Petty Apartheid

A term used to describe the segregation of all public amenities, such as places of entertainment, benches, toilets and beaches, and of groupings such as sports teams. These measures were introduced by the National Pany in the 1950s under legislation such as the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953). Many of the restrictions were abolished during the 1970s and early 1980s, but the more fundamental aspects of Apartheid – such as racial classification, the homelands policy, influx control and black exclusion from the franchise, remained.


The term first officially used in the Cape Colony population records after the emancipation of slaves (1834). It described people previously called slaves, free blacks, ‘Hottentots’ (Khoikhoi) or ‘Bushmen’ (San). In the later nineteenth century it was used to refer to people who were identified neither as ‘white’ nor as ‘black’ people, as well as to those who were of mixed racial ancestry.

The racial category of ‘coloured’ was entrenched in the Population Registration Act of 1950. This led to tension between supporters of coloured ethnicity and those opposed to racial categorisation. Many anti-apartheid activists saw ‘Coloured’ in the 1980s as a false term invented by the state to divide black South Africans, and was only referred to in inverted commas. Attempts to co-opt coloured voters under the tricameral constitution in 1983 were rejected by many.

However, the realities of distinct coloured economic and political identities were revealed during and after the 1994 election campaigns, when coloured ethnicity was used as a mobilising force in opposition to the African National Congress, especially in the Western Cape.

Hendrik Verwoerd (1901-1966)

Prime minister of South Africa (1958-1966). Verwoerd’s name is associated with the most rigid period of Apartheid and the repression of black opposition. Born in the Netherlands, he was professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University before joining DF Malan’s breakaway ‘purified’ National Party in 1934. After the National Party came into power in 1948, he was one of the key intellectuals in government who argued for rigid racial segregation rather than a more pragmatic version of apartheid. As Minister for Native Affairs from 1950 he promoted the concept of the Bantustans and the tightening of urban influx controls over Africans. As Prime Minister he rejected British Commonwealth calls for reform and, after a narrow win in a white referendum, declared South Africa a republic outside the Commonwealth in 1961. He was assassinated in Parliament by a white messenger in 1966.

H. Kenney, 1980. Architea of apartheid.

Mixed Marriages Act (1949)

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was one of the first items of racial legislation passed by the ruling National Party. In an attempt to preserve white racial ‘purity’, it forbade future marriages between whites and people of other races. In the early 1980’s it was openly defied by the clergy of several churches as a protest against apartheid and racist legislation. It was repealed in 1985.

Group Areas Act (1950)

Enabled the State to declare any defined area for occupation and property ownership by members of a single race as defined in the Population Registration Act. Exceptions were made only for servants or other employees of residents.

The Act only became fully effective after numerous amendments to it in the 1950’s, gave the State full powers to forcebly remove property owners. It was applied mainly to urban areas and led to the destruction of such multiracial communities as Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town. It also resulted in the forced removal of more than I20 000 households overall and the appropriation of their property with only limited compensation.

Black people, whose living areas in towns were already restricted by the *Natives (Urban Areas) Act. were less affected than coloureds and Indians, while comparatively few whites were moved.

The Act was repealed in 1991.

A. Lemon (ed.). 1991. Homes apart. South Africa’s segregated cities; U. Mesthrie. ‘Tinkering and tampering: a decade of the Group Areas Aa’, South African Historical Journal 28 (1993)

District Six

In the 1940’s plans were formed by the Cape Town municipality to demolish houses under slum clearance, but it was only after the declaration of District Six as a white area under the Group Areas Act in 1966, that extensive demolition began. Resistance by inhabitants was intense and the last residents only left in the rnid-1970s.

The area, together with Sophiatown, became a local and international symbol of the suffering caused by Aapartheid. A ‘Hands Off District Six’ campaign prevented private development and for many years the land remained vacant, until in the 1980’s housing for police and army personnel and a white Technical College were erected. After the 1994 democratic election claims for restitution were made by families which had been forced out of District Six.

S. Jeppie and C. Soudien (eds.), 1990. The struggle for District Six past and present.



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