Different Views on Why Apartheid Failed

Former presidents Frederik Willem de Klerk (left) and Nelson Mandela.

There are a number of factors that are often cited as part of the reason why apartheid was abolished. One of these factors is growing political awakening among non-whites, reflected in increased support for the ANC and other political opposition parties. Another factor is the decolonization of Africa that took place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. This wave of African liberation left the South African government in an exposed position in the 1980s as the only white regime in Africa, not counting two tiny outposts in northern Africa still held by Spain. A feeling worldwide that European minority rule in Africa had become obsolete was spreading fast.

Trade bans

A third factor said to have contributed to the abolishment of apartheid is pressure by other countries in the form of trade bans and diplomatic isolation. These measures were meant as punitive sanctions, and limited South Africa’s access to foreign goods, international sporting events and international political meetings. However, it is entirely possible that the sanctions could have had the unintended effect of consolidating support for the regime if enough South Africans felt that they and their government were being unjustifiably punished.

Opinions of former presidents

In defense of apartheid as a concept, Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid era president, has said that the system itself — barring the human rights violations carried out in its name — was not bad. Instead, in part, he has ascribed the failure of apartheid to selfish whites wanting to keep too much land to themselves, making the ownership of land unequal. De Klerk has also cited economic integration as a reason why apartheid became unsustainable. The fact that a large numbers of black, coloured and Indian people worked in businesses and on land owned by whites, he once explained, created interdependence and amicable relations over ethnic lines, making separation impossible.

Taking a different approach to explaining historical events, another former president, Nelson Mandela, has chalked the failure of apartheid up to it simply being a morally repugnant political system.