“We are so near, yet so far apart.” –Winston Churchill (as quoted by Modise Phekonyane in relation to segregation)


Friday, January 11, 2008, 09:23 AM

Posted by Monica Poteat


Throughout our first week in Cape Town, South Africa, we have witnessed first-hand the aftermath of the segregationist policies put in place by the National Party that once ruled South Africa. Through lectures and visits to historical sites, we have been able to learn of the segregationist policies oppressors used during the apartheid era that have shaped the South Africa of today.

Our visit to the District Six Museum helped show us just how serious the South African government was about the separation of ethnic groups during the mid-1900s. Before apartheid, District Six was a community in Cape Town that was home to many different ethnic groups that lived together in harmony. However, backed by the Group Areas Act of 1950, in 1966, the government tried to remove all non-whites to their designated living areas. When the people of District Six held demonstrations and fought for their right to live in their own homes, the government bulldozed the entirety of the community, putting 70,000 people out of their homes. In my opinion, this showed that the government wanted to destroy the idea that it was possible for different races to live together side by side without conflict. Rather than let them be, they wanted to punish everyone in the district that had opinions conflicting those expressed by the National Party. The destruction of District Six showed the ruthlessness of the apartheid government.

The ruthlessness of the apartheid government was shown in other ways as well. Not only were the non-whites forced to leave their homes throughout Cape Town and relocate to areas the government deemed their own, but due to the Population Regulation Act, everyone was also made to carry a passbook to identify their race and living area. If at any time a non-white was caught without a passbook or with a passbook that was “out of order,” then that person could be incarcerated on the spot.

Before our arrival in South Africa, we read about the horrors that passbooks caused Mark Mathabane in his book entitled Kaffir Boy. Mark wrote of many heart-wrenching stories of growing up under the apartheid government, one of which included his father receiving two months of hard labor due to passbook violations. Another author, Modise Phekonyane, told us during his lecture that even with passbooks, non-whites couldn’t be outside of their designated townships after 9:00 PM without written permission from their boss. Punishments for violating the “curfew” included incarceration and beatings. Passbooks and curfews were tools that the government used to demean and humiliate the non-white population of South Africa. In my opinion, many times they were used as nothing more than a tool that a policeman could use to get as bribe to refrain from taking violators to jail.

In conclusion, I feel that the Group Areas Act, the Population Regulation Act, and other segregationist policies at the time were extremely important to the longevity of the National Party in South Africa. Because every single group was separated, I think that this put blinders on many of the white people in South Africa that kept the National Party in office. Due to laws, they never ventured into the townships of the non-whites, therefore never seeing the cruelty and poverty that enveloped other ethnic groups. If the Groups Area Act would have never forced communities like District Six to disband and different ethnic groups to live separately, would the white South African population have stood by and allowed apartheid to continue for as long as it did? If they had witnessed the nightly raids of townships as described in Kaffir Boy, would they have stayed apathetic in the struggle to end apartheid?

The aftermath of apartheid, much like the aftermath of slavery within the United States, can still be seen in South Africa. The townships that the government created for non-whites still exist today and are inhabited mainly by the ethnic groups put there during apartheid. Will the signs of apartheid ever disappear? Probably not… at least not in my lifetime.

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