A New South Africa

Regardless of liberal sentiment across the country Apartheid still took hold. In May 1948 the very right wing, primarily Afrikaner Nationalist Party came to power in the whites-only parliament, and it proceeded to translate the "custom", and more besides, into legislation.

Before long, strict Apartheid laws and regulations dictated where black South Africans could live, what schools they could go to, what jobs they were allowed to have, what areas of cities and public places they were allowed into, what kinds of persons they could have sexual relations with, and where they could be buried. As the years went by, in a (totally fruitless) attempt to counter world hostility, the government set up some powerless African "homelands" where people of various ethnic affiliations within the African group were allowed to exercise patently spurious political "rights."

Apartheid Falls
Of course the structure could not last. Black opposition, led by the African National Congress (ANC) (which was banned in 1960), grew slowly in strength as the movement began to operate in exile. Economic growth and the increasing skills of black workers made the system vulnerable to strikes. The creation of blacks-only universities encouraged a black consciousness movement, which provided an important psychological boost to the oppressed. From mid-1976, when there was an uprising led by school students in Soweto, the government back-pedaled. Half-hearted attempts at liberalization often went hand-in-hand with fierce repression. Crisis followed crisis throughout the 1980s. Finally it was the "ungovernability" of many African townships, combined with the imposition of financial sanctions by the U.S. and other nations, which persuaded the government to unban the ANC and other liberation movements, to release Nelson Mandela from jail (where he had been for 26 years) and to allow democratic processes to unfold.

Birth of the New South Africa
As democracy took hold, an elaborate series of negotiations ensued. In Cry, the Beloved Country, Msimangu says: "I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it." That is, broadly speaking, what happened—except that women were involved in the process too. In 1994 the first democratic election was held. In 1996 the new Constitution, considered one of the most enlightened in the world, was ratified.

South Africa is now a fully democratic country. It is almost ten years since that first election. Great progress has been made in many areas, but undoing a lop-sided system, which had been in place for a very long time, has not been easy. For all the political and social changes, the shape of the economy—with whites still holding most of the major positions—has not been modified as quickly as many people had hoped. Unemployment, crime and some degree of corruption are problems. Still, the country is stable politically and is a respected member of the international community. One of the most triumphant things of all is that in every area of national life there are strong signs of energy...and hope.


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