The discovery of diamond and gold deposits in the latter half of the 1800s attracts an influx of British manpower and capital, destabilizing the tenuous co-existence among Britain's colonial establishment, white settlers (Afrikaners), and native Africans. Victorious in a series of ferocious battles, Britain forms the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, in May.
Prime Minister Louis Botha and his deputy Jan Smuts begin to centralize power, economic opportunity, and social status in the hands of the white minority -- a mere 20 percent of the population. The Natives Land Act of 1913 limits African landownership to reserves totaling 7 percent of the land. Despite fierce Afrikaner nationalist opposition, the Union enters World War I as a British ally.
Afrikaner nationalism is fueled by participation in the war and increasing African migration to the cities. Prime Minister Botha dies in 1919. He is replaced by Jan Smuts, who loses Afrikaner support as a result of labor unrest and work stoppages. Strident nationalist J.B.M. Hertzog wins the 1924 elections and moves to protect white employment opportunities through segregationist labor policies.
The Great Depression devastates the export-driven economy. Despite the fact that Hertzog's legislation drastically limits African freedom of movement and economic and political participation, Afrikaners throw their support behind the more extreme D.F. Malan. The African National Congress (ANC) adopts moderate goals, committing to pursue change within the existing political framework.
World War II divides the people and the government. Smuts, who favors entering the war as a British ally, wins enough support to become prime minister in 1939 and takes South African troops into battle in Europe and North Africa. Protests rage at home; the thousands interned for antiwar activities include future prime minister John Vorster. Nelson Mandela helps form an ANC youth league in 1943.
In a general election that will shape the Union's political future for the next four decades, D.F. Malan campaigns on a platform of apartheid (separateness) to "prevent black society from overwhelming the whites." Policies of segregation and subjugation of blacks, mixed-race "Coloreds," and Indians resonate in the Afrikaner and rural-dominated electorate, helping Malan edge Smuts.
Malan's National Party (NP) legislates apartheid. The 1950 Group Areas Act authorizes forcible removal of Africans from "white-only areas." The ANC organizes nonviolent defiance campaigns, stressing civil disobedience. Brandishing broadened powers to suppress opposition, the NP arrests Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and 150 other leaders on treason charges.
Police kill dozens and wound hundreds when they open fire on a crowd protesting the pass laws in Sharpeville township. Bucking international condemnation, Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd declares a state of emergency and arrests thousands of Africans. With the economy booming, the NP increases defense and police-force spending. The declaration of the Republic of South Africa ends ties to Britain.
Verwoerd grants self-government to the "Bantustan" (native reserve) of Transkei in 1963. Ruled by tribal chiefs appointed by the NP and very much beholden to them, Transkei is vastly overpopulated, underdeveloped, and impoverished. Under its policy of "separate development," the NP no longer considers residents of the Bantustan citizens of South Africa.
John Vorster replaces the assassinated Verwoerd and uses Transkei as a template for creating additional semiautonomous "states." The forced relocation of roughly 2.5 million Africans in the 1960s alone creates unsustainable living conditions in the territories, marked by a significant depletion in the carrying capacity of the soil, rampant starvation, violence, and economic ruin.
Legislation demanding the use of the Afrikaans language in all schools touches off boycotts and demonstrations in many African communities. In June 1976, in Soweto township near Johannesburg, 15,000 young students participate in a peaceful protest march. Police use tear gas, then open fire on the unarmed children, killing at least two and wounding dozens more, setting off riots across the country.
Plagued by scandal and poor health, Vorster resigns in 1978. As prime minister, former defense minister P.W. Botha pursues an interventionist foreign policy, launching military strikes in neighboring countries. Citing a need for change, Botha supports legislation allowing the creation of African trade unions and relaxes some "petty" (minor) apartheid rules regarding segregation and employment.
UN arms and OPEC oil embargoes push the government to spend vast sums of capital on armaments industry and petroleum imports. The U.S. Congress passes sanctions in 1986 banning new investments, bank loans, and South African imports. P.W. Botha responds by repealing some of the stricter apartheid laws, announcing South Africa has "outgrown the outdated concept of apartheid."
Nelson Mandela is released from prison and becomes ANC president. He and Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk move toward compromise on an interim constitution and a decision to hold general elections in which Africans will vote. In 1991 de Klerk announces the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws, Economic relations with many countries, including African neighbors, resume.
Nearly 20 million people participate in elections, and the ANC wins almost 63 percent of the vote. Mandela is inaugurated president in May. F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki are deputy presidents. International isolation ends as the country joins the Organization of African Unity, rejoins the Commonwealth of Nations, sees the UN arms embargo lifted, and reclaims its seat in the UN General Assembly.
Mandela leads the transitional government with grace. He rejects calls for retribution in favor of reconciliation, meeting with former apartheid supporters, opposition members, and allies. Remaining international sanctions are lifted, and diplomatic and economic relations abroad are normalized. Promising "a better life for all," Mandela supports a Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP).
President Mandela retires and is replaced by Thabo Mbeki, who continues social reforms while liberalizing the economy. With unemployment at 30 percent, job creation is a priority, and crime is rampant. More than 3.2 million people live with the HIV virus. But firmer measures against the disease, along with steady economic management and political stability, boost growth in 2002 and rekindle optimism.
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