Apartheid and Race Relations in South Africa: Background information when reading Thirteen Hours

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Thirteen Hours

A Novel

by Deon Meyer

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Beyond the Book:
Apartheid and Race Relations in South Africa

Print Review

Apartheid ("separateness", pronounced "apar-tate" in Afrikaans, although many English speakers say "apar-tide") was a government-enforced system of racial segregation instituted in South Africa (map) in 1948. Control of the government at that time was held by White Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch colonists who started to arrive in 1652, as well as descendants of British immigrants from the early 19th century onwards.* Under Apartheid, citizens were classified into three race categories:  White, Coloured (people of mixed race), and Black (or Bantu). An additional category of Asian (which included Indians and Pakistanis) was later added.

Although racial segregation was not new in South Africa, between 1948 and 1994 laws were continually passed to take more and more rights away from non-whites (about 90% of the population), and ensure that they received inferior services and education. For example, in 1949, an act of law banned mixed-race marriages. Four years later, separate education for blacks and coloureds was mandated, and every citizen sixteen and older had to carry a pass card that stated his or her race. By 1960, there were white-only universities, ambulances, hospitals, and buses, all of which were of significantly better quality than those designated for black and coloured citizens. In the 1970's, black people were completely stripped of their citizenship and were forced to live in Bantustans, or tribal homesteads. Coloured people had what might be considered slightly better treatment, but were still forced to live in underdeveloped urban areas (townships, often referred to as locations), and receive a separate education. All non-whites also had their voting rights taken away from them.

Increasingly well organized and violent opposition led the government to declare a State of Emergency in much of the country in 1985, which was extended to the whole country in 1986. This gave the president the right to rule by decree without reference to either the constitution or parliament, and gave the police and military sweeping powers including the right to hold prisoners without trial; the media was also heavily censored.

Early in 1989, P.W. Botha (who had been prime minister, then president, since 1978) suffered a stroke and resigned. He was succeeded as president by F.W. de Klerk who, in 1990, moved quickly to end the state of emergency, lift the 30-year ban on anti-apartheid groups including the African National Congress, and release ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison. He also returned freedom of the press, suspended the dealth penalty and moved to lift the international trade embargoes that had crippled the economy.

Apartheid officially ended in 1994, when South Africa's constitution was rewritten and the first elections were held. For the first time, all citizens were eligible to vote. The result was a landslide for the ANC and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president.

Apartheid's effects are still felt by the population. While some blacks have risen to the middle class, unemployment is over 20%, and many black people have difficulty finding employment above the level of laborer. Tensions between white, black and coloured individuals still exists, as Deon Meyer depicts in Thirteen Hours. The crimes of the past linger like an awful legacy; healing the racial divide will take much more time and a great deal of effort.


Further Info: For a short history of South Africa, see the BookBrowse review of Unconfessed

Article by Cindy Anderson

This article was originally published in October 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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