How the crises were managed - negotiation, conflict, compromise, settlement, elections

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After Mandela was released and political parties were unbanned, the National Party was still in control of the country. In the first weeks after Mandela's release, many predicted that there would be a new non-racial constitution and a new democratic government by the end of 1990.

The scale and scope of the transformation was an extremely complex task. A political analyst, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, aptly said that trying to move from apartheid to democracy was "like changing the engines of a Boeing 747 in mid-air!ÁƒÂ¢Á¢Â‚¬

With the benefit of hindsight, the transition from apartheid to democracy appears smooth. However, the new democracy was bitterly negotiated with many compromises on both sides. The period 1990 to 1994 was marked by appalling unforeseen violence. The atmosphere in the country was tense. Many people predicted a civil war.

A settlement was finally reached and the first democratic election eventually took place in April 1994.

Many lives were lost during the process, and from the start of negotiations in mid 1990 to elections in April 1994, 14 000 died and 22 000 were injured.


CODESA I: December 1991

Formal negotiations began at The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). CODESA I was preceded by three key meetings between the South African government and the ANC to prepare the way:

  • 4 May 1990: Groote Schuur Minute

  • 6 August 1990: The Pretoria Minute

  • 14 September 1991: The National Peace Accord was signed by representatives of twenty-seven political organisations and national and homeland governments. They pledged themselves to greater tolerance towards each other. The police were reminded of their duty to protect the people of South Africa irrespective of race, religion, political affiliation and gender

CODESA I was the first plenary session of the formal negotiations.

Plenary: An assembly attended by all members who form part of a forum or discussion.

CODESA I began on 20 December 1991 at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park. Nineteen groups were represented at CODESA, including:

  • South African government

  • National Party

  • African National Congress

  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi did not personally participate, as his demands for additional delegations of the KwaZulu Bantustan and the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini were declined. The IFP was therefore represented by Frank Mdlalose).

  • Democratic Party

  • South African Communist Party

  • South African Indian Congress

  • Coloured Labour Party

  • Indian National People's Party

  • Solidarity Party

  • Leaders of the 'independent' Bantustans of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and Venda.

The right-wing white Conservative Party and the left-wing Pan Africanist Congress boycotted CODESA.

Whites only referendum: March 1992

The credibility of De Klerk's government among whites was uncertain. Ventersdorp was a white right wing stronghold, and the home town of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre'Blanche. The AWB was an armed paramilitary group. In 1991 President F.W. de Klerk was scheduled to speak at the Ventersdorp Town Hall.

AWB supporters showed up at the meeting with weapons. In the confrontation which ensued, three AWB members and one passer-by were killed. Six policemen, 13 AWB members, and 29 civilians were injured. It was the first time in the 43 years of apartheid that white police officers killed white protesters.

In the period between CODESA I and CODESA II in early 1992, the National Party lost three by-elections to the Conservative Party.

A by-election is a special election held to elect a Member of Parliament in a seat that has become vacant between general elections.

If his position was not supported by his own white constituency, the negotiations could not work. De Klerk announced a 'whites only' referendum to test white opinion on reform and negotiations.

A referendum or plebiscite is a direct vote in which the electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal.

The National Party warned the white voters that a 'no' vote would mean continued tough international sanctions, and civil war.

Big business leaders collected funds to promote a 'yes' vote. White sports enthusiasts, who were normally conservative, desperately wanted to re-enter international competitive sport arena. They too encouraged a 'yes' vote.

The ANC recognised the need for a 'whites only' referendum. It was clear that a 'no' vote would be fatal to the negotiating process and the ANC actively campaigned for a 'yes' vote.

On the other hand, the Conservative Party played on white racial prejudices, and tried to scare white voters to vote 'no' with old 'swart gevaar' (black danger) propaganda.

The result of the referendum was a landslide 'yes'. De Klerk had the mandate he needed. Whites had indicated their willingness to give up their monopoly on political power. De Klerk could not longer use the excuse of white conservative opinion to procrastinate in moving towards a non-racial election.

CODESA II: May 1992

Formal negotiations were renewed at CODESA II (the second plenary session). CODESA II took place in May 1992, but did not last long.

In June 1992, violence erupted in Boipatong, a township near Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng. The township had been established in 1955 to house black residents who worked in Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging. Trouble had been brewing for months. Evidence suggested that a military style operation was being conducted from the Kwa Madala Hostel.



In an affidavit, one of the residents of the Kwa Madala Hostel said:

"I am unemployed, as are several of the other residents of the hostel. We are supported by those residents who are employed. Although the Kwa-Madala Hostel is owned by Iscor, only some of the residents work at Iscor. Some work at other factories and, as mentioned above, the rest are unemployed. All the residents of the Kwa-Madala Hostel are members of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Amongst the residents there are individuals whom are leaders of the Inkatha Freedom Party... A system exists at the Kwa-Madala Hostel whereby each resident becomes part of a 'unit'. I was placed in a unit consisting of four members.

I was trained in the use of weapons... Every resident is trained in the use of weapons. I am aware that other members of other units were also trained in the use of weapons.

I have seen many arms and ammunition stored at the Kwa Madala Hostel. Meetings were held every Tuesday and Thursday. At these meetings, we were informed when new weapons had arrived.

The arms are brought by members of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who arrive at the hostel from Natal. I have seen them arrive with AK 47s and spears with poisoned tips.

Some of those who arrive come to the area to work. However, others come to carry out missions and attacks in the local township. Others come to bring arms and then leave.

During the four months that I have lived at the Kwa Madala Hostel, I have seen units being sent out on missions. However, I have not known exactly where they have been sent to or what missions they have carried out".

Extracts from:

Urgent appeals were made to the authorities about threatening violence in Boipatong, but no action was taken.

Armed members of the Inkatha Freedom Party residing at Kwa Madala hostel (situated in the ISCOR Compound) with the assistance of the police, attacked the residents of Boipatong killing about 46 people in what became known as the Boipatong Massacre.

Mandela accused De Klerk's government of complicity in the attack and withdrew the ANC from the negotiations, leading to the end of CODESA II.

Last updated : 10-Mar-2015

This article was produced by South African History Online on 22-Mar-2011

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