Before the End of Apartheid.

The Shifting Political Tide

In 1924, the National Party became South Africa’s first governing party. Several decades later, in 1948, it passed sweeping racial legislation designed to ensure white supremacy in the country—naming its racial policy “apartheid.” Under apartheid, the nation developed policies that systematically institutionalized racism and the segregation of people according to the color of their skin.

By the time F.W. de Klerk campaigned as the presidential candidate for the National Party in the 1989, however, he promised voters it would be the last time blacks would be excluded from an election. He and the National Party knew the days of the apartheid system were numbered. Due to years of pressure from the international community in the form of boycotts and sanctions, along with the impact of a global recession in the early 1980s, that system could no longer be maintained.

The global recession was challenging for many countries, but it was particularly so for South Africa. As a result of growing antiapartheid attitudes,1 it had become increasingly difficult for multinational companies to justify doing business in the country. For example, in 1986, Gavin Reilly, the chairman of Anglo-America, the largest company in South Africa, made public remarks calling for the dismantling of apartheid, the freeing of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, a leader in the fight against apartheid; and a lifting of the ban on political parties such as the antiapartheid ANC. 2 © The Author(s) 2017

D.E. Eynon, Women, Economic Development, and Higher Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-53144-1_3

By that time, limited trade, commercial sanctions, and the demand for repayment on outstanding international bank loans had cost South Africa an estimated $32-40 billion and an additional $3.7 billion in capital flight. The country was in a recession, and state debt was escalating, forcing the government to use domestic savings to fund development and pay off creditors.3

In addition to economic challenges and pressure from the global community to end apartheid, social strife was also erupting throughout the country. That unrest, in the form of mass strikes and protests against local administrations, grew as the trade-union movement gathered in strength. In addition, emerging community organizations of women became powerful forces in their local communities as they rallied around “bread and butter” issues that affected their daily lives, such as the price of food, health, and education.

The South African government’s immediate response was to declare a state of emergency and call in the army to occupy and heighten repression in black townships.4 Yet the apartheid system could no longer hold against the discontent and fury of the people. In many parts of the country, outright civil war broke out. As the pressure built, something had to give: the apartheid system itself.

On February 2,1990, in a speech before Parliament, President de Klerk lifted the state of emergency and the ban on political parties such as the ANC, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the SACP, and 31 other previously illegal organizations. He also announced the release of many political prisoners and detainees, including Nelson Mandela.5 President de Klerk and the leaders of the National Party were prepared to dismantle apartheid and negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with the ANC. The president’s intention was not to give up the National Party’s position, but rather to ensure it had a legitimate role in a majority government.

Several political factors had also contributed to de Klerk’s announcement in February. They included a lack of commitment on the part of younger Afrikaner leaders to maintain the apartheid system as well as increasing pressure to end apartheid from South African business leaders, who realized the country’s economy was suffering as a result of international boycotts.

In 1991, the government began dismantling the apartheid system by repealing key laws. One was the Group Areas Act, which assigned racial groups to different residential and business sections in urban areas as a way to exclude non-whites from living in developed areas. Another was the

Population Registration Act, which required South African to be classified and registered in accordance with their racial characteristics.

Government leaders next entered into formal negotiations with several opposition parties, including the ANC, and acknowledged their commitment to move forward with a new constitution and democratic rights for all South Africans.6

As negotiations began between the government and the ANC, it became clear that de Klerk’s proposition of power sharing was a nonstarter for the ANC. The ANC and Nelson Mandela insisted on a system of “one person, one vote democracy.”7 In response to growing pressure from within South Africa and Western nations, de Klerk decided to drop the power-sharing proposal in order to keep the talks moving and to avoid an outright conflict with the ANC and potential bloodshed. Both parties agreed to work together to form the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), whereby the ANC, National Party, and other political parties—such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a liberation movement founded in 1975—would come together to discuss, create, and negotiate a plan for moving the country forward.

Although matters were progressing toward a democratic South Africa, not everyone welcomed the turn of events. In a 1991 poll conducted of white South Africans, only 15 percent believed they would be “better off” in a new South Africa.8 There was also a significant level of discontent and rumbling among conservative Afrikaners. The Afrikaner Conservative Party and other right-wing organizations referred to de Klerk’s speech in February as the start of the Afrikaners’ “third war of liberation.”9 They tried to organize and disrupt the negotiations but had little success.

In fact, a number of difficult moments occurred during the negotiation process. Perhaps the most contentious one came when Nelson Mandela accused de Klerk of not doing enough to curb the violence that had broken out in the country. He and the ANC were convinced, and publicly stated, that within the security forces of the national government, a “third force” was provoking intra-black violence.

At that point, the ANC was coming to the end of its role of leading a liberation movement and moving on to a position of governing. It had black labor on its side, represented by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). But there was also friction within the liberation movement, particularly between the ANC and the IFP. Over the years, that friction had become violent, resulting in the deaths of a number of black South Africans. Things came to a head in 1990 when violence broke out in the province of Natal between the ANC and the IFP, resulting in many deaths.10

Mandela insisted de Klerk had to do more to end the violence and demanded he call off the security forces in black townships, which he believe had incited the unrest. The president countered that the security forces were not involved and he, too, wanted to see the violence come to an end. It was a difficult moment, and some people feared it would derail the negotiations. But in the end, Mandela and de Klerk were able to keep negotiations alive as they continued to transition the country away from apartheid rule.

 
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