A History of Apartheid in South Africa


Apartheid and white supremacy are two keywords that constructively elucidate the relationship between African-Americans and Africans on the continent in the colonial and contemporary African eras. Political rhetoric states that the connectivity of these two terms is typically reserved for historical conflicts that have taken place on the African continent, but it is to be explored that their relationship can be perceived internationally, with a distinct focus on America. 

An initial understanding of the word apartheid can primarily be traced back to the period of postcolonization in South Africa from the late 1950s to the mid 1990s when the African National Congress and other prominent South African/African organizations were banned by the white-dominated SA government, as well as back to 1600s when the Dutch East India Co. arrived in SA with the intentions of colonization and discovery of an accessible sea route. The movement to end the racially-motivated political and social ideology of settler colonialism that ordered the white South Africans superior to the Black South Africans was a prolonged and tumultous effort from many African and African-American leaders, notably Nelson Mandela. Claude Clegg writes of those who supported the movement to abolish apartheid from abroad by stating, “Among those who added their voices to what would become the first human-rights movement of the twentieth century was George Washington Williams...Williams's public condemnation of a European ruler was an extraordinarily bold move by a man whose own country had systematically deprived blacks of the franchise...Although at the time the letter simply caused the Belgians much embarrassment, it would set a precedent for African Americans who nearly a century later would be at the international vanguard of the movement against apartheid in South Africa” (Clegg). Here Clegg expressively used this term to extensively relate South Africa’s events to those occurring in America as well. He discusses the arisal of collective Black activists, such as Maya Angelou, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and more who would later visit the continent in the next 60-70 years who would work to unite common forces to perhaps align with their African identities and to draw hopes of spreading the shared Black struggle for independence and civil rights. 

Congenial to common understanding, I believe many leading African-American leaders found it easy to understand apartheid by always connecting that system to the equivalent seen in America. This statement is supported by the fact that if you were to search up primary sources about apartheid connected with a leading African-American activist, one would only find that many of them just connect the Black struggle as to why these different systems of prejudice continue to plague Black people, especially in the United States, not necessarily declaring a specific solution to end the bout of racism that especially plagued postcolonial Africa. For example, Malcolm X summarizes a few statements about the purposes of Afro-American unity when he writes of,  “Conscious of the fact that freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, we will endeavor to build a bridge of understanding and create the bases for Afro-American unity’” (Manning 10). Malcolm being one of the heads of the idea of Black nationalism/liberation found it necessary to connect with his counterparts on the continent, but only for the advantage of the liberation movement in America. To me, it seems as if Malcolm and other leaders viewed apartheid as solely a medium to raising up the freedom movement in America while gaining support of African leaders to prove to the international community that racial unity is probable (ThoughtCo). But one thing Malcolm was certain of were the roots of apartheid in SA and racism in the US shared one common factor: white supremacy.

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