Impact Of The Cold War On The Struggle Against Apartheid In South Africa (1945 – 1991)

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

Impact Of The Cold War On The Struggle Against Apartheid In South Africa (1945 – 1991)


This study was undertaken to examine the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The primary source of data for this study is drawn from already written materials of renowned scholarship. In other words, Library research method of data collection is used. That is, Materials found in Libraries, Journals, Newspapers (Nationals Dailies), Magazines, and seminar Monographs, Published and unpublished theses.
This study reveals that The Cold War in the South African possessed a particular dimension which differentiated it markedly from the battle of systems and ideas in continental Europe. This was a direct product of the particular socio-economic development of South Africa, and it’s associated class structure which was indelibly linked to racial discrimination and exploitation.

Table Of Contents

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background of the study
  • 1.2 Statement of problem
  • 1.3 Objective of the study
  • 1.4 Research Hypotheses
  • 1.5 Significance of the study
  • 1.6 Scope and limitation of the study
  • 1.7 Definition of terms
  • 1.8 Organization of the study

Chapter Two

2.0 Literature Review

Chapter Three

3.0 Research methodology

  • 3.1 sources of data collection
  • 3.2 Validation of research instrument

Chapter Four

Data Presentation And Analysis And Interpretation

  • 4.1 Introductions
  • 4.2 Data analysis

Chapter Five

  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Summary
  • 5.3 Conclusion
  • 5.4 Recommendation
  • Appendix

Chapter One


1.1 Background Of The Study

The Cold War conflict between the US and the Soviet Union had an enormous influence on the contemporary history of the world, leaving few regions untouched by the ideological contest of the superpowers and the ensuing wars that accompanied this rivalry. Despite often being neglected in Western histories, South Africa was also greatly affected by this global contest. It undoubtedly had wide-ranging ramifications for the region and its people, many of them negative. The Cold War rivalry helped frame the thirty years of turmoil in South Africa, and it acted as an important ideological foundation for the white-minority regimes and the various liberation movements. Both sides exploited this ideological rivalry for their own ends, but had ultimately opposite goals. The Cold War tensions provided an opportunity for the belligerents to legitimise their own actions.

Apartheid was officially legalised as a state policy in South Africa in 1948 by minority Dutch Boers that mounted the political saddle after the withdrawal of British colonial masters. The basic ethos of Apartheid is racial superiority of minority whites who came into the country in 1652 against indigenous majority black and people of Asian descent known as coloureds. (Marshall, 2006). The majority and other non-Europeans were denied political rights and all civil liberties universally accepted and segregated in public places. This made blacks and the coloureds second class citizens whose existence was at the mercy of the minorities who made their way into the country by forced acquisition of lands and settlements. Ab initio, apartheid was resisted internally and externally. At the home front, many groups notably the African National Congress (ANC), Socialist party and the other Zulu ethnic groups mounted fierce protests against the evil system. As the protests repeatedly fell into deaf ears, the oppressed changed strategy by embarking on acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare (Mandela, 1994). At some point most of the global community joined in the struggle against Apartheid. This became easy because it coincided with decolonization period and the new states within and outside Africa sympathised with the cause of the majority.

However there is no denying the fact that former European colonial masters exhibited lackadaisical attitude to the struggle against apartheid because most still have colonial territories in the Continent (Reddy, 2004). When pressure by new states skyrocketed to an embarrassing level, they passively caged in by condemning the system without taking stringent measures like total isolation on the white regimes in South Africa. Most of them maintained close ties with the minority regimes thereby shielding it from economic and political pressure coming from Africa and other former colonial territories of South and Latin America and Asia. At the turn of the last decade of the 20th century, it became clear to practitioners of this inhuman and criminal system that it lacks the muscles and covered goodwill to keep going. The wind of change that collapsed the iron curtains of Eastern Europe and subsequent balkanisation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republic into twelve states signalled to them that it‟s time to throw in the towel. Without much ado, President FW de Klerk embarked on reforms aimed at dismantling apartheid via repealing the obnoxious laws that created it. First process was cutting the locks off most of the prisons that held captive the longest political prisoner of Robben Island Mr. Nelson Mandela and a host of his other comrades. The second phase was a protracted negotiation with African National Congress and other liberation struggle groups. After much push and pulls, take and give a political agenda was set. The third phase was conduct of an all-inclusive election that saw to the emergence of the first black president of the rainbow nation in 1994. Nelson Mandela, their leader in power sharing formula that lasted for years (Daily Independent, 2 February 2010).

The accession to power in 1948 of the National Party (NP) and the subsequent imposition of the policy and ideology of apartheid, in the place of earlier more pragmatic and paternalistic versions of segregation and white supremacy, led to successive decades of increasingly violent and racially polarized conflict (Horrell, 1971). Following the massacre of blacks protesting the pass laws at Sharpeville in 1960 and the subsequent banning of mainstream African political organizations such as the ANC and PAC (Pan-Africanist Congress), the NP government increasingly had to rely on coercive measures to maintain the apartheid order. The security forces were expanded and given extensive and discretionary powers by statute. A renewed round of political activity and protest initiated by the Black Consciousness (BC) movement in the early 1970s resulted in the student revolts in Soweto in 1976. This was met with savage repression by the state, culminating in the death of Steve Biko and the banning of a range of BC organizations by the end of 1977. The early 1980s saw another cycle of populist resistance leading to the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and issuing in the country-wide popular insurrections of 1984-1987 (Cobbett and Cohen, 1988).

The NP-controlled state saw this in terms of a “total onslaught” which was to be met by a “total strategy” involving an increasing militarization of (white) South African society. Under the (newly introduced) executive presidency of P.W. Botha, who relied heavily on the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the security forces, the “securocrats” increasingly commanded the key decision-making structures in the state, with the National Security Council usurping key functions from the cabinet while Parliament itself became increasingly marginalized (Swilling and Phillips, 1988; cf. Frankel, Pines and Swilling, 1988). By the second half of the 1980s the ANC, historically long committed to non-violent and constitutional methods, was giving prominence to the “armed struggle” in conjunction with internationally imposed sanctions and popular mobilization aimed at making the country “ungovernable” as a prelude to taking power (Lodge, 1986). The NP-controlled state responded by the imposition of successive states of emergency, deploying troops in the townships and the construction of a national network of Security Management Centres (SMC). The SMCs were supposed to co-ordinate policy and security action under military control and potentially provided an alternative to the existing structures of civilian rule.

On either side, the inherent logic and dynamic of these developments pointed to a dénouement of increasingly violent confrontation: for the ANC/UDF and the populist “liberation movement” the narrative structure of the “struggle” promised a (quasi-) revolutionary culmination in taking power and control of the state, thus ending apartheid and ensuring majority rule. And for the white minority the defence of power and privilege inexorably pointed to the formation of a reactionary and militarized “garrison state” explicitly based on superior coercive forces and/or an unending civil war. (These were not, of course, the only developments taking place: a sequence of indirect and unofficial contacts initiated by intermediaries and involving some key political agents prepared the way for later open negotiations. But if off-stage different narratives were being prepared, the dominant narrative on the national political scene remained that of increasingly violent confrontation).

It is these mutually reinforcing dominant narratives and the concomitant sets of expectations they tend to generate which have been confounded by the developments connected with 2 February 1990. To some extent these developments had been prefigured by events during 1989, including the release of Govan Mbeki and a few other long-term political prisoners. But from 1990 the NP-government, now under the unambiguously civilian-based leadership of F.W. de Klerk, definitely signalled a comprehensive shift from rule by coercive force to a more “political” approach seeking the negotiated settlement of conflicts. Instead of deploying political censorship, emergency powers, bannings and detentions without trial as before, the NP-government now committed itself to public negotiations with its former “terrorist” enemies. It allowed those who had formerly been hounded as “communists” and “traitors” some access to the mass media, and recognized (though not unconditionally) the rights of formerly proscribed political organizations to organize, demonstrate and protest in public, etc. In principle, if not quite yet in practice, this amounted to renouncing the coercive maintenance of minority rule; henceforth the protection of power and privilege would be sought through negotiated settlements and constitutional guarantees.

For its part, the ANC has suspended, if not yet finally disbanded, the “armed struggle”. Following the return of its leaders from exile and/or their release from prison, the ANC began the difficult process of transforming the “liberation movement” into a more conventional party political organization (Sachs, 1992). The familiar quasi-revolutionary discourse and symbolism of populist mobilization increasingly gave way to strategic considerations and the technical intricacies of developing policy positions on a range of social, economic and educational issues (Muller and Cloete, 1991). Together, then, these complementary moves amounted to a comprehensive and bilateral change of strategy and tactics such as could well be symbolized by the Peace Accord publicly signed and sealed in September 1991.

Somehow the violent confrontation which had increasingly threatened to engulf the political landscape had been averted and transformed, incomprehensibly and almost miraculously but also unmistakeably, into the makings of an amicable settlement. Where the dominant narratives had been pointing to an inexorable and possibly catastrophic climax of political violence, the scene had almost overnight been changed into a triumph for diplomacy and rational persuasion as former foes sat down to reason together and increasingly discovered common ground (Adam and Moodley, 1993).

However, this is not quite a full or accurate picture of current developments and it would be grossly misleading to suggest that political violence as a phenomenon of South African political life has been contained and defused. Instead, it is increasingly recognized that the continuing levels of proliferating political violence during 1990 and from 1991-1992 now constitute a basic threat to that very process of ongoing political negotiation just outlined (Simpson et al., 1991; Schlemmer, 1991; Amnesty International, 1992). The Peace Accord of September 1991 actually had a much more ambiguous significance than that suggested above: rather than the final termination of hostilities between the main agents involved in national conflict, it represented a not altogether concerted attempt, at once tentative and somewhat desperate, of some political and civil leaders to regain some measure of control over the proliferating incidents of political violence at the local and grassroots levels. The subsequent history of the Peace Accord has not been a major success story; more often than not the Peace Accord structures have failed to function effectively and to prevent or contain violent conflicts at local levels.

This brings us, in the second place, to the other major turn of recent developments relating to political violence. For, quite simply, 2 February 1990, the release of Mandela, the return of the exiles, the suspension of the armed struggle as well as the lifting of emergency powers, and the subsequent negotiation process leading to CODESA and beyond has not brought an end to, or even a lessening of, actual political violence “on the ground”. By any count the current spread and intensity of political violence is at similar and higher levels than during the worst years of 1985-86: during 1990 and 1991 more than 6000 people were killed in incidents of political violence (Survey of Race Relations 1991/2, 1992). The months following the release of Mandela in fact saw a sharp escalation of violent conflicts in the Natal Midlands, where political violence pitting factions of Inkatha against groupings allied to the UDF/ANC had become endemic since 1987 (Graham, 1991; Bekker, 1992).

By mid-1990 these violent confrontations had spilled over to the Transvaal with local civil wars between residents and hostel dwellers in townships on the West Rand and in the Vaal Triangle (Seekings, 1991). The press tended to report this as an ethnic war between Zulu and Xhosa, a power struggle between Inkatha and the ANC, and/or the results of destabilizing efforts of a “third force”, evidently both imposing preconceived notions and failing to make much sense of these deeply disturbing developments (Fordred, 1991). In the weeks and months that followed, reports continued of apparently senseless massacres of train commuters by masked gunmen with automatic weapons in Soweto, bloody feuds and confrontations in urban townships, squatter camps and isolated rural communities. Despite a range of sustained efforts by various bodies and agencies to monitor, mediate and settle this recurrent political violence, the pattern continues. In the early months of 1992 deadly “taxi wars” raged in the Western Cape after the latest in a long series of negotiated accords had collapsed; in March the township of Alexandra bordering on Johannesburg and Sandton, long considered one of the most stable black urban communities, erupted in urban warfare between township residents and the inmates of the huge Madala migrant labourer hostel. In June, following the breakdown of the CODESA talks, the massacre in Boipatong dominated national news as did the massacre in Bisho at the beginning of September. These were only the most prominent and dramatic events; according to official statistics 2,465 people died in incidents of political violence during 1992 (Cape Times, 13/2/1993).

1.2 Problem Statement

Southern Africa bore witness to several damaging wars which attracted interventions from both superpowers and from various states from both sides of the political divide; there were guerrilla insurrections in many countries, and the South African government’s policy of destabilization against its independent neighbours hindered the economic and political development of the region. Many of these legacies are still evident in Southern Africa today.

Public perception of the significance of the cold war also changed in important ways. At one level the ongoing violence is increasingly being accepted as simply part and parcel of the political landscape, with new tidings of death and destruction leaving little lasting impact on the public mind. The escalation of political violence was conceived as a regrettable but unavoidable function of the deepening popular resistance against the apartheid state and the illegitimate minority régime. Making the country “ungovernable”, with all which that entailed in practice – from the targeting of collaborators to the social costs of rent and consumer boycotts – was an intelligible aim as a prelude to taking power and the coming of majority government.

For its part, the apartheid régime, its functionaries, supporters and critics, also had ready ways of making sense of the uses of coercion and violence against “terrorists” and the “total onslaught”. If there was an escalation of political violence in the South African conflict, there was little problem for participants and observers alike to make prima facie sense of it.

1.3 Aim And Objectives

The aim of this study is to undergo a Historical analysis of the impact cold war on the struggle against apartheid in south Africa

1.4 Research Questions

Question One

How did South Africa fair from the cold war perspective

Question Two

What is the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa

1.5 Significance Of The Study

For some time there have been significant gaps in our understanding of the Cold War and its impact on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, this project would set the pace to address this problem. It would hopefully mark the start of further academic interest in the field of Cold War studies in the country by investigating it from a range of alternative perspectives. This study has contributed new and diverse research into parts of the Cold War and its impact on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

1.6 Scope And Limitations Of The Study

This project is on the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

1.7 Definition Of Terms


Apartheid refers to a carefully crafted and applied ideology of white race superiority over blacks in South Africa during almost seventy years of the twentieth century (Harvey, 2003). It was an ideology of racial separation, and reservation of certain privileges for the benefit of only a small minority of the people of South Africa. Apartheid existed in both formal and informal forms. In its formalised capacity it existed in terms of the most oppressive, discriminatory and exclusive legislation, structures and actions against blacks. In its informal capacity it existed in the hearts and minds of the white minority of South Africans who truly associated with the ideology.

Political Leader:

For purposes of this research the term “political leader” refers to, and was limited to, elected South African Members of Parliament. This includes members of Cabinet, National Assembly and permanent delegates to the National Council of Provinces.

Political Leadership:

This concept refers to leadership within the institutionalised dictates of a formal structure, while at the same time making the leader accountable to his constituents and the total South African population. In a sense this refers to a structured leadership that is accountable to the followers who elected and appointed the leader as their agent in the South African Parliament. The concept of political leadership therefore embodies

  • A leadership role within a formal political institution;
  • Leadership over constituents whom the leader represents in the institution; and
  • Accountability to the same constituents who elected the political leader to his position of political leadership.

1.8 Organization Of The Study

This work will be Organised in five chapters;

Chapter one discusses in an introductory manner the Military’s incursion Nigeria’s politics; the historical background to Nigeria’s Foreign policy; the Research problem; the research questions; the significance of the study; the scope and limitation of the study.

In chapter two, Literatures related to the area of study will be meticulously reviewed. Similarly in this chapter, the Elite Theory, which is adopted as a theoretical framework of this study given its relevance, will be discussed.

Chapter three will focus on the Research Methodology and critically appraise the foreign policies of the two periods under study; while

Chapter four will look at analytical overview of the factors that influenced the Military and civilian Regimes’ Foreign Policies and the impacts on the Nigerian State.

Chapter five is the final chapter, thus it will contain the summary conclusions of the Research and some relevant recommendations and future prospects.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion And Recommendation

5.1 Introduction

It is important to reiterate that the objective of this study was the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

In the preceding chapter, the relevant data collected for this study were presented, critically analyzed and appropriate interpretation given. In this chapter, certain recommendations made which in the opinion of the researcher aided in the analysis of the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.


This study was undertaken to examine the impact of the cold war on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The study opened with chapter one where the statement of the problem was clearly defined. The study objectives and research questions were defined and formulated respectively. The study reviewed related and relevant literatures. The chapter two gave the conceptual framework, empirical and theoretical studies. The third chapter described the methodology employed by the researcher in collecting both the primary and the secondary data. The research method employed qualitative survey as Newspaper and journal reviews were taken. While the fifth chapter gives the study summary and conclusion.

Conclusion And Recommendations

This study reveals that The Cold War in the South African possessed a particular dimension which differentiated it markedly from the battle of systems and ideas in continental Europe. This was a direct product of the particular socio-economic development of South Africa, and it’s associated class structure which was indelibly linked to racial discrimination and exploitation. Despite the socialist Bloc’s enduring faith that the march of history was on its side, the residual strength of the white settler regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia following the collapse of the Portuguese Empire in 1974-1975 which saw the Portuguese army defeated by nationalists in its African colonies, prolonged this contest and gave anti- colonial struggles a particular intensity. These white minority governments used the perceived threat of communism, aided and abetted by the Soviet Union, to demonize African Liberation movements and to divert domestic and international attention from the real causes of opposition to the racist rule.
Synthesizing the consolidation of economic and specific meaningful pursuits that the U.S. administration had with Pretoria, with the advancement of the Cold War and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement and an examination of American aid for the racist white minority regime of South Africa and also for the colonial masters of the rest of Southern Africa thrust forward space on the difficult juxtaposition of two big topics of the annals of contemporary America.

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