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Life in Apartheid-Era South Africa

South Africa's apartheid is a familiar concept the world over. But what did it actually look like?

Established in 1948 under the racialist National Party, apartheid not only meant separate and inferior public services, benches and building entrances for non-whites. It also stripped South African blacks of their citizenship (placing them into tribally-based bantustans instead) and abolished all non-white political representation.

Nelson Mandela was a key anti-apartheid activist, leading defiance campaigns and working as a lawyer. He was arrested in 1962, and given a life sentence for conspiracy to overthrow the government. His imprisonment did little to quell resistance. After years of violent unrest at home and sanctions abroad, the National Party began apartheid reform in the 1980s.

The system was dismantled in 1990, the same year then-president F. W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Mandela went on to serve as president for one term in 1994.

Moving South Africa past its apartheid culture has not been easy. The country still wrestles with significant racial issues. But it took some of its most important steps forward thanks to Mandela, a feat that many South Africans and foreign dignitaries have gathered to honor today at Johannesburg's National Stadium.

Below, Associated Press photographs that show what life looked like in South Africa during the decades under apartheid:

Black South Africans jam a road in Cape Town, March 30, 1960, on their way to demonstrate in front of a police station in protest against the jailing of their leaders. Police arrested more than 100 leaders of political parties opposed to the government's racial policies in a series of pre-dawn raids. (AP Photo)


Black South Africans line up at the counter at a government office to get their new passbooks in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 7, 1960. Hundreds of blacks, who had publicly burned their passes during recent campaign of defiance against the Apartheid government, picked up new passes required by all black South Africans to return to work. (AP Photo)


Children sit on bench along waterfront in Durban, a big modern city on the Indian Ocean, May 27, 1960. Park benches like this are reserved for whites only. South African natives are not permitted to use them. (AP Photo/Dennis Lee Royle)


Johannesburg housewives fire .22 pistols at a target during one of the weekly "pistol parties" in the capital of jittery white supremacist South Africa, Aug. 30, 1963. These housewives belong to a pistol-packers' club of women aged 25 to 61, all top marksmen. They bring coffee and sandwiches for a mid-morning break during their practice on the range. It's all part of South Africa's defense build-up against attacks which the country's leaders say they expect from other African countries. (AP Photo/Dennis Lee Royle)


In a sign of determination and hope, members of the African National Congress show "thumbs up" during a demonstration in South Africa, March 29, 1961. "Away with Verwoerd," South Africa's white supremacist Prime Minister, is the slogan painted on the building in the background. (AP Photo)


This is a photograph of a butcher shop in Johannesburg, South Africa, taken in May, 1965. They advertise second grade meat, which is sold at a lesser price, bought mostly by the black Africans and servants. (AP Photo/Royle)


This is a photo of the entrance to the Zoological Gardens in Johannesburg, South Africa, in June 1965. Under Apartheid law, separate entrances are designated for whites and non-whites. (AP Photo)


A white baby is bottle-fed by her African nanny as her brother plays behind the nanny's only seat in an all-white park in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 18, 1966. (AP Photo)


This is a photo of a doubledeck bus marked "Slegs vir nie Blankes," or Non-Europeans Only in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1973. Under Apartheid law, blacks and whites must ride on separate buses. (AP Photo)


Apartheid is the reason for the whole South African disaster. No doubt: the apartheid policy is responsible for the racial tensions. The black race is excluded from a lot of places, e.g. at the bayside like indicated on this sign-post. (06/23/76)(AP PHOTO)


Black youths race through the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday, Sept. 23, 1976, fleeting police who fired shots to break up demonstrations against the government by roving mobs. In close it is a helmeted policeman, right, to have lost a leg of his action. (AP Photo)


A black squatter carries an oil drum from what remains of the Modderdam squatter's camp on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa on Wednesday, August 10, 1977, after government bulldozers moved in to clear the area. Black squatters, angry at being forced from their homes, set some 200 shanties ablaze. (AP Photo/Burger)


Apartheid - Pictures made in Johannesburg, South Africa, on a typical Saturday morning in a market near the main railway terminal linking with the black African township of Soweto. The AP-Photo shows a black woman servant taking charge of a young white child while the little girl's parents are working. (AP-Photo/David Van Gur) 1985


Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu (center) jogs along a whites only beach at the Strand, Saturday Sept. 30, 1989 with a crowd of supporters near Cape Town, as church organizations continued their campaign of defiance against Apartheid laws. (AP Photo/Adil Bradlow)


South African President F.W. de Klerk poses outside his office while displaying a copy of a local newspaper with banner headlines declaring a "Yes" result in the referendum in Cape Town, South Africa on March 18, 1992. De Klerk won a mandate to end apartheid and share power with the black majority for the first time by scoring a landslide victory in a whites-only referendum on reform. (AP. Photo)

Police take cover as Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters flee as they are fired upon by unidentified gunmen, in this March 28, 1994 file photo in Johannesburg. Nine IFP supporters were later killed outside the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters as gunmen from the building fired on protesters marching past the building. The IFP are opposed to next month's all-race election and had called for a day of protest in the city. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)


Far right-wingers and Conservative Party supporters burn an election poster with President de Klerk's portrait, March, 26, 1994, at a rally held by the Conservative Party in Pretoria. The CP is demanding their own homeland and declared Pretoria their capital. (AP Photo/Joao Silva)


Members of the Moledi family in Soweto, South Africa watch a live broadcast of the inauguration of President-elect Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, May 10, 1994. Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's first black president. (AP Photo/Joao Silva)


Members of the South Africa's Mine Workers Union sing the old apartheid-era national anthem while demonstrating against affirmative action at a march in downtown Johannesburg Friday, Oct. 20, 1995. They claimed that work standards have been lowered to accommodate new black employees. Only about 100 protesters turned out for the demonstration.(AP Photo/John Moore)


Workers remove a painting of Hendrick Verwoerd, second from right standing, the architect of apartheid and then prime minister, and his cabinet, from the lobby of the old assembly wing of the South African parliament building in Cape Town, Thursday January 25, 1996. The painting, and other icons of the apartheid era, will be put into storage and replaced by a United Nations anti-apartheid exhibition. (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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