The emergence of South Africa's democracy in the 1990s The crisis of apartheid in the 1980s

Factors contributing to the crisis:

* A global economic crisis: In the 1980s there was a global economic crisis. As a result, the South African currency lost value, the gold price dropped; unemployment and inflation rates were high.

* The resistance movement gains momentum: The economic crisis, which ordinary people felt in the rising cost of living, gave momentum to the resistance movement for political change which grew dramatically. Trade union strikes, stay-a-ways, boycotts, factory occupations, and other forms of protest spread throughout the country.

*Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Zulu nationalist movement called Inkatha: The resistance issue was complicated by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Zulu nationalist movement called Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Inkatha resisted apartheid to some extent, but also opposed the African National Congress (ANC). Inkatha refused independence for Kwazulu which was offered to them by the National Party (NP). But hostility between Inkatha and the UDF often became violent confrontations.

* Apartheid was becoming more expensive to defend and maintain: For example, the government spent too much money on the military, and it was costing nearly R7 billion a year on defence. The Bantustans and the infrastructure of the complex bureaucracy of apartheid were also draining the economy.

* The skilled labour shortage: There was a serious shortage of skilled labour, which caused the economy to suffer. There were not enough artisans and apprentices to service modern industry. Racial colour bars meant that skilled labour was reserved for white workers only. The shortage of skilled labour pushed up the wages of skilled labourers. A white immigration council was set up in 1960 to recruit and assist skilled immigrants from England and Europe. By the mid-1980s, civil protests and the new laws that forced foreign nationals to participate in the military call-up meant that many skilled whites began to emigrate.

* The consumer population was too small: Apartheid laws kept most black people poor and reduced their purchasing power. The size of the white consumer population was too small to drive economic growth.

* Discontent as a result of income tax increases: To meet the high costs of Apartheid, the regime increased sales tax from 4% to 13%. In the 1980s, the income tax increase mostly affected white middle income earners. This created discontent among the supporters of the National Party. In 1982, for example, the Conservative Party broke from the National Party as it wanted to tighten that apartheid laws.

* The Apartheid regime wanted to force their neighbouring states to co-operate with them, therefore 'Total strategy' was extended beyond South Africa's borders into other countries in southern Africa: The SADF was used to brutally destabilise the region in order to weaken support for the banned ANC and to wreck the economies of black majority-ruled governments. The Apartheid regime wanted to force their neighbouring states to co-operate with them.

Civil wars were fuelled in Angola and Mocambique. UNITA was supported in Angola, Renamo in Mocambique, and the South African Defence Force (SADF) made occasional direct attacks on Lesotho, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

The SADF sent its troops onto the northern Namibian border to wipe out SWAPO guerrilla bases in southern Angola who opposed the South African occupation of South West Africa (Namibia).

The SADF also went into Angola to aid UNITA against the MPLA government. Cuban troops were sent to support the MPLA. In late 1988, a joint force of Cuban troops and the MPLA defeated the SADF and UNITA in the famous battle of Cuito Carnavale.

This was also a turning point in the defeat of apartheid in Namibia in 1989.

Although history is meant to be 100% factual, historians often differ about actual dates and interpretation of events. Their interpretations are often influenced by their backgrounds or their involvement/connection to the event. To read an example of an event that's details are often contested click here (Angola, the battle of Cuito Carnavale) | click here

The SADF also fought a war in Mocambique and supported Renamo against Somora Machel's Frelimo government. To read more | click here


* There was increasing lack of confidence - nationally and internationally - in the economic stability of South Africa: Investors became unsure of a good profit on their investments. In 1985, many foreign banks refused to roll over SA loans, and some private capital began to pull out of the country. Local white business leaders began calling for political reform as apartheid was no longer beneficial for their profits. Big companies like Anglo American began to suggest that economic growth required a political solution. Big business began to actively seek the removal of apartheid.

* The international community used trade sanctions and investment embargoes as their weapon to put pressure on the Apartheid state: Between 1970 and 1984 foreign investment began to decline, dropping by 30%.

* The actions of international anti-apartheid groups expanded in the 1980s with the aim of isolating Apartheid South Africa: For example, protest action led to South Africa's exclusion from Olympic participation and international sport. The sporting boycott became effective in the 1980's and probably hurt the morale of the government and white South Africans.

There was also an academic and cultural boycott, and a consumer boycott of South African Outspan oranges. 'Artists United against Apartheid' was an organisation of musicians who protested Apartheid.

Campaigns were organised for the release of political prisoners. Campaigning on behalf of Nelson Mandela was reinvigorated from the time of his 60th birthday in 1978 until his release in February 1990.
The Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert, held in 1988 in Wembley Stadium in London, was watched by a capacity audience of 72,000 and on television by a billion people in over 60 countries. The attention of the world was focussed very powerfully on the repressive racist Apartheid regime.

* The MK mobilises mass popular support: Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was the active military wing of the African National Congress. It initially attacked military and infrastructural targets, but later expanded to include urban guerrilla warfare, which included human targets. MK was not a military threat to the Apartheid regime, but was used by the ANC as part of its strategy to mobilise mass popular support .Evidence of the popular support MK had was the menacing and intimidating war dance or 'toyi-toyi' sung by thousands of unarmed 'comrades' as a cultural weapon of protest against the Apartheid regime.


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