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South Africa

Interest Groups

Interest groups have played a significant role in South African politics, although until apartheid was abolished the primary criterion for interest articulation was race, more often than economic issues. Interest groups work to achieve the goals of a particular ethnic community (Afrikaner, Xhosa, Zulu), racial group (white, black, coloured, or Indian), or other category of persons sharing a common goal. Leonard Thompson and Andrew Prior, in their book South African Politics , describe apartheid-era attempts by groups such as the Afrikaner Broederbond to win political influence in the parliament and the executive branch in order to maintain the status quo, while others, such as trade unions, sought to change labor relations and economic policy. Still other interest groups, such as the South African Media Council, had specific goals, in this case the establishment of a free and independent press. Finally, several organizations that were effectively banned from the political arena, such as the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), continued to function as political interest groups during the apartheid era.

Within this system, the Afrikaner interest groups were the most influential, as they constituted an element in the country's ruling elite. After apartheid was abolished, however, interest-group politics began to change. Many organizations abandoned their ethnically based, secretive, extraparliamentary, or underground characteristics to meet the challenges of the new nonracial, open, and democratic political order.

Afrikaner Broederbond

The Afrikaner Broederbond (later Broederbond, or Brotherhood) was the most important apartheid-era interest group in South Africa. Functioning for almost sixty years as an elite, exclusively Afrikaner, secret society, the Broederbond gradually shifted its perspective on the future and supported the political reform process beginning in the early 1980s.

Founded in 1918, the Broederbond became a secret organization in 1921 and dedicated itself to advancing Afrikaner political, cultural, and economic interests. Membership was restricted to white Afrikaner males who passed a rigorous selection process. One of the group's primary goals was to place Afrikaner nationalists in key political positions and to establish other organizations to further Afrikaner interests. With members of the Broederbond in key leadership positions, the NP government often promoted the interests of the group.

The Broederbond's organizational structure and political strategy were first publicly disclosed in the late 1970s by Hennie Serfontein, an Afrikaner journalist who devoted much of his career to investigating the organization. According to internal Broederbond documents, in 1993 the society reportedly had 20,074 members--one of the highest figures in its history--organized into twelve regions and 1,392 branches, or cells. Branches varied in size from five to twenty members, and central committees in towns and cities coordinated branch activities. Branch cells selected representatives to regional councils, the next higher level of organization. Top policy-making authority was vested in the National Congress (Bondsraad), which met every two years and elected the organization's senior executive authorities, the Broederbond chairman and the Executive Council. The Executive Council served for two years; in 1993 it had eighteen members.

The Broederbond played an important role in transforming apartheid. Major governmental policy shifts in areas such as education and sports were first tested in Broederbond discussions before being aired in parliamentary debate. Then in November 1993, in preparation for the postapartheid political system, the Broederbond adopted a new constitution that radically transformed the previously clandestine organization. The Broederbond changed its name to the Afrikanerbond, removed its cloak of secrecy, and abolished its Afrikaner male exclusivity by permitting women and all racial groups to join. Some membership restrictions remained--new entrants had to speak Afrikaans, had to subscribe to the organization's constitution, and had to be approved by the other members. These restrictions helped to ensure the continued importance of Afrikaner interests and identity.

Data as of May 1996

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