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At the beginning of the 1980s Nelson Mandela, the acknowledged leader of resistance to apartheid (a series of laws that segregated blacks from whites), was still in prison, and apartheid seemed impregnable. In actuality, apartheid began to come apart in that decade. P. W. Botha, prime minister since 1978, took the first steps when he decided to “reform” apartheid without giving up the actual power held by the whites, especially the Afrikaners (descendants of Dutch settlers). Among other measures, Botha introduced a new constitution in 1984 that called for three legislative chambers, one for whites, one for coloureds (mixed race), and one for Indians. Africans had no representation, yet formed 75 percent of the population. Other legislation was passed abolishing the pass laws, which had required blacks to carry pass books with them at all times, and laws banning interracial sex and marriage.
The protest movement that started at the black township of Soweto (Southwest Township) in the mid-1970s took on new life in the early 1980s. In August 1983, delegates from hundreds of organizations came together to form the United Democratic Front (UDF). The best-known leader of the UDF was Bishop Desmond Tutu. Over the next several years, the UDF and other groups maintained a determined resistance to apartheid. In 1984 Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1985 Mandela left Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, for surgery and did not return. Instead, he was placed in prison on the mainland and began a long series of negotiations with the government, which was attempting to find a way of ending apartheid without surrendering political power. Mandela was careful to maintain close ties with the African National Congress (ANC), the main organization of those resisting apartheid, to forestall any accusations that he had sold out. Mandela and Botha met in 1989, but little came of the meeting.
The seeming impasse was broken by the new prime minister, F. W. de Klerk, who staged a virtual coup within the National Party against Botha. De Klerk claimed to be moving no faster than the party, but he also talked about a powerful sense of religious calling. In October 1989, Walter Sisulu, a major leader of the ANC, was released from prison. On 11 February 1990, Mandela himself was released from prison. Over the next four years South Africa moved slowly toward abolishing apartheid and implementing democracy for all inhabitants of the country. One problem was power-sharing versus majority rule. Mandela provided a solution in 1991 when he suggested a multiparty convention to negotiate an interim constitution. Later a constitutent assembly would fashion a constitution, but would be restricted somewhat by binding conventions laid down by the multiparty convention. The summit meeting of 26 September 1992 in Johannesburg was a turning point. Both within the National Party and the ANC groups existed that wanted to find a way to compromise. Ironically, Joe Slovo, long a militant communist supporter of the ANC, took the lead in building the compromise. Black-on-black violence produced a great deal of tension over the next two years. It seemed to have been caused largely by Inkatha, the Zulu political organization, with covert backing from some elements of the government. This soured relations between Mandela and de Klerk, but did not prevent the elections of April 1994 from taking place. Apartheid ended and a new, democratic South Africa with Mandela as president, emerged to attempt to deal with the painful legacy.
Suggestions for Term Papers
1. View or read journalists’ accounts of life in Soweto in the 1980s and write about what a person your age and gender would likely have experienced.
2. Assess the role played by Bishop Tutu in the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s. What made him such an effective leader?
3. Investigate the efforts of Botha to “reform” apartheid in the 1980s and propose an explanation for the failure of the reform.
4. Assess the crucial role played by Mandela in the late 1980s and early 1990s in finding a way to lead South Africa to democracy.
5. Evaluate de Klerk’s motives in his efforts to end apartheid and establish a democratic system that would protect the rights of the white minority.
6. Survey the progress made by South Africa between the 1994 elections and those in 1999. What problems remain?
In addition to the boldfaced items, look under the entry for “Apartheid in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s” (#58). Search under apartheid and Afrikaners.
Johns, Sheridan, and R. Hunt Davis, Jr., eds. Mandela, Tambo, and the African National Congress: The Struggle Against Apartheid, 1948–1990. A Documentary Survey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. An excellent collection of documents connected with the history of the ANC.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. Mandela’s story of how he outlasted apartheid.
Brewer, John D. After Soweto: An Unfinished Journey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. A thoughtful discussion of events to that point.
Eades, Lindsay. The End of Apartheid in South Africa. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. A good overview for students, with accompanying biographical profiles and primary documents.
The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela. Distributed by PBS Home Video, 120 minutes, 1999. A good introduction to the life and accomplishments of Mandela.
Murray, Martin. South Africa: Time of Agony, Time of Destiny. The Upsurge of Popular Protest. New York: Schocken Books, 1987. A well-informed study of protests against apartheid.
Mzamane, Mbulelo. The Children of Soweto. Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley Longman, 1995. An important study of the core group of the resistance to apartheid in Soweto.
Sampson, Anthony. Mandela: The Authorized Biography. London: HarperCollins, 1999. The best biography available.
Sparks, Allister. Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Road to Change. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995. The best book on the series of negotiations that ended apartheid and brought democracy to South Africa.
Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. An excellent introduction to South African history. A good place to begin.
World Wide Web
“The Mandela Page.” Part of the African National Congress Web site. http://www.anc.org.za/people/mandela. Links to speeches and statements, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and to the ANC documents archives.