Country on the southern tip of Africa, bounded north by Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and northeast by Mozambique and Swaziland.
In November 1993 the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC) agreed on an interim constitution, which was adopted by the Transitional Executive Council in December 1993 and took effect after the first multiracial elections in April 1994. It provides for a National Assembly of 400 members, elected by a system of proportional representation through national and regional party lists, and a 90-member Senate, consisting of 10 members from each regional assembly. Elections are by universal adult suffrage. The president, who is head of state and government, is elected by the National Assembly and appoints a first deputy president, to act as premier, from the majority party within the Assembly, and a second deputy president from the second-largest party. Any party with 20% of the national vote is entitled to nominate a deputy president, to be appointed by the president. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the National Assembly.
The earlier 1984 constitution was based on racial discrimination in the context of apartheid, with black Africans completely unrepresented at national level.
For the history of South Africa before 1902, see South Africa: history to 1902.
Towards the Union of South Africa
The Second South African, or Boer, War 1899-1902 (see South African Wars) was ended by the Peace of Vereeniging of 1902. The defeat of the Boers (now known as Afrikaners) was to lead to the creation of the Union of South Africa, but it also stimulated Afrikaner nationalism. Britain annexed the South African Republic (the Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, but both were given responsible government in 1906 and 1907. Their constitutions did not mention a non-racial qualified franchise, which, though weakly implemented in practice, had been a feature of the earlier constitutions of the Cape and Natal.
The National Convention of 1908-10 was dominated by the British colonial administrator Lord Alfred Milner, and the former Boer commanders Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. The Convention, which was composed of white representatives of the four colonies, drafted a constitution for the Union of South Africa, and the draft constitution deliberately deferred the question of the non-racial franchise, except for the Cape, which was allowed to retain its existing constitution in this respect.
The British parliament endorsed the proposals of the National Convention, embodied in the South Africa Act 1909, and on 31 May 1910 the Union of South Africa achieved independence within the British Empire under the premiership of Louis Botha; see British Empire, colonizing Africa and dominions and independence.
The continuance of Afrikaner nationalism
Smuts and Botha believed that the healing of the breach between Afrikaner and Briton was essential to South Africa's future, and did not favour Afrikaner nationalism. However, there were many who did. In a famous speech at De Wildt, near Pretoria, in 1912 the former Boer general James Hertzog announced that in a conflict of interests between Britain and South Africa he would place the interests of South Africa first.
The apparent anti-British tone of the speech caused Botha to resign and re-form his government without Hertzog, who in 1914 founded the National Party in opposition to the governing South African Party (SAP). Also in opposition were the South African Labour Party (founded in 1910 by Col F.H.P. Cresswell) and the British-oriented Unionist Party.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 sparked a small-scale Boer rebellion, which was speedily crushed by Smuts. South African forces occupied German South West Africa (now Namibia), and also served elsewhere with the Allies. Some 6,700 South Africans died in the war.
From 1913 to 1922 there were several major strikes in the South African gold and coal mines - in the earlier period mainly to gain recognition of white trade unions from the mine owners. In 1922, however, the white miners struck over the use of blacks in jobs previously done by whites. For a brief period a revolutionary council controlled the Rand, until Smuts brought in troops to quell it. Three ringleaders were hanged and others temporarily imprisoned or deported.
As a consequence in the 1924 election Smuts's SAP was defeated by a Nationalist-Labour Pact government and Hertzog became prime minister - a position he was to hold until 1939.
Hertzog's first government
Hertzog's first government introduced a number of measures aimed at preserving white dominance, and others that sought to reconcile Anglo-Boer antagonisms.
The Industrial Conciliation Act 1924 and the Wages Act 1925 were both aimed at protecting the white unions and workers from black encroachment, and the government also tried to introduce measures to remove blacks from the Cape electoral roll. The English and Afrikaans languages were given equal status in education and government, and a compromise solution was found to the ‘flag issue’, whereby the orange, white, and blue of the 17th-century Dutch Republic had a centrepiece of the Union Jack and the flags of the former Boer republics. In the economic sphere, state capital was injected into industry, and semi-public industrial bodies such as the Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation (ISCOR) were formed.
Hertzog continues in power
At the 1929 general election, though the Labour Party was split, the Pact held. Hertzog's National Party, however, won enough seats to form a government on its own, but in refusing, in the midst of world recession, to go off the gold standard, Hertzog nearly brought the country to economic ruin. Pressurized by the veteran politician Tielman Roos, who emerged from retirement to demand abandonment of the gold standard and the formation of a national government, Hertzog's government conceded, and there was an almost immediate improvement in the country's economic position.
In 1933 Hertzog's National Party and Smuts's SAP fused, eventually to form the United South African National Party (United Party). Dr D F Malan of the Cape National Party broke away in 1934 but reunited with Hertzog and some of his followers in 1939 to form the Reunited National Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party), the forerunner of the later National Party in South Africa.
In 1934 the House of Assembly passed two bills that confirmed the understanding under the 1931 Statute of Westminster that South Africa was independent of legislative control by the British Parliament, and that the British crown acted solely on the advice of South African ministers in matters concerning South Africa.
In 1936 by 169 votes to 11 the South African parliament adopted the Bantu Representation Act, removing black Africans in Cape Province from the voters' roll. It also passed the Native Land and Trust Act 1936, allocating less than 14% of South Africa's land as black African ‘reserves’.
The beginnings of black nationalism
The African National Congress (ANC) had been formed in 1912 by Dr Pixley Seme and the Rev John Dube as a multiracial nationalist organization. Its aims were to extend voting rights to the entire population, and to end racial discrimination. In the 1920s Clement Kadalie's Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) - with a peak membership of 100,000 - temporarily superseded the ANC, but it collapsed in 1929 partly through internal feuding but also through government intervention. In the 1930s an All African Convention campaigned without success against the Hertzog Bill to deprive Cape Africans of the franchise. In the 1940s the Congress Youth League sought to influence the ANC towards more ‘Africanist’ policies.
South Africa divided in World War II
At the outset of World War II Hertzog declared that South Africa would remain neutral. He was challenged by Smuts and on 4 September 1939 was defeated in parliament by 80 votes to 67. Hertzog resigned and Smuts became premier. The South African army fought alongside the British, and played an important part in the Ethiopian and North African campaigns. Many fell prisoner at Tobruk, but South African armoured units participated in the British Eighth Army advance under Gen Alexander.
At home Afrikaners were deeply divided, and by 1941 it was clear that a majority of Afrikaners were against the war effort and in favour of a republic. Hertzog retired from politics in 1940 and a few of his supporters under Havenga, disillusioned with the Reunited National Party, formed the Afrikaner Party. The Ossewa-Brandwag (‘Sentinels of the Ox Wagon’), which had been formed as a cultural organization following the Voortrekker centenary celebration of Dingaan's defeat at Blood River in 1838, developed into a strongly pro-Nazi political force, and many Afrikaners were interned.
At the general election of 1943, however, Smuts won an overwhelming victory with 105 seats to the 43 gained by Malan's National Party.
South Africa had benefited economically during the war years, but between 1945 and 1948 the Smuts government was condemned at the United Nations for South Africa's racial policies (particularly towards its Indian population). It was also attacked at home for appearing, under the liberal guidance of Jan H Hofmeyr, to seek to blur racial divisions between black and white.
In 1947 Malan and Havenga entered into an electoral pact. At the general election of 1948 the National and Afrikaner parties gained 79 seats and Smuts' United Party 74. To many Afrikaners the Nationalist victory atoned for a ‘century of wrong’.
The introduction of apartheid
Up to 1948 the predominant racial struggle in South Africa had been between the English-speakers and the Afrikaners. Since Union in 1910 legislation under successive governments had increasingly restricted the civil rights and movement of Indians and blacks, but it was the Malan government that developed an all-encompassing theory of apartheid (‘apartness’) or ‘separate development’. The latter term was later replaced by ‘multinational development’, but the basic policy remained.
In the early post-war period ANC leaders - encouraged by UN anti-racial policies and the gaining of independence by former British and other colonies - combined with the coloureds and Indians to demonstrate peacefully against such apartheid measures as the Pass Laws and the Group Areas Act of 1949, which gave legal status to traditional residential segregation. In 1952 the Defiance Campaign, a non-violent mass movement aimed by blacks at drawing attention to the worst of their grievances, collapsed in a few months, and its leaders, including the Zulu chief Albert Luthuli, were banned or imprisoned and new legislation introduced to make it almost impossible for such a demonstration to occur again. However, the campaign had brought into the open South Africa's key racial issues.
The government's decision to abolish the political rights of the Cape coloureds was hotly contested by the Torch Commando, initially led by ex-servicemen's organizations, but in 1953 the Nationalist Party was returned with an enhanced majority despite an electoral pact between the United and Labour parties, a pact that had operated at general elections since 1943.
In 1954 J G Strijdom succeeded Malan as prime minister, and Dr Hendrik Verwoerd succeeded Strijdom in 1958. The Nationalist government pressed ahead with further apartheid legislation, including the Separate Representation of Voters Act 1956, which removed coloureds from the electoral roll. Following the Tomlinson Commission Report of 1955, legislation was introduced to implement the ‘homeland’ (or Bantustan) policy, by which certain - mostly arid - areas were set aside for development towards self-government by particular ethnic black groups (see Black National State). Additional legislation banned mixed marriages, limited the number of Africans allowed in urban areas, and denied Africans the right to strike. The effect was to make anything other than official contact between black and white in South Africa almost impossible.
In 1958 the Labour Party lost all parliamentary representation and ceased to exist. Another opposition party had emerged in 1953, when a small group broke with the United Party to form the Liberal Party. It was multiracial and eventually included unqualified universal suffrage among its aims. It never won a parliamentary seat and eventually disbanded in 1968 when the government brought in legislation forbidding mixed political organizations. The only other multiracial political party in South Africa, the Communist Party, was disbanded under the Suppression of Communism Act 1950.
In 1959 another group broke with the United Party to form the Progressive Party. Although for many years Helen Suzman was its only MP, in 1974 seven members were returned to parliament. In 1975 the Progressive Party joined with another splinter group from the United Party to form the South African Progressive Reform Party, with Colin Eglin as leader. The new party had 12 seats in parliament in 1977 (out of a total of 171) and aimed to replace the United Party as the official opposition. The basic policy of the party was power-sharing between black and white.
The beginnings of radical black opposition
In the mid-1950s the Congress Alliance, a body representative of all races, including whites, had sought to reorganize the resistance movement, and in 1955 a Freedom Charter was adopted at Kliptown. Later, differences led to a breakaway movement, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), being formed in 1959 with Robert Sobukwe as president.
The PAC launched a peaceful demonstration against the Pass Laws (restricting the movements of nonwhites within the country) at Sharpeville and Lange on 21 March 1960. White police, panicking, fired on the unarmed crowds and killed and wounded about 300. The repercussions were world wide, and the flight of capital and withdrawal of investment temporarily rocked the South African economy. The government introduced stronger measures to deal with opponents, including the banning of the ANC and the PAC.
Many black leaders went into exile, and many of their followers joined guerrilla forces outside South Africa believing that armed struggle was the only way to achieve black-majority rule in South Africa. In 1964 the ANC leader Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged sabotage. He became a central symbol of black opposition to the apartheid regime, remaining in prison until 1990.
South Africa becomes a republic
A referendum on 5 October 1960 showed 52% of eligible voters in favour of a republic and 48% against - a numerical majority of 74,580 out of a total vote of 1,626,336. In 1961 Verwoerd attended the Commonwealth Conference to put South Africa's case for remaining a member of the Commonwealth as a republic. The attack on its racial policies made him withdraw his application. The attack was particularly severe because of African unrest, the massacres at Sharpeville and Lange, and the subsequent repressive legislation. On 31 May 1961 South Africa became a republic outside the Commonwealth.
At every election the Nationalists maintained their majority. In 1966 Verwoerd was assassinated by a parliamentary messenger and B J Vorster became prime minister. While maintaining the apartheid policies of his predecessors he deliberately sought to improve the Republic's relations with black Africa and, under strict control, to promote the homelands. Partly due to the buoyant economy in the 1970s, a shortage of white industrial workers forced change in relations with black workers, particularly in their efforts to form trade unions. The Durban strikes by African workers in 1972-73 in particular resulted in limited amended legislation in favour of black workers. In 1975, in cooperation with President Kaunda of Zambia, Vorster sought to find a peaceful solution to achieving black-majority rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), but these talks broke down and guerrilla war continued.
At the United Nations South Africa's racial policies continued to be condemned, as was its refusal to relinquish control of South West Africa (Namibia), which it had originally administered as a mandate from the League of Nations after taking it from Germany in World War I. Black African states particularly resented South Africa's military intervention from 1975 in Angola in support of UNITA in its civil war with the Soviet- and Cuban-backed MPLA. South African raids were also made to attack bases in southern Angola of SWAPO, the Namibian liberation movement. South African military interventions in Angola continued through much of the 1980s (see Angola).
Internally, the government introduced new security laws to give it powers to ban any individual or organization that ‘endangers the security of the state’. In addition, early in 1976, the government introduced legislation empowering South African armed forces to cross the country's borders to counteract any threat to security south of the Equator.
Renewed opposition to the regime
In the 1970s several homeland leaders such as Chief Buthelezi of KwaZulu and Chief Phatudi of Lebowa emerged as national African leaders urging a common programme of reform. Nominal independence was achieved by a number of the black homelands, or bantustans, starting with Transkei in 1976. However, these Black National States were not recognized internationally, and were regarded as puppet regimes by more militant black nationalists.
New African-orientated organizations such as the South African Students' Organization (SASO) and the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC) had sprung up, backed by Black Community Programmes, an offshoot of the Christian Institute of Southern Africa. All had their activities circumscribed by the banning of able leaders or limitation of funds.
Militant opposition to the regime erupted in June 1976 with rioting in Soweto township near Johannesburg, which led to the deaths of 176 people, a number of whom were students demonstrating against the compulsory use of the Afrikaans language as the medium of instruction. Further unrest continued periodically in Soweto and other townships. In 1977 international condemnation of police brutality followed the death in detention of the black community leader Steve Biko, who had founded SASO in 1968.
By the 1980s thousands of the apartheid regime's opponents had been imprisoned without trial and more than 3 million people had been forcibly resettled in black townships.
In the arena of parliamentary politics, efforts were made late in 1976 and early in 1977 to achieve unity amongst the white opposition parties, and in March 1977 Sir De Villiers Graaff, the UP leader, and Theo Gerdener, the leader of the Democratic Party, expressed their agreement to form a new party called the New Republic Party. Earlier in the year, six members on the right wing of the UP had formed the new South Africa Party. However, in a general election in November 1977 the National Party (NP) won a landslide victory.
In 1978 Vorster resigned and was succeeded as prime minister by his NP colleague P W Botha. Botha embarked on constitutional reform to involve coloureds and Asians, but not blacks, in the governmental process. This led to a clash within the NP, and in March 1982 Dr Adries Treurnicht, leader of the hardline (verkrampte) wing, and 15 other extremists were expelled. They later formed a new party, the Conservative Party of South Africa (CPSA). Although there were considerable doubts about Botha's proposals in the coloured and Indian communities as well as among the whites, they were approved by 66% of the voters in an all-white referendum and came into effect in September 1984.
In 1986 a number of apartheid laws were amended or repealed, including the ban on sexual relations or marriage between people of different races and the ban on mixed racial membership of political parties, but the underlying inequalities in the system remained and the dissatisfaction of the black community grew. In the 1986 cabinet of 21, including Botha, there were 19 whites, 1 coloured, and 1 Indian. The NP continued to increase its majority at each election, with the white opposition parties failing to unseat it.
State of emergency
In May 1986 South Africa attacked what it claimed to be guerrilla strongholds in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo was receiving increasing moral support in meetings with politicians throughout the world, and Winnie Mandela, during her husband's continuing imprisonment, was ‘banned’ repeatedly for condemning the system publicly. Nonviolent resistance was advocated by Bishop Tutu, the Inkatha movement, and others.
A state of emergency was declared in June 1986, a few days before the tenth anniversary of the first Soweto uprising, marked by a strike in which millions of blacks participated. Serious rioting broke out in the townships and was met with police violence, causing hundreds of deaths. Between 1980 and 1990 some 1,070 people were judicially executed.
Abroad, calls for the economic and cultural boycott of South Africa, in particular economic sanctions against South Africa, grew during 1985 and 1986. At the Heads of Commonwealth conference in 1985 the Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) of Commonwealth politicians was conceived to investigate the likelihood of change in South Africa without sanctions. In July 1986 the EPG reported that there were no signs of genuine liberalization. Reluctantly, Britain's prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, agreed to limited measures. Some Commonwealth countries, notably Australia and Canada, took additional independent action. The US Congress eventually forced President Reagan to move in the same direction. Between 1988 and 1990 economic sanctions cost the South African treasury more than $4 billion in lost revenue. The decisions by individual multinational companies to close down their South African operations may, in the long term, have had the greatest effect.
Promise of reform
At the end of 1988 South Africa signed a peace agreement with Angola and Cuba, which included the acceptance of Namibia's independence, and in 1989, under United Nations supervision, free elections took place there. In February 1989 state president Botha suffered a stroke that forced him to give up the NP leadership and later the presidency. He was succeeded in both roles by F W de Klerk, who promised major constitutional reforms. Meanwhile the nonracist Democratic Party (DP) was launched, advocating universal adult suffrage, and, together with the Conservative Party, made significant gains in the September 1989 whites-only assembly elections. The ruling NP lost one-quarter of its seats. Its new total was only nine seats more than was required for a majority, its worst electoral showing since coming to power in 1948.
Despite de Klerk's release of the veteran ANC activist, Walter Sisulu, and some of his colleagues in October 1989, the new president's promises of political reform were treated with scepticism by the opposition until he announced the lifting of the ban on the ANC, followed by the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990. In September President de Klerk declared membership of the NP open to all races. In December ANC president Oliver Tambo returned triumphantly and in January 1991 Nelson Mandela and Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi both urged their followers to end attacks on one other, but revelations of government financial support and police funding for Inkatha political activities, for example to counter the ANC and foment division among blacks, threatened ANC cooperation.
Mandela was subsequently elected ANC president.
Abandonment of apartheid announced
In February 1991 President de Klerk announced the intended repeal of all remaining apartheid laws. In March he announced legislation to abolish all racial controls on land ownership, enabling all South Africans to purchase land anywhere. In June 1991 all the remaining racially discriminating laws were repealed. As a result the USA lifted its trade and investment sanctions against South Africa in July and the country was readmitted into international sport by the International Olympic Committee. In September President de Klerk announced a draft constitution, giving black people the franchise but providing strong safeguards for the white minority. It was immediately criticized by the ANC because it served to perpetuate the white hegemony. However, the ANC agreed to negotiate and it joined with the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) to form a united front against the government. In December, however, the PAC withdrew, claiming that the planning of the negotiations was undemocratic. A whites-only referendum held in March 1992 gave de Klerk a clear mandate to proceed with plans for the new constitution, which would end white-minority rule.
An obstacle to constitutional reform occurred when in June 1992 more than 40 people were killed in the black township of Boipatong by Inkatha, aided and abetted by police. The ANC called a halt to the constitutional talks until the government took steps to curb township violence.
Proposed government of national unity
In February 1993 de Klerk and Mandela agreed to the formation of a government of national unity after free nonracial elections in 1994. Inkatha leader Chief Buthelezi complained of not having been consulted and warned that he would oppose such an arrangement.
Radical ANC leader Chris Hani was assassinated by a white extremist in April 1993. In the same month President de Klerk apologized for apartheid for the first time in public and announced April 1994 as the date for the first nonracial elections. An escalation in township violence followed, initiated by groups opposed to the proposed constitutional changes and to the ANC's dominant role in negotiating them. In September 1993 it was agreed that a multiracial Transitional Executive Council would be established (to comprise one member from each of South Africa's political parties) in the run-up to the elections. In October 1993 a new Freedom Alliance was formed by Inkatha leader Chief Buthelezi, white right-wing groups, and the leaders of the black homelands of Ciskei and Bophuthatswana, all opposed to the creation of a single democratic state and seeking greater autonomy for their respective areas. In the same month, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Interim nonracial constitution
In November 1993 the government and the ANC agreed on an interim constitution, providing for multiracial elections to a 400-member National Assembly in April 1994 and incorporating a fundamental bill of rights. Under the new constitution, South Africa would be divided into nine provinces (the existing homelands were to be dissolved and progressively integrated), and, in addition to English and Afrikaans, Xhosa and eight other languages would be made official. The constitution was approved by South Africa's Transitional Executive Council in December 1993, but the vote was boycotted by the right-wing Freedom Alliance.
South Africa was invited to rejoin the Commonwealth in January 1994. Chief Buthelezi continued his campaign to derail the democratization process, calling on Inkatha supporters to boycott the forthcoming elections. In March Bophuthatswana was annexed following a popular uprising against its leader, Lucas Mangope, and an attempted takeover of the capital, Mmbatho, by white right-wing extremists. The Freedom Alliance rapidly disintegrated. First Ciskei registered, then the leader of the far-right Volksfront, General Constand Viljoen, left his party to form and register a new right-wing Freedom Front.
Buthelezi remained intransigent, and politicially motivated killings increased. A temporary state of emergency was imposed in KwaZulu/Natal, where violence had escalated following the shooting of Inkatha demonstrators in Johannesburg. Within days of the start of the elections, Buthelezi agreed to call a halt to Inkatha's campaign of violence in return for the status of the Zulu king being enshrined in the new constitution. The violence abated to some extent, but the ultra-right (the only group still refusing to participate) carried out pre-election bombings in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
First multiracial elections
In the first nonracial elections in April 1994, the ANC captured 62% of the popular vote and won seven out of South Africa's nine new provinces.
The NP came second with 20% (winning Western Cape), and Inkatha (IFP) third with 10%. Despite reports of ballot-rigging in KwaZulu/Natal (where the IFP received most support), the Independent Electoral Commission declared the elections free of fraud. The following month Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa, with his ANC colleague Thabo Mbeki as first deputy president (premier), and the former president and NP leader F W de Klerk as second deputy president. The post of home affairs minister went to Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi.
South Africa under Mandela
In June 1994 South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth, and in August it was announced that a 40-member select committee would be set up to oversee the drafting of a new, permanent constitution. A bill was passed restoring land to dispossessed blacks in November 1994.
Crime and violence escalated during 1995, particularly in KwaZulu/Natal province, and although the ANC won local elections in November, turnout was at barely 30%. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was appointed, also in November, to investigate abuses of human rights in the apartheid era.
In March 1996 the divorce of Nelson and Winnie Mandela was formally completed. In the same month, ANC's Trevor Manuel replaced Chris Liebenberg as the country's first non-white finance minister. De Klerk withdrew the NP from the government of national unity in May 1996 after the adoption of a new constitution, which made no provision for power-sharing after 1999. The NP went into opposition.
In August 1996, unrest concerning the rise in crime in South Africa came to a head when members of a Muslim community group beat, shot, doused in petrol, and set ablaze a repeated arms and drugs offender. Threat of further vigilante action prompted President Mandela to increase the security forces' presence in the region. In September 1996 the Constitutional Court rejected the new draft constitution on the grounds that it lacked sufficient safeguards to protect regional and union interests. An amended version was submitted to the court a month later and Mandela formally signed the new constitution in December 1996.
In August 1997, de Klerk resigned as leader of the NP. He claimed that his retirement was intended to rectify the ‘unjustified perception’ that the party was still linked to the past, which had been obstructing political realignment in the country. In September Marthinus van Schalkwyk, a white Afrikaner, succeeded de Klerk as leader of a divided and weakened National Party.
President Mandela handed over the leadrship of the ANC to his deputy Thabo Mbeki at the party's national conference in December 1997. In late April 1998 Mandela named a former anti-apartheid guerrilla leader to South Africa's top military post, making him the first black ever to lead the armed forces. Lieutenant General Siphiwe Nyanda, who led ANC fighters, would succeed General Georg Meiring as head of the South African National Defence Force.
In September 1998, in its first military intervention since the end of apartheid, South African troops were sent troops into Lesotho in support of the government, beleaguered by an army mutiny. In January 1999, the assassination of Sifiso Nkabinde, leader of the opposition United Democratic Movement, and revenge attacks on ANC members that followed, increased concern over the country's stability in preparation for general elections planned for June.
The ANC won 66% of the vote in the country's second non-racial election in June 1999. The election marked the end of the Mandela era, in which the accent was on racial reconciliation. He was succeeded on 16 June by the ANC president, Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki pledged his government to end poverty and to fight against racism, corruption, and crime. Jacob Zuma was appointed deputy president after Buthelezi declined the post.
The 13th international AIDS conference opened on 9 July 2000, in Durban, South Africa, one of the countries most affected by the disease. The United Nations estimated that 20% of South Africans are HIV positive. The unorthodox stance on AIDS in South Africa was called into question, as President Mbeki did not alter his stance that immune deficiency is caused by poverty and not by the HIV virus, nor did he alter his refusal to allow treatment with AZT, an immune boosting drug. The conference reported that more than 34 million people in the world are HIV positive, 70% of which are in Africa. In October, the South African government launched a new campaign to inform the public about AIDS. In April, a group of 39 pharmaceutical companies dropped their court case against the South African government over the provision of cheaper generic drugs for AIDS. A report by South Africa's Medical Research Council in October 2001 revealed that AIDS had become the single biggest killer in the country, with 25% of all deaths in 2000, and 40% of all adult deaths, being AIDS-related. The report predicted that, without effective treatment, up to 7 million people would die of the disease by 2010, halting population growth.
A political stunt organized on 4 July 2001 by the Pan-African Congress (PAC) to highlight South Africa's housing crisis got out of hand when tens of thousands of homeless people flocked to a piece of wasteland east of Johannesburg and demanded to buy a plot each for the equivalent of £2.50. The protest was staged on land near Johannesburg airport that belonged to the provincial government. However, a court ordered the squatters to leave and the South African government sent police to evict them.
A week-long United Nations conference on racism that opened on 31 August 2001 in Durban, South Africa, descended into chaos and recrimination. Rows over the Middle East, anti-Israeli language and reparations for slavery threatened to ruin the conference. The USA and Israel walked out on 3 September, demanding that language branding Israel as a racist and apartheid state be removed from documents. After an extra day of diplomatic wrangling, the conference adopted a final declaration on 8 September that ignored the Israel-Palestine tensions. Britain and the other former colonial powers also escaped any commitment to pay reparations for slavery. At the insistence of Western countries, there was no explicit apology for the slave trade, but only acknowledgment and regret.
The ANC party suffered a blow in October 2001 when Tony Yengeni, the party's chief whip, was arrested, charged with corruption and perjury, and forced to resign. He had been investigated over a US$6 billion arms deal, and was accused of lying over his acceptance of a luxury car from the European Aeronautical Defence Space Company (EADS), an arms manufacturer.
South Africa's opposition alliance finally collapsed in October 2001 after weeks of infighting. The New National Party (NNP), which had split from the Democratic Alliance led by the Democratic Party (DP), began discussions with the ANC about joint rule in the Western Cape province and a possible role in central government. In November, the ANC agreed to joint rule despite widespread reservations from members of both parties.
In January 2002, the government promised to set up a commission of inquiry into the collapse of the rand. The currency lost 37% of its value in 2001.
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