The first 30 years of Apartheid as a mirror for ANC rule: Andrew Kenny

The National Party took control of South Africa in May 1948, winning the whites-only election through the number of seats it earned, not votes. The party implemented a reign of terror through the system of Apartheid, where whites were separated from other ethnic groups, mostly by force, making the Apartheid era one of fear and terror. By 1978, Apartheid was 30 years old. How does the ANC, which has been in power also for 30 years, measure up to the National Party, and have conditions in South Africa actually changed for the better?

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By Andrew Kenny*

Apartheid essentially began in May 1948 when the National Party won the whites-only general election (on seats, not on total votes). It eventually set up a formal, brutal racial separation that became known as apartheid (‘apartness’). By May 1978, apartheid had ruled South Africa for 30 years. How do those 30 years compare with the 30 years of the ANC that we are now celebrating (if ‘celebrating’ is the right word)?

What prompted this thought was that Dali Tambo, ‘a media personality’, the son of Oliver Tambo, ANC president from 1967 to 1991, has urged the people of South Africa to vote for the ANC. He said he wanted it to get 61% of the votes. Some people responded by saying that Oliver Tambo would have been horrified at what his noble ANC had become. Given the real history of Oliver Tambo and his son, there is terrible irony in this.

The primary aim of the Nats (as the National Party rulers were known) was to promote Afrikaner Nationalism. They wanted to champion the language, religion and culture of the Afrikaners – all Afrikaners of all classes – and to make them proud of what they were, after centuries of colonial contempt under the Dutch and the British. They were proud to be called Boers. White rule was a secondary but essential requirement, and for that the English-speaking whites had to be included. The blacks had to be excluded, for the simple reason that there were more of them. The de facto racial exclusion that had existed for centuries under Dutch and British became de jure. A mass of detailed, hateful, ridiculous race laws was passed to register people by race, to decide where they could live and work and at what levels of skills and seniority, and even to decide who was allowed to marry whom, and have sexual intercourse with whom. The Pass Laws required most South Africans to carry an internal passport.

Mad ideology

Under Dr Verwoerd, a mad ideology tried to give moral justification for this under Grand Apartheid, which saw people driven out of their ancestral lands by guns and whips and bulldozers and dumped into a bizarre archipelago of Bantustans or homelands.

Much has been written about the large-scale horrors of Grand Apartheid, but what became known as petty apartheid might have had an even greater effect on disrupting people’s lives and humiliating them. Apartheid converted the free-spirited Boers of the Great Trek and the Boer War into spiteful little bureaucrats, forever prying into the affairs of ordinary people.

The Boer whose ancestor had fought like a hero on Majuba Hill was now a low-ranking policeman flashing his torch into a car parked at the side of the road to check whether the copulating couple inside were of the same race.

In 1970, as a young white man, I taught at Livingstone High School, in Cape Town, which fell under the Coloured Affairs Department. Livingstone was thought to be anti-apartheid (it was) and somewhat Marxist (it was, sort of, but mainly it just supported liberal values), and so was constantly under the surveillance of the Special Branch. The school was led by a giant of a man, the great and noble RO Dudley, born 100 years ago this month. He had great intellect and learning, and instilled into the school discipline, intellectual rigour and scientific method. He maintained high standards under dreadful conditions. He was forever hounded and harassed by the vicious dwarves of apartheid, banned, restricted and denied high posts.

Small-minded tyranny

While at one level the Nats were cramping and belittling many people under small-minded tyranny, at another level they were developing the South African economy with daring, enterprise and skill. They had huge economic successes. They promoted industrialisation, built roads, railways and waterworks, built a series of the world’s biggest coal power stations, giving South Africa a plentiful supply of the world’s cheapest electricity, and pioneered a massive advance in coal-to-liquid fuels technology with their SASOL plants. The economy grew over 6% under Verwoerd. South Africa became by far the most powerful economy in Africa.

Above all, the Nats honoured their promises to their own people. They cared for their own, including and especially poor, working-class Afrikaners, who repaid them gratefully at every following election. They promoted their own language, Afrikaans, as they had promised. They set up schools and universities teaching in Afrikaans. They advanced the lowest of Afrikaners. Of profound importance, the Afrikaner leaders sent their own children to schools teaching in Afrikaans, and were happy if they sat next to working-class Afrikaner children.

Read more: How Rupert fought with PW & Verwoerd over Apartheid

Then two things happened. First, the Afrikaners became successful, wealthy, and upwardly mobile, and therefore more liberal. Second, the crazy restraints of apartheid began to cripple the economy and slow its growth. In 1976 came the turning point in the history of apartheid: the Soweto Riots. After that the Nats, already becoming queasy about apartheid, stopped fooling themselves that it could ever work. So began the retreat from apartheid, fitful, uncertain and clumsy, but real. This brings us to 1978, after 30 years of apartheid.

At this stage the ANC under Oliver Tambo began its People’s War. It was a war for power, not freedom. It was a war of terror directed mainly against poor working-class black people in the townships. One of the instruments of terror was necklacing, where the ANC’s victim was tied down, had a tyre filled with petrol placed over his head, and was set on fire.

Approved it quietly

The victim’s crime was often vague, which added to the fear. All you knew was that you had to do whatever the ANC told you to do. Black working-class children were sometimes necklaced for attending a local school. Oliver Tambo did not invent necklacing, but approved it quietly; Winnie Mandela approved it loudly. At about this time, Oliver Tambo took funds given to him for the liberation struggle to pay for his own children, including Dali, to be sent to very posh, very expensive private schools in England.

Reform followed reform. In 1979 the Nats recognised the black trade unions, giving Cyril Ramaphosa his chance. In 1986 the Pass Laws were scrapped. As apartheid retreated, the ANC became more violent. In 1989, FW de Klerk became the president of South Africa. In 1990 he ended apartheid and unbanned the ANC, and then scrapped most of the hated apartheid laws. In 1994 the ANC won the first fully democratic election and came to power, where it has remained ever since.

How do 30 years of apartheid compare with 30 years of ANC rule? They have similarities. Both began by being obsessed with race; the ANC still is. Both loved state control and bureaucracy; the ANC still does. There are important differences.

Best infrastructure

The Nats were builders, the ANC are wreckers. Under apartheid the Nats developed the best infrastructure in Africa by far, in transport, electricity, water and services. The ANC has wrecked most of it.

By far the greatest advantage of living under the ANC is that the evil racist laws of apartheid have gone. We now live in a genuine democracy, which I believe will pass the most important test of democracy: that the ruling party steps down when it loses a free election. I think the ANC will step down if a coalition of other parties gets more than 50% of the votes next month. But it’s a pity the ANC didn’t get rid of all the race laws. Instead it added to them, bringing grief and economic decline.

Read more: Ramaphosa pledges to end ‘Health-Care Apartheid’ with controversial NHI bill

Comparison of their foreign policies is telling. The apartheid regime was shunned by the world and had to make friends wherever it could, which was hardly anywhere. Every crime of apartheid was condemned throughout the world, whereas far worse crimes by African tyrants were ignored. In 1960, when panicking white policemen shot dead 69 black protestors at Sharpeville, the world went mad with righteous rage. In 1972, when the minority Tutsi regime in Burundi set about the careful genocide of about 300,000 of the majority Hutu people, the same world was silent. (There was a terrible postscript to this genocide in 1994.) The Nats were aware of this international hypocrisy but could do nothing about it, and so restricted their international diplomacy to self-interest, with no pretentions to morality.

By contrast, the ANC government of 1994 was adored by the whole world. Everybody loved it to bits. It could have conducted a highly moral approach to diplomacy. Instead it chose a highly immoral approach. It sided with the cruel Castro dictatorship in Cuba. which crushed its working classes, persecuted homosexuals, ended democracy, terrorised the population and turned Cuba from a relatively rich country into a poor one.

Horrible persecution

The ANC supported Venezuela and Russia; it said nothing about the horrible persecution of Muslims in China or the plight of Palestinians in Syria. It claps for every tyrant in Africa who murders and persecutes ordinary black Africans. It said nothing about Mugabe’s carefully planned slaughter of Ndebele people under Operation Gukurahundi, or his subsequent starvation of black Zimbabweans. When Omar al-Bashir was committing genocide against black Africans in Sudan, having murdered about 300,000 black people, the ANC gave him a warm welcome in 2015 and refused to take international court action against him. Now the ANC supports his genocidal successor, General Dagalo.

Meanwhile, the ANC has been attacking every democratic Western power it could, and now, of course, is condemning Israel for defending itself against the terrorist attack by Hamas on civilians in Israel (even if its response was ham-fisted in my view). The ANC has the effrontery to accuse Israel of genocide when it has ignored or condoned actual genocide in our own continent.

But by far the most important difference between the apartheid rule of Afrikaners and the democratic rule of the ANC is in their attitudes to their own people and their own culture. The Afrikaners cared for their own, rich and poor; the ANC cares only for its own elite, and nothing for the broad mass of ordinary African people.


The Afrikaners were proud of their own language and their own culture; the ANC elite is ashamed of its own language and its own culture, and wants to adopt English and other colonial features, while at the same time condemning everything colonial.

(Jacob Zuma is an interesting exception. Whatever else you might say about him, he is proud of his African heritage and shows it. This might explain some of his strong appeal to so many ordinary black people. His African earthiness contrasts with the haughty contempt towards the African working classes shown by ANC snobs such as Naledi Pandor and Thabo Mbeki.)

Read more: 🔒 John Micklethwait: Why this is SA’s most important election since Apartheid

The Afrikaners went to great pains to develop good education – in Afrikaans – for working-class Afrikaners. The ANC leaders dump working-class black children into ghastly state schools producing some of the lowest literacy rates and scores for maths and science on the planet, while sending their own children to posh private or semi-private schools teaching in English. The Afrikaner leaders were always sympathetic towards working-class Afrikaners; the ANC elite regards the black working-classes with contempt.

From 1948 to 1978, the Afrikaner leaders changed. They changed even more by 1990. FW de Klerk was a different man from DF Malan. (He was also a different man from himself in 1972, when he became an MP.) It was this, rather than anything the ANC did, that led to the fall of apartheid. From 1994 to now, the ANC leaders have not changed at all, nor have their ideas or their policies. (Mandela is an anomaly.)

Carry on as before

If they are still in power in June, as seems more likely than not, they will carry on as before, looting and posturing, mocking the black masses, praising tyrants, dragging the rest of us down and down. But they were no better before 1994, and in some ways worse. I believe Oliver Tambo was the most wicked of all the ANC leaders. He conducted a campaign of terror against working-class blacks. He tortured and executed his freedom fighters at Camp Quatro.

Worst of all, while he was ordering the necklacing of working-class black children who tried to go to local schools, he used liberation funds to send his own son, Dali, to a private school in England. For me this represents the worst evil of the ANC. Nothing that followed was as bad as that.

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Andrew Kenny* is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal

*This article was originally published by Daily Friend and has been republished with permission