How white leaders in South Africa carved out ‘free’ Black states to avoid ending apartheid

Nii Ntreh March 19, 2021
Nelson Mandela in a visit to his cell at the prison on Robben Island. Photo Credit: The Smithsonian

Apartheid existed before the 1948 election that ushered in South Africa’s white supremacist National Party which oversaw the overarching legislation that set the ethnicities of the territory apart. But it has always intrigued political historians when apartheid itself was put into the law books.

Perhaps the reason is the audacity of a white minority to insist on superiority and separation in an African country even as the Nazis – the exemplars of white supremacy – had been defeated in 1945. When we look back it is almost impossible not to see cowardice and wickedness working in tandem to forestall harmony of peoples.

Despite global condemnation, apartheid was able to last for nearly fifty years. Some say this condemnation did not go far enough as the likes of the leadership in the United Kingdom and the United States at times seemed like they were not to be bothered insofar as South Africa was not under Russia’s influence during the Cold War.

One of the ways the apartheid government itself thought it could perpetuate the culture of racial segregation was to divide South Africa’s people according to four ethnic categories namely White, Black, Indian and Colored (multiracial offspring).

This categorization was in effect economic and political stratification. But it was also misleading in that within every category, there were divisions. Among Whites, one was confronted by descendants of Brits and descendants of the Dutch know as Boers. Among Black South Africans were the many ethnic groups native to that part. “Indian” could sometimes even refer to Middle Easterners.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act passed in 1949 made sure to guard against the possibility of producing children between “European” “Non-European” peoples. It is what comedian Trevor Noah has called being “born a crime”. The law was effectively to maintain the “purity” of European blood as this was necessary to the idea of nationhood as proposed by National Party as well as supported by many white people.

Black South Africans were to have their own independent nations, and that was the long-term idea of apartheid. The system was to guarantee a white nation by alienating and excluding native South Africans from their lands and what these lands have to offer. The new nations were built on what British colonial administrators had called reserves, in the 19th century.

There were ten Black nations or Bantustans and they were created between 1956 and 1976. Today, the term Bantustan is the lexicon for gerrymandered locales that lack political, legal, cultural and moral legitimacy but for the purpose of maintaining some status quo or allowing some advantage.

The ten Bantustans were Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ciskei, Transkei and Lebowa. The others are KwaZulu, KwaNdebele, KaNgwane, QwaQwa and Gazankulu. These nations were founded according to ethnic groups or tribes and as such, Black South Africans were forced to relocate at great cost and stress to lives and livelihoods. It has to be noted that territories also included today’s Namibia.

These nations attained different degrees of sovereignty according to processes overseen by the apartheid government. The government moved heaven and earth to get international recognition from other nations for these Bantustans. None came but that did not stop the South African government from lobbying at the US Capitol in 1976 for lawmakers to reject a motion that did not want the US to recognize Transkei.

Life in the Bantustans was horrid as so much economic impetus was denied to the Black homelands. In many ways, South Africa has not changed that much even after 1994. The wealth of one of Africa’s leading countries still resides with white people and where they made their home prior to Nelson Mandela‘s presidency.

Last Edited by:Nii Ntreh Updated: March 19, 2021


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