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The apartheid system, which was in place from the late 1940s to the early 1990s in South Africa, was one of the worse examples of discrimination and racism by a government against its citizens. This system divided South Africans into first class and second-class citizens based on their racial orientation.
The minority white South Africans were afforded all the political privileges and given the status of “first class citizens” while the other races were treated as inferior. The South African government tried to justify this discriminative system to its citizens and the international community. However, local and international condemnation of the system grew over the 1960s with calls been made for the government to end this oppressive system.
The relative importance of the domestic and international in bringing an end to apartheid is debatable with some people arguing that black South Africans political participation in anti-apartheid movements played the biggest role while others argue that actions by the international community where the most significant in dismantling apartheid. This paper will argue that international pressure and sanctions were the most important factors in ending apartheid in South Africa.
How International Action Contributed to Ending Apartheid
The economic sanctions imposed on the apartheid government led to economic difficulties that made the apartheid system unfavorable. The goal of imposing sanctions against South Africa was to reduce the economic welfare of the rich white minority in the country and hence diminish the willingness of the country to persist in maintaining apartheid.
In spite of the country’s mineral wealth and valuable geographic position, the international community was not willing to downplay apartheid (Thomson 114). Western powers encouraged their citizens to disinvest in South Africa. This disinvestment by capital by foreigners led to a significant reduction in the wealth of the white minority therefore raising the costs of apartheid for the group that had benefited from the system.
Kaempfer and Lowenberg note that the economic sanctions against South Africa resulted in a reduction of the GDP of the country (377). These negative economic outcomes led to a change in the behavior of the South African government in the desired direction. Economic sanctions contributed in the dismantling of apartheid by reducing the economic welfare of the white minority who were the main beneficiaries of the apartheid system.
The isolation brought about by international pressure decreased government efficiency and the local support for apartheid. Led by the United Nations, many countries condemned the policy of apartheid and called for its end. Lulat (364) notes that many newly independent African countries put pressure on the Western powers to take action against the South African regime.
Efforts by the international community to pressure the South African Government to end apartheid were in play as early as 1963 when the US sort ways to “induce the South African government to remove the evil business of apartheid from the continent of Africa” (Duncan 38).
The US and some European countries restricted the granting of travel visas to high-ranking political and military personnel within the South African government. In 1977, the US government recalled its Ambassador to South Africa and subsequently joined the rest of the world in condemning apartheid (Thomson 113). In addition to the effect that international pressure had on the white South African community, it also raised the expectations of black South Africans.
International pressure demonstrated to the black community that the rest of the world supported their efforts towards ending apartheid. It showed that the international community supported the determination of the Africans to win full status and dignity in their country. The government therefore had a harder time maintaining and defending apartheid institutions in light of this anti-apartheid sentiment from the international community.
International efforts against the Apartheid regime led to the imposition of an arms embargo that reduce the military capability of the South African government and increased the cost of equipping the military. Due to the perceived injustices of apartheid, the non-White groups in the country founded protest movements to fight for equal rights and freedoms with the whites. The government reacted aggressively to this protests using military force to suppress any opposition.
Duncan observed that the growing government oppression in South Africa could only be countered by external pressures (42). The international community therefore intervened to stop the government from getting the arms that it needed to form a well-equipped army to counter this growing African militancy. Its efforts to acquire this arms from the international market where thwarted by a UN Security Council resolution in 1977 that banned the shipment of arms to the South African Government.
The United States, which is a major weapons trader in the world, adopted a complete embargo of military equipment to South Africa. Duncan notes that the US stopped supplying the South African government with all lethal goods and even terminated the sale of all military spare parts to South Africa (115). The South African government tried to counter this arms embargo by manufacturing its own arms.
However, the locally produced weapons were costly and of a lower quality to those available in the international market. In addition to this, the cost of research and production led to financial strain by the government as funds were diverted from important public institutions. This decreased the popularity of the apartheid policy even within members of the White population.
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International pressure forced the South African government to enter negotiations with the oppositions groups that were demanding political representation and justice. The apartheid policy had denied the non-White population any political power and the white minority were unwilling to reach a compromise.
The prominent anti-apartheid South African cleric, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that while the objective of the African opposition movements was negotiation, the apartheid regime could not “get to the table without concerted international pressure” (Lulat 364).
Through this pressure, the government was forced to listen to the troubles of the majority and react to them in a favorable manner. Without the involvement of the international community, the South African government had no incentive to negotiate with its non-White population.
This paper set out to argue that international pressures and sanctions played the most significant role in ending apartheid in South Africa. To this end, it has highlighted the ways in which the international community contributed to the collapse of apartheid.
Through international pressure and the use of punitive measures such as investment sanctions and trade restrictions and embargoes on supply of key goods, the international community was able to accelerate the ending of apartheid in South Africa.
If the international community had not involved itself in South Africa’s affairs, the oppressive apartheid system would have continued for longer. Because of this international pressure and sanction, South African abandoned apartheid and adopted a system that ensured majority rule based on justice and equality.
Duncan, Patrick. “Toward a World Policy for South Africa”. Foreign Affairs 42.1 (1963): 38-48. Web.
Kaempfer, William and Lowenberg Anton. “A Model of the Political Economy of International Investment Sanctions: The Case of South Africa”. KYKLOS Journal 39.3 (1986): 377-397. Web.
Lulat, Yuni. United States Relations with South Africa: A Critical Overview from the Colonial Period to the Present. Peter Lang, 2008. Print.
Thomson, Alex. “The Diplomacy of Impasse: the Carter Administration and Apartheid South Africa”. Diplomacy & Statecraft 21.1 (2010): 107–124. Web.