About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

National Party (NP)

Following the formation of the Union in 1910, white parties in South Africa were organised on a large scale for the first time. Most political par-ties are strongly rooted in history, and the foundation of the National Party by General J B M Hertzog in 1914 may be seen as the product of more than two centuries of Afrikaner political ideology. After a special congress held in Bloemfontein it was decided to establish a party with a federal structure. The party was then founded in January 1914.

The founding of the National Party was an indication of the deep divisions within Afrikaner ranks rather than an expression of Afrikaner unity. The birth of the NP was not only the result of a power struggle between English and Afrikaans-speaking communities, but also of an anti-imperialist attitude among Afrikaners. In the early years of the party's existence the competing aspects of class and nationalism (read ethnicity) were prominent in white politics. The Afrikaners wanted to play a more significant political role in society and the government, preferably in an independent South African re-public. They also had a clear policy aim: physically, socially and politically to separate South African whites, blacks, coloureds and Indians.

It was only in 1924, when the National Party and the (white) Labour Party under the leadership of Colonel F H P Creswell formed an election pact and challenged the South African Party (SAP), that Hertzog succeeded in defeating the SAP of General Jan Smuts. Labour issues and Afrikaner nationalism were the cornerstones on which the Pact government was built in the period following 1924. In 1933 Hertzog and Smuts decided to amalgamate their parties. This meant that Afrikaner idealism took a back seat in favour of broader national and even inter-national aims. The Cape members of the NP were unhappy with this arrangement and did not join in the fusion of the parties. In 1934 Dr D F Malan and his followers established the (Purified) National Party, thus becoming the main opposition to the United Party under Hertzog.

The present-day National Party emerged from the purified NP. This faction of the original NP of 1914 was built on deep-seated Afrikaner nationalism. Indirectly, the amalgamation of Hertzog's NP and Smuts's SAP to form the United Party further stimulated Afrikaner nationalism. The NP was increasingly seen by Afrikaners as the institution which would further their group interests. The party was complemented by cultural, social, economic and religious organisations created exclusively for Afrikaners. Along with Nasionale Pers, the Afrikaner-Broederbond, Sanlam, Avbob, the Voortrekkers, FAK, Helpmekaar, KWV and Volkskas, the NP became a growing Afrikaner power group.

The party organised Afrikaner interests in a coordinated and consolidated manner, making itself felt in every sphere of South African society. Afrikaner intellectuals who played a significant role in the mobilization of Afrikaner nationalism include Drs N J Diederichs (later NP minister and State President), T E Donges (later NP minister), D F Malan (later NP Prime Minister), and P J Meyer (later chairman of the Broederbond and head of the SABC), and Professor L J du Plessis (professor at Potchefstroom University and chairman of the Broederbond in the thirties).

In 1948 the National Party gained a majority in the election, and the party leaders quickly acted to establish and protect the party's position. They were so successful in their at-tempts that the party maintained its monopoly of political power in the government into the nineties. Briefly these measures entailed the following (in this context NP policy equals government policy):

With the introduction of the South African Citizenship Act in 1949 dual British and South African citizenship was abolished, and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was introduced.

In 1950 the Population Registration Act, Suppression of Communism Act, Group Areas Act and the Immorality Act were promulgated.

In 1951 the coloureds (in the Cape Province) were deprived of their vote when the Separate Representation of Voters Act was introduced. This act could be promulgated only, however, after the NP by devious means evaded the entrenched clauses in the 1910 constitution which guaranteed the right to vote for the coloureds.

The influx control measures regarding blacks were broadened in 1952.

In 1953 the Separate Amenities Act was introduced, and in 1955 property rights for blacks outside their homelands were abolished.

By the end of the fifties a series of laws had been passed to support a system of administrative control over the homelands. In 1959 the system of indirect representation of blacks in the Cape and Natal was abolished. Provided Afrikaner unity could be preserved, the built-in majorities of Afrikaners against English-speaking people (6o:4o) meant a near-automatic majority for the NP in elections.

In 1961 the great Afrikaner ideal was realized when South Africa be-came an independent republic, out-side the Commonwealth.

During the sixties the structures supporting "grand apartheid" were further broadened. Numerous acts of legislation transforming the home-lands from self-governing areas into "independent states" were introduced. The Transkei, which gained its "independence" in 1976, was the first of four "states" established under this policy of separate development.

The evolution of NP policy in respect of political change in South Africa since the mid-seventies can be traced as follows: a period during which "powersharing" with the coloureds was the priority; the development of separate local governments to manage the administration of "own affairs"; and a final phase during which the "powersharing" in respect of coloureds and Indians was broadened to include blacks.

By the time P W Botha succeeded Vorster as Prime Minister in 1978, the entire apartheid system was well established. In fact, there was so much pressure on the system that adaptations had to be made. Pressure mounted from within and outside the country against what many considered to be an illegitimate govern-

ment. The fact that a political system had been designed and established to protect the minority, while blacks had no political power, led to in-creasing resistance from the excluded group.

In the first years after he came to power, senior officials close to P W Botha stressed the importance of a national security strategy. The role of the State Security Council, created by Vorster in 1972, became the pivotal point round which the "total national strategy" centred. The aim of the SSC was to eradicate the "total (Marxist) onslaught".

For Botha the solution to the "total onslaught" was a strategy built on effective safety measures, linked to a programme intended to remove the grievances which fired revolutionaries. His "reforms" enjoyed wide initial support among "enlightened" members of the NP, Afrikaner cultural leaders, academics, the business community and certain officials.

The early eighties was an important era of political restructuring. Some of these "reforms" displeased the verkramptes or conservatives within the NP. The second relatively large breakaway under the leadership of Dr Andries Treurnicht was a reaction against the new direction Botha had taken. The fact that party unity had not been under much pressure over the years can be ascribed to the federal composition of the party, as well as to the unique political culture of Afrikaners, who have the greatest respect for their political leaders.

An important reason for the NP's growth and survival was the federal structure, and the concomitant de-centralized organisational dynamics of the party. The four "provincial" parties are separate organisational entities, each with its own leader, character and identity. In theory the highest decision-making body of each "party" is the provincial congress, which meets once a year. The "parties" are organisationally linked in the federal council. Politically they are united by the same principles and action programmes. Amendments to the programmes can only be introduced by the provincial congresses.

The leader of the party (the prime minister; state president in later years), who is elected by the caucus, is the party's most important policy-maker. Owing to Calvinist tradition and "the Afrikaner's habit of obedience towards leaders, the appointment of persons to positions of authority is accepted by some even as 'God's will' ".

In later years, especially under the leadership of P W Botha, this characteristic led to "decision-making taking place from the 'top down' instead of 'from the bottom up'. The exalted status of the leader meant that his requests were largely obeyed as if they were commands. Because of this political culture the federal council, provincial congresses and caucus accepted drastic changes in policy without any serious threat to party unity.

Botha's notion of the need for change was spelt out in his "Adapt or Die" speech in Upington in 1979. He proposed a number of policy reforms. Besides the legalization of black trade unions (as a result of the findings of the Wiehahn report), abolition of the restrictions on the free movement of blacks, policy adaptations concerning regional development, and the abolition of the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the most important change was undoubtedly the introduction of the tricameral system in 1984.

What seemed like huge concessions to blacks in the eyes of whites, actually had major deficiencies for a number of reasons. These included:

Economic reform without fundamental reform was seen by the black opposition and countries abroad as concessions made under pressure.

Blacks were still excluded from the central political process.

There was a growing contradiction between economic integration and political apartheid.

This process of reform, mainly economic in nature, introduced a period of black protest and resistance, particularly from the second half of 1984 onwards. Resistance organisations such as the United Democratic Front and National Forum led the "onslaught". The workplace also became increasingly politicized, and trade unions practised resistance politics trade unions were the only means by which blacks could legally practise their political aspirations.

The growth in extra-parliamentary politics and resistance led to the first partial state of emergency, declared in July 1985. The state diagnosed this resistance as part of the revolutionary onslaught, and the machinery which had already been in place for some time to suppress this kind of resistance, the National Security Management System (NSMS), was put into action. At the head of this system was a Cabinet committee, the State Security Council (SSC). The latter was increasingly used for decision-making. The entire NSMS was supported by a network of committees right down to ground level, where it was represented by the Joint Management Centres (JMCs), Sub-JMCs and Mini-JMCs (magisterial districts).

The NSMS was fully deployed during the first and second states of emergency. In this period the military reformers, or "securocrats", launched a well-planned counter-revolutionary programme, entailing two functional elements based on the national strategy: the development of the safety and welfare of the state. The programme was put into practice as follows:

Suppression (or "control"), ie the extermination, of the resistance organisation and counter-action against activities undermining the state.

The "soft war", ie the "winning of the hearts and minds" ("wham") programme. This strategy largely involved the restructuring or "reform" of the mid-eighties, and what Botha labelled the "broadening of democracy".

In 1986 the National Statutory Council Bill was published. The council was intended as the point of departure for the introduction of political rights for blacks. Many black leaders were prepared to serve on the council, provided certain conditions were met, the most important of these being the release of Nelson Mandela (demanded by Mangosuthu Buthelezi) and the unbanning of the ANC and other groups (demanded by Enos Mabuza). At provincial level, the Provincial Councils were abolished and replaced by new "multi-racial" Executive Commit-tees. At the third level of government the multi-racial composition of the Regional Services Councils caused strong protest, but even this did not prevent the NP from proceeding on its chosen road of constitutional re-form.

Because of the high-profile security issues during 1986, an important milestone in the political history of blacks, the abolition of influx control measures on I June 1986, was barely noticed.

At the federal congress of the National Party in August 1986, Botha indicated that he would shortly call a general election, the first since 1981. Although constitutionally the next election was only due in 1989, the CP continually accused the NP of having no mandate for its "reforms". By this stage it was clear that Botha himself had reached the end of the road as far as fundamental reforms were concerned. The NP would thus be unable to offer its voters any new vision during a general election. In his New Year message for 1987 Botha announced that an election would be held in May.

Before the May 1987 election the NP held 116 seats. During this election support for the far right had clearly been underestimated, and the government had to contend with an official opposition even more conservative than itself. After the election the NP had 123 seats, the Alliance 20 (PFP 19 and NRP I) and the CP 22. One independent completed the total of 166 seats. The NP won just over half, 52,45 per cent, of the votes cast, while the far right won about a third (29,51 per cent) and the Alliance 16,03 per cent. (Owing to the fact that the NP put up candidates in all but two constituencies, while the CP and the Alliance contested 75 per cent and 57 per cent of the constituencies respectively, these totals are slightly misleading. Had the other parties put forward candidates in all the constituencies, the NP would probably have won less than 50 per cent of the total votes cast.) In 1987 the NP vote fell by just over 3,5 per cent from 56 per cent, while the far right increased its vote from 14 per cent to nearly 30 per cent. This shift to the right was further accentuated by the fact that support for the liberal parties de-creased by more than to per cent compared to the 1981 election.

In the 1987 election the majority of the Afrikaner working class sup-ported the CP after the party promised to devote special attention to their interests. (A similar trend had emerged in the period from 1948 to 1977 when the NP and the working class had a close symbiotic relation-ship.) Farmers in the northern provinces left the NP. The deteriorating economy plus the farmers' supposed vulnerability to armed infiltrators harmed the traditionally close bond between the farmers and the NP. Like their brothers in the working class, the farmers demanded a return to political strategies which would guarantee them wealth and security. The major support for the CP came from the Transvaal platteland and the periphery of the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area. The NP drew most of its support from the civil service, young professionals and business community. The party also captured all the English working-class constituencies as well as a large number of middle- to upper-class English-speaking constituencies. The English-speaking support for the NP was the highest it had been in the history of the party.

Many factors, already discernible by 1987, indicated that it would be difficult for the CP to win an election. The following factors favoured the NP:

The blue-collar workers who voted the NP into power in 1948 and had now changed their loyalties to the CP were shrinking in number as a result of the improved material position of white South Africans.

The monopoly of the Afrikaans print media and control over the SABC.

The NP's use of the strategy "safety through unity", which had been perfected to a fine art.

The NP's resources, financial as well as material, far exceeded those of the far right.

To recap: with the "security issue" dominating the election and the fact that the liberal PFP had lost its position as official opposition, the far right under the leadership of the CP caused a hesitant Botha to abandon any reform plans he might have had. During this period the country constantly experienced crisis management under the umbrella of the security services.

The NP's relationships with its more trustworthy political partners also suffered in this period. The leader of the Labour Party, Allan Hendrickse, the NP's "junior partner" in the tricameral system, clashed so frequently with P W Botha that serious parliamentary crises erupted. The government al-lowed another opportunity for bridge-building politics to slip through its fingers when it rejected the Kwa-Natal Indaba's constitutional proposals.

Not only was 1988 the fortieth anniversary of the NP's reign of power and P W Botha's tenth year in office; it also became the year of a number of other anniversaries the Dias, Great Trek and Huguenot festivals, to mention a few. However, these commemorations repeatedly highlighted the lack of national symbols and unity, all indications that apartheid was far from dead.

Early in 1988 the NP suffered two major by-election defeats in the Transvaal against the CP. Botha said the government should take note of these anti-integration sentiments the underlying cause of the shift to the right. At the same time he tried to inject new life into the proposed National Statutory Council by pro-posing a "Great Indaba" at which negotiations and powersharing would be discussed. At this time there were debates about the possibility of discussions between the government and ANC. The possibility of a closer relationship with the ANC as well as the abolition of some apartheid legislation (mostly in the area of social integration) caused the NP to lose a large slice of its support in the October 1988 municipal elections.

Early in 1989 P W Botha suffered a stroke. After dramatically relinquishing his leadership, he was replaced as leader of the NP by F W de Klerk. In the final caucus vote for the leadership of the NP, De Klerk won 69 votes as opposed to the 61 of Barend du Plessis. In his first speech as leader of the NP, De Klerk committed himself to a totally new South Africa, free of racism and domination.

The fact that Botha remained on in the position of State President created a great deal of uncertainty about the government's "leadership". NP Members of Parliament, however, had no doubt that De Klerk was al-ready determining NP policy. The federal council of the NP rejected Botha's attempt to separate the Office of the State President from that of leader of the NP. In April 1989, at his first appearance in Parliament after his illness, Botha announced a general election for 6 September 1989.

At a federal congress held in June 1989 in Pretoria, the National Party accepted a five-year action plan according to which it intended to establish a "new South Africa" where each South African could "live safely, prosperously and with dignity as individuals and also in the group context". The proposed South Africa would be a democracy in which:

No group dominated or was dominated.

The independence of the judiciary was respected.

Civilized norms were maintained.

A progressive economy based on free enterprise flourished.

Everyone lived securely and decently.

People lived in good neighbourliness with the international community.

This action plan of the NP contained no far-reaching ideas on cardinal policy shifts. There was no dramatic move away from what had already been placed on the table during the 1987 general election. It did, how-ever, present a new packaging and a new approach to the reform policy. The party's cautious and vague handling of the notion of group areas, including a more pragmatic approach to the Group Areas Act, meant a move away from its prescriptive attitude towards hard apartheid. It was, however, precisely this vagueness concerning groups which again created the possibility of conflicting interpretations. It was doubtful whether this would reassure the white voter either to the left or to the right of the NP. The preservation of the notion of groups as the corner-stone of the new plan was clearly an attempt at reconciling the concept of minority group rights with power-sharing. There was no dramatic break with apartheid; neither were there any broad principles or an agenda for negotiation. With this cautious approach to political change and the political conditions in 1989, it was to be expected that the NP would lose votes at the polls.

P W Botha's continued personal differences with members of his party further hampered the NP campaign. These differences finally reached a head when Pik Botha and F W de Klerk announced their intention to visit the Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda. P W Botha alleged that this visit had never been approved by him, and in a television broadcast on 14 August he resigned as State President. This followed a Cabinet request earlier in the day that he should resign.

During the five-month election campaign, the CP proposed a return to a Vorster model of apartheid, while the DP stood for a change to a Western-style democracy. The NP attempted to position itself between these two parties. It tried eagerly to sell the five-year action plan, largely based on new ideas formulated by the Broederbond. The plan was so vague that it meant different things to different people. Because it con-trolled a great proportion of the media, the NP could easily position it-self between the DP and CP, promising its right-wing voters that despite the move towards change, the NP would never compromise the safety of its voters, and promising the more moderate voters that their concern about safety would never compromise reform.

The white election campaign, as well as those for the coloured and Indian chambers, were consistently derailed by a protest campaign launched by the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). Hospitals in the Transvaal, buses in Pretoria, schools in the Border district and beaches in the Cape and Natal were earmarked as targets. Although most of these protest actions were peaceful, many were broken up by the police. At least 37 protest meetings were violently disrupted by the security forces, and i 50o people were arrested in the month preceding the election. The NP found it difficult to maintain a balance between these violent actions on the one hand and the propagation of a new, just South Africa on the other.

The 1989 election resulted in a swing to the left. About 12 per cent of the 1987 NP voters voted for the DP, while 5 per cent aligned them-selves with the CP. The swing from the NP to the DP occurred mostly among English-speaking voters. The far right succeeded in increasing its total support merely by 1 per cent. Its total number of seats grew to 39, however, while the DP won 33 seats, and the NP remained the governing party with 93 seats and a smaller majority. In the Transvaal the CP obtained nine seats from the NP, in the Free State six, and in the Cape Province two. Nearly all the seats won by the DP had been PFP or NRP seats after the 1981 election.

The DP failed to attract meaningful support from the upper- and middle-class urban Afrikaners, who believed that goal-orientated reform was necessary for the preservation of their high standard of living. Al-though there was much talk before the election about the "fourth force", or enlightened Afrikaners, the party was unable to attract many of these votes. There are many explanations for the reluctance of seemingly liberal Afrikaners to break away from the NP. The most important is the hold that the glue of the Afrikaner political culture (also known as "Boere-bostik") has on the Afrikaner. Important characteristics of this political culture are:

A commitment to the group ideology. This notion is underpinned by the idea that racial groups have deep-seated differences, and that there is a unique Afrikaner identity. This identity was earlier used as a political cryptograph giving status to political domination used to protect group interests and obtain privileges.

A fear of domination by other groups. The Afrikaners' traumatic experience under British rule, and possibly an awareness of their own excessive exercise of power, made them determined to remain in power.

A patronizing attitude towards other racial groups. Some Afrikaner ranks have the notion that they are the most important agents for stability and development. Should the government fall into other hands, it would lead to the destruction of "civilized standards".

Intentional isolation. In most cases the cross-cultural pollination of other groups as well as foreign influences are underplayed. There are still concerted efforts to protect the group against exposure to other cultures.

Appropriation of the state. Many Afrikaners unconsciously appropriate the state for themselves they want to possess and be in control in the same way as a farmer possesses and controls his farm. This "boereplaas" or farmer's mentality, also manifests itself in their way of speaking. So for example, Afrikaners are known to use the possessive form when talking about "our" minister, "our" police, etc. The notion of ownership of the state and its institutions makes it more difficult to point out the dangers of minority control.

The September 1989 election not only introduced a new direction for the NP, but also concluded the P W Botha era. It can rightly be said that the South African political scene changed more dramatically during the eighties than in any other decade since the formation of the Union.

P W Botha, more than any other person, brought about the political changes. In the early eighties the notion of a multi-nation/multi-state was proposed. The inherent conflicts in the apartheid policy as well as the forces of social and economic change brought the NP to the realization that apartheid could never be fully deployed. In reality white voters had to choose whether they wanted to en-ter the future poverty-stricken and separate or wealthy and mixed. Al-though the NP scrapped the first option, it remained extremely cautious about the second and approached it with a feeling of extreme ambivalence.

The end of the Botha era and the end of the eighties were characterized by important changes, partly as a result of the unintentional consequences of adaptations in NP policy. These included:

A constitutional dispensation which satisfied no political group, including the NP.

The abolition of racial segregation.

The acceptance of blacks' right to South African citizenship.

The international cultural and political isolation of South Africa.

Economic stagnation due to sanctions, disinvestment and the high cost of maintaining the apartheid policy, eg the duplication of institutions, and the homelands policy.

Independence for Namibia, which increased the possibility of regional cooperation.

Reform a la Botha brought the NP to an important crossroads. Botha's political heritage left the NP under De Klerk (sworn in as State President on 20 September 1989) with no other choice but to concede that South Africa was now a multi-nation/single state which could no longer tolerate political domination by whites. Fundamental issues such as the sharing of actual political power and the self-determination of whites took on new dimensions.

The first signs of a new direction to be taken by the NP came after the election when De Klerk interpreted the NP and DP's joint support as "pro-reform". Clearly the NP had been waiting for the election results before introducing certain reform initiatives. Besides accepting the opening of municipal facilities in Johannesburg and the principle of integrated schools in mixed neighbourhoods, organised protests were permitted on a much wider scale.

A new watershed for the NP and South Africa was F W de Klerk's historic speech on 2 February 1990 at the opening of Parliament. With the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and SACP and lifting of restrictions on a number of affected organisations, De Klerk fundamentally changed the rules of the political game in South Africa. In less than a year the political scene had completely changed. De Klerk's courageous reform steps caught both his supporters and opponents by surprise. The fact that a leader with such an unimpeachable Nationalist background could make a fundamental break with orthodox party policy caught friend and foe off guard. With his unflinching actions De Klerk suddenly gained the status of a "super-verligte" ("super liberal").

The fact that De Klerk, despite his so-called verkrampte baggage, suddenly began to create a new South Africa can probably be ascribed to the following:

It was only after his appointment as State President and the concomitant responsibility of rescuing the country from its political problems that De Klerk was able to imprint his own style on decision-making.

His election as State President meant more exposure to the opinions of outsiders, confronting him with the realities of apartheid.

It was only after becoming State President and having the entire state information network at his disposal that De Klerk came to realize the serious nature of the country's problems.

He was influenced by an enlightened circle of friends for whom he had the highest regard, including his brother, Dr Willem de Klerk (a founder member of the Democratic Party), and Dr Dawie de Villiers (another well-known verligte).

His close victory in the presidential election over Barend du Plessis, a verligte, was possibly seen by him as a further indication that the reform process should be speeded up.

As a result of De Klerk's initiatives all other political organisations were forced to adapt their strategies. The NP, too, had to reassess its policy. In the parliamentary session following De Klerk's historic speech, many of the NP's holy cows came under the spotlight the NP had to concede that all discriminatory legislation was inappropriate in a new South Africa. The following changes were made in order to scrap discriminatory practices:

The Separate Amenities Act and all related discriminatory practices were scrapped. By implication the Group Areas Act had to go too.

The Prisons Amendment Act, which determined that prisons be integrated, was introduced.

Apartheid in hospitals was scrapped.

Proposals for the radical restructuring of local government, which meant the end of "own affairs", were announced.

New models for white education and the integration of state schools were announced.

After February 1990 the government held numerous formal talks with the ANC, including the talks that led to the Groote Schuur, Pretoria and D F Malan Minutes, plus many informal talks. These centred mainly on ways of clearing obstacles to negotiation. Consequently ANC leaders were guaranteed indemnity against prosecution, political prisoners were re-leased and ANC exiles were allowed to return. De Klerk and other government leaders held informal talks with a variety of leaders over a wide spectrum.

The new direction adopted by the NP was welcomed within and outside the country. The state of emergency, which had been in force for four years, was not renewed in June 1990, a development that further improved the image of the government abroad. An interesting fact that came to light in opinion polls was that De Klerk was seen by blacks as the "best per-son for the job", with Mandela as second choice. In white circles it was felt, however, that too many concessions had been made to black radicals. An indication of this was the Umlazi by-election in June 1990, when the CP drastically reduced the NP majority. This and other indications of increasing concern in white ranks did not prevent the NP from continuing on its road of reform. De Klerk's announcement that there will not be another parliamentary election until negotiations for a new constitution have been finalized makes it easier for the NP to continue on its chosen path. It will probably be easier for the NP to win the promised referendum at the end of the negotiation process than to win a general election.

An indication of the "non-negotiables" was given by F W de Klerk in August 1 990 when he emphasized the following important principles:

No one-party state.

Regular elections.

Powersharing without domination by one group.

Representation of minorities.

A bill of rights.

A free-market economy.

No communist system.

Own education.

Maintenance of existing property rights.

Security forces which are acceptable to all.

An independent judiciary.

A fair tax system.

The shift in NP policy is at its most obvious in respect of the protection of minorities in the negotiated constitution despite the stand on minority representation adopted by De Klerk just a month earlier. In an important speech made at the Natal NP congress in September 1990, Dr Gerrit Viljoen, Minister of Constitutional Development, indicated that the government intended to scrap the notion of protection of minorities based on race. He also gave a clear indication that little remained of the NP's original policy of "rights for racial groups". Instead of defining minorities, Viljoen said that it was necessary rather to make provision for guidelines and procedures where-by people could voluntarily elect to declare themselves minorities, if preferred. This implied that the Population Registration Act would have to be scrapped. Furthermore, there would be no need to define "white" or "black" South Africans in a new constitution or in statutes. The scrapping of the Population Registration Act also implied the automatic opening of schools and neighbourhoods.

By the end of 1990 it was clear that the NP was committed to fundamental reform in South Africa. It was to be expected that the party would experience resistance to the scrapping of remaining discriminatory legislation such as the Group Areas and Population Registration Acts, and the Land Acts. In his New Year message the State President, F W de Klerk, committed himself to combating violence, intimidation and anarchy through impartial policing. New plans to stabilize local governments, particularly in black areas, were announced. The commitment to non-racial structures and the principle of "one city, one tax base" at local government level, which could function as early as 1992, gave a clear indication of the extent of the changes proposed.

The party is in the process of reorganising itself at management level. In the Transvaal changes have al-ready taken place with the appointment of a management council, regional secretaries, and the launch of a continuous training programme for party officials and functionaries. A multi-media campaign designed to propagate the party's new image, as well as an extensive recruitment campaign for new members, were launched.

The ANC's willingness to compromise was indicated with its suggestion for an all-party conference early in 1991. This was a shift from its earlier insistence on the establishment of a constituent assembly and interim government as a launch pad for a new constitution. Dr Gerrit Viljoen, Minister of Constitutional Development, stated that the government was strongly in favour of such a multi-party conference as a preparation for the negotiation process. In fact, it had earlier been proposed by the government itself, but was rejected by the ANC. The government is opposed to the idea of a constituent assembly and interim government as points of departure for a new constitution for the following reasons:

q     According to them, despite the fact that the present government is a minority government, it is accepted internationally as legitimate; the situation is thus different to that of Namibia, where a constituent assembly was used as a point of departure.

The members of a constituent assembly must call an election and carry out the mandate received from their voters. These policies are often radical and cannot be executed be-cause the respective parties often have to outbid each other to gain the support of their followers. These radical policies are not designed to seek consensus or to be accommodating, particularly as these views have to be voiced in public.

In this kind of situation the "rules of the game" cannot be agreed on in advance, and accordingly the contest between the parties is directly transferred to the constituent assembly. In the South African context it might give rise to the institutionalization of violence because the present struggle is simply transferred to the constituent assembly without allowing the parties the opportunity to reach compromises.

A multi-party conference provides ample opportunity for liaison between the state and the parties present, which means that acceptable suggestions made at the conference can be put into effect while negotiations are still in progress.

A multi-party conference can serve as an important transitional mechanism towards an interim government and constituent assembly. Regular accountability, incisive contact and in-formal talks at such a congress might possibly clear up some of the government's objections to an interim government and constituent assembly. The groundwork for a constitution can be completed and serve as the basis for an interim government.

On 1 February 1991 F W de Klerk announced that the last cornerstones of apartheid, including the Group Areas Act, Population Registration Act and Land Acts, were to be scrapped during the 1991 parliamentary session. Measures allowing existing municipalities to amalgamate on a non-racial basis and to collect taxes jointly were announced. He also introduced the "Manifesto for the new South Africa".

Manifesto for the new South Africa

WE, as South Africans from all walks of life, ASSOCIATING ourselves with the goodwill and the shared desire for justice, peace and freedom among the majority of our fellow South Africans,

DECLARE

THAT a just and fair new South Africa, free from apartheid, requires a strong South African nation,

THAT there exists, therefore, an urgent need for the leaders of all our people and communities to come together to shape a mutually acceptable new constitution for our country,

THAT such a constitution should be based on the rule of law and lay the foundation for a nation dedicated to justice, democracy and freedom for all,

through the pursuit of participation, peace, progress, and prosperity, THAT all the people of our country should take part in this endeavour, THAT WE, to this end, SUBSCRIBE to the following:

PARTICIPATION: A FREE AND DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL SYSTEM WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO

the creation of a free and democratic political system in South Africa, in which:

All the people shall be free in this, their country of birth.

All the people of our land shall participate fully at all levels of government on the basis of universal adult franchise.

The government of the country shall at all times be based upon the consent of the governed.

All people shall be equal before the law, and shall enjoy equal rights regardless of race, colour, sex or creed.

The rights of all individuals and minorities defined on a non-racial basis shall be adequately protected in the constitution and in a constitutionally guaranteed and justiciable bill of rights.

Freedom of expression, within the generally recognized bounds of responsibility, shall be the right of all people.

Freedom of movement and of association shall be guaranteed to all.

PROGRESS: AN EQUITABLE SOCIAL SYSTEM WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO

the creation of an equitable social system in South Africa in which:

The human dignity of each individual, being a unique creature of God, shall be respected at all times.

Freedom of religion and of worship shall be guaranteed for all.

All discrimination between groups of people or between individuals shall be eliminated and discriminatory legislation shall be repealed.

The goal of just and equitable educational systems, accessible to all, shall be striven for unswervingly.

Access for all to affordable shelter shall be a high priority.

PROSPERITY: A FREE AND EQUITABLE ECONOMIC SYSTEM WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO

the creation of a free and equitable economic system in South Africa in which:

All people shall be free to sell their labour and market their products.

The ownership of property shall be open to all.

Economic growth with the emphasis on the creation of employment shall be vigorously promoted.

The resources of the state shall be fairly used for the common good, with special regard to the socio-economic backlogs existing in our country.

The state and all the members of our society shall accept our responsibility as custodians of our environment and resources.

PEACE: FREEDOM AND SECURITY FOR ALL WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO

the maintenance of South Africa as a sovereign independent state, secure against foreign interference, in which:

The protection of, and respect for life, liberty and property shall be a first principle.

The peaceful settlement of political and other disputes between groups and individuals shall form the foundation of a democratic society.

Violence and intimidation shall not be tolerated as tools to attain political ends.

The state shall be charged with the duty to ensure the maintenance of stability in a peaceful and orderly society.

The application of the powers of state shall be limited to the minimum necessary for the maintenance of a peaceful and orderly society, and shall be governed by the law.

WE, who associate ourselves with this Manifesto, RECOGNIZE that we are still divided by many differences concerning the manner in which these ideals may best be realized, but

WE ALSO RECOGNIZE that we are UNITED in our love for our country and all its people, and therefore

WE DECLARE that we are DETERMINED to apply all our talents and our labours to overcome these differences and to find a peaceful way to build a great South African nation and a better future for the generations to come.

END.

The announcement of the manifesto was followed by full-page advertisements in most of the newspapers in South Africa stating that "political leaders (can) work out the framework of a new South Africa, but they can-not make it work. Only you can". In these advertisements the notion of "nation-building", introduced by De Klerk in his parliamentary opening speech in 1991, was further reinforced.

The political changes initiated by the NP government in 1990 generally elicited a positive reaction from West-ern and African states. De Klerk and his Minister of Foreign Affairs exploited this positive climate and undertook numerous trips abroad to clarify the new direction the government had chosen. There were indications that many states were reassessing their attitudes on sanctions. These developments brought considerable pressure to bear on the ANC to reconsider its own position on continuing sanctions. If important Western states were to lift sanctions unilaterally without the approval of the ANC it would diminish the Tatter's status as the major opponent of the government.

Two of the main problems that De Klerk and the NP addressed in the first part of 1991 were South Africa's economic problems and the continuing violence.

During his foreign visit in April 1991 De Klerk attempted to attract foreign investors to South Africa. His announcement of a proposed peace summit between all the political organisations and church and community leaders towards the end of May 1991 was an attempt to put an end to the violence in the country. In an effort to have international economic punitive measures and trade sanctions against South Africa lifted, the NP committed itself to removing the remaining apartheid laws during 1991, despite strong criticism of land ownership reform measures and aspects of legislation that are to re-place the Group Areas Act.

The process of democratization which the NP undertook under the leadership of De Klerk not only improved South Africa's standing abroad, but also won the government many friends among the black population. The new alliance politics practised by the NP a Christian Democratic alliance with other "moderate" parties remains a possibility implies the final scrapping of the notion of protection of group rights and indicates that the leaders of the party believe they stand a good chance of competing in and even winning an open election against opponents such as the ANC. It is against this background that the most dramatic and fundamental change in the NP's racial policy announced in September 1990, namely that the party would be lifting all restrictions on party membership, must be evaluated. It is ironic but shows the party's adaptability, that the National Party, which has governed South Africa along strict racial lines since 1948, has now itself become an open party.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.