From Protest to Challenge is a multi-volume chronicle of the struggle to achieve democracy and end racial discrimination in South Africa. Beginning in 1882 during the heyday of European imperialism, these volumes document the history of race conflict, protest, and political mobilization by South Africa’s black majority. Volume 6 takes up the story in 1980 and examines the crucial decade that preceded the collapse of the apartheid system. As with earlier volumes in the series, it combines narrative with a wealth of primary source materials that record the words of the men and women who shaped South Africa’s complex history.
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About the Author
Gail M. Gerhart is Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She is author of Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology and author (with Thomas G. Karis) of volumes 3–5 of From Protest to Challenge.
Clive L. Glaser teaches in the History Department at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is author of Bo-Tsotsi: The Youth Gangs of Soweto, 1935–1976 and editor of the journal African Studies.
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From Protest to Challenge
A Documentary History of African Politics In South Africa, 1882-1990
By Gail M. Gerhart, Clive L. Glaser
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2010 Gail M. Gerhart and Clive L. Glaser
All rights reserved.
1. Reform and Repression in the Era of P. W. Botha
The 1980s were South Africa's decade of destiny, launched in a flurry of government policy maneuvers, swept by waves of black rebellion, and finally brought to a political deadlock that foreshadowed the collapse of white minority rule. At the decade's outset, the ruling National Party was firmly in control, still able to push back the swelling tide of black resistance in schools, factories, and urban ghettos, but by the decade's end the balance of power had decisively shifted. Despite repeated setbacks, the democratic movement had achieved unprecedented influence, leaving the dominant Afrikaner elite divided and frustrated in its perennial quest for a formula to ensure black subordination. In other times and places, an ethnic minority so dedicated to its own continued dominance might have prevailed through raw coercion and careful statecraft. At the end of the twentieth century, however, South Africa's system of racial hierarchy — apartheid — had become a forlorn anachronism. Its demise seemed only a matter of time and organizational effort on the part of its victims and opponents. As the 1980s began, no one could predict how much time, effort, and sacrifice would be required. "Freedom in our lifetime" had been the rallying cry of struggle veterans of an earlier generation that now was passing from the scene, its hopes unfulfilled. The generation coming of age in 1980 faced a state armed with more instruments of repression than ever before. No one could rule out the possibility that this generation too might fail to end minority domination.
Yet by early 1990, time, circumstances, and the tenacity of many thousands of activists had placed South Africa firmly on a path to majority rule. Hoping to reverse the political paralysis and economic decline brought on by black resistance to the policies of his predecessor, P. W. Botha, President F. W. de Klerk, within a few months of assuming national leadership in late 1989, resolved to take swift preemptive action to move the country toward a negotiated settlement. His intention was to grasp the initiative at a time when he believed that black resistance groups were weak and disorganized and, through bold maneuvers, to install a legitimate new institutional order in which whites would retain a decisive share of political power. As events unfolded after February 1990, however, de Klerk's gamble failed. Although whites retained their existing hold over most sectors of the economy, de Klerk's National Party was politically outmaneuvered by the African National Congress (ANC) during the negotiation of a post-apartheid constitution. What began as a preemptive effort to forestall democratization by means of tight control over political change instead became a decisive victory for full democratic rights and the end of all legal forms of racial discrimination.
Earlier volumes in the From Protest to Challenge series have chronicled the century of conflict that preceded the final decade of South Africa's liberation struggle. Our task in this volume is to illuminate how the historic transformation of the 1980s came about. Before turning our focus to the politics of resistance, however, we must first set the stage with an overview of reform and repression during the regime of Prime Minister (later State President) Pieter Willem Botha.
Pretoria on the Offensive
In January 1980 P. W. Botha had been prime minister for just over one year. He had replaced the inner circle of John Vorster, his predecessor, with his own team, and was introducing a new style of reform leadership better suited to the challenges facing the ruling National Party. The Soweto uprising of 1976–77 had alarmed whites with the prospect of ongoing social turmoil and capital flight. Stability and business confidence were essential to the country's economic future, and Botha intended to guarantee these through stepped-up security measures and carefully calculated policy innovations. The worn-out dogmas of Afrikaner nationalism were fading from official party discourse, and Botha's men were replacing them with a modern language of technocratic management and political realism. Majoritarian democracy was still stubbornly ruled out, but no longer on the grounds that it was contrary to God's plan; now it was portrayed as unrealistic and impractical in South Africa's society of multiple ethnic communities. The special circumstances of South Africa did allow for a degree of liberalization, however, and Botha intended to coax his electorate down this path.
In the three decades since the National Party's accession to power, Afrikaners had worked their way up into the business elite, and many now shared the attitudes of English capital regarding labor relations and social policy. Setting aside the old fear that competition from Africans would harm white workers, Afrikaner capital now saw educational advancement by all races as essential because a crippling shortage of skills was holding back economic growth. The government had finally recognized African trade unions in 1979 because this seemed to be the only way to ensure order and predictability in labor management. Instead of favoring rigid barriers to black advancement, verligte (enlightened or reformist) Afrikaners now saw wisdom in long-term strategies of co-optation: shaping the system to give the coloured and Indian minorities, and eventually an upper stratum of urbanized Africans, a secure stake as junior partners in the status quo. Once the legislative and institutional framework for this new dispensation was in place, and opposition to it dispelled by some combination of persuasion and force, apartheid's reformers envisioned an orderly and prosperous South Africa that would enjoy a wide legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and the world.
The international environment presented obstacles, but also favored verligte plans in several ways. Because of apartheid, many countries by 1980 refused to trade or engage in cultural exchanges with South Africa, its diplomats were cold-shouldered at the United Nations, and a worldwide boycott had excluded the country's all-white teams from most international sports. These measures were economically and psychologically wounding to whites, and sports policy in particular became a heated subject of debate between verligte and verkrampte (conservative) members of the National Party. Nevertheless, one major feature in the international environment — the Cold War — offered a continuing guarantee to Pretoria that its morally repugnant system would be tolerated by the major Western powers. As long as South Africa aligned itself strategically with the West and rejected all demands made by the liberation movements on the grounds that they were communist-inspired, it could count on a measure of political support in Western capitals. The removal of this ace from the National Party's hand by late 1989 would be vital in pushing Pretoria down the road to change, but no one foresaw this development at the start of the decade.
Between 1979 and 1982 conservative governments were elected in Britain, the United States, and West Germany, creating conditions even more favorable for the Both a government. Pressures for economic sanctions eased and sympathy grew for the claim that Soviet imperialism threatened South Africa's security. The Soviet-backed ANC had established offices, training facilities, and guerrilla infiltration routes in South Africa's neighboring states during the 1970s. Early in the 1980s South Africa's security forces began a determined campaign of attacks aimed at forcing these "frontline" states to deny the ANC the use of their territories. Bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and raids by the South African Defence Force occurred periodically in Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Despite these violations of its neighbors' sovereignty, the Botha government could count on tacit support from conservative Western governments as long as South Africa's ultimate target was the ANC. In Namibia, where the Soviet-aligned South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) was resisting South Africa's continued occupation, Western pressure on Pretoria to grant independence to the territory also waned once Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher took office.
In Angola, which had offered sanctuary to the ANC and SWAPO and accepted military assistance from communist Cuba, South Africa staged periodic incursions and several full-scale invasions in the 1980s, hoping to topple the country's pro-Soviet government or at least to force it to expel SWAPO and the ANC. To bring pressure on the Cubans to abandon Angola, the Reagan administration in 1981 introduced a "linkage" policy which made U.S. support for Namibian independence conditional on the Cubans' withdrawal from Angola. This gave the Botha government a welcome reason to portray its occupation of Namibia as part of a strategy to counteract communism throughout the region. While continuing to support the UNITA rebel movement in Angola in order to tie down the Angolan government in a constant struggle for survival, Pretoria also armed and encouraged RENAMO, an insurgent group in Mozambique. By 1984, RENAMO had caused such devastation that South Africa was able to force the Mozambican government to sign the Nkomati Accord, an agreement expelling ANC guerrillas from the country in return for a promise by Pretoria to end its support for Mozambique's rebel group.
Not every move by the Botha government to dominate the frontline states was successful, however. In Zimbabwe's pre-independence election in March 1980, Pretoria poured money and logistical aid into the campaign of the politically pliable Bishop Abel Muzorewa, believing that his party could defeat the more militant Robert Mugabe. But Mugabe won decisively, and the lesson for South Africa seemed clear. Two weeks after Mugabe's victory, Percy Qoboza, a prominent black journalist addressing a mostly white audience at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that, given a free choice, Africans would not accept collaborationist leaders imposed on them by whites; they wanted genuine democracy, and they were tired of waiting for it (Document 1).
Debating the New Constitution
Soon after the Soweto uprising of 1976–77, in a daring reform initiative, National Party planners had unveiled proposals to alter South Africa's parliamentary institutions. Until then these had included a Senate and a House of Assembly modeled on Britain's bicameral Westminster system. The Vorster government proposed in 1977 that two new houses of Parliament be created, one for coloureds and one for Indians. It was later also proposed that the country's largely symbolic state president be replaced by an executive state president who would be advised by a President's Council. The President's Council would replace the Senate and be a supercabinet chosen by the president and structured to include coloureds and Indians. The number of whites, coloureds, and Indians in the proposed tricameral Parliament and President's Council would be in a ratio of 4:2:1 so that whites would always outnumber non-whites.
Many government critics condemned the symbolic incorporation of the coloured and Indian minorities into the ruling bloc as a purely cosmetic reform. Neville Alexander, a prominent coloured intellectual, set out a radical critique of National Party plans (Document 12). Bishop Desmond Tutu, writing in 1981 as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (Document 4), praised Botha for partially removing racial barriers but found his thinking too cautious. Many Afrikaners, on the other hand, viewed Botha's proposed reforms with alarm precisely because of his departure from old, white-supremacist assumptions. On the far right of the National Party, 16 verkrampte members of Parliament who found the proposals too threatening broke away in early 1982 to form the Conservative Party under the leadership of Andries Treurnicht.
Africans were left out of the plan to make Parliament more racially inclusive. Instead, they were to continue to exercise political rights in their ten ethnic "homelands." The designs of Vorster's predecessor, Hendrik Verwoerd — whose blueprint for territorial partition, or "grand apartheid," was still official policy in 1980 — called for each of these homelands to eventually become an independent country. Thus, according to official policy, all Africans would sooner or later become foreigners in South Africa when their homelands (sometimes derisively called "bantustans") became independent. In 1980 this process was still unfolding, and a dense political and emotional fog hung around the issue of citizenship. The African's right to be a South African citizen was God given, Qoboza told his white university audience, expressing a widely held African view; in tampering with this right the Afrikaner was playing with fire.
Behind the scenes in the National Party, sharp debates continued about the best way to preserve and legitimize white rule and at the same time blunt the strength of African resistance. While waiting for solutions for this problem to emerge, Botha proceeded openly with that portion of the verligte plan that dealt with the cooptation of the coloured and Indian minorities. In October 1980, Parliament passed an act creating a 60-member President's Council to which Botha appointed 44 whites, 10 coloureds, 5 Indians, and 1 Chinese. The President's Council in 1982 approved proposals for a new constitution that would create a coloured House of Representatives and an Indian House of Delegates and would replace the office of prime minister with that of an executive state president. In November of the following year these constitutional proposals were submitted to white voters in a referendum. The Progressive Federal Party (the white parliamentary opposition) and liberal groups like the Black Sash, a white women's organization (Document 15), urged whites to vote "no" on the grounds that Africans were excluded from parliamentary representation. But two-thirds of whites voted "yes," handing Botha a significant political victory. Elections for the coloured and Indian houses were conducted in August 1984. Amid widespread protests by blacks, the new constitution was promulgated in September, and from January 1985 South Africa's Parliament was no longer exclusively white. The British and U.S. governments praised the changes as genuine reforms.
Botha's controversial new constitution confronted blacks with a dilemma familiar throughout South Africa's modern history: whether to accept or reject the second-class forms of political representation created for them by whites. Was half a loaf better than none? Those who boycotted these government-created "dummy institutions" knew that there would always be collaborators willing to accept the salaries and privileges that came with participation. Those who participated could argue that they did so in order to keep out unprincipled opportunists and to use the institutions in pragmatic ways to harass the system, create protected public platforms for opposition views, and divert government resources to black communities. By the 1980s, when the National Party became increasingly divided on how to resist pressures for genuine democracy, pro-participation optimists even revived the much-disparaged argument that mere contact and dialogue between whites and blacks might help to win over the hearts and minds of die-hard racists in the ruling party.
The participation dilemma was not new to Indians and coloureds at the time of the 1983 constitution's promulgation. Their racially segregated residential areas were administered by elected local councils that remained subordinate to white officials appointed by Pretoria. Some coloureds and Indians rejected these councils as puppet bodies, while others offered themselves as candidates to serve in them. In the 1960s, the Vorster government had also established national coloured and Indian advisory councils so that the white ministers of coloured and Indian affairs could appear to be consulting community leaders before approving legislation that affected these minorities. By the early 1980s these national advisory councils had become the focus of heated public debate.
Excerpted from From Protest to Challenge by Gail M. Gerhart, Clive L. Glaser. Copyright © 2010 Gail M. Gerhart and Clive L. Glaser. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents
Part 1. Challenge and Victory, 1980-1990
1. Reform and Repression in the Era of P. W. Botha
2. Internal Opposition: The Battle Joined
4. Exile and Underground Politics, 1980-1988
5. Breaking the Deadlock, 1988-1990
Part 2. Documents