South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

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Unit 6. The End of Apartheid and the Birth of Democracy

What is taking place in South Africa is such a deed - a deed resounding over the earth — a deed of peace. It brings hope to all South Africans. It opens new horizons for Sub-Saharan Africa. It has the capacity to unlock the tremendous potential of our country and our region. The new era which is dawning in our country, beneath the great southern stars, will lift us out of the silent grief of our past and into a future in which there will be opportunity and space for joy and beauty - for real and lasting peace.
F. W. DeKlerk, Nobel lecture, 1993
The final stage of apartheid's demise happened so quickly as to have taken many people in South Africa and throughout the world by surprise. The release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the lifting of the ban of the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements led to a protracted series of negotiations out of which emerged a democratic constitution and the first free election in the country's history. Democracy did not emerge spontaneously; it had to be built laboriously, brick by brick. This was a complex process, following years of multifaceted struggle and accompanied in the 1990-1994 period by convulsive violence as vested interests resisted change. Probably unique in the history of colonialism, white settlers voluntarily gave up their monopoly of political power. The final transfer of power was remarkably peaceful; it is often is described as a "miracle" because many thought that South Africa would erupt into violent civil war.

There were precedents for this switch from revolt and violence to negotiations. The ANC only turned to armed struggle in 1961 as a very last resort when it became obvious that the apartheid government would never negotiate unless forced to do so. From its birth in 1912, the ANC had been asking white South Africans simply to negotiate with the majority of South Africans on an equal footing as human beings with full citizenship rights. The idea that Umkhonto We Sizwe might force unconditional surrender was always unlikely. The real war aim of the ANC had always been to negotiate from the strength of democratic support; this goal had been achieved by 1990.

In 1988, the ANC had reiterated a willingness to negotiate when it issued its Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa. There had been secret talks in prison between Nelson Mandela and the government, as well as ongoing meetings between the ANC, white business leaders, and Afrikaner intellectuals, first in Dakar, Senegal in July 1987, and then in Lusaka, Zambia. By this time, both sides conceded a stalemate. The assumption of the South African presidency by F. W. de Klerk in 1989 had offered an opportunity for change. In 1989, Nelson Mandela, though still confined, contacted anti-apartheid leaders and put forward proposals for negotiations.

Following Mandela's release from prison in February 1990, intense negotiations began. On May 4, 1990, the ANC and the government agreed to the Groote Schuur Minute, which featured a commitment to end the violence. A working group was formed to discuss important issues such as the release of political prisoners and immunity, while the government undertook a review of security legislation to ensure free political activity. In the Pretoria Minute of August 1990, the ANC suspended armed struggle, and the National Party agreed to negotiate a resolution to the impasse. Despite ongoing violence, the parties involved made progress towards a negotiated settlement.
 
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