South Africa and the Apartheid Regime

By | December 19, 2021

The Republic of South Africa faced problems of enormous gravity: the need for a bloodless transition from an authoritarian and racist regime to a democracy; the creation of a new constitutional order; the need to guarantee economic development characterized by greater social equity; the obligation to ensure public order in a situation of very strong imbalances, which until then had been synonymous with state repression, violent and often illegal, against all forms of protest. The first years of the new Republic s. were therefore characterized by a precise thread: avoiding catastrophe, the revenge of the oppressed on the oppressor, the uncontrolled explosion of ethnic conflict, not only between blacks and whites, but in the same community of color, within which divisions and conflicts had been fueled, in particular between the Zulus and the rest of the black population. The government’s task was hampered by the continuing tension and incidents between ANC and IFP activists in KwaZulu-Natal (over 4500 victims in the period 1993-95); from apr. 1995 the IFP, having adopted openly secessionist positions, ceased to participate in the work of the Constituent Assembly (the National Assembly and the Senate, elected in April 1994, meeting in joint session), endangering the approval within the deadline envisaged (May 1996) of a definitive Constitution. The creation of strongly guaranteed parliamentary procedures for minorities, DM Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, however, managed to bring the situation back into the bed of democratic confrontation. The young generation of blacks who faced the experiment of democracy was largely devoid of cultural tools other than those of a political militancy often conducted in a strongly antagonistic and militarized key.

The international climate, a vast popular consensus, the behavior of the political forces contributed to a peaceful outcome, but certainly and above all Mandela, president of the Republic since May 1994. The figure of Mandela, already charismatic in the very long period of detention, became that of a father of the homeland, balanced and above the parties, who combined aspects of continuity of the African tradition with those of modernity of a democratic head of state. apartheid, identify the perpetrators of the crimes, amnesty them if they had made a full confession and proved that the crime was committed for political and not personal reasons. The commission thus allowed an entire country to reflect on its recent past, allowed the victims not to feel forgotten and not to consider their sufferings canceled by the policy of institutional compromise with the exponents of the old regime, and at the same time channeled on the terrain of ‘admission of guilt, the recognition of the victims and a consensual moral condemnation, many tensions and lacerations. Some of the most important exponents of the past regime and the ruling party refused to testify, but this did not decisively affect the role played by the Commission because, apartheid, it was the individual sufferings that had to find recognition and response. The maintenance of the conditions for civil coexistence was confirmed in the new Constitution, approved by Parliament in October 1996 and promulgated on February 4, 1997. The new constitutional text emphasized the defense of individual guarantees and provided, within a centralistic vision of the State, the recognition of a limited form of autonomy to the provinces. Legislative power was attributed to two Chambers: the National Assembly, made up of 400 members elected by universal suffrage with proportional method, and the National Council of Provinces, of 90 members, 10 for each Provincial Assembly, in turn elected by universal suffrage. proportional. The limited powers attributed to the provinces, especially in matters of education, they raised objections from the stronger regional political forces, such as the Zulu party (IFP), which refused to participate in the drafting of the final text. The vast and articulated economic plans launched by the government after the 1994 elections clashed with the structural backwardness of the system. On the economic level, the Republic s. presented a double set of problems: those linked to insufficient economic development, after a decade characterized by a negative growth rate, and those linked to the presence of very strong social inequalities.

The lack of economic growth was the result of different factors: structural elements concerning the same structure of the production system; flight of national capital, not compensated by an adequate flow of foreign investment; apartheid ; narrowness of the internal market, from which a large part of the black population was substantially excluded. The latter, moreover, was still in decidedly miserable conditions in 1994: 53% (compared to 2% of whites) lived below the poverty line, 80% of homes were without electricity, 12 millions of people were deprived of drinking water, the land assigned was the least productive. Foreign capital also hesitated to move towards the country due to the shortage of skilled labor and the concerns raised by the situation of public order. The latter was not in fact reassuring: a murder rate in 1997 among the highest in the world, frequent thefts, private armed surveillance teams extremely widespread. The drug trade also tended to expand, while, in the climate of insecurity of some areas of the major urban centers, houses were often transformed into forts. The social tension that arose from the presence, especially in some cities, of a black population of dispossessed, previously excluded and expelled from urban areas, without employment, without housing and therefore without the minimum conditions of survival, certainly contributed to this wave of crime. who coexisted with a white and opulent society with a Western lifestyle. In foreign policy the Republic s. Democratica immediately assumed greater visibility, carrying out an intense diplomatic activity and proposing herself as a mediator in wars and regional African crises. The growth of international credit and prestige among all the major Western powers, of which the country quickly became a privileged interlocutor, was not, however, matched by a similar capacity for intervention in Africa, and the various mediation initiatives undertaken in Angola and in Congo they had no success. A more favorable outcome, with the entry since 1994 in the Southern African development community (SADC), had the commitment to expand economic cooperation in southern Africa to promote ever greater integration and stability of the countries of the area. In this context, the much discussed armed intervention, conducted under the aegis of the SADC, in Lesotho in September 1998 in support of the ruling party is explained. In a situation of relative political stability, but of a suffered overall balance, Mandela’s decision not to reapply for the presidency of the Republic, while raising concerns in internal and international public opinion, confirmed the country’s effort to overcome a personalistic vision of power and to continue in the process of democratization.¬†For South Africa 2016, please check

The designated successor was Vice President T. Mbeki, a militant since adolescence in the ANC, leader pragmatic, appreciated by the business world, a firm supporter of the need for an African “renaissance”. The ANC reached this electoral deadline by presenting a review of its government action in which negative aspects, such as uncertain economic conditions and growing crime, were combined with political and institutional successes and a great effort to introduce more extensive rights of citizenship, homes, water, education. The elections of June 1999 recorded a landslide victory for the ANC, which with 66% of the votes won 266 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, just one seat less than two-thirds sufficient to change the Constitution and 14 more than those obtained. in the 1994 elections. The vote also marked the defeat of the New National Party, the new name of the NP, which obtained just 28 seats compared to 82 in the previous Parliament, and the success of the Democratic party (DP), of liberal traditions but presented with a conservative program, which increased from 7 to 38 seats. Eventually, the IFP won 34 seats. Such a large victory, if it confirmed the extraordinary consensus of the ANC, also highlighted a possible problem for such a young democracy, that of the opposition’s lack of strength. In the same month, according to forecasts, the National Assembly elected Mbeki president of the Republic.

The new government tried to ensure continuity both internally and internationally, but encountered considerable difficulties and could not count on Mandela’s charisma and undisputed popularity. Mbeki in some cases took very questionable positions, like when he seemed to underestimate the complexity of the AIDS problem, declaring, in general bewilderment, his skepticism about the viral origin of the disease, at the World AIDS Conference held in Durban in July 2000, or when he hesitated to take explicit positions of condemnation on the support offered by R. Mugabe, president of neighboring Zimbabwe, for expropriation policies and violence against white landowners. Some success was achieved in 2000 in the fight against crime which remained high, fueled, among other things, by a strong increase in unemployment. Indeed, the general economic situation remained marked by overall still modest GDP growth rates (2, 1% in 1999) and a trade balance negatively affected by low gold prices. An event of great symbolic value and of great international resonance took place in April 2001, when, following a courageous and determined initiative by Mandela, the large international companies producing drugs against the HIV virus, responsible for AIDS, admitted the right of poor countries and particularly affected by the epidemic to have at low cost effective drugs in the treatment of the disease, withdrawing from the process they had initiated against the law of the Republic s. which allowed its manufacture without paying the relative patents. Distrusted by the ANC, Mbeki resigned from office in Sept. 2008; after the brief presidency of K. Motlanthe, in 2009 J. Zuma was elected president.

South Africa and the Apartheid Regime