The year 1989 will go down as a watershed year in the struggle for a non-racial democracy in South Africa. If there is one event, which could be said to have ushered in this new phase of our history, it was the detainees' hunger strike.
Starting on 23 January 1989, nearly 1000 detainees, detained from one State of Emergency to another, took matters into their own hands and by their determined action forced open the detention cells. But they did more than that. They opened the floodgates to the resistance of the masses of South Africa after 4 years of oppression under Emergency rule.
The success of the hunger strike unleashed a new mood, a mood of open rejection of detentions, bannings, restrictions and other forms of state repression. A mood of open defiance against apartheid laws and the apartheid government.
While internal resistance must always be the engine for change in South Africa, it took the hunger strike to get that engine running again. Change took place in South Africa not because of any change of heart on the part of the state but because of the cumulative effect of both internal pressure and pressure from the international community.
The crisis within the structures of apartheid power which came into sharp focus during 1989 and which held great promise for a negotiated transformation of South African society to a democratic order, are described in extracts from the following HRC publications:
• HRC Review of 1989
• Days of Defiance (September 1989)
• Apartheid under Pressure (May 1990)
In the first part we consider 2 crucial events from the watershed year of 1989. We begin with a brief description of the national detainees hunger strike before examining the period immediately prior to the last all-white elections of 1989, which brought De Klerk to power. We then examine the defiance campaign and the repressive response of the state.
In the second part we extract a segment from a document written in May 1990 in which 3 questions are posed and answered. We asked whether repression was on the way out, whether apartheid was really being dismantled and finally what possibilities existed for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The largest ever protest by detainees against their detention began on 23 January 1989 when 20 State of Emergency detainees at Diepkloof prison began an 'indefinite' hunger strike demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees. The action sparked off a national wave of hunger strike protests by detainees, and solidarity action by people and organisations in South Africa and around the world.
By the end of March over 700 detainees had participated in the hunger strike protests. This was not the first time detainees had embarked on hunger strikes to demand their release. State of Emergency detainees in particular, increasingly frustrated by their seemingly endless detention, had embarked on numerous hunger strikes in the last few years. Between 23 January and 22 December 1989, the Human Rights Commission had recorded 53 hunger strikes involving 1429 State of Emergency detainees, 24 Section 29 detainees and 34 who were held under homeland legislation.
Most of the hunger strikes of previous years were sporadic, relatively short in duration and localised. The 1989 hunger strike wave, on the other hand, affected every part of the country, continued over many weeks and showed no signs of abating until the detainees' demands for their release were met.
The initial response of the minister of law and order was to dismiss the demands of hunger strikers and a refusal to be blackmailed. However, when it became apparent that the hunger strikes were turning into a crisis with major local and international implications for the South African government, minister Viok's attitude changed. The growing pressure for the release of detainees, the rapid spread of the hunger strike action and the deteriorating health of the hunger strikers forced the minister to act to defuse the situation. As a result of the pressure, the minister undertook to release a 'substantial number of detainees' over the following 2 weeks. By the end of the period the release of only 202 had been recorded by the Human Rights Commission and other monitoring groups.
In the storm of protest, which followed these limited releases, and with the intensification of the hunger strike by detainees, the minister was forced to accelerate the releases. By 31 March the minister claimed to have signed release orders for 650 detainees, while the HRC had records of under 500 releases. This process was still relatively slow, however, and some detainees who were becoming increasingly frustrated decided to take their fate into their own hands. The result was a spate of escapes by detainees from hospitals and subsequent taking of refuge in international embassies and consulates. This resulted in further world attention being focussed on the plight of the hunger strikers. At the same time, the hunger strike action had spread beyond the State of Emergency detainees and was now also focussing attention on the plight of Internal Security Act detainees. Despite stringent security measures and under conditions of great secrecy, a number of section 29 detainees added their voices to the action by joining the hunger strike. Clearly the determination of the detainees, combined with outside pressure forced the minister to retreat somewhat from his original position, resulting in a major victory for detainees.
1. The last all-white elections
On Wednesday 6 September 1989, the majority of South Africans will once again witness the election of a national government in which it has no say. This election takes place under a State of Emergency which has been in force for over 3 years; which prohibits freedom of speech, assembly and association and under which arbitrary detention without trial awaits anyone stepping over an invisible line drawn anywhere at any time by any member of the security forces.
In a move to put forward the real issues concerning the majority, the Mass Democratic Movement embarked on a defiance campaign launched at the beginning of August. The campaign has gathered momentum and has spread across the whole country embracing a wide range of issues.
The ingredients of the bitterness of the election and of the strong spirit of the defiance campaign have fed into the existing repression making the pre-election period a time of escalating detentions of activists, bannings of meetings, violent police action and attacks on people and property. Until Article 21 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights is implemented in South Africa and free and fair democratic elections are held, repression of the disenfranchised will always be part of an election, which excludes them.
There are 2 new factors on the South African political scene, which have had a major influence on events in the pre-election period. Firstly, there is the defiance campaign spearheaded by the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). Secondly, there is the crisis of the Nationalist government caught between appealing to the white electorate and its growing sensitivity to the opinion of the international community.
3. The defiance campaign
The MDM represents a broad front encompassing the United Democratic Front, the COSATU-affiliated unions and the church drawn together in their demands for the lifting of the State of Emergency, the unbanning of organisations and individuals and the formation of a non-racial democratic and unitary South Africa, amongst others. Its strategy has been to place the real issues facing the country in the foreground during this period to show to both South Africans and the world the irrelevance of the elections.
The campaign has essentially been two-pronged: to highlight the segregation of amenities and services, and to highlight the continuing restrictions on organisations and individuals, which make normal political activity impossible.
In respect of amenities and services, the campaign has reached into many spheres such as health, education and transport. There have been a series of organised public events to 1 'declare' facilities open to all races. For example, doctors sent black patients to white hospitals for treatment, black patients arrived at white hospitals for treatment and racially mixed groups of people boarded buses and used beaches. To protest against the restrictions, public meetings have been held where both organisations and individuals have declared themselves unrestricted. People have appeared in public wearing T-shirts proclaiming restricted organisations and people under restriction orders have attended functions openly in defiance of those restrictions.
There have also been public protests around the country on a variety of other issues, for example the curbs on the media, the detention of children, detentions generally and the Labour Relations Amendment Act (LRA).
At the beginning of August the first acts of defiance began with the action around health facilities. The events were peaceful. They were followed by protests at white schools, some of which were broken up by riot police. The first significant act of repression against the campaign came in the run- up to the sixth anniversary of the United Democratic Front on 20 August, at which restricted organisations were scheduled to declare themselves unbanned. The anniversary meeting was banned and on Friday 18 August, Mohammed Valli Moosa, the acting general secretary of the UDF, was detained from his office in Braamfontein. From this time onwards-violent police action has been reported on a daily basis.
The defiance campaign has been particularly strong in the Western Cape. It has also been the hardest hit in terms of brutal police repression. This must be seen in the light of the schools crisis that has been simmering in the Western Cape for the past 18 months. The crisis had begun to escalate approximately 6 weeks before the defiance campaign and has fed into the campaign in a series of disciplined and consistent demonstrations and protests. The severity of police repression in this area also indicates that police are acting not just against the campaign but also in an attempt to smash the well organised and highly motivated student organisation (Western Cape Students' Congress) which has been re-building itself despite being restricted.
4. Arrests and prosecutions
The state has responded to defiance actions in 2 ways: through police force and through arresting protesters and charging many of them. At least 1569 people have been arrested since the beginning of August.
Many people have been arrested and then released a few hours later without being charged. This has been an intimidatory tactic on the part of the police. Others were arrested for a few hours and interrogated about friends or planned actions. However, the majority of arrests have led to a clogging up of courts as people are charged with various offences. In some instances special courts have sat until midnight in order to process all the people who have been charged that day.
5. Banning of meetings
Throughout the period under review, many gatherings were not defined as meetings as such and were not therefore banned, but rather declared 'illegal gatherings' and were approached as such by the authorities. Fourteen specific meetings were banned, 5 prohibitions of meetings in certain magisterial districts or under the auspices of certain specified organisations were issued, 2 meetings were restricted and interdicts were issued against the bannings in 2 instances.
6. Media harassment
The Emergency regulations prevent journalists from:
* Filming, photographing or reporting on unrest or security force action in 'unrest', which includes unlawful gatherings and processions, without official permission.
* Publishing a 'subversive statement' - defined as a statement discrediting military service, promoting 'people's courts' and other alternative structures of power, urging illegal strikes and boycott actions, or assessing the effectiveness of such actions, or calling for the release of people detained under the Emergency.
* Reporting on the circumstances or treatment of an Emergency detainee, or giving information in connection with a detainee's release.
• Direct powers of censorship under the Emergency have been placed in the hands of state officials whose actions are effectively immune from judicial control. These powers have been exercised to seize and temporarily close down newspapers. Newspapers and publications exist under the constant threat of closure. Recently the state charged a number of newspapers of contravening the Internal Security Act and Emergency regulations.
On 1 September 1989 the South African Police issued an 'early warning' to the media to strictly comply with all media Emergency regulations. The warning follows on from frequent and continued harassment of journalists during this period. To date, 74 journalists have been arrested at different events throughout the country. Some of them face charges. They were all released after questioning. Some video cassettes, equipment and material have been confiscated. In one incident a police dog attacked a journalist during his arrest.
On 30 August journalists in Johannesburg and Cape Town held placard demonstrations to protest against the media regulations. There were no incidents reported from Johannesburg but 12 of the journalists mentioned above were arrested in Cape Town. On 2 September 50 journalists covering the protest march in Cape Town were arrested.
7. Police action against protesters
Against the background of threats by both the acting state president F.W. de Klerk and law and order minister Adriaan Vlok that police would not hesitate to take firm action against anti-government protesters, activists and organisations have been hard hit by heavy-handed police action against peaceful protests.
Police have made free use of teargas to quell the wave of protests. Other weapons used on occasions include shotguns; stun grenades, batons and water cannons. Ammunition used included buckshot, birdshot and rubber bullets. There is no discernible policy as to when the police are armed with what weapons and there appears to be no policy of 'minimum force'. On one occasion, policewomen were used to halt a march. The authorities held this up as proof of their commitment to avoiding violent confrontation but the exercise was not repeated. Reports were received of 46 meetings and protests, which were broken up by the security forces. In 2 instances kitskonstabels were sent in and in Vereeniging, where black mineworkers had occupied white married quarters, the SADF was called in to remove them.
Three questions are uppermost in the minds of those concerned with the situation in South Africa today. Is repression finally on the way out? Is apartheid really being dismantled? And what are the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict? They are questions which are closely interrelated and which require an integrated answer. The central issue in addressing these questions is the demise of apartheid (not its reform) and its replacement with a new democratic order. Let us look at each question in turn.
1. The current level of repression
Detention without trial for interrogation or 'preventive' purposes, barring access to the courts, lawyers, family or friends has been practised on a wide scale for 30 years. Over 75 000 victims have experienced the detention cells in that time, some for as long as 3 years. Over 50 000 of that number have been detained during the last 5 years, attesting to the extreme level of repression exercised during the State of Emergency. Today, detention without trial continues on a daily basis, it is happening as we speak. The numbers are in the hundreds rather than the thousands of the recent past and the current detainee population stands at between 400 and 500, including children under the age of 18. The long history of torture in detention has not ended as reports continue to come in.
Banning and restriction of persons (house arrest in its extreme form) is, since F.W. de Klerk's address to parliament on 2 February 1990, something of the past. However, the powers under the legislation are still intact and could be invoked at any time.
Political trials and imprisonment are at a level, which can only be described, as frenzied. During 1989, a record number of 395 known political trials were completed involving over 3000 accused, with 42 death sentences and 237 prison sentences of between 5 and 20 years. The year 1990 started off with over 250 political trials under way and looks set to exceed last year's record. The current political prisoner population is estimated at around 3000, of whom about 12% are 'security law' prisoners and the balances are 'unrest' prisoners convicted of such offences as public violence.
The government denies it conducts political trials or holds political prisoners but nevertheless announced through F.W. de Klerk's address of 2 February that those serving sentences simply for membership of previously banned organisations would be considered for release. Since that announcement there have been about 80 releases (including that of Nelson Mandela) only some of which complied with the stated condition and in many cases release was imminent anyway. This out-flow has also been partly nullified by the inflow from ongoing trials.
Political executions have since 2 February been suspended along with all other executions, pending a judicial reassessment of capital punishment legislation. The outcome of this reassessment is presently emerging but still leaves about 80 political prisoners on death row, uncertain of their fate.
Other repressive acts against persons have included denial or withdrawal of passports, banishment to remote areas and withdrawal of citizenship followed by deportation to a homeland. Most prevalent at the present time however is the 'listing' of persons under the ISA making it an offence, punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment, to quote any utterance, past or present, of any person on the list. There are over 300 persons currently gagged in this way, some deceased, some in exile, and some in prison.
Organisations are no longer banned or restricted since the address of 2 February. The unbanning of the ANC, PAC and SACP was certainly the most dramatic aspect of that address. However, the powers to ban or restrict organisations are still intact and could be brought into play at any time. Furthermore the United Democratic Front and the National Union of South African Students are prohibited in terms of proclamations issued under the Affected Organisations Act from receiving any foreign funding.
Freedom of assembly continues to be severely restricted, constituting a major source of conflict at the present time. On 1 April, the annual blanket ban on all outdoor political, gatherings without permission was renewed for the fifteenth consecutive year under the '. ISA. During late 1989 permission for protest marches, rallies, etc., began to be granted fairly readily and police seemed to be acting with restraint at such gatherings.
However, attitudes seem to have hardened again, permission for gatherings is frequently refused and in some areas the security forces have returned to their former use of extreme force in breaking up peaceful marches and demonstrations, resulting at times in heavy and unnecessary loss of life. A recent estimate is that 139 people have been killed and 1429 injured directly or indirectly by police action since the De Klerk address of 2 February. Such heavy-handed and irresponsible action carries the danger that; communities (and particularly the youth) struggling to articulate their grievances and aspirations will conclude that peaceful methods lead nowhere.
Media restrictions, reminiscent of wartime conditions, which were imposed under the SOE over the last few years, were relaxed to some extent on February 2. No longer is it forbidden to report on unrest situations or actions of the security forces by way of the printed or spoken word, but visual reporting is still prohibited. Furthermore, in practice, journalists are frequently ordered or removed from the scene of unrest under SOE regulations. No newspapers are currently banned or under the threat of suspension but the powers to act under the ISA are nevertheless still in place.
Political activity has escalated considerably since the highly successful detainee hunger strike and defiance campaign of 1989. Laws and regulations, which ban or restrict political campaigns, boycotts, stayaways and 'alternative' structures, have been largely disregarded. Security force response, as mentioned previously, has blown hot and cold but for some time now has returned decisively to its former brutality.
Having surveyed the scene of formal repression, we need to spend a short time looking at its ever present and more sinister accomplice, informal repression - the extension of repression into the realms of the semi-legal and the non-legal. Informal repression in the South African context is not new but received a tremendous boost during the P.W. Botha era of 'total strategy' devised to combat what was perceived as the 'total onslaught' against the bastions of apartheid. Army generals and police chiefs of the security establishment developed the National Security Management System, with the National Security Council at its head. In security matters the Council became more powerful than the cabinet itself. Its tentacles reached every level of society through Joint Management Centres by co-opting local councils, local industry, local business, etc. In this way anti-apartheid activists and organisations were identified, monitored, harassed and neutralised in various ways. Since the departure from the political arena of P.W. Botha, the role of the National Security Council has been downgraded and subordinated to the cabinet but the essential components of the National Security Management System are nevertheless still intact, even if in modified form.
Vigilante groups have their origins in the support systems, which have been built up around the unpopular apartheid-created structures of homeland authorities and of black local authorities. Their growth has been actively encouraged or tacitly condoned through thinly disguised support of the security forces and local police. The impression of so-called 'black-on-black' violence is easily created by such means. There is currently a high level of rejection amongst the black community of homelands and black municipal councils, which is generating a flurry of disruptive activity on the part of vigilante groups. The violent situation in Natal must be seen in this context.
Hit squads have now clearly emerged as an essential component of the 'total strategy'. There can be few who still doubt the existence of hit squads within the structures of the South African Police and of the South African Defence Force and that these squads have perpetrated a full spectrum of atrocities in the name of defending apartheid. If anything is still in doubt, it is the question of how high up the line command originates. Evidence emerging from the Harms Commission of Inquiry suggests the involvement of cabinet ministers, so that it will not come as a surprise to find that the State Security Council has guided and promoted this form of unconventional warfare. In the meantime, in spite of commissions of inquiry, hit squads continue their activities.
In summary, it must be said that all the powers of repression available to the apartheid regime are still intact and most of them continue to be exercised. The lifting of the State of Emergency alone will not signal the end of repression since virtually all of its awesome powers are available through the permanent legislation of the Internal Security Act.
2. The current status of apartheid laws and structures
Let us now turn to the question of whether apartheid is really being dismantled. We need to examine which racially discriminatory laws are still on the statute books and which administrative structures still exist to implement those laws.
The law basic to the entire system of apartheid, and from which all other laws derive, i-the Population Registration Act of 1950. This act presumes to identify and classify from birth each and every person as belonging to one of 4 distinct races. Racial classification then determines each individual's destiny from the cradle to the grave in terms of franchise, mobility, residential rights and social benefits and services provided by the state. It is a law built into the constitution and today stands firm as the foundation stone of the system of government.
The first consequence of racial classification is the specific exclusion of the black racial group from the vote for central government as provided for in the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act of 1983, in the latest form. To reinforce this exclusion, the Homeland Citizenship Act was introduced in 1970 to create so-called independent homelands, whereby many millions of blacks were declared citizens of these homelands and simultaneously deprived of their South African citizenship, such as it was. The absence of franchise for South Africa's 27 million blacks is still very much the situation today and is of course the most fundamental issue of all to be addressed if lasting peace is to become a reality.
The Native Land Act of 1913 and the Development Trust and Land Act of 1936 strictly limit access to land by the black population group. This legislation allocates 13.6% of the country's land area for 75% of the population and denies them ownership of land outside these allocated territories. During recent years these statutes have been frayed at the edges due to the refusal of millions of blacks to be herded into overcrowded | homelands and due to their settling into urban areas against all odds.
In recognition of the permanence of this urban black population, limited freehold housing rights have been permitted. Nevertheless the laws governing land ownership rights are intact to this day. Similarly, regarding rights of ownership, the rights of residential occupation within any area is strictly controlled by the notorious Group Areas ' Act of 1966 (first promulgated in 1950) and reinforced by the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1989 (first promulgated in 1951). This legislation is designed to effect a total social and residential separation of the 4 classified race groups. It, too, is suffering a measure of disarray as a result of the huge pressure of overcrowded urban populations spilling over into areas designated exclusively for white occupation. In an effort to manipulate legislation to accord with the realities of the situation, the South African government has been dabbling with such concepts as free settlement areas, which raise more problems and contradictions than they solve. In spite of this fancy footwork, the Group Areas Act reigns supreme and prosecutions for its infringement continue apace.
The quality of services and social benefits provided by the state is determined according to racial group by a complex web of legislation at first and second tier level. In the areas of education, health care and social welfare, facilities are segregated and grossly unequal, services are administered through separate state departments, and budgetary allocations are highly discriminatory. As a result, there is a chronic state of crisis in all of these areas, never worse than at the present time.
The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 is a law, which has come under considerable pressure and defiance in many of its aspects and seems due for repealing in the near future. It provides for the racial segregation of such public amenities as public transport, parks, beaches, swimming baths, resorts, caravan parks, hospitals, clinics, railway stations, post offices, banks and virtually any public area except a public road or street. Many of the provisions have fallen into disuse by default or executive decree within the main centres but many smaller towns continue to enforce them rigorously, protected and encouraged by the knowledge that the Act is still on the statute books. As the custodian of petty apartheid, the Separate Amenities Act represents the softest target for the proponents of reform strategy. Nevertheless, when state president De Klerk announced in late 1989 that the government had decided to repeal the Act at some time in the future, he qualified this announcement by saying that 'there are a few sensitive areas where the institution of fitting measures will be necessary when the Act is repealed'. Apartheid does not give up easily.
Having briefly outlined the racial laws still in place on the statute books, we can look at the government structures, which make and implement these laws and judge whether such structures are serving to perpetuate the apartheid system.
Central power is vested in the tricameral parliament; a structure that gives token representation to those classified as 'coloured' and 'Indian' but retains effective control in the hands of the white group. The population group classified as 'black' is totally excluded. This structure, which came into existence in 1984 amidst widespread protest leading to a State of Emergency, is essentially apartheid in concept in several senses. Firstly, it excludes three quarters of the population on racial grounds; secondly it is composed of 3 separate houses, each a different race group; and thirdly, effective control lies in the hands of the white minority representing less than 15% of the total population. One can say therefore that its legitimacy rating is 15% at best.
Black local authorities were introduced about the same time as the tricameral parliament and were intended to serve as a sop to the urban black population for their exclusion from central government by offering some form of representation at local government level. Elections to black councils have been virtually totally boycotted and those who accepted office regarded as sell-outs and collaborators, bent on lining their own pockets. The imposition of black councils without consulting the communities they purported to serve was the major factor, alongside the introduction of the tricameral parliament, in triggering off mass protest throughout South Africa, starting in 1984 and continuing to this day. Great pressure has been placed upon black councillors to resign and for the councils to be dismantled. In spite of councils being propped up by official security forces and unofficial vigilante groups, wholesale resignations and collapse of councils have taken place. At the present there is a strong resurgence of popular feeling against what are perceived as puppet structures and resignations are again on the increase.
The homelands are monuments to apartheid political and social engineering. The rationale for their creation was to provide the black population group with a means of expressing their political aspirations since this was forever to be denied them within 'white' South Africa at central government level. In fact, the homelands concept, besides attempting to address the issue of black political representation, also is intended to perpetuate the existence of docile labour reservoirs, control the flow of labour to the mines, industry and farms, and limit access of the black population to urban areas. Much has been written about the destruction of home life, the uprooting of whole communities, the impoverishment and overcrowding and many other consequences of this experiment in social engineering in which some 13 million people have been compressed into the patchwork of land pieces which make up the 10 homelands - 6 of them 'self-governing' and 4 of them 'independent'. Much has also been written about the way in which forced removals of the earlier years of some 3.5 million people, has given way more recently to forced incorporation by redrawing boundaries and also of the loss of South African citizenship by 8 million homeland citizens. Suffice it to say at this point that the homeland system is in a state of disintegration in the face of mass rejection by the inhabitants of the homelands themselves who have wearied of the corrupt, inefficient and repressive administrations of these puppet structures. There is now a widespread call for the reincorporation of these territories into a unitary South Africa, with some of the homeland leaders now even supporting this call, while others continue to resist it.
Returning to the original question of whether apartheid is really being dismantled, it is dear that the laws that underpin apartheid remain on the statute book and are still being implemented. That they are under considerable attack is apparent and if any dismantling is taking place it is as a result of the struggles and resistance by the victims themselves making both the laws and structures of apartheid unworkable.
It should, however, be borne in mind that apartheid must not be examined simply in terms of its statutory provisions. Apartheid has infected the very heart of our country through a complex web of institutions and structures. It is going to take a major effort by the people of South Africa, supported by the international community, to reverse this.
3. Prospects for a negotiated settlement
In spite of the stubborn persistence of repression and of apartheid laws and structures, there can be no doubt that a spirit of change is in the air and that very real possibilities exist for a negotiating process to get under way. Why, after so many years of turning a deaf ear to the voice of black demands, is there now an apparent willingness on the part of the white minority regime to come to the negotiating table? Does that willingness stem from a change of heart? Or does it come from pressures, which the regime is unable to resist? Two sources of intense pressure are easily discernible and undoubtedly account for the shift away from the deeply repressive 'total strategy' era dominated by the 'securocrats' towards an era of outreach determined by the politicians.
The first, and more fundamental source of pressure, is the mass resistance of the majority population to apartheid, resistance which reached boiling point at the imposition of the tricameral parliament and black local authorities, resistance which has survived the intensely repressive years of State of Emergency, resistance which expressed itself through the mass hunger strike of detainees and the defiance campaign of 1989, resistance which simply won't take no for an answer.
The second source, which arose out of the first, is the isolation, which descended upon the apartheid regime from the international community and in particular the deep economic crisis, which resulted from that isolation. It is that economic crisis which needs to be understood if the new strategy of outreach which slowly began to emerge 2 years ago with the withdrawal from Angola, is to be seen in its proper context.
The declaration of the first State of Emergency on 21 July 1985 precipitated a crisis of confidence on the part of foreign investors and particularly foreign bankers who were exposed to the tune of 24 billion US dollars, most of it short term loans. Their anxiety turned to panic when the South African government unilaterally declared a moratorium or 'standstill' on foreign debt repayment shortly thereafter in an attempt to stem the flood of capital pouring out of the country. In spite of negotiating a series of 3 favourable foreign debt repayment agreements with creditor banks since 1986 (the most recent in October 1989), the South African government has had to watch the huge capital sum of 12 billion US dollars flow out of the country during the past 5 years, and faces the prospect of a similar net outflow of capital during the next 4 to 5 years as the world's bankers demand repayment of their existing loans and decline to consider making any new loans until they perceive political and economic stability in the country. In addition to repayment of foreign loans, a considerable proportion of the capital outflow to date has been due to a flight of capital on the part not only of foreign investors but also and more especially on the part of South African businessmen who have devised ways, both legal and illegal, of transferring their assets abroad.
Can the apartheid economy survive such a huge capital haemorrhage? Clearly it cannot. The foreign exchange, which the capital outflow draws upon, can only come from 2 sources, namely balance of payments surpluses or from foreign reserves. South Africa has since 1985 been forced to run its economy on the basis of a surplus on its balance of payments which means driving up exports (not an easy task in the face of trade sanctions) and driving down imports which, in turn, has a depressing effect on an economy highly dependant upon imported technology and capital equipment. Surpluses over the last 5 years totalled a little over 10 billion US dollars, somewhat short of the outflow of 12 billion dollars. The shortfall obviously had to come out of foreign reserves held by the South African Reserve Bank in the form of gold and foreign currency (some foreign currency is also held by commercial banks). Figures released by the South African Reserve Bank reflect a drop in the value of foreign reserves over the last 2 to 3 years from about $3 billion to around $2 billion. This latter figure represents about 6 weeks import cover, regarded as a dangerously low level. But the official figures mask the full story. It is known that the South African Reserve Bank has access to short term bridging loans, probably against the security of pledging future gold production, which if deducted from the declared reserves, would show the nett foreign reserves to be negative for much of the time. In international terms the South African economy is in fact bankrupt and living from hand to mouth.
Nor are future prospects any brighter. In spite of the massive foreign capital bleeding that has taken place over the last 5 years, there has only been an effective reduction in the foreign debt of about 4 billion dollars. The total debt still stands at 20 billion dollars, o£ which 8 to 9 billion fall due during the 4 year period of 1990 to 1993, in of the apparently easy terms of the Third Interim Debt Arrangement of October last. The major hump occurs in this year, 1990, with as much as 2.5 billion dollars falling due in the months of May and June alone. Add to this daunting prospect the fact that flight of capital (other than debt repayments) still continues, although at a lower level than the avalanche of 1985/6.
The looming economic crisis must long have dawned upon the apartheid government as incapable of solution by any means other than a political one. That realisation led them out of Angola, out of Namibia and in the direction of negotiations with those whom they had subjugated or persecuted for so many years. In shifting direction, the politicians within the government must have prevailed over the securocrats and convinced them of the absolute necessity, in the interests of their own survival, of abandoning the doctrine of 'total strategy' and of seeking political solutions. Whether the securocrats remain convinced and will stick to the agreement is now in some doubt with the security forces again reverting to type and acting with great force against peaceful protest marches and demonstrations. This ideological tussle has still to run its course. In the meantime, as crunch point approaches, desperate efforts are being made by the government to gain international acceptance and in particular access to the international financial system.
As negotiation with the black majority becomes an imperative for the apartheid regime,' what will the substance of the negotiations likely to be and, in particular, how is the regime likely to respond to the demands which are being made? Both the demands and a process are set out in the Harare Declaration drawn up and adopted by the OAU ad-hoc Committee on 21 August 1989 and widely endorsed both nationally and internationally. Strong support for the Harare Declaration was effectively given by the United Nations General Assembly, which at a Special Session on 14 December 1989, adopted by consensus a resolution entitled 'Declaration on apartheid and its destructive consequences in Southern Africa'.
The Harare Declaration, after enunciating some of the principles on which a democratic order in South Africa could be based, proposes a process for a political settlement, which involves 4 distinct stages.
1. Creating a climate in which negotiations can take place. This involves the halting of repression and clearly the responsibility for this step lies with the government. The requirements are inseparable since it makes no sense to release political prisoners while continuing to hold political trials and generate new political prisoners. Nor can political trials be stopped without repealing the laws and measures, which give rise to such trials.
2. Ceasefire talks between the 2 conflicting sides to achieve a suspension of hostilities.
3. Actual negotiations could now commence and these would address the principles and mechanisms for dismantling apartheid and for creating a new, democratic order.
4. The transition process to be put into effect under the supervision of an interim administration and involving the holding of elections.
Only after the adoption of the new constitution does the Harare Declaration call for the lifting of sanctions by the international community. It says, in effect, that the pressures, which were responsible for making negotiations a possibility, should not be relaxed until their objective has been attained.
What of the apartheid government's responses to the demands for the lifting of political repression and the dismantling of apartheid? While there is undoubtedly a genuine commitment to change on the part of state president F.W. de Klerk and at least some of his government, is that change the same as the change demanded by the opponents of apartheid everywhere? So far, it seems that it is something substantially less which gives the uncomfortable feeling that a game is being played - a game to see how little can be given up while still securing a relaxation of pressure, both internal and international.
In the area of repression, the apartheid regime has very little room in which to manoeuvre, since without meeting very specific demands, negotiations will not even begin. The February 2 address to Parliament met the demands for the unbanning of organisations and people, temporarily suspended political executions and released a very limited number of political prisoners, but left all the other demands virtually untouched. However the Groote Schuur meeting between the government and the ANC on 2-4 May produced an agreement to address all of the remaining issues as a matter of urgency. So in the area of repression the signs are promising, but we must wait and see. Certainly, however, this is where the pressures are producing results.
In the area of apartheid laws and structures the situation is not so encouraging. The foundation stone of apartheid, the Population Registration Act, is in no immediate danger of being repealed, the argument being that it is central to the present constitution and can only disappear with the arrival of a new constitution. On the issue of the franchise, president De Klerk has very recently categorically rejected majority rule as an option, and his ministers still grope for phrases such as 'minority protection' to cover the entrenchment of group rights. Votes of equal value are talked about, but 2 parliamentary chambers are hinted at, with the upper chamber consisting of ethnic groups with power of veto. It is clear that any insistence by the regime on the question of group rights will bedevil the prospects for successful negotiations.
No direct response is forthcoming on the issue of the Land Act or the redistribution of land but on the issue of the Group Areas Act, president De Klerk stated on 19 April 1990 that it will be replaced 'possibly next year [by] something ... generally acceptable' to the 3 houses of parliament (which excludes the opinion of the black majority). The provision of state services and public amenities on racially discriminatory lines continues to crack under pressure such as authorising white hospitals to accept black patients because there is an over capacity of 11 000 beds in white hospitals and a shortage 7 000 beds in black hospitals. Henceforth, superintendents of these hospitals will decide whether or not to admit black patients to white hospitals. In this way the government is attempting to shift its responsibility. Insofar as government structures are concerned, the tricameral parliament, the black councils and the homelands administration are all being maintained in the face of fierce rejection but because of their unpopularity they are no longer being promoted with any enthusiasm. For example, the so-called self-governing homelands are no longer to be urged to take their 'independence'.
All in all, one is left with the impression that the apartheid government is moving forward under pressure but constantly looking for ways to maintain apartheid power under some new guise. Any let-up in pressure at this time would encourage that tendency.