The term apartheid generally refers to a system of state-enforced racial or ethnic segregation. As a political system, apartheid was first developed by the South African state in 1948 to enforce physical and political separation among the country’s racial groups. In response to the South African government’s brutality in enforcing this system, apartheid was declared a crime against humanity in 1966 by the United Nations General Assembly. Although apartheid officially ended in South Africa in 1990, prior to the country’s first fully democratic elections in 1994, the term is still used to describe state policy elsewhere in the world, most notably and controversially in contemporary Israel. As a result of its application outside the South African context, human rights proponents have increasingly used the term apartheid to refer to forms of social segregation beyond race or ethnicity, such as global apartheid, which is used when citizens of different countries have unequal access to goods and resources based on the country in which they live. This entry highlights apartheid in South Africa, the United Nation’s official declaration against it, and how global apartheid can be tied to security and countersurveillance.

Apartheid, Security, and South Africa

Originally deriving from the Afrikaans words for “separate” and “hood,” apartheid is often translated into English as “apartness” or “separateness.” It was made South African state policy in 1948 following the election of the Afrikaner nationalist National Party and codified into law through several acts over the ensuing decade. Two of the most important early acts were the 1950 Population Registration Act, which formalized racial distinctions and categorized the South African population into four distinct racial groups (Europeans, Africans, Indians, and Coloureds [mixed race]), and the 1950 Group Areas Act, which forced each group to live in racially defined areas to prevent mixing. These acts were further supplemented by the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act, which created separate governing authorities for blacks and whites, and the 1970 Black Homeland Citizen Act, which declared that Africans were citizens of designated homeland territories, not South Africa. Collectively, these laws were premised on the idea that Africans living in urban areas was “unnatural” and that their presence therefore presented a threat to urban order. The effect was to enable the state to police the movement of nonwhites and enforce political subservience.

Such massive securitization engendered increasingly forceful resistance to apartheid. Originally peaceful, mobilization against apartheid took a violent turn following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which the police shot 69 people peacefully protesting the pass laws. In the wake of the massacre, the primary opponents of apartheid, the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, formed armed wings that began carrying out sabotage operations. Particularly following the 1976 Soweto Massacre, in which the police shot more than 300 protesting high school students, resistance to apartheid became increasingly difficult for the state to control. By the mid-1980s, the rebellion had spread across the country, which ultimately resulted in the lifting of the pass laws in 1986, followed by a negotiated transition to democracy in 1994.

Apartheid and the United Nations

The brutality of the South African state led to increasing international condemnation of apartheid over time. Particularly in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, the international community was forced to respond. It did this primarily through the United Nations, whose General Assembly, in 1966, declared apartheid a crime against humanity (a declaration that was ratified by the Security Council in 1984). This resolution was strengthened in 1976 when The Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid came into force. The Apartheid Convention (as it is commonly known) was targeted at South Africa, but its reach also extended beyond that country, defining apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” The specific acts associated with the crime of apartheid as defined by the Apartheid Convention are broad, including everything from murder and torture to the imposition of deleterious living conditions on a particular group through the creation of segregated residential areas for racial groups. However, no international court was established to prosecute crimes of apartheid at the time the convention came into effect. Instead, legislatures and courts in individual states were left to determine how to punish perpetrators of apartheid, albeit now with the strength that comes with a universal jurisdiction such as that afforded by the convention.

Apartheid, Security, and Countersurveillance Beyond South Africa

One effect, perhaps unintended, of the adoption of the Apartheid Convention by the international community has been that the language of apartheid is now available for political movements and human rights proponents to sanction certain regime practices. In this sense, the language of apartheid acts as a kind of countersurveillance available to citizens to hold state leaders and human rights abusers in check. That is, apartheid has become a term to be used to police forms of perceived injustice.

Nicholas Rush Smith

See also Counterintelligence ; Israel ; South Africa

Further Readings

Bond, Patrick. Against Global Apartheid: South Africa Meets the World Bank, IMF and International Finance. London, England: Zed Books, 2003.

Dugard, John. “Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid” (November 30, 1973). http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/cspca/cspca.html (Accessed June 2014).

Ochs, Juliana. Security and Suspicion: And Ethnography of Everyday Life in Israel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Welsh, David. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jonathan Ball, 2009.