OCW052: Apartheid Repealed

Institutional Racism in South Africa

Due to increasing Afrikaner resentment of perceived black and white English-speaking labor advantages and the concurrent electoral success of the National Party in 1948, institutional racism became state policy under apartheid.

Learning Objectives

Examine how racism was institutionalized in South Africa during apartheid

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In South Africa during apartheid, institutional racism was a powerful means of excluding from resources and power any person not categorized r marked as white.
  • The Union of South Africa allowed social custom and law to govern multiracial affairs and the racial allocation, of access to economic, social, and political status. Nevertheless, by 1948 gaps in the social structure concerning the rights and opportunities of nonwhites were apparent..
  • Many Afrikaners, whites chiefly of Dutch descent, resented what they perceived as disempowerment by an underpaid black workforce and the superior economic power and prosperity of white English speakers.
  • The National Party’s election platform stressed that apartheid would preserve a market for white employment in which nonwhites could not compete, and because the voting system was disproportionately weighted in favor of rural constituencies and the Transvaal in particular, the 1948 election catapulted the National Party from a small minority to a commanding position with an eight-vote parliamentary lead.
  • The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act of 1950, which formalized racial classification and introduced an identity card for all persons over the age of 18, specifying their racial group.
  • The second pillar of grand apartheid was the Group Areas Act of 1950, which put an end to diverse settlement areas and determined where one lived according to race.
  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marriage between those of different races, and the Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offense.
  • Under the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, universities, and other facilities.
  • Further laws were designed to suppress resistance, especially armed resistance, to apartheid.

Key Terms

  • Bantustans: Also known as Bantu homeland, black homeland, black state, or simply homeland, a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of apartheid. Ten were established in South Africa and ten in neighboring South-West Africa (then under South African administration) for members of designated ethnic groups. This made each territory ethnically homogeneous to create autonomous nation-states for South Africa’s black ethnic groups.
  • Atlantic Charter: A pivotal policy statement issued on August 14, 1941, that defined the Allied goals for the post-war world: no territorial aggrandizement, no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people, restoration of self-government to those deprived of it, reduction of trade restrictions, global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all, freedom from fear and want, freedom of the seas, abandonment of the use of force, and disarmament of aggressor nations.

In South Africa during apartheid, institutional racism was a powerful means of excluding from resources and power any person not categorized as white. Those considered black were further discriminated against based upon their backgrounds, with Africans facing more extreme forms of exclusion and exploitation than those marked as colored or Indian.

Election of 1948

The Union of South Africa allowed social custom and law to govern the consideration of multiracial affairs and the allocation in racial terms of access to economic, social, and political status. Most white South Africans, regardless of their differences, accepted the prevailing pattern. Nevertheless, by 1948 it remained apparent that there were occasional gaps in the social structure, whether legislated or otherwise, concerning the rights and opportunities of nonwhites. The rapid economic development of World War II attracted black migrant workers in large numbers to chief industrial centers where they compensated for the wartime shortage of white labor. However, this escalated rate of black urbanization went unrecognized by the South African government, which failed to accommodate the influx with parallel expansion in housing or social services.

Overcrowding, spiking crime rates, and disillusionment resulted. Urban blacks came to support a new generation of leaders influenced by the principles of self-determination and popular freedoms enshrined in such statements as the Atlantic Charter. Whites reacted negatively to these developments. Many Afrikaners, whites chiefly of Dutch descent but with early infusions of Germans and French Huguenots who were soon assimilated, also resented what they perceived as disempowerment by an underpaid black workforce and the superior economic power and prosperity of white English speakers. In addition, Jan Smuts, as a strong advocate of the United Nations, lost domestic support when South Africa was criticized for its color bar and continued mandate of South-West Africa by other UN member states.

Afrikaner nationalists proclaimed they would offer voters a new policy to ensure continued white domination. The policy was initially expounded from a theory by Hendrik Verwoerd presented to the National Party by the Sauer Commission. It called for a systematic effort to organize relations, rights, and privileges of the races as officially defined through a series of parliamentary acts and administrative decrees. Segregation was previously pursued only in major matters, such as separate schools, and enforcement

depended on local authorities and societal complicity. Now it would be a matter of national legislation. The party gave this policy a name: apartheid, meaning “apartness”. Apartheid would be the basic ideological and practical foundation of Afrikaner politics for the next quarter-century.

The National Party’s election platform stressed that apartheid would preserve a market for white employment in which nonwhites could not compete. On the issues of black urbanization, the regulation of nonwhite labor, influx control, social security, farm tariffs, and nonwhite taxation, the United Party’s policy remained contradictory and confused. Its traditional bases of support not only took mutually exclusive positions, but found themselves increasingly at odds with each other. Smuts’ reluctance to consider South African foreign policy against the mounting tensions of the Cold War also stirred up discontent, while the nationalists promised to purge the state and public service of communist sympathizers. First to desert the United Party were Afrikaner farmers, who wished to see a change in influx control due to problems with squatters, as well as higher prices for their maize and other produce in the face of mine owners’ demand for cheap food policies.

The party also failed to appeal to its working-class constituents given its long-term affiliation with affluent and capitalist sectors. Populist rhetoric allowed the National Party to sweep eight constituencies in the mining and industrial centers of the Witwatersrand and five more in Pretoria. Barring the predominantly English-speaking landowner electorate of the Natal, the United Party was defeated in almost every rural district. Its urban losses in the nation’s most populous province, the Transvaal, proved equally devastating. Because the voting system was disproportionately weighted in favor of rural constituencies and the Transvaal in particular, the 1948 election catapulted the National Party from a small minority to a commanding position with an eight-vote parliamentary lead. Daniel François Malan became the first nationalist prime minister, with the aim of implementing apartheid and silencing liberal opposition.

Photo portrait of Daniel François Malan

D.F. Malan: Daniel François Malan, the first apartheid-era prime minister (1948–1954).

Legislation

NP leaders argued that South Africa did not comprise a single nation, but was made up of four distinct racial groups: white, black, colored, and Indian. Such groups were split into 13 nations or racial federations. White people encompassed the English and Afrikaans language groups; the black populace was divided into ten such groups. The state passed laws that paved the way for “grand apartheid,” large-scale segregation by compelling people to live in separate places defined by race, leading to the creation of black-only townships where blacks were relocated en masse. This strategy was influenced in party by British rule after they took control of the Boer republics in the Anglo-Boer war.

The first grand apartheid law was the Population Registration Act of 1950, which formalized racial classification and introduced an identity card for all persons over the age of 18 specifying their racial group. Official boards were established to decide on a classification when a person’s race was unclear. This caused difficulties for many people, especially colored people, when families were placed in different racial classes.

The second pillar of grand apartheid was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Until then, most settlements had people of different races living side-by-side. This Act put an end to diverse areas and determined where one lived according to race. Each race was allotted its own area, used in later years as a basis of forced removal. The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951 allowed the government to demolish black shanty town slums and forced white employers to pay for the construction of housing for black workers who were permitted to reside in cities otherwise reserved for whites.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marriage between persons of different races, and the Immorality Act of 1950 made sexual relations with a person of a different race a criminal offense.

Under the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, universities, and other facilities. Signboards such as “whites only” applied to public areas, including park benches. Blacks were provided with services greatly inferior to those given to whites, and to a lesser extent, to those for Indian and colored people.

The sign is written in English and Afrikaans. It reads: "For use by white persons. These public premises and the amenities thereof have been reserved for the exclusive use of white persons. By order of Provincial Secretary."

Apartheid-Era Sign

Further laws suppressed resistance, especially armed resistance, to apartheid. The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 banned any party subscribing to Communism. The act defined Communism and its aims so broadly that anyone who opposed government policy risked being labeled as a Communist. Since the law specifically stated that Communism aimed to disrupt racial harmony, it was frequently used to gag opposition to apartheid. Disorderly gatherings were banned, as were certain organizations deemed threatening to the government.

Education was segregated by the 1953 Bantu Education Act, which crafted a separate system of education for black South African students and was designed to prepare black people for lives as a laboring class. In 1959, separate universities were created for black, colored, and Indian people. Existing universities were not permitted to enroll new black students. The Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 required the use of Afrikaans and English equally in high schools outside the homelands.

The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 created separate government structures for blacks and whites and was the first legislation to support the government’s plan of separate development in the Bantustans. The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act of 1959 entrenched the NP policy of nominally independent “homelands” for blacks. So-called “self–governing Bantu units” were proposed, which would have devolved administrative powers with the promise later of autonomy and self-government. It also abolished the seats of white representatives of black South Africans and disenfranchised the few blacks still qualified to vote. The Bantu Investment Corporation Act of 1959 set up a mechanism to transfer capital to the homelands to create employment there. Legislation in 1967 allowed the government to halt industrial development in white cities and redirect such development to the black homelands. The Black Homeland Citizenship Act of 1970 marked a new phase in Bantustan strategy. It changed the citizenship of blacks to apply only within one of the ten autonomous territories. The aim was to ensure a demographic majority of white people within South Africa by having all ten Bantustans achieve full independence.

The government tightened pass laws compelling blacks to carry identity documents in order to prevent the immigration of blacks from other countries. To reside in a city, blacks had to be employed there. Until 1956, women were for the most part excluded from these pass requirements, as attempts to introduce pass laws for women were met with fierce resistance.

Disenfranchisement of Colored Voters

In 1950, D.F. Malan announcement the NP’s intention to create a Colored Affairs Department. J.G. Strijdom, Malan’s successor as Prime Minister, moved to strip voting rights from black and colored residents of the Cape Province. The previous government introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill into Parliament in 1951; however, four voters, G. Harris, W.D. Franklin, W.D. Collins, and Edgar Deane, challenged its validity in court with support from the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but it was reversed by the Appeal Court, which found it invalid because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution. The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill (1952), which gave Parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. The Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court declared this invalid as well.

In 1955, the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to 11 and appointed pro-Nationalist judges to fill the new seats. In the same year, the Strijdom government introduced the Senate Act, which increased the Senate from 49 seats to 89. Adjustments were made to the effect that the NP controlled 77 of these seats. Parliament met in a joint sitting and passed the Separate Representation of Voters Act in 1956, which transferred colored voters from the common voters’ roll in the Cape to a new colored voters’ roll. Immediately after the vote, Senate was restored to its original size.

The Senate Act was contested in the Supreme Court, but the recently enlarged Appeal Court, packed with government-supporting judges, upheld both the Senate and Separate Representation of Voters Acts. The Separate Representation of Voters Act allowed colored people to elect four people to Parliament, but a 1969 law abolished those seats and stripped colored people of their right to vote. Since Asians had never been allowed to vote, this resulted in whites being the sole enfranchised group.

Division Among Whites

Before South Africa became a republic, politics among white South Africans was typified by the division between mainly Afrikaner pro-republic conservatives and largely English anti-republican liberal sentiments, with the legacy of the Boer War still affecting viewpoints among many people. Once South Africa became a republic, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd called for improved relations and greater accord between people of British descent and the Afrikaners. He claimed that the only difference among these groups was between those in favor of apartheid and those against it. The ethnic division would no longer be between Afrikaans and English speakers, but between blacks and whites. Most Afrikaners supported the notion of unanimity among white people as a means to ensure their safety. White voters of British descent were divided. Many opposed a republic, leading to a majority “no” vote in Natal. Later, some recognized the perceived need for white unity, convinced by the growing trend of decolonization elsewhere in Africa, which concerned them. British Prime Minister Harold

that Britain had abandoned them.

More conservative English speakers supported Verwoerd. Yet others were troubled by the implications of severing ties with Britain and wished to remain loyal to the Crown. They were displeased with their perceived choice between British and South African nationalities. Although Verwoerd tried to bind these different blocs along racial lines, subsequent voting patterns illustrated only a minor swell of support, indicating that many English speakers remained apathetic and Verwoerd had not truly succeeded in uniting the white population.

The African National Congress

The African National Congress (ANC) resisted the apartheid system in South Africa using both peaceful and violent means.

Learning Objectives

Describe the origins and evolution of the African National Congress

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The African National Congress (ANC) was formed on January 8, 1912, as a way to bring Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms.
  • The successful increase of awareness brought to the plight of Indians in South Africa under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi inspired blacks in South Africa to resist the racism and inequality that they and other non-whites were experiencing under apartheid.
  • In 1949, the ANC saw a jump in membership, which had previously lingered around 5,000, and began to establish a firm presence in South African national society.
  • In June 1955, the Congress of the People, organized by the ANC and Indian, Colored, and White organizations, adopted the Freedom Charter, the fundamental document of the anti-apartheid struggle that demanded equal rights for all regardless of race.
  • In 1959, a number of members broke from the ANC due to objections over the ANC’s reorientation away from African nationalist policies. They formed the rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
  • The ANC planned a campaign against the Pass Laws to begin on March 31, 1960. The PAC preempted the ANC by holding unarmed protests 10 days earlier, during which 69 protesters were killed and 180 injured by police fire in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre. In the aftermath of the tragedy, both organizations were banned from political activity.
  • Following the Sharpeville massacre, the ANC leadership concluded that methods of non-violence were not suitable against the apartheid system. A military wing was formed in 1961 called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), with Nelson Mandela as its first leader.
  • The ANC was classified as a terrorist organization by the South African government and some Western countries, including the United States and United Kingdom.

Key Terms

  • apartheid: A system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1991.

Origins

The African National Congress (ANC) was formed on January 8, 1912, by Saul Msane, Josiah Gumede, John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and Sol Plaatje. It grew from a number of chiefs, people’s representatives, and church organizations as a way to bring Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms. From its inception, the ANC represented both traditional and modern elements of South African black society, from tribal chiefs to church bodies and educated black professionals. Women, however, were only admitted as affiliate members from 1931, and as full members in 1943. The formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944 by Anton Lembede heralded a new generation committed to building non-violent mass action against the legal underpinnings of the white minority’s supremacy.

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Native National Congress delegation to England, June 1914 Left to right: Thomas Mapike, Rev. Walter Rubusana, Rev. John Dube, Saul Msane, and Sol Plaatjie. The delegation tried to get the British government to intervene against the Land Act, but the outbreak of the First World War thwarted their hopes for intervention.

 

In 1946, the ANC allied with the South African Communist Party to assist in the formation of the South African Mine Workers’ Union. After the miners strike became a general labor strike, the ANC’s President General Alfred Bitini Xuma, along with delegates of the South African Indian Congress, attended the 1946 session of the United Nations General Assembly, where the treatment of Indians in South Africa was raised by the government of India. Together, they put the issue of police brutality and the wider struggle for equality in South Africa on the radar of the international community.

Opposition to Apartheid

The return of an Afrikaner-led National Party government by the overwhelmingly white electorate in 1948 signaled the advent of the policy of apartheid. During the 1950s, non-whites were removed from electoral rolls, residence and mobility laws were tightened, and political activities restricted. The successful increase of awareness to the plight of Indians in South Africa under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi inspired blacks in South Africa to resist the racism and inequality that they and other non-whites were experiencing. The ANC also realized it needed a fervent leader like Gandhi was for the Indians, who was, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “willing to violate the law and if necessary go to prison for their beliefs as Gandhi had”. The two groups began working together, forcing themselves to accept one another and abandon their personal prejudices, even jointly campaigning for their struggle to be managed by the United Nations.

In 1949, the ANC saw a jump in membership, which had previously lingered around 5,000, and began to establish a firm presence in South African national society. In June 1952, the ANC joined with other anti-apartheid organizations in a Defiance Campaign against the restriction of political, labor, and residential rights, during which protesters deliberately violated oppressive laws, following the example of Gandhi’s passive resistance in KwaZulu-Natal and in India. The campaign was called off in April 1953 after new laws prohibiting protest meetings were passed. In June 1955, the Congress of the People, organized by the ANC and Indian, Colored, and White organizations at Kliptown near Johannesburg, adopted the Freedom Charter, henceforth the fundamental document of the anti-apartheid struggle, demanding equal rights for all regardless of race. As opposition to the regime’s policies continued, 156 leading members of the ANC and allied organizations were arrested in 1956. The resulting “treason trial” ended with mass acquittals five years later.

The ANC first called for an academic boycott of South Africa in protest of its apartheid policies in 1958 in Ghana. The call was repeated the following year in London.

In 1959, a number of members broke from the ANC because they objected to the ANC’s reorientation away from African nationalist policies. They formed the rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), led by Robert Sobukwe.

Protest and Banning

The ANC planned a campaign against the Pass Laws, which required blacks to carry an identity card at all times to justify their presence in white areas, to begin on March 31, 1960. The PAC preempted the ANC by holding unarmed protests 10 days earlier, during which 69 protesters were killed and 180 injured by police fire in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre. In the aftermath of the tragedy, both organizations were banned from political activity. International opposition to the regime increased throughout the 1950s and 1960s, fueled by the growing number of newly independent African nations, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain, and the civil rights movement in the United States. In 1960, the leader of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Murder at Sharpeville, March 21, 1960: Painting of the Sharpeville massacre, which took place March 21, 1960 in Gauteng province, South Africa. The painting, by Godfrey Rubens, is currently located in the South African Consulate in London.

Violent Political Resistance

Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the ANC leadership concluded that methods of non-violence, such as those utilized by Gandhi against the British Empire, were not suitable against the apartheid system. A military wing was formed in 1961, called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), meaning “Spear of the Nation”, with Mandela as its first leader. MK operations during the 1960s primarily involved targeting and sabotaging government facilities. Mandela was arrested in 1962, convicted of sabotage in 1964, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, along with Sisulu and other ANC leaders after the Rivonia Trial. During the 1970s and 1980s, the ANC leadership in exile under Oliver Tambo targeted apartheid government leadership, command and control, secret police, and military-industrial complex assets and personnel in decapitation strikes, targeted killings, and guerrilla actions such as bomb explosions in facilities frequented by military and government personnel. A number of civilians were also killed in these attacks. Examples include the Amanzimtoti bombing, the Sterland bomb in Pretoria, the Wimpy bomb in Pretoria, the Juicy Lucy bomb in Pretoria, and the Magoo’s bar bombing in Durban. ANC acts of sabotage aimed at government institutions included the bombing of the Johannesburg Magistrates Court, the attack on the Koeberg nuclear power station, the rocket attack on Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria, and the 1983 Church Street bombing in Pretoria, which killed 16 and wounded 130.

The ANC was classified as a terrorist organization by the South African government and some Western countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the ANC had a London office from 1978 to 1994 at 28 Penton Street in Islington, now marked with a plaque. During this period, the South African military engaged in a number of raids and bombings on ANC bases in Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Dulcie September, a member of the ANC investigating the arms trade between France and South Africa, was

assassinated in Paris in 1988. In the ANC’s training camps, the ANC faced allegations that dissident members faced torture, detention without trial, and even execution.

Violence also occurred between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party, a political party that grew out of a 1920s cultural organization established for Zulus. Between 1985 and 1989, 5,000 civilians were killed during in-fighting between the two parties. Massacres of each other’s supporters include the Shell House massacre and the Boipatong massacre.

As the years progressed, ANC attacks, coupled with international pressure and internal dissent, increased in South Africa. The ANC received financial and tactical support from the USSR, which orchestrated military involvement with surrogate Cuban forces via Angola. However, the fall of the USSR after 1991 brought an end to funding and changed the attitude of some Western governments that previously supported the apartheid regime as an ally against communism. The South African government found itself under increasing internal and external pressure, and this, together with a more conciliatory tone from the ANC, resulted in a change in the political landscape. State President F.W. de Klerk unbanned the ANC and other banned organizations on February 2, 1990, and began peace talks for a negotiated settlement to end apartheid.

Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress

Nelson Mandela was a central figure in the negotiation process that led to South Africa’s transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy.

Learning Objectives

Describe the role played by Mandela in repealing apartheid

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Apartheid was a system of racial discrimination and segregation in the South African government, ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993.
  • When de Klerk became President in 1989, he built on previous secret negotiations with the imprisoned Mandela. The first significant steps toward formal negotiations took place in February 1990 when de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC and other organizations and the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.
  • In May 1990, Mandela led a multiracial ANC delegation into preliminary negotiations with a government delegation of 11 Afrikaner men, which led to the Groot Schuur Minute in which the government lifted the state of emergency.
  • In August 1990, Mandela—recognizing the ANC’s severe military disadvantage—offered a ceasefire, the Pretoria Minute, for which he was widely criticized by MK activists.
  • The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began in December 1991. Mandela remained a key figure, taking the stage to denounce de Klerk as the “head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime.”
  • CODESA 2 was held in May 1992, at which de Klerk insisted that post-apartheid South Africa must use a federal system with a rotating presidency to ensure the protection of ethnic minorities. Mandela opposed this, demanding a unitary system governed by majority rule.
  • In September 1992, Mandela and de Klerk resumed negotiations and agreed to a multiracial general election, which would result in a five-year coalition government and a constitutional assembly. The ANC conceded to safeguarding the jobs of white civil servants. The duo also agreed on an interim constitution based on a liberal democratic model, dividing the country into nine provinces each with its own premier and civil service, a compromise between federalism and Mandela’s desire for a unitary government.
  • The National Assembly elected during the 1994 general election in turn elected Mandela as South Africa’s first black chief executive.
  • Presiding over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy, Mandela saw national reconciliation as the primary task of his presidency.

Key Terms

  • apartheid: A system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1991.

The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by the de Klerk government. These negotiations took place between the governing National Party, the African National Congress (ANC), and a wide variety of other political organizations. Negotiations were offset by political violence, including allegations of a state-sponsored third force destabilizing the country. The negotiations resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial election, which was won by the ANC.

Background

Apartheid was a system of racial discrimination and segregation in the South African government. It was formalized in 1948, forming a framework for political and economic dominance by the white population and severely restricting the political rights of the black majority. Between 1960 and 1990, the ANC and other mainly black opposition political organizations were banned. As the National Party cracked down on black opposition to apartheid, most leaders of the ANC and other opposition organizations were either imprisoned or went into exile, including Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned from 1962 until 1990. However, increasing local and international pressure on the government and the realization that apartheid could neither be maintained by force forever nor overthrown by the opposition without considerable suffering, eventually led both sides to the negotiating table.

Early Contact

The first meetings between the South African government and Nelson Mandela were driven by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) under the leadership of Niel Barnard and his Deputy Director General, Mike Louw. These secret meetings were designed to understand if there was sufficient common ground for future peace talks. As these meetings evolved, a level of trust developed between the key actors (Barnard, Louw, and Mandela). To facilitate future talks while preserving secrecy needed to protect the process, Barnard arranged for Mandela to be moved off Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982. This provided him with more comfortable lodgings, but also gave easier access in a way that could not be compromised. Barnard therefore brokered an initial agreement in principle about what became known as “talks about talks”. It was at this stage that the process was elevated from a secret engagement to a more public engagement.

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Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island

The inside of Mandela’s prison cell as it was when he was imprisoned in 1964. Mandela’s cell later contained more furniture, including a bed from around 1973.

As the secret talks bore fruit and the political engagement began, NIS withdrew from center stage in the process and moved to a new phase of operational support work. This was designed to test public opinion about a negotiated solution. A key initiative was known in Security Force circles as the Dakar Safari, which saw a number of prominent Afrikaner opinion-makers engage with the African National Congress in Dakar, Senegal, and Leverkusen, Germany at events organized by the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa. The operational objective of this meeting was not to understand the opinions of the actors themselves—that was well-known at this stage within strategic management circles—but rather to gauge public opinion about a movement away from the previous security posture of confrontation and repression to one based on engagement and accommodation.

Unbanning and Mandela’s Release, 1990-91

When F.W. de Klerk became President in 1989, he built on the previous secret negotiations with the imprisoned Mandela. The first significant steps towards formal negotiations took place in February 1990 when in his speech at the opening of Parliament, de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC and other banned organizations and the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison. Mandela proceeded on an African tour, meeting supporters and politicians in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Libya, and Algeria. Then he continued to Sweden, where he was reunited with exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo, and London, where he appeared at the Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa concert at Wembley Stadium in Wembley Park. In France, Mandela was welcomed by President François Mitterrand; in Vatican City by Pope John Paul II; and in the United Kingdom by Thatcher. In the United States, he met President George H.W. Bush, addressed both Houses of Congress, and visited eight cities, with particular popularity among the African-American community. In Cuba, he became friends with President Fidel Castro, whom he had long admired. He met President R. Venkataraman in India, President Suharto in Indonesia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, and Prime Minister Bob Hawke in Australia. He visited Japan, but not the USSR, a longtime ANC supporter. All the while, Mandela encouraged foreign countries to support sanctions against the apartheid government.

In May 1990, Mandela led a multiracial ANC delegation into preliminary negotiations with a government delegation of 11 Afrikaner men. Mandela impressed them with his discussions of Afrikaner history, and the negotiations led to the Groot Schuur Minute, in which the government lifted the state of emergency. In August, Mandela—recognizing the ANC’s severe military disadvantage—offered a ceasefire, the Pretoria Minute, for which he was widely criticized by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) activists. He spent much time trying to unify and build the ANC, appearing at a Johannesburg conference in December attended by 1,600 delegates, many of whom found him more moderate than expected. At the ANC’s July 1991 national conference in Durban, Mandela admitted the party’s faults and announced his aim to build a “strong and well-oiled task force” for securing majority rule. At the conference, he was elected ANC President, replacing the ailing Tambo, and a 50-strong multiracial, mixed-gendered national executive was elected.

Mandela was given an office in the newly purchased ANC headquarters at Shell House, Johannesburg, and moved into his wife Winnie Madikizela’s house in Soweto. Their marriage was increasingly strained as he learned of her affair with Dali Mpofu, but he supported her during her trial for kidnapping and assault. He gained funding for her defense from the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa and from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. However, in June 1991, she was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison, reduced to two on appeal. On April 13, 1992, Mandela publicly announced his separation from Winnie. The ANC forced her to step down from the national executive for misappropriating ANC funds and Mandela moved into the mostly white Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.

Mandela’s prospects for a peaceful transition were further damaged by an increase in “black-on-black” violence, particularly between ANC and Inkatha supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, which resulted in thousands of deaths. Mandela met with Inkatha leader Buthelezi, but the ANC prevented further negotiations on the issue. Mandela argued that there was a “third force” within the state intelligence services, fueling the violence. Mandela openly blamed de Klerk – whom he increasingly distrusted – for the Sebokeng massacre. In September 1991, a national peace conference was held in Johannesburg at which Mandela, Buthelezi, and de Klerk signed a peace accord, though the violence continued.

CODESA Talks: 1991-92

The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began in December 1991 at the Johannesburg World Trade Center, attended by 228 delegates from 19 political parties. Although Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC’s delegation, Mandela remained a key figure, and after de Klerk used the closing speech to condemn the ANC’s violence, Mandela denounced de Klerk as the “head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime.” Dominated by the National Party and ANC, little negotiation was achieved.

At CODESA 2 in May 1992, de Klerk insisted that post-apartheid South Africa must use a federal system with a rotating presidency to ensure the protection of ethnic minorities. Mandela opposed this, demanding a unitary system governed by majority rule. Following the Boipatong massacre of ANC activists by government-aided Inkatha militants, Mandela called off the negotiations before attending a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in Senegal, at which he called for a special session of the UN Security Council and proposed that a UN peacekeeping force be stationed in South Africa to prevent state terrorism. Calling for domestic mass action, in August the ANC organized the largest-ever strike in South African history, and supporters marched on Pretoria.

Following the Bisho massacre, in which 28 ANC supporters and one soldier were shot dead by the Ciskei Defence Force during a protest march, Mandela realized that mass action was leading to further violence and resumed negotiations in September. He agreed to do so on the conditions that all political prisoners be released, Zulu traditional weapons be banned, and Zulu hostels fenced off. The latter two measures were intended to prevent further Inkatha attacks. de Klerk reluctantly agreed to these terms. The negotiations agreed that a multiracial general election would be held, resulting in a five-year coalition government of national unity and a constitutional assembly that gave the National Party continuing influence. The ANC also conceded to safeguarding the jobs of white civil servants. Such concessions brought fierce internal criticism. The duo also agreed on an interim constitution based on a liberal democratic model, guaranteeing separation of powers, creating a constitutional court, and including a U.S.-style bill of rights. The constitution also divided the country into nine provinces, each with its own premier and civil service, a compromise between de Klerk’s desire for federalism and Mandela’s desire for a unitary South African government.

The democratic process was threatened by the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG), an alliance of far-right Afrikaner parties and black ethnic-secessionist groups like the Inkatha. In June 1993, the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) attacked the Kempton Park World Trade Center. Following the murder of ANC activist Chris Hani, Mandela gave a speech to calm rioting soon after appearing at a mass funeral in Soweto for Tambo, who had died of a stroke. In July 1993, both Mandela and de Klerk visited the U.S., independently meeting with President Bill Clinton and each receiving the Liberty Medal. Soon after, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. Influenced by Thabo Mbeki, Mandela began meeting with big business figures and played down his support for nationalization, fearing that he would scare away much needed foreign investment. Although criticized by socialist ANC members, he had been encouraged to embrace private enterprise by members of the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist parties at the January 1992 World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

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Frederik de Klerk with Nelson Mandela: Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992.

General Election: 1994

With the election set for April 27, 1994, the ANC began campaigning, opening 100 election offices and orchestrating People’s Forums across the country at which Mandela could appear. The ANC campaigned on a Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) to build a million houses in five years, introduce universal free education, and extend access to water and electricity. The party’s slogan was “a better life for all,” although it was not explained how this development would be funded. With the exception of the Weekly Mail and the New Nation, South Africa’s press opposed Mandela’s election, fearing continued ethnic strife. Mandela devoted much time to fundraising for the ANC, touring North America, Europe, and Asia to meet wealthy donors, including former supporters of the apartheid regime. He also urged a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 14, which was ultimately rejected by the ANC.

Concerned that COSAG would undermine the election, particularly in the wake of the conflict in Bophuthatswana and the Shell House Massacre—incidents of violence involving the AWB and Inkatha, respectively—Mandela met with Afrikaner politicians and generals, including P.W. Botha, Pik Botha, and Constand Viljoen, persuading many to work within the democratic system. With de Klerk, he also convinced Inkatha’s Buthelezi to enter the elections rather than launch a war of secession. As leaders of the two major parties, de Klerk and Mandela appeared on a televised debate. Although de Klerk was widely considered the better speaker at the event, Mandela’s offer to shake his hand surprised him, leading some commentators to deem it a victory for Mandela. The election went ahead with little violence, although an AWB cell killed 20 with car bombs. As widely expected, the ANC won a sweeping victory, taking 63% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds majority needed to unilaterally change the constitution. The ANC was also victorious in seven provinces, with Inkatha and the National Party each taking another.

Presidency of Nelson Mandela

The newly elected National Assembly’s first act was to formally elect Mandela as South Africa’s first black chief executive. His inauguration took place in Pretoria on May 10, 1994, televised to a billion viewers globally. The event was attended by 4,000 guests, including world leaders from a wide range of geographic and ideological backgrounds. Mandela headed a Government of National Unity dominated by the ANC—which had no experience of governing by itself—but containing representatives from the National Party and Inkatha. Under the interim constitution, Inkatha and the National Party were entitled to seats in the government by virtue of winning at least 20 seats in the election. In keeping with earlier agreements, both de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki were given the position of Deputy President. Although Mbeki had not been his first choice for the job, Mandela grew to rely heavily on him throughout his presidency, allowing him to shape policy details. Although he dismantled press censorship and spoke out in favor of freedom of the press, Mandela was critical of much of the country’s media, noting that it was overwhelmingly owned and run by middle-class whites and believing that it focused too heavily on scaremongering about crime.

National Reconciliation

Presiding over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy, Mandela saw national reconciliation as the primary task of his presidency. Having seen other post-colonial African economies damaged by the departure of white elites, Mandela worked to reassure South Africa’s white population that they were protected and represented in “the Rainbow Nation”. Although his National Unity government would be dominated by the ANC, he attempted to create a broad coalition by appointing de Klerk as Deputy President and other National Party officials as ministers for Agriculture, Energy, Environment, and Minerals and Energy, as well as naming Buthelezi as Minister for Home Affairs. The other cabinet positions were taken by ANC members, many of whom—like Joe Modise, Alfred Nzo, Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj, and Dullah Omar—had long been comrades. Mandela’s relationship with de Klerk was strained because he believed de Klerk was intentionally provocative. Likewise, de Klerk felt that he was being intentionally humiliated by the president. In January 1995, Mandela heavily chastised him for awarding amnesty to 3,500 police officers just before the election, and later criticized him for defending former Minister of Defence Magnus Malan when the latter was charged with murder.

Mandela personally met with senior figures of the apartheid regime, including Hendrik Verwoerd’s widow, Betsie Schoombie, and lawyer Percy Yutar. He also laid a wreath by the statue of Afrikaner hero Daniel Theron. Emphasizing personal forgiveness and reconciliation, Mandela announced that “courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace”. He encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated national rugby team, the Springboks, as South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela wore a Springbok shirt at the final against New Zealand, and after the Springboks won the match, Mandela presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner. This was widely seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans. Mandela’s efforts at reconciliation assuaged the fears of whites, but also drew criticism from more militant blacks. Among the latter was his estranged wife, Winnie, who accused the ANC of being more interested in appeasing the white community than in helping the black majority.

Mandela oversaw the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid by both the government and the ANC, appointing Desmond Tutu as its chair. To prevent the creation of martyrs, the Commission granted individual amnesties in exchange for testimony of crimes committed during the apartheid era. Dedicated in February 1996, it held two years of hearings detailing rapes, torture, bombings, and assassinations before issuing its final report in October 1998. Both de Klerk and Mbeki appealed to have parts of the report suppressed, though only de Klerk’s appeal was successful. Mandela praised the Commission’s work, stating that it “had helped us move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future.”


Source: World History