South Africa

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Full Report: South Africa


1910: The discovery of diamond and gold deposits in the latter half of the 1800s attracts an influx of British manpower and capital, destabilizing the tenuous co-existence among Britain's colonial establishment, white settlers (Afrikaners), and native Africans. Victorious in a series of ferocious battles, Britain forms the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, in May.

1911-1914: Prime Minister Louis Botha and his deputy Jan Smuts begin to centralize power, economic opportunity, and social status in the hands of the white minority -- a mere 20 percent of the population. The Natives Land Act of 1913 limits African landownership to reserves totaling 7 percent of the land. Despite fierce Afrikaner nationalist opposition, the Union enters World War I as a British ally.

1915-1928: Afrikaner nationalism is fueled by participation in the war and increasing African migration to the cities. Prime Minister Botha dies in 1919. He is replaced by Jan Smuts, who loses Afrikaner support as a result of labor unrest and work stoppages. Strident nationalist J.B.M. Hertzog wins the 1924 elections and moves to protect white employment opportunities through segregationist labor policies.

1929-1938: The Great Depression devastates the export-driven economy. Despite the fact that Hertzog's legislation drastically limits African freedom of movement and economic and political participation, Afrikaners throw their support behind the more extreme D.F. Malan. The African National Congress (ANC) adopts moderate goals, committing to pursue change within the existing political framework.

1939-1947: World War II divides the people and the government. Smuts, who favors entering the war as a British ally, wins enough support to become prime minister in 1939 and takes South African troops into battle in Europe and North Africa. Protests rage at home; the thousands interned for antiwar activities include future prime minister John Vorster. Nelson Mandela helps form an ANC youth league in 1943.

1948: In a general election that will shape the Union's political future for the next four decades, D.F. Malan campaigns on a platform of apartheid (separateness) to "prevent black society from overwhelming the whites." Policies of segregation and subjugation of blacks, mixed-race "Coloreds," and Indians resonate in the Afrikaner and rural-dominated electorate, helping Malan edge Smuts.

1949-1958: Malan's National Party (NP) legislates apartheid. The 1950 Group Areas Act authorizes forcible removal of Africans from "white-only areas." The ANC organizes nonviolent defiance campaigns, stressing civil disobedience. Brandishing broadened powers to suppress opposition, the NP arrests Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and 150 other leaders on treason charges.

1959-1961: Police kill dozens and wound hundreds when they open fire on a crowd protesting the pass laws in Sharpeville township. Bucking international condemnation, Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd declares a state of emergency and arrests thousands of Africans. With the economy booming, the NP increases defense and police-force spending. The declaration of the Republic of South Africa ends ties to Britain.

1962-1965: Verwoerd grants self-government to the "Bantustan" (native reserve) of Transkei in 1963. Ruled by tribal chiefs appointed by the NP and very much beholden to them, Transkei is vastly overpopulated, underdeveloped, and impoverished. Under its policy of "separate development," the NP no longer considers residents of the Bantustan citizens of South Africa.

1966-1972: John Vorster replaces the assassinated Verwoerd and uses Transkei as a template for creating additional semiautonomous "states." The forced relocation of roughly 2.5 million Africans in the 1960s alone creates unsustainable living conditions in the territories, marked by a significant depletion in the carrying capacity of the soil, rampant starvation, violence, and economic ruin.

1973-1976: Legislation demanding the use of the Afrikaans language in all schools touches off boycotts and demonstrations in many African communities. In June 1976, in Soweto township near Johannesburg, 15,000 young students participate in a peaceful protest march. Police use tear gas, then open fire on the unarmed children, killing at least two and wounding dozens more, setting off riots across the country.

1977-1982: Plagued by scandal and poor health, Vorster resigns in 1978. As prime minister, former defense minister P.W. Botha pursues an interventionist foreign policy, launching military strikes in neighboring countries. Citing a need for change, Botha supports legislation allowing the creation of African trade unions and relaxes some "petty" (minor) apartheid rules regarding segregation and employment.

1983-1989: UN arms and OPEC oil embargoes push the government to spend vast sums of capital on armaments industry and petroleum imports. The U.S. Congress passes sanctions in 1986 banning new investments, bank loans, and South African imports. P.W. Botha responds by repealing some of the stricter apartheid laws, announcing South Africa has "outgrown the outdated concept of apartheid."

1990-1993: Nelson Mandela is released from prison and becomes ANC president. He and Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk move toward compromise on an interim constitution and a decision to hold general elections in which Africans will vote. In 1991 de Klerk announces the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws, Economic relations with many countries, including African neighbors, resume.

1994: Nearly 20 million people participate in elections, and the ANC wins almost 63 percent of the vote. Mandela is inaugurated president in May. F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki are deputy presidents. International isolation ends as the country joins the Organization of African Unity, rejoins the Commonwealth of Nations, sees the UN arms embargo lifted, and reclaims its seat in the UN General Assembly.

1995-1998: Mandela leads the transitional government with grace. He rejects calls for retribution in favor of reconciliation, meeting with former apartheid supporters, opposition members, and allies. Remaining international sanctions are lifted, and diplomatic and economic relations abroad are normalized. Promising "a better life for all," Mandela supports a Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP).

1999-2003: President Mandela retires and is replaced by Thabo Mbeki, who continues social reforms while liberalizing the economy. With unemployment at 30 percent, job creation is a priority, and crime is rampant. More than 3.2 million people live with the HIV virus. But firmer measures against the disease, along with steady economic management and political stability, boost growth in 2002 and rekindle optimism.

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1910: Louis Botha and fellow Afrikaner Gen. Jan Smuts form the South African Party (SAP) in 1910, with Botha as prime minister under a constitution that provides no bill of rights. Deep-seated fears of the African majority spur the SAP to ensure white supremacy through racist legislation limiting social, economic, and personal freedom for blacks (Africans), people of mixed race (Coloreds), and Indians.

1911-1918: The South African Native National Congress (SANNC) forms in 1912, pursuing equality through "constitutional change." In 1914 Afrikaner nationalist J.B.M. Hertzog forms the National Party. He strongly opposes South African participation in World War I, calls for increased segregation of Africans and whites, and criticizes the SAP for appeasing British businessmen, particularly mine owners.

1919-1923: Prime Minister Smuts legislates segregated systems for administrative and legal affairs for blacks and whites, and drastically curtails African access to urban areas. Looking to cut costs, mine owners hire more low-cost African laborers, angering Afrikaners who respond with a series of strikes that are violently suppressed by Smuts. The SANNC is renamed the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923.

1924-1938: Hertzog wins 1924 and 1929 elections promising to preserve a "white South Africa." His policies yield leverage and opportunity to whites in the workplace. In 1934 he joins Jan Smuts in forming the United Party (UP), to stave off extreme nationalist D.F. Malan's calls for further segregation, less cooperation with English-speakers (British), and full recognition of Afrikaner culture and language.

1939-1947: Hertzog and Malan create the Reunified National Party in 1939, protesting Smuts's decision to enter World War II on the Allied side. Several extreme Afrikaner nationalist groups voice unqualified admiration for Nazi Germany. By 1946, nearly 25 percent of all Afrikaners are members of the paramilitary Ossewabrandwag (Brigade of the Oxwagon Sentinel). Smuts's popularity continues to slip.

1948: Malan campaigns for strict enforcement of white job reservation, a mixed-marriages ban, and the establishment of "native" political bodies on African reservations in lieu of parliamentary representation. He also advocates the periodic forced return of African laborers to rural areas in an effort to discourage permanent urban residency while maintaining a cheap labor supply for Afrikaner farmers.

1949-1955: The apartheid system forms the basis for Malan's government. Apartheid enforces racial segregation affecting everyday activities (petty) and racial discrimination restricting land and political rights (grand). The National Party legislates the creation of separate but not equal facilities and institutionalizes the principle that whites deserve favorable treatment over Africans, Coloreds, and Indians.

1956-1963: South Africa becomes a republic in 1961 as voters easily approve severing ties with Britain. Hendrik Verwoerd, considered the architect of apartheid, sweeps the elections. He liberally applies the repressive "banning" policy, which criminalizes opposition activity, to dissenting people and organizations, including the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

1964-1973: Looking to normalize trade relations with other African nations, John Vorster adopts an "outward-looking" foreign policy. He receives black dignitaries, and his easing of some petty apartheid laws leads to the integration of select public facilities and transportation. Mandela and Walter Sisulu are sentenced to life in prison. Legislation allowing detention without charge or representation passes.

1974-1979: Violence in Soweto sparks spontaneous riots and demonstrations. Police respond with brutality. By the end of 1976, conservative figures estimate 575 dead and 2,400 wounded, mostly children. Police arrest student leader Steve Biko in 1977 and announce his death -- of "natural causes" -- a month later. The events fuel the Black Consciousness movement and generate severe international sanctions.

1980-1984: P.W. Botha's "total strategy" includes the implementation of a tri-cameral parliament under an executive presidency, with coloreds (85 seats) and Indians (45 seats) represented, but Africans excluded and whites (178 seats) in control. Two-thirds of whites approve the constitutional reform in 1983. The antiapartheid United Democratic Front (UDF) forms, quickly growing to three million strong.

1985-1986: Chaos in the townships and crushing sanctions force P.W. Botha to backpedal while attempting to regain control of the Republic. He unexpectedly repeals some of the most offensive apartheid laws, easing freedom of movement for Africans and eliminating prohibitions against mixed marriages. Still, police detain thousands of activists while Botha tightens press restrictions and bans the UDF.

1987-1992: Amid growing realization that segregated development cannot work, many white leaders accept the need to incorporate Africans into the political system. A delegation holds talks with the banned ANC in Senegal in 1987. Replacing deceased Prime Minister Botha in 1989, F.W. de Klerk shocks the nation by releasing Sisulu and Mandela from prison and lifting the ban on the UDF, ANC, and PAC.

1993-1994: The ANC wins 252 of 400 National Assembly seats in the '94 elections, just shy of the two-thirds majority needed to independently rewrite the constitution. The NP wins 20 percent of the vote (82 seats), earning the right to name a deputy president (de Klerk). Zulu leader Mangosutho Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, standing in sometimes violent opposition to the ANC, wins 11 percent (43 seats).

1995-1997: The new constitution of 1996 guarantees equality, civil rights, freedom, and liberty. It mandates a representative, multiparty government and independent judiciary and recognizes nine provinces with limited local autonomy. Dissatisfied with his diminished role, de Klerk resigns from politics in 1997, reducing the NP to a regional opposition party. Also that year, Mandela resigns as ANC president.

1998-2000: Mandela retires from public office in 1998. Thabo Mbeki wins the 1999 elections as the ANC almost wins a two-thirds majority. Opposition is splintered, with no other party garnering as much as 10 percent of the vote. Politically motivated violence that had plagued the KwaZula-Natal region dissipates when the ANC and IFP sign a 1999 treaty, ending years of heated dispute.

2001-2003: Another vestige of the past disappears in highly symbolic fashion as the New National Party, successor to apartheid's National Party, merges into the ANC. The ANC remains solidly in power despite internal policy divisions. Nelson Mandela remains a much-loved and influential elder statesman. After several years of hedging, the government takes a stronger stand to support anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns.

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1910: Discovery of diamonds and gold fuels economic development, particularly of the mining industry, which is quickly brought under monopolistic control by Britain's Cecil Rhodes. Thousands of native Africans are employed in mines alongside Afrikaners, and subjected to an oppressive race-based hierarchy. White workers receive special consideration and protection in the form of color and wage bars.

1911-1919: World War I interrupts economic expansion as inflation and production costs rise. Fearing competition from Africans, white workers demand improvements in wages and working conditions, launching disruptive strikes in 1913 and 1914. Spending on infrastructure improvements and social services increases, but the construction of roads, schools, and hospitals exclusively benefits the white minority.

1920-1923: Hurt by falling gold prices and rising wages for white workers, mine owners employ more low-cost blacks, further stirring white unrest. A 1922 strike quickly turns into an armed rebellion that ends when Prime Minister Smuts declares martial law and violently puts down the insurrection. White employees are forced to accept the partial lifting of the color bar, but the wage bar remains intact.

1924-1928: The government focuses on economic policies to aid its Afrikaner support base, particularly farmers, by increasing available credit through the land bank, establishing market controls, and instituting price supports for agricultural products. Hertzog establishes the state-owned Iron and Steel Corporation in 1928 and implements protective tariffs for secondary industries.

1929-1938: As the Great Depression sets in, and many countries abandon the gold standard and devalue their currency, Hertzog maintains it. Farmers are hard hit when the resulting spike in the cost of South African goods devastates exports, especially minerals and wool. Hertzog finally abandons the gold standard in 1932, leading to an immediate rise in gold prices and sparking a phase of economic expansion.

1939-1946: World War II sparks tremendous growth in the manufacturing sector, which employs 60 percent more people by war's end. The number of Africans living in townships and cities doubles, with blacks outnumbering whites in these areas for the first time. African trade organizations emerge and engage in a series of work stoppages, culminating in a 1946 gold mine action in which 60,000 demand higher wages.

1947-1956: Looking to capitalize on growth in the manufacturing sector and spur agriculture, the government increases its role in managing the economy. Large investments help nurture the textile, pulp, and paper industries and encourage the production of corn and wheat for exportation. The government also promotes the establishment of parastatals to produce fertilizers, chemicals, oils, and weaponry.

1957-1965: Foreign investment, slowed to a crawl after the Sharpeville riots, returns at an unprecedented rate as Prime Minister Verwoerd's relentless suppression of African political opposition restores confidence in the country's economic stability. Despite regulation in the form of government subsidies, agriculture accounts for just 11 percent of GDP in 1960, roughly half its 1930s contribution.

1966-1972: Immigration and foreign capital inflows, attracted by typical rates of return exceeding 20 percent, drive economic expansion. From 1962 to 1972, international investment doubles, and the white population increases by 50 percent. The manufacturing sector, its output exceeding that of the mining sector for the first time, benefits most, attracting 60 percent of all foreign investment by 1970.

1973-1980: Foreign investment becomes concentrated in short-term loans as political instability rises following Soweto. Joint ventures between public and private firms and the governmental purchase of controlling interests in private businesses increase to combat dwindling foreign participation. Gold prices peak in 1980, but the economy of the country producing 60 percent of world's gold supply stagnates.

1981-1993: Many international banks follow the lead of Chase Manhattan in 1985 by refusing to roll over short-term loans, and the economic impact is devastating. Inflation takes off, standards of living plummet, and the country enters a recession. Foreign companies withdraw. Agricultural deregulation fails to spark growth in the face of severe drought and loss of trading partners.

1994-1998: Foreign funds flow back into the economy amid tensions within the ANC between state intervention and free-market policies. The RDP calls for nationalization, but is replaced by a market-oriented Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy. The ANC commits to fiscal discipline and anti-inflationary monetary policy as well as privatization and lowering tariffs.

1999-2000: President Mbeki reaffirms a privatization policy with complete or partial sales of parastatals in the media, telecommunications, and aviation and airports. South Africa enters the 21st century heavily reliant on the services sector, which accounts for 65 percent of GDP, followed by the industrial (30 percent) and agricultural (5 percent) sectors.

2001-2003: South Africa's economy wavers in 2001 with unrest in neighboring Zimbabwe and a dramatic collapse of the rand. But steady economic management, a growing trade surplus, and a strengthened anti-HIV/AIDS policy result in increased confidence in 2002, and the year sees a resurgence of the rand and greatly improved growth prospects. Phone company Telkom is listed on the stock market with great success.

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Categories: Overview | Political | Economic
Graphs: Growth | Income | Inflation | Unemployment | Well-being | Trade Volume | Trade (CAB) | Debt | Spending

Related: LinksView all categories for years from to | See Full Report | Print