Robert Harvey. The Fall of Apartheid: The Inside Story from Smuts to Mbeki. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. xv + 257 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-333-80247-2.
Reviewed by Annelies Verdoolaege (Ghent University, Belgium)
Published on H-SAfrica (April, 2003)
Apartheid: A Political Ideology with a Relatively Short, but Very Intense Life
Apartheid: A Political Ideology with a Relatively Short, but Very Intense Life
This book is especially interesting for people who already have some background in South African politics. This is the case because names of political actors and organizations are sometimes mentioned without a lot of explanation. In addition, readers will be in a better position to appreciate the story of apartheid as told in this book when they are familiar with current developments in post-apartheid South Africa. In fact, The Fall of Apartheid talks about both the rise and the fall of apartheid, a history that occupies almost exactly the whole of the twentieth century. The main aim of the book is to show how important candid communication and trust are when trying to solve political conflicts. To fulfil this aim the work focuses on the negotiations, meetings, and talks between the different parties of the South African political spectrum. As part of this focus certain political leaders are put in the forefront. Clearly, Harvey considers the role of a number of key figures crucial for the South African political transformation. Besides South African politicians, like Nelson Mandela, F. W. De Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, Neil Barnard, and Sampie Terreblanche, the author also emphasizes the role of British political figures, especially Michael Young.
This book consists of two parts, "The Elect" and "Rainbow Nation." Part 1 starts with two introductory chapters; these chapters are situated in the year 1986 and are actually "flash-forwards." Chapter 1 recounts the endeavors of the British political adviser Michael Young to establish some contacts between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Afrikaner intellectual establishment in Stellenbosch. In Chapter 2 we are told about a meeting between an ANC delegation and a number of British business tycoons. Both of these initial contacts--between the ANC and the academics on the one hand and between the ANC and the business sector on the other--are seen as a first step towards the actual peace negotiations, which were to take place a couple of years later.
>From Chapter 3 onwards the author gives a chronological overview of the coming into existence and the rise of apartheid. His story begins in the year 1902, after the Boer War in which the Afrikaners were defeated by the British. We learn how, in those years, the Afrikaners felt humiliated and how they were repressed by the British. With regard to the Africans, British rule was racist, although this racism was not as institutionalised and legalised as would be the case under the Afrikaners. The real foundations for apartheid were put into place in the first decades of the twentieth century, namely with the Natives Land Act of 1913 and the Natives Affairs Act of 1920. Gradually, the Afrikaners gained more political power; Afrikaner nationalism had been growing as a result of increasing insecurity and poverty and in 1938 the National Party was created by Hertzog and Malan. After the elections of May 1948 the National Party came to power, which resulted in a cabinet with only Afrikaners. The elections of 1948 are often seen as the beginning of apartheid, because from then onwards the ideology of apartheid was effectively put into practice. A large number of acts restricted the freedom of Africans and in 1953 Prime Minister Verwoerd established the homelands.
In 1960 the Sharpeville massacre took place and this can be seen as a watershed in South African politics. Soon after, the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned and the international community started to speak out against apartheid. The next fourteen years are called "the crowning glory of the Afrikaner Republic" by the author (p. 64). During those years, mainly the English-speaking community was targeted by the Afrikaners, especially in the business sector and on the level of education. Africans started to become more and more militant, for example in the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko. In 1978, the moderate wing of the Afrikaners gained control over the government for the first time since 1948. From then onwards the government had to confront the social and economic reality of the twentieth century. It was especially the Afrikaner business and the defence establishments who came to realize that changes were necessary. In the 1980s international opposition to apartheid increased and South Africa became a pariah state in terms of sport, culture, and diplomacy. Under president Botha some superficial transformations were introduced, but in fact Botha was clearly committed to preserving the essence of apartheid. The explosion of violence after 1985 and the increasing negative effects of the international boycott convinced many Afrikaner politicians that the time was right to talk with the opposition.
At this point, the second part of the book begins. In this part the reader gets a detailed account of the negotiation talks preceding the 1990 transformation. To begin with, there were the secret talks between an imprisoned Nelson Mandela and the minister of justice Kobie Coetsee, and the meetings in Great Britain between the ANC and Afrikaner businessmen and intellectuals. The author is very positive about these meetings as there seemed to be trust and reason on both sides. The atmosphere was always rather informal and both parties were surprised about the goodwill of the opposite side. All of these initiatives took place without Botha being informed, since he continued to rule like a military dictator. Later on, when Botha did know about the talks, he did his best to isolate Mandela from the ANC leadership outside the country. In these chapters, Harvey gives a lot of details about the negotiations, for example by quoting literally from the meetings or by elaborating on the topics that were discussed. The Mells Park meetings, where British politicians mediated between the two South African parties, especially receives a great deal of attention. Also the role of Prime Minister Thatcher is discussed extensively. The story continues with the first meeting between Botha and Mandela in July 1989 and the downfall of Botha some months later. Under De Klerk, the contacts with the ANC intensified and for the first time there were face-to-face talks between the president's office and the ANC executive. In the chapter "The De Klerk Revolution" we get the culmination point of the negotiations with the un-banning of the opposition parties and the release of Mandela. The author then provides many fragments from personal interviews with Afrikaners, in which we get to know their viewpoints on the fall of apartheid. The final chapter talks about the events preceding the 1994 elections. Important topics at that time were the Codesa talks, the increasing violence in the townships, and the murder of Chris Hani. The book finishes symbolically with the first democratic elections on April 26, 1994.
I would like to mention two typical features of this book. In the first place, The Fall of Apartheid is very interesting to read especially because of the wealth of quotations, fragments, and citations. Almost every political leader talked about is quoted in one place or another. We get fragments from talks between peacemakers and we even learn what people said at some secret meetings. In addition, fragments from acts, political speeches, and letters are given throughout the book. This gives the work a very personal touch and it makes it really fascinating to read--it is always intriguing to hear what certain famous people said literally, especially at secret meetings. This aspect also indicates that the author really wanted to emphasize the importance of personal communication in the South African transition.
Secondly, Harvey expresses a surprising benevolence with regard to the Afrikaner community. Especially in the first part of the book, the author keeps on stressing the heroic, courageous, and devoted character of the Afrikaners. He also argues many times that apartheid, as a kind of racial revenge, was almost inevitable considering the way the Afrikaners had been oppressed by the British. Examples of this perspective include: "Afrikaner racialism represented the yearnings of a strange, wandering people, sandwiched between colonial oppression and a huge, threatening black underclass" (p. 25); "Afrikaner nationalism was to draw its inspiration from the voortrekker pioneers of a century before and the Elysian simplicity of a pure pastoral lifestyle that had only existed briefly then, if at all" (p. 39); and "Like the Jews fleeing from Egypt in search of the Promised Land, the history of the Afrikaners has been one of persecution and self-sufficiency in the face of overwhelming and hostile force. Now, after an epic struggle, they had been forced to surrender to long-term inevitability" (p. 244). It is understandable that Harvey does not want to generalize about the evilness of Afrikaners, since this has often been the case recently. It is very laudable as well that he stresses the goodwill among political leaders on both sides of the South African political landscape. In this way, the inherent positive aspects of human nature are emphasized, which one can surely appreciate. However, looking back into history and considering the suffering South Africans have gone through, it might have been better to moderate somewhat the positive description of the Afrikaners.
Finally, we have to take into account that the scope of this book is very narrow. The disadvantage of this narrow focus is that the reader does not get a lot of information about the black struggle under apartheid. This information could have been useful to get a better insight into the reasons for the fall of apartheid. The advantage is that the main topic of the book, the interaction between the "warring" parties, is described in great detail. In this way, the reader gets quite a unique perspective on twentieth-century South African politics.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-safrica.
Annelies Verdoolaege. Review of Harvey, Robert, The Fall of Apartheid: The Inside Story from Smuts to Mbeki.
H-SAfrica, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.