Legal Racial Segregation


Apartheid – legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1993 – curtailed rights of black people, who were in the majority, in order to maintain minority rule by white people.

An important uprising

Hector Peterson Memorial, by Albinfo at de.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

In Soweto (1976), a student uprising took place which would eventually help end white minority rule. 20,000 students took part in the protest and over 170 lost their lives. A famous photograph of a father carrying his dead child (Hector Peterson) was unveiled as a memorial by Nelson Mandela in 1992. This photo became an emblem of the anti-apartheid movement. The inscription on the memorial reads: “to all young heroes and heroines of our struggle who laid down their lives for freedom, peace and democracy”.

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Legislation classified residents into racial groups (‘black’, ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’). The government segregated education, health care and other public services, providing black people with services inferior to those of whites. Residential areas were segregated, sometimes with forced removals.

End of apartheid

Apartheid sparked resistance and violence, as well as a long trade embargo against South Africa. Uprisings and protests were met with the banning of opposition and imprisoning of anti-apartheid leaders. As unrest spread and became more violent, state organisations responded with increasing repression and state-sponsored violence.

Reforms failed to quell the mounting opposition. In 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994. These were won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.

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