The Rubicon Revisited: A Reexamination of South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy
South Africa’s transition from Apartheid to democracy is a miracle case of national, racial and ethnic reconciliation within a deeply divided society. South Africa avoided the predictions of an ‘inevitable’ bloodbath, instead staging a bloodless revolution. But why and how did this miracle happen? This paper proposes that South Africa’s miraculous transition began in the mid-1980s – when Apartheid was, arguably, at its height of hegemonic control – with President P.W. Botha’s constitutional re-engineering. The Botha administration unintentionally ‘crossed the Rubicon’ from racial and ethnic separation to complete integration through their cosmetic reforms to Apartheid’s political apparatus. These reforms deliberately re-imagined South Africa as a country of ethnic minorities rather than a land of racial majorities in order to strengthen white rule. But this re-imagining had the opposite effect of cracking Apartheid’s edifice while Botha’s reforms had the contradictory effects of (i) entrenching Apartheid’s policy of ‘apartness’, and, more importantly, (ii) opening up the channels of racial integration and cooperation under the guise of a new cooperative, confederal, interethnic political structure. Although an enduring symbol of Apartheid, the fact remains that Botha was the first Apartheid President to permit the very early stages of integration that laid the groundwork for democracy.
Keywords: Apartheid, South Africa, Botha, P.W.
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Media and Information Studies, The University of Western Ontario