Apartheid officially began in South Africa in 1948, when the National Party gained office in an election that gave the right to vote only to white people. With the passing of the apartheid laws in the same year, racial segregation and discrimination became part of the institution of government. It was through these laws that, among other things, mixed-race marriages were prohibited and certain jobs were specifically classified as being only for white people. By 1950, the apartheid government had passed the Population Registration Act, which defined groups of people according to their appearance and heritage. These classifications were white, black, Asian, and colored. In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act was created. By this act, blacks were each assigned to a so-called homeland and could vote only in this small district, thus taking away their rights to vote in countrywide South African elections. In essence, this stripped blacks of citizenship in their own country. To further control blacks, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment were passed in 1953. Through these government actions, the government prevented all forms of political demonstration. Violators could be fined, but they were more often whipped or imprisoned. Thousands were detained in prisons without the right to hearings. Many of these people were tortured and later died while in prison. Even those who were granted trials were often found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Although blacks comprised a majority of the population, whites owned most of the land. Schools were segregated and black schools were far inferior to white schools. It was against the law for blacks to socialize with whites. By 1976, black people in South Africa began to riot. The trigger for widespread protesting was the government’s attempts to force school children in the township of Soweto to learn Afrikaans, a language specific to the white population. The riots increased and would continue until the laws of apartheid were abolished.
The international community tried different tactics to dissuade apartheid in South Africa. In 1961, former British colonies that were members of the British Commonwealth forced South Africa out of this organization. Almost two decades later, the United States and the United Kingdom joined forces and restricted trade with the apartheid government in South Africa. This combination of international condemnation and the ongoing riots inside the country eventually had an effect. In 1990, the white government repealed the apartheid laws. In the process, Nelson Mandela, who had spent twenty-seven years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, was released. During the next three years, South Africa drafted a new constitution. In 1993, then-president Frederik W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in abolishing apartheid and stabilizing the country. On April 27, 1994, in an election by all races, Mandela was made the first black president of South Africa. Every year since that historic election, April 27 has been celebrated in South Africa as National Freedom Day.
Coloreds as Defined in South Africa
In South Africa, racial distinction was a large part of the political system of discrimination called apartheid. People were identified partially by the color of their skin. Therefore, there were whites, blacks, Asians (or sometimes referred to as Indians), and coloreds. The group called coloreds included people of mixed races.
Though many in the group known as coloreds could trace their ancestry back to black Africans, they did not have a large enough percentage of African blood for them to be called black. Rather, a majority of their ancestors might include people from European or Asian countries as well. Culturally, both blacks and whites considered people in the colored category as a separate racial group. In Paton’s short story, Mrs. Maarman considers herself to belong to the colored group. Ha’penny is portrayed as being black, a descendant of one of the original tribes in South Africa. Mrs. Maarman’s reluctance to take in Ha’penny as part of her family is based on her feelings that the different races should not live together. This might seem ironic, since Mrs. Maarman is herself of mixed heritage, but Paton’s story reflects the cultural protocols of the strict segregation of apartheid.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Alan Paton, Published by Gale Group, 2001.