U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Africa Bureau


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Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
George E. Moose
Augsburg College
February 24, 1995

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Ten months ago, millions of South Africans -- including Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela, F. W. de Klerk, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- went to the polls to elect South Africa's first, truly non-racial, democratic government. This exercise of the most basic right to choose one's own government was a momentous occasion -- without question one of the most important political events of the decade.

Just ten years ago, the main pillars of apartheid were still firmly in place. The pass laws, regulating the daily movement of South Africa's black population, were still on the books. A mass protest movement arose, to which the government reacted with a nationwide State-of-Emergency.

Positions seemed frozen. Nothing seemed possible. An apocalyptic confrontation seemed inevitable.

Yet today, South Africa enjoys wide respect and moral authority throughout the world. It is cited as a model for other nations seeking to resolve conflict. It is listed by the U.S. Department of Commerce as one of the world's ten big emerging markets. The Johannesburg stock exchange is bullish. Tourism is booming. National morale is high.

How did South Africa get from there to here? The story of how an entrenched ruling elite was persuaded to negotiate itself out of power and make way for non-racial democracy is one of the most compelling political dramas of this century, and it is worthy of our examination today.

Apartheid entered the world's vocabulary in 1948 when the National Party came into power in South Africa. The original architects of apartheid envisioned a massive project of social engineering that would separate people by color. Black South Africans were to be confined to so-called "homelands" in remote areas and stripped of their South African citizenship. Although the system was never fully realized, it was brutally effective in keeping black South Africans within a strait-jacket of apartheid laws. These laws determined where people could live, where they could work, and even regulated whom they could marry.

Protest and opposition to apartheid -- by blacks and whites -- were often forced underground by the state's security forces. On occasion, however, protest welled to the surface dramatically. In 1960, at Sharpeville, police killed and wounded large numbers of Africans protesting the pass laws. It was this disturbance that subsequently led to the outlawing of such liberation movements as the ANC and the PAC. The banning of the ANC ultimately led, two years later, to the beginning of Nelson Mandela's long incarceration on Robben Island.

Over the years, students took a more active role in protests. In June of 1976, students in Soweto organized a demonstration to protest the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black classrooms. They were fired on by police. Country-wide demonstrations during the following months resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,000 protesters.

The 1980s saw some relaxing of laws relating to social segregation, but the franchise continued to be denied. In 1983, a racially segregated tricameral parliament was established for whites, Coloreds and Indians -- but it excluded blacks. This event convinced many in South Africa that the governing National Party was interested only in cosmetic change, that it would tinker with apartheid law but never dismantle it.

These convictions were reinforced when, in August of 1985, President P. W. Botha -- in a long-awaited policy address that became known as the "Rubicon speech" -- declared that he was committed to change, but at his own pace and on his own terms. It had been anticipated that the speech would announce sweeping new reforms. Instead, Botha's message was one of unrepentant defiance.

Ironically, at just about the same time, Botha secretly began pursuing contacts with the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. He sent his Minister of Justice to pay a personal visit to Mandela at a hospital in Cape Town, where Mandela was undergoing treatment. According to Mandela's diary, this was the first of forty-seven secret meetings with government figures that would occur over the next four years.

The government's public face remained, however, one of defiance. Around South Africa, protest and opposition continued to mount.

Events in South Africa prompted reaction around the world, as anti-apartheid groups intensified their efforts. International sanctions, including those imposed by the U.S. in 1986, obviously played a role in helping bring an end to apartheid; but the crucial decisions and changes in attitude were occurring in South Africa itself. By the late 1980s, even the leaders of the Broederbond -- a secret society close to the very heart of Afrikaner power -- had concluded that political change was inevitable. Their decision was based largely on pragmatic rather than altruistic considerations. They understood that with the power of the state, they could rule, but not govern. Without the ANC and other liberation groups which carried the popular will and legitimacy, the country could not move forward. A first world economy could not flourish with a burgeoning, marginalized third world population, increasingly angry and unskilled. It became clear that it was time to cut a deal, while there was still a deal left to cut.

In July of 1989, President P. W. Botha secretly had Nelson Mandela taken to his official residence in Cape Town for their first-ever face-to-face meeting. The government needed to find out if a peaceful political settlement might be possible, and what it would entail. Nelson Mandela, for his part, was determined to press for rapid political change.

Later that year, the National Party recognized that the ailing, 71-year-old Botha was not the visionary needed to chart a new course. It replaced him with F. W. de Klerk. De Klerk carried the argument within the National Party for a political rather than a military solution to continued black resistance. Crucial to his plan was the decision to release Nelson Mandela. De Klerk recognized that Mandela was the only person who could unite the voteless masses of the ANC.

At the same time, the ANC was also undergoing a change in attitude and strategy, as it shifted the focus of its "struggle" from the battlefield to the negotiating table. When Nelson Mandela -- having endured physical and mental isolation in his 27 years behind bars -- emerged from prison on February 11, 1990, he was remarkably free of bitterness. More important, both he and the ANC were ready to negotiate with the government.

A year later, the ANC agreed to suspend the armed struggle, removing what was, from the government's point of view, the key obstacle to constitutional talks. Later in 1991, the first formal multiparty agreement, the National Peace Accord, was signed by politicians, business organizations and public interest groups. This agreement was followed in December 1991 by the convening of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa. CODESA, as it was known, was the broadest cross section of the country's political leadership ever to meet. The participants committed themselves to an undivided South Africa, peaceful constitutional change, a multiparty democracy with universal suffrage, a separation of powers, and the country's first bill of rights.

Despite these declarations, however, major differences of perception remained between the ANC and its allies on the one hand and the government on the other regarding what the negotiations should achieve. It would take another three years to bring the arduous political bargaining to conclusion. The negotiations eventually swelled to include more than 25 separate parties; but it was the ANC and the government that led and focused the debate. While de Klerk and Mandela took center stage, other actors played key roles. Chief negotiators Cyril Ramophosa and Roelf Meyer -- the former trained in the union movement, the latter on the back benches of parliament -- found common ground through tireless negotiations at the World Trade Center outside Johannesburg. It was the late Joe Slovo who, early in the negotiations, forged the ANC's decision to accept a sharing of political power -- a critical element in their ultimate success.

The talks were to break down repeatedly, each time to resume. One of the barely recognized benefits of this frustrating delay was that it allowed time for the emergence of a solid coalition of pragmatic centrists in the ANC, NP and other parties, who ultimately made compromise and agreement possible.

In early December 1993, the multiparty Transitional Executive Council, which would exercise critical oversight of key government functions in the period leading up to the elections, began its work. This event marked the end of exclusive white political domination in South Africa after more than 300 years. The final amendments to the interim constitution were passed by parliament in early March. The country was ready to move forward.

The last breakthrough occurred on April 18 -- less than ten days before the elections were to take place. Almost everyone had given up on efforts to bring Chief Mangosotho Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party into the process. Then, President de Klerk, Chief Buthelezi and ANC negotiators agreed to one last meeting in Pretoria. They emerged with an agreement to accommodate the status of the Zulu monarchy. International mediation was to be sought after the elections to address other outstanding issues. That agreement averted what many feared would become a major confrontation between ANC and IFP supporters. The elections that took place April 26-28 were a testament to the determination of South Africa's leaders to secure a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

It is the South Africans themselves who deserve full credit for their unique negotiated revolution. Nevertheless, the contribution made by the United States -- and by the American people -- is worthy of note.

First and foremost is the role of the American anti-apartheid movement -- in which, I have no doubt, many in this room played a part. A decade ago, the groundswell of opposition to apartheid in the U.S. resulted in the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which mandated federal sanctions on many imports and exports. In addition, 168 states, cities and localities imposed sanctions, including the State of Minnesota and Augsburg College. U.S. investment in South Africa dropped and many American companies pulled out.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to use its diplomatic influence to press for full political participation and human rights for all South Africans. Using a two-track approach, the U.S. Government began in 1986 a unique $20 million aid program, channeled through non-governmental organizations, that rapidly doubled to $40 million. The funding was directed at strengthening civil society under apartheid -- through such programs as providing scholarships for higher education, trade union training, legal and human rights support and a web of small grants to grass roots organizations -- all bypassing the South African Government.

Built into the South African sanctions package was a set of incentives. As the central pillars of apartheid fell, punitive measures in the Anti-Apartheid Act were lifted. Thus, following the establishment of the Transitional Executive Council and the call to lift sanctions by both de Klerk and Mandela in November 1993, President Clinton signed into law the South African Democratic Transition Support Act. Provisions of the bill allowed for the U.S. to support the strengthening of the South African electoral machinery and to encourage measures to help revive the economy.

Over the long years of negotiations leading to the elections, the United States was often called upon to play a facilitative role. The efforts of American diplomats -- Ed Perkins, Bill Swing, Princeton Lyman -- were not aimed at influencing the substance of the talks. Instead, they worked quietly but diligently behind the scenes, encouraging the parties to remain engaged and keeping lines of communication open.

The other significant American contribution came in the form of the assistance we provided for the preparation and organization of last year's elections. The U.S. was the largest donor in assisting the election process. Over a two-year period, we provided $35 million to non-governmental organizations to support voter education, political party training, training for election monitors and violence mitigation programs. Our efforts were especially focused in the rural areas and among particularly disadvantaged groups, such as women, where the needs were greatest. Hundreds of Americans participated as UN and other international observers during the overwhelmingly peaceful national elections. By the time voting was complete, over 19 million South African citizens -- 85 percent of all eligible voters -- had cast their ballots.

South Africa's difficulties, however, did not end with last year's elections, or with the inauguration of President Mandela last May. The new government faces severe challenges as it addresses the problems inherited from the years of apartheid. South Africa's needs will be dramatic, particularly in the areas of housing, education and job creation.

Economic growth is the key. Despite a projected 2.5 percent growth rate this year, the economy must grow more rapidly if it is to generate jobs and opportunities, especially given the high birth and unemployment rates.

The task of nation-building in South Africa also remains to be completed. Debate about the nature of multi-party democracy in South Africa, about federalism, and about the protection of minority rights will be resumed when talks on the permanent constitution begin this year. While the political transition has been an overwhelming success, the government's most urgent task lies in creating functioning local, provincial and national government structures, in order to be able to deliver the housing, clean water, electricity, schooling and primary health care promised to the electorate. Local government elections scheduled for October will be critical to this effort.

The challenges are indeed enormous; but no one doubts that South Africans will rise to meet them, as they have done with such success so far. Polls show an amazing 75 percent of South Africans, of all races, believe their country is going in the right direction, indicating a readiness to work together to reconcile differences. The Cabinet, operating under consensus, is functioning well, despite a recent, well-publicized disagreement between President Mandela and Deputy President de Klerk. For a few days, press speculation about whether the government could continue to function without de Klerk overtook the more routine speculation about whether it could function without Mandela.

The central organizing theme of U.S. policy is how best to assist South Africa in institutionalizing and strengthening its democracy. An equal priority is to help generate strong economic growth, based on private sector involvement and free market principles, to support South Africa's ambitious reconstruction and development program.

Last May, President Clinton announced the enhanced Trade, Aid and Investment Package for South Africa. Last year, we made available over $200 million to help provide South Africans with the tools for governing, and for making their economy grow. In addition, innovative programs by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Trade and Development Agency (TDA), and the Department of Commerce are providing strong support for U.S. investment and trade, with special emphasis on linkages with previously disadvantaged businesses in South Africa.

Investment is key. U.S. investment has accelerated with the lifting of sanctions. The number of U.S. companies now doing business in South Africa has gone from a low of 184 in 1991 to approximately 500 today. Many of the firms currently operating are ones that disinvested and have decided to return.

The American people, through their participation in the anti-apartheid movement, made a major contribution to the transformation now taking place in South Africa. Now, however, we are entering a new phase of the struggle. Our focus must be to help South Africa overcome the social and economic legacies of apartheid. In helping build the new South Africa, Americans will be called upon to demonstrate the same level of commitment and concern they displayed in helping bring down the apartheid system.

If South Africa's experiment succeeds, then the people of South Africa, black and white, will have taught us all a powerful lesson. Just five years ago, as Nelson Mandela was being released from prison, many were predicting grimly that South Africa was headed toward an inevitable apocalypse. Few could have imagined or predicted, then, the momentous transformation that we have witnessed over the past year. The people of South Africa have taught us that history is not inevitable, that the apocalypse can be avoided. They have taught us that individual leadership and personal responsibility matter, that individuals like Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk can make a difference, and that it is possible for people to act with determination and courage, to take control of their lives and change their destinies. That is a profoundly encouraging lesson not only for Africa, but for the world.


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