Country Listing

South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Chapter 5. National Security

SOUTH AFRICA'S NATIONAL SECURITY ORIENTATION, policies, and institutions were changing rapidly in the 1990s. South Africa had settled its protracted conflict with Angola and had negotiated independence for Namibia (formerly South-West Africa) after waging a twenty-two-year war to retain control over that country. South Africa signed nonaggression pacts with neighboring states and began working toward peaceful and constructive regional ties, while its first democratic constitution was being negotiated and implemented at home. Domestic security concerns shifted from the uncompromising suppression of dissent and the denial of political rights for a majority of citizens, first, to accommodation and negotiation with former adversaries, and, finally, in 1994 to a multiracial Government of National Unity.

South Africa had been the dominant military and economic power on the subcontinent for more than a century. Its military forces were not only capable of prevailing in any conceivable conventional conflict but also the only regional force capable of sustained military operations and of projecting national power beyond international borders. South Africa's real vulnerability until the 1990s was internal. Its governing philosophy and domination by a racial minority could not withstand the internal dissent generated during more than forty years of apartheid (see Glossary).

By the late 1980s, it was evident to many political leaders and others in South Africa that their impressive security establishment was functioning primarily to defend a failing system of apartheid against enemies within South Africa and elsewhere. Whites, with their monopoly over the national electoral process, were becoming increasingly polarized over tactics for dealing with the growing threat of antiapartheid dissidents. This polarization became evident in September 1989, when the largely Afrikaner (see Glossary) National Party (NP) suffered its worst electoral setback since it came to power in 1948. In the 1989 elections, the NP retained its majority in the all-white chamber of Parliament but lost ground to both the right-wing Conservative Party (CP) and the liberal Democratic Party (DP).

Whites who favored a stronger defense of apartheid became even more anxious about their own future after President Frederik W. (F.W.) de Klerk's historic February 2, 1990, speech announcing the legalization of black opposition groups and the release of political prisoners including African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson (Rolihlahla) Mandela, and calling for multiracial constitutional negotiations. To those who supported political reform, the speech heralded new hope for domestic peace and improved relations with neighboring states, but, at the same time, it signaled the intensification of power struggles and an increase in violence in South Africa.

These unprecedented conditions emerged just as South Africa's external security environment became more benign. President de Klerk began to reduce the size and the power of the military in relation to other branches of government; concurrently, military commanders and their former adversaries, black liberation fighters, began to plan for the amalgamation of their organizations into a unified military. As the political negotiations over a new constitution proceeded haltingly during the early 1990s, a surprising degree of consensus emerged among senior military officers on all sides of the political debate. Even before the elections in April 1994, national and homeland military officers and former commanders of antiapartheid fighters began the military reorganization that they hoped would ensure the country's future peace.

Data as of May 1996