How Did Apartheid End?
The answer to the question “How did apartheid end” is: It didn’t happen overnight. It took many years of struggle and several different factors to put an end to the strict system of separation based on race.
Apartheid defined the image of South Africa for decades until people from all walks of life and several races worked to bring this system to an end. The practice of keeping races separate had become so ingrained in the social fabric of the nation because the separation was created and enforced by the government. This support from government leaders was possible because a minority of the population (white) held the power over the majority (black, Indian, Asian).
Apartheid began with the rise of British and Dutch residents who made up only 20 percent of the South African population. Black citizens made up 70 percent of the population with other races and nationalities completing the mix. The minority gradually began to control most of the land, mineral wealth and business, using physical force and money to keep the majority under their control.
Inside, Outside Pressure
Government enforcement was not only possible but was also necessary, for the same reason. As one 1960s protest song stated, “They’ve got the guns, we’ve got the numbers.” However, the physical and electoral strength of the minority ultimately fell to pressure from inside the nation and to pressure from outside South African borders.
Political leaders within the country began to express doubt about the effectiveness of apartheid policy, to the point that they began to voice concerns about the negative effects. Political parties and grassroots movements started to form in opposition to apartheid, with much of the activity starting in the 1970s.
Not only were more people inside South Africa beginning to oppose the system, people from other nations were discussing the suppression of civil rights under apartheid. As other African nations began to move toward democracy and open elections South Africa felt pressure to do the same.
In the Bank Account
Perhaps the most serious damage done to South Africa by opposition to apartheid was in the economic area. Investment in the country’s business and infrastructure slowed considerably as governments put pressure on banks and private businesses to stay out of South Africa. Many of these financial institutions and international companies simply told South African leaders that they would not put money into the country in any form until the rigid system of separation was abolished.
The combination of physical demonstrations within the country, movements by political leaders to make changes and the economic pressure from other nations worked. Laws supporting and enforcing apartheid began to be changed or repealed altogether. A system of laws and informal traditions established a half century earlier began to disintegrate in 1990.
Some observers of the political/social scene in South Africa feel that apartheid was a superficial or unnatural system that could only be sustained by force. In their view the system had to come apart simply because it was wrong. But the truth is a bit more complex. Thousands of people contributed to the fall of apartheid.