By the late 1970s, and especially as a result of the June 1976 uprising, the Apartheid government was forced to consider reforms to Apartheid policy, pressured by growing political resistance to the policies of separate development from various quarters: the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the resurgent trade union movement, and the re-emergence of Charterist groupings that coalesced into the United Democratic Front (UDF) by 1983. Other processes also added to the pressure for reforms: an increasingly effective sanctions campaign, boycotts against South Africa, and an economy more and more structurally constrained by the effects of Apartheid, among other things.
Social movements that were not overtly political also played a part in dissolving the central features of Apartheid. From the late 1970s, informal settlements were springing up in all the major cities, reflecting the inevitable urbanisation of the Black population and demonstrating the failure of the policy of influx control. Besides these, ‘grey areas’ were beginning to emerge, where African, Indian and Coloured people took up residence in formerly White areas, with the state’s coercive capacities too stretched to halt these moves.
Pressure for reforms arose from within the ranks of the White population: in the 1981 general election the Progressive Federal Party increased its vote to nearly a fifth of the Whites-only electorate, increasing its seats from 17 to 26. And even within the ruling NP itself was divided between verkramptes (hardliners) and verligtes (the enlightened), a fault line that would result in intense polarisation and a breakaway right-wing political party.
Verligtes were engaged in a process of introspection regarding their support for pure Apartheid, and part of this involved a reconsideration of their relation to the Coloured community, most of whom were Afrikaans speakers. The appeal of the BCM for many Indian and Coloured youth, who began to see themselves as Black instead of Indian or Coloured, also presented a problem for practitioners of divide and rule policies so integral to the Apartheid project.
The verligte/verkrampte fault line ran through several state institutions and committees, which saw them divided in their approach to reform. Within government, a State Security Cluster made up of verkrampte elements almost totally opposed to reforms, used reasons of ‘state security’ to halt whatever reforms were in the pipeline.