No other nation in recent world history has been known for a system of racial inequality as rigid as the one that existed in South Africa until the early 1990s. (1).
Beginning in 1949 and continuing through forty years of South Africa’s history, apartheid, a legally mandated system of racial classification, segregation, and discrimination,restricted far more than the right to vote. It defined who could live where, who could work at what job, and even who could be present in a given area at a particular time of day. (1)
The roots of this inequality and conflict began with the conquest of the indigenous black African population by white Europeans. Although apartheid was the law only since 1949, racial inequality had been deeplyinstitutionalized since the Dutch began to colonize the area in the mid-1600s. (1)
The first Dutch settlers were interested mainly in supplying their ships in the area, but agricultural settlers later began moving inland, or “trekking.” This brought conflict with the natives and ultimately their conquest. It also brought genocide to the native population. Close to the coast, a paternalistic systemof slavery was developed, although the slaves usually were imported from other parts of Africa. (1)
Gradually and after a series of conflicts, the British gained control of the area from the Dutch and attempted to treat the native population more liberally. This was not the actual result, however, for several reasons. First, the Dutch were pushed inland in further “treks” to avoid theBritish, conquering and subordinating still more of the native population. Included in this group was the large and well-organized Bantu nation, which fought fiercely and effectively for many years before its final conquest. Second, the British ultimately became as dependent as the Dutch on white supremacy, and their attempts at liberalization always stopped well short of a point that could havethreatened the white power structure. (1)
In addition, the descendants of the Dutch settlers, known as Afrikaners, viewed the British as outsiders who threatened their way of life with their attempts at racial liberalism, and the Afrikaners responded by becoming even more repressive of the native population. This, the establishment of apartheid in 1949, when the Afrikaners regained full control, wasby and large a codification of what had already developed: a strict caste system of racial inequality that had changed mainly from paternalism to segregation (the rigid competitive pattern) as the society changed from agricultural to urban. The caste system actually become more rigid as the society urbanized because whites came to see the black majority as an ever greater threat to theirsupremacy as a result of economic competition and the increased threat of rebellion. (1)
The election of a black president and a black majority parliament in a free election in which all could vote represented a dramatic turnaround for a country in which the right to vote had been systematically denied to the black majority throughout its history. However, the challenging task of undoing decades ofinstitutionalized racial inequality remained: Nearly all wealth in South Africa was in the hands of the white minority, and the average income of blacks was a tiny fraction of that of whites. (1)
International pressure had important effects on race relations within South Africa. South Africa international sanctions played a key role in bringing about the settlement that brought the majorityrule in 1994.
The situation in South Africa, compared with other societies, illustrates that societies in which the dominant group gained power through conquest or colonialism tend to have more racial or ethnic stratification and more intergroup conflict than societies with-out such a history. This may be especially true if the subordinate group is indigenous to the area. (1)
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