South Africa Begins Separate Development System Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Bantu Authorities Act, one of several key apartheid laws passed after the National Party victory of 1948, represented the initial step in creating a racially segregated development system in the Bantu Homelands. The system would become the object of international controversy and sanctions against the South African government.

Summary of Event

Before the watershed election of 1948, South Africans of non-European ancestry had long experienced significant forms of legal and social discrimination. With the end of slavery in 1833, pass laws continued to require blacks (also called “Natives” or “Bantu”) to carry identification cards. The Native Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 prohibited blacks from owning land in areas of white residence and designated about 13 percent of the land for blacks, who composed about 70 percent of the population. Although most segregation laws were aimed at blacks, there also were limitations on the political and social rights of Asians and so-called coloreds (people of mixed black-white ancestry). In general, Afrikaners of Dutch and other continental European ancestry were more uncompromising supporters of rigid segregation than were English-speaking whites, and in the 1930’s Afrikaners began to use the word “apartheid” to refer to their ideas of racial apartness or separation. Apartheid Bantu Authorities Act, South African (1951) Racial and ethnic discrimination;South African apartheid South Africa;apartheid Human rights;South Africa [kw]South Africa Begins Separate Development System (June 21, 1951) [kw]Separate Development System, South Africa Begins (June 21, 1951) Apartheid Bantu Authorities Act, South African (1951) Racial and ethnic discrimination;South African apartheid South Africa;apartheid Human rights;South Africa [g]Africa;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] [g]South Africa;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] [c]Social issues and reform;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] [c]Human rights;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] [c]Economics;June 21, 1951: South Africa Begins Separate Development System[03520] Malan, Daniel François Verwoerd, Hendrik Frensch Lutuli, Albert Smuts, Jan Christian

The government of the United Party United Party, South African under Jan Christian Smuts, in power between 1939 and 1948, did not in any way challenge the legitimacy of segregation and white domination. Still, United Party policies were considered excessively liberal by members of the National Party, National Party, South African the party of most Afrikaners. Although Smuts was one of the designers of the United Nations charter, his government passed a 1946 law that restricted places where Indians might reside or purchase land, and Smuts’s prestige was damaged when the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution critical of the 1946 law. Early in 1948, nevertheless, liberals were encouraged when Smuts chose Jan Hofmeyr Hofmeyr, Jan as deputy prime minister and when he accepted H. A. Fagan’s Fagan, H. A. commission report that concluded that “total segregation” was entirely impractical.

In the election of 1948, the platform of the National Party denounced the Fagan Report Fagan Report and endorsed a policy of apartheid. A campaign pamphlet argued that black rights should be restricted to the black reserves, that most Indians should return to India, and that “the fundamental guiding principle of National Party policy is preserving and safeguarding the White race.” The conservative leader of the party, Daniel François Malan, was a Dutch Reformed minister who often spoke of Afrikaner history as “not the work of men but the creation of God.” The election was very close, but the National Party, in a coalition with other Afrikaner parties, did manage to win a five-seat majority in the House of Assembly, the dominant chamber of the South African parliament.

Despite this slight majority, the Nationalists moved boldly to implement their program for apartheid. On August 19, Prime Minister Malan told the parliament that this program would begin with four points: the end of black representation to the House of Assembly; the establishment of limited self-government for blacks in their reserves; the removal of colored voters from the electoral roll in Cape Province, allowing them white representatives; and the mandated racial segregation of all schools and universities. The parliament quickly passed one of many “petty apartheid laws” that made it illegal for blacks to use first-class coaches of railroad cars, and in 1949 it approved a law that prohibited marriages between persons of different races.

Smuts, until his death in 1950, led the fight against the passage of apartheid legislation, but the National coalition had the necessary votes to prevail. The African National Congress African National Congress, South African (ANC), a black organization begun in 1912, was the most conspicuous opponent of the Malan government, and it was at this time that Albert Lutuli and Nelson Mandela Mandela, Nelson began to attract international attention. In its annual meeting of 1948, the ANC developed a program of action based on strikes and civil disobedience; by 1950 the ANC had decided to end all cooperation with the government. Similarly, the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic bishops, and the South African Indian Congress all made strong denunciations of the concept of apartheid. Moral condemnation, however, did not have any visible impact on the Malan government.

During 1950, Malan was able to win the parliament’s approval of three significant laws. On June 19, the parliament passed the Group Areas Act Group Areas Act, South African (1950) , which divided the country into specific regions to be exclusively reserved for whites, blacks, or coloreds. About the same time, the Population Registration Act Population Registration Act, South African (1950) provided for the systematic classification of people into one of those three racial categories (an Asian category was added later). The third law, the Suppression of Communism Act, Suppression of Communism Act, South African (1950) Civil liberties;South Africa outlawed the expression of almost any ideas that had anything in common with Marxist socialism, including any doctrine that promoted “the encouragement of feelings of hostility between the European and non-European races.”

On October 18, 1950, while the parliament was in the process of making these sweeping changes, Malan added Dr. Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd to his cabinet as the minister of native affairs. A university sociologist and newspaper editor from Johannesburg, Verwoerd was an articulate defender of a “grand design of separate development” for the different ethnic groups of South Africa. Verwoerd insisted, and probably convinced himself, that his grand design was not oppressive to non-Europeans and that it would allow all South Africans to realize their aspirations with full respect for the country’s pluralism of cultures and traditions. Tribalism was the key to Verwoerd’s grand design, with the goal of increasing tribal autonomy within the reserves while excluding blacks from other regions, except when their cheap labor was necessary.

Verwoerd’s ideas about tribal autonomy provided the theoretical justification for the Bantu Authorities Act, which passed the House of Assembly on June 21, 1951. The main intention of the legislation was to reinforce the authority of the tribal chiefs and headmen, thus endorsing the traditional basis of authority within the reserves. Each local tribe was to have a tribal council (made up of a chief and his advisers) for the administration of local affairs. The tribal councils of a region would elect representatives to a regional council, which would have executive authority over hospitals, roads, education, medical care, and other matters designated by the governor-general. Above this level, regional councils would appoint representatives to a territorial council, with the entire system under the supervision of the Department of Native Affairs Department of Native Affairs, South African . The law abolished the Natives’ Representative Council, Natives’ Representative Council, South African[Natives Representative Council] a partially elected advisory body that had existed since 1936.

Under the new system, tribal chiefs and headmen were selected from customary ruling families, but at the same time they were officially appointed by the white government and paid a small salary for carrying out their duties. As a result, tribal chiefs and headmen had the problem of keeping the confidence of both their own people and their European supervisors. The Department of Native Affairs reserved the power to remove any chief or headman considered unreliable, and Verwoerd made no secret about his determination that tribal leaders were expected to conform to official policies.

In future years, the government would not hesitate to dismiss nonconformists, the most famous case being the 1952 dismissal of Lutuli because of his refusal to give up membership in the ANC. In addition to the issue of white control, the ANC opposed the Bantu Authorities Act because of its promotion of divisive tribalism. The ANC looked upon tribalism as the greatest barrier to the development of the kind of African unity necessary for a successful struggle against apartheid.

In the defiance campaign of 1952, the ANC leadership wrote to Prime Minister Malan requesting the repeal of the Bantu Authorities Act and five other “unjust laws.” Malan’s secretary replied that they should address their concerns to the Native Affairs Department and that the government would “make full use of the machinery at its disposal” to enforce the laws. Despite the defiance campaign and international protest, the Malan government was able to get its way in putting the 1951 law into effect.

In 1953, three Bantu Authorities were introduced in the Transvaal, and two years later, the government achieved a major goal when the Transkeian General Council (called the “Bunga”) voted to accept the principle of the new system. Meanwhile, the parliament continued to pass increasingly restrictive apartheid legislation, and there appeared to be no way to stop South Africa from moving further in the direction of Verwoerd’s grand design for separate development.


The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 began the implementation of separate development, or apartheid, by promoting Bantu self-government in the reserves while preserving white control. Verwoerd understood that it was necessary to gain the support of chiefs and headmen and that this required that they be given vested interests in the system. In altruistic rhetoric, he argued that integration of the races could only result in conflict and the exploitation of non-Europeans; in contrast, the system of separate development would allow the Bantu to achieve equality and democracy within the tribal homelands. Critics noted that the fragmented reserves were in isolated areas with poor land and with few resources for economic development.

By 1953, the pillars of the apartheid system were firmly in place. Apparently the majority of white voters in South Africa approved of the direction of the National Party leadership, for in the general election of that year the National Party coalition greatly increased its majority. With its new majority, the Malan government passed three important laws that made apartheid increasingly oppressive to blacks, coloreds, and Asians.

The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, South African (1953) of 1953 required segregation of all public facilities, including recreational areas and governmental services. The Bantu Education Act Bantu Education Act, South African (1953) segregated educational institutions and increased governmental control of education to prevent blacks from receiving preparation for jobs reserved for whites. A third law of 1953, the Public Safety Act, Public Safety Act, South African (1953) authorized the police to arrest suspects without trial or judicial review, and it also allowed the government to declare a state of emergency for a period up to one year.

By the time that Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958, he had formulated a blueprint for taking apartheid to its logical conclusion. He was determined to eradicate all “black spots” in areas of white residence, forcing all blacks to live in one of the reserves. Also, building upon the foundation of the Bantu Authorities Act, he was resolved to bring order to the 260 scattered reserves. His first measure as prime minister was the Bantu Self-Government Act, Bantu Self-Government Act, South African (1958)[Bantu Self Government Act] which aimed at consolidating the existing reserves into eight Bantu homelands (called “Bantustans” by Verwoerd). In general, the homelands were made up of scattered pieces of land spread across three provinces. As in the 1951 law, the governing authorities were tribal chiefs and headmen, with the Bureau of Bantu Affairs retaining the veto over appointments and major decisions. Apartheid Bantu Authorities Act, South African (1951) Racial and ethnic discrimination;South African apartheid South Africa;apartheid Human rights;South Africa

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beinart, William. Twentieth-Century South Africa. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Examination of apartheid and the roles key figures such as Jan Smuts, Nelson Mandela, and F. W. de Klerk played in South Africa’s history. Includes a bibliography and appendixes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beinart, William, and Saul DuBow, eds. Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-Century South Africa. New York: Routledge, 1995. Ten important essays on the development and growth of segregation and apartheid in South Africa. Includes a helpful glossary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Gwendolen. The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. New York: Praeger, 1958. A detailed account of the first decade following the 1948 election, with excellent coverage of laws and parliamentary conflicts. The appendix has many original documents. Not recommended for beginners.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Gwendolen, Thomas Karis, and Newell Stultz. South Africa’s Transkei: The Politics of Domestic Colonialism. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967. An excellent study of the largest of the tribal homelands of South Africa, including an analysis of the legislation that created the system of separate development. Too specialized for the general reader.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davenport, T. R. H. South Africa: A Modern History. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1977. Probably the best general history of the country, including the various ethnic groups. The book provides a good reference for events, individuals, and movements, with exhaustive notes that refer to more specialized sources. Davenport is pessimistic about the prospects for the future.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hepple, Kenneth. Verwoerd. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967. Written by a former leader of the South African Labor Party, the book presents a fascinating and fair account of a major ideologue responsible for the concept of the Bantu Authorities Act. An extremely readable book.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ingham, Kenneth. Jan Christian Smuts. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A good biography of South Africa’s dominant figure of the twentieth century, written from a liberal perspective. Ingham is critical of Smuts’s racial policies. There is little material about the period after 1948.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lapping, Brian. Apartheid: A History. New York: George Braziller, 1987. An excellent and readable summary of the history of racial discrimination and apartheid from 1652 to the government of Pieter Botha, including many fascinating photographs and an annotated bibliography. Probably the best introduction to the topic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Leonard Montheath. A History of South Africa. 3d ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Thorough review of the apartheid era. An indispensable tool for understanding the history of the conflicts in South Africa by a distinguished historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Worden, Nigel. The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Segregation and Apartheid. 3d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000. Detailed examination of the primary issues that have shaped South Africa. Includes a bibliography and an index.

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