African National Congress in the American Committee on Africa Records

While assisting with the archival processing of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) records addendum for much of 2012, I read a lot about American-led divestment campaigns and the importance that the African National Congress (ANC) placed on economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s. Therefore, while processing a section of the administration files of The Africa Fund (a sister organization to ACOA) this past month, I was amazed by the ANC’s rapid transformation following F.W. de Klerk’s call for the end of apartheid in 1990.  The ANC operated as a strong force against the apartheid regime and emerged as the leading political party of a new democracy. The materials that I processed illustrated that with this responsibility came great challenges that had to re-wind policies that helped end apartheid and forced the party to face the terrible inequalities that apartheid created throughout South African society. During my work with the collection, I was particularly drawn to two items: a letter from Nelson Mandela to Jennifer Davis, the Executive Director of The Africa Fund, and a 1994 abbreviated guide to the ANC’s Reconstruction and Developement Plan (RDP). Together, these two documents demonstrate the changing role of the ANC throughout the 1990s.

1993 letter from Nelson Mandela to Jennifer Davis.

1993 letter from Nelson
Mandela to Jennifer Davis.

In his July 27, 1993, letter Nelson Mandela asked Davis to prepare for the lifting of economic sanctions in cities and states throughout the United States. Mandela expressed the importance of future efforts to shift from withholding trade to South Africa to motivating trade in order to ensure that the country would be competitive in the world economy following apartheid. Mandela expressed concerns over a weak economy and stated that “nearly half of our people have no jobs, no homes, and little hope.” As a solution, he hoped that “cities and states that were the firm backbone of the anti-Apartheid movement in the United States” would re-invest in a “socially responsible manner which will help address the devastating legacy of Apartheid.”  Mandela stated that the sanctions “played a critical role in bringing us close to freedom day and I will be forever grateful to the American people” as South Africa worked to “establish a new democratic order on a solid foundation.”  Throughout this letter, Mandela expressed gratitude for encouraging sanctions when necessary and hoped that the same supporters of his cause would transform their campaigns with the ANC to promote a strong South Africa.

Front cover to the ANC's plan for post-apartheid development in South Africa.

Front cover to the ANC’s
plan for post-apartheid
development in South Africa.

Just as Mandela’s letter expressed the importance of creating a democracy on a “solid foundation,” the Basic Guide to the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) laid out the ANC’s plan to build that foundation in response to the inequalities that the Apartheid system forced upon the new democracy. Published in 1994, just prior to South Africa’s first democratic elections and Mandela’s election as president, the guide served as a user-friendly document to the larger RDP plan. According to the guide, the RDP was “a plan to address the many social and economic problems facing South Africa, a plan to recognize that all of these problems are connected, and a plan to mobilise all our people and all our resources to finally get rid of apartheid and build a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future.”

The RDP was developed by an ANC group in consultation with other organizations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and research organizations.  According to the guide, the elections on April 27, 1994 were “only the first step” and the country needed “a programme of action to rebuild and develop the country.”  Spanning across many topics, including land reform, literacy, and civic education, the plan was incredibly idealistic with wide-ranging ambitions and goals. For example, the plan sought to attain “decent, well-located, and affordable shelter for all by the year 2003” and “wipe out malnutrition and hunger in a three year programme.”  That said, the plan acknowledged many of the harsh realities of post-apartheid society and mapped out possible solutions, however attainable they were.

Posted by Diane Galatowitsch.

(Images from The Africa Fund records. May not be reproduced without permission.

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