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History, A Segregated Nation

South African blacks, nonwhites, Louis Botha, Afrikaners, British parliament

With the South Africa Act of 1910 the British parliament established the dominion of the Union of South Africa with the four colonies as its provinces. A clause in the act provided that the policies of the provinces toward blacks would be retained and could be changed only by a two-thirds majority vote of parliament. In Cape Province (formerly the Cape Colony), Coloureds and a few blacks could vote, a right not available to them in the other three provinces.

Discrimination against nonwhites was inherent in South African society from the earliest days. Before World War I, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi led the struggle to assure civil rights for Indian residents. Despite some government concessions, including abolition of the poll tax, the Indian population retained second-class status after the war. South African blacks had an even lower status in the white-dominated state. Urban blacks lived in segregated areas and could not hold office. They had no viable unions, and technical and administrative positions were closed to them.

Politics were focused on differences between English-speaking South Africans and Afrikaners as well as racial differences. Party politics gathered momentum after elections were held in 1910, and the first parliament was formed. The South African Party (SAP) was formed by members of the coalition who won the 1910 election. A former Afrikaner commander, Louis Botha, became prime minister. General Botha and the SAP tried to bridge the differences between the two major white groups, but Afrikaners, particularly those in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, rejected these efforts.

One of the first moves of the new parliament was to pass the Natives Land Act of 1913 which prevented blacks, except those living in Cape Province, from buying land outside so-called reserves. The land allotted to these reserves made up 7 percent of the total land of the country. Because of the limited amount of land available to blacks, the act also ensured that the migratory labor system would continue and cheap black labor would be available in the mines and industries.

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