In 1945 South Africa under the leadership of General Jan Smuts was among the victorious powers at the end of World War II. It had played its part and made great sacrifices in the battle against one of the greatest threats to freedom and democracy. But while the Western powers had won the war, their dominance over the so-called Third World – and with it the assumptions of white supremacy – would soon be challenged as leaders of nationalist movements in Africa and Asia began mobilising support for independence and freedom.
The war effort also accelerated the steady urbanisation and racial integration of South Africa. Apartheid as a system tried to reverse these trends: to limit black urbanisation and even turn the stream back to the reserves, and to base the economy as far as possible on migrant labour. Blacks had to exercise their political rights in their respective ‘homelands’.
Midway through the war the idea of apartheid had become crystallised in the leadership ranks of the Afrikaner nationalist movement. In 1943 Die Burger first used the term ‘apartheid’ when it referred to the ‘accepted Afrikaner viewpoint of apartheid’. In January 1944, D.F. Malan, speaking as leader of the opposition, became the first person in Parliament to employ it. A few months later he elaborated: ‘I do not use the term “segregation”, because it has been interpreted as a fencing off (afhok), but rather “apartheid”, which will give the various races the opportunity of uplifting themselves on the basis of what is their own.’ Blacks, notably the intellectuals, reacted to the growing racial discrimination.