History of Conflict and its Impact on South African Development

PESA Editorial - South Africa - 3Q2018/19

South Africa’s most prominent period of intense political conflict was between 1950 and 1994 with peaks in 1976 and 1984[1]. Unlike other African countries whose independence came with political freedom from colonialism and white domination, South Africa remained under a white-led racialised administration that oppressed the majority black population even during independence from 1910 to 1994. The Apartheid regime introduced legislation that sought to segregate and politically and economically disenfranchise black people such as the Native Land Act of 1913 and the Group Areas Act of 1950. The Apartheid laws and the restrictions they placed on non-white South Africans were the primary source of public protests and post-independence conflict.

 

The Apartheid government responded to protests with brutality using police and military force. The conflict in South Africa would continue until 1994 when the transition into democracy began. However, the level of violent crime and the nature of public protests in the post-Apartheid has been characterised as continuing conflict or deferred revolution in South Africa[2]. The most recent example being the Marikana massacre of 2012[3]. The violent systemic oppression and the sustained period of conflict and political instability during the Apartheid regime led to the disenfranchisement and dispossession of black people. Black South Africans primarily participated and continue to participate in the South African economy as labour and in informal economic activity[4].

 

In the 1950s the Apartheid government reinforced laws and measures to restrict the movements of black South Africans in and around cities. Pass laws became more restrictive through the 1955 Native Urban Areas Amendment Act[5]. The pass laws made it difficult for black South Africans to access cities and relegated their existence to the townships. Apartheid spatial laws combined with pass laws excluded black South Africans from economic opportunities in the city. In 1952, the African National Congress (ANC) began the Defiance Campaign, a campaign for resistance through protest against the apartheid regime and pass laws[6]. The ANC embarked on a series of protests which resulted in many black South Africans being arrested, but there were no positive changes from the Apartheid government[7].

 



In 1959, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) broke off from the ANC because it believed that the ANC’s methods were not sufficiently robust[8]. The PAC then led a march on 21 March 1960 where about 5000 to 7000 protesters marched to Sharpeville Township police station, demanding the abolishment of pass laws[9]. The South African Police responded by firing live ammunition on the crowd. 69 people were killed, and 180 were injured. There were 249 casualties in total, 29 of which were children[10].

 

The Sharpeville Massacre marked the beginning of increasingly violent responses by the Apartheid government to anti-apartheid demonstrations[11]. It intensified the tensions between the Apartheid government and the black population. The death toll of black South Africans continued to increase, while the Apartheid government continued to intensify exclusionary laws around the cities[12]. The Apartheid government sought to strengthen their grip which meant an increase in arrests and police brutality. Black South Africans were further excluded while experiencing increased violence from the Apartheid government.

 

PESA Editorial - South African National Defence Force - 3Q2018/1
South African National Defence Force with President Cyril Ramaphosa

 

In the present day, although the pass laws have been eradicated, the spatial and structural exclusion systems created by the Apartheid government in the 1950s are yet to be dismantled. Black South Africans are still excluded from the cities and exist on the periphery. Access to decent living conditions and economic and employment opportunities are still skewed towards white South Africans.

 

The June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising changed the socio-political climate in South Africa. Education policy under the Apartheid government had been segregated by the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953[13]. Black students in South African schools received sub-par education that geared them towards low-skill labour jobs. In 1974, Afrikaans was made a compulsory medium of instruction in schools, which sparked the mobilisation of students against the repressive, discriminatory education system of the Apartheid government[14]. The establishment of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students and mobilised students to protest against the Apartheid government. On 16 June 1976 approximately 10 000 students mobilised by BCM and SASO marched to protest against the Bantu Education system[15].

The Apartheid government responded by sending heavily armed police who fired live ammunition and teargas on the students[16]. The protest turned violent and students began to retaliate against the police. The official report at the time stated that 174 people were killed, but it was later estimated that 500 to 700 people were killed[17]. The protest gained momentum and spread to other townships in and around Soweto and other parts of the country. The student uprising turned into a widespread uprising against the government. The uprising continued throughout 1976 and led to a long period of conflict in the late 1970s and 1980s[18].

The Soweto Uprisings led to criticism from the international community against South Africa as the brutality of the Apartheid government was exposed[19]. The South African economy began to suffer as the country came to a state of emergency. Production was slowed by protest while sanctions increased from the international community[20]. Furthermore, the ANC, PAC and other liberation movements began to gain numbers and momentum as the uprisings unified many South Africans against the Apartheid government[21]. This had positive effects for the fight against Apartheid and put political and economic pressure on the government.

 

PESA Editorial - South African National Defence Force - 3Q2018/19
South African National Defence Force Emblem

The period of conflict in 1976 and the late 1970s displaced many black South Africans[22]. There was a long period of conflict with no consistent schooling. Many schools were burnt and not rebuilt, while many left schools completely and joined political organisations. Furthermore, the Apartheid government did not take any tangible steps to change the Bantu education system at the time. This meant that generations of black South Africans either had very little education or had only been exposed to Bantu Education. The legacy of this education system was not eradicated by the singular education system in 1994[23]. Many South Africans were uneducated, poor, and unemployed in post-1994. They could only participate in the economy as labour, as engineered by the Apartheid government. This had an adverse impact on socio-economic development in post-Apartheid South Africa as high unemployment and poverty rates prevailed.

 

Political violence of the liberation struggle continued and intensified into the 1980’s. This period was characterised by multiple random killings, school protests, cross border raids, increasing mob violence and other small attacks, with an estimated 399 people killed between the period 1984 - 1989[24]. Violence stemmed from both sides as the ANC continued in its armed struggle and the National Party (NP) retaliated with violent suppression. Necklacing became prevalent as a popular weapon of ANC supporters whilst covert death squads were established to take out attacks on behalf of the NP particularly in the Eastern Cape and in Kwa-Zulu Natal[25]. Black on black violence increased as ideological and ethnic tensions escalated between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The NP saw the IFP as anti-revolutionary, and therefore an ideal ally to join forces with against ANC power. The state security forces co-opted IFP members, trained and armed them as soldiers and deployed them to be used in their offensive against the ANC. The benefit of this was that the IFP could fight the ANC within its communities, inciting increased violence and driving deeper divisions within the black population.

 

The early 1990’s was the beginning of the transition to democracy as the NP gradually lost its support internationally and authority domestically. This period included the start of negotiations through the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) whilst characterised by a high level of violent attacks as the number of parties in the fight for South Africa’s liberation increased. The first mention of a third force was made during this period, a NP backed group believed to be inciting and supporting the violence in black communities, hostels and townships[26]. Working with the SAPS and SADF as well as covert units, this is the third force speculated to have been behind the massacres of the 1990s, the random killings mostly of ANC supporters within hostels and squatter camps and train massacres which started in the mid 1990’s. These random killings had a political and psychological effect as they undermined the ANC’s ability to protect its supporters. Violence was however not one-sided as the ANC continued its armed struggle throughout this period. It is estimated that between 1985 to 1993, the IFP lost over 300 members whilst over 100 police were killed at the hands of the ANC[27].

 

Against the backdrop of CODESA talks breaking down in 1991, the ANC launched rolling mass action in the form of a series of protests in order to show off their strength in numbers. In retaliation, IFP supporters launched a string of violent attacks against the party and its supporters. The Boipatong massacre took place in June 1992, whereby men from a migrant hostel attacked the pro-ANC township, violently killing over 38 people including women and children[28]. The men were affiliated with Inkatha. However, this is believed to have been the work of the state security forces, in an effort to provoke the ANC and further undermine talks at a time when negotiations had been suspended.

 

In September 1992, 29 people were killed in Bhisho, the capital of the Ciskei Homelands. 80,000 people had set out to march on Bhisho against the military leadership in the homelands and to demand that Ciskei be reintegrated into South Africa[29]. Protestors faced oppression from the Homeland’s soldiers as they opened fire on the protesters resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and one soldier.

 

Despite the upheaval and turmoil that political violence caused in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, it was pivotal to the democratic transition process. It was the Bhisho massacre that brought politicians back to the negotiation table as it presented the threat of civil war in SA as a real and near possibility[30]. The massacres in Boipatong and Bhisho, in addition to the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, are some of the major catalysts which drove the decision to hold democratic elections in 1994 forward. As black on black violence between ANC and IFP supporters intensified, the IFP as supported by a ‘third force’ was seen to be the aggressor giving the ANC an upper hand at the negotiating table. Violence was also hurting the government of the NP through negative effects on the economy.  Political violence, turmoil and upheaval of this period presented as a threat to foreign investments which in turn had a negative impact on economic growth and development[31]. Internationally, South Africa had begun to restore and normalise its relations with other countries, thus needed to keep up the image of stability. To the international community, the ANC was the more politically stable and the more palatable party in comparison to the violent Inkatha, forcing the NP into giving up more concessions to the ANC. The negative factors associated with the conflict and violence of the apartheid era however, continue to be felt particularly by the black population presently in South Africa.

 

The periods of conflict under the Apartheid regime had an adverse effect on the ability of black South Africans to equally participate in the economy as they were displaced, excluded and underdeveloped[32]. Resultantly, Post-1994 South Africa has experienced a number of strikes, demonstrations and some political violence. The state struggled in the late 1990s and early 2000s to invest as much as is necessary to foster economic growth, while attempting to fund social interventions for a disenfranchised population as large as South Africa[33]. In the last two decades, the South African government has embarked on various political and economic reforms in an attempt to address poverty and inequality. While there is an indication of some positive impact from these reforms, such as the percentage of people living below the poverty line in South Africa which has decreased from 60.0% in 1994 to 55.2% in 2017, the improvements are marginal and unemployment remains high[34]. The unemployment rate has increased from 21.0% in 1994 to 27.4% in 2017[35]. As a result, in 2017, approximately 30.5% of the population in South Africa is dependent on social grants from the government for their livelihood[36]. Policy implementation has not been effective enough to provide South Africans with basic rights and services.

 

The past 10 to 15 years have seen an increased dissatisfaction with the government as citizens demand equality, access to resources, education and social welfare. The South African economy post-1994 remains highly exclusionary and unequal due the continued disenfranchisement of black people. This exclusion mimics the racial divisions and discrimination of the apartheid regime, as the ANC-led government has failed to successfully provide equal economic opportunity to all people and to integrate all groups into productive work. This has resulted in the marginalisation of rural communities and the poor, both of which are predominantly black[37].

 

Since the transition to democratisation, economic enfranchisement has been slow due to the conflicting nature of growth versus pro-poor economic policy. Government faced the challenge of trying to uplift the poor and redress the economic inequalities of the past whilst promoting economic growth and they have yet to find a balance. As a result, a large segment of the South African population is dependent on social welfare as a source of livelihood. Over 30.0% of the population in 2015 was recorded as recipients of social grants[38]. Grants have alleviated poverty and improved the standard of living for recipients, however, disaffection of the working and the jobless poor with the government of the ANC has continued to rise and which was a leading cause of the Marikana massacre in 2012.

 

The grievances Marikana mineworkers presented are a form of structural violence, a reflection of the long history of non-white workers being incorporated into the labour market in a coercive manner that they are forced into due to the fragile nature of their livelihoods[39]. The structure of mining work is such that miners work hard for very little pay, leaving them to face high levels of debt, no sense of security in the nature of their work and a sense of exclusion as corporate social responsibility benefits would often only be realised to a few mineworkers[40]. The exploitation of black labour in the mining sector is a remnant of the Apartheid era, and a reflection of the failure of the democratic government to deliver on the promise of economic liberation. The government chose to respond with repression, resulting in police killing 34 protesting mineworkers, sparking a wave of unrest and uncertainty in the labour market particularly the mining sector.

 

Protests in the mining industry continued beyond 2012 well into 2014 as the wage issue remained unsolved. As a result of the 5-month strike in the platinum sector, mining production dropped by a 6.5% year-on-year decrease in 2014[41]. Estimates vary on the cost of the strikes in the mining sector on the South African economy, particularly the losses in the gold and platinum industry, however, the loss of lives at Marikana was significant enough to cause the country, markets and particularly the labour industry into introspection on the state of labour in South Africa.

 

Conflict has been a part of the history of South Africa’s political and economic fabric. Political violence was sparked by the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the Soweto Uprisings in 1976, and the Boipatong and Bhisho massacres in 1992. These were the some of the most brutal attacks but more importantly, the events which were instrumental in changing the trajectory of the struggle for liberation. Conflict was a tool through which the Apartheid government and its allies reinforced the segregation, dispossession and disenfranchisement of the black population. As a result, the effects of the physical and structural violence experienced during Apartheid live on in present day South Africa. Black people continue to be economically marginalised as poverty and inequality remain high. Economic equality continues to be a myth for the majority of black people in South Africa, particularly for the jobless poor. With growing disaffection for ANC’s leadership, it is imperative that the government prioritises economic policy which ensures a more equal distribution of resources to its people in order to redress the inequalities which remain as a legacy of apartheid.


[1] Bhorat, H., Hirsch, A., Kanbur, R. and Ncube, M. 2014. The Oxford Companion to the Economics of South Africa, Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York.

[2] Mbeki, M. and Mbeki, N. 2016. A Manifesto for Social Change: How to Save South Africa, Picador Africa: Johannesburg.

[3] Bolt, M. and Rajak, D. 2016. ‘Introduction: Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa’, Journal for Southern African Studies, Vol. 42, No. 5, pp.: 797-813. Available At: https://www.tandfonline.com/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[4] Bhorat, H. 2004. ‘Labour Market Challenges in The Post‐Apartheid South Africa’, South African Journal of Economics, Vol. 72, No. 5, pp.: 940-977. Available At: https://sarpn.org/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[5] Drew, A. 1997. South Africa's Radical Tradition, Volume 2: 1943-1964, University of Cape Town Press: Cape Town.

[6] Drew, A. 1997. South Africa's Radical Tradition, Volume 2: 1943-1964, ibid.

[7] Drew, A. 1997. South Africa's Radical Tradition, Volume 2: 1943-1964, ibid.

[8] Lodge, T. 2011. Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[9] Lodge, T. 2011. Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, ibid.

[10] Lodge, T. 2011. Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, ibid.

[11] Lodge, T. 2011. Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, ibid.

[12] Lodge, T. 2011. Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, ibid.

[13] Ndlovu, S.M. 1998. The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976, Ravan Press: Randburg.

[14] Ndlovu, S.M. 1998. The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976, ibid.

[15] Ndlovu, S.M. 1998. The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976, ibid.

[16] Ndlovu, S.M. 1998. The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976, ibid.

[17] Ndlovu, S.M. 1998. The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976, ibid.

[18] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, in SADET (ed.), The Road to Democracy in South Africa Volume 2 (1970-1980), Zebra Press: Cape Town, pp.: 317-368. Available At: http://sadet.co.za/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[19] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, ibid.

[20] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, ibid.

[21] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, ibid.

[22] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, ibid.

[23] Ndlovu, S.M. 2011. ‘The Soweto Uprising’, ibid.

[24] Ellis, S. 1998. ‘The Historical Significance of South Africa’s Third Force’, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp.: 261-299.

[25] Ellis, S. 1998. ‘The Historical Significance of South Africa’s Third Force’, ibid.

[26] Guelke, A. 2000. ‘Interpretations of Political Violence During South Africa’s Transition’, Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, Vol. 27, Issue 2, pp.: 239 - 254.

[27] Ellis, S. 1998. ‘The Historical Significance of South Africa’s Third Force’, ibid.

[28] Ellis, S. 1998. ‘The Historical Significance of South Africa’s Third Force’, ibid.

[29] Trewhela, P. 1993. ‘A Massacre of Innocence: A March at Bhisho, 7 September 1992’, Searchlight South Africa, Vol. 3, No. 2. Available At: http://disa.ukzn.ac.za/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[30] Ellis, S. 1998. ‘The Historical Significance of South Africa’s Third Force’, ibid.

[31] Guelke, A. 2000. ‘Interpretations of Political Violence During South Africa’s Transition, ibid.

[32] Bhorat, H., Hirsch, A., Kanbur, R. and Ncube, M. 2014. The Oxford Companion to the Economics of South Africa, ibid.

[33] Bhorat, H., Hirsch, A., Kanbur, R. and Ncube, M. 2014. The Oxford Companion to the Economics of South Africa, ibid.

[34] PoSA 2014. Twenty Year Review South Africa 1994–2014 Background Paper: Income, Poverty and Inequality, Presidency of South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.dpme.gov.za/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019]; IMF 2017. South Africa 2017 Article IV Consultation, International Monetary Fund: Washington, D. C. Available At: https://www.imf.org/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[35] PoSA 2014. Twenty Year Review South Africa 1994–2014 Background Paper: Income, Poverty and Inequality, ibid.; IMF 2017. South Africa 2017 Article IV Consultation, ibid.

[36] SASSA 2017. A Statistical Summary of Social Grants in South Africa, South African Social Security Agency: Pretoria. Available At: http://www.sassa.gov.za/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].

[37] Bolt, M. and Rajak, D. 2016. ‘Introduction: Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa’, ibid.

[38] StatsSA 2017. Poverty Trends in South Africa: An Examination of Absolute Poverty between 2006 and 2015, Statistics South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.statssa.gov.za/ [Last Accessed: 23rd November 2018].

[39] Bolt, M. and Rajak, D. 2016. ‘Introduction: Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa’, ibid.

[40] Bolt, M. and Rajak, D. 2016. ‘Introduction: Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa’, ibid.

[41] StatsSA 2014. Mining: Production and Sales, Statistics South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: http://www.statssa.gov.za/ [Last Accessed: 17th October 2018].


Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.