January-June 1990

1990.  The Negotiations Begin

I was on my way back to South Africa to carry out research sponsored by a research Fulbright, the first awarded in South Africa since the 1970s. My cultural affairs officer was Brooks Spector (See picture) who is today a journalist in South Africa working for the Daily Maverick and NBC News.


 June 16, 1990

 On the Sabena flight from Brussels to Johannesburg.  When the announcement came that England-Holland tied 0-0, a white South African passenger commented for all to hear, “They are both run-away teams.  The Orlando Pirates, they would have won.” Perhaps there is a South Nationalism in the new South Africa.”

June 17, 1990

On arrival in Pretoria, the new South Africa looks much like the old.

On second thought, there are a few changes.

On July 28, 1988 I had noted that prescribed groups such as the UDF could participate in Council elections which the government wanted them to do but the organizations were proscribed from undertaking any activity including campaign activity.  They were effectively silenced as a result of the security legislation. Churches were again warned against political activity.  Finally, Winnie Mandela’s home in Soweto was burned.  On July 29, “Cry Freedom” was allowed to be freely shown by the censorship board but was banned by the government under the terms of the state of emergency.  There was a bomb blast at a cinema in Durban which had tried to show the film.  There was an average of two-three bombings a week in the July-August period of 1988.

A controversial film prior to February 2, 1990

Now there are still two to three bombings a week but they come from the right wing.  The ANC is getting ready to have another round of talks with the government.  There is at least much talk of political change in the new South Africa.  “Cry Freedom” is just another not very good movie playing in local cinemas and the big concern is black on black violence in the townships of Natal and whether the violence will spread to other parts of the country.

Pretoria is even becoming an African city.  There are now street peddlers and open air booths and hot dog and boerworst stands.  There are markets in the State Theatre courtyard and people mingle freely day and night.  That would of course change soon.

June 21, 1990

I had an informal discussion with Thabo Chipane, marketing manager for Nissan and a former student. Thabo returned to South Africa ten months ago.   His view is that the ANC was caught unprepared on the second of February and that they remain on the defensive. At the grassroots level, the ANC lacks organizational capabilities except for the trade unions.

In his view the role of both white business and black business is important in the negotiations but is a neglected factor.

He has no doubt that black South Africans will get the vote.  However, he does not see the analogy with other African countries.  Black South Africans are “not prepared, just not equipped” to take over the South African government.The changes thus far have been dramatic but not yet fundamental.  However, for the middle class life can be comfortable.  One can now buy housing in any part of Johannesburg which is not AWB or CP controlled.

With Thabo Chipane in Botswana in 1982.

June 25, 1990

I am attending a Workshop on the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa.  What was striking about this meeting was the academic and theoretical nature of the discussion.  Very little practical concerns are being discussed.  Also it reflects South African academics continued orientation to Western Europe and North America.  There was little discussion of African politics or the implications that the African Experience might have for South Africa. What follows was my attempt to summarize the discussions at the time of the workshop.

The focal point of the seminar was on Philippe Schmitter’s research on democratic transitions in Latin America and Southern Europe. Only limited reference was made to Eastern Europe.  Transition research should focus on uncertainty, according to Schmitter.  There are four possible results in the transition: a) a reversion to authoritarianism; b) various forms of half democracy; unconsolidated democracy- no alternative forms but without consensual rules; and d) consolidated democracy.

Under consolidated democracy there are authoritatively defined rules. Under democracy the rules are institutionalized in part via the negotiated transition to the new processes.  During the transition the rules are undefined, open ended.  There are problems of coups, problems of economic policy and the question of socialism.

Philippe Schmitter in 2009

On the other hand, part of the transition itself is the liberalization of society, an incremental process.  This means that there are basic human rights, more open debate, and a political process which is concerned with rights.  Secondly, democratization means equal treatment, equal citizenship, and access to the franchise.  Finally, democratization means socialization, participating social forces and campaigns for equal economic opportunity.  Some form of social democracy ties in here.

The transition in South Africa has been going on for over thirty years.  Change has occurred within the ruling group.  Since the late 1960s there have been hard liners (verkrampte) and soft liners (verligte).  Beginning with sport, the soft liners initiated limited, controlled reforms.  The opposition to reform opposed all changing tactics because of the slippery slope problem.  During the lead up to the 1983 reforms, the verligtes made use of the space provided after the Soweto riots and the scandle which led to the fall of the Vorster government and tried to widen the areas of reform. Reforms led to popular uprisings which between 1985-1987 led to a reintroduction of authoritarianism.  By 1987 however, in the urban areas, the process was beyond the control of the regime.  Clampdowns at this point are unsuccessful.

In the last two years both the soft-liners and the popular leaders have needed allies.  The result has been negotiated pacts, at the local and potentially at the national level, between the two sides. Pacts by their nature are undemocratic and are between different leadership groups.  The transition will be over with the founding elections and the acceptance of all political groups of the institutionalized rules of the game.

The key within the South African context is the fact that the state will not collapse. The transition is not a revolution by other means. The state will survive and will mold the transition and the post-transitional situation. Evolution to the new system will be within the context of the continuing though evolving state system.   Both sides have to deal with that fact and with the future role of the “collaborationists,” including the homeland leaders.  De Klerk has destroyed the political base of the nationalist party at this point.  This will have an impact upon the Democratic Party.  The ANC is in danger of destroying part of its base within the workerist group, the SACP.  It could fall away to the BCM, AZAPO or the PAC.

At the state level the problem is the security situation.  There is now total confusion.  The security apparatus is not fully under control.  On the other side the issue is undisciplined, diffused urban youth.  A question mark is the private sector.  What if it abandons the transition?

To what extent does the nature of the transition process define the post-apartheid state?   During the Botha years, South Africa moved to bureaucratic authoritarianism using privatization and technocratic processes to alter the state-societal relationship.  Further reform could well lead into a bureaucratic corporatist system.

An important question in thinking about the transition is the model.  Most models of transition are class based.  The South African system in the past has not been classed based authoritarianism but racial democracy.  The core state is an ethnic state.  This raises the importance of one of the white demands: control of the army.  Also this suggests a financial authoritarianism via the reserve bank.  What seems to be the future reality is an elite, multi-racial cartel.  This raises the question as to whether democracy is in the future.

In this situation one would question the importance of institutions but instead focus on the transformation of South African civil society.  This has occurred through the civic associations, the boycotts, etc. One would say that South Africa is now approaching a polyarchy without transformed political institutions.

The problem is that the working class base of the ANC precludes elitist deals.  This would suggest when political institutions are transformed the future would be a two party system with the bourgeoisie vs. labor political competition within the context of democratic processes and corporatist structures.  The role that socialist ideology plays will remain important.

Civil Society is a key corporatist concept.  As a concept, civil society is important.  As defined, one thinks of those aspects of society, which are organized and disciplined and which are not dependent upon the state.  These include associations, organizations and interactions- social, labor, religious, and economic.

There are three possible models of civic society.  The first comes from the new right.  Here one privatizes and rejects the state.  Public choice theory dominates.  The second model comes out of Eastern Europe and focuses on the formalized structures in the formally socialist states, such as mass organizations tied to the party in the earlier period.

In Southern Africa in the 1980s with Kathleen Staudt

Using the diagram, “social movements and institutions, this would suggest that there exist four scenarios for South Africa: 1) regression- loss of control to the right and suppression of soft-liners plus an upsurge of violence; 2) revolution- possible seizure of power with the state losing control to the ANC within the context of an interim government.  This is the ANC/SACP dual power approach; 3) institutionalization via non-mass based political parties, multi-racial but with a rigid polyarchy with limited formalized political democracy; 4) Post-settlement civil society- independent mass organizations and social popular movements can drive the political system; and 5) something between 3 & 4.

One issue is the civics.  These are social movements rather than civil society organizations.  They are non-disciplined, ill-organized and because of the economic-social and political heritage of South Africa large numbers of people are left out. These groups will come into state processes if there is a chance.  With the possibility of a settlement, people in the civics will want to move into political parties and eventually move into the state.  The situation with marginal groups, domestics, non-unionized labor is particularly difficult.  Unemployed youth in the townships will only get more violent, angry as settlement occurs and after compromises are made.

If South Africa moves in the direction of states to the north, the new state will not want to concede power.  In a post-apartheid state very little power would be given to civil society.  There would not be autonomous groups.  This scenario is as very gloomy one.  There will be an adversarial relationship between the state and many societal groups and movements.  There is only one exception to this, and that is the trade union movement.  It will not be subjected to the kind of domination that has occurred in other parts of Africa.

Civil society can be characterized in the following way: 1) Autonomy from the state, as well as from family and firms.  These are not units of production; 2) they are mini-political systems, they have the ability to debate, allocate resources for the needs of the collectivity, eg. De Tocqueville and the U.S.; 3) they become politically significant by being able to govern membership within the collectivity.  They can deliver the collective behavior of the group.

This is not a liberal conception of civil society.  It ties into social corporatism here.  In addition it is important to note the difference between social movements and units of civil society.  The former cannot control their members.  A social corporatist model would suggest that organizational structures will remain important, the “nomenklatura” of the national party,  the bureaucracy, the police and the army both during and after the transition.

The fear with regard to the transition is that the nation building, the power consolidation of the new regime may be illiberal.  However, the hope is for the historic compromise, the agreement on basic structures and frameworks.

The issue for South Africa is whether this can be done given the deeply entrenched socio-economic realities, structural poverty among blacks.  Unemployment, especially within the Eastern Cape has run at over 60% for two years or longer.  Nationally the enormous income disparities are increasing as is the quality of life gap between black and white households.

The transitional period will make these socio-economic problems worse and impact upon the post-transition period.  The transition process will impact upon economic actors by changing their expectations about the future.  During the transition period, there will be a high level of uncertainty and little new resources. New investment awaits an acceptable transition.

The post-transition period requires an excess, or surplus of funds or funds from overseas.  There must be increased savings or a massive international transfer of capital to invest for 6% plus growth to occur.  The key to a post-apartheid economy is that incentive is based upon a perception of a fair rate of return.  This will be true of both large and new entrepreneurs.  At the same time, economic development in South Africa implies a change in the structure of the economy and on the nature of distribution.

The discussion of the evolution of civics was by Mark Swilling [pictured below] who I had interviewed two years ago on August 10, 1988.  At that time, Swilling noted the importance of constitutional development from the bottom up.  The mistake that was made in 1983 was that it was top down.

The government then pursued the Gaulieter option putting together local alliances on the basis of consociationalism.   We are through the primary stage now he said in 1988.  The regional services councils represent this.  These are the building blocks. Their strategy he said was linked to security to the joint security centers.

It is academic- the state is committed to reform with relationships to exist within the framework of hierarchical structures.  The current situation according to some state officials is that the 1980s reforms were building blocks to majority rule.  This is the reformist view.  Others would oppose this.  They would see one nation with various ethnic minorities represented. This says that everyone in South Africa belongs to a minority group.  There is no majority.

If reform is to occur there must develop a critical mass within government for the change to take place.  This minority group within government was influential.  Its numbers were still increasing but in 1988 he said its influence was not.  The dominant group is still the Stellenbosch generation trained in the 1940s and 1950s, the cultural (or ethnic) generation.  The younger people have different ideas.  They come from Potchefstroom and Stellenbosch now.

With regard to regional services councils, taxes are important.  White rate payers are the key here.  RSCs are in the tax business.  A future urban dispensation would be a unitary city system which would include the townships.  In 1983 the idea of black councils came out of the blue.  There was no thought of finance.  The government thought that black moderates wanted an elected council.  The Black Councils were part of what the government saw as a compromise.

Government placed high hopes on the council elections in 1987. They had hoped for a high turnout in the PWV.  That would have been critical to their nation building efforts.

The homelands do carry some lessons with regard to rural development.  A post- apartheid government could also use some of their structures. They will not be replaced by anything else.  The tribal authorities are not all bad.  He noted the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa and in particular Prince Mahlaugu of Kwa Ndebele.  At the provincial level, nine regions make a great deal of sense.

In the end, Swilling said,

“Government will only negotiate when it runs out of options.”  On reforms, he went on, “Government realizes that it made a mistake by introducing changes from the top down. What is happening now is a bottom up approach.  They know what can happen in terms of the local level (with RSCs).  Now however, they are stuck and they don’t know what to do.”

South African HomelandsJune 27, 1990

There seems to be some consensus over the status of homelands between the government and the African National Congress.  On June 19 there was a meeting between South African President F.W. de Klerk and what were described political leaders at “national, regional and provincial level.”  Mandela in a television interview while in the U.S. said that the ANC recognized homeland leaders as provincial level authorities.  The ANC has had talks with homeland leaders and all but two of them, Buthelezi and Mangope, are developing “understandings” with the ANC.

The ANC recognizes that the current constitutional separation of the four “independent” homelands presents a problem.  However, it wants them included in any negotiating process.  Their status must be resolved as part of the constitution-building exercise.  The leadership in three of the four has stated that they wish to “re-incorporate” into South Africa.

A drive through the Pretoria bed-room communities within Boputhatswana demonstrates the irrationality of the Mangope stand on independence.  There is general consensus that Mangope’s days are numbered.  This is not the case with Buthelezi.

De facto, South Africa has fourteen provincial or regional authorities


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