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South Africa's 'race problem'

For almost 50 years, South Africa was ruled by apartheid — a brutal system of racial separation that kept the nation's black majority in poverty while a white minority held the wealth and power. As unrest grew, South Africa seemed destined for a bloodbath. Canada — like many nations — was slow to react but, by the 1980s, assumed a leading role in forcing economic sanctions against South Africa. Canadian business people, activists and clergy also played parts in bringing about all-race elections in 1994, and a surprisingly peaceful end to apartheid.

In 1948 South Africa's National Party began implementing laws that institutionalized racial discrimination. The policies of apartheid (an Afrikaans word meaning "separateness") don't just keep South Africa's races apart -- they virtually guarantee poverty and powerlessness for all but the minority of whites. It's a situation that most other nations find deplorable. But can -- or should -- the postwar international community, including Canada, do anything about South Africa's internal politics?

Canada is an active participant in both the United Nations and the Commonwealth; organizations that oppose racial discrimination worldwide. At the United Nations in New York, a CBC panel gathers to discuss the topic, "South Africa's Racial Problem: Is It Any Concern of Ours?"
• South Africa is a country of about 1.2 million square kilometres located at the southern tip of the African continent. It was colonized by English and Dutch settlers in the early 1800s. The Dutch descendants are known as Afrikaners. It has traditionally been one of the most developed countries on the continent. Until 1961 South Africa was a member of the Commonwealth.

• In 1952 there were about 2.75 million white South Africans, and 8.5 million blacks and more than one million "coloured" (people of mixed descent, or of Indian or Asian descent.) Beginning in 1950, the Department of Home Affairs classified all South Africans based mostly on physical appearance, as well as "habits, education, and speech and deportment and demeanour."

• Apartheid was not an explicit policy, but an evolving, increasingly oppressive set of rules imposed on non-whites after the National Party was elected in South Africa. Interracial marriages were forbidden; many jobs were listed as white-only, and only whites were allowed to vote.

• Starting in 1950 a series of acts of parliament began to divide up South Africa based on race. In 1951 the Bantu Authorities Act established "homelands" for South Africa's black ethnic groups. These reserves, often on poor tracts of land, were to be independent states controlled by the South African parliament. Blacks were assigned to a homeland and lost citizenship in South Africa itself.

• In 1952 the South African government enacted "pass laws" requiring blacks to carry passbooks regulating where they could work and travel. This sometimes became an excuse for arresting blacks on technicalities.

• In April 1952 a South African judge justified his country's treatment non-whites in a CBC interview.

• By 1978, whites made up a quarter of South Africa's population, but controlled 87 per cent of the land and 75 per cent of the national income.
Medium: Radio
Program: Citizens' Forum
Broadcast Date: Nov. 20, 1952
Guest(s): Rodney Adamson, Michael Frye, Joan Humens, Harold Isaacs
Host: Edgar McInnis
Duration: 13:54

Last updated: July 9, 2013

Page consulted on January 8, 2014

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