What Were the Effects of Pass Laws

The administration of passport laws was costly and difficult because all blacks in urban areas had to be controlled by the authorities. The constant humiliation and surveillance has provoked intense anger in Black communities. Colloquially, passports were known as Dompas, which literally meant “stupid passport.” These passports became the most hated and despicable symbols of apartheid. The nationwide demonstrations and protest rallies made headlines in the Guardian with headlines such as “We will not carry passports: outraged African women”, “African women in turmoil, growing opposition to women`s passports” and “Campaign against women`s passports strengthens”. Faced with such an attack, the government decided to postpone passports for women. When the proposal resurfaced in 1952, demonstrations were launched in Cape Town, Cato Manor, Port Elizabeth, Oudtshoorn, Stellenbosch, Ixopo and Umzinto. What is the significance of abolishing passport laws? Is it cosmetic or is it really significant? No, it`s not cosmetic. It is important on two levels – one abstract, the other concrete. Passport laws, along with other racist laws such as the Population Registration Act (which classifies each person at birth by race) and the Group Areas Act (which allocates urban land for residential purposes by race), provided the legal infrastructure on which the government could pursue its policy of apartheid and segregation in development. On 6 April, police again began enforcing passport laws.

On May 4, a court sentenced Robert Sobukwe to three years in prison for his involvement in the protests. By 6 May, the total number of arrests for the protest had risen to 18,000. Others involved in the strike, which began on March 28, had returned to work. Black Africans have tried to abolish passport laws before, but none have succeeded. [See in this database, “South Africans Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign 1952-1953”).] In 1960, the African National Congress (ANC) decided to launch a campaign to free South Africa from these laws. Shortly thereafter, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) announced that it would also work towards this goal. Their plan was to encourage people to go to police stations without their passports to fill the Sharpeville prison with arrested resistance fighters. Work was a specific area of discrimination, and in 1911 the Mines and Works Act reserved certain qualified positions for whites. The Native Land Regulation Act of the same year enacted that blacks injured in workplace accidents received less compensation than whites. They would also be held criminally liable for strikes and violations of their employment contracts and would not be able to join the army.

Pass laws also remained in place, and in May 1918, black workers began strikes against low wages, poor housing, and passes. The Bantu Women`s League, forerunner of the African National Congress Women`s League, also waged an anti-pass campaign during this period. On March 28, the ANC launched a demonstration and strike to draw attention to the Sharpeville massacre. To emphasize their opposition to the passes, protesters began publicly burning them in campfires. Landless, poor and without the means to practice subsistence farming, these people have been forced to seek paid employment. The demand for labor from the growing number of gold mines forced mine owners to actively recruit black workers through agents who received compensation for every worker they could recruit. They lied about living conditions, working conditions and wages to convince black men to work in the mines. As soon as the worker arrived at the mine, he was detained there for as long as possible. White workers were allowed to move with their families to homes in the greater Johannesburg area, but black miners were housed in settlements at the mine site. A passport system was rigorously enforced to keep men in their designated areas and prevent workers` families from visiting them.

The Khoikhoi had lost their land to colonizers in the late 1700s and were forced to work for European landowners in order to survive. The colonial government turned a blind eye to the widespread mistreatment of Khoikhoi workers. These workers had to carry “approval documents” from their employers that allowed them to leave the farms where they worked. The arrival of Christian missionaries brought slight improvements after criticism of the treatment of the Khoikhoi. Finally, in 1828, Decree 50 was issued, which put the Khoikhoi on an equal footing with their white employers and exempted them from the requirement to carry passports. The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) launched an anti-passport campaign in 1943. In March 1944, labour activist Josie Palmer convened the Women`s Anti-Pass Conference in Johannesburg. In 1945, the Urban Consolidation Act was passed, further restricting the freedoms of black South Africans.

At the 1947 International Women`s Day meeting in Johannesburg, CPHA decided to create a “Women`s Organization Without a Coloured Bar”. The Transvaal All-Women`s Union was born and changed its name to the Union of South African Women in 1949. It never became a national group, but Palmer later helped found the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). Cape slaves were forced to carry passports. This has made it easier for their owners and local authorities to control their movements. To do this, laws were passed, including the Land Act of 1913, the Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, and the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, all of which were created to separate races. Africans often violated passport laws to find work and support their families, and therefore lived under constant threat of fines, harassment, and arrest. Gold was more difficult to extract than diamonds, and the labour requirements of the new mines far exceeded those of diamond exploration. Blacks were already largely employed as laborers and tenants on wealthy white farms and were able to survive on large harvests on surplus crops from their employers.

Some white farmers found this offensive and complained to the Transvaal government. The authorities capitulated and passed a law limiting the number of tenants on a farm to 5 and forcing large numbers of blacks to leave their homes and land. In May 1918, black workers across the country went on strike against low wages, poor housing, and men`s passports. Many protesters were arrested and imprisoned. The Bantu Women`s League, which preceded the African National Congress Women`s League under Charlotte Maxeke, launched a campaign to end the use of passports for black women altogether. Violations of so-called passport laws, which were repealed in 1986 and restricted the right of blacks to live and work in white areas, and which did not apply to other racial groups. Under a state of emergency declared in the 1980s at the height of the conflict, up to 50,000. Only whites were allowed to vote and own property in the Transvaal and expected blacks to work for them. Many Voortrekkers settled near large concentrations of blacks to gain access to a large pool of labor, but also aimed to control the movements of their neighbors. In 1866, a passport law was passed.

Any black person found outside the authorized residential area without a passport from an employer, judge, missionary, field cone, or chief executive could be arrested. In 1960, Africans burned their passports at the Sharpeville police station and 69 protesters were killed. In the 70s and 80s, many Africans who violated passport laws lost their citizenship and were deported to impoverished rural “homelands.” By the time passport laws were repealed in 1986, 17 million people had been arrested. Passport laws in the Transvaal or the Republic of South Africa were intended to force blacks to settle in certain places to provide white farmers with a regular source of labour. The settlers of 1820 were housed in the new town of Bathurst in the Eastern Cape province and needed passports to travel to nearby Grahamstown.