South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


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

The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) met from December 1991 until May 1992 as a forum to negotiate a new constitution. It succeeded in developing effective processes of consultation. All parties were represented, but the ANC and National Party dominated talks. Discussions were protracted, with disagreements and occasional breakdowns of talks. The National Party at first insisted on special minority rights for whites, favoring power sharing based on group rights. In March 1992, in the face of conservative white opposition, de Klerk won a 67 percent victory in a whites-only referendum over continuation of the reform process towards a new constitution.

But political violence threatened to derail negotiations. Back in April 1990, the ANC had suspended talks to protest killings in Sebokeng. Then the "Inkathagate" scandal of July 1991 and the subsequent work of the Goldstone Commission began to expose links between death squads and a "third force" involving the security forces, government, and the Zulu ethnic nationalist movement of Inkatha. After the Boipatong Massacre of June 1992, when armed Inkatha groups - with rumors of government involvement — killed 37 township residents, the ANC temporarily withdrew from negotiations. Nevertheless, Mandela and de Klerk reached a Record of Understanding on the need for a democratically elected constitution-making body. The assassination of the charismatic ANC and South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani in April 1993 created a very tense situation, defused only by Mandela's televised appeal for calm; thereafter Mandela seemed increasingly likely to become President of a free and democratic South Africa.

Talks resumed at Kempton Park in 1993 as the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum, and, in April, negotiators agreed on the mechanics of a transition process. Some white and black organizations boycotted the talks, such as the Conservative Party, the Pan African Congress, and the Azanian People's Organization. The neo-Nazi Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB), led by Eugene Terre'Blanche, used trucks in June 1993 to ram the building where talks were held. But an agreement was reached, opening the way to elections. The National Party (NP) dropped demands for white minority rights and federalism and agreed to a power-sharing Transitional Executive Council (established in January 1994). In November 1993, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum agreed to an interim constitution legalizing elections to establish a Government of National Unity.

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The final obstacles to peace were the Afrikaner extremists and the Zulu nationalists of Inkatha. Led by General Constand Viljoen, far right Afrikaners began to mobilize around the idea of a self-governing Afrikaner volkstaat (homeland). In March 1994, some ultra-conservatives launched an abortive military action in the Bophuthatswana homeland. It was a complete failure, in part due to the foolhardy intervention of a group of unruly AWB activists. One author noted: "the sight of three wounded AWB men pleading for their lives on live television and then shot in cold blood [by black policemen] had a powerful impact on the country's Whites." Viljoen's group then formed a formal political party, the Freedom Front, to contest the elections. Inkatha, which had withdrawn from the talks, also at the last minute agreed to take part in the election.

On April 27-28, 1994, South Africa held two days of peaceful elections, with millions of black South Africans voting in a national election for the first time. The ANC won a resounding victory, winning all provinces except Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, but just failing to reach the two-thirds majority to enable it to rewrite the constitution by itself.
 
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