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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

"Irreversible Progress" Toward Democracy

Through dogged perseverance, amid claims and counterclaims of sabotage and brutality, key political leaders began formal constitutional negotiations on December 20, 1991. Calling themselves the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), delegations from nineteen governmental and political organizations began planning the creation of a transitional government and a representative parliament. They established five working groups, each made up of thirty-eight delegates and thirty-eight advisers, to take the lead in creating a climate for free political activity; in determining basic constitutional principles; in establishing transitional procedures for the nominally independent homelands of Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei, and Venda; in setting and overseeing timetables for the transition; and in dealing with new problems that would arise during the transition itself.

International organizations and other countries were torn between recognizing South Africa's impressive accomplishments and encouraging further progress. Most international sanctions were lifted soon after the Population Registration Act, Group Areas Act, and Land Acts were repealed. In July 1991, the United States Congress lifted remaining sanctions under its Comprehensive Antiapartheid Act, although laws restricting commercial ties with South Africa remained on the books in many states and cities in the United States. The EC lifted most trade and investment bans in January 1992 and remaining restrictions on sporting, scientific, and cultural links three months later. On April 6, 1992, the EC lifted its oil embargo. Other countries gradually lifted a range of boycotts, and many African governments--under pressure from their own business communities--reestablished diplomatic ties with South Africa. The United Nations General Assembly would wait until late 1993 to lift remaining UN sanctions.

Much of de Klerk's effort in 1992 was directed toward appeasing and weakening his right-wing opponents--staunch defenders of apartheid who had broken with the NP during the 1980s. He first tried reassuring them about the future. Then, as conservative resistance hardened, he called for a referendum among white voters to test his mandate for change. The question posed in the March 17, 1992, referendum was carefully worded: "Do you support continuation of the reform process which the State President began on February 2, 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?" The outcome was a resounding 68.6 percent "yes." Election analysts reported that support among Afrikaners was even slightly higher than among English speakers. Only one region of the country--the northern Transvaal (later Northern Province)--voted "no." A few militant defenders of apartheid boycotted the referendum.

Buoyed by the outcome, de Klerk presented Codesa with proposals for a two-phase transition, the first phase managed by transitional councils appointed by Codesa, and the second phase--the constitution-writing process--managed by an elected transitional government headed by a multiperson presidency and a bicameral legislature. The ANC's counterproposals called for a single-stage transition, a committee elected by proportional representation to draft the constitution, with a two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional provisions. Negotiations were suspended as both sides sought to refine their proposals and to unify their constituencies.

In mid-1992 escalating violence, allegations of police brutality, and government financial scandals threatened to derail negotiations. After a particularly brutal attack on June 17, 1992, by IFP supporters on ANC sympathizers in Boipatong, a township near Johannesburg, the ANC suspended negotiations and threatened to withdraw entirely unless the government made greater efforts to end the violence and to curtail covert police support for the IFP. Mandela took his complaint to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the UN, where, on July 15, 1992, he accused the government of "a cold-blooded strategy of state terrorism." Finally, in September 1992, de Klerk and Mandela arrived at a Record of Understanding affirming police responsibility for protecting residents in workers' hostels, where support for the ANC was high. ANC fears lingered, however, especially in late 1992, when the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation (Goldstone Commission) released its findings of a "dirty tricks" campaign against the ANC, apparently sanctioned by senior figures within the South African Defence Forces (SADF).

In protest against the Record of Understanding, Zulu leader Buthelezi established an alternative to Codesa to include the leaders of groups disadvantaged by the ANC's strong lead in the Codesa forum--i.e., white conservatives and black homeland leaders, whose power bases were eroding. The resulting Concerned South Africans Group (Cosag) pressed for a federal constitution to preserve the rights of ethnic minorities, especially the Zulu and whites.

Negotiations resumed on March 5, 1993, but the fragile process was again threatened a month later, when Chris Hani, the popular general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), was murdered. ANC leaders joined the government in trying to stem outbreaks of retaliatory violence, and several white extremists were arrested within weeks after the murder. With a new sense of urgency, political negotiators tried to speed the process and set the date for nationwide elections no later than April 27, 1994.

The draft constitution published on July 26, 1993, contained concessions to all sides--a federal system of regional legislatures, equal voting rights regardless of race, and a bicameral legislature. Negotiators were undeterred by the storm of protests that followed, and they went on to establish a Transitional Executive Council (TEC), a multiracial body that would share executive responsibilities with President de Klerk during election preparations. Cosag boycotted the TEC and formed the Freedom Alliance to demand equal status with the government and the ANC. Sensing new momentum, however, the government cracked down on right-wing violence and tried to reason with white extremists, without slowing the pace of election preparations.

Preparing for Elections

In November 1993, negotiators endorsed the draft of the interim constitution calling for a five-year transitional government, and the tricameral parliament endorsed the draft in December (see The Interim Constitution, ch. 4). The timetable for elections remained firm after that. Mandela and the ANC, sensing their imminent rise to power and to responsibility for the country's welfare, called for the immediate lifting of remaining international sanctions and sought new donors and investors for South Africa. But the ongoing violence, which was frightening away investors, also threatened to delay the April elections.

In December 1993, the multiracial TEC was installed as part of the executive branch of government--over the objections of the Freedom Alliance and the PAC. The TEC quickly established seven subcouncils with specific responsibilities during the transition. It also approved the formation of an eleven-member Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to organize and to verify the planned elections, and it deployed police and army units to northern Natal to try to end the violence.

Other countries and international organizations began mobilizing support for South Africa's historic vote. The United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA), which had deployed in small numbers to quell township violence in August 1992, expanded its mission to about 2,000 personnel to coordinate the teams of election observers that were being sent by the OAU, the European Union (EU--see Glossary), the British Commonwealth, and several individual countries.

The antielection Freedom Alliance began to unravel in early 1994. White conservatives stepped up their demands for a separate, whites-only homeland--dispelling any illusions of support for their Freedom Alliance partners. The government of Ciskei, a homeland where the ANC's popularity exceeded that of the appointed president, broke away from its alliance partners and declared its intention to permit homeland residents to vote. The government in Bophuthatswana--another Freedom Alliance partner facing strong popular opposition--sought armed support from the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging--AWB), prompting the SADF to intervene and to remove Bophuthatswana President Lucas Mangope from office. With the Freedom Alliance severely weakened, PAC President Clarence Makwetu--another election holdout--announced that group's suspension of its armed struggle, thus opening the way for election participation by its members.

Violence continued, mostly between supporters of the IFP and the ANC, and the TEC authorized rapid training for a 10,000-member national peacekeeping force--an effort that eventually failed. The force was disbanded as the elections began. The Goldstone Commission found evidence of serious police complicity in the continuing unrest, and the government suspended several officers pending investigations. The country appeared poised to launch into violence-wracked balloting, when de Klerk imposed a state of emergency in Natal and KwaZulu on March 31, 1994, deploying 3,000 SADF troops to allow residents of the area to defy the IFP election boycott and to go to the polls.

On April 12, 1994, a team of international mediators headed by former British foreign secretary Lord Carrington and former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger arrived to attempt to break the logjam that was keeping the IFP out of the elections. After two days of fruitless discussions, their effort was declared a failure, and the mediators left. Only days later, however, on April 19, Buthelezi--under intense pressure from trusted local and international figures--relented and agreed to allow the IFP to be placed on the ballot.

When the elections finally took place on schedule, beginning on April 26, 1994, the government and the ANC had several thousand security forces, with varying degrees of training and authority, in place to prevent serious outbreaks of violence. Remarkably, the violence subsided. A few "exceptional" votes were cast by voters who were disabled or were living outside South Africa on April 26. During the next two days, more than 22 million voters stood in line for hours at some 9,000 polling places to exercise their newly won right to vote. Balloting was extended through April 29. There was no voter registration list, so IEC officials marked voters' fingers with indelible ink to prevent fraud.

For days after the elections, tensions remained high, and some accusations of election fraud surfaced--especially in Natal. As the counting proceeded, the IEC prompted party leaders to negotiate agreements over disputed results that would allow the IEC to certify the elections as "substantially free and fair." The official results, released on May 6, 1994, gave the ANC 62.6 percent of the vote; the NP, 20.4 percent; and the IFP, 10.5 percent. Seven political parties won seats in the National Assembly (see table 17, Appendix). Three parties won the 5 percent of votes necessary to participate in the cabinet of the coalition government.

Mandela was unanimously elected president by the National Assembly on May 9, 1994, in Cape Town. His two deputy presidents, former ANC chairman Thabo Mbeki and former president de Klerk, stood with Mandela when he was inaugurated on May 10 at ceremonies in Pretoria. Representatives of 140 countries were present. Mandela's inaugural address stressed the need for reconciliation, both within South Africa and with other countries, and once again he quoted his own words at the Rivonia trial that had preceded his long imprisonment, and he reaffirmed his determination to forge a peaceful, nonracial society.

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Two excellent histories of South Africa have recently been published. Leonard M. Thompson's A History of South Africa provides a well-written and scholarly survey by the foremost historian of the country. Reader's Digest's An Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story offers much more detailed coverage but without any sacrifice of scholarly quality. Useful chapters surveying the history of South Africa can also be found in the multi-volume Cambridge History of Africa and in the two-volume Oxford History of South Africa . Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee's The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840 is essential reading on the early history of the Cape. Martin Hall's Farmers, Kings, and Traders provides an innovative study that shifts the focus of pre-1870 history away from the Cape and toward developments in southern Africa at large. T. Dunbar Moodie's The Rise of Afrikanerdom: Power, Apartheid, and the Afrikaner Civil Religion is still the basic text on Afrikaner nationalism. Willem A. de Klerk's The Puritans in Africa: The Story of Afrikanerdom is also interesting, in large part because it was written by the brother of the former president of South Africa.

Tom Lodge's Black Politics in South Africa since 1945 provides a very detailed study of resistance movements up to the early 1980s, although for a thorough analysis of black consciousness the reader needs to consult Gail M. Gerhart's Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology . Three studies co-edited by Shula Marks and others bring together the most recent writings by "radical" authors who have dominated much of the scholarship produced on South Africa in the 1970s and the 1980s: Economy and Society in Pre-Industrial South Africa ; Industrialisation and Social Change in South Africa ; and The Politics of Race, Class, and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa . Finally, Joseph Lelyveld's Pulitzer Prize-winning Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White is the finest journalistic study ever written about South Africa. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1996

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