Road to Democracy

Road to Democracy 1990-1994

South Africa was under the policy of Apartheid from around the 1940s up until 1994. However from 1990 there were some changes that led to the birth of a democratic South Africa and the development of Government of National Unity (GNU). Therefore, this argument is critically discussing on whether the road to democracy was an easy one or a tough one, and looking at the factors that led to the birth of a democratic South Africa, the violence/disturbances during the process of negotiations and other vital points concerning the topic.

On the 18th of February 1989, PW Botha suffered a stroke and FW De Klerk was elected into power to administrate South Africa as president. On 2 February 1990, FW De Klerk made a speech that changed the course of South African history. In his speech he outlined the unbanning of political parties which were previously banned in the 1960s and those political parties included the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). He also announced the release of political prisoners who were arrested because of their membership of banned political parties. However, prisoners who were jailed because of terrorism, murder and arson would not be released. The political prisoners were released and on the 11th of February 1990 De Klerk made a very big decision and released Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster Prison after spending 27 years imprisoned there and at Robben Island. A number of people were out on the street celebrating his release. This signaled the coming democracy to South Africa.

The negotiations soon began between De Klerk (National Party) and Mandela (ANC). However the negotiations were disturbed due to the violence in South Africa such as the Sebokeng Massacre. The ANC realised that a third force was causing violence. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) hostel dwellers attacked and murdered 40 ANC members in Sebokeng.

On the 2nd of February 1990 the ANC, led by Nelson Mandela and including Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki and others met with the NP, which was led by De Klerk, and he was accompanied by Pik Botha and others. They met at Groote Schuur in order to discuss a way forward of building a democratic South Africa. Both parties agreed to end violence, to release political prisoners and to grant immunity to prosecuted political offenders, as well as to bring back political offenders from exile in order for them to be part of negotiations that were taking place in South Africa.

The Pretoria meeting followed due to the success of the Groote Schuur Minutes. On the 6th of August 1990 in Pretoria the ANC and the NP met again in order to discuss. The ANC agreed to suspend its armed struggle UMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) which was responsible for setting bombs and causing violence in public places, and the NP agreed to end the state of emergency except in Natal.

On the 20th of December 1991 the negotiations continued and this led to the establishment of Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA One). This negotiation was held at the World Trade Centre in Kempton park Johannesburg. Nineteen political parties were part of these negotiations excluding the IFP, and the PAC. In these negotiations they discussed the formation of a multi-racial government as the new government. The Declaration of Intent was signed to bring about an undivided South Africa, freedom, equality for all, and to end discrimination.

In May 1992 De Klerk introduced a whites-only referendum. He asked white South Africans, “Do you support the continuation of the reform process which the state president began?”. As a result about 68,7 percent of the people voted ‘Yes’ and this indicated that the majority of whites favoured reforms which De Klerk initiated.

On the 15th May of 1992 the success of CODESA One led to the negotiations on CODESA Two which was once again held at the the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park. The ANC wanted the restructuring of the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC) because it was one sided and had a strong link with the apartheid government. During these negotiations all political parties who were present formed a group of five which had five different things to achieve. However t hemeeting was not a success as there were disagreements between political parties.

On the 17th of June 1992 violence erupted in Boipatong, a township in Johannesburg. Armed members of the Inkatha Freedom Party residing at kwaMadala Hostels with the assistance of the police they attacked the residents of Boipatong killing about 49 people in what became known as the Boipatong Massacre.

On the 7th of September 1992, around 80 000 ANC supporters led by the iconic leader of the ANC Chris Hani gathered in Bhisho in protest against the leader of the Bantu homeland, Oupa Gqozo. When they were about to break through, the Ciskei Defence Force line the police opened fire and killed 28 people and about 200 more were injured. The NP agreed to ban the carrying of traditional weapons in public such as knobkerrie, spear, skin-made shields and others.

On the 26th of September 1992 Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC and Roelf Meyer of the NP signed the Record of Understanding which made compromises of releasing more political prisoners, and erecting fences to prevent migrant workers.

The negotiations resumed on the 2nd of April 1993 once again at Kempton Park in what became known as the Multi Party Negotiation Forum (MPNF). The structure and the process of negotiations were different from that of CODESA. MPNF consisted of 26 participants and talks were bilateral with the ANC and NP. These negotiations aimed at finalising decisions made at CODESA Two.

On the 10th of April 1993 the leader of the SACP Chris Hani was shot four times and killed in his driveway from his home by Janusz Walus, who had plotted the deed with the Conservative Party member Clive Derby-Lewis. However Margareta Harmse, the female neighbour of Hani, noted the assassin’s car registration number and informed her husband about the deed of Walus, then he rang up the police. After the neighbours alerted the police, Walus was soon arrested 10 kilometres (km) away from Hani’s home with his weapon still in his hand. Walus died in November 2016 in jail since he was arrested from 1993. The killing of Hani shocked South Africa and initiated violence. For the first time De Klerk called on Mandela to address the nation on television.

In August there was the “sunset clause” proposed by Joe Slovo, a leader of impeccable trustworthiness. The sunset clause allowed for Government of National Unity until 2000 and government employees’ jobs wold be guaranteed for ten years after the new government was installed. During the sunset clause discussions it was decided that the South African first democratic elections would be held on 27 April 1994 and others began to write the Bill of Rights.

On 25 June 1993, members of the AWB led by Eugene Terreblanche demonstrated against the MPNF outside the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park during the negotiations, and later they drove a 4×4 vehicle through the glass sliding door into the building aiming to disturb the negotiations between the two parties. Their attempt was a failure because negotiations continued even though there were some disturbance.

The elections final paved the way to the democratic South Africa. On the 27th of April 1994 South Africa eventually reached its first democratic elections where all citizens of the country could vote. Nineteen political parties joined the voters roll including the IFP. Voting commenced on the 27th and lasted until the 29th of April 1994. The result was that the ANC won the elections by 68,7% followed by NP and IFP. The leader of the ANC Nelson Mandela became the first democratic president in South Africa and the new deputies were Thabo Mbeki and De Klerk. Then the democratic South Africa was born. A rainbow nation came to existence and the Government of National Unity was established (GNU).

In the final analysis some historians had raised different views and evidence from research about the road to democracy. Some say the road to democracy was not an easy journey because it was fuelled by disturbances and killings whereas some says it was an easy one because the apartheid government allowed to negotiate with blacks for the first time. As a student it is important to draw your own conclusion about the road to democracy.

Thank you for reading.


Ed’s note: This article was submitted by a user. Although it is general history, it is relevant to all South Africans including Durbanites. 

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