Book 6: Negotiation, Transition and Freedom - Chapter 2 - Explaining the Miracle by Max du Preez

From the book: Book 6: Negotiation, Transition and Freedom commissioned by The Department of Education

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

- Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

More often than not, a group that has the monopoly of power in a country will only lose it through war or violent revolution. It is extremely rare in history to give up power voluntarily, for a group to negotiate itself out of power. Yet that was what happened between 1990 and 1994 in South Africa – the Whites-only National Party had had a firm grip on political and military power since 1948 but made a deal with the Black majority to establish a democracy and transfer power to the winner of the elections.

On 10 May 1994 Nelson Mandelastood on a stage in Pretoriadeclaring, “Free at last”. He had just been inaugurated as free South Africa’s first president. The same aircraft which had bombed his followers in neighbouring states did a fly-past to honour their new commander-in-chief. And next to the new president stood one of his deputy-presidents: F.W. de Klerk, leader of the National Party and former State President of apartheid South Africa.

What prepared the ground for the South African transition?

The world, South Africans included, called it a miracle. But what made that miracle possible? How did it happen that those who enjoyed power and privilege under apartheid negotiated it away?

Black South Africans’ resistance against apartheid was consistently squashed by the police, using wide-ranging security legislation. In March 1960 policemen killed 69 people and wounded 180 when they tried to stop a mass demonstration against the pass laws at Sharpeville. The massacre led to a hardening of attitudes on both sides. The government declared the African National Congressa banned organisation, and in the next few years imprisoned several senior ANC leaders on Robben Island. Leading members of the ANC and the South African Communist Partyformed a guerrilla army which later became the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

The White government felt secure because neighbouring Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) was run by a White minority under Ian Smith, Mozambique and Angola were ruled by the Portuguese, and Namibia (then South West Africa) was firmly under South African control. However, after a coup d’etatin Portugal in 1974, the Portuguese withdrew from Africa; Angola and Mozambique became independentunder the leadership of the former liberation movements. In 1978 the Security Council of the United Nationsadopted a resolution demanding Namibia’s independence, a resolution that gained increasing support over the years.

coup d’etat- a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government; (French) literally, blow of state

The resistance to apartheid simmered for a few years and burst into the open again on 16 June 1976when the Soweto students demonstrated against Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools; the demonstrations escalated into an open rebellion. In the aftermath of the uprisings large numbers of young people left for neighbouring states to join the ANC in exile.

After a long and bloody war of liberation, Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, with Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) as president. It was slowly becoming clear that White minority rule in South Africa could not last forever.

Prime Minister P.W. Botha soon came under strong pressure internally and externally to reform apartheid. His government’s response was to change the constitution to make provision for separate legislatures for Coloureds (House of Representatives) and Indians (House of Delegates). These chambers existed alongside the White House of Assembly.

The United Democratic Front was an alliance of over five hundred civic, labour, religious and community organisations, and subscribed to the same basic policy document as the ANC – the Freedom Charter.

Together, they became known as the Tri-cameral Parliament. P.W. Botha became State President, ruling over all three chambers. The continued political exclusion of Black South Africans triggered massive resistance and led to the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF)in 1983. Between 1984 and 1987 there were almost daily confrontations between security forces and UDF supporters.

The Botha government also unleashed clandestine units such as the police death squad at Vlakplaas outside Pretoria and the military dirty tricks team, the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). The country was on the brink of civil war.

In 1985 the National Party government came under such pressure that State President Botha announced that he was going to make a major declaration on a new way forward. The speech was advertised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a crossing of the Rubicon; it was expected to announce an end to the pass laws and the release of Nelson Mandela. When Botha delivered the speech, however, it failed to live up to these high expectations. The disappointment led to a period of international sanctions and isolation that threatened to cripple the South African economy.

The Chase Manhattan Bank in the United States executed its decision, made two weeks earlier, to stop rolling over loans to South African borrowers; other major financial institutions followed suit. This led to a falling of the rand and a flight of capital from the country. In 1986 the United States, the Commonwealth and the European Community imposed stiff political, economic and financial sanctions. Apartheid South Africa stood virtually alone, and experienced its worst financial crisis in decades.

crossing the Rubicon- point of no return. Origin: The Rubicon was the name of a small river marking the boundary between ancient Italy and Gaul (now France). When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army, he committed himself to war with the Gauls.

Why did sworn enemies agree to talk to one another?

It was around this time, most analysts agree, that the leadership on both sides started to realise that neither would be able to defeat the other militarily. The only other option was to negotiate. De Klerk and Mandela both indicate in their autobiographies that this realisation came in the mid-1980s, although Patti Waldmeir (1997) suggests that the military leaders of the ANC favoured a military solution until the late 1980s. Senior UDF leader, Mohammed Valli Moosa, told Waldmeir that the UDF had told the ANC leadership during this time that there was a stalemate.

In February 1986 the leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly, Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, shocked the White establishment when he resigned from Parliament. He said that the country was being torn apart and that Parliament’s reactions were irrelevant. A week later he was joined by the chairman of the Progressive Federal Party, Dr Alex Boraine.

To many activists in the UDF and the ANC, Slabbert’s resignation suggested that there could be an alternative to a violent conflict between a White power bloc and the Black majority. It seriously undermined the rigid distinction between “parliamentary politics” – meaning the Tri-cameral Parliament where all decisions were made – and “extra-parliamentary politics” – the political activities of the majority of South Africans.

Dissidents among the National Party’s main constituency, the Afrikaners, started to voice their protests in the late 1980s. In July 1987 a group of 60 mainly Afrikaans opinion formers had a week-long meeting with the exiled ANC leadership in Dakar, Senegal. The Botha government reacted angrily, accusing the group of making common cause with “terrorists”. The country’s Afrikaans newspapers and The Citizen attacked the group for legitimising the ANC.

The group said in an unpublished statement issued in Dakar after the talks had taken place,

We share a common belief that serious discussions with the ANC must form part of the search for the resolution of conflict and the transition towards a peaceful and just future. We believe that as a result of our conference in Dakar, we have demonstrated that such discussions can take place and that they can be constructive. We hope that what began in Dakar will continue inside and outside of South Africa and will eventually involve the South African government itself. In our discussions, we found that it was possible for South Africans, who are in many ways far apart, to have frank and cordial exchanges on crucial issues facing our country.

Graham Leach, a BBC journalist, said about the Dakar initiative at the time:

There was no major breakthrough towards peace; that had not been the object of the talks. But it was nevertheless a landmark. If one day the South African government does decide to negotiate with the ANC, it may only be possible because the Slabbert delegation, and others following, have paved the way. The mission to Dakar was the beginning of a process which will slowly make it acceptable and respectable for Afrikaners to talk to the ANC10(Leach: 1989,163).

Negotiation, Transition and Freedom

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