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Skin: Learning Resource by Film Education

The Rules of Apartheid

It is 1948 and for the first time Afrikaner nationalists have won a majority in the elections and control the South African Parliament.  Their majority is slim – just five – but it is enough to give them the opportunity to start arranging things so that the country starts to reflect Afrikaner ideals.  Your task is going to require you to think like an architect of Apartheid dreaming up the rules and regulations that in the film SKIN come to so dominate Sandra Laing’s life.

First you need to consider some of the circumstances and attitudes the Afrikaner leaders brought to the project.  Your first exercise is to read these SEVEN background points and decide which of them is going to be the most important in governing what life in an Afrikaner-dominated South Africa will become.  Arrange the statements into order – the first being the most influential factor (in your view) and the last the least important.

  1. You are part of a very small minority in South Africa – less than 15% of the white population.  Most Afrikaners have their roots in the country and owning and working farms.  During the years of economic depression during the 1930s many Afrikaners found themselves having to compete for jobs with black people.  The sight of poor white Afrikaners having to contend with unemployment, low wages and miserable housing was an affront that you are determined to prevent happening again. 
  2. As a white person you are similarly vastly out-numbered by the black population of South Africa.  Black people outnumber whites by at least four to one. At the back of your mind always lingers the fear that without strict control the black population would quickly threaten your authority and control.  Memories of the Boer War (1899-1902) during which black people had been armed and black troops had fought on the British side against The Afrikaner (Boer) forces and took part in mistreating Boer women and children are still dreadfully fresh.  More recently, the Afrikaner leader Hertzog fought the 1929 election on the basis of ‘the Black Peril’ – the fear that Afrikaners were a threatened minority in need of special preservation.
  3. You are living in a country with vast mineral wealth.  Diamonds and gold have completely transformed South Africa in the last sixty years shifting it from an agricultural economy to an industrial one – a process that has been accelerated by the recent Second World War which required the country to become much more self-reliant in manufacturing.
  4. You are living in a country in which the exploitation of black and coloured labour was long engrained.  The practice of paying such workers the lowest possible wages and denying them the right to settle permanently in the cities where they worked was already well-established before the 1948 election. 
  5. The need for labour in mines and factories has led to successive waves of immigration to the cities and all over South Africa there are examples of black and coloured people living close to, or even worse, together with white people.  Such integration appears immoral to you, flying in the face of your fears of racial mixing – the ‘contamination of pure white blood with that of other races’.  Such an idea springs from the generic theory called eugenics, now utterly discredited, that suggested the children of racial cross-overs are likely to be physically and morally degenerate.
  6. You have a belief rooted in your reading of the Bible that the Boers are a chosen people with a God-given right to South Africa.  Your sense of pre-eminence is also based upon the racial theories you hold to – namely that white people’s natural superiority underpins the social order – they are on top because they deserve to be.
  7. Another idea – in fact it is the one that underpins the term ‘apartheid’ meaning apartness – is the notion that races were meant to develop apart and that they had a God-given destiny which can only emerge from such separateness.  Of course, just because the black population needs to be ‘contained’ and distanced from the white does not entail giving them a proportionate share in the land or wealth of South Africa.

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