40 pages 1 hour read

Athol Fugard

Master Harold and the Boys

Fiction | Play | YA | Published in 1982

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Historical Context: The Beginnings of Apartheid in South Africa

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning “apartness.” It was a system of legal segregation enacted in South Africa from 1948 until 1994 by the Afrikaner National Party (NP). Afrikaners are white South Africans of Dutch descent; white South Africans are typically of Dutch or British ancestry. Before the NP came to power, segregation already existed in South Africa but had been relaxed during World War II, under Prime Minister Jan Smuts. During this time, Black South Africans were called on to fill labor shortages in jobs usually reserved for white people, who were the minority in South Africa. Many white South Africans, particularly Afrikaners, became dissatisfied with the sudden increase in Black populations in cities and began to push for more rigid segregation. The National Party was elected in 1948 on a white supremacist platform that looked to reaffirm white superiority and tightly control Black populations.

The National Party enacted laws that forbade racial integration and forced Black citizens to live in underfunded areas called homelands or townships. They were no longer allowed to live in cities or work certain jobs, and they had to carry ID numbers that identified them by race. In 1950, South Africans were divided into four racial categories: white, native (meaning Black), colored (meaning mixed-race), or Indian.