Background Notes: South Africa

Contributed By RealAdventures

Until 1991, South African law divided the population into four major racial categories: Africans (black), whites, coloreds, and Asians. Although this law has been abolished, many South Africans still view themselves and each other according to these categories. Africans comprise about 75% of the population and are divided into a number of different ethnic groups. Whites comprise about 14% of the population. They are primarily descendants of Dutch, French, English, and German settlers who began arriving at the Cape in the late 17th century. Coloreds are mixed-race people primarily descending from the earliest settlers and the indigenous peoples. They comprise about 9% of the total population. Asians descend from Indian workers brought to South Africa in the mid-19th century to work on the sugar estates in Natal. They constitute about 2% of the population and are concentrated in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Education is in a state of flux. Under the apartheid system schools were segregated, and the quantity and quality of education varied significantly across racial groups. Although the laws governing this segregation have been abolished, the long and arduous process of restructuring the country's educational system is just beginning. The challenge is to create a single nondiscriminatory, nonracial system that offers the same standards of education to all people.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--South African(s).
Annual growth rate (1998 est.): 1.7%.
Population (1998): 42 million. Composition--black 78.3%; white 12.7%; colored 8.8%; Asian (Indian) 2.2%.
Languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu (all official languages).
Religions: Predominantly Christian; traditional African, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish.
Education: Years compulsory--7-15 years of age for all children. The Schools Bill, passed by Parliament in 1996, aims to achieve greater educational opportunities for black children, mandating a single syllabus and more equitable funding for schools.
Health (1997 est.): Infant mortality rate--53.2/1,000 per live births. Life expectancy--68 yrs. women; 62 yrs. men.

People have inhabited southern Africa for thousands of years. Members of the Khoisan language groups are the oldest surviving inhabitants of the land but only a few are left in South Africa today, and they are located in the western sections. Most of today's black South Africans belong to the Bantu language group which migrated south from central Africa, settling in the Transvaal region sometime before AD 100. The Nguni, ancestors of the Zulu and Xhosa, occupied most of the eastern coast by 1500.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in 1488. However, permanent white settlement did not begin until 1652 when the Dutch East India Company established a provisioning station on the Cape. In subsequent decades, French Huguenot refugees, the Dutch, and Germans began to settle in the Cape. Collectively they form the Afrikaner segment of today's population. The establishment of these settlements had far-reaching social and political effects on the groups already settled in the area leading to upheaval in these societies and the subjugation of their people.

By 1779, European settlements extended throughout the southern part of the Cape and east toward the Great Fish River. It was here that Dutch authorities and the Xhosa fought the first frontier war. The British gained control of the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the 18th century. Subsequent British settlement and rule marked the beginning of a long conflict between the Afrikaners and the English.

Beginning in 1836, partly to escape British rule and cultural hegemony and partly out of resentment at the recent abolition of slavery, many Afrikaner farmers (Boers) undertook a northern migration that became known as the "Great Trek." This movement brought them into contact and conflict with African groups in the area, the most formidable of which were the Zulus. Under their powerful leader, Shaka (1787-1828), the Zulus conquered most of the territory between the Drakensburg Mountains and the sea (now KwaZulu-Natal).

In 1828, Shaka was assassinated and replaced by his half-brother Dingane. In 1838, Dingane was defeated and deported by the Voortrekkers (people of the Great Trek) at the battle of Blood River. The Zulus, nonetheless, remained a potent force, defeating the British in the historic battle of Isandhlwana before themselves being finally conquered in 1879.

In 1852 and 1854, the independent Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State were created. Relations between the republics and the British Government were strained. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1870 and the discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region of the Transvaal in 1886 caused an influx of European (mainly British) immigration and investment. Many blacks also moved into the area to work in the mines. The construction by mine owners of hostels to house and control their workers set patterns that later extended throughout the region.

Boer reactions to this influx and British political intrigues led to the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. British forces prevailed in the conflict, and the republics were incorporated into the British Empire. In May 1910, the two republics and the British colonies of the Cape and Natal formed the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The Union's constitution kept all political power in the hands of whites.

In 1912, the South Africa Native National Congress was formed in Bloemfontein and eventually became known as the African National Congress (ANC). Its goals were the elimination of restrictions based on color and the enfranchisement of and parliamentary representation for blacks. Despite these efforts the government continued to pass laws limiting the rights and freedoms of blacks.

In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the all-white elections and began passing legislation codifying and enforcing an even stricter policy of white domination and racial separation known as "apartheid" (separateness). In the early 1960s, following a protest in Sharpeville in which 69 protesters were killed by police and 180 injured, the ANC and Pan-African Congress (PAC) were banned. Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders were convicted and imprisoned on charges of treason.

The ANC and PAC were forced underground and fought apartheid through guerrilla warfare and sabotage. In May 1961, South Africa relinquished its dominion status and declared itself a republic. It withdrew from the Commonwealth in part because of international protests against apartheid. In 1984, a new constitution came into effect in which whites allowed coloreds and Asians a limited role in the national government and control over their own affairs in certain areas. Ultimately, however, all power remained in white hands. Blacks remained effectively disenfranchised.

Popular uprisings in black and colored townships in 1976 and 1985 helped to convince some NP members of the need for change. Secret discussions between those members and Nelson Mandela began in 1986. In February 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk -- who had come to power in September 1989 -- announced the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and all other anti-apartheid groups. Two weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

In 1991, the Group Areas Act, Land Acts, and the Population Registration Act -- the last of the so-called "pillars of apartheid" -- were abolished. A long series of negotiations ensued resulting in a new constitution promulgated into law in December 1993. The country's first nonracial elections were held on April 26-29, 1994, resulting in the installation of Nelson Mandela as president on May 10, 1994.

During Nelson Mandela's 5-year term as President of South Africa, the government committed itself to reforming the country. The ANC-led government focused on social issues that were neglected during the apartheid era such as unemployment, housing shortages, and crime. Mandela's administration began to reintroduce South Africa into the global economy by implementing a market-driven economic plan (GEAR). In order to heal the wounds created by apartheid, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In June 1999, Nelson Mandela retired and Thabo Mbeki was elected President of South Africa.

Type: Executive--president; bicameral Parliament.
Independence: The Union of South Africa was created on May 31, 1910; became sovereign state within British empire in 1934; became a Republic on May 31, 1961; left the Commonwealth in October 1968. Nonracial, democratic constitution came into effect April 27, 1994; rejoined the Commonwealth in May 1994.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) elected to a 5-year term by the National Assembly. Legislative--bicameral Parliament consisting of 490 members in two chambers. National Assembly (400 members) elected by a system of proportional representation. National Council of Provinces consisting of 90 delegates (10 from each province) and 10 non-voting delegates representing local government. Judicial--Constitutional Court interprets and decides constitutional issues; Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for interpreting and deciding nonconstitutional matters.
Administrative subdivisions: Nine provinces: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Northern Province, Western Cape.
Political parties: African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Party (DP), New National Party (NNP), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Vryheidsfront/Freedom Front (FF), Pan-African Congress (PAC), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), and the Federal Alliance.
Suffrage--Citizens and permanent residents 18 and older.

Foreign Affairs -- Dr. NC Dlamini-Zuma
Justice -- Mr. PM Maduna
Defense -- Mr. MGP Lekota
Finance -- Mr. TA Manuel
Home Affairs -- Mr. M Buthelezi
Safety and Security -- Mr. SV Tshwete
Trade and Industry -- Mr. A Erwin
Agriculture and Land Affairs -- Ms. AT Didiza
Health -- Dr. ME Tshabalala-Msimang
Welfare and Population Development -- Dr. ZST Skweyiya
Education -- Prof. AK Asmal
Labor -- MMS Mdladlana
Art, Culture, Science and Technology -- Dr. BS Ngubane
Water Affairs and Forestry -- Mr. R Kasrils
Environment Affairs and Tourism -- Mr. MV Moosa
Mineral and Energy Affairs -- Ms. P Mlambo-Ngcuka
Transport -- Mr. AM Omar
Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development --
Mr. FS Mufamadi
Housing -- Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele
Communications -- Dr. I Matsepe-Casaburri
Public Works -- Ms. SN Sigcau
Public Enterprises -- Mr. JT Radebe
Public Service and Administration -- Ms. GJ Fraser-Moleketi
Sport and Recreation -- Mr. BMN Balfour
Correctional Services -- Mr. BM Skosana
Arts, Culture, Science and Technology -- Dr. BS Ngubane
Intelligence -- Mr. JM Nhlanhla
Minister in the Office of the Presidency -- Mr. EG Pahad

The Republic of South Africa maintains an embassy in the United States at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 232-4400.

Following the 1994 elections, South Africa was governed under an interim constitution. This constitution required the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a permanent constitution by May 9, 1996. After review by the Constitutional Court and intensive negotiations within the CA, a revised draft was certified by the Constitutional Court on December 2, 1996. President Mandela signed the new constitution into law on December 10, and it entered into force on February 3, 1997.

The Government of National Unity (GNU) established under the interim constitution ostensibly remained in effect until the 1999 national elections. The parties originally comprising the GNU -- the ANC, the NP, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) -- shared executive power. On June 30, 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of the opposition.

The Parliament consists of two houses -- the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces -- which are responsible for drafting the laws of the republic. The National Assembly also has specific control over bills relating to monetary matters. The current 400-member National Assembly was retained under the new constitution, although the constitution allows for a range of between 350 and 400 members. The Assembly is elected by a system of "list proportional representation." Each of the parties appearing on the ballot submits a rank-ordered list of candidates. The voters then cast their ballots for one party.

Seats in the Assembly are allocated based on the percentage of votes each party receives. In the 1999 elections, the ANC won 266 seats in the Assembly, the DP 38, the IFP 34, the NNP, 28, the UDM 14, and other groups won the remaining 20.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) consists of 90 members, 10 from each of the nine provinces. The NCOP replaced the former Senate as the second chamber of Parliament and was created to give a greater voice to provincial interests. It must approve legislation that involves shared national and provincial competencies as defined by an annex to the constitution. Each provincial delegation consists of six permanent and four rotating delegates.

The president is the head of state. Following the June 2, 1999 elections, the National Assembly elected Thabo Mbeki president. The president's responsibilities include assigning cabinet portfolios, signing bills into law, and serving as commander in chief of the military. The president must work closely with the deputy president and the cabinet. There are currently 28 posts in the cabinet, 25 of which are held by the ANC and three by the IFP.

The third arm of the central government is an independent judiciary. The Constitutional Court is the highest court for interpreting and deciding constitutional issues while the Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for nonconstitutional matters. Most cases are heard in the extensive system of High Courts and Magistrates Courts. The constitution's bill of rights provides for due process including the right to a fair, public trial within a reasonable time of being charged and the right to appeal to a higher court. The bill of rights also guarantees fundamental political and social rights of South Africa's citizens.

South Africa has a productive and industrialized economy that paradoxically exhibits many characteristics associated with developing countries, including a division of labor between formal and informal sectors -- and uneven distribution of wealth and income. The formal sector, based on mining, manufacturing, services, and agriculture, is well developed.

The transition to a democratic, nonracial government, begun in early 1990, stimulated a debate on the direction of economic policies to achieve sustained economic growth while at the same time redressing the socioeconomic disparities created by apartheid. The Government of National Unity's initial blueprint to address this problem was the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). The RDP was designed to create programs to improve the standard of living for the majority of the population by providing housing -- a planned 1 million new homes in 5 years -- basic services, education, and health care. While a specific "ministry" for the RDP no longer exists, a number of government ministries and offices are charged with supporting RDP programs and goals.

In June 1996, the government announced a new market-driven economic plan -- "Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy" (GEAR). The GEAR emphasizes a private sector/market-based approach; parastatal privatization; and conservative fiscal and monetary policies to facilitate economic growth, job creation, and accelerated trade liberalization. South Africa aims to maintain an attractive business environment and encourages both foreign and domestic investment.

South African forces fought on the Allied side in World Wars I and II and participated in the postwar UN force in Korea. South Africa was a founding member of the League of Nations and in 1927 established a Department of External Affairs with diplomatic missions in the main west European countries and in the United States. At the founding of the League of Nations, South Africa was given the mandate to govern South-West Africa, now Namibia, which had been a German colony before World War I. In 1990, Namibia attained independence, with the exception of the enclave of Walvis Bay, which was reintegrated into Namibia in March 1994. After South Africa held its first nonracial election in April 1994, most sanctions imposed by the international community in opposition to the system of apartheid were lifted. On June 1, 1994, South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth, and on June 23, 1994, its credentials to the UN General Assembly were accepted. South Africa also joined the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Having emerged from the international isolation of the apartheid era, South Africa has become a leading international actor. Its principal foreign policy objective is to develop good relations with all countries, especially its neighbors in SADC and the other members of the OAU. In August 1998, South Africa assumed the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The United States has maintained an official presence in South Africa since 1799, when an American consulate was opened in Cape Town. The U.S. Embassy is located in Pretoria, and consulates general are in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Americans and South Africans also have many non-governmental ties; for example, black and white American missionaries have a long history of activity in South Africa.

From the 1970s through the early 1990s, U.S.-South Africa relations were severely affected by South Africa's racial policies. However, since the abolition of apartheid and democratic elections of April 1994, the United States has enjoyed an excellent bilateral relationship with South Africa. During President Nelson Mandela's October 1994 State Visit to the United States, the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission was created. The commission is designed to promote cooperation between the two countries in such areas as trade and investment, agriculture, human resources development and education, conservation and the environment, energy and technology, and defense. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States also provides assistance to South Africa to help it meet its development goals. Peace Corps volunteers began working in South Africa in 1997

Ambassador -- Delano E. Lewis
Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister-Counselor -- John Blaney
Commercial Minister-Counselor -- Roger Ervin
Economic Counselor -- Robert Godec
Political Counselor -- Marguerita Ragsdale
Administrative Counselor -- Steven Buckler
Public Affairs Officer -- Thomas Hull
Defense and Air Attache -- Col. Dennis Rider, USAF
USAID Director -- Stacey Rhodes
Agricultural Attache -- Richard Helm
Consul General Cape Town -- April Glaspie
Consul General Durban -- Craig Kuehl
Consul General Johannesburg -- Sue Ford-Patrick

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