End of White Rule in South Africa – How & when
The first Democratic Election 1994
The first Democratic Election in April 1994 made headlines around the world. Apartheid was over, people were free & each & every person had an equal vote in deciding the future of the country.
The White only Referendum 1992
The Referendum on 18 March 1992 is arguably just as important. It marks the day when White voters went to the polls to decide the future of how the country would be governed, & paved the way for universal suffrage in South Africa. This referendum was not without controversy.
Political Opinion around the Referendum
The ANC were largely against the referendum because it was restricted to white voters. Nelson Mandela himself persuaded them not to oppose it. To support a YES vote, Mr Mandela assured white voters that civil servants would not be retrenched, & that anyone who resigned would keep their benefits.
The National & the opposing Democratic Parties were both pro the referendum, the first for obvious reasons, while the latter hoped that a YES vote would silence the Right Wing Conservative Party once & for all.
Why did White South Africans vote to give up power?
So why did white South Africans vote overwhelmingly to give up their privileged position of power in a country where they had ruled supreme for many years, & opt to move to a system where they would be minority group in a country where they had ruled supreme for as long as they could remember? They controlled the media, the justice systems, the defence forces & every aspect of daily life after all. Human nature being what it is, who would give up that kind of power?
The road from Apartheid
Apartheid was the means of government long before it was formalised in 1948. Whites ruled South Africa, black homelands were created, & black aspirations were to be contained within these homelands. This policy was not unique at the time, the world stage was a lot different to the one of today. That this policy was named identified it from others of the time. Apartheid would become a word that would appear on protest banners worldwide.
The Winds of Change
The world changed. Ideas of acceptable behaviours & norms changed. Racial equality was realised in countries like the USA & racial awareness & sensitivity grew internationally as a result of the world wars, migration & cheaper travel. The Winds of Change swept across the world as previously colonised countries became expensive to manage & aspirations in colonised countries grew. Education levels increased, religion spread, the divisions between people were no longer defined by primarily by race. Perceptions changed on an individual level, & advancements in technology meant that news traveled quickly & efficiently. Atrocities & incidents of victimisation were brought to the attention of the ordinary person & became harder to hide. Opinions changed.
The S.A Government hold on power
The South African government became more controlling to hold onto power. It used control of the media, banned people & groups who opposed it, the military, & declared State of Emergencies when it needed extra powers. Internationally, the world responded by boycotting the country, effectively isolating it politically. Sports, art & financial sanctions bit, businesses moved out of the country but these were spun & if anything made people unite. There is nothing that promotes a strong spirit of nationalism quite like an attack, and the resource rich country responded by becoming more self sufficient & a semblance of national pride would have grown except for the division of its people. Private schools had always been integrated, music & sport became more multiracial, people matured.
The Role of Travel in changing public opinion
People holidayed abroad, & Apartheid laws were seen as petty & cumbersome & many were unenforced long before they were scrapped. Government reforms resulted in the relaxing of international attitudes. Measures taken by the regime started to seem brutal & heavy handed, & media leaks alerted the population to government activities. Neighbouring states had elections, & the world continued to turn. People started talking to each other. By the time of the referendum, opinions had changed.
White fears & growing awareness
Many whites feared for their future as a minority group, they knew that their vote would count for little in any future election. The opportunity to end consciption, partake in international sport & just live in a more balanced society was attractive. Most whites never saw themselves as oppressive, evil tyrants & they started to see a future for their children in their country & in the world. Most were anti violence, & disturbed by footage of riot control & other state actions.
Although it was certainly easier for whites to find employment, many were far from the wealthy madams living the life portrayed by the international media. Many white South Africans were Christians, involved in charity work, and the ones who could afford it donated to & supported poorer people. Much of white South Africa had been naive, and woke up to the reality that blacks were far from happily living in the homelands. They saw the shanty towns, and knew life could not continue the way it had. It was time for change.
Media & the Right Wing
Without a doubt, the state controlled media & campaigns funded by big business leading up to the referendum played a part. Seeing & hearing articulate & reasonable sounding black people discussing issues on tv eased concerns. The Right Wing lacked the funding & support that was available to the government & business who wanted a YES vote. Many people found it harder to identify with the Right Wingers because the leadership centred around Afrikaans speaking whites & did little to attract support from the English speaking white community.
Tribalism – Not simple black & white
The population of the time was a lot more tribal & sectarian than it is today. Whites were split based on heritage & language, English & Afrikaans. Blacks were split along tribal lines. The Indian community was divided largely by a combination of religion & cultural heritage, & the so-called coloured community included people from diverse backgrounds.
The Referendum Mandate to end While Rule
Despite the divisions in society, the Referendum went ahead, & the rest is history. A clear majority of South African whites voted for the move to democracy. The importance of the all White referendum is almost always either underplayed or totally ignored in documentaries & other accounts of South Africa’s road to democracy
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