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Why Was the Pass System Created?

The pass system, also known as the permit system or the Native Residence Act, was a practice implemented in South Africa during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This system required black South Africans to carry a “pass,” which authorized them to be in certain areas or to work in specific jobs. But why was the pass system created? In this article, we will explore the history and purpose behind this controversial policy.

The Origins of the Pass System

The pass system was not a new concept in South Africa, as it had been in place since the 1800s when the British introduced it as a way to control the movements of non-white people. However, the origins of the modern pass system can be traced back to the policies of colonialism and segregation that were implemented by the newly formed Union of South Africa in 1910.

At this time, the government introduced a series of laws that aimed to restrict the movements of black South Africans and further entrench racial segregation. The pass system was formalized with the Native Residence Act of 1923, which required all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a pass. Failure to produce a pass upon request by the authorities would result in arrest and imprisonment.

The Purpose of the Pass System

The stated purpose of the pass system was to control the movements of black South Africans and prevent them from settling in urban areas without permission. The government argued that this was necessary to protect white jobs and promote the development of separate ethnic homelands for each race.

However, the pass system had a more insidious purpose – to maintain and reinforce the system of racial apartheid and white supremacy. By restricting the movements of black South Africans, the government sought to deny them the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by white citizens.

The pass system also served as a tool of social control and oppression, allowing the government to track and monitor the movements of black South Africans and to prevent them from organizing or protesting against apartheid policies. It effectively created a system of “internal exile” for black South Africans, forcing them to live in designated areas and preventing them from freely moving around the country.

The Legacy of the Pass System

The pass system remained in place until the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s, and its legacy continues to be felt in modern-day South Africa. The system created deep-seated inequalities and disparities in education, healthcare, and economic opportunity, with black South Africans receiving inferior services and facing restricted access to resources.

The pass system also had a profound psychological impact on black South Africans, who were forced to live under the constant threat of arrest and imprisonment for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It created a sense of alienation and disempowerment, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and oppression that continues to affect millions of South Africans today.


In conclusion, the pass system was created as a means of controlling and oppressing black South Africans, and its legacy continues to be felt in modern-day South Africa. It is important to acknowledge and understand the history of the pass system, as well as the broader context of segregation and apartheid, in order to work towards a more just and equal society.