A Vintage Vacation in Apartheid South Africa

Travel South Africa Nelson Mandela 1950s

After the National Party gained power in South Africa in 1948 its all white government immediately began enforcing existing policies of racial segregation called Apartheid. During the 1950s Mandela was arrested and imprisoned for challenging apartheid.
Hoping to attract tourists the South African Tourist Corporation ran a series of ads like the 1953 ad on the left. (R) Nelson Mandela 1950s

A Long Trip to Equality

Nelson Mandela’s lasting legacy will always be the abolition of apartheid in South Africa

It is hard to imagine, but in that brutal time period of 1950s apartheid,  as the dark reality of repressive laws against Black South Africans increased, the sunny South African government  actively sought tourism trade as if they had not a care in the world. With the  full support of their pals the Americans, they marketed their travel ads directly to adventure seeking Yankees.

Opposition to Apartheid was to say the least, slow to develop in Western Countries.

During the cold war the Third World was a battleground of dueling ideologies between the US and the Soviets for their loyalty especially among developing nations struggling for independence in Africa.

In this cold war climate, South Africa’s government was regarded as a bulwark against Communism, and a blind eye was turned to the moral injustices of Apartheid. But then again, in 1953 when these ads ran, separate but equal was still the law of our land.

A Travel Adventure

vintage illustration couple traveling airplane 1950s

Vintage Ad 1953 TWA

Travel hungry post- war Americans were venturing out into the cold war world like never before traveling to new and exotic locals. “With fabulous 5 miles a minute speed of today’s planes,” TWA enthused, “you’ll soon discover the whole worlds within easy reach.”

1953 was the year the Johnson’s of Baltimore finally decided to let themselves go and see the world.

“Forget about the same old places…same old faces…same old thing,” their travel agent coaxed  the couple. “This year why not give the globe a good spin and pick out the places you’d really like to see.”

“But,” he explained with a dismissive wave of his hand,  “New York, Paris, and Cairo were so yesterday.”

“South Africa,”  he assured them “was the place to go.”

Beguiled, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were intrigued by the exotic local and the enticing ads.

Without a hint of irony, The South African Tourist Bureau proudly boasted that “South Africa was a land of contrasts.”

Of course the contrasts couldn’t be clearer than black and white. The reality of the public separation of whites and blacks was law.

 South Africa Land of Contrasts

Travel Ad South Africa 53

Vintage Travel ad 1953 South Africa Land of Contrasts- South African Tourist Corporation

Handing Mr Johnson an ad  to read, the prospective traveler read aloud enthusiastically:

“Travel adventure awaits you in South Africa land of exciting vacation thrills”  George Johnson read to his wife. “Picture this vast fascinating country of contrasts unlike any other in the world, where great modern cities vie with exotic native kraals for your attention; where teeming wild game roams through animal sanctuaries unspoiled by man…”

Of course the ad didn’t ask you to picture the forced segregation in all public amenities, public buildings and public transportation with the sole aim of eliminating contact between whites and other races.  Nor do they mention that “European Only” and “Non European Only” signs also vie for your attention.

South Africa Tourism Ad 1953

Vintage Travel Advertisement for South Africa by South African Tourist Corporation 1953

Another brochure seemed equally appealing.

“Surprise  Awaits You in South Africa” shouts the headline.

“You will be amazed and fascinated by your trip-of- a- lifetime to the  most fabulous land on earth…South Africa a vast, contrasting country- as many faceted as its own diamonds!”

Mrs Johnson’s eyes sparkled.

“Your travel agent will tell you of the unspoiled beaches of the magnificent National Parks where countless herds of big game will keep your cameras clicking…of sparkling Cape Town, Johannesburg, colorful cosmopolitan cities for gaiety and pleasure…of Zululand, Swaziland, treasure lands of the primitively exotic where tribal charms echo through the unchanged hills and valley of ageless Africa…of diamonds, gold and year round sun.”

 Here's Your preview to Adventure  illustration type 1953

1953 Travel Ad

Of course what your travel agent wouldn’t tell you about was the 1950 law that was passed forcing physical separation between races by creating different residential areas for different races which led to forced removal of people living in “wrong” areas.

“Take a holiday of contrast this year…in South Africa, friendly land.”

A camera and a smile would make travel in this friendly land a breeze for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, but not so much for the local Black population thanks to the Pass Laws which forced Black people to carry identification with them at all times. A pass book included a photo details of their place of origin, employment records tax payment and any encounter with the police.It was a criminal offense to be unable to produce a pass when required to do so by the police.

“Traveling from the colorful cosmopolitan cities to the charming countryside would offer a delightful contrast for you folks,” the travel agent described to his clients.  Not so much for the native Black population. According to law, no black person could leave a rural area for an urban area without a permit from the local authorities. On arrival in an urban area a permit to seek work had to be obtained within 72 hours.

“See for yourself how truly different are South Africa’s attractions.”

“A trip you will long remember. Yes surprise awaits you in friendly South Africa!” I suppose if you were from the Jim Crow deep south you wouldn’t be surprised at all!

Let us never forget the courageous journey of Nelson Mandela.

Post script

cartoon Indians 1950s

Vintage ad 1953 American Express Travelers Cheques

And to protect your travel cash – the best way to travel was with Travelers Cheques- as dependable as cash and a whole lot safer. Honest Injun!

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
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