Every African must show his pass before being allowed to go about his business. Sometimes check broadens into search of a man’s person and belongings.

South Africa.

Ph: Ernest Cole.


Black people were by law supposed to carry a pass book that severely limited their movements by forcing them to have one on their person when entering ‘white only’ areas.

This served as a way for the Apartheid government to ensure their segregationist policies were being adhered to by requiring black people to carry these passes at all times when outside of areas designated for black people. Each pass book also specified when, where and for how long the individual would be permitted to stay within these ‘white only’ areas. Often times, employers were responsible for providing these details. 

Pass laws were formally introduced as early as 1797 when, in an attempt to exclude all ‘Natvies’ (black people) from the Cape Colony, Irish-born British statesman and governor of the Cape Colony George Macartney introduced them to South Africa which was then a British territory.

The most notable resistance effort against Pass Laws was in 1960 with the peaceful demonstrations held in the township of Sharpeville on March 21st that year. Thousands of black people held demonstrations in Sharpeville, marching to the police station where Apartheid police forces opened fire on the crowd killing 69 people in what is now known as the Sharpeville Massacre. Anti-apartheid leader and founder of the Pan-Africanist Congress Robert Sobukwe was arrested on that day for leading the protest.

Pass laws would not be repealed in South Africa until 1986.



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