SOC/D Midterm – Race and South Africa

Alex Laverty

Sociology 188J Midterm

8 May 2007.

3. Write an essay in which you compare the nature of the South African state in

response to the following questions:

a. How, according to Anthony Marx, does the emergence of racial

domination in South Africa resemble or depart from similar developments

in the US and Brazil? What explains the different paths that white

supremacy followed in these three countries?

b. According to the essay by Posel, how has “race” been legally defined in

South Africa? What implications flow from this approach to race?

3a. South African history mirrors many of the same chain of events that took place in the United States. In both nations the disagreements over the handling of blacks led to much of the tension that led to the Civil War and the Boer War. After these conflicts, the losing side proved to be a roadblock in path to national unity and thus the Southerners and the Afrikaners had to be appeased by the winning sides before stability could return to the country. In both countries the blacks were excluded socially and economically in order to bring about reconciliation between the two white factions of the country. The fact that blacks had not proved very disruptive when compared to the national conflicts, segregation of the blacks could be afforded by the white population. As Anthony Marx stresses throughout his essay “racial domination was repeatedly reinforced to consolidate the nation-state” (Marx 82).

This continued racial superiority would be put into legislation in both South Africa and the United States in the form of apartheid and Jim Crow laws, respectively. Both policies were passed in an attempt to diminish white conflict that existed between the English elite and the Afrikaner workers in South Africa and the Southerners and the Northerners in the United States. Stability led to greater economic development, and this especially pleased both nations’ government as they saw increased revenues as result. Thus the continued economic success that both countries enjoyed following the passage of racial hierarchy laws meant that the black population in both nations would have the cause enough disruption stability bring about any change in either country’s racial policies.

Brazil’s racial past is quite different from that of South Africa’s. The primary difference in Brazil’s past is the strong and consolidated central power of the Portuguese crown. While Dutch and British imperialists relied on private countries to spur forward the development of their colonies, the Portuguese state made their own investments overseas. While the pattern of a strong state persisted in colonial Brazil, it did not affect the treatment of slaves. In fact, contrary to some beliefs that due to the Catholic Church slaves were treated much better in Brazil, slaves in the Portuguese colony were often subjected to the harshest conditions in the world. This was because the Portuguese had a heavy hand in the slave trade and abolished the slave trade much later than any of the other imperial powers only after strong pressure from the British. The constant and seemingly endless supply of slaves before the abolishment of the trade meant that slaves in Brazil did not have to be treated with much care as they were easily and cheaply replaced. When viewed in retrospect, the strength that the colonial state enjoyed over the private sector enabled the state to “project an exaggerated image of tolerance” (Marx 83).

There was no external European fragment in Brazil similar  to the Afrikaners of South Africa, thus national unity existed almost throughout Brazilian colonial history. Additionally, just as nationalistic movements were rising in the colony the entire Portuguese court fled to their colony in an effort to flee the Napoleonic expansion in Europe in 1808 and subdued the growing tensions. Thus there was not much momentum that could cause conflicts that might undermine state stability in the same way that the Civil War and the Boer War did in the United States and South Africa, respectively.

Race domination in South Africa and the United States, according to Marx, was always intended to mitigate internal conflict and promote national unity. The putting down of Africans in both of these countries allowed the wounds of war to heal between the different white factions of the population and eventually led to economic expansion. In Brazil, because there was no white conflict, the need to subordinate the needs of blacks was not necessary and thus no apartheid-like legislation came about in Brazil.

3b. Posel begins her explanation of race by showing that originally apartheid social engineers tried to draw on the scientific definition of race. There was much discussion in the parliament over ‘blood’ and how lineage should be the defining factor in determining whether a person in South Africa was ‘white’, ‘colored’, or ‘native’. However, this classification by blood would have been very costly and a massive undertaking for a government to runs tests of the entire population. Even though the biological basis for race had traction with the populous, the state opened up interpretation of race to a ‘common sense’ approach.

The Population Registration Act of 1950 was passed as the cornerstone of efforts to produce a comprehensive system of racial classification. The overall aim of the Act was to reestablish some of the walls between the races that had slowly begun to erode with the large stream of blacks entering the cities during and post-WWII. The Act was a tool in preserving the ‘racial purity’ of white South Africa.

The legal definition of race came down to the classification by members of the community. More simply, race would be determined on a person’s social status. With the ‘scientific’ foundation of race removed, the Population Registration Act became an important device for patronage in the National Party. The confirming of ‘whiteness’ on National party supporters was a way to reward their support, to reward them with a certain social and economic class that would be permanent. This differed from past legislation that could interpret race as fluid in time and space. The new Act removed any fluidly and thus promised a lifetime of success or agony depending on the person’s classification.

This power to determine a person’s standing in society fell to untrained poor whites during the first census and thus racial classification of this era could be very biased against those that might appear to be ‘colored’ or ‘native’. The only way to reconcile a wrong classification was to appeal to the Race Classification Appeal Board, but even then there was little accountability or oversight of the process. The entire process disrupted countless families who were reclassified and were no longer allowed to live where they lived, go to school in the same school, or even earn the same wages. All of this because of a swift decision by a single man who decided that you should be reclassified. While the few thousand appeals that were filed in the first decade of the Population Registration Act were successful, Posel does not have an explanation for why millions of others who were adversely affected did not also appeal.

4. Write an essay on the strengthening and decline of Apartheid from 1948 to the

1980s. What innovations did the NP government introduce? Which factors

undermined Apartheid?

4. The origins of apartheid reside in the Afrikaner’s desire to help the Zulu and the other ethnic groups of South Africa maintain their identity and create their own nationalism, according the liberal Afrikaner architects of the system. Apartheid was also a reaction to the fear of the natives who had poured into the city during and after World War II. The National Party subsequently won the post-WWII election on the platform of apartheid.

One of the initial strengthening of apartheid was the establishment of the reserves, places that would be set aside for the black population in order to ‘preserve’ their ‘natural’ and ancestral lands.  To help instigate moving the black population the reserves, influx control was introduced, which was essentially a white police officer taking a black man off the streets of a city and sending him to the reserves. In this way, the Afrikaners believed they were giving the blacks a sense of nationalism, but the real aim was in fact to divide the blacks and thus smash the black militants of the urban areas by sending them to their ‘homelands’.

As generous as the Afrikaners appeared to be, the real factor that had first entrenched the segregation into the South African consciousness was the economy. The political system itself is due to the existence of the capitalism in the country. It is the capitalist mindset of the economy that created the need for the cheap labor, and thus the government, with most of its backing in capitalist sectors of the country, made sure to provide cheap labor for the gold and diamond minds of the country. In fact, behind the creation of the reserves were the capitalists, using the reserves as their own labor pool. The South African government tried to justify the legitimacy of the reserves by giving them names that made it seem as if they were fully independent and separate from South Africa. First they were simply the reserves, then Bantustans, then Homelands, and finally Independent states. While South Africa was the only nation to recognize the reserves as Independent states, the language of legitimacy was entrenched in South African politics that helped justify the measures taken by the government to keep blacks out of the white urban centers. The National Party could claim that they were protecting the blacks by keeping them isolated from the ‘dangers’ of modernity and capitalism, thus enabling the African to establish what every modern Christian society should have: a sense of nationalism and patriotism towards ‘their’ country. In fact Africans were assigned to the reserves in such a jumble, that they rarely had any true connection to their assigned ‘homeland’ and this actually caused hatred towards the Afrikaners to intensify.

While so many of the early reasons for apartheid were in the early 1900s and stemmed from the demands of the mines, high apartheid was not essentially linked with the economy and according to Butler it “lacked this hallmark of systematic exploitation” that had come before with segregation (Butler 17). Such polices include the abandonment of White supremacy in favor of  black self-government, the ‘separate development’ doctrine, and the launch of mass removals that forcibly took Africans to the reserves, which was to bring about re-tribalization. Legislation such as the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 started to strip legal and political rights from natives, which were then transferred to the reserves. However, this Act had been proceeded by many others such as the Group Areas Act and the Natives Resettlement act, which authorized many of the before mentioned policies.

The reasons for the decline and end of apartheid usually stem from the two major philosophies of historiography, liberals and Marxists. Liberals firmly believe that what they had been preaching throughout South Africa’s history, the market would eventually root out any kind of racism, finally came true. Marxists argue that while the races and capitalism helped each other in the early part of the 20th century, near the end, white economic prosperity was declining just as black radicalism was sharply increasing. Thus Marxists claim that race and class are compatible but only under stable conditions and are thus incompatible when encountering conditions such as 1980s South Africa. Regardless of opinion, the South African government simply could not sustain apartheid any longer because of the economic toll it took on the nation. Low-intensity warfare, the large police force, and international rejection all contributed to the South African government falling into the red. This was intensified by black strikes that began in 1973. Since the late 1950s there had been no strikes because of the intense pressure of the state, but once the strikes began the snowball effect that was created was unstoppable, even though the South African state poured all their resources into putting down the strikes.

Therefore with the innovations of government policies such as separate development and the creation of tribal homelands, the government took a radical departure from the economic exploitation that had existed previously under segregation. Numerous government Acts furthered the divide between whites and blacks as the need for the Afrikaner government to legitimate their actions remained constant. When the ‘total onslaught’ of the 1980s came upon the government, apartheid became untenable and more importantly to the white population it became unprofitable. When the government could finally no longer financially support the fight to put down the ANC or the strikes, it was finally willing to  negotiate an end to apartheid.


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