Apartheid was not only a dark period for South Africa, but for the whole world as nations debated and decided how to handle the injustice and whether to economically divest from the country. Apartheid was introduced in 1948 by the Afrikaner-led National Party government. During this time, Black people were regarded as inferior and only white people were allowed to vote. Races were segregated in all aspects of life, including housing and schools. Skilled jobs were reserved for white people. Sexual relations were banned between Black and white people.
Another prohibition during apartheid is that it prevented Black people from owning land in most of South Africa. The Group Areas Act, passed in 1950, was a pillar of the brutal apartheid regime. Among other things, it led to the removal of non-whites from real estate considered desirable by the government. Over the following decades, thousands of families were forced to leave their homes and relocate to barren land.
Today, many South Africans are still fighting to reclaim land that was taken away from them during apartheid.
BBC News featured the Lawrence family who are dealing with this ordeal. They lived in a village, Redhill which is at the far end of the African continent. It was once home to more than 70 predominantly mixed-race (or coloured, as they are referred to in South Africa) families. While the land that they lost is now in ruins, they still want it because it was theirs and it was home.
In March 1970, the families at Redhill were given seven days’ notice to move. The authorities told them they wanted to build a dam – a project that has never been pursued.
Mrs Lawrence has vivid memories of happy years at Redhill.
“We all loved walking to the mountains, picking flowers and just smelling the aroma of the herbs,” she says. “There were animals – pigs, fowls, horses, milking cows.”
Under the 1950 law, Mrs Lawrence, her husband and their four children had no other choice but to leave their land.
“It was so heartbreaking, tears, tears and tears,” says Mrs Lawrence, recalling the day they left. She says the family had to leave much of their furniture behind – including heirlooms – as it could not be taken up the stairs of the flat they were moving to.
Just after his re-election to a second term in office in May, South African President Jacob Zuma announced the creation of another window for lodging claims for the restitution of land. Many people had missed the previous window, which expired in 1998.
President Zuma also hailed the progress made so far in returning land to its rightful owners.
However, George, Mrs. Lawrence’s brother, has embarked on a legal journey, trying to get the land back from the South African state. He says he registered the first land claim in 1998 – but since then, has only been to meetings and offered excuses for inaction.
“The only thing I want in my life is to come back to my land. I was born here, my roots are here. It is not so difficult, the government just has to sign the papers.”
It has been 20 years since the election of President Nelson Mandela which signaled the end of apartheid in South Africa, but the effects of this unjust system remain in various corners of society and continue to penalize its citizens; people who just want to be able to return home.