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Sharpeville
Apartheid Law

After the Second World War, the National Party came to power in 1948 on a ticket of racial segregation and support for poor Afrikaners.

A large number of laws were passed to establish the apartheid structure of government. The three most important blocks of legislation were:

  • The Race Classification Act. Every citizen suspected of not being European was classified according to race.
  • The Mixed Marriages Act. It prohibited marriage between people of different races.
  • The Group Areas Act. It forced people of certain races into living in designated areas.
THE STRANGE WORLD OF RACIAL CLASSIFICATION
The apartheid regime had a number of pseudo scientific tests for classifying people as belonging to one of four main groups: White, Black, Indian, Coloured (mixed race). One of these tests involved putting a comb through hair - if it got stuck, that meant the person being tested was identified as African.

Every year, people were reclassified racially. In 1984, for example:

518 Coloured people were defined as White
2 whites were called Chinese
1 white was reclassified Indian
1 white became Coloured
89 Coloured people became African

Vic Wilkinson's case is significant. He was originally classified mixed race. Later he was defined as White. But the process of classification did not end there. He was also classified as Coloured, went back to being registered White, and conclusively became Coloured in 1984.

Interestingly the word 'African' was never used by the authorities. The problem was it translated back in the Boer language into the word Afrikaner, which was the very name the white Dutch descendants called themselves. Africans were referred to by white officialdom as black or Bantu.

THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
The Afrikaner sense of identity is tied up closely with Christian worship. This religiosity sat curiously alongside a strong conviction in white racial superiority.

In 1957, the Native Laws Amendment Act contained a 'Church Clause' which allowed Africans to be barred from a service if they were considered to be 'causing a nuisance'.

In the 1950's, Drum magazine began investigating the day to day realities of apartheid. Can Themba, one of their top writers, took on the churches setting himself the task of visiting a number of different ones, with white congregations, to see what kind of reception he would get.

TURNED AWAY FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD
"The Presbyterian Church in Noord Street allowed me in, yet the one in Orange Grove refused me admittance. They explained that the hall was rented from some boys' club whose policy did not allow Non-whites into the hall. They also said something about the laws of the country.

At the Kensington DRC (Dutch Reform Church), an aged church official was just about to close the doors when he saw me. He bellowed in Afrikaans: 'What soek jy? (What do you want?) 'I've come to church,' I said.
He shoved me violently, shouting for me to get away. I walked off dejected.

A few doors away was the Baptist Church, and as I walked towards it I began to think that people didn't want me to share their church. As I walked through the Baptist door I was tense, waiting for that tap on the shoulder…but instead I was given a hymn book and welcomed into the church. I sat through the service…This up and down treatment wasn't doing my nerves much good."
From anthology of works of Can Themba, entitled The Will to Die.

Apartheid also affected the world of beauty pageants. Whites were chosen as representatives of the South African peoples.

Listen to the views of a beauty pageant organiser, followed by the elected Miss South Africa