About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.



1.. Control over Movement: Regulatory Framework

The control of the free movement of Black people in South Africa had a long history and this, the control over movement, was a founding pillar of the apartheid state.

During the period 1950-52, the National Party caused to be promulgated various Acts that were designed to regulate and control the freedom of movement of Black citizens. Of significance was the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act, Native Laws Amendment Act, and the Abolition of Passes Act.

Collectively, these laws were designed to define race, regulate and control the residential segregation of Blacks from Whites and to extend government control over the freedom of movement of Black people in general and African people in particular. The laws that regulated the movement of African people came to be known as the "Pass Laws".

The mechanism for achieving the control of  movement over African people was the "reference book". The very survival of African people depended on the possession of a reference book and it had to be carried at all times by all Africans and failure to do so was a punishable offence. It provided the authorities with an instant guide to any African"s life history and rights of movement.

In 1956, the government took further measures to control the rights of movement when it removed the right of Africans to appeal to the courts against removal from an urban area, and included the provision that such removals might also be authorised to secure "the maintenace of peace and order". Illustrated History of South Africa, The Real Story.

"According to University of Cape Town sociologist Michael Savage, the battery of pass laws applying to the African population resulted in 5,8 million prosecutions during one decade between 1866 and 1975. In a typical year this would mean more than half a million arrests." Peter Joyce, The rise and fall of Apartheid.

Thus the Pass Laws were applied with vigour.

2.. Government Policy: Total Strategy

Shortly after assuming office PW Botha conceived of a plan named " Total Strategy" that was calculated to resist foreign pressure, improve and expand the African middle class and remove the crush support for the ANC within the country and in frontline states. It was under this state sponsored plan of "total strategy" that during April 1986 that the Pass Laws regulating freedom of movement was abolished.

However whilst some reform was initiated such as the abolishment of the Pass Laws, a new breed "securocrats" were appointed to head to various ministries and key state security institutions.

3.. State of Emergency

As unrest and resistance was on the rise and in order to expand the powers of the government to deal with the growing crises, the government resorted to the use of states of emergency.

The government introduced two states of emergency introduced during July 1985 and then again in June 1986 as a means to crush popular resistance, ban and restrict political organisations and trade unions. The first was introduced in July 1985 and was lifted on 7th March 1986. During the eight month period, 750 people were killed and almost 8000 detained.

See: ." Peter Joyce, The rise and fall of Apartheid.

Under the states of emergency, the powers of arrest and detention were vastly extended so as to detain anyone suspected of fomenting violence or engaging in political activity which was considered to be subversive. The second state of emergency was only lifted in 1990

It is against this general background that application for passports made in `1980's  and used until the 1994 needs to be considered.


1.. Authority

During the 1980's, The issue and control of passports for Africans fell under the control of the Kantoor van die Bysburo ( Pass Bureau). Indians and Coloureds were each required to apply to either Indian Affairs or Coloured Affairs. All of these agencies, the Bysburo, Indian Affairs and Coloured Affairs,  in turn fell under the Department of Internal Affairs and Immigration.

This was the era of strict control of movement of black people and Africans in particular and regulated by the Pass Laws of the time. The holding of a passport was considered to be the granting of a privilege, and the right to movement and travel severely restricted.

2.. Application Form

The quoting of reference book number, the primary means of movement control, for Africans was most important. The reference book was the primary means to regulate and control movement of African people.

Once an application was received by an Agency, it was standard procedure for the Agency to request a security report from the Security Branch: South African Police.

The request and the report made was classified as a secret. The applicant was not made aware of contents of any security report made.

See Page 31 further down

Note use of the terms  "Bewysboeknommer" ( to mean a reference book number)  and at 5. " 'n Veiligheidsverslag is op …… aangevra." ( a request for security report was made on ….)

It is self evident that it was standard procedure that for any application for a passport to be considered, a security report was to be requested by the Agency that received the application, and from the Security Branch: South African Police.

In the case of Bulelani Ngcuka, the Bewysburo on the 30.11.1981 wrote to the Secretary of Internal Affairs and Immigration reporting that a security report was requested on the 11.11.81

The Security Branch issued the security report on the 25.11.81 to be found on page 30.  A loose translation of the report is: " From a security point of view there is nothing prejudicial to the state/or incriminating against the persons mentioned below."

Bulelani Ngcuka was arrested on the 30.11.81.

3.. Security Report.

A security report – or security clearance- was an essential requirement for the issue of a passport. It is also of relevance that the report, was to be made by the  Security Branch of the South African Police as opposed to say criminal investigation division.

The Security Branch, a division of the South African Police, was exclusive charged with dealing with matters of state security and the investigation of acts considered to be subversive, committed by political activists. It did not concern itself with general criminal activity.

If a person, making an application for a passport, had any history of political activity or association with any political organisation such as the ANC or Communist Party  such a person would be the subject of a detailed report.

For an example of a detailed report of a person known to have a political history see page 32.

In that report produced by the Security Branch, Durban Office by Maj. Lourens, the entire history of political activity of the subject is reviewed beginning in 1947. The report examines his political affiliations and ideology and known political associates.

The critical criteria in determining whether to recommend the issue of a passport is the extent to which an applicant is at the time the application is made , involved in any political activity.

Also of relevance was the purpose of the travel. If the purpose of the travel was to meet with the ANC or any organisation considered by the security agency to be a threat, the application would be refused. The reason for the travel had to be supplied.

The Security Branch had the power to oppose an application and if opposed, an applicant would be refused a passport.

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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.