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South African Apartheid Laws: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Apartheid was a system in South Africa that segregated and discriminated against some people because of their skin color. This lesson will explore some of those laws and what effect they had in South Africa.

What Is Apartheid?

Imagine being told you can't hang out with your best friend because they have brown hair and you're blonde. Even as a kid you can probably see this makes no sense.

But in the late 1940s, the South African government put the policy of apartheid (pronounced uh-PAR-tate) in place, passing laws that favored whites and discriminated against and segregated others because of their skin color. Let's look at some of these laws.

Whites only sign
Whites only sign

The Population Registration Act of 1950

The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that all people be put into one of four main groups based on their skin color, and registered with the government when they were born. Those groups were:

  • White
  • Bantu (Black African)
  • Colored (a person who wasn't white or Bantu)
  • Other (a person who didn't fit into the other three categories)

But figuring out someone's color wasn't always easy. Tests like how someone talked or what kind of physical features they had were used to decide what group they should be put into. Because this law didn't give specific definitions of each group, people in the same family were sometimes put into different groups.

Group Areas Act of 1950

The Group Areas Act of 1950 set aside places in South Africa called 'group areas' where people had to live with others in their same race group. Whites could only live with whites, Bantus with other Bantus, and so on.

But this also meant that people who lived in the wrong group area had to move, even if they didn't know anything about the place where they were forced to go. Many had to leave the houses where they had lived for most of their lives. It would be like someone forcing you to leave your home to go live in a different town you'd never seen because you weren't the 'right' color.

This act also moved black people away from cities in order to try and keep them poor and less educated than whites so they wouldn't rise up against the government.

Separate Amenities Act

The Separate Amenities Act kept white people from mixing with other race groups in public. Whites had their own public buildings, doctors' offices and public transportation that other groups couldn't use. But separate amenities also meant that white people had things like their own beaches, bathrooms and benches, too.

Whites only beach sign
Whites only beach sign

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