There has recently been some debate regarding when, how and by whom apartheid was dismantled. The “why” of the dismantling of apartheid is more complex: growing international pressure and domestic resistance undoubtedly played a central role. However, other factors included the evolving attitudes of white South Africans; growing acceptance of the injustice of apartheid among white leadership groups; and the irresistible need to adjust policy to accommodate the de facto realities of an increasingly integrated economy and society.
There is a widespread perception that whole apartheid system continued until the constitutional transition in 1994. In fact, the dismantling of apartheid began under the presidency of PW Botha. The main provisions included the following:
- Labour Relations The Labour Relations Amendment Act No 57 of 1981 was the first major reform measures. It permitted freedom for trade union organisation and abolished all racial discrimination in labour relations. By 1989 there were 212 trade unions with 2,12 million members. In 1987 5,825,231 man days were lost in strikes compared with 174 614 in 1981. By the mid-1980s black trade unions had become a major political force.
- Sport The adoption of Sec 1(6) of the Group Areas Amendment Act, No 62 of 1982 made provision for integration in sport and sporting facilities (subject to certain exceptions in the case of primary and secondary public school education). The legislation made integrated national teams possible.
- Uniform Income Tax Laws for all Population Groups were introduced by Sec 10 Income Tax Amendment Act no 30 of 1984
- Admission of Non-whites to Tertiary Educational Institutions on a Quota Basis was made possible by the Universities, National Education policy and Technikon Amendment Act No 75 of 1984. By 1987 11,212 black, coloured and Indian students were enrolled in ‘white’ universities and by 1993 the figure had risen to more than 26 000 (22% of the total).
- The development of uniform education norms and standards. Although segregated education was retained, the National Policy for General Education Act Act 76 of 1984 developed common norms and standards for all population groups for syllabuses, examinations and the certification of qualifications. The policy contributed to a thirteen-fold increase in the number of black matriculants from 15,935 in 1980 to 201,284 in 1994. By 1995 whites comprised only 37,5% of the students enrolled at our universities – compared with 50,2% for blacks, 5,8% for Coloureds and 6,5% for Indians.
- The prohibition of Inter-racial Sex and Mixed Marriages was ended by The Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act No 72 of 1985. The legislation was one of the most sordid and humiliating manifestations of apartheid.
- Mixed Political Parties were made possible by the repeal of the Prohibition of Political Interference Act, by the Constitutional Affairs Amendment Act no 104 of 1985.
- The Repeal of the Pass Laws by the Abolition of Influx Control Act no 68 of 1986 was one of the main reforms during the PW Botha era. The pass laws – which denied tens of millions of South Africans their right to freedom of movement - was one of the most hated aspects of apartheid. More than 16 million South Africans were arrested for pass law offences.
- Abolition of different identity documents for the various population groups. The Identification Act, no 72 of 1986 introduced uniform ID documents for all population groups.
- Restoration of a uniform South African citizenship, on application, to all citizens was made possible by the Restoration of South African Citizenship Act, No 73 of 1986
- Ending of all compulsory resettlements was brought about by the Black Communities Development Act no 74 of 1986
- Acquisition of immovable property by black South Africans in black townships was made possible by the Black Communities Development Act no 74 of 1986. The legislation began to address the denial of black property rights.
- Elimination of Statutory Racial Barriers in Hotels and Restaurants and Partial Accessibility to Cinemas and Theatres was introduced by the Repeal of Proclamation R228 by Proclamation R71 of 1986
All the remaining apartheid measures were abolished during the presidency of FW de Klerk.
- The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, 1953 was repealed on 15 October 1990 by the Discriminatory Legislation regarding Public Amenities Repeal Act, 1990.
- The Population Registration Act, 1950, often regarded as the was the cornerstone of apartheid, was repealed by the Population Registration Act Repeal Act on 28 June 1991
- The Group Areas Act, the basis of residential apartheid, was repealed by the Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act, 1991 on 30 June 1991.
In a speech to parliament on 17 June 1991 President De Klerk said that
“The year 1991 will become known in history as the year in which South Africa finally removed statutory discrimination - apartheid - from its system. Now it belongs to history.
I wish to thank Parliament sincerely for its enthusiastic support of this process. I wish to thank you as well for our support of the positive steps directed at instituting a just dispensation - a dispensation in which all South Africans will be able to rely on equal opportunities and equal treatment by the State.
The votes that have just taken place, and in the previous weeks, finally brought to an end an era in which the lives of every South African were affected in the minutest detail by racially based legislation. Now, everybody is free of it. Now, everybody is rid of the restrictions resulting from that racially based legislation. Everybody is free as well from the disparagement and denial which so often were the consequences of the legislation we are repealing. And everybody is liberated from the moral dilemma caused by this legislation which was born and nurtured under different circumstances in a departed era.
Only one final step still has to follow: A new Constitution for the Republic of South Africa which will guarantee participation and representation to all South Africans within a true democracy and with effective protection of minorities. It has to be achieved by negotiation and is within our reach within a few years. I do not doubt for a moment that we shall succeed.”
The racially based South Africa Constitution Act, No 110 of 1983 was repealed by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993.
The 1993 Constitution completed the abolition of apartheid by creating a common South African citizenship; by making provision for universal non-racial franchise; and by adopting a Charter of Fundamental Rights. Section 8 of the Charter proclaimed that
- ‘Every person shall have the right to equality before the law and to equal protection of the law.
- No person shall be unfairly discriminated against, directly or indirectly, and, without derogating from the generality of this provision, on one or more of the following grounds in particular: race, gender, sec, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture or language.”
Because the Constitution was “the supreme law of the Republic”, “any law or act inconsistent with its provisions shall, unless otherwise provided expressly or by necessary implication in this Constitution, be of no force and effect to the extent of the inconsistency.”
Accordingly, any residual provision in any existing legislation that contravened the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights was no longer of any force or effect.
The mere repetition of the list of apartheid laws that were repealed between 1982 and 1993 attests to the degree to which apartheid constituted, for so many years, an egregious denial of the fundamental human rights of tens of millions of black, Indian and coloured South Africans. FW de Klerk used his appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 14 May 1997 to apologise in his capacity as Leader of the National Party “to the millions of South Africans who suffered the wrenching disruption of forced removals from their homes, businesses and land; who over the years suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences; who over the centuries had suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination; who had been prevented from exercising their full democratic rights in the land of their birth; who were unable to achieve their full potential; and who in any way suffered as a result of the policies and actions of former governments.”
Perhaps, more important than the apology, FW de Klerk and his colleagues ensured that by the time they handed power to the newly elected Government of National Unity on 10 May 1994 apartheid had been expunged, once and for all, from South Africa’s legal system.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation