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Political Violence in South Africa between 1985 and 1989 Essay

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Updated: May 21st, 2019


Apartheid was a political principle that was adopted by the National Party administration of South Africa between 1948 and 1994. It was one of the systems adopted to segregate the black people and deny them their rights. It was aimed at instilling the white supremacy, through maintaining the Afrikaner marginal rule. Apartheid was established in 1945 after the Second World War by the National Party, which was dominated by the minority Afrikaner whites.

Even though racial discrimination was established by colonialists, the National Party adopted apartheid as a national policy after the 1948 general election. The policy came up with four categories of races including native, white, color and Asian races. This meant that these races had to live in different localities either willingly or by force. In 1970, the apartheid regime proscribed political organizations that were formed by other races.

The blacks were forced into being refugees in their own country since their citizenship was nullified. They were forced to live in the ten tribally based autonomous motherlands referred to as Bantustans. Through this, the government could easily restructure the education system, medical care services and other public services, which were distributed racially.

The black people could always be mistreated in the public and their culture was devalued. They received inferior services that could not be matched with those of other races.

Within South Africa, the natives staged demonstrations to demand for their rights. This was through political violence, which was organized by African leaders and political organizations such as Mandela and UDF respectively.

Internationally, the global society slapped economic sanctions, including trade embargo. Since 1950s, the state witnessed violence due to practices exercised by the government. Many leaders were imprisoned while others were exterminated. This paper will only concentrate on the activities of political organizations from 1985 to 1989.

The Background of Apartheid and Political Violence in South Africa

Before 1948, South Africa was a state that was run democratically. Even though racial discrimination was rampant, it existed illegally. Before elections, the major Afrikaner party urged citizens to vote for it since it could introduce apartheid. It closely overpowered its major opponent and formed a coalition regime with another marginal Afrikaner political party. Malan was declared the first premier of the apartheid regime.

The officials of the National party tried to justify the existence of the apartheid policy, arguing that South Africa did not have a single homogenous race. The officials of the National party went ahead to sub-divide the population into four major tribes. The white race had more powers socio-economically and politically. Other races existed at the mercy of the white race. The white race involved the English speaking tribes and the Afrikaans.

The government approved laws that could divide people based on their races. In 1950, the first law was enacted, which was referred to as the Population Registration Act. The law formalized ethnic classes and came up an identification certificate for each group (Pottinger 89). In 1950 still, the government approved another bill referred to as the Group Areas Act, which allotted each race a specific area. Before then, the government had passed a bill that criminalized marriage between different races.

Socio-political and economic discrimination caused many problems in South Africa. Successive presidents of the National Party instituted laws that caused more pain to other races. In the judiciary, only the white race was employed meaning that judicial rulings favored only whites. Other races could only vote for a white to represent them in the highest law-making organ that is, the parliament.

Before the introduction of Apartheid, divisions, conflicts and competition between the two major factions characterized South African political activities. One of the group suggested that conservatism could bring greatness to the state. On the other side, liberals argued that only respect for human rights and freedoms could boost the country’s economy. The apartheid system contributed significantly to internal conflicts.

The government responded to these conflicts by deploying security forces to harass demonstrators (Venter 16). Due to this, political organizations gained support from the locals. The government decided to change the approach after realizing that the society supported these organizations. The National Party came up with some reforms that could help in solving the conflicts between the government and demonstrators.

Political protestors were urged to wage peaceful demonstrations after acquiring necessary documents from state agencies, such as the police. In their arguments, non-white political organizations suggested that apartheid government could only be overthrown through mass campaigns. Through this suggestion, students led other demonstrators to push for their rights. Furthermore, political organizations called members to participate in national strikes, boycotts, civil defiance and brutal clashes in order to overthrow the apartheid regime.

Political Influence between 1985 and 1989

Between 1985 and 1989, South Africa witnessed a serious political violence, with Africans demanding for independence. The anti-apartheid organizations wanted the Botha government to quit office and leave power to the majority that is, Africans. During this period, radical local leaders urged communities to defy any government order that was unpopular to them.

The communities were against various local authorities and leaders who had been employed by the government since they supported unpopular regime. By 1985, the ANC changed its strategy by ensuring that the urban areas were ungovernable. The party requested various races to default paying rent and other charges imposed on them. Consequently, various councils failed to offer services to whites due to lack of finances.

Some were overthrown while others collapsed due to constant conflicts. Youth organizations and militant groups replaced councils that were exorbitant and indifferent to the wishes of the many. Such militant organizations took over responsibilities that were previously reserved for the councils.

In other words, tyranny of the multitude was the order of the day. Those suspected to be working with the apartheid regime received sever punishments. The officials of town councils and other civil servants were forced to migrate to other places because of their behavior. Some were murdered by neck lacing whereby a blazing wood was put around the culprit’s neck.

The head of state, P.W. Botha, announced a military rule in the thirty-six authoritative districts following the protests. Furthermore, the president was advised to proscribe various political organizations because they were directly responsible for the conflicts. Due to this, many leaders were arrested while others were put under house arrest. The Botha administration moved to enact a law that gave enormous powers to the police and the military.

The state security agencies were allowed to implement curfews in various places facing security problems. They could control the movement of people. Moreover, the president ruled by decree implying that he could issue instructions without pursuing the law. During this time, the government recommended that it was illegal to use words that were perceived to be hate speech. This could amount to arrest.

Upon arrest, the government could not disclose the name of the arrested person. This was actually against the rights of the arrested people, which sparked more violence (Houston 14). People were imprisoned without trial, something that sparked political violence all over the country.

In 1986, the president extended the state of emergency to include the whole country due to violence. The government modified the Public Security Act, which gave the government powers to quell violence using all available means. During the same year, the press was highly controlled.

The government could harass protesters but journalists were never allowed to access the areas. The state used national broadcaster to distribute false information as regards to the uprisings. In 1987, the Botha regime extended the state of emergency for an additional two years (Ross 71). In 1988, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was proscribed because of its activities. The government was dissatisfied with the way UDF operated.

Between 1985 and 1989, the political violence persisted mainly because of the economic and political hardships. However, residents themselves were the major problem. Associates of Inkatha and the UDF-ANC groups attempted to outdo each other. The government applied the policy of divide and rule that is, by supporting one side.

Political organizations such as ANC and PAC engaged government troops in war. The government attacked the ANC bases and villages while the ANC could strike the restaurants with bombs. In early 1989, was affected by a disease and was urged to step aside in February the same year.

By the time Botha was leaving office, the economy of South Africa had collapsed and was rated the lowest in the world. The state was shocked when foreign powers imposed various sanctions, including trade embargos. The exit of Botha paved way for discussions, which gave policy makers in government the chance to reconcile with anti-apartheid leaders. The incoming president was liberal since he announced that he could do away with the apartheid policy.

He also announced that he could guarantee political freedom and each person could be allowed to elect a leader of his or her choice. Consequently, anti-apartheid groups such as ANC, PAC, SACP and the UDF were allowed to operate freely (Rantete 12). The head of state, F.W. de Klerk, pledged to liberate all political inmates and allow political involvement. Some laws such as the land act were also abolished.


From the above analysis, it can be observed that political organizations played a major role in South Africa between 1985 and 1989. Botha was against political organizations because they interfered with the activities of the whites. It is also true that apartheid was established in 1948 but its effects were felt more from 1985 under Botha.

Botha ensured that his regime provided important services to the white race by using brutal tactics to contain the influence of other races. He first proscribed all political organizations and detained some of black leaders. Later on, he ordered the security agencies to unleash terror on demonstrating Africans. After his reign, the new head of state promised to abolish apartheid and introduce political freedoms.

Works Cited

Houston, Gregory. The National Liberation Struggle in South Africa: A case study of UDF, 1983-1987. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. Print.

Pottinger, Brian. The imperial presidency: PW Botha the first ten years: Johannesburg, Southern Book Publishers, 1988. Print

Rantete, Johannes. The African National Congress and the negotiated settlement in South Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik, 1998. Print.

Ross, Robert. A Concise history of South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Venter, Albert. Government and politics in the new South Africa. 3th ed. Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers, 2006. Print.

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