Apartheid (meaning separateness in Afrikaans*) was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1990.
The new system was a way for the white Afrikaner National Party to ensure their control over both South Africa's economy and social structure. The key was white dominance of blacks and colored (mixed descent) people. Apartheid was born as a political tactic but grew to involve violence and extreme strife.
The apartheid laws were officially enacted in 1948, four years before the events told in A Beautiful Place to Die. Racial discrimination became not simply a mechanism engrained in local customs, but part and parcel of the government. That is, apartheid race laws tainted every aspect of people's lives, holding sway over who one could marry, work for, live with, or even be friends with. The division by the government's Department of Home Affairs into white, black and colored (or mixed blood) was based largely on physical appearance and demeanor, with the inevitable complications of one being able to finagle one's way out of one category into another (or sometimes being forced by a committee to accept a racial identity of their choosing)- a quite relevant aspect of Nunn's book. Penalties for not complying with the race laws were severe. A Beautiful Place to Die clearly portrays the degree of danger and risk involved in stepping outside the law.
For a short history of South Africa from 1652 to 1994 see the review of Unconfessed.
*Afrikaans, derived from 17th century Dutch, is one of the eleven official languages of modern-day South Africa, which also recognizes 8 unofficial languages. Today, it is mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia with an estimated 6.5 million speaking it as their first language and a further 7 million speaking it as a second language.
This article was originally published in January 2009, and has been updated for the
October 2009 paperback release.
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