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The South African problems Paton wrote about in 1946 were still present in the mid-1980s. In 1984, the black Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward a nonviolent solution of South Africa's racial problems. The basic social problems that concerned Bishop Tutu as well as Paton can be summed up in one word-apartheid. Apartheid-Afrikaans for "apartness" or "segregation"- means, in theory, that different races should develop separately along their own paths. In practice, it means white supremacy in an overwhelmingly nonwhite nation. When Paton wrote Cry, the Beloved Country apartheid was not yet official government policy as it became in 1948 but much of the apartheid system was already part of the law. Some understanding of the historical background of South Africa and apartheid will help you better understand the events in Cry, the Beloved Country.
The area now known as South Africa was colonized by the Dutch East India Company near the Cape of Good Hope in the second half of the 17th century. The early settlers brought smallpox, which killed many San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi (Hottentots) of the area. To provide labor, the Company imported large numbers of slaves from West Africa and Malaya. At first, the Company encouraged racially mixed marriages, but as large numbers of Dutch, German, and French Huguenot immigrants joined the Colony, the practice was forbidden. This mixture of cultures produced an offshoot of the Dutch language that came to be known as Afrikaans. The European settlers were known as "Boers," the Dutch word for farmer.
Racial groupings were fairly well established by 1814, the year Britain acquired Cape Colony as a result of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The first English settlers, mostly government employees, antagonized the Afrikaans-speaking Boers. The Boers resented what they saw as government meddling and injustice; for instance, the abolition of slavery with little or no financial compensation and the restriction on acquiring new land. As early as 1702 some Boers had begun to trek (journey) inland, and the British presence led to increased movement inland by Boers.
The early Trekkers met the Xhosa, a Bantu-speaking black ethnic group, whom they called Kaffirs. As a rule, early Trekkers saw the Xhosa as fellow farmers and cattle-raisers and were friendly with them. There were few hostilities until more Boers pushed into Xhosa lands. The first of what are called the Kaffir Wars or Cape Frontier Wars, between Boers and Xhosa, occurred in 1779; the last ended in 1879.
After the arrival of the British, the largest Trek, the Great Trek, occurred between 1835 and 1843. It is estimated that some 12,000 to 14,000 Boers moved hundreds of miles inland from the Cape in large, well-armed parties, with some journeying to Natal and others to the interior plateau. These Voortrekkers, as they were called, saw themselves as Christian pioneers with a God-given mandate to subdue the land and the Bantu-speaking peoples.
Meanwhile roughly similar events were occurring in Natal and the Transvaal. Pressures created by Europeans led the Zulu first to make room for themselves by driving out other Bantu-speaking peoples. About 1836, Zulu and Boer forces finally clashed. Under Dingaan, the Zulu won several battles in which Boer losses were substantial. Boer guns proved superior, however, at Blood River on December 16, 1838, and Dingaan was forced to concede much territory to the Boer leader Andries Pretorius. The Zulu remained subdued for the next few years, but then Boers began to clash with British settlers along the coast of Natal. This time, especially after Britain annexed Natal in 1843, many Boers simply moved inland.
Recognizing the political reality, Britain granted independent status to the Boers of the Transvaal Republic in 1852 and to the Orange Free State in 1854. In 1879 British domination of Natal became complete, with the crushing of a last Zulu army. By that time the Xhosa in Cape Province had also been overwhelmed by surrounding Europeans.
From about 1870 on, discoveries of diamonds and gold brought a new influx of whites into the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The miners who established Johannesburg in 1886 included more men speaking English than Afrikaans. These "uitlanders" (outlanders or foreigners), as the Boer government called them, were taxed heavily but not allowed to vote. Not surprisingly, the outlanders supported British attempts to annex Griqualand West in 1871 and the Transvaal in 1877, and tension mounted. The simmering conflict led to the South African, or Boer, War of 1899-1902. At first the British lost to Boer raids, but they won after they began to burn conquered lands and to put more than 100,000 Afrikaner women and children in detention camps. The camps were so crowded and unsanitary that as many as 26,000 people died of typhoid fever.
In 1910 the British united Cape Colony, Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Natal into the Union of South Africa. As a country with dominion status, South Africa recognized the British monarch as head of state, but largely governed itself. Whites controlled the new country.
Afrikaners took politics seriously, and soon rose to prominence in the government of South Africa. Some Boer leaders tried to mend rifts between English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking whites. Two whose names appear in Cry, the Beloved Country are Botha and Smuts. Louis Botha (1862-1919), the first Prime Minister, allied South Africa with the British in World War I. The Prime Minister in the early 1920s was the leader of the Unionist party, Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870-1950).
Many Afrikaners, however, and some South Africans of English ancestry as well, resented the relatively moderate policies of Botha and Smuts. They united in the Nationalist party founded by James Barry Hertzog, Prime Minister from 1924 to 1939. Hertzog led an Afrikaner cultural revival, pushed for cutting back the voting rights of nonwhites, and promoted the establishment of reserved lands for black Africans as their permanent homes. (Reserves were not new. Some had been established in Natal as early as the 1870s.) The last five years Hertzog was Prime Minister, his party joined that of Smuts in the United South African National party. But this alliance disintegrated at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In that year, Smuts again became Prime Minister, and he led South Africa into World War II on the Allied side. He also brought South Africa into the United Nations in 1945 as a charter member.
With the election victory of the Nationalist party of Daniel F. Malan (1874-1959) in 1948, the practice of apartheid became official policy. It called for the elimination of existing integration, as in schools, labor unions, and places like opera houses, and greatly curtailed the political, economic, educational, and social opportunities of nonwhites. The ultimate goal became the division of the country into separate areas for whites and nonwhites. By the mid-1980s, several "independent homelands" for black ethnic groups had been established.
The great majority of nonwhites were opposed to apartheid, but the need to earn a living forced them to take part in the system. There was racial conflict, however, and it continued into the 1980s. Nonviolent protest movements of nonwhites were met in some instances with violence by the government-notably at Sharpeville in 1960 and at Soweto in 1976. In some cases nonwhites used violence to press for change. The white-minority government made scattered concessions to nonwhites, but the basic dispute over the proper path of development remained. Whites generally sought to maintain their privileged position of controlling the country's political and economic life, while many nonwhites aimed to establish a democratic society in which persons would have equal opportunities regardless of race.
Some changes occurred in South Africa in the 40 years following publication of Cry, the Beloved Country. But basic issues discussed in the novel-the causes, effects, and possible end of racial segregationremained very relevant to life in the country in the 1980s.