History and Area Studies Essays

Compare and contrast the history of South Africa post-1945 with that of any other country, or several countries, on the African continent. What are the similarities – economic and political – what are the differences? Is South Africa unique?

The appropriation of leftover European institutions, the growth of local political agendas, and the use of unfair economic practices characterized post-1945 South African history in ways similar to the histories of other former British African territories (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, etc.).  Post-1945 South Africa differentiated itself from the rest of the African continent through its possession of an apartheid government and relatively successful industrial booms.  South Africa’s unique path to universal suffrage, its unique minority groups, and its unique experience with industrialization makes it imperative to conclude that South Africa is a unique state within the unique continent of Africa.

Many decades before 1945, South Africans of all ethnicities began experiencing European rule by means of European colonial institutions.  These institutions were modeled after the ones used within imperial European nations.  European courts, legislation halls, and offices were ubiquitous across urban centers in South Africa.  European institutions highly differed from native South African institutions in conducting financial transactions, trials, and governmental procedures.  The ramifications of such institutions have changed the economics, politics, and cultures of South Africa (South Africa is known today as a nation of recently changed peoples).  Present-day South Africa reflects the imposition of such European systems within intranational (demographics, elections, legislation) and international affairs (foreign policies, foreign markets, the 2010 World Cup).  Equivalent and visible appropriation is also present among modern African states once subject to British colonial rule.[1]  Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda officials continue to utilize European institutions leftover by colonial authorities to carry out their interests, distribute resources, and initiate infrastructure projects.  Through the customs of these institutions, organized groups of people were able to cultivate local political groups with ambitious agendas.  The genesis of the ANC in South Africa, the creation of the Kikuyu Central Association, and the upbringing of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons collectively demonstrated similar forms of mobilization, organization, and aspirations between South African activists and former British African territory activists.  Despite the goals of preventing corruption and establishing human rights among African political groups and bureaucracies leftover by European institutions, unfair economic practices were riddled across all of Africa’s post-1945 governments.  The explicit favoritism in the economics of apartheid South Africa intentionally created a country filled with economic inequality based on race.  Similarly, the interests of certain groups of people elsewhere on former British African territory (i.e. military personnel from Nigeria, private enterprises in Ghana, autocratic authority figures in Uganda, ruling ethnic groups in former Rhodesia, etc.) were either heavily favored or fully overlooked.  For example, failed industrialization projects – due to environmental grievances, forced migrations, and lack of education – in Ghana post-1945 represented the flawed economic practices performed within the country.

South Africa’s post-1945 history becomes more isolated when referring to its apartheid era.  No other government in Africa possessed a legal basis that intentionally segregated society based on race.  Most independent African states were ruled under doctrines of self-governance, whereas South Africa’s government was controlled by a minority population not native to South Africa’s land.  Hopes of Pan-Africanism from Ghana[2] and some former British East African territories were countered by the divisive language of apartheid in South Africa.[3]  Apartheid South African figures believed that the South African economy would experience self-sufficiency and good health by maintaining segregating policies and laws that encourage economic inequality that serves more benefits to white individuals (monopolies, less competition, controlled market, etc.).  They also justified apartheid to be an answer to neocolonial arguments by describing themselves as the ones responsible for the independence of South Africa from British colonial control (apartheid actors were responsible for initially pulling South Africa out of the British commonwealth).  This differed from the answers of self-governance, pan-Africanism, and African authoritarianism to neocolonialism presented by other modern African nations.  In addition to differences in political rhetoric, the formation of elite classes of apartheid South Africa’s society differed greatly from the formation of elite classes in nearby African nations.  The elite in South Africa usually consisted of a significant amount of European-descended individuals who were guaranteed more rights and freedoms due to their race.  The elite in former British African territories were more dynamic and usually comprised of a few powerful local individuals and their family members.  The standards of living between the elite classes also greatly differed; the South African elite had the best standards of living figures in Africa and their incomes were higher relative to countries inside and outside of Africa.[4]  The white minority was, by default, the elite/upper class of South African society.  The dynamic elite classes within other modern African states varied in income and size; they were not as defined as in apartheid South Africa.  Furthermore, depending on political situations, high income individuals were not guaranteed a stable socioeconomic position in societies within Africa, yet outside South Africa.  The criteria for economic opportunity outside of South Africa were more diverse; variables revolving around political authorities, religion, language, and special interests determined the size and demographics of elite classes.  South Africa’s apartheid-manipulated society ensured that whites achieved the most political and economic freedoms.

Given the unique scenarios that result from South Africa’s unique history, South Africa is a unique state that continues to break barriers today.  South Africa was the only nation in Africa to experience an apartheid era; some scholars still considered this era as one of non-independence due to the minority and segregating ruling patterns present.  The National Party, the political party that spearheaded apartheid rule once achieving electoral victory in 1948, was composed of right-wing Afrikaners that aimed to raise the minority status of civilian Afrikaners and marginalize any group of people that did not resemble visions of themselves.  Thus, on behalf of those scholars, South Africa’s political and economic capabilities did not fall into its people’s hands until 1994, when all South African citizens were allowed to vote in that year’s election.  Besides the power of Afrikaners, other white minority groups (including English, German, and French speaking groups) expressed power in their own ways by complying with the Nationalist Party’s ideologies or involving themselves with alternative political agendas (communism, independent parties, native sympathizers, missions, etc.).  A variety of minority groups were marginalized alongside the majority native populations, including Indians, Asians, Arabs, and foreign African ethnic groups.  This picture of minorities in South Africa did not exist elsewhere in Africa.  The empowered Afrikaners during the apartheid era industrialized South Africa in ways unique from other industrialization methods throughout history.  Industrialization in South Africa actually began before the twentieth century.  Post-1945 South Africa, however, was maintaining its industrial revolution highs through its large sales in minerals, weapons, and construction machinery.  Medical advances were controversially achieved; the first heart transplant in human history was conducted in Cape Town.  The investments of high income whites in South Africa resulted in industrial achievements and higher prospects for higher standards of living due to a controlled market and the subjugation of native peoples.  One can imagine how prosperous life would be for everyone in post-1945 South Africa if resources were distributed fairly to all citizens.

Post-1945 South Africa’s history resembles the histories of other African nations (particularly those of the former British colonial territories) through its similar appropriation of European institutions, its witness to similar local political activity, and its characterization of unfair and corrupt economic practices.  South Africa adds more variables to the African continent through its special experience of an apartheid era.  Finally, due to South Africa’s riddled, yet successful path to universal suffrage, its fostering of contrasting minority groups, and its successful industrialization endeavors, South Africa can easily be treated as a unique place with a unique past and future.  Indeed, we still look to Africa today as a source of inspiration for the possibility of tolerance, diversity, economic prosperity, and unity.  We can now hope for places where everyone’s daily interests are met and guaranteed, regardless of race, sex, and socioeconomic status.

[1] Cooper, Frederick. Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. 1st ed. Vol. 1. 1 vols. 1 1. London, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[2] Nkrumah, Kwame. “Nkrumah on Pan-Africanism as an Answer to Neocolonialism.” Ghana Government, 1961. Document 40. Africa and the West Volume 2.

[3] Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. 1st ed. Vol. 1. 1 vols. 1 1. South Africa: Little Brown & Co., 1995.

[4] South African National Congress. “The Natives Land Act, South Africa.” SANNC, 1913. Page 31. Africa and the West Volume 2.

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