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Apartheid

South Africa, the "rainbow nation". From apartheid to democracy

Apartheid (literally “separation”) is the term used to define the racial segregation policy set up by the white government of South Africa in the aftermath of Second World Two, that remained in force until 1993. It was declared international crime by a UN convention in 1973 and then included in the crimes against humanity. 

A regime that discriminated 90% of the population The term “apartheid” was first used with a political connotation by SA prime minister Jan Smuts in 1917, but only after the victory of the National Party, a nationalist rightwing group, in 1948, blacks and whites were separated on the public transport means or at the state offices and the bantustans, formally independent ghettoes for the black population, actually subject to the control of the SA government, were set up. 


In South Africa, since the time of the first colonial settlement, whites have never accounted for more than 9% of the population. Called afrikaner, they were descendants of the Dutch or English settlers, the latter more favorable to conciliation with the black citizens. The main ideologues of apartheid, who had been influenced by Nazism, were Daniel François Malan, Johannes Gerhardus Strikdom and Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd. They formally stated they wanted the various ethnic groups to “live in harmony” with the respective traditions, but actually they completed the apartheid system working as a true police state.The struggle against this regime was led by the African National Congress (ANC), a party formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the black majority. Since 1947 this Party began working with the Natal Indian Congress, the Indian party founded by Gandhi in the Natal region, which enabled it to directly face the country’s racist government. Since the Sixties the struggle of the ANC, with numerous sabotage actions, focused chiefly on the special passports for blacks. 

The main racist laws – ban on interracial marriage; - ban on sexual intercourses with people of different race (which could be prosecuted as a criminal offense); compulsory racial registration (Population Registration Act);
- clearance for the authorities to abolish any opposition labeled by the government as “Communist” (used in 1960 to outlaw the ANC, the greatest political organization which was inclusive of the black);
- it was forbidden to people of different races to use the same public facilities (fountains, waiting rooms, pavements and so on); - law restricting the access to education for the black;
- racial discrimination on the job;

- setting up the bantustans; - inhabitants of the bantustans were stripped off their South African citizenship and the relevant rights;
- compulsory passports for the blacks who visited the areas inhabited by “whites”In 1956 apartheid policy was extended to all colored citizens, included Asians. 




The struggle against apartheid 


From the beginning, both blacks and whites reacted against apartheid, with demonstrations and sabotage actions against strategic targets such as power plants and other infrastructures. Security forces stifled these actions brutally. In the early Sixties Nelson Mandela’s role gained ground in the ANC, with the armed wing Umkonto we Sizwe (“spear of the nation”), that started using violence. "Madiba" – the nickname that Mandela received after his clan – founded the Youth League of the ANC and helped root this party among the black population. In order to stifle protests the South African authorities took very harsh measures: in 1975 it became compulsory to use afrikaans at all schools; blacks were deprived of all civil and political rights; millions of them, called “bantu”, were evicted from their homes and deported into the “homelands of the south”. Shops had to serve white customers first, and blacks needed special passports to go to the white people’s areas. Because of the discrimination regime, in the Eighties SA was sanctioned and excluded from the Olympic Games.  


Nelson Mandela was the key figure of the anti-apartheid movement. A law student, when he was young he heard the tales of the blacks who had resisted colonization and he dreamt of helping free his own people. Founder of the first black legal firm, Mandela & Tambo, he was jailed many times for organizing strikes and protests against the regime. His longest jail term was handed on him in 1963 during the Rivonia Trial, following the police unveiling of an ANC hideout in the same-name place. The leader of the democracy movement was jailed for the following 27 years, he completed his law curriculum while in jail and he overcame the armed struggle option, coming to plan a multiracial and constitutional government in a country where neither whites nor blacks would rule on the others. The liberation of Mandela in 1990 and the following election to the Presidency marked the end of apartheid. Other relevant figures in the struggle against racial separation were Ruth First, to whom the movie “A World Apart” was dedicated, and Nobel laureate writer Nadine Gordimer, who documented the life of both whites and blacks under the dictatorial regime. The 1994 elections witnessed the overwhelming victory of ANC with 62,65% of the votes, though below the threshhold of 2/3 necessary to change the Constitution. Since then the ANC has uninterruptedly governed the country, first with Nelson Mandela, then with Presidents Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission After becoming President, Mandela had to tackle the difficult change from apartheid to democracy. Within this framework he was the great personality behind the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up by the democratic Parliament in 1995 with the task to hear the testimony of both victims and executioners.
 Trc was based on the assumption that the knowledge of the truth about what had happened during apartheid would favor the opportunity to reconcile the diffrent ethnic, racial and cultural groups of the country. 


The Commission worked along three lines. One subcommittee called the Committee for human rights violations searched for the victims, documented the crimes perpetrated from 1960 to 1994 against them and organized public meetings where the victims told about the violence they had endured. These meetings were broadcast live by the radio, in all the official languages spoken in the country. The Committee for Amnesty ran the trials against the culprits. This entity also had the specific task to examine the requests for amnesty, which was granted only if all conditions established by the Committee were met, first of all a full and total confession of the gross human rights violations listed by the Commission’s statute, such as murder, attempt of murder, torture, kidnapping and serious mistreatment. The third subcommittee, the Commission for compensation and rehabilitation, examined the cases ruled by the other two entities and decided the compensation measures and the rehabilitation opportunities. It could be the case for medical care or economic compensation, but the Committee could also order to ensure somebody the possibility to continue the education interrupted because of the conflict, to dedicate a street to a victim's deceased relative or to respectfully bury a dead dear one. The Commission’s results were published in 1998. The investigations made it possible to unveil crimes committed by the apartheid regime, the police and the army, but also by the ANC and the other organizations that opposed the dictatorship. 849 people were granted amnesty and 5392 were denied it,  out of 7,112 demands. Trc has succeeded in creating a kind of a virtuous circle in which fear and atonement, remorse and repentance, threat and reward have intertwined and strengthened each other.

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