South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk promises to free Nelson Mandela and legalizes ANC and 60 other political organisations


F.W. de

Friday, 2 February 1990

The decision by President FW de Klerk to release Nelson Mandela as well as unban political parties that had been banned previously may be argued to be the result of following factors. Firstly, South Africa had been isolated through international trade sanctions to the extent that the South African economy was severely handicapped, secondly, coupled with this, the multiple States of Emergency 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.

Thus the decision by de Klerk to initiate a process by which power could be transferred from a white minority to the majority of South African citizens may be considered a logical conclusion to a failed attempt at social engineering. However, the negotiated transfer of power that brought about democracy was not totally without obstacles. These ranged from an intensifying 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.

By promising to free Mandela and unban political organizations on the 2nd February 1990, some scholars have argued that de Klerk narrowly averted 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. 


  1. Sommer.H,(1996), From Apartheid to Democracy: Patterns of Violent and Nonviolent Direct Action in South Africa, 1984-1994,  Africa Today, Vol. 43, No. 1, Southern Africa in the Post apartheid Era (Jan. - Mar., 1996), pp. 53-76
  2. Klotz.A, (1996), Norms and Sanctions: Lessons from the Socialization of South Africa, Review of International Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 173-190  

Last updated : 02-Feb-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011