The Story of Africa


- Zulu rise & Mfecane


- Oppression of Khoikhoi and Xhosa


- Afrikaners versus English


- Mining


- Imperial racism


- Apartheid


- The Cold War


- South African aggression


- Clinging on


- Collapse of Apartheid

Imperial racism



Belgian colonist, copyright Getty Images
The Afrikaners had a fixed belief that they were racially superior to all Africans, and that the people of Africa had no rights. In general, the British were less doctrinaire about the issue of race than the Afrikaners. They did not see racial purity as a key to survival of their own people, which was the case with Afrikaners, and with Germans under Hitler.

However, the second half of the 19th century brought a surge in pseudo-scientific writing on race in Europe, most of it dedicated to proving that most races were inferior to white Europeans. Some of the British ruling elite was very taken with these ideas.

Cecil Rhodes, the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and mining millionaire, was one, writing to his friend W.T. Stead:

"I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race."

A hydra-headed monster

The end of apartheid became a goal that united all African countries in the 1960s. But back in the 1930s, people in the Gold Coast were not only contesting colonial rule, but also denouncing European racial attitudes.

In 1936, an essay competition was set by the Gold Coast Times with the title: 'How can Youth Develop Cooperation and Harmonious Relations Among the Races of the Earth?'. The competition was won by a young South African, Wycliffe Mlungisi Ttotsi of the Blythwood Institution, Butterworth, South Africa.

"...there has appeared of late years a veritable Gorgon, a hydra-headed monster which threatens humanity with utter destruction. Racialism, while it contains all the evils of nationalism, has none of its redeeming features...

As I write, the South African Government is in turmoil regarding the advisability of retaining or abrogating the native vote. Owing to the fear of the 'Black Menace' an unnecessary conflict has been created between the principles of democracy and trusteeship?

Youth, strike now! Undaunted by the threatening bombshells of blood thirsty governments, go forth about your business which is no less than to create a new humanity."

- Excerpt from 'The Mystery Gunman', by Kayode Eso
"Pray have you got the name Ivor Cummings on your reservation list?", Cummings asked. "Oh yes, of course, his name is here", said the hotel manager but now addressing his question to Keith, "and when is he coming?"

"I am Ivor Cummings," retorted the black official. "This is Ivor Cummings," Keith said simultaneously, and exasperated. The Greek blushed and it was very noticeable. He quickly vacated the reception counter, leaving behind the untidy business to be concluded by the African clerk behind the desk.

The poor clerk stammered as he tried to explain that black people were not admitted into the hotel. "You mean as guests? For you are black yourself," said Ivor Cummings angrily and stormed out of the hotel."
South Africa was not the only part of the British Empire where racial segregation was practised. In Kenya and Rhodesia it was as thoroughly institutionalised as in South Africa. In other parts of the Empire it was more piecemeal and not written into the legislation.

Much segregation centred on Europeans building residential areas separate from the local people; health was a common reason given for this. It resulted in Europeans being detached and lacking in information about the views and needs of the community.

In Sierra Leone, Europeans lived high up above Freetown on the Hill Station. In Kenya, Europeans were fond of living in the Kenyan Highlands. The barriers between Africans and Europeans tended to increase when women started accompanying their husbands to Africa. Segregation occurred in clubs, bars, churches and hotels, although there were no obvious signs forbidding Africans to enter or be served.

Segregation in Lagos

In the 1950s one of the senior officials in the Colonial Office was of Sierra Leonean English descent. His name was Ivor Cummings. Arriving at the Bristol hotel in Lagos on colonial business with a white colleague, known in this account only as Keith, he found himself delayed at the reception desk by the Greek hotel owner.
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