Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Realism View of Apartheid South Africa

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Apartheid, a form of racial discrimination institutionalized in South Africa, was first enacted into law in 1948. Apartheid means separateness. The masterminds of white South African racial superiority and idea of separateness were realists. Realism drove apartheid’s foreign and domestic policies, and in particular the notion of the ‘Total Onslaught’. [1] Thus apartheid was born during the first phase of Hans Morgenthau’s “Politics Amongst Nations”. United Nations investigators, human rights groups, and critics of Israel have likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid. Even former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has used it in the title of his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

The African National Congress

It can be argued that the African National Congress of South Africa to which Nelson Mandela belonged before and after his release was more of a socialist and a nationalist movement than a political movement from 1912 till 27 April 1994 when it replaced the apartheid system. Thus, the ANC espoused communism as its driving force in its fight against White supremacy. The African National Congress (ANC) fought for what Frantz Fanon termed “the wretched of the earth”. Having mandate from the people, the South Africa state, under Mandela, forged alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (the Tripartite Alliance) while having working relationship with the South African National Civics Organization. This strengthened the state and gave the government greater legitimacy to overcome unrests and strikes by students and workers.
Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule.[2]

South Africa’s white minority government has been wary of the political ideology of the ANC before outlawing it and imposing restrictions on its top echelons the likes of Mandela and Walter Sisulu who received prolonged jail terms. Accumulation of wealth by the capitalist white regime infuriated leaders of the ANC and their followers. This deep-rooted resentment culminated in the ANC’s affirmation of Marxist ideology as its guiding principle. On the other hand, the minority white regime, beset by fear and the desire to dominate or be dominated by the majority blacks within South Africa and within its surroundings (neighboring countries), embarked on competition, security enhancement, and hegemonic war resulting in protracted engagements.

Some of the causes that led to the break-up of apartheid include the rise of nationalism (deep causes) among people of color, white leaders’ mercurial temperament (intermediate causes), and the drastic rise of consciousness (immediate causes) among the marginalized majority population.

Underlying Causes of Apartheid’s Collapse:[3]
1. 1955-UN disapproval of South Africa's apartheid politics.
2. 1961-South Africa withdraws from British Commonwealth.
3. 1962-UN General Assembly adopts resolution condemning South Africa.
4. 1964-British Labor Party installs weapon embargo against South Africa.
5. 1966-UN deprives South Africa of Namibia.
6. 1971-South Africa national debt hits 5.45 billion.
7. 1976-UN General Assembly condemns apartheid in South Africa.
8. 1980-UN Security Council calls for South Africa to free Nelson Mandela.
9. 1985-President Reagan orders sanctions against South Africa.
10. 1986-President Reagan criticizes South African state of emergency.
11. 1986-U.S. Anti-Apartheid Act.
12. 1993-UN lifts remaining economic sanctions against South Africa.

Realist Apartheid versus Communist Black Struggle

Mandela turned out to be a true political realist at the time of guiding his nation’s transition to democracy. Because South Africa was isolated politically and its economy crumbling, F.W. De Klerk felt that there was no other option other than releasing Mandela and negotiating with him for a change in the nation’s political landscape. [4] The bitter fight between liberalism and communism gave birth to liberalism with the birth of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) in 1953. Unfortunately, fifteen years later, it was forced to halt its operation after the National Party (NP) government passed the Prohibition of Improper Interference Act, which made non-racial political parties illegal. The main aim of the Liberal Party was to establish a free and democratic non-racial society in South Africa. [5] It took another 26 years before South Africa came to realize, at least on paper, what the Liberal Party had envisaged: free non-racial elections, a democratic constitution, and a bill of rights.[6]

Policies of the LPSA [7]

The Liberal Party was a non-racial party based on the following principles:
1. Respect for the dignity of every human being irrespective of race, color or creed, and the maintenance of his/her fundamental rights;
2. Every human being to have the right to develop to the fullest extent of which he/she is capable consistent with the rights of others;
3. The maintenance of the rule of law;
4. That no person be debarred from responsibility and participation in government by reason only of race, color or creed.


In the context of international Relations, neither the realist thoughts of the apartheid regime of the National Party nor the communist ideological foundations of the African National Congress were compatible with the demands of South Africa’s multi-racial society.


[1] In Defense of Realism: Confessions of a Fallen Idealist by Hussein Solomon; Published in African Security Review Vol. 5 No. 2, 1996

[2] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sf.html

[3] Today in South Africa, http://www.historyorb.com/countries/south-africa

[4] Not a Mandela Moment by Gwynne Dyer, The Telegraph, Calcutta, India,
Monday, November 22, 2210

[5] Liberalism in South Africa, http://www.factbites.com/topics/Liberalism-in-South-Africa

[6] The Liberal Party of South Africa, Hayes Family of South Africa, http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/liberal1.htm

[7] The Liberal Party of South Africa, Background to the South African political situation: 1948 onwards
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