South African blacks were stripped of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based and nominally self-governing bantustans (tribal homelands), four of which became nominally independent states. The homelands occupied relatively small and economically unproductive areas of the country. Many black South Africans, however, never resided in their identified "homelands". The homeland system disenfranchised black people residing in "white South Africa" by restricting their voting rights to their own identified black homeland. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services greatly inferior to those of whites, and, to a lesser extent, to those of Indians and coloureds. The education system practised in 'black schools' was designed to prepare blacks for lives as a labouring class.
When the NP came into power in 1948, its primary endeavour was to attain a white supremacist Christian National State and implement racial segregation. The key building blocks to enforcement of racial segregation were
- the arrangement of the population into African, coloured, Indian and white racial groups;
- strict racial segregation in the urban areas;
- restricted African urbanisation;
- a tightly-controlled and more restricted system of migrant labour;
- a stronger accent on tribalism and orthodoxy in African administration than in the past; and
- a drastic strengthening of security legislation and control.
The "Homelands" system was developed on the basis of these tenets. Territorial separation was not a new institution. There were, for example, the "reserves" created under the British government in the Nineteenth Century. Under HF Verwoerd's jurisdiction, however, this land was seen as a way to control the increasing movement of black people into the city. Black people would work in the cities but live in their own areas, where they would be housed, educated, and vote for their own internal governments. The ultimate plan was to create ten independent national states out of these homelands.
The state passed two laws which paved the way for "grand apartheid", which was centred on separating races on a large scale, through spatial divisions; that is, compelling people to live in separate places defined by race. The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act 30 of 1950, which necessitated all citizens' being categorised according to race and this being recorded in their identity passes. Official team or Boards were established to come to an ultimate conclusion on those people whose race was unclear. This caused much difficulty, especially for coloured people, separating their families as members were allocated different races.
The second pillar of grand apartheid was the Group Areas Act 21 of 1950. Until then, most settlements had people of different races living side by side. This Act put an end to diverse areas and determined where one lived according to race. Each race was allotted its own area, which was used in later years as a basis of forced removal.
The racial groups or national units that were intended to become "homelands" were North-Sotho, South-Sotho, Tswana, Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, Tsonga and Venda. In later years, the Xhosa national unit was broken further down into the Transkei and Ciskei. The Ndebele national unit was also added later after its "discovery" by the apartheid government. The government justified its plans on the basis that South Africa was made up of different "nations", asserting that "(the) government's policy is, therefore, not a policy of discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, but a policy of differentiation on the ground of nationhood, of different nations, granting to each self-determination within the borders of their homelands - hence this policy of separate development". The policy of separate development came into being with the accession to power of Dr HF Verwoerd in 1958. He began implementing the homeland structure as a cornerstone of separate development. Verwoerd came to believe in the granting of "independence" to these homelands. Border industries and the Bantu Investment Corporation, were established to promote economic development and the provision of employment in the homelands (to draw black people away from "white" South Africa).
The Tomlinson Commission of 1954 decided that apartheid was justifiable, but stated additional land ought to be given to the homelands, favouring the development of border industries. In 1958 the Promotion of Black Self-Government Act was passed, and proponents of apartheid began to argue that, once apartheid had been implemented, blacks would no longer be citizens of South Africa; they would instead become citizens of the independent "homelands". In terms of this model, blacks became (foreign) "guest labourers" who merely worked in South Africa as the holders of temporary work permits.
The South African government attempted to divide South Africa into a number of separate states. Some thirteen per cent of the land was reserved for black homelands - representing fifty per cent of South Africa's arable land. That thirteen per cent was divided into ten black "homelands" amongst eight ethnic units. Four of these were given independence, although this was never recognised by any other country. Each homeland was supposed to develop into a separate-nation state within which the eight black ethnic groups were to find and grow their separate national identity, culture and language; Transkei - Xhosa (given "independence"), Ciskei - Xhosa (given "independence" in 1981), Bophuthatswana - Tswana (given "independence"), Venda - Venda (given "independence"); KwaZulu - Zulu, Lebowa - Pedi, Kangwane - Swazi, QwaQwa - Sotho, Gazankulu - Tsonga, and KwaNdebele - Ndebele. Each homeland controlled its own education and health system.
Not all the homelands chose to become self-governing. Those who did choose autonomy were the Transkei (1976), Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979) and the Ciskei (1981). Once a homeland was granted its "independence," its designated citizens had their South African citizenship revoked, replaced with citizenship in their homeland. These people were then issued passports instead of passbooks. Citizens of the supposedly "autonomous" homelands also had their South African citizenship circumscribed, meaning they were no longer legally considered South African. The South African government attempted to draw an equivalence between their view of black "citizens" of the "homelands" and the problems which other countries faced through entry of illegal immigrants.
While other countries were dismantling their discriminatory legislation and becoming more liberal on racial issues, South Africa continued to construct a structure of legislation promoting racial and ethnic separation.
Many white South Africans supported apartheid because of demographics; that is, separation and partition were seen as a means of avoiding a one-person-one-vote democracy within a single unified South African state, which would render whites a politically-powerless minority. In addition, leaders of the above homelands became important defenders of apartheid, such as Kaiser Matanzima, Bantu Holomisa, Oupa Gqozo, Lucas Mangope and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Apartheid placed great emphasis on "self-determination" and "cultural autonomy" for different ethnic groups. For this reason, "mother-tongue" education was strongly emphasized. Thus, in addition to pouring resources into developing Afrikaans educational material, resources were also poured into developing school textbooks in black languages like Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, and Pedi. As a result, one of the consequences of apartheid was a South African population literate in black-African languages (a rare thing in Africa where schooling is normally carried out in colonial languages like English and French).