How the African National Congress defined and understood the concept of apartheid.
Nelson Mandela is recognized worldwide for fighting for the freedom of South Africa from its colonizers. He spent twenty-seven years of jail for his role as a freedom fighter, but in the end, his country achieved independence. South Africa had experienced many years of apartheid, a period during which people were segregated and discriminated against based on race. The whites were considered superior, while the black people were oppressed and seen as inferior. The struggle for racial equality is still ongoing even today, not just in South Africa but also in many other countries. Many people still choose to define and judge others based on their skin color or their place of origin, which is quite unfortunate. Racial discrimination brings a lot of injustice, and South Africa is a perfect case. Nelson Mandela was part of the South African party, the African National Congress, which fought for the rights and freedoms of blacks in South Africa. During the Rivonia Trial, Mandela highlighted the negativity and injustices that apartheid brought, including inciting violence, death, racial inequality, and oppression.
As Mandela explained during the Rivonia trial, the ANC saw the concept of apartheid as a reinforcement of white supremacy. Apartheid meant that every aspect of a person’s life was based on their race. This included the schools attended, the neighborhoods they lived in, the people they interacted with, even whom they loved and married. Whites had their own spaces, and black people were not allowed to use the better resources allocated to the whites. This separation reinforced the idea that whites were superior to blacks. Mandela explained, “We were placed in a position in which we had to accept a permanent state of inferiority.” (Mandela 3) Apartheid forced blacks to become second-class citizens in their own country and embedded the idea that the white man was better than them in every way. The ANC had to fight against this idea.
The ANC also recognized that the concept of apartheid caused racial divisions in the country. As explained, every part of society was strictly defined by race, and the black population got the short end of the stick. They had it worse in every way, their schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, and other amenities were underfunded, derelict, and neglected. They couldn’t shop or eat in various high-end establishments reserved for the white population. Such a situation could only result in racial tensions and resentment between blacks and whites. The black people saw the whites as their oppressors, while the whites saw their black counterparts as second-class citizens who did not deserve a good life. Apartheid “would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war” (Mandela 5). Even before the civil war, people of different races already hated each other due to the racial ideas ingrained in society by apartheid.
During the Rivonia trial, Mandela explained that the ANC maintained a no-violence policy, but apartheid necessitated the use of violence. Mandela explained that the ANC fought for black people’s rights by peaceful means such as presenting their demands to the government. However, instead of responding to these demands, the government, which was made up of whites, remained unmoved and ignored them (Mandela 6). At this point, the peaceful means of advocating for blacks were no longer viable. The ANC formed the Umkhonto, which used other means to fight for the rights of blacks, which included violence and guerilla tactics where necessary. Although the ANC believed in peaceful advocacy, apartheid meant that black people had no representation in government; thus, they had no voice. Although Africans formed over 70% of South Africa’s population, they were not allowed to vote. Apartheid, therefore, necessitated violence as black South Africans fought to be heard.
The ANC understood the concept of apartheid as a means to rob black South Africans of their resources. During the trial, Mandela explained that the ANC was formed to “defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act” (Mandela 8). Under this Act passed in 1913, more than 90% of productive land in the country was reserved for the white colonialists. The concept of apartheid would rob Africans of almost all their wealth and resources, leaving them in poverty and with no option but to serve the white colonialists. With such blatant efforts to subjugate the South African population, the ANC had no option but to step up and fight for the people’s rights. Unfortunately, the government made all forms of resistance, such as protests, illegal, making it impossible for the Africans to express themselves or negotiate with the government. It was clear that South Africans would soon be left with nothing under apartheid as they were seen as a lesser race than the white colonialists. Apartheid meant that black people did not deserve any useful and productive resources, especially land.
The ANC defined apartheid as a concept created to oppress the African population of South Africa and silence them completely. During his address at the Rivonia trial, Mandela quoted Chief Lutuli, who was the ANC president. Lutuli explained that “The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all” (Mandela 10). South Africans were not allowed to vote, and they had no way of negotiating with the government. They were not allowed to protest the oppressive government laws in any way. Many South Africans had been killed for voicing any opposition to the government or the white colonialists. Mandela listed multiple incidents between 1920 and 1960 where Africans were killed for protests. These protests were against various injustices such as carrying passes, pass raids and forced cattle culling. The law protected colonialists who could shoot and kill Africans with no repercussions. Separation along racial lines during apartheid was designed to oppress blacks, which the ANC did not stand for.
In summary, apartheid represents a painful part of South African history. During colonization, native South Africans were oppressed by the white colonialists, who were only a minority in the country. At first, the ANC tried to use peaceful means and negotiations to advocate for the rights of the blacks, but they were not heard. The ANC recognized that apartheid brought a lot of injustice such as oppression, racial inequality, violence, and death as people fought for their rights. Racial discrimination is something that many nations still grapple with. Minority groups have to fight for their rights, and at times this leads to violence as it did in the case of South Africa. Apartheid brought a lot of harm to South Africa by reinforcing the idea that one race was superior to another, and the country still has a lot of healing to do. Nelson Mandela worked hard to bring unity to the country, spending almost three decades in prison just so he could see his fellow South Africans free and equal to others. Every individual deserves the same levels of respect and dignity, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or any other characteristics.
Mandela, Nelson. “Statement from the Dock at the Rivonia Trial.” The Nelson Mandela Foundation Archive. 11 June 1964. archive.nelsonmandela.org/index.php/rivonia-trial-2