About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Historical Background: Separate Development

H.F. Verwoerd, who became prime minister in 1958, developed the ideology of apartheid as Seperate Development, thus giving apartheid an intellectual cohesion and even a moral rationalization in the eyes of Afrikaners. It made sense if you acceopted its premoises.

Separate Development postulated that the issue ofwhite domination would become redundant, if South Africa was a country in which there were no Blacks to dominate. When other countries in Africa became independent, Whites either withdrew or gave up exclusive political control. Separate Development was designed to achieve the opposite result: By ridding the country of Blacks it could deprive them of South African nationality.

South Africa, according to the Separate Development theory, was not a single country consisting of Blacks and whites. On the contrary, it was comprised of a plurality of cultural minorities. There is not one nation in South Africa, it argued, but many nations, each at a different stage of development, but each, nonetheless, entitled to its independence. Just as Europe and their colonial masters assisted other African nations towards nationality and independence, so, too, the whites of South Africa had a duty to assist African ethnic tribes on their roads to independence.

The 1913 and 1936 Land Acts had set aside traditional African land, comprising 13 percent of the land mass, for Africans. These lands, which were called Homelands in the South

African state's parlance, would provide the territories for the different African nations to realize their own individual political aspirations. As each Homeland eventually became independent, its citizens would lose their South African citizenship, and become foreigners who would be treated like other foreigners who visited what would then be white South Africa. When all the African 'nations' became independent, the problem of white domination would have disappeared.

A new State structure, which quickly began to take on a life of its own, emerged. By 1985 the political system had given birth to thirteen houses of parliament or Legislative Assemblies, including three legislative chambers in the Central Parliament, six legislative Assemblies in what are called the "Non-independent" Black states, and four legislative Assemblies in the "Independent" states. There were 1,270 members of parliament, 206 cabinet ministers, five state presidents and ten prime ministers; one hundred fifty-one government departments, eighteen Departments of Health and Welfare, fourteen Departments of Education, and fourteen Departments of Finance and Budget.

The original idea was that all these duplicative assemblies and governance structures would reach a certain critical mass of performance, "take off," and thereafter develop separately and independently. Thus, the Transkei homeland was granted its "independence" in October 1976, Bophuthatswana in December 1977, Venda in September 1979, and Ciskei in December 1981. Citizens of the "independent" homelands who were not living and working in South Africa were not entitled to South African citizenship. However, South Africa was the only country to accord diplomatic recognition to the "independent" homelands, and they remained economically non-viable, dependent on huge subsidies from the South African government to maintain the illusion of self-autonomy, Some were scattered over several non-contiguous geograhical areas making the claim of self-government a chimera. The "take-off" points became blips on the receding political horizon, rationalization of governance structures stuck in the quagmire of a bureaucracy that grew by feeding on itself, and homeland self-sufficiency wishful thinking.

Afrikaners believed that Seperate Development giving each ethnic group a volk-- was equitable. With self-government and the promise of independence from South Africa (a peculiar variant of "responsible government," whites imagined what independent homeland states would look like a parliament and government much like their own, other institutions of governance, education for their children in their own language, using curricula designed to meet the children's capacity for learning, foreign investment in trade opportunities, led by the South African giants, many small but sustainable enterprises, jobs for the people who wanted to stay, for those who commuted to South Africa on a daily basis and for those who would spent their working years in South Africa, return to their own country during vacation time, and finally retire there.

The fact that Homelands were themselves artificial creations, that other than the Transkei, which at least could draw on contiguous borders, an organic population, one language, well defined boundaries, and a history of a limited degree of self governance,i the others were scattered collections of pieces of land, often at much distance from each other, each without a town of significance boundaries were drawn so that they curled and twisted in order to preclude the inclusion of "white" towns -- never entered their minds. Whites, if they followed the political maneuverings of the state, would have heard of the policy, accepted its implementation as a fait accompli and consigned the matter to the backs of their minds.

They would be hard put to name a Homeland and harder put still to locate it. If they were traveling and passing through one they would not know, and might only guess if asked, if they associated extreme rural poverty with homelands. Few if any would consider the mathematics: 13 per cent of the land to be divided among eight (later ten) "new" states that would be home to 87 per cent of the population. Fewer still would know that the Tomlinson Commission, had estimated that the existing reserves, only contained enough land to support half the 1951 Reserve population and that the land yet to be purchased under the provisions of the1936 act, which would double the size of the reserves, would still leave hundreds of thousands of reserve inhabitants without land, given the birth rate in the reserves and population resettlements.

Moreover, as time went by, those involved in developing and administering Separate Development had, of course, a vested interest in keeping the system going. Afrikaner nationalism consolidated itself in the civil service, which became the major channel of Afrikaner economic mobility, and the partisan nature of the State became more obvious. In 1990, close to 40 percent of employable Afrikaners worked for the government. The public sector employed one civil servant for every twenty-seven people. The bureaucracy's salary bill consumed about one-quarter of the Gross National Product (GNP). In fact, in 1989, the number of people who voted for the National Party -- approximately one million -- was roughly equivalent to the number of whites on the government payroll plus their spouses.

During the seventies, Separate Development began to succumb to powerful demographic and economic forces. A period of sustained economic growth accelerated the rate of overall urbanization, but especially Black urbanization, making the influx control laws virtually impossible to enforce, their rigidity became an obstacle to the demands of the marketplace. Black labor organizations emerged in the late seventies when African trade unions became legal, and they began to revolutionize the African worker's relationship to the workplace, and the workplace's relationship to Apartheid. Black alienation, always simmering, erupted with the Soweto riots in 1976, when the compulsory instruction of Afrikaans in African schools became the rallying symbol of white oppression and cultural domination.

By 1989, after 10 years of P.W. Botha's rule, first as Prime Minister and then as State President, most of the major goals of Separate Development had been abandoned: Homeland independence was optional.

Source: Dr. Van Zyl slabbert, a three-part talk as the Tanner Lecturer, Brasenose College, Oxford, October/November 1987. Lecture 2: The Dynamics of Reform: Co-optive Domination -- Sharing Power Without Losing Any." IDASA, Occasional Papers, No. 8.

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