While processing a series of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) records, I discovered an interesting booklet about negotiations among South African government officials and the African National Congress. Founded in 1912, the ANC challenged injustice by focusing on uniting all African people and leading the struggle for fundamental political, social and economic change for a free and democratic society. The booklet, entitled Let the People Decide! Negotiations and the Struggle for a Democratic South Africa, was published in January 1991 and explains that the ANC decided to talk to the South African government in hopes that their discourse would create peaceful negotiations and the formation of a non-racial, non-sexist, and united South Africa. The ANC’s Department of Political Education purposefully designed the publication in a graphic, easy to read format in order to simply and clearly explain political issues in South Africa and discuss ways of ending the conflict between differing parties.
After many years of protests against the racially divisive apartheid system were met with continuous violence by the National Party law enforcement, the ANC called for mass action for peace and freedom through talks with the government. The booklet explains the ANC’s aim for a peaceful, united democratic society, which included mobilization of people in civic and youth organizations, trade unions, and churches. It also defines the Harare Declaration, the ANC’s plan to achieve peaceful negotiations, which was approved by the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations.
In 1990, the ANC created the Harare Declaration, which insisted that the government release all political prisoners unconditionally; terminate bans on liberation organizations such as the ANC, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and the South African Communist Party (SACP); end the State of Emergency within the black townships; and cancel all security legislation deemed oppressive for black South Africans. Other demands by the ANC included a cease in fighting by both sides and an agreement on how to end apartheid and replace the system with a new government and constitution.
In reaction to the ANC’s demands, President Frederick William de Klerk agreed to negotiation talks in February 1990 and released Nelson Mandela from 27 years of imprisonment. He also lifted the State of Emergency and unbanned the ANC, PAC, and SACP, while over 3,000 other political prisoners remained in jails and other security laws were left steadfastly in place. To continue the talks for negotiations, to persuade the National Party to release the other 3,000 political prisoners from jail and to allow exiles to return home, the ANC agreed to suspend Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK) attacks. Umkhonto we Sizwe, translated as “Spear of the Nation,” was the armed wing of the ANC. They aimed to combat the plague of violence from the government, which overwhelming increased throughout the years in apartheid South Africa.
The National Party replied to the ANC’s demands by promising to release all political prisoners from prison and declared all exiles would be able to return home. The National Party also promised to investigate the behavior of South Africa’s army and police, as well as remove the Group Areas Act. However, the government’s promises were slowly manifesting while black South Africans endured more suffering from violence, murders, and terrorism.
The negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa began with the demand for an interim government and an elected constituent assemble. In December 1990, the ANC held the National Consultative Conference to discuss its strategy and tactics for an interim government and a constituent assembly to grant the citizens of South Africa voting rights for choosing the political parties they want to work together to revise the country’s constitution. By calling for an all party conference to discuss the creation of a democratic and just South Africa and procedures for a democratic negotiating process, the people of South Africa moved forward to governing their country and solving the problems of violence.
Negotiations culminated with the establishment of a free and democratic South Africa and the historic first democratic elections in April 1994. That same year ended the apartheid political policy of racial segregation and Nelson Mandela began his term as the first black South African president.
Posted by Felicia Render
(Images from the American Committee on Africa records addendum. May not be reproduced without permission.)