Apartheid Facts for Kids

  • Apartheid was an extreme measure that aimed to maintain the supremacy of white Afrikaaners over non-white South Africans.
  • The system enforced segregation, which involved forcing people into their areas and using separate facilities for them.
  • The South African government began to repeal apartheid legislation in 1991.
  • President F.W de Klerk and activist Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work creating a new constitution.

What is apartheid?

Translated from Afrikaans, meaning ‘apartness’, apartheid was a government policy that the National Party supported. It was introduced in South Africa in 1948.

Apartheid was a political system in South Africa. It called for the separate development of the different racial groups. This seemed to call for equal treatment and freedom to express culture, but it turned out that this could not happen.

Apartheid made laws that meant different races were not allowed to live together. They would not be allowed to marry, and they would not meet each other.

During apartheid, you were in danger if you had a friend, not of the same race. You might be accused or worse.

Apartheid was a system that made it hard for some people to have money or get better jobs because they were of different skin colours from the country’s leaders. Many people could barely get by because they could not do specific jobs.

Apartheid was the social, political, and legal system in South Africa that segregated races

Apartheid was the same as segregation, but it made it legal. The main difference is that apartheid was written into law.

Apartheid was a cruel and violent system. Apartheid separated people and had punishments for those who disagreed. The other reason why apartheid was seen as much worse than segregation was that apartheid came when other countries were moving away from racist policies.

Before World War Two, the Western world wasn’t as critical of racism, and Africa was colonised. The Second World War made people see that racism could happen, and they changed their policies.

Racism became worse in South Africa. It was during this time that apartheid began to be used.

Why was this policy introduced with so much support? Unfortunately, many people support ideas that talk about racial superiority. Other people become afraid. Thoughts that one race is better than another are found worldwide.

In South Africa, white people are a minority. Many of them were scared that if they let the black people have power, they would lose their jobs and culture. This is not a justification for apartheid, but it explains how some people felt about it.

Antecedents of Apartheid

Formal apartheid started when Europeans came to Africa. The country had laws and rules about black people. These laws were rules that the government made to keep black people separate from white people.

After Dutch East India Company agents created the first permanent settlement in Cape Town, they soon transformed their supply station into a base for European expansion.

The Dutch controlled land and livestock. They fought the people who were native to this land, which was the Khoisan and Bantu peoples. The British colonial authorities made policies that continued living for years.

The British abolished slavery and gave some equality to the Khoisan people, but they did not give them all the same rights.

A lot of people in South Africa found gold and diamonds. People from Britain went there because they were interested in the land.

The British Army took over South Africa in a war. It was then that the Boers and British agreed on boundaries for who would get what land.

The peace treaty made it so white people would have property rights. But the Union of South Africa did not let any other people vote unless they lived in Cape Colony.

The Natives Land Act made it so that people could not own land in 87% of the country. It also made it so that people could not be share-croppers on a white ground.

Later on, Afrikaans-speaking people became more successful at showing their feelings about the country. Dutch Reform Church beliefs strongly influenced these people, who were primarily white. They were usually farmers or workers.

The Reunited National Party won because they promised to fight against British domination. They also wanted white privilege to continue as well as segregation.

Some people in the National Party, influenced by Nazi ideology, wanted white people to be separate from everyone else.

Complete separation would have taken away white people’s sources of labour, so the National Party plan for Afrikaners to get richer didn’t work.

Apartheid evolved. Whites were outnumbered. They came up with a plan for exploiting black labour while maintaining political control and racial separation.

Apartheid Laws

Lots of laws were made to make apartheid. Many pillars supported it. Here are a few:

Population Registration Act

This Act made it so that people had to register with their race. The Department of Home Affairs would keep people records and put them in the right group. There were four groups: Whites, Coloureds, Blacks, and Indians/Asians.

People were treated differently based on their population group, which caused apartheid. It was not easy for people to decide someone’s racial group, which led to some problems.

Group Areas Act

This was the act that started to separate people who were not white. It also took away some groups of people and put them in areas set aside just for them.

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act

This Act said that different races had to live in separate areas. Most of South Africa was left for black people to form their own country.

This Act made it so that people of colour were not allowed to live in white areas by moving them out of the city or district. Some well-known removals were in District 6, Sophiatown, and Lady Selborne.

These black people were put in towns outside the town. They could only rent the property, not own it, because it was white-owned land.

People lost their homes, were moved off land they had for many years and moved to other places far away from their work.

Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act

This Act was a law in South Africa that made it illegal for people who were white to marry people who were not white.


People from all different types of backgrounds fought against apartheid. People outside of South Africa also helped the fight.

Some important organisations in the liberation struggle were the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

There are also some Indian and coloured organized resistance movements. There is the Natal Indian Congress, an organization that helps Indians. There is also the Coloured People’s Organisation, which helps coloured people. There are some white groups, too, like the Armed Resistance Movement.


The ANC was started in Bloemfontein. It started for Black people who were educated.

The African National Congress sent a group of people to London for talks. They wanted to change the deal for black people in South Africa. But they didn’t get what they wanted.

In 1949, the ANC started doing more militant things. They were against apartheid.

The ANC supported protests and nonviolent actions. Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo were an important part of the ANC.

Then the ANC started a campaign. It was called Defiance. People were told to break laws that separated people and then go to jail.

For the ANC, the hope was that there would be international support for them, and they could end up winning if there were more prisoners.

Black people wanted to sit on the bus with white people. Black people used the toilet with white people. Black people wanted to live with white people and refused to use a pass. 8,000 black people ended up in jail, but the ANC caused no threat to the apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a Black person and the first Black president of South Africa. He was born in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela’s father was Chief Henry Mandela. He was also the grandson of Madiba, his clan’s name.

Mandela studied law. He became a lawyer.

Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC was a group that helped black people. Mandela became leader of the Youth League. 

Mandela was important because he helped start a campaign against laws that required people of colour to carry documents.

Mandela was arrested at a roadblock, and he got sent to prison for five years.

Nelson was in jail, but he had a lot of people who supported him there. People from other countries were against apartheid.

Then the South African government under President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison. Nelson Mandela and de Klerk were negotiating. They helped end South Africa’s apartheid system. This gave way to a peaceful transition to majority rule.

In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were given a Nobel Prize for Peace. They both played a part in this.

Apartheid Under International Law

Apartheid, like genocide or slavery, is a crime organised by a nation and charged with. Apartheid, like colonialism, is a serious infraction of international law and is expressly forbidden for states. 

Apartheid is a crime against humanity. The United Nations’ 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid says so.

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