and other details. Employers often entered an evaluation of their behavior. “Employer” was a term defined by law and could only be a white person.

The pass documented permission requested to be in a certain area, whether it was denied or granted, and the reason for seeking the permission. Permission could be granted by any government employee at any time – which would also mean loss of employment for the black person involved.

The pass book was the most hated symbol of apartheid, and was referred to colloquially as “dompas,” literally translated as “dumb pass.” Even so, it was necessary for even minimal economic survival for the blacks. Blacks had been pushed to rural areas that were not large enough to sustain their traditional agricultural life, nor large enough to develop their own economy, either. They needed whatever job opportunities were available to them in the urban areas.

Despite the risk, resistance to the pass book grew, culminating in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Protestors surrounded the Sharpeville police station, whereupon the police began to shoot. Sixty-nine resistors were killed, and one hundred eighty were injured. Robert Sobukwe, a leader in the resistance, was arrested, and subsequently sent to Robbens Island maximum security.

As if living in an alternate reality, the Republic of South Africa passed the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act in 1959, which created ten African homelands, or “Bantustans.” When this didn’t have the desired effect, the legislature enacted the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970, which made every black South African, regardless of their actual residence, a citizen of one of the Bantustans, effectively excluding blacks from political participation in South Africa.

Four of the Bantustans were granted independence and the others had varying degrees of self-government, but all remained dependent on South Africa, economically and politically.

In turn, South Africa remained economically dependent on non-white labor, making it difficult to carry out any policy of separate self-development.

Where was the rest of the world? The Union of South Africa had been forced out of the British Commonwealth in 1961 because other members would not accept apartheid, but finally in 1985, the United Kingdom and the United States imposed economic sanctions, which were effective.

The Pass Laws were repealed in 1986 by the Abolition of Influx Control Act. Apartheid was losing ground.

In 1990, F.W. deKlerk was elected President of South Africa, and his government repealed most of the legislation that underpinned apartheid.

A new Constitution was adopted in 1993 that enfranchised citizens of all races in South Africa, and the voters elected President Nelson Mandela in 1994, who was backed by the African National Congress (ANC.) This ended legislated apartheid, but not the entrenched social attitudes and economic effects.

These are from the District 6 Museum displays:

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