Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning "apartness." The word was first used to describe the racist policies of the South African government from 1948 to 1994.
In international law, apartheid means the persecution of a racial group by threatening their right to life and liberty, and forcing members of the group to live apart from others. One hundred and seven nations have declared apartheid a crime against humanity, but Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have not joined this declaration.
The government of South Africa took away citizenship rights from 20 million black people and confined them to reserves called "homelands." Black people were not allowed to enter the white areas of town, including white schools, and even white churches. The oppressed black people revolted many times but were put down mercilessly. Through the efforts of leaders such as Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, and the pressure from the international community, apartheid was finally lifted in 1994. During this struggle, many thousands of black South Africans, including schoolchildren as young as twelve, lost their lives at the hands of the government authorities. Biko died from torture by the South African police in 1977, but Mandela went on to become free South Africa's first president.
Apartheid Around the Globe
Though the word apartheid is used with reference to South Africa, the separation of the races has happened in many other countries, including the United States and India. Martin Luther King Jr. protested against the segregation of blacks in the United States, and Mahatma Gandhi against the ill-treatment of lower-caste "untouchable" people in India. In Nazi Germany, Jews could not ride public transport or the ferries, and could only shop in Jewish stores for two hours each afternoon. Today the word apartheid is used to describe many forms of discrimination against racial groups.
To view photographs of apartheid, visit the Human Rights: Historical Images of Apartheid in South Africa website.