South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


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

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The role of individuals in making this history was extremely significant. Nelson Mandela had extraordinary abilities of statesmanship, as well as a democratic vision based on reconciliation and inclusiveness. He became a celebrity on the world stage, winning with de Klerk the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. De Klerk's decision to break with the past and negotiate with the ANC was also important. Those who forged the peace process include a diverse group of remarkable personalities: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other church leaders like Beyers Naudé; ANC and NP negotiators Cyril Ramaphosa and Rolf Meyer; credible ANC figures like Thabo Mbeki; the Communist Party's Joe Slovo; and leaders of industry, among others. Each side had to have trusted leaders who could "deliver" their constituencies into the agreement. In addition, ordinary South Africans had had enough of violence and racism. Through their attendance at countless rallies and at the election they "voted with their feet" for freedom and democracy.

The rapidly changing international situation powerfully influenced these momentous events. The end of the Cold War encouraged the NP to believe that communism was no longer a viable force. At the same time, the collapse of Soviet Communism denied the ANC a major source of material support, thus encouraging the movement to negotiate. The southern African region was also changing. The military defeat of South Africa in Angola had a major impact, undermining the confidence of white South Africans that they could hold on to power indefinitely. The ANC had continuing support from the neighboring "frontline states" and could point to a peaceful transition to independence in Namibia in 1990, which South Africa had illegally occupied since 1946. Moreover, South Africa was under enormous strain due to international financial sanctions and ongoing instability inside the country. To fully explain the remarkable political settlement in South Africa, and to better understand how the country moved forward to build a new democracy, it is necessary to examine the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process.

 
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