What was apartheid? And why does it matter how we answer this question now? There must be 100 accurate ways to describe what apartheid was, but among many other things, it was a period of waiting. From the start, apartheid’s smartest leaders understood it would not last forever; a white minority could not possibly rule over a black majority in perpetuity. But they had neither the imagination nor the moral courage to see the future, so they held onto the present for as long as it might last. That is what apartheid was, an elaborate “holding action”, as the historian Hermann Giliomee once described it; a project to keep the future at bay. If this indeed describes apartheid it was a resounding success, delivering more than its architects could reasonably have expected. As holding actions go, it lasted a long time — almost half a century. And by the end of that 50 years, white people were considerably more prosperous than they had been at the beginning. When I say white people, I mean p...

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