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The South African Elections of 1994: the Remaking of a Dominant-Party State

  • Roger Southall


The South African elections of 1994 constituted one of those rare historical moments when humankind made a significant step forward. The peaceful culmination of a liberation struggle, which for years many had feared would end in a bloodbath, registered not only a triumph for the democratic ideal but the resounding defeat of racism as an organising principle of government. If its more recent reference point was the collapse of dictatorial régimes throughout Eastern Europe during 1989–90, it can more distantly be identified as following in the grand tradition of 1789, confirming and extending and elaborating the ‘rights of man’. Yet historical ‘progress’ rarely unfolds in an uncomplicated way, and — however momentous and however much the external world may be willing it to succeed — South Africa's new democracy, by fairly general agreement, faces daunting tasks.



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1 What follows in this and the subsequent section leans heavily upon the interpretation offered in Southall, Roger, ‘South Africa's 1994 Election in an African Perspective’, in Africa Insight (Pretoria), 24, 2, 1994, pp. 8698.

2 There were 2,450 fatalities from political violence between September 1984 and December 1988, at the height of a period of intense popular mobilisation against apartheid. In contrast, there were as many as 3,400 such deaths in 1990, 2,580 in 1991, 3,446 in 1992, and 4,398 in 1993, most as the outcome of fighting between supporters of the ANC and Inkatha in the PWV province and Natal. Violence then surged even higher in early 1994, when deaths in Natal ran at a level double the 1993 monthly average. See Howe, G., ‘The Trojan Horse: Natal's civil war, 1987–1993’, in Indicator South Africa (Durban), 10, 2, 1993, pp. 3540;Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Review: South Africa, 1993 (Braamfontein, 1993); and Sunday Times (Johannesburg), 5 06 1994.

3 For a taste of the controversy, see ‘Free-ish and Fair-ish, despite the IEC’, Editorial, The Weekly Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), 24 04–5 05 1994: ‘Despite hundreds of millions of rands, lavish salaries and massive popular support, they have messed it up through sheer incompetence. It has been a gravy train without wheels’. For a response, see Yunus Mahomed, Deputy Director of Administration, IEC, ‘The IEC: Inexperienced, yes. Inept, no’, in ibid. 10–16 June 1994.

4 Sithole, Masipula, ‘The General Elections, 1979–85’, in Mandaza, Ibbo (ed.), Zimbabwe: the political economy of transition, 1980–86 (Harare, 1987), pp. 7598.

5 Independent Electoral Commission, Communications – Information and Issues (Johannesburg), Document 6, ‘Voters and Seats per Province’.

6 Work in Progress (Braamfontein), 96, 0405 1994.

7 Sunday Times, 16 June 1991. Voting intentions were given only by race (71 per cent of urban Africans were reported as favouring the ANC and 58 per cent of whites the NP).

8 Lesage, John, ‘Can the ANC Win?’, in New African (London), 12 1992.

9 Weekly Mail & Guardian, 17–22 December 1993.

10 Daily Dispatch (East London), 11 and 19 01 1994.

11 See various surveys reported by the HSRC's Information Update (Pretoria), Vols. 1 (1991) to 3 (1993).

12 For an official elaboration of the reasons, see Mahomed, loc. cit.

13 van Rooyen, Johann, Hard Right: the new white power in South Africa (London, 1994), pp. 149–55.

14 Weekly Mail & Guardian, 6–12 May 1994.

15 Ibid.

16 Challenged on the legality of horse-trading, the IEC Chairman, Judge Johann Kriegler, said: ‘Come now, let's not get purist, let's not be overly squeamish. They [the ANC and IFP] are in a power game with one another and if they want to settle…that is fine. There is nothing wrong ethically or legally.’ Ibid.

17 For the 1924 and 1948 elections, see Davenport, T. R. H., South Africa: a modern history (London and Basingstoke, 1977), pp. 192–8 and 251–4, and Stultz, Newell M., The Nationalists in Opposition, 1934–1948 (Cape Town and Pretoria, 1974), pp. 122 and 131–59.

18 The successful NP–Afrikaner Party alliance in 1948 obtained only 443,719 votes (41 per cent of those cast) to the UP's 525,230. Even in the 1953 elections, a United Front alliance composed of the UP, the Labour Party, and the Torch Commandos (a war veterans' organisation opposed to the NP's constitutional manipulations), obtained 50 per cent of the votes but only 62 seats, as against the NP's 49 per cent of the vote and 94 seats. See Davenport, op. cit. Table 2, and Lemon, Anthony, Apartheid in Transition (Aldershot and Brookfield, VT, 1987), pp. 82112, who provides a valuable synopsis of white voting behaviour from 1948 to 1982.

19 Giliomee, Hermann, ‘The National Party's Campaign for a Liberation Election’, in Reynolds, Andrew (ed.), Election '94 South Africa: the campaigns, results and future prospects (London, 1994), pp. 4372.

20 Lesage, loc. cit. p. 11.

21 For example, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, ‘The SACP: a basis for socialist unity’, in South African Labour Bulletin (Durban), 15, 3, 1990, pp. 2830. This publication has subsequently provided the forum for a related, important debate about the relevance of social democracy for South Africa. See especially 17, 6, 1992 and 18, 2, 1993.

22 Opinion polls rarely distinguished between support for the SACP and ANC separately in the run-up to the elections. However, the Markinor poll of urban Africans cited earlier indicated only 12 per cent of the sample plumping for the SACP as their second preference. A regional survey, conducted in mid-1993, subsequently indicated only 0·9 per cent African support for the SACP compared to 76·7 per cent for the ANC. See Coetzee, Jan K. and Wood, Geoffrey T., ‘How the Vote will Go: a survey of African potential voters in the Eastern Cape’, in Politikon: the South African Journal of Political Science (Florida, nr. Johannesburg), 20, 2, 1993, pp. 2545.

23 Janet Cherry, David Ginsberg, Richard Haines, Gilton Klerck, Johan Maree, Roger Southall, Eddie Webster, and Geoffrey Wood, ‘Taking Democracy Seriously: Cosatu workers and South Africa's liberation election of 1994’, Grahamstown.

24 For example, Habib, A. and Andrews, M., ‘Disinheriting the Heritage of Stalinism’, in South African Labour Bulletin, 15, 3, 1990, pp. 8693.

25 Cherry et al. op. cit.

26 Wood and Coetzee, op. cit., record that the PAC was deemed the only party, apart from the ANC, which the majority of African voters in the Eastern Cape felt had a right to campaign in their areas.

27 Cooper, Saths, ‘The PAC and AZAPO’, in Reynolds, (ed.), op. cit. pp. 117–20.

28 Moyo, Jonathan N., Voting for Democracy: electoral politics in Zimbabwe (Harare, 1992), especially pp. 3642 and 189–201.

29 Cyril Ramaphosa, Secretary-General of the ANC, indicated a few weeks after the elections that both national and regional MPs would be allocated specific geographic responsibilities in order to keep the party in touch with the masses. In the same week de Klerk announced that the NP favoured a mix of proportional representation and the constituency system ‘as operated in Germany’. Eastern Province Herald (Port Elizabeth), 24 06 1994.

30 At the time of their dissolution, the New Republic Party controlled the Natal provincial council, and the NP stood in danger of losing ground to a combination of the CP and the Herstigte Nasionale Party in the Orange Free State and Transvaal.

31 See paras. 126 and 155–9, and Schedule 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act No. 200 of 1993, in Government Gazette (Pretoria), Vol. 343, No. 15466.

32 Weekly Mail & Guardian, 3–9 June 1994.

33 Quotations have been taken from the African National Congress, The Reconstruction and Development Programme (Johannesburg, 1994), pp. 1, 16, 18, and 78–9.

34 Humphries, Richard, ‘The Politics of Regional Finance in South Africa’, in Roux, Theunis (ed.), Regional Fiscal Equalisation in a Future South Africa (Cape Town, 1993), pp. 6673.

35 Ottaway, Marina, ‘Liberation Movements and Transition to Democracy: the case of the A.N.C.’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), 29, 1, 03 1991, p. 82.

* Professor of Political Studies, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

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The South African Elections of 1994: the Remaking of a Dominant-Party State

  • Roger Southall


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