Term Paper: South African: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle

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South African: The Rise, Fall, And Struggle During South African Apartheid

The political map of the African continent can be considered to be the result of the centuries of imperial colonialism expressed especially through the continuous pressures of the British, the French, or the 16th century Portuguese. Despite this background, most of the African societies developed in time a distinct national identity and a precise trademark for the country image they would be ultimately identified with. Rwanda is seen through the perspective of the early 1990s genocide; Somalia is associated with its dramatic experience with famine and poverty; from this point-of-view, so too is South Africa perceived as a state resulted from decades of struggle inside a political system marked by the policy of apartheid.

The present paper is focused on the evolution of this phenomenon, from a historical perspective, with special focus on the impact the measures taken at the political level had on the society in general and on the people in particular. Such an analysis is important because it can offer an insight on the bigger picture on the colonialist period on the African continent. It presents a historical background on the way in which each society, but the South African in particular, dealt with the pressures of the colonial powers on the one hand, and of the nationalistic and oligarchic desires of the local population on the other. In addition, it may provide a general explanation for the continuous tensions that still exist in the South African society to this day.

The South African society, some scholars argue, is "in the process of a fundamental reorganization, as its constituent groups have formed new alliances that transcend the monolithic conception of Black/White antagonism." It may be that nowadays the political situation is on the verge of improvement; still, the historical manifestation of the apartheid policy implies the exact distinction between the majority white population engaged in the oppression and exclusion of the black and other racial minorities.

In order to properly understand the concept, it is important to bear in mind a series of definitions of the term "apartheid." A theoretical definition of the notion is given by the Britannica Encyclopedia, identifying the apartheid policy as being the "policy governing the relations between South Africa's white minority and nonwhite majority; it sanctions racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites." The United Nations' identified the notion as "consiste (ing) of numerous laws that allowed the ruling white minority in South Africa to segregate, exploit and terrorize the vast majority: Africans, mostly, but also Asians and Colored - people of mixed race." A less official definition points to the various dimensions of the phenomenon and the actual levels of the society it touches upon. Therefore, in the book edited by Lyle Tatum, apartheid is defined as "South Africa's economic, political, and social system, which is based on race. It is buttressed by a complex legal structure, security system, and theology that consolidate South Africa's wealth, power, and privilege in the hands of a white minority." Moreover, Wolpe argues "It is frequently implied that apartheid is just a new term for "a set of structures and relations which, in all fundamental aspects, were established some 300 years ago; the history of South Africa is co-terminus with the history of apartheid- the latter being merely the modern expression of relations implanted in the past." Finally, Ian Goldin, in his introductory notes to "Making race: the politics and economics of colored identity in South Africa," identifies a series of elements that had been addressed and used in the apartheid policy. These were "the notions of class, race, and the state." Despite the fact that he fails to consider class and the state as being independent notions that contributed to the apartheid regime, arguing just the contrary, he does mention them as elements characterizing the segregation policy.

All the definitions of the term apartheid, as seen previously, have identified, more or less, the basic idea of segregated identities, be it based on race, color, or social position. Therefore, it is important to consider the structure of the South African society. In terms of the settlement pattern, the population is concentrated in three main ways depending on the classification criteria. Thus, more than 95% of the population lives in the eastern half of the country, and in the southern coastal regions. In terms of the rural/urban profile, more than half of the population lives in urban areas or around major cities. Finally, and most importantly, a large part of the black population is concentrated in the reserve or the "homeland" area, as "far from urban facilities, these areas exhibit urban rather than rural population density." - in terms of ethnic distribution, due to the apartheid laws, the official classification of races "has been arbitrary." The African population is composed of four linguistic groups: Nguni, the Sotho-Tswana, the Tsonga, the Venda. About half of the population lives in reserves, or self-governing states, and about one-sixth lives in farmlands owned by whites. White Africans are made up of European descendants, such as the Dutch, the French, the Germans, as well as British and Portuguese. The Colored are composed of mixed race descendants of Africans, Asians, and Europeans. Therefore, it can be said that there is a clear segregation between different parts of the country, between the rural and the urban population and between the living conditions the black and the whites benefit from. This result is in fact the outcome of the historical background of the state, from the early Dutch settlers, to the National Party that imposed the discrimination in the society and transformed it into a national policy.

The colonization period that was flourishing during the 16th and 17th century brought the Dutch on the South African lands and by 1652, the pressures from the Europeans became permanent and visible in their attempts to conquer the land, back then an area populated by nomadic peoples. Following the ascendance to imperial power of the British, they too came on the land and set in quest to retain the South African territory. In search for supremacy during and after the Napoleonic Wars, the English set their eye on the South African lands. The British influence was the one that encouraged the modern cities in the late 19th century. Despite fierce opposition from the local communities that had the experience of fighting the Dutch, the British set their control on the land by 1900s and included it in the wider colonial system that defined the British Empire. The descendants of the Dutch settlers rebelled against the British with success in the Boer War. They would ultimately come to be engaged in a continuous struggle for political power, until the end of the Second World War. During this entire period, South African cities were plagued by racial segregation since their inception, as "the early years of the 20th century saw the creation of segregated public housing areas. Various measures introduced from the 1920s on gave authorities powers to segregate Africans and others that ultimately resulted in the legislative actions taken after the war.

The first ideas about a segregated, or at least separated political system was the Union of South Africa, created in 1910 as a loose federation of two predominantly British provinces and two Afrikaner ones. The political supremacy still belonged to the British, however, they did benefit from a relatively autonomous status. This in turn may have proven decisive for the following events. It enabled the nationalistic forces to become more powerful and to instigate the population towards the creation of a national identity that would rebel against the centuries of foreign rule. Therefore, by the end of the war, "the most intensely nationalistic sector of the Afrikaner population set as its goal the recovery of their traditional Volk unity and power through cultural and political efforts (...) they formed a growing political strength."

The unity that had transformed the society and led it to the coagulation of nationalistic forces gave the local population a certain edge over the British presence, and soon they registered as the majority.

This new structure of the society benefited from the vote of the population in 1948 when the Nationalistic Party came to power. It represented the legitimization of the white dominated system of law that is because in most cases "the institutions of white economic and political domination were already in place."According to their creed, "they sought to free South Africa from the 'yoke' of British imperial control." Therefore, it can be said that the rise to power of the nationalistic forces, the ones that would end up implementing the apartheid policy, was the result of the indirect actions of the colonial system of government.

This period can be characterized as a time in which the resistance was somewhat limited in terms of violent actions against the growing oppressive and discriminatory measures that were being taken as part of the official policy. Although the distinction between the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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