Apartheid Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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Have you ever been in a great conversation, perhaps a more serious and intellectual one, and somebody brings up the apartheid? This word is bound to come up now and again, but if you haven’t been taught about apartheid and its history, you probably don’t know what it is. 

But apartheid is a really important word. It is an integral part of history that we can all learn from. And understanding it can make you a more well-rounded person, not just in your vocabulary but in life.

So today’s word of the day is apartheid. By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the word apartheid, its definitions, its important and brutal history, and how to use it. Let’s get started. 

What Is the Meaning of the Word Apartheid?

The word apartheid is actually not an English word. It is a word that comes from the Afrikaans language of South Africa, but because of its global significance, the word has transferred directly to English. Here’s a quick definition of apartheid: 

  • Directly translated to “apartness,” apartheid was an ideology and system held by the National Party of South Africa that called for the complete separation of racial groups in South Africa. 

Needless to say, the apartheid ideology was a notorious system that generated a huge amount of inequality and injustice among the racial groups in South Africa. The racial segregation was so dramatic that it included the prohibition of mixed marriages, mixed-race communities, and even friendships between races.

The system even afforded more rights and privileges to white people. This was especially oppressive because the ruling class was white despite the population having an 80% black majority. So the scales were dramatically tilted in favor of wealthy, white elites. 

A Brief History of the Apartheid System

The South African apartheid system officially began in the year 1948 when the Afrikaner Nationalist Party came to power over the South African government. Even though apartheid ideas had existed for almost 50 years before this, and there were segregation laws in place before 1948, the apartheid regime doubled down on it, creating more strict laws and systems and enforcing them with an intimidating state apparatus. 

Because of how strictly and brutally this system and apartheid policies were enforced, this was one of the most brutal and far worse than any other form of segregation that had existed prior. It even gave greater political rights to the white population, further solidifying their hold over the government.

In 1950, with the passing of the Group Areas Act, racial groups were forcibly segregated. Black South Africans were forcibly removed from what were deemed “white areas” and forced to live in areas set aside for their non-white racial groups, called “homelands.” 

Other oppressive laws and practices include:

  • The Population Registration Act.
  • The Separate Representation of Voters Act.
  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.
  • Giving out citations for using public facilities not designated for your race. 

Black people lost their homes and were removed from cities. They were forced to live in all-black communities but were unable to own homes because white people still owned the land. This particular element caused a great deal of systemic oppression and human rights violations. 

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

Despite the large amount of power the Nationalist Party had, the system was eventually overthrown. The apartheid resistance began back in 1906 with nonviolent civil resistance ideas and tactics from the mind of Gandhi. The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 and was the main force against apartheid ideas.  

After the establishment of the apartheid regime, civil resistance continued, but it was largely ineffective. Eventually, Nelson Mandella, among others, called for an armed uprising and overthrowing of the apartheid regime and created the Umkhonto We Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation.”

This, too, failed, but it gave rise to another even greater movement of nonviolent civil resistance and boycotts in the early 1990s that was backed with international support. Other countries, including the United Nations, imposed economic sanctions on the apartheid regime to force their hand. 

Finally, in 1992, two-thirds of the white voters in South Africa voted for an end to the white minority rule and apartheid government, and Nelson Mandela was elected as the president of the Republic of South Africa. This marked the end of apartheid rule, and a new constitution was created in 1996.

Where Did the Word Apartheid Come From?

The etymology of the word apartheid finds its roots in the Afrikaans language of South Africa. 

The word apartheid directly translates to “apartness.” But this word technically finds its roots in the Dutch language. The Dutch word apart, meaning “apart,” was combined with the Dutch suffix “-heid,” which is the same as the English suffix “-hood,” meaning state of being. 

This gives rise to the Afrikaan word apartheid, which means separateness or apartness. This word first came to be in the 1940s. 

What Are Some Examples of the Word Apartheid in a Sentence?

Seeing a word in context can help bring more clarity to its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the word apartheid.

  • The South African apartheid regime was one of the evilest systems of segregation the world has ever seen. 
  • It’s crazy that something as racist and evil as the apartheid regime could exist as recently as the 1990s. 
  • It’s amazing how the world rallied around the people of South Africa to put an end to the horrible apartheid regime there.

What Are Some Synonyms for the Word Apartheid?

Here are some synonyms for the word apartheid you might find in a thesaurus. 

  • Racism
  • Oppression
  • Discrimination
  • Separation
  • Racial Segregation 

The Word Apartheid

Now you know everything you need to know about the word apartheid, its definition, its history, and how to use it. Use it confidently in your writing and your conversation. And if you need a refresher on this word, come back to this article for the information you need. 


The Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa (1912-1992) | International Center of Nonviolent Conflict 

APARTHEID | Cambridge English Dictionary 

APARTHEID | Meaning & Definition for UK English | Lexico

A history of Apartheid in South Africa | South African History Online