Impacts of Apartheid in South Africa


Apartheid is an inseparable part of South African history, and its legacies continue to be palpable nowadays. This paper is aimed at discussing the political, economic, and social impacts of apartheid policies, especially with the reference to the period which ranges from the late forties to the mid-seventies of the twentieth century. Overall, it is possible to single out several important legacies of this regime, namely, suppression of liberal or left-wing movements, political disempowerment of black and colored people, rupture of social ties within the community, and decreased economic competition within the county. This is the main thesis that will be substantiated and expanded in the following sections of the essay. At the given moment, South African society is struggling with the aftermaths of apartheid, and it is vital to describe and understand the exact influence of this ruinous racial segregation doctrine.

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The Effects of Apartheid

Political impacts

In order to identify the impacts of apartheid policies, one must understand the origins of this doctrine. To a large extent, it was premised on prevalent Christian-national ideology which emphasized the civilizing mission of Afrikaners who had the right to govern and educate the native nations of the country (Dubow, p. 246). Hence, Afrikaners were entitled to govern them. This ideology resulted in several political changes. First of all, black people were deprived of political representation in the government. Certainly, the Bantu Authorities Act, which was adopted in 1951, led to the creation of autonomous governments in Bantustans, but they could not affect the political life of the nation. Overall, the idea of mixed representation in the government was utterly rejected by the state. When we speak about the government’s attempts to reduce the political power of non-white people, we need to mention the Separate Representation of Voters Act. It stated that whites and non-whites were prohibited to vote together during the elections (Welch, p. 536). Yet, in essence, this legal act excluded now-white people from participation in those decisions which could change the national policies of the state.

Another important impact of apartheid was the oppression of left-wing ideology. The most eloquent example was the notorious Suppression of Communism Act. Formally, this law was aimed at prohibiting the functioning of the South African Communist Party; however, it enabled the government to prohibit every political movement which disagreed with the policies of the National Party (Moodie, p. 256). The thing is that every party which attempted to bring social, economic, or political change within the country was labeled to be communist. Thus, such a legal system contributed to the political discrimination against women, the representatives of local religious groups, and other minorities (Welch, p. 113). One should bear in mind that in the early forties, the Communist Party was interfacial and this ran contrary to the dominant ideology. During the period which we are discussing conservatism turned into the main principles to which the government adhered. This was the main cause of stagnation in the political life of the country.

Yet, one should not overlook some unpredicted effects of the apartheid regime. It made underprivileged people more aware of the fact that without joint effort, unanimity, and common goals they would not be able to overcome this oppressive regime. Moreover, it underlined the importance of liberal values for the nation. Another unintended but predictable effect of apartheid was the international alienation of the country. Even in the sixty’s apartheid regime was criticized by the governments of many advanced countries, and South Africa was no longer regarded as a democratic state. Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the political impacts of apartheid were only detrimental.

Economic effects of apartheid

This political regime was bound to produce enormous effects on the economy of the country. First of all, it significantly slowed down the movement of the labor force within the state and made South African businesses less mobile. The government established numerous quotas which allowed local companies to employ only a certain number of non-white people (Wintrobe, p. 173). The policy of job reservation had a detrimental influence on small businesses which were forced to privilege only white workers, even despite the fact that their level of skills was the same as that one of black or colored workers.

One of the consequences of this approach was a lack of competition among employees. Those people, who knew that their jobs were protected by the government, were less likely to perform better. This example shows that apartheid resulted in the shortage of skilled labor. It can also be explained by the fact that the period between 1950 and 1970 deliberately overlooked the education of the non-white population (Moodie, p. 276). The so-called Bantu education was based on the idea of black inferiority and it could not give people those skills which were necessary for the industrial production of goods. The results of this educational policy are much more palpable nowadays than they were thirty or forty years ago.

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Secondly, the policies implemented by the government reduced the average purchasing power of the population (Wintrobe, p. 170). The black population of the country could not afford many mass consumer goods and sometimes had no access to them. This was the inevitable consequence of significant unemployment among these people. As a result, local manufacturers could not generate sales, and the growth was significantly hampered.

We can point out another impact of this policy, namely reduced competitiveness between businesses. For instance, we can refer to the agricultural sector which suffered significant losses because a great number of small farms greatly depended on a continuous supply of cheap labor force. Due to apartheid, they were not allowed to employ non-white workers and could not compete with larger farms. Eventually, many of these agricultural enterprises had to close down. By trying to protect white farmers from black competition, the South African government prevented the development of this economic sector. Certainly, their policies did not give rise to agricultural monopoly but they definitely harmed both white and non-white farmers.

Thus, we can argue that the implementation of apartheid policies led to many inefficiencies of the South African economy; this regime increased its dependence on the inflow of foreign investment, reduced the availability of skilled workers, and made many companies less competitive.

Social effects of the apartheid regime

The social impacts of apartheid were equally harmful for the population of South Africa. Forced resettlement of people disrupted the life of many interracial communities. By trying to divide the population into four groups (white, black, Indian, and colored populations), the government only intensified already existing enmities among the country’s citizens. People could clearly see that some of them were underprivileged by the state whereas others were given various educational or employment benefits. Such a situation could not contribute to tolerance, respect, and understanding among the representatives of different religions, nationalities, or races. South Africans were forced to look at their differences rather than common goals. This influence of apartheid was noticeable during the period which we are discussing, and it remains a problem for the contemporary population of the country.

It should be noted that residential areas for Africans were too overcrowded and these conditions greatly increased the mortality of this population (Welsh, p. 271). According to the statistical data, the mortality rate among colored or African infants was at least 13 times higher than that one of white children (Clark & Worger, p. 63). This example illustrates that the non-white population was deprived of many social benefits such as healthcare. In the previous section of the paper, we mentioned the lack of educational opportunities for black or colored people. For example, the Bantu Education Act which was enacted in 1953, deprived many African schools of proper funding, and in turn, the functioning of these institutions could not possibly reach the highest academic standards (Clark & Worger, p. 51). The economic effect of this policy was the deficit of skilled labor force, while the major social impact was the lack of social mobility. This means that a person cannot move from lower to higher levels or classes of society. The regime of apartheid was very conservative at its core (Moodie, p. 298) and it resisted any social changes, including improved welfare of black, Indian, or colored people.

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It stands to reason that the economical disadvantage of a certain group is closely connected with deviant behavior and crime, and South Africa was not an exception in this case. Statistical data collected by many researchers suggest that crime levels throughout the country rose significantly during the years of apartheid, especially in the cities (Clark & Worger, p. 115). The same thing can be said about prostitution because many women were deprived of an opportunity to earn their living. To a great extent, these social problems were concealed by the government especially between the 1940s and 1970; but they are very much conspicuous nowadays.

The National Party introduced the language of race into the social life of the country, and deliberately highlighted racial or ethnic differences between people. They drew parallels between the notions of class and race and this approach was ruinous for the country in which the majority of the population was non-white. Their idea of racial segregation intruded into the lives of many families and communities. Such scholar as Dan O’Meara argues that the legacies of the apartheid regime will influence the lives of future South African generations and that this political and social ideology obstructed the county’s progress for more than forty years (O’Meara, p. 4). This attempt to divide society according to a racial criterion failed, but it left an indelible trace in people’s memories and changed their attitudes toward one another.


This discussion shows that the apartheid regime impacted almost every sphere of life in South Africa; it produced deep and long-lasting impacts on political relations within the country, its economy, and social interactions.

Its most significant influences are economic stagnation, lack of skilled employees, reduced social mobility, and political disempowerment of many ethnic and racial groups of the population. Its impacts are closely interconnected, for instance, economic disadvantage and crime. Although apartheid was abolished many years ago, it still affects the lives of many citizens.

Works Cited

  1. Clark, Nancy, and Worger William. “South Africa: the rise and fall of apartheid”. London. Longman. 2004. Print.
  2. Dubow Saul. Scientific racism in modern South Africa. London: Cambridge University Press. 1995. Print.
  3. Moodie T. Dunbar. The rise of Afrikanerdom: power, apartheid, and the Afrikaner civil religion. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1975. Print.
  4. OMeara. Forty lost years: the apartheid state and the politics of the National Party. Randburg: Ravan Press. 1996. Print.
  5. Welsh David. The rise and fall of apartheid. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball. 2010. Print.
  6. Wintrobe, Ronald. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Print.
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