History of South Africa

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DURING FOUR DAYS IN APRIL 1994, more than 19 million South Africans, roughly 91 percent of registered voters, went to the polls, most for the first time, and elected South Africa's first democratic government. The establishment of a government led by the African National Congress (ANC), under the presidency of Nelson Mandela, signaled emphatically the demise of apartheid and the return of South Africa from the pariah status it had occupied for decades to a respected place in the world community. The change was as swift as it was dramatic. Only five years earlier, in 1989, barely one-eighth as many voters (roughly 69 percent of an electorate restricted by law to members of the white, mixed-race "coloured," and Asian communities) had returned to power those who were committed to maintaining apartheid. The African majority was, until then, explicitly denied full citizenship rights on the basis of skin color. The ANC was an illegal organization, as it had been since April 1960. Nelson Mandela in 1989 was spending his twenty-sixth year in prison. The fact that South Africa went on to overturn the apartheid ideology and, in large part, apartheid practices between 1989 and 1994 was a stunning development, unforeseen by political forecasters and paralleling the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe.

Yet the repudiation of apartheid did not mean the end of racial divisions. Although the electors voted in 1994 to end apartheid, they still cast their ballots largely along racial and ethnic lines. Most African voters supported the ANC, except in KwaZulu-Natal where Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) secured a majority of Zulu votes and won control of the newly established provincial government. Most whites--Afrikaners and English speakers alike--voted for F. W. de Klerk's newly antiapartheid National Party (NP), avoiding both the ANC and the Democratic Party (which in a previous form, as the Progressive Federal Party, had led the parliamentary fight to end apartheid). Coloured voters, largely concentrated in the Western Cape province, were concerned that their interests might be ignored by an African majority government. Hence, they voted for the NP, thereby ensuring that it won control of the Western Cape provincial government.

Nor did the repudiation of apartheid mean the end of the economic and social problems that have increasingly bedeviled South African society since the 1980s. Racially discriminatory policies enforced by successive governments throughout the twentieth century have left the African majority of the population in possession of only about 13 percent of the nation's land, and most of that of poor quality. Unable to achieve sustainable agricultural development, Africans continue, as they have for decades, to flock to cities. Urban migration, in turn, has created enormous squatter encampments, particularly in and around Gauteng. Most of these squatters, as well as nearly one-half of the adult African population nationwide, cannot find work within the formal sector of the economy. The results are widespread poverty, appalling living conditions, and an increasing incidence of crime. South Africa's per capita crime rate, overall, has exceeded that of almost any other country since 1992. The government has acknowledged the seriousness of the problem but has not been able to end the wave of crimes against persons and property that is fueled by lingering poverty.

Even for many South Africans who have jobs, economic conditions are difficult, as black wages remain low compared to those of white workers. Mandela's government said in 1995 that it could not afford to equalize pay scales across public-sector jobs in order to compensate for past discrimination. Given these circumstances, one of the most difficult tasks facing the new government is to balance the high expectations of its black supporters against economic realities. Initially, after the historic 1994 elections, President Mandela's personal charisma and the great respect in which he is held by most South Africans--both black and white--helped to ensure political stability. But Mandela has said that he would not remain in office after 1999, and the question of succession, therefore, lingers over many 1990s political debates about the future.

South Africa's contemporary problems have deep historical roots. Although human settlement in the subcontinent extends back thousands of years, racial conflict dates from the Dutch arrival at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established a resupply station at Cape Town for its fleets traveling between Holland and its empire in South and Southeast Asia. During the first 150 years of European control of the Cape, the company, a commercial operation, established some of the most enduring features of colonial society. The company was not interested in expanding European settlement across Africa, but only in acquiring goods (fresh water, foodstuffs, replacement masts) to resupply its ships. When local Khoisan peoples refused to provide these goods on terms set by the company, the Europeans took up arms and drove most of the local population into the interior. In place of local producers, the company relied on a combination of European farmers (mostly former employees of the company) and imported African slave labor to work the land that had been seized from local residents.

When the European farmers (known as Boers) attempted to escape the monopolistic trading practices and autocratic rule of the company by moving into the interior, the company prohibited further expansion, ended the emigration of Europeans to the Cape, and expanded the use of slave labor. By the end of the eighteenth century, society in the Cape was marked by antagonism between the local white community (mostly descended from the same small group of seventeenth-century Dutch, French, and German settlers) and a largely disinterested and exploitative metropolitan ruler. The racial divide was reflected in the pattern of land ownership and the authoritarian structure of labor relations, based largely on slavery.

British acquisition of the Cape at the beginning of the nineteenth century accentuated divisions between local settlers and metropolitan rulers and widened the racial divide between whites and blacks. The British conquered the Cape largely to prevent it from falling into the hands of Napoleon, and thus to protect their only sea route to their empire in South Asia. Like the Dutch East India Company, the British were not interested in expanding settlement but wanted to keep down the expense of maintaining their strategic resupply station at Cape Town. Initially, they continued to import African slaves to meet the labor needs of white farmers, and they did not interfere with the farmers' harsh treatment of black workers. But the British also tried to prevent further white expansion in South Africa--with its attendant costs of greater levels of colonial government and the risk of wars with Africans--by closing the borders of the Cape and importing British settlers to create a loyal buffer in the east between expansionist Boers and densely settled African communities. Moreover, the British, influenced by strong humanitarian groups at home, took steps to eliminate the racially discriminatory features of colonial society, first by reforming the judicial system and punishing white farmers who assaulted black workers, and later by freeing all slaves throughout the British empire.

Desperate for more land and fearful of losing all of their black labor, many Boer families in the 1830s marched into the interior of South Africa on the Great Trek, skirting the densest African populations. These Voortrekkers, or trekkers, hoped to establish their own communities, free of British rule. Prevented by the British from establishing a republic on the Indian Ocean coast, where the British colony of Natal helped protect the sea route to India, the Boers formed two republics in the interior, the South African Republic (the region known as the Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. Both republics' economies were based on near-subsistence farming and hunting, and both limited political rights to white males. Thus, white settlement expanded across the region, but almost entirely into areas with few local inhabitants. The majority of black Africans still lived in their own autonomous societies.

The discovery of minerals in the late nineteenth century--diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886--dramatically altered the economic and political structure of southern Africa. The growing mineral industry created ever-greater divisions between British and Boer, white and black, rich and poor. At the turn of the century, for the first time, South Africa had an extremely valuable resource that attracted foreign capital and large-scale immigration. Discoveries of gold and diamonds in South Africa exceeded those in any other part of the world, and more foreign capital had been invested in South Africa than in the rest of Africa combined. In the Transvaal, the site of the gold discoveries, the white population expanded eightfold, while hundreds of thousands of Africans sought work each year in the newly developed mines and cities of industrializing areas. Yet not all shared equally in this newfound wealth. Diamond and, in particular, gold mining industries required vast amounts of inexpensive labor in order to be profitable. To constrain the ability of African workers to bargain up their wages, and to ensure that they put up with onerous employment conditions, the British in the 1870s and 1880s conquered the still-independent African states in southern Africa, confiscated the bulk of the land and imposed cash taxation demands. In this way, they ensured that men who had chosen previously to work in the mines on their own terms were now forced to do so on employers' terms. In the new industrial cities, African workers were subjected to a bewildering array of discriminatory laws and practices, all enforced in order to keep workers cheap and pliable. In the much diminished rural areas, the wives and children of these migrant laborers had to survive in large part on the limited remittances sent back by their absent menfolk. In short, many of the discriminatory features so typical of twentieth-century South Africa--pass laws, urban ghettos, impoverished rural homelands, African migrant labor--were first established in the course of South Africa's industrial revolution.

But the discovery of minerals also exacerbated tensions between the British and the Boers. Gold had been discovered in the Transvaal, and that was beyond the reach of British rule. Yet the capital invested in the mines, and thus the ownership of the gold industry, was primarily British controlled. Lacking investment capital, the Boers found themselves excluded from ownership and thus from the profits generated in their midst. Indeed, most profits from the mines were reinvested in Europe and the Americas and did not contribute to the growth of additional industries in South Africa. The Boers sought to gain access to some of this wealth through taxation policies; these policies, however, incurred the wrath of the mine magnates and their supporters in England. The South African War, fought by the Boers and the British between 1899 and 1902, was primarily a struggle for the control of gold. Although the Boers lost the war, in large part they won the peace. The British realized that in order for the diamond and gold industries to be operated profitably, they had to have a local administration sympathetic to the financial and labor needs of mining. They also realized--given demographic trends at the time--that Boers would always constitute a majority of the white population. With these factors in mind, the British abandoned their wartime anti-Boer and pro-African rhetoric and negotiated a long-term political settlement that put the local white community in charge of a self-governing united South Africa.

The Union of South Africa, established on May 31, 1910, as a self-governing state within the British Empire, legislatively restricted political and property rights to whites at the expense of blacks. With the exception of a very small number of voters in the Cape Province and Natal, Africans were kept off electoral rolls throughout most of the country. By the terms of the Mines and Works Act (1911), only whites were permitted to hold skilled jobs in the mining industry. The Natives Land Act (1913) prohibited Africans from owning land in any part of South Africa outside a small area (7.5 percent, expanded to 13 percent in the 1930s) set aside for their use. These laws ensured that Africans would have to seek jobs from white employers, that their jobs would be the lowest paid available, and that without the right to vote they could do little to change the laws that excluded them from the political process and relegated them to the bottom of the economy.

Two nationalist movements emerged in the aftermath of the formation of the union, one racially and ethnically exclusivist, the other much more disparate in its membership and aims. The Afrikaner nationalist movement, built around the National Party, appealed to Afrikaners (as they increasingly referred to themselves after the South African War), who were still bitter about their suffering in the war and frustrated by the poverty in which most of them lived. The black nationalist movement, led primarily by the African National Congress (formed in 1912), addressed the myriad injustices against black South Africans.

Although Afrikaner generals helped unite South Africa's first government, most Dutch speakers did not share in the fruits of victory. Much of their land had been confiscated by the British during the war and was not returned after it ended. The main source of employment, the mines, was owned by English speakers. Rural Afrikaners moving to the cities had neither capital nor marketable skills, and thus they found themselves competing with Africans for low-paid unskilled work. As a result, they often supported racially discriminatory legislation, such as the Mines and Works Act, that gave them privileged access to jobs solely on the basis of their color. But because Afrikaners wanted a greater share of the economy than they could earn as employees of English speakers, they pooled their funds and resources to establish banks, insurance companies, and other businesses in order to wrest a portion of the economy out of the control of English businessmen. A few Afrikaner leaders then led in the denunciation of the business community in increasingly extreme, anticapitalist, and anti-Semitic terms.

Afrikaner nationalists spoke of themselves as a chosen people, ordained by God to rule South Africa. They established their own cultural organizations and secret societies, and they argued that South Africa should be ruled in the interests of Afrikaners, rather than English businessmen or African workers. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the Afrikaner nationalist movement grew in popularity, fueled by fears of black competition for jobs, by antipathy toward the English-speaking mine magnates, by the memory of past suffering, and by the impact of World War II (especially massive black urbanization). In 1948, with the support of a majority of Afrikaners (who constituted about 60 percent of the white electorate), the NP won the election on its apartheid platform. Henceforth, South Africa was to be governed by a party that hoped to shape government policies to work in favor of whites, in general, and Afrikaners, in particular. Moreover, the NP denied that Africans, Asians, or coloureds could ever be citizens or full participants in the political process.

The black nationalist movement had no such success. For most blacks, lack of access to the vote meant that they could not organize an effective political party. Instead they had to rely on appeals, deputations, and petitions to the British government asking for equal treatment before the law. The British responded by pointing out that South Africa was now self-governing and that the petitioners had to make their case to the local white rulers. Although Africans, Asians, and coloureds shared common grievances, they were not united in their organizations or their aims. Physically separated and legally differentiated in practically every aspect of their lives, they formed separate organizations to represent their interests. Moreover, their leaders, with few exceptions, adopted accommodationist rather than confrontational tactics in dealing with the state. Failing to gain any real concessions from increasingly hard-line governments, none of the black political movements succeeded in building a solid mass following. Even the ANC had a membership of only a few thousand (out of an African population of about 8 million) in 1948.

With the introduction of apartheid, the NP extended and systematized many of the features of entrenched racial discrimination into a state policy of white supremacy. Every person resident in South Africa was legally assigned, largely on the basis of appearance, to one racial group--white, African, coloured, or Asian. South Africa was proclaimed to be a white man's country in which members of other racial groups would never receive full political rights. Africans were told that eventually they would achieve political independence in perhaps nine or ten homelands, carved out of the minuscule rural areas already allocated to them, areas that even a government commission in the 1950s had deemed totally inadequate to support the black population.

Coloureds and Asians, too, were to be excluded from South African politics. By law, all races were to have separate living areas and separate amenities; there was to be no mixing. Education was to be provided according to the roles that people were expected to play in society. In that regard, Hendrik F. Verwoerd, the leading ideologue of apartheid and prime minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, stated that Africans would be "making a big mistake" if they thought that they would live "an adult life under a policy of equal rights." According to Verwoerd, there was no place for Africans "in the European community" (by which he meant South Africa) above the level of certain forms of labor.

Expecting considerable opposition to policies that would forever exclude the black majority from any role in national politics and from any job other than that of unskilled--and low-paid--laborer, the NP government greatly enlarged police powers. People campaigning to repeal or to modify any law would be presumed guilty of one of several crimes until they could prove their innocence. The government could "list," or ban, individuals, preventing them from attending public meetings, prohibiting them from belonging to certain organizations, and subjecting them to lengthy periods of house arrest.

The most draconian piece of security legislation, the Suppression of Communism Act (1950), adopted an extraordinarily broad and vague definition of communism--i.e., the aim to "bring about any political, industrial, social, or economic change within the Union by the promotion of disturbance or disorder." Also included under the act was anyone who encouraged "feelings of hostility between the European and the non-European races of the Union." This legislation enabled the police to label almost any opponent of apartheid as a supporter of the outlawed Communist Party of South Africa (reactivated in 1953 as the South African Communist Party--SACP).

Blacks rose up in protest against apartheid in the 1950s. Led by Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, the ANC sought to broaden its base of support and to impede the implementation of apartheid by calling for mass noncompliance with the new laws. Working together with white, coloured, and Indian opponents of apartheid, the ANC encouraged people to burn their passes (identity documents, then required of all African males and soon to be required of all African females in South Africa). The ANC also urged people to refuse to use the separate amenities (such as public toilets, park benches, and entrances to post offices) set aside for them, to use those intended for whites instead, and to boycott discriminatory employers and institutions. Such tactics, all of them purposely nonviolent, although not successful in changing NP policies, did attract large-scale support and won new members for the ANC.

In 1955 representatives of the ANC, as well as white, coloured, and Indian organizations opposed to apartheid, drafted a Freedom Charter as a basic statement of political principles. According to the charter, South Africa belonged to all who lived within its boundaries, regardless of race. The charter stated that no particular group of people should have special privileges, but that all should be treated equally before the law. It also stated that all who lived in South Africa should share in the country's wealth, an ambiguous statement sometimes interpreted by supporters of the ANC, and more frequently by its opponents, to mean a call for nationalization of private-sector enterprises.

The NP government dealt harshly with all those who opposed its policies. Tens of thousands were arrested for participating in public demonstrations and boycotts, hundreds of thousands were arrested each year for pass-law offenses, and many of the delegates who drew up the Freedom Charter were arrested and tried for treason in a trial that lasted nearly five years. Repression became harsher as opposition grew. In 1960 police at Sharpeville, a black township south of Johannesburg, fired into a crowd of Africans peacefully protesting against the pass laws, and killed sixty-seven. In the aftermath of the shooting, which attracted worldwide condemnation, the government banned the ANC, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), and other organizations opposed to apartheid; withdrew from the British Commonwealth of Nations; and, after a referendum among white voters only, declared South Africa a republic.

During the 1960s, the implementation of apartheid and the repression of internal opposition continued despite growing world criticism of South Africa's racially discriminatory policies and police violence. Thousands of Africans, coloureds, and Asians (ultimately numbering about 3.5 million by the 1980s) were removed from white areas into the land set aside for other racial groups. Some of these areas, called black homelands, were readied for independence, even though they lacked the physical cohesiveness--Bophuthatswana, for example, consisted of some nineteen non-contiguous pieces of land--to make political or economic independence a viable or believable concept. None of the four homelands declared independent received any form of world recognition. The ANC and the PAC, banned from operating within South Africa, turned to violence in their struggle against apartheid--the former organization adopting a policy of bombing strategic targets such as police stations and power plants, the latter engaging in a program of terror against African chiefs and headmen, who were seen as collaborators with the government.

Verwoerd's government crushed this internal opposition. Leaders of the ANC and PAC within South Africa were tracked down, arrested, and charged with treason. Nelson Mandela was sentenced in 1964 to imprisonment for life. Oliver Tambo had already fled the country and led the ANC in exile. Despite growing international criticism, the government's success in capturing its enemies fueled an economic boom. Attracted by the apparent political stability of the country, and by rates of return on capital running as high as 15 to 20 percent annually, foreign investment in South Africa more than doubled between 1963 and 1972. Soaring immigration increased the white population by as much as 50 percent during the same period. Apartheid and economic growth seemed to work in tandem.

Yet a number of contradictory developments during the 1970s displayed the shaky foundations of the apartheid edifice. In 1973 wildcat strikes broke out on the Durban waterfront and then spread around the country. Because Africans were prohibited from establishing or belonging to trade unions, they had no organizational leaders to represent their concerns. Fearful of police repression, strikers chose not to identify publicly any of their leaders. Thus employers who considered negotiations had no worker representatives with whom to negotiate and none to hold responsible for upholding labor agreements. Several hundred thousand work hours were lost in labor actions in 1973. That same year, in a sign of growing world opposition to state-enforced racial discrimination, the United Nations (UN) declared apartheid "a crime against humanity," a motion that took on real meaning four years later, in 1977, when the UN adopted a mandatory embargo on arms sales to South Africa.

In 1974 a revolutionary movement overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship in Lisbon, and the former colonial territories of Angola and Mozambique demanded independence from Portugal. Their liberation movements-turned-Marxist governments were committed to the eradication of colonialism and racial discrimination throughout southern Africa. Following the 1980 independence of Zimbabwe, a nation now led by a socialist government opposed to apartheid, South Africa found itself surrounded by countries hostile to its policies and ready to give refuge to the exiled forces of the ANC and the PAC. Internal and external opposition to apartheid was fueled in 1976, when the Soweto uprising began with the protests of high-school students against the enforced use of Afrikaans--viewed by many Africans as the oppressor's language. The protests led to weeks of demonstrations, marches, and boycotts throughout South Africa. Violent clashes with police left more than 500 people dead, several thousand arrested, and thousands more seeking refuge outside South Africa, many with the exiled forces of the ANC and the PAC.

Fearful of growing instability in South Africa, many foreign investors began to withdraw their money or to move it into short-term rather than long-term investments; as a result, the economy became increasingly sluggish. In order to cope with labor unrest and to boost investor confidence, the government decided in 1979 to allow black workers to establish unions as a necessary step toward industrial peace. This decision was a crucial step in the growing perception that apartheid would have to end. It undercut a basic ideological premise of apartheid, that blacks were not really full citizens of South Africa and, therefore, were not entitled to any official representation. It also implied an acceptance by employers, many of whom had called for the change in policy, that in order for labor relations to operate effectively, disgruntled workers would have to be negotiated with, rather than subjected to arbitrary dismissal and police arrest, as in the past.

Pretending otherwise had already become increasingly difficult. A national census in 1980 showed that whites were declining as a proportion of South Africa's population. From more than 20 percent of the population at the beginning of the century, whites accounted for only about 16 percent of the population in 1980 and were likely to constitute less than 10 percent by the end of the century. By the end of the 1980s, almost one-half of black South Africans--according to apartheid theory, a rural people--would be living in cities and towns, accounting for nearly 60 percent of South Africa's urban dwellers. Demographic facts, alone, made it increasingly difficult to argue that South Africa was a white man's country.

In the early 1980s, NP reformers tinkered with the basic structure of apartheid. Concerned about demographic trends, Prime Minister P. W. Botha led his government in implementing a new constitutional arrangement, one that embraced the concept of multiracial government but, at the same time, perpetuated the concept of racial separation. The new constitution established three racially segregated houses of parliament, for whites, Asians, and coloureds, but excluded blacks from full citizenship. Botha and his allies hoped that such a change would bolster NP support among coloureds and Asians, and thereby give the party enough numerical strength to counter growing dissent.

The constitution implemented in 1984 only inflamed further opposition to apartheid. It was denounced inside and outside South Africa as anachronistic and reactionary. Opponents argued that by further institutionalizing the exclusion of the majority black population, the new constitution only extended apartheid and did not undercut it in any significant way. Within South Africa, protests against apartheid far exceeded earlier levels of opposition. In many black townships, police stations and other government buildings were destroyed, along with the homes of black policemen and town councilors, who were denounced as collaborators with the apartheid regime.

Newly legalized black trade unions took a leading role in the opposition, particularly by organizing strikes that combined economic and political complaints. The number of work days lost to strikes soared to more than 5.8 million in 1987. Armed members of the ANC and PAC infiltrated South Africa's borders from their bases in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe and carried out a campaign of urban terror. With South Africa on the verge of civil war, the government imposed a series of states of emergency, used the police and the army against opponents of apartheid, and dispatched military forces on armed raids into neighboring countries.

Although the government's repressive actions strengthened state control in the short term, they backfired in the long run. Police repression and brutality in South Africa, and military adventures elsewhere in southern Africa, only heightened South Africa's pariah status in world politics. As events in the country grabbed world headlines and politicians across the globe denounced apartheid, the costs for South Africa of such widespread condemnation were difficult to bear. Foreign investors withdrew; international banks called in their loans; the value of South African currency collapsed; the price of gold fell to less than one-half of the high of the 1970s; economic output declined; and inflation became chronic.

In the face of such developments, it was clear to most South African businessmen, and to a majority of NP party leaders, that apartheid itself had to undergo substantial reform if economic prosperity and political stability were to be regained. In 1989 a stroke precipitated Botha's resignation, and he was succeeded by F. W. de Klerk, formerly a hard-line supporter of apartheid but by the end of the 1980s the candidate of those who regarded themselves as moderates within the National Party.

De Klerk moved faster and farther to reform apartheid than any Afrikaner politician had done before him, although in many instances it seemed that events rather than individuals were forcing the pace and scale of change. De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from twenty-seven years of imprisonment in February 1990, and rescinded the banning orders on the ANC, the PAC, the SACP, and other previously illegal organizations. Reacting to demands from within and outside South Africa, de Klerk in 1990 and 1991 repealed the legislative underpinnings of apartheid: gone were the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, which had enforced petty apartheid; the Natives Land Act, which had made it illegal for Africans to own land in urban areas; the Group Areas Act, which had segregated people by race; and the Population Registration Act, which had assigned every resident of South Africa to a specific racial group. The pace of change was so rapid that many within the Afrikaner community questioned the wisdom of de Klerk's moves, and he came under increasing attack from right-wing proponents of a return to apartheid. For most critics of apartheid, however, the pace of change was not fast enough. They wanted to see apartheid not reformed, but overthrown entirely. Indeed, once it had been accepted that black Africans were, in fact, South Africans, the real question for de Klerk and his allies was whether they could be incorporated into the country in any fashion short of giving them equal rights. The answer was no.

With this realization, from the end of 1991 onward, government negotiators met regularly with representatives from other political organizations to discuss ways in which some form of democracy could be introduced and the remaining structures of apartheid dismantled. Those involved called their forum the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). The negotiations were neither clear-cut nor easy, in part because each participating group brought a different past and different demands to the bargaining table. An official commission of inquiry in 1990, for example, found evidence that de Klerk's government had turned a blind eye to clandestine death squads within the security forces that were responsible for the deaths of many opponents of apartheid. Moreover, elements within the government were found to have surreptitiously funded Zulu leader Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and to have supplied weapons that were used to attack ANC members in KwaZulu and in a number of mining compounds.

The ANC's armed struggle against apartheid also lingered in popular memory during the negotiations. ANC leader Mandela raised fears among white businessmen with talk about the need for the nationalization of industries and for the redistribution of wealth to the victims of apartheid. Yet there was more common ground than difference in Codesa. De Klerk and Mandela and their respective supporters were united in the belief that continued violence would destroy all hope of economic recovery. Such a recovery was vital for the attainment of peace and prosperity. They were also united in their belief that there was no alternative to a negotiated settlement.

Codesa's negotiations were assisted by the decline of left- and right-wing alternatives to parliamentary democracy. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the failures of socialism in Africa essentially eliminated the likelihood of a socialist state in South Africa. Although radical redistribution of property had much support among black youth, there were few leaders in the antiapartheid forces who spoke for that point of view. Joe Slovo, the leader of the SACP, argued for compromise with the government rather than for the immediate introduction of a workers' state. Chris Hani, the charismatic general secretary of the SACP and the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation)--the ANC's armed wing--was assassinated in April 1993. Winnie Mandela, long a proponent of more radical solutions to the problems of poverty and discrimination in South Africa, saw her influence decline as her marriage to Mandela fell apart. Nor did the PAC, long an adherent of the view that South Africa was a black man's country in which whites were merely guests, win much support for its continued support of armed struggle and its slogan, "One settler, one bullet."

The white right wing was weakened by a series of inept maneuvers that discredited the movement in the eyes of its most likely supporters in the police and in the defense forces. Two members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement--AWB) were quickly arrested and convicted of the murder of Chris Hani. Television cameras captured scenes of AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche leading an unruly band of armed followers in an attack on the building that housed the Codesa negotiations. The scenes broadcast were of crowd violence and anarchy, bringing to mind images of pre-World War II fascism. The final straw, and the one that caused leaders within the security establishment to disavow any links with white extremists, was the botched attempt by AWB members to reinstate Lucas Mangope as leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland in early 1993. Again television cameras were the right wing's undoing, as they broadcast worldwide the execution of several AWB mercenaries, lying beside their Mercedes Benz sedan, by professionally trained black soldiers. For South Africans, the telling image was not of blacks killing whites (although that was significant), but of the ineptness of the right.

The members of Codesa sped up the pace of negotiations and of plans to implement the interim constitution. South Africa was to have a federal system of regional legislatures, equal voting rights regardless of race, and a bicameral legislature headed by an executive president. The negotiators also agreed that the government elected in 1994 would serve for five years, and that a constitutional convention, sitting from 1994 onward and seeking input from all South Africans, would be responsible for drawing up a final constitution to be implemented in 1999.

The election in April 1994 was viewed by most participants as a remarkable success. Although several parties, especially the IFP, had threatened to boycott the election, in the end no significant groups refused to participate. The polling was extended to four days to allow for logistical and bureaucratic problems. In the end, it was carried out peacefully, for the most part, and there were few complaints of interference with anyone's right to vote. No political party got everything that it wanted. The ANC won nearly 62.6 percent of the vote, but it did not get the two-third's majority needed to change unilaterally the interim constitution, and it therefore had to work with other parties to shape the permanent constitution. The NP, as expected, no longer led the government, but it did succeed in winning the second largest share of votes, with 20.4 percent. The IFP did not do well nationally, but with a much stronger base of support in KwaZulu-Natal than most commentators expected, it came in third, with 10.5 percent, and won for Buthelezi control of the provincial government. The Freedom Front, a right-of-center, almost exclusively white party led by former members of the security establishment, got 2.2 percent of the votes; the PAC, appealing solely for the support of blacks, won 1.2 percent. On May 9, 1994, Nelson Mandela was unanimously elected president by the National Assembly, with Thabo Mbeki, deputy leader of the ANC and Mandela's likely successor, and F.W. de Klerk named deputy presidents. South Africa had made a peaceful political transition from an apartheid police state to a democratic republic.

As the new government is established in the mid-1990s, South Africa's leaders face the daunting challenges of meeting the expectations of black voters while fulfilling the economic potential of the country. Half a century of apartheid and a much longer period of legally enforced racial discrimination have left most black South Africans poor and undereducated. The reliance on a low-wage work force, especially in the country's mines but also in other areas of the economy, left South Africa without a significant consumer class among its black majority. Instead, nearly one-half of the population in the mid-1990s lives below internationally determined minimum-subsistence levels. Nearly fifty years of Verwoerdian "Bantu education" left the country short of skills and unable to generate the sort of labor force that could produce an "Asian miracle" along the lines of the skilled-labor-dependent industries of South Korea or Taiwan.

Demands for immediate economic improvements intensified in 1995 and 1996. Labor unions pressed demands on behalf of organized workers, many of whom feared that their interests would be ignored, lost amid the government's concerns for alleviating severe poverty and for bolstering investor confidence in a stable workforce. Many labor unions were also weakened, at least temporarily, by the loss of key leaders who were elected or appointed to government office.

After these chapters were completed in May 1996, the Constitutional Court approved the new ("final") constitution, intended to govern after the five-year transition. President Mandela signed the new constitution into law on December 10, 1996, and the government began phasing in provisions of the new document in February 1997. The final constitution contains a Bill of Rights, modeled on the chapter on fundamental rights in the interim constitution. It also ends the powersharing requirements that were the basis for the Government of National Unity under the interim constitution. NP deputy president de Klerk left office in June 1996, after legislators voted to forward the new constitution to the Constitutional Court, and the NP vacated its offices in the national and provincial executive branches, which had been based on the interim constitution's powersharing provisions. The NP in 1997 is attempting to establish a new political identity as an active participant in the national political debate; it will challenge ANC initiatives it opposes and compete with the ANC for political support among all racial groups.

South Africa conducted its first postapartheid census in October 1996. The process of enumeration proved even more difficult than expected, in part because provincial governments are still establishing their functions and authority, and administrative boundaries are still in dispute in a few areas. The final results--likely to reveal a population of more than 45 million--are not yet available as of April 1997.

The government has made substantial progress in expanding social services, health care, and education, but the backlog in demand for these services has been impossible to meet. These inadequacies continue to erode confidence in the new government, despite impressive progress in areas such as the provision of potable water and electricity, and the expansion of educational opportunities in previously underserved areas. The demand for housing is proving particularly difficult to meet; foreign construction firms are participating in the effort, and the pace of new home construction is expected to increase steadily during 1997 and 1998.

South Africa's culturally diverse society has not yet negotiated acceptable compromises for dealing with controversial aspects of individual behavior, such as women's rights to abortion or contraceptive use and behavior related to the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). ANC legislators successfully voted to liberalize public policy in many areas, most notably concerning abortion, despite strong opposition from some Christian and Muslim groups. The campaign against AIDS continues to be mired in political debate, funding controversies, and personal acrimony, as of 1997.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has heard more than 2,000 testimonials and received nearly 4,000 applications for amnesty for acts committed during the apartheid era. Grisly stories have emerged from the commission's hearings; a few lingering questions about apartheid-era deaths and disappearances have been answered, but others have arisen in response to allegations of official collusion in unrestrained violence. Commission chair Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressed confidence in early 1997 that the commission's long-term impact will be to further reconciliation among racial groups. Others, including survivors of victims, however, have expressed growing anger and stepped up demands for vengeance. Outside of the commission's purview, the courts have convicted a few former security officers and former freedom fighters for crimes committed before May 1994, although some of those found guilty in the courts may also apply for amnesty before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Violence, both political and criminal, continues to plague the country. The newly organized South African Police Service has not yet eliminated the corruption and racial biases that characterized some segments of the police force during the apartheid era. Vigilante groups are emerging in response to popular demands for stricter law enforcement. The best-known of these, a Muslim-based coalition--People against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD)--has attacked, and even killed, accused drug-dealers and others deemed to be outlaws, especially in Cape Town and surrounding areas of the Western Cape. Vigilantism is also increasing in crime-ridden areas around Johannesburg, and elsewhere.

The continuing violence and political uncertainty contributed to a steady decline in the value of the rand in late 1996 and early 1997. Levels of foreign investment have lagged behind that needed for economic growth, and the government is offering incentives to increase foreign participation in South Africa's business and manufacturing sectors. The Ministry of Finance outlined new economic strategies aimed at liberalizing foreign-exchange controls and imposing stricter fiscal discipline, in a framework document entitled Growth, Employment and Redistribution . The 1996 document describes investment incentives and steps toward restructuring the tax base to help stimulate new growth without substantially increasing public spending. It also outlines further steps toward the lifting of import tariffs and exchange controls to expand foreign trade.

As of April 1997, the most likely successor to President Mandela appears to be deputy president Thabo Mbeki; Mandela signaled his approval of this choice several times in the past year. A respected ANC diplomat and trained economist, Mbeki is expected to press for fiscal responsibility. Private-sector development, already a high priority, is likely to receive even greater emphasis in the early twenty-first century. At the same time, any new government will face the challenge of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, which will be crucial to furthering the goals of peace and reconciliation. Any new government also will face obstacles created by political extremists and economic opportunists hoping to reap their own gains in the new, postapartheid South Africa.

More History of South Africa

SOURCE: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress

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