In 1939, a young and hardworking student of the University College of Fort Hare was elected at the university’s Student Representative Council (SRC). Time came when students became dissatisfied with the leadership of the SRC, criticizing its lack of power and interest to serve the studentry. As he was sympathetic to the students’ demands, he resigned from his position. Taking the act as audaciously defiant and rude, the administration expelled him for a year but at the same time gave him something to think about: he could return to the University only if he would take back his decision and serve the SRC once again. He did not recant nor did he come back to the university. This man would later on become the first democratically-elected South African president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a staunch advocate of anti-apartheid movements.
This admirably determined and principled man I am referring to is Nelson Mandela whose success during the 1994 presidential elections put an end to the apartheid in South African history. Mandela lived in his country during a time when racial origin dictates what one’s life will be and how it will be lived. The article gives a succinct background regarding the apartheid. It further analyzes on how the policy ushered sentiments of resistance from the people and what pivotal role did Mandela play during that time. It finally comments on the transition of South Africa from its dreary past up to the present.
The menace of the years
The policy of racial segregation in South Africa, pejoratively called as the apartheid, came into full force during the late 1940s when the National Party (NP) introduced legislations prescribing more rigid racial controls and standardizing a system of racial group classification. The apartheid system favored the Afrikaner-dominated NP and essentially the whites, outlawing non-whites especially the blacks. Life was not easy for black South Africans during the apartheid era. They got the worse living conditions, indecent and humiliating jobs, poor health and social services, and starkly inferior education system while the best of everything was reserved for the whites.
During these years, development was bleak as numerous human rights atrocities and persecutions among the blacks were sanctioned by the government. As parliament was dominated by whites, the non-whites were politically underrepresented in major decision processes involving their interests. The marginalization of the oppressed blacks was all the more underscored by their negligible existence in social and even national undertakings. In fact, they had to carry their passes every time so they could be allowed passage to certain boundaries; failure to do so entails heavy penalty. They were no less than aliens in their own country.
Bloody but unbowed
When power is repressive, oppressions arise; where there is oppression, there is resistance. Karl Marx’s propositions could not be more relevant. Only a few years after the series of segregationist legislations were ratified, civil disobedience and defiance in the government grew. Anti-apartheid protests, led initially by the youth arm of the African National Congress, were staged. Labor strikes and church activism intensified. More and more South Africans became non-cooperative and uncompromising of the government’s racist, if not discriminatory, policies. The Defiance Campaign in 1952, where thousands of black South Africans defied the laws, brought the struggle into a notch higher.
It was in this backdrop of events that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated due to his political advocacy and involvement with anti-apartheid demonstrations including the 1952 Defiance Campaign. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for political sabotage. Along with him, thousands were arrested, others tortured and some killed. Because of the increasing incidents of violence against the blacks, Mandela became the potent symbol of anti-apartheid movement in the country. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he worked unwaveringly on the dismantling and full eradication of the apartheid system. Upon assuming the presidency in 1994, he formed a multiethnic government to guide the country in its transition.
From the vestige of the past
Though the post-apartheid South Africa is beset with a range of challenges and crises, it has nonetheless deviated with much improvement from the shadow of its past, NP-ruled counterpart. Then racially divided, South Africa now considers people, regardless of racial origin and social class, stakeholders in governance. The economy continues to grow and is considered now as one of the largest in the world. Income inequality is being addressed by state welfare programs. Infant mortality is gradually falling and so is crime rate. But even so, South Africa may need to work more on expanding democratic and economic opportunities to those who have been deprived of these privileges for a very long time.
There are many people whom South Africa and the world should commend. One is Mandela who has already passed on a week ago. Until his death, he remained a champion of human rights, equality and social justice. We also thank those people whose blood was shed for the struggle against discrimination and injustice during the twilight days of the apartheid. But the fight is not yet over as there is more that needs to be done. From the words of Madiba, the single most important challenge now is “to establish social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual.”
*This article was published at ‘A Different View’, the official online blog of the International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS), on 11 December 2013. To read the articles written by my colleagues, click this link: http://iapss.org/index.php/articles