What are some questions that I could ask in an interview with someone [not white], regarding the Separate Amenities Act during apartheid?

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The previously suggested questions are wonderful ideas that you may wish to include when interviewing someone who experienced the indignities of apartheid. If you have not experienced systemic oppression firsthand, one suggestion I will add is to focus on questions regarding how injustice affects a person's spirit, as well as how past injustices can impact one's future. Historical facts about apartheid can be obtained from a variety of sources, but if you are given the opportunity to discuss this chilling topic with someone who has lived through the indignity, targeting its personal effects with likely result in wisdom and insight that cannot be gained from textbooks. Here are some suggestions for possible questions:

  • Looking back on this period of time, what are your clearest memories regarding injustice brought about by the Separate Amenities Act?
  • How did the Separate Amenities Act affect your everyday life, your spirit, and your plans for the future?
  • How do you think your life might be different now if apartheid had never been present? How has the injustice of that time period affected your life since then?
  • Do you think the repeal of the Separate Amenities Act righted the wrongs that were made during those decades, or do you think there is still work to be done? How can we do better?
  • How do you think the past history of apartheid has affected the present social and political climate in South Africa?
  • What wisdom did you gain while undergoing the oppression created by the Separate Amenities Act? What advice do you have for those who are currently experiencing systemic injustice?
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The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, passed in South Africa in 1953, legalized segregation based on race in public spaces, vehicles, and services. The facilities for non-whites did not have to equal to those enjoyed by whites. The law was appealed in 1990. 

When interviewing someone who lived during this period of apartheid in South Africa, you might want to ask the person the following:

  • How did the act affect you? Was it different than the situation that came beforehand?
  • What were the most dangerous ways this act affected you (for example, hospitals and ambulances were reserved for whites)?
  • What were the facilities like that you could use? Were medical facilities, for example, inferior to those that whites used?
  • What were your interactions like with white people in public?
  • Did anyone ever break the laws among both white and non-white people? If so, were they discovered, and what were the consequences for doing so?
  • What do you think the long-term effects of this act were regarding education, etc.?
  • How do you think this act helped catalyze the movement to end apartheid?
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Here are some questions that you could ask in such an interview.  Of course, the specific questions that you ask might vary depending on the person you are interviewing and, perhaps, your own particular interests.

  • What were things like before this law was passed?  Were things really any different?  (Since this law was passed in 1953, you may have a hard time finding people who remember the time before it, but this is a question that would be interesting if you could interview an older person.)
  • What kinds of public amenities do you remember that were separate for the different races?
  • Did they have separate facilities for blacks, coloreds, and Asians, or was it just white and non-white?
  • Do you remember if there were amenities that were white only, with no segregated facilities for other races?  (In other words, were there things like beaches where there was a white only beach but no beaches where non-whites could go?)
  • Were there any places where whites and non-whites mixed?
  • Did you ever get to go inside a white-only area or facility (perhaps as someone who was caring for a white child)?
  • If so, what were they like compared to the facilities for your race?
  • How did this law make you feel?  How did it feel to be kept separate from the white people?
  • What things in your life changed after this law was repealed and what things did not? 
  • Do you think that there was anything positive about the Separate Amenities Act?

Hopefully this gives you some ideas of what questions you could ask.  Perhaps these examples will help you to think of additional questions that are of interest to you.

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