History of elections in South Africa

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The South African general elections: 1989

The general election took place for all the seats in the tricameral Parliament (three chambers) under the 1983 Constitution. On 3 May 1989, State President, P. W. Botha announced the election would be held on 6 September 1989, chosen by the virtue of the expiry date on 5 September of Parliament’s normal term of five years. The 1989 general election marked the first time that White, Coloured (mixed-race) and Indian people were allowed to vote.

The ruling National Party (NP) under Acting State President F. W. De Klerk (who had succeeded Botha) campaigned in the 1989 election on a platform of organised reform and negotiation with Black leaders, and he insisted that group rights be guaranteed in a future dispensation.

The NP criticised the Conservative Party (CP) for advocating policies that had proved unworkable and unrealistic, and the Democratic Party (DP) for being "soft" on security, particularly with reference to left-wing groupings. The CP, led by Dr. A. Treurnicht advocated self-determination for and separation of groups, and proposed partition as the means to achieve self-determination and separation of groups. The DP, under the leadership of Zach de Beer, Denis Worrall, and Wynand Malan, contended that security and prosperity could only be attained by giving all citizens equal rights, which in turn would require the abolishment of all discriminatory measures.

All the political parties’ election campaigns were around the principle of participation in the system with a view of removing all discriminatory measures. The Mass Democratic Movement, an organization made up of anti-apartheid groups, organised a "Defiance Campaign" aimed at disrupting the election, discouraging voting and promoting a stay-away on voting day. The number of registered electors for the 1989 general election was 3 120 104, the number of voters was 2 167 929, the number of blank or invalid ballot papers was 10 336, and the number of valid votes was 2 157 593. The National Party (NP) obtained 1 039 704 votes, the Conservative Party (CP) obtained 680 131 votes, the Democratic Party (DP) obtained 431 444 votes, Herstigte Nasionale Party(HNP) obtained 5 416 votes, and the Independents obtained 898 votes.

The 1989 election was the last racially based South African general election. The NP won 93 seats, the Democratic Party (DP) of Zach de Beer, Denis Worrall and Wynand Malan won 33 seats and the Conservative Party of Andries Treurnicht won 39 seats in the 165-seat House of Assembly. The DP was created after the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) dissolved and regrouped to form Democratic Party (DP).

In February 1989, PW Botha resigned after suffering a stroke and he was succeeded by FW de Klerk. On 20 September 1989, FW de Klerk was sworn in as a President of South Africa.

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Last updated : 17-Apr-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Apr-2014