Term 4: Turning points in modern South African History since 1948

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For this complex period to be studied, the Sharpeville massacre, Soweto uprising and the release of Nelson Mandela and unbanning of liberation movements have been selected to gain a deeper understanding of South African History. These key turning points in South African history are a depiction of the conflict between the Government and the Black/ African population of the country, where the Sharpeville massacre occurred due to the resistance by the black population against pass laws that were implemented by the government; the June 1976 student uprisings were against the introduction of the Bantu Education Act and 1990 provided a significant turning point with the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of liberation movements.

Sharpeville massacre

At the annual conference of the African National Congress (ANC) held in Durban on 16 December 1959, the President General of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, announced that 1960 was going to be the "Year of the Pass." Through a series of mass actions, the ANC planned to launch a nationwide anti-pass campaign on 31 March - the anniversary of the 1919 anti-pass campaign.

A week later, a breakaway group from the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) held its first conference in Johannesburg. At this conference, it was announced that the PAC would launch its own anti-pass campaign.

The day of the Massacre, mourning the dead and getting over the shock of the event. © Baileys African History Archive (BAHA). Image source

Early in 1960 both the ANC and PAC embarked on a feverish drive to prepare their members and Black communities for the proposed nationwide campaigns. The PAC called on its supporters to leave their passes at home on the appointed date and gather at police stations around the country, making themselves available for arrest. The campaign slogan was "NO BAIL! NO DEFENCE! NO FINE!" The PAC argued that if thousands of people were arrested, then the jails would be filled and the economy would come to a standstill.

Although the protests were anticipated, no one could have predicted the consequences and the repercussions this would have for South African and world politics. An article entitled "PAC Campaign will be test," published in the 19 March 1960 issue of Contact, the Liberal Party newspaper, described the build up to the campaign:

The Pan Africanist Congress will shortly launch a nationwide campaign for the total abolition of the pass laws. The exact date on which the campaign will start is still unknown. The decision lies with the P.A.C. President, Mr. R.M. Sobukwe. But members say that the campaign will begin 'shortly - within a matter of weeks.'

At a press conference held on Saturday 19th March 1960, PAC President Robert Sobukwe announced that the PAC was going to embark on an anti-pass campaign on Monday the 21st. According to his "Testimony about the Launch of the Campaign," Sobukwe declared:

The campaign was made known on the 18th of March. Circulars were printed and distributed to the members of the organisation and on the 21st of March, on Monday, in obedience to a resolution they had taken, the members of the Pan Africanist Congress surrendered themselves at various police stations around the Country.

At the press conference Sobukwe emphasized that the campaign should be conducted in a spirit of absolute non-violence and that the PAC saw it as the first step in Black people's bid for total independence and freedom by 1963 (Cape Times, 1960). Sobukwe subsequently announced that: 

African people have entrusted their whole future to us. And we have sworn that we are leading them, not to death, but to life abundant. My instructions, therefore, are that our people must be taught now and continuously that in this campaign we are going to observe absolute non-violence.

On the morning of 21 March, PAC members walked around Sharpeville waking people up and urging them to take part in the demonstration. Other PAC members tried to stop bus drivers from going on duty and this resulted in a lack transport for Sharpeville residents who worked in Vereeniging. Many people set out for work on bicycles or on foot, but some were intimidated by PAC members who threatened to burn their passes or "lay hands on them" if they went to work (Reverend Ambrose Reeves, 1966). However, many people joined the procession quite willingly.

Early on the 21st the local PAC leaders first gathered in a field not far from the Sharpeville police station, when a sizable crowd of people had joined them they proceeded to the police station - chanting freedom songs and calling out the campaign slogans "Izwe lethu" (Our land); "Awaphele amapasti" (Down with passes); "Sobukwe Sikhokhele" (Lead us Sobukwe); "Forward to Independence,Tomorrow the United States of Africa."

When the marchers reached Sharpeville's police station a heavy contingent of policemen were lined up outside, many on top of British-made Saracen armored cars. Mr. Tsolo and other members of the PAC Branch Executive continued to advance - in conformity with the novel PAC motto of "Leaders in Front" - and asked the White policeman in command to let them through so that they could surrender themselves for refusing to carry passes. Initially the police commander refused but much later, approximately 11h00, they were let through; the chanting of freedom songs continued and the slogans were repeated with even greater volume. Journalists who rushed there from other areas, after receiving word that the campaign was a runaway success confirmed "that for all their singing and shouting the crowd's mood was more festive than belligerent" (David M. Sibeko, 1976).

By mid-day approximately 300 armed policemen faced a crowd of approximately 5000 people. At 13h15 a small scuffle began near the entrance of the police station. A policeman was accidently pushed over and the crowd began to move forward to see what was happening.

According to the police, protesters began to stone them and, without any warning, one of the policemen on the top of an armoured car panicked and opened fire. His colleagues followed suit and opened fire. The firing lasted for approximately two minutes, leaving 69 people dead and, according to the official inquest, 180 people seriously wounded. The policemen were apparently jittery after a recent event in Durban where nine policemen were shot.

Unlike elsewhere on the East Rand where police used baton when charging at resisters, the police at Sharpeville used live ammunition. Eyewitness accounts attest to the fact that the people were given no warning to disperse. Eyewitness accounts and evidence later led to an official inquiry which attested to the fact that large number of people were shot in the back as they were fleeing the scene. The presence of armoured vehicles and air force fighter jets overhead also pointed to unnecessary provocation, especially as the crowd was unarmed and determined to stage a non-violent protest. According to an account from Humphrey Tyler, the assistant editor at Drum magazine:

The police have claimed they were in desperate danger because the crowd was stoning them. Yet only three policemen were reported to have been hit by stones - and more than 200 Africans were shot down. The police also have said that the crowd was armed with 'ferocious weapons', which littered the compound after they fled.

I saw no weapons, although I looked very carefully, and afterwards studied the photographs of the death scene. While I was there I saw only shoes, hats and a few bicycles left among the bodies. The crowd gave me no reason to feel scared, though I moved among them without any distinguishing mark to protect me, quite obvious with my white skin. I think the police were scared though, and I think the crowd knew it.

Within hours the news of the killing at Sharpeville was flashed around the world. 

On the morning of 21 March Robert Sobukwe left his house in Mofolo, a suburb of Soweto, and began walking to the Orlando police station. Along the way small groups of people joined him. In Pretoria a small group of six people presented themselves at the Hercules police station. In addition other small groups of PAC activists presented themselves at police stations in Durban and East London. However, the police simply took down the protesters names and did not arrest anyone.

When the news of the Sharpeville Massacre reached Cape Town a group of between 1000 to 5000 protestors gathered at the Langa Flats bus terminus around 17h00 on 21 March 1960. This was in direct defiance of the government's country-wide ban on public meetings and gatherings of more than ten persons. The police ordered the crowd to disperse within 3 minutes. When protesters reconvened in defiance, the police charged at them with batons, tear gas and guns. Three people were killed and 26 others were injured. Langa Township was gripped by tension and in the turmoil that ensued, In the violence that followed an employee of the Cape Timesnewspaper Richard Lombard was killed by the rioting crowd.

The Langa March, 30 March 1960

On 30 March 1960, Philip Kgosana led a Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) march of between 30.000-50.000 protestors from Langa and Nyanga to the police headquarters in Caledon Square. The protesters offered themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passes. Police were temporarily paralyzed with indecision. The event has been seen by some as a turning point in South African history. Kgosana agreed to disperse the protestors in if a meeting with J B Vorster, then Minister of Justice, could be secured. He was tricked into dispersing the crowd and was arrested by the police later that day. Along with other PAC leaders he was charged with incitement, but while on bail he left the country and went into exile. This march is seen by many as a turning point in South African history.

On the same day, the government responded by declaring a state of emergency and banning all public meetings. The police and army arrested thousands of Africans, who were imprisoned with their leaders, but still the mass action raged. By 9 April the death toll had risen to 83 non-White civilians and three non-White police officers. 26 Black policemen and 365 Black civilians were injured – no White police men were killed and only 60 were injured. However, Foreign Consulates were flooded with requests for emigration, and fearful White South Africans armed themselves.

The Minister of Native Affairs declared that apartheid was a model for the world. The Minister of Justice called for calm and the Minister of Finance encouraged immigration. The only Minister who showed any misgivings regarding government policy was Paul Sauer. His protest was ignored, and the government turned a blind eye to the increasing protests from industrialists and leaders of commerce. A deranged White man, David Pratt, made an assassination attempt on Dr. Verwoerd, who was seriously injured.

A week after the state of emergency was declared the African National Congress (ANC) and the PAC were banned under the Unlawful Organisations Act of 8 April 1960. Both organisations were deemed a serious threat to the safety of the public and the vote stood at 128 to 16 in favour of the banning. Only the four Native Representatives and members of the new Progressive Party voted against the Bill.

In conclusion; Sharpeville, the imposition of a state of emergency, the arrest of thousands of Black people and the banning of the ANC and PAC convinced the anti-apartheid leadership that non-violent action was not going to bring about change without armed action. The ANC and PAC were forced underground, and both parties launched military wings of their organisations in 1961.

Soweto uprising

The June 16 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Students Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community. When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves. On 16 June 1976 between 3000 and 10 000 students mobilized by the South African Students Movement's Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.

On their pathway they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government. While the uprising began in Soweto, it spread across the country and carried on until the following year.

The aftermath of the events of June 16 1976 had dire consequences for the Apartheid government. Images of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led an international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. Meanwhile, the weakened and exiled liberation movements received new recruits fleeing political persecution at home giving impetus to the struggle against Apartheid. 

Bantu Education Policy

The word ‘Bantu’ in the term Bantu education is highly charged politically and has derogatory connotations. The Bantu Educational system was designed to ‘train and fit’ Africans for their role in the newly (1948) evolving apartheid society. Education was viewed as a part of the overall apartheid system including ‘homelands’, urban restrictions, pass laws and job reservation. This role was one of labourer, worker, and servant only. As H.F Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu Education Act (1953), conceived it:

“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community”

Pre-apartheid education of Africans

It is mistaken however, to understand that there was no pre-apartheid educational marginalization of black South Africans. Long before the historic 1948 white elections that gave the Nationalist Party power, there was a system of segregated and unequal education in the country. While white schooling was free, compulsory and expanding, black education was sorely neglected. Financial underprovision and an urban influx led to gravely insufficient schooling facilities, teachers and educational materials as well as student absenteeism or non-enrolment. A 1936 Inquiry identified problems, only to have almost nothing done about these needs.

Bantu education and the racist compartmentalizing of education.

In 1949 the government appointed the Eiselen Commission with the task of considering African education provision. The Commission recommended 'resorting to radical measures' for the 'effective reform of the Bantu school system'.

In 1953, prior to the apartheid government's Bantu Education Act, 90% of black South African schools were state-aided mission schools. The Act demanded that all such schools register with the state, and removed control of African education from the churches and provincial authorities. This control was centralized in the Bantu Education Department, a body dedicated to keeping it separate and inferior. Almost all the mission schools closed down. The Roman Catholic Church was largely alone in its attempt to keep its schools going without state aid. The 1953 Act also separated the financing of education for Africans from general state spending and linked it to direct tax paid by Africans themselves, with the result that far less was spent on black children than on white children.

In 1954--5 black teachers and students protested against Bantu Education. The African Education Movement was formed to provide alternative education. For a few years, cultural clubs operated as informal schools, but by 1960 they had closed down.

The Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959, put an end to black students attending white universities (mainly the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand). Separating tertiary institutions according to race, this Act set up separate 'tribal colleges' for black university students. The so-called 'bush' Universities such as Fort Hare, Vista, Venda, Western Cape were formed. Blacks could no longer freely attend white universities. Again, there were strong protests.

Expenditure on Bantu Education increased from the late 1960s, once the apartheid Nationalist government saw the need for a trained African labour force. Through this, more African children attended school than under the old missionary system of education, albeit grossly deprived of facilities in comparison with the education of other races, especially whites.

Nationally, pupil:teacher ratios went up from 46:1 in 1955 to 58:1 in 1967. Overcrowded classrooms were used on a rota basis. There was also a lack of teachers, and many of those who did teach were underqualified. In 1961, only 10 per cent of black teachers held a matriculation certificate [last year of high school]. Black education was essentially retrogressing, with teachers being less qualified than their students.

The Coloured Person's Education Act of 1963 put control of 'coloured' education under the Department of Coloured Affairs. 'Coloured' schools also had to be registered with the government. 'Coloured' education was made compulsory, but was now effectively separated from white schooling.

The 1965 Indian Education Act was passed to separate and control Indian education, which was placed under the Department of Indian Affairs. In 1976, the SAIC took over certain educational functions. Indian education was also made compulsory.

Because of the government's 'homelands' policy, no new high schools were built in Soweto between 1962 and 1971 -- students were meant to move to their relevant homeland to attend the newly built schools there. Then in 1972 the government gave in to pressure from business to improve the Bantu Education system to meet business's need for a better trained black workforce. 40 new schools were built in Soweto. Between 1972 and 1976 the number of pupils at secondary schools increased from 12,656 to 34,656. One in five Soweto children were attending secondary school.

Oppression through inferior education and the 1976 Soweto uprising

An increase in secondary school attendance had a significant effect on youth culture. Previously, many young people spent the time between leaving primary school and obtaining a job (if they were lucky) in gangs, which generally lacked any political consciousness. But now secondary school students were developing their own. In 1969 the black South African Student Organization (SASO) was formed.

Though Bantu Education was designed to deprive Africans and isolate them from 'subversive' ideas, indignation at being given such 'gutter' education became a major focus for resistance, most notably in the 1976 Soweto uprising. In the wake of this effective and clear protest, some reform attempts were made, but it was a case of too little, too late. Major disparities in racially separate education provision continued into the 1990s.

When high-school students in Soweto started protesting for better education on 16 June 1976, police responded with teargas and live bullets. It is commemorated today by a South African national holiday, Youth day, which honors all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education.

In the 1980s very little education at all took place in the Bantu Education system, which was the target of almost continuous protest. The legacy of decades of inferior education (underdevelopment, poor self-image, economic depression, unemployment, crime, etc.) has lasted far beyond the introduction of a single educational system in 1994 with the first democratic elections, and the creation of the Government of National Unity.

Strikes in the Schools

Presumably, not all students of the earlier generation 'worshipped the school authorities'! The first, recorded stoppages of lessons, (always called strikes in the South African newspapers), and the first riots in African schools occurred in 1920. In February, students at the Kilnerton training centre went on a hunger strike 'for more food'... read on

Cape Schools Join the Revolt

The school students in Cape Town reacted to the news they heard of events in Soweto. A teacher at one of the Coloured schools was later to write: 'We haven't done much by way of teaching since the Soweto riots first began. Kids were restless, tense and confused. 'There is no similar record of what the African children thought, but it is known that they were aware of the extra police patrols that were set up in the townships following June 16. After the first shootings in Cape Town, a teacher at one of the schools recounted...read on

The NUSAS Issue

Throughout the 1960's black students campaigned for the right to affiliate to the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and just as steadfastly, the move was vetoed by the campus authorities. NUSAS was also keen to welcome the colleges into their fold. Not only would this make it the largest student organisation in the country, but it would also bring into the liberal ''old all student opponents of the government's apartheid policy.... read on

Down with Afrikaans

Countdown to conflict: The main cause of the protests that started in African schools in the Transvaal at the beginning of 1975 was a directive from the Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as one of the languages of instruction in the department's secondary schools... read on

The introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction is considered the immediate cause of the Soweto uprising, but there are a various factors behind the 1976 student unrest. These factors can certainly be traced back to the Bantu Education Act introduced by the Apartheid government in 1953. The Act introduced a new Department of Bantu Education which was integrated into the Department of Native Affairs under Dr Hendrik F. Verwoerd. The provisions of the Bantu Education Act and some policy statements made by the Bantu Education Department were directly responsible for the uprisings. Dr Verwoerd, who engineered the Bantu Education Act, announced that “Natives (blacks) must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans (whites) is not for them”.

Although the Bantu Education Act made it easier for more children to attend school in Soweto than it had been with the missionary system of education, there was a great deal of discontent about the lack of facilities. Throughout the country there was a dire shortage of classrooms for Black children. There was also a lack of teachers and many of the teachers were under-qualified. Nationally, pupil-to-teacher ratios went up from 46:1 in 1955 to 58:1 in 1967. Because of the lack of proper classrooms and the crippling government homeland policy, students were forced to return to “their homelands” to attend the newly built schools there.

The government was spending far more on White education than on Black education; R644 was spent annually for each White student, while only R42 was budgeted for a Black school child. In 1976 there were 257 505 pupils enrolled in Form 1 at high schools which had a capacity for only 38 000 students.

To alleviate the situation pupils who had passed their standard six examinations were requested to repeat the standard. This was met with great resentment by the students and their parents. Although the situation did not lead to an immediate revolt, it certainly served to build up tensions prior to the 1976 student uprising.

In 1975 the government was phasing out Standard Eight (or Junior Certificate (JC)). By then, Standard Six had already been phased out and many students graduating from Primary Schools were being sent to the emerging Junior Secondary Schools. It was in these Junior Secondary schools that the 50-50 language rule was to be applied.

The issue that caused massive discontent and made resentment boil over into the 1976 uprising was a decree issued by the Bantu Education Department. Deputy Minister Andries Treurnicht sent instructions to the School Boards, inspectors and principals to the effect that Afrikaans should be put on an equal basis with English as a medium of instruction in all schools. These instructions drew immediate negative reaction from various quarters of the community. The first body to react was the Tswana School Boards, which comprised school boards from Meadowlands, Dobsonville and other areas in Soweto. The minutes of the meeting of the Tswana School Board held on 20 January 1976 read:

 "The circuit inspector told the board that the Secretary for Bantu Education has stated that all direct taxes paid by the Black population of South Africa are being sent to the various homelands for educational purposes there. 

"In urban areas the education of a Black child is being paid for by the White population, that is English and Afrikaans speaking groups. Therefore the Secretary for Bantu Education has the responsibility of satisfying the English and Afrikaans-speaking people. Consequently, as the only way of satisfying both groups, the medium of instruction in all schools shall be on a 50-50 basis.... In future, if schools teach through a medium not prescribed by the department for a particular subject, examination question papers will only be set in the medium with no option of the other language".

Teachers also raised objections to the government announcement. Some Black teachers, who were members of the African Teachers Association of South Africa, complained that they were not fluent in Afrikaans. The students initially organised themselves into local cultural groups and youth clubs. At school there was a significant number of branches of the Students Christian Movements (SCMs), which were largely apolitical in character. SASM penetrated these formations between 1974 and 1976. And when conditions ripened for the outbreak of protests, SASM formed an Action Committee on 13 June 1976, which was later renamed the Soweto Student Representative Council (SSRC). They were conscientised and influenced by national organisations such as the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC), South African Student Organisations (SASO)and by the Black Consciousness philosophy. They rejected the idea of being taught in the language of the oppressor.

The uprising took place at a time when liberation movements were banned throughout the country and South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. The protest started off peacefully in Soweto but it turned violent when the police opened fire on unarmed students. By the third day the unrest had gained momentum and spread to townships around Soweto and other parts of the country. The class of 1976 bravely took to the streets and overturned the whole notion that workers were the only essential force to challenge the apartheid regime. Indeed, they succeeded where their parents had failed. They not only occupied city centres but also closed schools and alcohol outlets.

June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising

The introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction is considered the immediate cause of the Soweto uprising, but there are a various factors behind the 1976 student unrest. These factors can certainly be traced back to the Bantu Education Act introduced by the Apartheid government in 1953. The Act introduced a new Department of Bantu Education which was integrated into the Department of Native Affairs under Dr Hendrik F. Verwoerd. The provisions of the Bantu Education Act and some policy statements made by the Bantu Education Department were directly responsible for the uprisings. Dr Verwoerd, who engineered the Bantu Education Act, announced that “Natives (blacks) must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans (whites) is not for them”.

Although the Bantu Education Act made it easier for more children to attend school in Soweto than it had been with the missionary system of education, there was a great deal of discontent about the lack of facilities. Throughout the country there was a dire shortage of classrooms for Black children. There was also a lack of teachers and many of the teachers were under-qualified. Nationally, pupil-to-teacher ratios went up from 46:1 in 1955 to 58:1 in 1967. Because of the lack of proper classrooms and the crippling government homeland policy, students were forced to return to “their homelands” to attend the newly built schools there.

The government was spending far more on White education than on Black education; R644 was spent annually for each White student, while only R42 was budgeted for a Black school child. In 1976 there were 257 505 pupils enrolled in Form 1 at high schools which had a capacity for only 38 000 students.

To alleviate the situation pupils who had passed their standard six examinations were requested to repeat the standard. This was met with great resentment by the students and their parents. Although the situation did not lead to an immediate revolt, it certainly served to build up tensions prior to the 1976 student uprising.

In 1975 the government was phasing out Standard Eight (or Junior Certificate (JC)). By then, Standard Six had already been phased out and many students graduating from Primary Schools were being sent to the emerging Junior Secondary Schools. It was in these Junior Secondary schools that the 50-50 language rule was to be applied.

The issue that caused massive discontent and made resentment boil over into the 1976 uprising was a decree issued by the Bantu Education Department. Deputy Minister Andries Treurnicht sent instructions to the School Boards, inspectors and principals to the effect that Afrikaans should be put on an equal basis with English as a medium of instruction in all schools. These instructions drew immediate negative reaction from various quarters of the community. The first body to react was the Tswana School Boards, which comprised school boards from Meadowlands, Dobsonville and other areas in Soweto. The minutes of the meeting of the Tswana School Board held on 20 January 1976 read:

 "The circuit inspector told the board that the Secretary for Bantu Education has stated that all direct taxes paid by the Black population of South Africa are being sent to the various homelands for educational purposes there. 

"In urban areas the education of a Black child is being paid for by the White population, that is English and Afrikaans speaking groups. Therefore the Secretary for Bantu Education has the responsibility of satisfying the English and Afrikaans-speaking people. Consequently, as the only way of satisfying both groups, the medium of instruction in all schools shall be on a 50-50 basis.... In future, if schools teach through a medium not prescribed by the department for a particular subject, examination question papers will only be set in the medium with no option of the other language".

Teachers also raised objections to the government announcement. Some Black teachers, who were members of the African Teachers Association of South Africa, complained that they were not fluent in Afrikaans. The students initially organised themselves into local cultural groups and youth clubs. At school there was a significant number of branches of the Students Christian Movements (SCMs), which were largely apolitical in character. SASM penetrated these formations between 1974 and 1976. And when conditions ripened for the outbreak of protests, SASM formed an Action Committee on 13 June 1976, which was later renamed the Soweto Student Representative Council (SSRC). They were conscientised and influenced by national organisations such as the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC), South African Student Organisations (SASO)and by the Black Consciousness philosophy. They rejected the idea of being taught in the language of the oppressor.

The uprising took place at a time when liberation movements were banned throughout the country and South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. The protest started off peacefully in Soweto but it turned violent when the police opened fire on unarmed students. By the third day the unrest had gained momentum and spread to townships around Soweto and other parts of the country. The class of 1976 bravely took to the streets and overturned the whole notion that workers were the only essential force to challenge the apartheid regime. Indeed, they succeeded where their parents had failed. They not only occupied city centres but also closed schools and alcohol outlets.

The release of Nelson Mandela and unbanning of liberation movements The announcement by President FW de Klerk to release Nelson Mandela and unban the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other liberation movements was  received with mixed feelings inside and outside Parliament. Black and White South Africans celebrated the news as they were optimistic that the country was taking a turn for the better.  In Cape Town, Archbishop Mpilo Desmond Tutu was at St George's Cathedral with his congregation ready to celebrate an event he considered as the Second Coming.

It is believed that de Klerk’s decision to release Mandela and to unban political parties was the result of the following factors. Firstly, South Africa had been isolated through international trade sanctions to the extent that the South African economy was severely handicapped.  Coupled with this, the multiple States of Emergency measures enacted by the Apartheid State had consistently failed to quell the uprisings. Lastly South Africa was almost totally isolated from the international community in terms of cultural and sporting events.

This milestone was followed by tension-driven negotiations aimed at transferring power from white minority to the majority of South Africans. Though it brought about democracy, this journey was not totally without obstacles. These ranged from intensification of political violence in some parts of South Africa to unilateral declarations by some groups to break away from South Africa and form their own homelands. Some scholars have argued that de Klerk narrowly avoided a civil war that would have been severely detrimental to the country and the region as a whole. The decision taken by de Klerk was not an easy one, as he faced opposition not only from the political opponents, but also from his own party (National Party).

Last updated : 10-Nov-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 29-May-2011