Apartheid Lesson for Kids: Definition & History

Instructor: Michael Gott

Mike is a veteran of the New Hampshire public school system and has worked in grades 1-12. His role has varied from primary instructor to special needs support.

Apartheid was a governmental system used in the country of South Africa that organized people by their race. This system was put in place by European settlers to keep power over the African natives.

Understanding Racism and Apartheid

Some people across the world believe that the color of a person's skin dictates what they can or cannot do. This belief is called racism. Racism was the basis for the government's laws in South Africa between 1948 and 1991, known as apartheid. Apartheid means 'to separate,' and during this time in history, people in South Africa were separated by their race.

South Africa's Early History

The earliest people living in South Africa were members of various different tribes. Some were hunter-gatherers who traveled around, with no permanent home, searching for food. Others were farmers.

Farmers, were the first natives of southern Africa to come into contact with Dutch explorers in the 1650s. Many of them were killed by diseases that the Dutch brought with them. Many more were killed as the Dutch invaded the land, establishing the city of Cape Town.

This area was incredibly profitable, and in 1902 England took control of Cape Town and the surrounding area. Many Dutch settlers stayed in South Africa after this, beginning the creation of the whites-only government named the Union of South Africa.

Racial Laws Emerge

In 1913 the Land Act passed, which made it illegal for black/native people of South Africa to have certain jobs. In 1948 the all-white Afrikaner National Party took power, arguing for apartheid, or separation.

After taking power, the Afrikaner National Party worked to keep white and black people separate. They also separated black South Africans based on their tribal identities. This was important because white South Africans were a minority, or a group making up a small percentage of the people in an area, and they needed the tribes to distrust each other to stay in power.

Soon black South Africans were not allowed on most of their country. Identification cards were issued to all South Africans listing their race. This allowed the police to know if they were allowed in an area or not. This was known as the Population Registration Act.

Resistance to Apartheid

Many groups worked to oppose apartheid in South Africa. Some used violence; others were peaceful. The most famous resistance leader was Nelson Mandela. He tried violent resistance before switching to peaceful resistance. He was arrested and imprisoned in the early 1960s, becoming a symbol of the injustice of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela
apartheid history

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