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Archive Documents Reveal The US And UK’s Role In The Dying Days Of Apartheid

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It is a quarter of a century since the end of apartheid in South Africa. But it’s easy to forget how complex, difficult and violent the birth of full democracy really was. This was particularly true in KwaZulu-Natal, where battles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) claimed the lives of as many as 20,000 in the decade between 1984 and 1994.

In the three months before the first elections in April 1994 an estimated 1 000 people were killed. The British and Americans were becoming increasingly concerned. The conflict between Inkatha and the ANC was just one crisis: another was developing with far right white extremists, who were threatening to resort to violence.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that there was an:

eight in 10 chance that violence will surge immediately before and during the election, when emotions are at their highest.

The agency also warned of the threat of a right wing coup, although it considered this “unlikely”. (This CIA report is available in hard copy only.)

As the situation grew increasingly tense, Britain’s Prime Minister John Major and the US’s President Bill Clinton became personally involved. Their interventions are shown in documents just released by the UK National Archives.

The cover page of the CIA document. Author provided

The documents reveal just what a close-run thing the first truly democratic election was, and how much time and effort Britain and the USA spent ensuring that the voting went ahead.

Desperate times

Prime Minister Major took a phone call from Nelson Mandela on 22 February, in which the ANC leader described the situation as “very difficult.” Major briefed Mandela on a meeting between the British ambassador and the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. He gave Mandela a full account of the conversation, which he warmly welcomed.

On 24 February there is the first indication of a joint Anglo-American mediation effort to resolve the crisis. This arose during planning for a visit to Washington by Major three days later.

Our starting point is that the situation has now deteriorated to the point where it seems very unlikely that left to themselves the South Africans will reach an agreement that will enable to participate in the elections. The consequences are likely to be very serious.

The British suggested that Major and Clinton might “offer their joint help to the transition process”.

The following day – having held discussions with Mandela, Buthelezi and President Frederik de Klerk – the British ambassador in Pretoria, Sir Anthony Reeve, was able to report that all three were prepared to go along with the Anglo-American initiative, although with some reservations. The ambassador concluded:

These responses do, I think, give us the green light to consult the Americans in detail on our thinking.

The proposal was discussed between Mandela and Buthelezi at a meeting on March 1 and both leaders agreed to “explore” the possibility of international mediation. Lord Carrington, who had negotiated the end of Rhodesia and its transition to Zimbabwe in 1980, was on a lecture tour of South Africa. He was approached by the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki who asked whether he might act as one of a panel of mediators.

Others suggested were US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Tanzanian head of state Julius Nyerere.

There followed intensive discussions between London and Washington, over how such mediation might work; indeed, Carrington and Kissinger travelled to South Africa. In the end a failure to agree on the terms of reference for the mediators, and South African government fears that the elections might be delayed, put paid to the plan.

It has been claimed the crisis – the most immediate was that Buthelezi was threatening to boycott the poll – was resolved by surprising last minute mediation by Kenyan Professor, John Okumu. Other Commonwealth envoys who had excellent contacts with both the ANC leadership and Buthelezi, including the late Ghanaian diplomat Moses Anafu, doubt this, arguing that forces that led Buthelezi into the election were much bigger.

Indeed, Buthelezi’s brinkmanship had ensured key constitutional concessions. Okumu’s intervention seems then a face-saving device for the IFP leader. A joint statement was agreed between Mandela, Buthelezi and de Klerk on 19 April, which allowed the election to take place just a week later (April 26-28).

Close-run thing

It had been a close-run thing and South Africa’s first truly democratic election almost came to grief. But there were two more potential obstacles.

In the tense run-up to polling day, a report on the role of the apartheid state in stoking internal tension and violence was published. The Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, led by Justice Richard Goldstone had been established in 1991: its report was published on 21 April 1994.

Judge Goldstone’s investigations revealed that sections of the South African Police had armed Inkatha, and pointed to attempts by senior police officers to subvert the work of his enquiry.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives Nelson Mandela public lecture

The charges were explosive and for a while the judge and his family were clearly at risk from white extremists. With de Klerk’s support and the knowledge of Mandela, Goldstone, his wife and a “key witness” (a former South African police officer) asked whether they might come to Britain. John Major agreed, and they were given temporary asylum and a safe house.

The second obstacle was the South African government’s clandestine chemical and biological weapons programme, known as “Project Coast.”The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, contacted Washington about the possibility of issuing a formal public protest unless President de Klerk publicly admitted his government’s involvement in the use of these weapons against ANC and Namibian prisoners.

The British had apparently intervened to prevent the proliferation of these weapons to other rogue states or terrorist groups. On April 11 the US and British ambassadors delivered their protest to President de Klerk – which apparently did the trick.

There was an agreement that all the chemical and biological systems would be destroyed and one of the key South African experts, Wouter Basson, who had travelled to Libya on several occasions, was subsequently prosecuted.

Political triumph

The April 1994 election proved to be a watershed for South Africa. In technical terms, the election was a fiasco, but it was a political triumph, according to the Commonwealth’s leading election official, Carl Dundass. Inkatha’s surprising victory in Natal-KwaZulu strongly suggest Natal “horsetrading” involved overturning an actual ANC victory to manage anticipated post-election violence.

Despite all the violence, tension and drama the election ended apartheid and allowed Major to phone Mandela with his congratulations – a highly satisfactory conclusion to an intense period of international diplomacy.

-Sue Onslow; Reader, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

-Martin Plaut; Senior Research Fellow, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

-The Conversation

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Current Affairs

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died

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This is a developing story.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.

“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”

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Ethiopia’s First Female President On Plans To Combat Covid-19 And Resuscitate The Economy

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Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, spoke to FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, on the country’s plans to combat Covid-19 and resuscitate one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Zewde, listed as one of Africa’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women’ in the March issue of FORBES AFRICA, says while the virus didn’t warrant the nation going into complete lockdown, it has hit some sectors of the East African country’s economy, affecting its GDP growth.

In early May, the government announced a package to bolster healthcare spending, food distribution, rebuild SMMEs, etc to support the country’s most vulnerable. Zewde also shares her views on women in the front lines, as well as reimagining education.

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‘It’s The People-To-People Connections That Make A Lasting Impact’

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Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia’s first female president and the only serving female head of state in Africa, tells FORBES AFRICA why more leaders should use soft power to achieve shared growth.

Sahle-Work Zewde has her name etched in political history. A veteran public official having served as an ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti, and France between 1989 and 2006, before her presidency, Zewde was Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. In an email interview, Zwede, who was also on FORBES AFRICA’s list of ‘Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women’ for its March issue, dwells on why the ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives:

In your position, how are you moving to achieve more gender proportionality in Ethiopian politics?

I see my being in this position as both an opportunity and responsibility. I know that it is political will that has opened the way for me and many other women to assume positions of power and influence in the Presidency and the ministerial cabinet in Ethiopia. This stride is a major step forward for Ethiopia as a nation and also for the continent. However, things can regress and go back to how they were unless we take strategic and intentional action to build on the momentum. For me, the way forward is using my platform to empower and embolden the women coming after me. This can occur in two ways. The first is working on empowering the women who are in the workforce and especially in positions of leadership to reach their full potential and engage in activities that provide opportunities for the next generation of women leaders. The second is helping female students at both the university and high school levels to ensure that we have a steady stream of competent, educated and confident women ready to take over. As women in power, we have a responsibility to all the women that will come after us to ensure that their trajectory is easier than ours.

How must Africa change in this regard?

Although more progress has been achieved in terms of delivering on our promise to provide support towards women’s education, health services, access to finance and political participation in a growing number of African countries, much more needs to be done. As a continent, we must go beyond the rhetoric and provide tangible solutions for African women in all sectors. The ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives and the extent of their participation in all walks of life.

What do the words ‘power’ and ‘soft power’ mean to you?

There is a clear distinction between ‘power’ and ‘soft power’. While the first uses any means to achieve a goal, the latter relies on influence through communication, understanding and healthy discourse. Soft power does not resort to violence or coercive methods to achieve the results sought. Serving as a diplomat for a quarter century and at the United Nations for over a decade, I became very knowledgeable of the utility of soft power to reach consensus and effectuate change.

For me, the idea of soft power is what we need to promote as a continent. For decades, our continent has been ravaged by civil war, ethnic conflict and infighting.

However, Africa is now enjoying more economic growth than it has ever had. What we need now is more leaders to exercise soft power, finding what unites us to achieve a vision of shared growth. Traditional governance sees the government as the sole owner and executer of international relations. However, with our increasingly globalized world, it’s the people-to-people connections that make a true and lasting impact and bond. Leaders of today have to detach from traditional views and adopt the more global perspective the times require.

– Interviewed by Renuka Methil

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