Apartheid Lesson for Kids: Timeline & Facts

Instructor: Anne Stewart

Anne has taught at the elementary and secondary levels for the past 13 years. She has a master’s degree in History with a concentration in American History.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the government policy in South Africa that excluded an entire group of people for almost 50 years. We'll explain how the South African people, with the help of the international community, fought for their rights.

Understanding Apartheid

Imagine if all of a sudden you were not allowed to visit a place you enjoyed, or your family was made to move to another area because you were 'different.' How would this make you feel? Would you think this was fair?

Apartheid (pronounced a-par-tide) is a former social system in South Africa, where black people and people from other racial groups were forced to live separately from white people and did not have the same rights as white people. There were less white people living in South Africa than black people, but apartheid laws gave the white people the power to rule the country and enforce its laws.

Origins of Apartheid

A short time after South Africa gained its independence, people of color began to be separated from the minority white population. The 1913 Land Act ushered in policies that forced black Africans to live on reserves. The policies of apartheid grew even greater after the National Party won the election in 1948. Members decided that certain areas would be for white people only, while other areas would be for black people only. Many people disagreed with the apartheid laws and protested or expressed their disapproval. But they were called traitors and put into jail.

The South African apartheid laws were unfair to black people. They were not allowed to vote, and they could not travel in white areas without special papers. Many black people were kicked out of their houses and made to live in special areas called homelands. The government also made white and black students learn separately. Signs were hung up in areas where only white people were allowed.

White-Only Sign

Apartheid in the 1950s

In the 1950s, some people began to form groups to protest against the apartheid laws, which became known as the Defiance Campaign. The most famous group of protesters was the African National Congress, led by a man named Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela and his group expressed their disapproval for the apartheid laws first through non-violent and later violent means. He was arrested in 1962 and sent to prison for 27 years. Nelson Mandela became a symbol for the people against apartheid, and his imprisonment began to attract the attention of other countries around the world.

Nelson Mandela

In the 1980s, governments from around the world started to ask the South African administration to end apartheid. The United Nations condemned, or stated, that the laws of apartheid were wrong. Many countries like the United States and the United Kingdom stopped doing business with South Africa. This hurt the South African economy, and as the pressure and protests increased, the South African government began to crumble.

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