Total Strategy

NB: although recent posts/essays do not fall under this blog’s theme; it has however become imperative that such knowledge is shared with young South Africans.

1. Introduction

In 1977, increasing unrest, hostile frontline states and a broadening international campaign against SA had become problematic for the country. In a bid to find a solution that would take into account Afrikaner fears of “swart gevaar” (black threat), Prime Minister BJ Vorster appointed Minster of Defence, PW Botha to draft a new constitution. The result was implemented in 1983; five years after Botha had taken over the reins of government. A three house parliament (tri-cameral parliament) divided on apartheid lines unfortunately angered right-wing Afrikaner politicians who convinced many Afrikaners that violence was the only way to obtain political rights.

When PW Botha became Prime Minister in 1978, continuing internal unrest, economic depression and a ring of hostile neighbouring states were casting a wide pall over the future of white SA. Botha’s messages regularly called on white South Africans faced with new circumstances to either “adapt or die” while on the other hand he warned those clamouring for fundamental change that there would not be a one-man-one-vote in South African Parliament for as long as he was in charge of government. In his eleven years of rein, Botha worked tirelessly to show the world that Apartheid had a caring face. In 1979 when explaining why the policies of his predecessors, HF Verwoerd and Vorster had to be amended, he said that the world is a changing place and if the government wants to act in the best interest of the country in a changing world, then they have to be prepared to adapt their policies otherwise they die. This gave rise to a catchphrase “Adapt or Die”.

Like Verwoerd and Vorster, Botha believed that political power should remain in the hands of the white people. But in order to retain that power, he was willing to relax certain apartheid laws in return for continued white control of the republic. Botha then adopted a two-stream policy. On the one hand he advised whites about the necessity for change, while on the other hand he insisted that Africans had to exercise their political rights in their respective homelands.

2. Reform

In 1979, Botha came up with the 12 point plan which dealt with the local and foreign situations. It proposed the division of power between white, coloured and Indian people. Botha declared his intentions to eradicate “hurtful” and unnecessary discriminatory measures. Petty apartheid laws were scrapped and by 1986, the regime had regulations about separate amenities scrapped. The Job Reservation Act was removed together with the Mixed Marriages and the Immorality Acts. Throughout the decade, the regime would continue scrapping petty and at times aspects of Grand Apartheid.

3. Tri-cameral Parliament

The 1983 constitution made allowance for the SA parliament to consist of three legislative houses: The House of Assembly (178 whites), the House of Representatives (85 coloured people) and the House of Delegates (45 Indians). The objective of the constitution according to Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Chris Heunis, was to accommodate the coloured people and Indians without detracting from the self-determination of whites.

Irrespective of the majority seats being taken by whites, parliamentary decision making was set according to General Affairs (Defence, foreign affairs, justice, etc.) or own affairs (culture, education, local government, health, etc.). Participation of all three races was required for the general affairs category with whites being in the majority. The category of own affairs was restricted to each race separately. If the House could not reach a clear agreement, the matter was referred to the 60 member President’s Council for arbitration.

The new constitution also combined the position of President and Prime Minister into one executive State President. The President also presided over the cabinet as well as chairing the State Security Council plus heading the state President’s Council.

4. The Stick

The stick of the Total Strategy was undeniably grandiose. Ever since the 1980s, SA experienced an immense military build-up. During the 1970s, SA was developing a nuclear capability for military usage. During the 1980s, the state possessed seven nuclear bombs, with the assistance of various countries including Israel and Taiwan. The Botha government also had a potent intelligent component in the newly established National Intelligence Agency.

As the government was unrolling its reformist policies, it was also expanding the jurisdiction of the security services. In 1982, the government passed the Internal Security Act which empowered security personnel to detain people for interrogation, ban newspapers, keep persons in preventative detention, ban organisations, restrict individuals’ movements and control/restrict gatherings including its dispersal. The police became a symbol of apartheid’s dark inhumanity.

The police were not alone in combating the violent political upheavals. The South African Defence Force (SADF) played a central role within the Total Strategy in both its internal and external applications. It was responsible for cross-border raids against neighbouring states that housed or supported exiled groups like the ANC that launched armed attacks in SA. These controversial operations became known as Destabilisation. Due to the volatile situation, the army also played an internal role, starting with the 1984 operation Palmiet, and supporting the police in the townships throughout the decade.

5. Opposition

As part of the Total Strategy, Botha held meetings with Samora Machel – President of Mozambique – which in result came to existence the Nkomati Accord of 16 March 1984. The Nkomati Accord was an agreement between the two countries that they would not allow their territory to be used as grounds to attack the other. In this agreement, Mozambique promised to ban the ANC from its territory while SA would ease support for the Mozambican guerrilla organisation – RENAMO (Resis tencia Nacional de Mocambique). The Mozambican government then expelled 800 ANC activists and in return, SA returned 1 000 RENAMO guerrillas.

6. United Democratic Front

The idea of the UDF sprouted on 22 January 1983 at a conference called by the Transvaal branch of the anti-South African Indian Council Committee, after the introduction of the new constitution.

The UDF was officially launched on 20 August 1983 in Mitchelle’s plain near Cape Town. A crowd estimated between 10 000 and 15 000 attended this conference and roared its approval as some of the country’s foremost anti-apartheid activists like Archie Gumede, Frances Baard and Aubrey Mokoena mounted the podium. Alan Boesak received the loudest cheer as he spoke to the crowd about three little words, words that express so eloquently their seriousness in the struggle: “all, here and now”. He said that “we want all our rights, we want them here and we want them now”.

The UDF in particular attracted the support of hundreds of political, unionist, and social groupings across the country which moved Boesak to declare that “the time has come for white people in this country to realise that their destiny is inextricably bound with our destiny and that they shall never be free until we are free”.

Not since the Congress Alliance (held in Kliptown) in 1955, had the Government been confronted with such massive unified opposition. By 1984, the UDF had the support of some 600 organisations, and an estimated 3 million people. The UDF’s first major organised protest was the “million signature campaign” against the new constitution. This exercise killed two birds with one stone as it was also able to enrol more members. In 1984, the petition had already 600 000 signatures, with some other forms beings seized by the police.

On 5 and 6 November 1984, the UDF in collaboration with student groups and the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), organised a stay-away in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand and Vereeniging (PWV) area. Between 300 000 and 500 000 workers did not go to work, which brought business to a stop. Government reacted by announcing a state of emergency in July 1985 on 36 magisterial districts in which riots had continued for nine months. About 1 200 activists were detained during this state of emergency. It was then lifted on 7 March 1986.

In September 1985, the UDF organised a 20 mile to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town where political prisoners such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada were held. Police warned the crown which refused to disperse and they then thrashed them with sjamboks. The crowd broke and ran; however, thousands of youths marched the streets of Cape Town. Police had to call on reinforcement as they attempted to disperse the crowd by throwing teargas canister and shooting at them. The crowd however answered with their own rocks and gasoline bombs. In this incident, police killed 31 people and injured many more. Boesak was then arrested by the police, saying that he instigated such riots. UDF was banned in February 1988 but continued under the name Mass Democratic Movement organised by Trade Unions.

7. National Forum

While the UDF campaigned for a unified, non-racial opposition to apartheid, the flame of black consciousness that had been articulated by Steve Biko still burned in the hearts of members of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), under the leadership of such people as vice President Sath Cooper and Secretary-general Muntu Myeza. The National Forum was inaugurated in June 1983, at a meeting in Hammanskraal, near Pretoria by AZAPO and other groups which shared its views. The National Forum’s future vision for South Africa was different from that of the UDF in the sense that the former criticized the ANC and its Freedom Charter.

8. Speech of the Rubicon: 15 August 1985 in Durban

Foreign Minister Roelof Frederik “Pik” Botha had assured the world and his countrymen that Botha’s speech would signal a radical change of direction by the government, a major swing to reform in order to defend the appalling spiral of violence that had gripped the country since the imposition of the new tri-cameral parliament.

Television, cameramen, photographers and reporters from some 33 countries gathered at the Durban City Hall, while an estimated 300 million people in the republic and around the globe tuned in to see if Botha would announce the type of changes that SA and the world had been waiting for. Instead, they saw a truculent Botha warning the world not to “push us too far” and making it clear that he was not prepared to lead white SA and other minority groups to abdication and suicide. Botha informed the world that he rejected the concept of one man one vote in SA.

In 1985, more than 35 000 troops were used in black townships. Thousands of people were detained and nearly 2 000 blacks were killed in political violence. On 21 March 1985, the 25th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, security forces opened fire on marchers attending a funeral in the township of Langa near Uitenhage, Eastern Cape; where 20 people were killed. Between 1 September 1984 and 24 January 1986, Security forces killed 628 persons and wounded 2 229 in unrest-related incidents. By August 1985, 45 out of 80 UDF leaders were detained or in trial or assassinated.

9. Effects of apartheid

In 1984, the Rand depreciated by more than 40 per cent against the American Dollar. The day after the Rubicon Speech, the rand fell even lower against the US dollar, from 44.5 cents to 38.5. By 28 August, it had gone down to below 35 cents. Economic sanctions against SA followed, which also had a more negative effect on the economy of the country. The country was banned from foreign loans and investments which severely dented business confidence. Sanctions were thrown at SA in the form of trade and products that were affected the most were iron, steel, uranium, coal, fruits and textiles. By the end of 1986, the country had a trade surplus of R15 billion.


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