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Anti-Apartheid Struggle - 1974-89 - International Pressure

South Africa's international borders became much less secure. Until 1974 South Africa had been part of a largely white-ruled subcontinent, with the Portuguese still governing their empire in Angola and Mozambique, and Ian Smith and his white-settler regime controlling Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). Botswana had achieved independence soon after Lesotho in 1966 and Swaziland in 1968; however, they were surrounded by white-ruled areas, and their economies depended on that of South Africa.

The 1974 overthrow of the government of Premier Marcello Caetano in Portugal dramatically changed matters. Portugal withdrew from Angola and Mozambique in 1975, and both countries gained independence with governments that were avowedly Marxist and that strongly denounced apartheid. These events directly threatened South African control of South-West Africa (called Namibia by the United Nations [UN], which in 1969 had terminated South Africa's trusteeship over the territory and had demanded its return to the international organization). South African forces invaded Angola in 1975 but were forced to pull back by the arrival of Cuban troops. Seeking both to destabilize the Angolan government and to prevent infiltration of guerrilla fighters into Namibia where the South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) was fighting actively against South African forces, South Africa maintained a military force in southern Angola.

In Rhodesia, Africans fighting against Ian Smith's government began to turn the tide, and by 1979 Smith was forced to the negotiating table. In 1980 Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party won a landslide election victory and formed a government that, like those in Angola and Mozambique, was Marxist and antiapartheid. The South African government thereafter pursued a policy of occasional armed intervention in Zimbabwe and other frontline states and sent in strike teams periodically to destroy what it considered to be bases for guerrillas planning to infiltrate South Africa. South Africa also expanded military support for the Mozambican National Resistance movement (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana--MNR or Renamo), an organization originally formed by Ian Smith's security forces to destabilize the Mozambique government.

Crackdowns on opposition groups in South Africa and the country's readiness to invade neighboring states led to increasing international condemnation of the apartheid regime. The administrations of United States presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, including United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger, had favored working with the National Party government. They saw South Africa as a key strategic ally in the Cold War and had both encouraged the invasion of Angola and promised United States military support. President Jimmy Carter, however, considered South Africa a liability for the West. His vice president, Walter Mondale, told John Vorster that the United States wanted South Africa to adopt a policy of one person, one vote, a principle that the ANC upheld but that no white group in South Africa, not even those opposed to apartheid, supported. Antiapartheid sentiments also grew in Britain and in Europe, while the UN, composed of a majority of Third World states, had in 1973 declared apartheid "a crime against humanity" and in 1977 had declared mandatory the existing embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa.

Such criticism had a considerable material impact. South Africa had to invest large sums in the development of its own armaments industry. Because of an embargo by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it also had to pay more for oil and purchased most of its supplies from the shah of Iran until his overthrow in 1979. Foreign investment in South Africa, on which the country depended for much of its economic growth, also became increasingly expensive and uncertain in the second half of the 1970s. A growing sluggishness in the South African economy, coupled with concerns about the country's political stability in light of the Soweto demonstrations, caused most investors to seek out more attractive ventures for their capital in other countries. Foreign capital still flowed into South Africa, but it was primarily in the form of short-term loans rather than investments. In 1976, for example, two-thirds of the foreign funds entering South Africa were in short-term loans, usually of twelve months' duration.

International pressures on the South African government intensified in the mid-1980s. Antiapartheid sentiment in the United States, fueled in large part by television coverage of the ongoing violence in South Africa, heightened demands for the removal of United States investments and for the imposition of official sanctions. In 1984 forty United States companies pulled out of South Africa, with another fifty following suit in 1985. In July 1985, Chase Manhattan Bank caused a major financial crisis in South Africa by refusing to roll over its short-term loans, a lead that was soon followed by most other international banks, fueling inflation and eroding South African living standards. In October 1986, the United States Congress, overriding a presidential veto, passed legislation implementing mandatory sanctions against South Africa; these included the banning of all new investments and bank loans, the ending of air links between the United States and South Africa, and the banning of many South African imports.

Botha pursued harsh measures against those he deemed his enemies in order to ensure the maintenance of white power. The late 1970s and early 1980s were marked by numerous military interventions in the states bordering South Africa and by an extensive military and political campaign to eliminate SWAPO in Namibia. Within South Africa, vigorous police action and strict enforcement of security legislation resulted in hundreds of arrests and bannings and an effective end to the ANC's stepped-up campaign of sabotage in the 1970s. Botha also continued to support the homeland policy, arguing as his predecessors had done that Africans should exercise political rights only within what were deemed to be their own communities, which in the 1980s continued to be as small and fragmented as they had been in the 1950s.

In response to the rising tide of resistance, the international community strengthened its support for the anti-apartheid cause. Sanctions and boycotts were instituted, both unilaterally by countries across the world and through the United Nations (UN). These sanctions were called for in a coordinated strategy by the internal and external anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. FW de Klerk, who replaced PW Botha as State President in 1989, announced at the opening of Parliament in February 1990 the unbanning of the liberation movements and release of political prisoners, among them Nelson Mandela. A number of factors led to this step. International financial, trade, sport and cultural sanctions were clearly biting.

Above all, even if South Africa was nowhere near collapse, either militarily or economically, several years of emergency rule and ruthless repression had clearly neither destroyed the structures of organised resistance, nor helped establish legitimacy for the apartheid regime or its collaborators. Instead, popular resistance, including mass and armed action, was intensifying. The ANC, enjoying popular recognition and legitimacy as the foremost liberation organisation, was increasingly regarded as a government in-waiting.

International support for the liberation movement came from various countries around the globe, particularly from former socialist countries and Nordic countries as well as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The other liberation organisations increasingly experienced various internal and external pressures and did not enjoy much popular support. To outside observers, and also in the eyes of growing numbers of white South Africans, apartheid stood exposed as morally bankrupt, indefensible and impervious to reforms.

The collapse of global communism, the negotiated withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola, and the culmination of the South-West African People’s Organisation’s liberation struggle in the negotiated independence of Namibia – formerly South-West Africa, administered by South Africa as a League of Nations mandate since 1919 – did much to change the mindset of white people. No longer could they demonise the ANC and PAC asfronts for international communism.

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Page last modified: 08-01-2014 19:02:37 ZULU