The white-dominated political system appeared to be invincible in 1966, the year that Hendrik Verwoerd died. Yet a ‘silent revolution’ was under way that would steadily undermine apartheid stability. During the 1950s a demographic change of historic importance began to manifest itself. Up to then whites constituted 20% of the total population and could fill all the middle-level and top positions in the public and private sectors. But the proportion of whites tothe total population began to fall fast. In 1969 bold headlines in the Afrikaans newspaper Die Beeld announced ‘a new factor’ in South African politics: ‘Verwoerd’s figures wrong: South Africa will be much blacker.’ The black population was growing much more rapidly than anticipated. The white population, which stood at approximately 20% of the total population between 1910 and 1950, was projected to fall to 15% by 1985 and to below 10% early in the new century.
The economy had moved decisively away from the early phase of industrialisation, characterised by the predominance of mining and agriculture that relied heavily on uneducated and poorly trained workers, many of them migrants. Employers could use large numbers of unskilled or poorly skilled black and coloured labour wastefully and with little concern for productivity. Pass laws and curbs on black political and labour organisations severely restricted the ability of workers to bargain for higher wages. From the 1960s, however, the manufacturing, construction and services sectors became increasingly dominant. These sectors demanded a skilled and productive workforce, settled on a family basis in the cities.
By the 1970s there was an acute shortage of skilled workers. Whites could no longer fully supply the demand for skilled labour. By the beginning of the 1960s whites still made up 82% of middle-level manpower. This dropped to 65% in 1981. Increasingly, employers trained coloured people, Indians and blacks in more senior positions.
The state had over-reached itself in terms of its capacity to control blacks. The mammoth Department of Bantu Administration and Development found itself incapable of stemming the flow of blacks to the cities.
In order to meet the growing demand for skilled labour, the government began to expand black education. The dramatic advance of black pupils into the more senior school levels can be seen in the table below.
At the same time, however, there was a large and steadily expanding pool of labour that was ‘surplus’ to the needs of the modern economy. Black children advanced to school standards their parents could only dream about, but had far less chance of getting a formal job. In the 1960s, 97% of school-leavers could expect to find employment, but this declined to 72% in the 1970s. In the Soweto uprising of 1976 the majority who particip ated were school children and the unemployed – marginal groups who could withdraw from the system without sacrificing income.
As a result of a rapid black population increase the cities became increasingly black. By 1970 five million blacks lived in the towns and cities in the South African common area (compared to two million in 1946). The white population, both urban and rural, was fewer than four million. As consumers, blacks transformed the marketing strategies of business and as labourers they broke down the colour bar in industry.
By the end of the 1970s huge informal settlements had sprung up on the perimeters of cities: 500 000 were housed in greater Inanda adjoining Durban, 250 000 in Edenvale – Zwartkops near Pietermaritzburg, 300 000 in Winterveld near Pretoria, 100 000 in Mdantsane near East London, and approximately the same number in Crossroads near Cape Town’s airport. More than half the black population was under the age of sixteen and many were increasingly beyond the control of government or family.
|Black enrolment in higher education since 1960|
||54 598||717||1 871|
||66 568||1 606||1 880|
||122 489||2 938||4 578|
||318 568||9 009||7 845|
||577 584||31 071||10 564|
||1 192 932||34 733||49 164|
|Total population by statutory groups, 1951-1987|
||8 560 083||15 057 952||21 307 749||26 313 898|
||2 641 689||3 752 528||4 453 273||4 911 000|
||1 103 016||2 018 453||2 554 039||3 069 000|
||336 664||620 436||794 639||913 000|
||12 641 452||21 449 369||29 109 700||35 206 898|