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South Africa Under Apartheid: A Totalitarian State

1431 words - 6 pages

During the Apartheid Era, there emerged from South Africa cases of gross human rights abuse, racism, police brutality and general mistreatment of the non-white population. Excluding the fact that South Africa was never ruled by a dictator, it can be argued that some of these features were totalitarian and that South Africa was, to a certain extent, a totalitarian state under Apartheid. This discussion will analyse the totalitarian features that were apparent during Apartheid, and will be structured in the format of the characteristics of a totalitarian state1. Political, economic and social spheres will be dealt with, with the main focus being on racial purity, a “reign of terror” and education.

A totalitarian state involves many spheres being partly or wholly controlled by the state, and, often, the manipulation of the population to benefit the state. In South Africa, this was apparent for the non-white population – the state controlled and often manipulated them with various pieces of Apartheid legislation.

In the political sphere, South Africa could be seen to a certain extent as a totalitarian one-party state, as the Afrikaans National Party (NP) maintained power throughout Apartheid. Opposition parties (such as the ANC, PAC, SACP, and UDF in 1988) were banned according to the “Unlawful Organisations Act No 34 of 1960;”2 and in 1956, the “Separate Representation of Voters Amendment Act3” removed the right to vote from coloureds (blacks already had no voting rights), leaving only whites allowed to vote and therefore removing opposition.

Membership of the South African government could be regarded as “elite” (a totalitarian feature) as the government was predominantly Afrikaans with few English-speaking people and no non-whites. Botha’s system of “Tricameralism”4 in 1983, supposedly put in place to include coloureds and Indians in government, failed to do more than give them minimal say and almost no power. Blacks were completely excluded, leaving Afrikaans whites as the “elite.”

Censorship (another totalitarian feature) occurred extensively during Apartheid. Most forms of media, (books, radio, television, etc) were controlled and censored by the state, and any publication opposing Apartheid was banned (including Burger’s Daughter (1979) and July’s People (1981) by Nadine Gordimer and Cry, Freedom a film on the life of Steve Biko,)5 under the “Publications Act (No. 42) of 1974”3. In 1985, the press was censored and television coverage was minimised under the State of Emergency.

A secret police and “reign of terror” are defining features of a totalitarian state, often used to terrify, intimidate and repress all opposition. This was seen during Apartheid, the purpose being to attempt to establish order and prevent uprising from the black population.

During Apartheid, “terror” was practised by secret police units like the C10 (later the C1) under Dirk Coetzee and Eugene de Kock, mostly at the notorious farm, Vlakplaas. The...

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