Apartheid in ACTion: Promotion of Bantu Self-government Act

The Promotion of Bantu Self-government Act of 1959, later renamed the “Promotion of Black Self-government Act,” and finally the “Representation between the Republic of South Africa and Self-governing Territories Act,” was a piece of apartheid legislation that transformed many land reserves into special territories set aside specifically for black South Africans. These territories were referred to as “Bantustans.”

The act also separated black South Africans into eight different ethnic groups, with each group being assigned a Commissioner-General who was responsible for overseeing the development of their assigned Bantustan into a self-governing state. Thus, the act effectively carried out comprehensive segregation and eliminated black representation in the South African parliament. The act’s mission of segregation proved successful. 

The results of this segregation were similar to those that arose from America’s own experiment with the “separate but equal” concept. Separate was indeed inherently unequal. Widespread poverty, poor living conditions and a glaring lack of employment opportunities were trademarks of life in the Bantustans.

The governments of the Bantustans were inherently corrupt and unstable and were only kept afloat by subsidies from South Africa proper. As people were unable to find work, many black South Africans were forced to find work in South Africa proper, and many lived there legally or illegally.

The act was repealed by the Interim Constitution of South Africa in 1994, at which point all Bantustans were officially reincorporated into South Africa and all of the Bantustans’ inhabitants were extended full citizenship.

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