The apartheid of South Africa and the segregation system of America divided the nations by skin color and allowed for human rights to be neglected. The segregation laws of the United States heavily influenced the future apartheid which explains the various similarities between the two systems; however, culture and environment constructed differences as well. The oppression in each country brought to light passionate civil rights advocates that called for equality among races and a new era of peace around the world.
South Africa’s apartheid was profoundly similar to America’s segregation of African Americans; yet, the two systems also differed from one another. South Africa’s segregation began in 1948 and continued throughout the 1900’s, unlike most industrialized nations who eradicated segregation by 1980. As a result of the extended oppression, “South Africa became a pariah nation, subject to boycotts and diplomatic pressures from other countries and increasing protests at home” (Austin 450).
The apartheid of South Africa was led by the white minority that exploited the black majority, the complete opposite of America where segregation was imposed by the white majority over the black minority. According to the Journal of Black Studies, “South Africa is perhaps one of the most multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic countries in the world. The majority of the population is Black and is composed of several ethnic groups, namely, Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi, Tswana, Sotho, and others.
The White minority is primarily composed of two distinct groups: the Afrikaners who speak Afrikaans and are descended from the original Dutch settlers who first came in 1652 to South Africa and the English who came originally from Great Britain and whose main settlements were from 1820″ (Voya 303). In other words, the majority of South Africa, the black natives, were alienated and persecuted by a race that made up less than 10 percent of the total population.
However, the discrimination and abuse inflicted on black Africans had developed long before segregation laws were enacted and can be traced back to the slave trade industry that South Africa and America had both participated in. In 1600’s America, black Africans were shipped to the land through slave trade for the growing economy and population. They were labeled as property, belonging to the white men who owned them for centuries before they became emancipated in the late 1800’s, similar to South Africa’s history of slavery.
The U. S. government deemed African Americans “free” from slavery; however, this freedom did not include protection against the inequalities, danger, and racism that continued to exist within America. In addition, “white superiority” became threatened by these newly released slaves which, therefore, influenced the U. S. Supreme Court to legally separate blacks and whites in 1896. This case constructed America’s segregation system that would later be seen in the South African apartheid.
The similarities in the oppression of African Americans in South Africa and America involved “mandated inequalities in education, employment, legal status, and police protection” (Austin 450). The two countries humiliated, terrorized, and degraded human beings for decades, all the while using superiority of race as their justification to do so. However, segregation in each country would eventually influence passionate and brave individuals to lead a revolution against the continued oppression and injustice of African Americans.
In 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. gained popularity as a civil rights leader in Montgomery, Alabama. “King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and began a series of nonviolent campaigns aimed at ending racial segregation across the South” (Austin 425). The organization immensely contributed to the civil rights movement because of the nonviolent protests against segregation laws that brought attention and recognition to the problem.
King’s “practice of nonviolent civil disobedience, understood that one powerful application of this philosophy was to disobey unjust laws publicly and to accept the consequences of that disobedience” (Austin 425). The Southern Christian Leadership Conference continued to lead the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama, where they had “one goal in mind: to win a strong federal voting rights law that would provide for executive branch enforcement of southern blacks’ constitutional guaranteed right to vote”, as stated by David Garrow, an American historian and author of the book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. nd the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (2).
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 signified a victory for the protest; however, King wanted more than a signed document, he wanted to “change the hearts and minds of their opponents and oppressors, to convince these purveyors of racial injustice that true human respect, love, and equality should not be limited by the color of one’s skin” (Garrow 2). Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s philosophy of peace and equality was emphasized in the protests he led and his presence in the Civil Rights movement.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the location for King’s most famous speech, “I Have A Dream”, where he asks America to end racism and to grant equal rights for all. Martin Luther King had a dramatic effect on the Civil Rights movement from the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to his practice of civil disobedience, proving him to be one of the most important civil rights leader in America. Amongst other civil rights activists and Martin Luther King Jr. , stands Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Mandela, along with several other African National Congress leaders, created Umkhonto we Sizwe or “Spear of the Nation”, an army formed to combat the dangers that accompany South Africa’s apartheid. However, in 1964, Mandela was charged with “sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government” for his involvement against apartheid and sentenced to life in prison (The New York Times). Desmond Tutu continued Mandela’s fight against apartheid by leading nonviolent protests demonstrated by Martin Luther King Jr that ultimately led to his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
The turning point of South Africa’s apartheid began when F. W. de Klerk became prime minister and within a year “began dismantling the apartheid system. He rescinded the longstanding ban on the African National Congress and released its leader, Nelson Mandela, from jail after twenty-seven years of incarnation” (Austin 450). Although apartheid was demolished in South Africa, the country continued to remain a divided nation. Similar to America after its split from segregation, separation between blacks and the whites lingered within South Africa.
Victims were forced to live amongst their abusers on the same street or in the same neighborhood. Official segregation may have been abandoned, however, oppression was not. In the hopes of erasing the prolonged tension within South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded by the South African government. With Desmond Tutu as the chair of commission, the TRC was “tasked with sifting through myriad cases that granted perpetrators amnesty if they were found to have made a full disclosure of acts with a political objective in South Africa’s racial conflict.
The hearings also gave the victims’ families and friends hope for the often-elusive prospect of closure” (The New York Times). America did not offer these services to the oppressed; however, different organizations such as The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose mission is to “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination”, were founded and emphasized after the dismissal of segregation laws (NAACP. g).
The apartheid of South Africa and the segregation system of America intersected and contrasted in various ways through the discrimination inflicted on the black Africans, the influence of prominent leaders, and the recovery of each nation afterwards. The segregation laws of the United States heavily influenced the future apartheid which explains the various similarities between the two systems; however, culture and environment constructed differences as well.
The demeaning outcome of segregation and apartheid have lasted for decades and discrimination will sadly continue to exist in some form within the societies of South Africa and America. However, the two equality movements exposed the degrading conditions that apartheid and segregation allowed and in many ways, the impact of the two movements guide the morals and laws of modern American and South African life. Through the powerful influence and peaceful teachings of Mandela, Tutu, and King, the civil rights movements revealed the need for equality in the world between all races for the well-being of society.