South Africa in the 1980’s

South Africa in the 1980's

The racist system inspired by apartheid (separation), which had distant origins in the history of the South Africa and which took an organic form in the institutional setting especially after 1948 with the rise to power of the National Party, representative of the Boer people and its idea of nation (Afrikanerdom), underwent a reform process in the 1980s which in 1990 resolutely embarked on the path of dismantling racism, aiming at the establishment of multi-ethnic democracy. The initiative was taken by the National Party itself under the direction of PW Botha, who succeeded BJ Vorster in 1978 as head of the government and became head of state in 1984, with the adoption of a new Constitution, which provided for the figure of the executive chairman. A review of apartheid ruleshad pushed, on the one hand, the struggle of the anti-racist movement and international pressure, on the other, the need for a better exploitation of resources in the moment of transition from an intensive exploitation of the workforce to a more rational use of all potential, qualifications and responsibilities for production and the market. In concrete terms, in addition to a lightening of apartheid in public services and places and the abolition of the law that prohibited sexual relations and marriages between people of different races, some restrictions on access to jobs were removed, an albeit limited right of strike and trade unions were also authorized for Africans. You hate Pass Laws, which required blacks a permit also for internal travel, were abolished, and in 1986 an identity document equal for all was established. The government did not, however, repeal the Group Areas Act, which set residency by race. The program of the Bantustans, the territories to which Africans should have been relegated on the basis of ethnic-linguistic affiliation, continued (four homelands were proclaimed ” independent ”: the Transkei in 1976, the Bophuthatswana in 1977, the Venda in 1979, the Ciskei in 1981), but it was slowed down and there was talk of restoring South African citizenship to Africans destined for the Bantustans. The 1984 Constitution introduced parliamentary representation for the two intermediate racial groups with two separate chambers for the coloureds (mestizos) and the Asians. Whites were hoping to broaden the basis of consensus in this way, but the discrimination against the majority of the country stood out even more clearly, although Botha implied that the government was thinking of introducing some form of representativeness for blacks in due course. The reform process was accompanied by serious episodes of violence, which were exploited by the authorities, in order both to keep the process under control by denying Africans any effective space for action, and to show the white extremists that without reforms the South Africa would have sunk into civil war.

At the same time, the South Africa conducted a policy of systematic destabilization throughout the region to dissuade neighboring states from helping the anti-racist movement. The independence of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) in 1980 had by now reduced the ” defenses ” against independent Africa to Namibia alone. Not convinced by “ reformism from above ”, the Africans intensified the struggle, with its epicenter in the black ghetto cities, the so-called townships: it was a struggle for both national and class liberation, which partly crossed the same black community (radicals against moderates, ” comrades ” against ” collaborators ”)., approved in 1955 and amended in 1969, which advocated the creation of a multi-ethnic democratic state, and the ” Africanist ” component, which rejected, at least in that phase, any mixture with whites, considering them too compromised with the politics of oppression. In 1983 the United Democratic Front (UDF) was born, an umbrella organization that brought together a few hundred associations of all races, Churches, committees, trade unions, which referred to the Freedom Charter and which had the African National as their referent. Congress (ANC), outlawed in 1960. An even broader front was the Mass Democratic Movement. The Africanist front created a similar organization in 1989: the Pan-Africanist Movement, linked to the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and ‘black consciousness’ type groups. The Inkatha operated by itself, directed by G. Buthelezi, the controversial leader of KwaZulu, rooted among the Zulus of Natal: the Inkatha refused the armed struggle for reasons of expediency and tried not to get involved in the politics of the regime, but frequent there were clashes, even bloody, with the militants of the UDF, in which ethnic rivalries and social tensions were mixed, in a struggle that had as its aim the control of the territory of the cities and of the workplaces. For South Africa public policy, please check

An attempt to recompose the whole front at the end of 1989 failed because Pan-Africanists and Inkatha, perhaps wary of the ANC hegemony, escaped the plenary assembly. A fundamental role was played by the trade union, which had reorganized itself in 1984 but which in turn presented the split between the democratic wing and the Africanist wing. Finally, the Christian Churches were active: the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, D. Tutu, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. The organized and more often spontaneous combativeness against racism and the white regime, resulted in a real mass movement, it was severely repressed, and in 1986 the government proclaimed a state of emergency, then revoked and reintroduced several times. The ANC alternated the armed struggle, expressed in attacks (officially only against military or strategic targets) and in permanent mobilization, with the diplomatic offensive, apartheid).

On the international level, after the tightening of sanctions and the divestment decided by Europe and the USA in 1985-86, the isolation of the South Africa objectively eased. In 1984 Pretoria signed agreements with Mozambique and Angola, forced to limit their support for anti- apartheid forces, and in 1988 he concluded the agreement on the withdrawal of his troops and Cubans from Angola and on the independence of Namibia. The National Party confirmed itself as the absolute majority party in the 1989 general elections, in which it won 93 seats, leaving 39 to the far-right party (the Conservative Party, which had its stronghold in the Transvaal), and 33 to the Democratic Party, which it expressed the liberal soul of the community of English origin. The overwhelming power of the nationalists was reduced and the ratio of seats was not even proportional to the suffrage due to the uninominal system. The two Houses of Colors and Asians were elected in 1984 and renewed in 1989 with low voter turnout.

In 1989 Botha left the leadership of the state and the party following an illness. He was succeeded by FW De Klerk, who accelerated the exchange process, with a series of measures that launched an unconditional negotiation that ended up repealing the racist legislation, formally and definitively disavowing the ideology and politics of segregation. The most famous political prisoners were released. On February 2, 1990, there was a turning point of historic significance when the government legalized the ANC, the PAC and the Communist Party, and announced the release of all political prisoners, including the most famous of them, N. Mandela, with whom the the government had long ago engaged in discreet conversations to settle the historic quarrel between whites and blacks. After initial difficulties, with the ANC reluctant to give up the weapon of the armed struggle, the negotiations took the form of a national convention for democracy open to all political forms. The main interlocutors were the National Party and the ANC, with the Inkatha in an intermediate or disturbing position in defense of the particularity of the Zulu. The principle of universal suffrage could no longer be denied even if a system of administrative decentralization was introduced as a corrective one which guarantees a certain autonomy to the provinces into which the South Africa has been divided (the Bantustans have been suppressed as such and have been reincorporated to all effects in the state structure). The free and universal elections of April 1994 sanctioned the affirmation of the ANC (with the National Party as the second party) and made possible the subsequent installation of Mandela as president of the Republic, ending the era of the white monopoly of power. Under the provisional constitution, a national unity government has been launched which is expected to last 5 years. The handover as it took place in 1994 can be equated with a form of ‘decolonization’, but in other respects the transition is more like integration. Even whites have now fully accepted democracy and majority rule; L’ former president De Klerk loyally lends his work as Mandela’s deputy. The idea of ​​a state for whites, in itself impractical already in geopolitical terms, has been abandoned. The ANC, on the strength of Mandela’s enormous popularity and prestige, diluted the revolutionary charge with which it had characterized the anti-racist struggle and gave birth to a policy of reconstruction and development that trusts in the technical experience of whites, in the investment of capital from abroad and in collaboration between the classes. The expectations of Africans, who heavily discount the effects of apartheid also on the economic and social level, they are in fact subordinated to general growth, albeit in a political-cultural context that recognizes the dignity and equality of all and which de facto attributes a directive function to blacks. The rift between the international community and the South Africa that marked the long period of apartheid has been healed and South Africa has regained a prominent place in the Organization of African Unity and in the Third World, so much so that now, instead of isolation of the past, relies on its enormous potential to drive the development of southern Africa and the whole continent.

South Africa in the 1980's