The Legacy Of South Africa’s Apartheid

Apartheid ended more than 25 years ago, but the ever-worsening inequality and economic deprivations in South Africa prove the persistent legacy of the oppressive racial segregation.

In 1991, the future of South Africa looked promising as there was a sense of newfound hope on the horizon. Nelson Mandela had been freed from imprisonment, the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) was lifted, and in April of 1994, the ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, won the first ever multiracial democratic election in South Africa’s history, bringing an end to the 46 year-rule of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela, Kholvad House, Johannesburg
Nelson Mandela, Kholvad House, Johannesburg. FACEBOOK Nelson Mandela

Although the policies of the deeply institutionalized racism were overturned more than 20 years ago, the social, economic, and cultural impacts of apartheid are still prevalent in South African society – as there are ever-widening gaps between White and Black South Africans.

Brief History of Apartheid

After the National Party gained power in 1948, its all-White government immediately began enforcing policies of racial segregation. Translating to “apartness” in the language of Afrikaans, apartheid allowed for non-White citizens to be stripped of their land and relocated to racially segregated developments far outside the cities. Under apartheid, non-White South Africans (who were a large majority of the population) were not only forced to live in separate areas, but also had to use different public facilities from Whites as contact between the two groups was limited.

Although becoming official in 1948, white supremacy and racial segregation were nothing new to the Black community and the communities of color, as these issues were central aspects of South African policy and society long before apartheid was put in place.

Apartheid, Mandela. Johannesburg. UNSPLASH Gregory Fullard
Johannesburg, South Africa. UNSPLASH Gregory Fullard

Passed in 1913, just three years after South Africa gained its independence from British rule, the Land Act imposed segregation of land ownership based on race. Black Africans were forced to live in reserves, while also making it illegal for them to work as sharecroppers. Opponents of the Land Act formed the South African National Native Congress, which would later become the ANC.

Things only became worse by 1950, as the National Party extended on the core of land segregation and banned marriages and other sexual relations between Whites and people of other races. The Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act, both passed in 1950, provided the framework for apartheid by classifying all South Africans by race, including: Colored, Bantu (Black Africans), Asian, and White, and called for the physical removal of groups of people into specific areas set aside based on these classifications.

Sign from Apartheid era
Sign from Apartheid era. WIKIPEDIA

According to Britannica, between 1960 and 1980, over 3 million people were forcibly removed from cities to rural townships by police officers. In District Six, an inner city residential neighborhood rich with history located in Cape Town, over 60,000 people were relocated to townships miles away after the area was declared “Whites only” by authorities. These relocation townships were overcrowded and cut off from infrastructures, utilities, and resources.


With the election of the ANC in 1994, there was hope amongst communities as the party had originally promised better housing, schools, and other services for oppressed communities; however, the party prioritized policies geared towards international investment instead, as the party fear that “radical changes in South Africa” would turn away investors, especially in the West.

Mandela Bridge, Johannesburg, South Africa
Mandela Bridge, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Tembinkosi Sikupela on Unsplash

By 2004, the ANC had founded nearly 2 million new homes for Black South Africans, but the housing was developed within the townships, which only reinforced the segregated geographies established during the apartheid era. People living in these governmental housings do not legally own the land they live on, have high costs and travel times to commute to city jobs that are underpaid, and have little access to public services and utilities.

Today, more than 25 years post-apartheid, according to the World Population Review, South Africa’s population is over 79% Black, and only 9% White, yet the number of White South Africans earning more than $60,000 a year is 20 times higher than that of Black South Africans.

The majority of Black South Africans still live in restricting townships and informal housing throughout the country, and most work multiple jobs with low wages. Issues like gentrification in major cities, most prominent in Cape Town and Johannesburg, also exacerbate and contribute to these social inequalities and oppression.

Because of the legacy of apartheid’s land segregation, the majority of the Black community and communities of colors have little access to higher quality schools or health care and have few opportunities for social mobility.

Township Housing, South Africa
Townships and informal housing, South Africa. Image by vleyva from Pixabay

South Africa is a perfect example in which economic, social, and racial inequality can be reproduced and preserved within a country’s social fabric, allowing it to continue to permeate its power structures and oppressive nature. The ever-worsening challenges of inequality and economic and social right deprivations in South Africa clearly show the persistent legacy of apartheid.

Lily Adami

Content Editor Associate

Having a silly and hard-working personality, Lily loves getting to know people and is passionate about human rights around the world. She is enthusiastic about other cultures, history, and international affairs. Lily has a deep appreciation for traveling, her favorite places include: Amsterdam, Amalfi Coast, and South Africa.

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