Apartheid (meaning separateness in Afrikaans), was a social, economic and political policy of racial segregation which was enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 until June 17 1991 when the final Apartheid laws were abolished in Parliament.
Verwoerd and the Bantustans
Laws passed in 1950 forced a separation of non-whites from whites in South African society. The first, the Population Registration Act, had people register with a racial classification board to determine "officially" if they belonged to one of four racial groups: White, African, or Colored (the later split into Colored and Indian). The second, the Group Areas Act, was the enforced relocation of non-whites into designated urban areas; to compel these people into the new "townships", which were in essence little more than shanty towns. The government ordered the bulldozing of once-vibrant mixed-race communities; the non-white inhabitants, especially the Africans, were ordered to carry passbooks to go from place to place in white areas.  Likewise, whites were ordered to relocate from the areas which they settled, that historically belonged to blacks.
Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1957 until 1966, designed a system that expanded the scope and impact of apartheid. Blacks were given a limited education which guaranteed them menial job opportunities as opposed to Whites . The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, passed in 1953, ordered the segregation of blacks at all public facilities, including post offices, public transportation, beaches, sports venues, parks, toilets, and even cemeteries. 
- "There is no place for him [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor. Within his own community, however, all doors are open. For that reason it is to no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim absorption in the European community, where he cannot be absorbed." Hendrik F. Verwoerd (1954) 
Verwoerd had also insisted, and succeeded in getting, limited self-administration in the black reservations (called "homelands") of the Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ganzankulu, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa, and QwaQwa, which meant they were semi-autonomous. This had also meant that the homelands were now responsible for their own societal and economic problems. 'Africans' were denied citizenship and were instead granted full voting rights in several 'homelands' or bantustans. 
Independence of four Bantustans
Four of the Bantustans, Transkei (1976), Ciskei (1981), Bophuthatswana (1977), and Venda (1979), were eventually declared independent nations by South Africa, albeit without any international recognition other than from each other.
During their period of independence, these four nations were often derided by critics claiming they were puppet governments of South Africa, but the Transkei government had a rocky relationship with South Africa, breaking diplomatic relations between 1978 and 1980 over territorial disputes, and then undergoing a military coup d'etat in 1987 after which Transkei became an ally of, and safe haven for, the African National Congress.
In Bophuthatswana on the other hand, an attempted coup in 1988 was suppressed by South Africa, who restored president Kgosi Lucas Manyane Mangope. The Sun City casino was located in Bophuthatswana, where gambling was legal (it was illegal in South Africa). Ciskei and Venda both underwent military coups in 1990, which South Africa did not suppress.
All four countries were re-incorporated into South Africa in April 1994 following the end of Apartheid and the adoption of a new South African constitution, but Bophuthatswana and Ciskei at first declared their refusal to re-integrate and their intention to remain independent nations. Both stand-offs ended after mutinies and coup d'etats deposed their respective leaders within two weeks of each other in March 1994.
1983 Whites-only referendum
In 1983 President PW Botha put the question of allowing Colored and Indian representation to the White electorate. 66% of whites voted to allow Coloreds and Indians their own houses of parliament (called the House of Representatives and the House of Delegates respectively).
Although many ultra-nationalistic and conservative Whites attacked the move as it was power-sharing (which they feared would result in Black rule)
The followers of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi (Zulu King) and his Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were staunchly pro-separation and even entered into a short-lived non-aggression pact with the AWB in 1993.
However the African National Congress, who drew members from most other Black tribes, were pro-integration and, as such, Zulu workers who had migrated to White South Africa were frequently involved in clashes with ANC supporters in the townships (Black areas adjoining many White towns and cities).
Between 1986 and 1994 some 10,000 IFP members were murdered by ANC supporters, many in a brutal fashion, the practice of "necklacing" was very popular amongst ANC members. Necklacing entailed placing a petrol-filled tire around the neck of a victim and then setting it alight.
- Apartheid: A History by Brian Lapping