Towards Ending Apartheid

Although apartheid officially ended in 1994, when South Africa held its first democratic election, it had been in a period of transition for a number of years, possibly as far back as the early 1970s. Reasons for the decline of apartheid can be broadly divided into agency based and structure based arguments.

Agency based arguments reflect the popular narratives of internal political activism and the international anti-apartheid movement. These arguments range from those around individual agency, such as the role of key figures like Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk, to the role of wider internal and international protest. The structure based arguments tend to focus on local and global economic crises which de stablized the system, the failure of import substitution industrialization as a growth model, and other defects within the system. It is vital to recognize the impact of both in the nature and temporality of the end of apartheid.

It can be argued that apartheid had at its core a tension or contradiction, that its downfall was therefore inevitable, but dependent on agency to reveal and exploit these structural weaknesses. The National Party came to power through playing on white fears of the emergent black middle and working classes. It was therefore in a permanent position of attempting to stem the tide of black economic and political development. The internal struggle was such that in order for South Africa to be economically viable it needed to take advantage of black labor, but needed to do this without conceding political franchise. As the South African economy developed, this contradiction became more marked. The constraints placed upon black African access to urban areas began to impact economic efficiency. The economy was changing: requiring higher skilled workers in the manufacturing and service sectors, and yet this workforce could not feasibly emerge from the disenfranchised temporary urban sojourners educated by the Bantu education system to be little more than manual labor. By 1977 there was a skills shortage of 99 000 in the professional, semiprofessional, and technical grades, up from 47 000 in 1969. These contradictions did not just manifest themselves in economic crises, but also by means of popular protest, both locally and internationally.

In the light of these issues, the state therefore began a program to reform apartheid through measures such as the legalization of black trade unions in 1979. This was in part an attempt to contain rising black labor militancy. In 1983, the government introduced the Tricameral Parliament system, which afforded a limited vote to Coloureds and Indians. This reform did not impact black Africans who were not recognized as citizens of South Africa, but of their allocated homelands. Under the tricameral system, parliament had three houses, one for each race. Each of the three chambers had powers of various 'own affairs' issues, such as education, housing, and cultural, but 'general affairs', such as finance, defense, and foreign affairs, were beyond the control of individual houses. However, the balance of power always rested with the (white) House of Assembly, both numerically and in terms of the responsibilities of the houses. A third attempt at reform was the 1986 White Paper on Urbanization, which reduced control of access to urban areas for black Africans, with the objective of allowing a compliant black middle class to develop and therefore provide political and economic stability. However, through these attempts to ensure stability, greater in stability was generated and protests increased.

In the 1980s, as the state implemented reforms designed to make apartheid acceptable internally and internationally without disturbing the fundamentals, the perversity of the system became more apparent. Therefore, when F. W. de Klerk became President in 1989, the year that the Cold War ended (therefore dissipating the fear of black led communism that many white South Africans held), the political and economic climate was right for moves to be made by the state to end apartheid. In 1990 the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Af ricanist Congress, South African Communist Party, and other liberation organizations were unbanned. In 1991, key political leaders from both sides began formal constitutional negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) meetings. In 1992 a referendum of white voters was held, with 68.6% voting 'yes' to the continuation of the reform process. The Interim Constitution was passed in 1993 and in April 1994 the first democratic elections in South Africa were held.

These changes were not a sudden transformation, but part of a long term process of de stablizing the apartheid state through interlinked structural and agency led processes. The nature of the post apartheid state was the result of a negotiated settlement between the apartheid state and the liberation movement. This process has largely been recognized as playing a vital role in the peaceful transition and the economic stability of the country. However, there are many who argue that the compromises made to ensure this stability have impacted the pace of social and economic transformation in the post apartheid era.