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An assessment of the Apartheid years, leading to the insurrections of 1983- 1986, and second state of emergency on June 12, 1986

An assessment of the Apartheid years, leading to the insurrections of 1983- 1986, and second state of emergency on June 12, 1986 Reading Time
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This extended essay examines the main weaknesses of the apartheid state close to its end and identifies to what extent they may have caused the civil-unrest in 1983-86. The study looks at apartheid during the Botha regime, but focuses on the early 1980s, seeing that the worst depression of the regime occurred there. The apartheid ideology concerning the Blacks is discussed and also how it spurred them into volatile actions.


By excluding unofficial evidence of the Botha regime, this essay sets out to assess if the unrest was mainly caused by a degraded economy or an increased division between the white and black population, including the bending of laws to allow a black labor force inside white communities. The sources are secondary, mainly by South African authors, but also works from a few British and American authors are used in order to diversify, and three of the sources are evaluated in section 4. No statistical sources are used.


The fall of apartheid was of great significance as it has shaped and greatly changed South Africa‟s domestic policies into what they are today. South Africa‟s strength has for many decades been its cheap labor and extensive gold resources.


The Afrikaners feared that the blacks would take over the South African state and thus kept them on a distance. Much resent for apartheid had been gathered through the increased separateness. When the South African economy suddenly turned in the early 80‟s the resent was released. The low economy caused an opening in the military and social defense and also lowered living conditions. The apartheid state had relied too much on the export of natural resources. The unrest can then be said to have been created through the regimes over protectiveness of apartheid and inability to adapt to a new situation.


Apartheid was an ideology created to separate people by culture and ethnicity, which later turned into a complete division only between blacks and non-blacks. The main reason for the creation of apartheid had been the Afrikaner‟s fear of losing their heritage, and to be placed as “second” in South African society, as they had been under the British. The knowledge of a greatly outnumbering black population which could overthrow the white government was the major reason for the fear. Thus many laws and restrictions were created to contain, and keep the blacks away from white communities, which unquestionably lead to civil unrest. However, the weakened state in 1983 could not successfully maintain control of the situation and declared a state of emergency in 1985, which was followed up in 1986. Within this essay I intend to investigate the reasons for the „weakness‟, leading to the state of emergencies.


The purpose of this essay is to study and analyze items which led to the unrest, and the different groups involved in the unrest to resort to violence, and also provide evidence of the crises‟ impact. I will do so by answering the following question: What were the underlying causes for the unrest in 1983-1986? The reason for studying apartheid out of this „non political‟ angle is due to the many documents from the Botha regime gone missing, causing an investigation which contains information about the Botha regime to be subjective. One main point to assess will be the actions directed towards the black population due to „fear‟, and the blacks‟ response. Furthermore, much emphasis will be put on factors which influenced the South African economy a few decades before the insurrections, since the apartheid state was highly influenced by hired labor and the gradual increase of security forces, and therefore required a reliable, prosperous economy.


This essay will not study the question of which group that had more rights to South Africa than others,1 nor will it evaluate how successful the different factions were in achieving their aims. It has to be stressed that it was not the sudden increase in power of the Apartheid opposition which caused the collapse of the Apartheid system, but rather the weakening of the regime itself, rendering it incapable of solving predicaments, similar to the downfall of the provisional government in Russia 1917. Therefore it is not insurrectionists whom should be studied in order to find underlying causes of the civil unrest. Accordingly, the activities of anti-Apartheid organizations such as ANC and UDF will not be included in this essay, seeing as they were successfully repressed until the South African government and economy faltered, and can be distinguished as imitative of the general black population‟s view and actions.


A set of secondary sources with varying bibliographies, thoroughly comprising the late years of apartheid will be used in order to cover the many aspects of apartheid. Only one „half‟ primary source will be used, Anatomy of a miracle, providing extensive interviews of ANC and Government personnel including P.W Botha. Economical studies of South Africa following the late apartheid years are excluded due to their deficiency caused by the missing Botha documents, as well as a lack in connections with apartheid.

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The separateness created by Apartheid was slowly being broken down, and possibly the first step was the increased industry in early 1970s which required more skilled workers. Black Africans had so far only been appointed to “low skill requirement” jobs within the Afrikan society. The passing of a new law by Prime Minister Vorster in 1973 allowed Blacks to be hired as workers, the difference being that the workers had now been trained contra the preceding uneducated workers, whom the factory owners could replace at any moment. Strikes erupted in 1973 and the workers demanded better living conditions, and also accommodation closer to the factories. Unions were created to avoid future strikes. The Africans living as laborers in urban areas were given passports which had to be shown whenever they travelled to or from the urban areas, and at some influx controls. Until 1986, more than half a million blacks were arrested and imprisoned because of lacking such a passport. Ensuing in blacks growing resentment of Apartheid as there was nothing in the countryside, and they were constantly being pushed out of the urban areas. Afrikaners needed the blacks in order to much faster build up the South African economy in aspects such as mining and farming, and therefore it was necessary for some blacks to live close to white communities. But apartheid had been created for the single purpose to separate natives and colonists both by culture and economically. The decision of letting blacks inside the Afrikans community created a conflict with the apartheid ideology. At this step, apartheid should have been abandoned in order to avoid provoking the excluded, but integrated blacks „The homelands‟ (Bantustan), was the name given to the areas in which blacks had settled or were allowed to settle. They constituted a mere 15-20% of South Africa‟s land by area, considering that the black population outnumbered the white ten to one. It was originally meant to be regions in which blacks could establish their own government and sovereign countries. However, “no foreign country recognized the sovereignty of the independent homelands”, so many Bantustans had to attempt to become a part of South Africa in order to be recognized. The Bantustan regions were distributed throughout South Africa unevenly, mainly along the South African border on the east half in an incoherent fashion, resulting in capital being drained on logistical problems. Official figures from 1982 show that 773, 000 blacks commuted from the Bantustans to work in white areas, accompanied by 1.395 million migrants. Any advantage which the Bantustans possessed in buying the Apartheid state time has to be set in opposition to the “bitter divisions…created within and between black communities.”


Many blacks had been laboring in white industry and farms for decades, until mid-1960 when the industry became gradually more mechanized, causing the loss of many hundreds of thousand black jobs.  To get rid of the „black spots‟, created by the decrease in jobs, the Government set up a new policy which stated that the laboring blacks were only temporary residents and should return to their „homelands‟ “As soon as they become, for one reason or another, no longer fit for work or superfluous in the labor market.”  Black South Africans subjected to this treatment were not pleased, and in an attempt to secure their near future, knowing that survival in the homelands were harsh, instigated heavy burglary in affected areas.


From 1960 to 1982, a number of 3,500,00016 people were moved (frequently by the use of force) from their homes. They were most of the time moved to newly erected Bantustans where survival was commonly very difficult, but most any area was used as long as it provided distance between the Afrikans communities and Blacks. The few resettling Areas used with good agricultural yield were utilized as places for the squatters to hopefully survive on their own. However, the arable lands were far from sufficient for the vast number of squatters and within a few years period, turned into desert landscape (this phenomenon could also be registered in the already existing Bantustans). Thus the resettled populations‟ only means of survival were through distribution of rations provided by the state, which drained the South African economy even further. The drought which occurred in 1982-1984 added to the problems of the resettled squatters. This could be seen in areas such as Ciskei where the draught hit very hard combined with the underdeveloped infrastructure giving the new settlement small chances of surviving on its own.


There was an exceptionally Good maize harvest (Maize, being South Africa‟s at the time biggest agricultural produce.) in 1981, in which the maize board was required to buy 95% of the total production for R146 per ton, due to a fixed price set by the Minister of Agriculture. The harvest amounted to two times the local demand, which required the surplus to be sold outside of South Africa to neighboring countries, where the ruling price was considerably lower. The following three years (1982-4) saw the worst draught in, at the time, living South African history. The draught hit a devastating blow at the agricultural sector, which forced the Government to import large quantities of maize. As a result, the white farmers ever increasing debts escalated threefold from R1,384.2 million in 1970, to R4,883.3 million in 1981, increasing with another 834 million owing to the draught by mid-1983.23 There had always been an overproduction of maize, but in 1981 it hit higher than any previous year, with an estimated increase of 25% of the preceding year. In short, the agricultural sector drained the South African economy for four consecutive years, where the draught years created further unrest in black communities with black owned farms, since they could not, take loans from Afrikaner banks, receive state support, or rent land, hence the black farmers had to shutdown, and also become dependent on rations in order to survive. The rations were not always distributed regularly which disappointed and irritated the affected black population.


Through the violent mid 1980‟s, “millions of television sets in tens of countries showed South African police and soldier beating and shooting unarmed Blacks.” Only in late 1985 did the government stop the broadcasting of such events. A few months later in 1986, the United States and many other countries including Europe introduced a ban on any new investments or loans in South Africa, “and on imports, among them, coal, uranium, iron, and steel.” These bans were initiated after the “Rubicon speech”, delivered by P.W Botha in august 1985. The speech itself concluded the National Party‟s actions towards dismantling Apartheid. Unfortunately the publicity and expectations were too high in conjunction with a few broken promises towards the west, such as the release of Nelson Mandela.


One cannot fully blame the National Party for the escalating economical crisis starting in 1986. The previous year, American Banks and companies started to pull out of South Africa and,  and two weeks before the Rubicon speech, “Chase Manhattan bank prompted an international crisis of confidence in South Africa‟s finances.” But it can also be seen that the banks most likely withdrew due to all the gruesome footages which had been displayed in the west. Enraged with the west world‟s isolation of South Africa and the unrest within, P.W Botha who had been the former minister of defense issued the second state of emergency in an attempt to contain the numerous outbreaks.


Since the South African economy was mainly based on extensive gold mining, it took a heavy blow when the gold prices dropped by fifty percent in 1984-5. The united States were also affected by the declining gold price due to their gold reserves, although Reagan cut down on spending to prevent a major drop of the American dollar, South Africa became affected through its common use of the dollar. An estimate of 90 American companies withdrew all of their investments in South Africa 1985-6. Although, it cannot be determined with full certainty that American investors left South Africa due to the decreasing value of gold, since shocking images were being aired on western television simultaneously. And it must not be perceived as if the investors broke out solely because of the impact on South Africa, seeing as the drop had a global effect on numerous economies tied to gold . But the fact remained; South Africa owned 50 percent of the world‟s known gold reserves and also produced the same amount.


“The Botha government used South Africa‟s economic superiority to dominate the neighboring countries and prevent them from providing sanctuary for militant refugees.” This domination was exerted upon the neighboring countries due to the Anglo American corporation‟s interests in “Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, as well as Namibia.” In 1963, “the Security Council ordered an arms embargo against South Africa.” South African ARMSCOR which had existed since 1966 thus became a vital importer and producer of arms for the South African military. It had spent R30 million on importing arms in its first year, and R1600 million in 1980, chiefly manufacturing arms for use inside South Africa.  The military budget had also dramatically increased from a mere R16 million in 1950 to R10,000 million in 1989,39 adding to the ever growing suspicion of South African nuclear weapons by the United States after sufficient deposits and enrichment of uranium had been announced.  To consolidate its power, the South African government raided neighboring countries in order to reach the antiapartheid organizations in exile. All these military activities drained the economy and the spending had already in 1980 exceeded the earnings from the gold mines.


The number of black schools had doubled from 1950-75, the number of students had increased from one million to 3.5 million. However, the hired staff for the black schools did most of the time not even reach the minimum level of teaching. Education was slow and insufficient, owing to classes which could contain as many as 100 students.  Schools were generally seen by black students as a place to study, and then one day use the knowledge gained against the apartheid government. This was hardly possible considering the low standard of schooling provided for the blacks. Instead, schools became the breeding points of a political vanguard. The obligation to learn Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor, proved to be a turning point for black schooling after the Soweto uprising 1976, comprising the death-roll between 500 and 1,000.44 The original reason for black schoolchildren to learn Afrikaans lay in the white Afrikaners fear of losing it, as a main language in South Africa. The Soweto uprising became deeply rooted in the Africans memory as it involved schoolchildren‟s strike against the schooling system, although there was no evidence to show that the unrest had been caused by the strike, it was still a tool used by many antiapartheid organizations for many subsequent years, and were commemorated on 16 June 1986 by the blacks, ensuing in a countrywide workers strike as they considered this day a holiday. When the strikers became aware of the government‟s inability to solve the situation, the strike continued for another week.


The most prominent cause for the unrest in 1983-1986 was the admittance of black workers in white communities. Apartheid had been created to separate, as is obvious by its name, meaning „separateness‟. But it took until 1973, when the Afrikaners decided to give up purity in support of productivity, allowing the blacks to, for the first time make demands upon white society.


Many effects of the underlying causes affected other elements of the society, undermining the regime. A prime example was the declining gold value which directly affected the economy, which then affected the miners, who then demonstrated for better working conditions and higher salaries, in which the government responded by trying to suppress the demonstration, resulting in less gold being acquired. These „chain reactions‟ were often connected and caused by the conflicting apartheid ideology.


The government‟s hold over South Africa stemmed from its extensive use of the military, keeping political opponents at bay. However, a vast amount of money was being spent on the military, and military spending always took priority over other issues.


Gold was one of South Africa‟s strengths, but the overdependence turned it into a weakness. South Africa also depended on, aid from America, in form of loans, and on hired labor for the industry. The reason for the Botha government‟s weakness originated from its reliance on a few select objects, and when they suddenly turned deficient there was no backup plan. On the other hand there were also causes which had weakened the regime for longer periods of time such as the desolate agricultural sector and poor educational system. But the outcome was the same as the regime did neither expect nor had arranged for any preventative measures in case the situation would deteriorate.


In short, it was the unwillingness (or fear) to let go of apartheid which caused the unrest in mid 1980‟s, and did not stop until the inevitable and complete abandonment of apartheid in 1990.

Evaluation of sources

The national archives and records were opened in 1996 for the public. Even if the national archives provide some insight into the apartheid state, it‟s still very subjective since there are many missing documents from the Botha regime, such as the reason for the utter failure of the Rubicon speech, which P.W Botha took with him to the grave.


A history of South Africa, 2001, by Leonard Thompson, who is considered to be the most eminent of South African émigré historians to date. This is in all aspects considered to be a revisionist, general textbook covering the political history and developing race relations in South Africa from before the colonialists to 1994. Referencing could be fuller, where complete pages without any forms of references are not uncommon. This textbook is intended to cover parts of the South African history which are commonly neglected, such as the time before colonialism, and concentrates more on the black inhabitants. Its strength lies in the perceptiveness of South African politics.


The South African historian T.R.H Davenport‟s, South Africa: A modern history, 4thEd, 1991, is a comprehensive 662 pages long study of South African history from early European settlement to the appointing of Nelson Mandela as prime minister. “The third edition of this book has been adopted in nearly all South African universities as a key work of reference.” The fourth edition therefore extended the beginning and end, putting more emphasis on the factors contributing to the end of apartheid. The descriptive nature of this book manages to point out areas where doubts remain, after reading other textbooks covering the same period. Unfortunately this book was written before 1996, and so it is questionable if the author had access to the national archives.


Patti Waldmeir gives an excellent journalistic report of the transition, from apartheid to a democratic system, within her book Anatomy of a miracle. She spent the years 1985-95 living in South Africa and met with many anti-apartheid members in exile. She also spent time in Zambia and other neighboring countries, and can therefore provide an accurate account of the South African government‟s actions towards neighboring countries from firsthand experience. This book is of value to historians studying political causes for the degrading apartheid regime. Although she is an American journalist, seeking to undercover the truth of apartheid, she approaches the matter with a clearly identifiable pro-ANC stance, but tries also to be objective of both sides.


Beinart, William. and Saul Dubow. Segregation and apartheid in twentieth century South Africa. New York, Routledge. 1995.


Beinart, William. Twentieth-century South Africa. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press. 1994.


Davenport, Rodney. South Africa : A modern history. Basingstoke, Macmillan. 1991.


Harvey, Robert. The fall of apartheid : the inside story from Smuts to Mbeki. New York, Palgrave. 2000.


Ross, Robert. A concise history of South Africa. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 1999.


Sampson, Anthony. Black and gold. New York, Pantheon Books. 1987.


Thompson, Leonard. A history of South Africa. New Haven, Yale University Press. 2001.Thompson, Leonard. A history of South Africa. New Haven, Yale University Press. 2001.


Waldmeir, Patti. Anatomy of a miracle : the end of apartheid and the birth of the new South Africa. New York, W.W. Norton. 1997.


Figure 1 - The Bantustans (Homelands) Distribution In South Africa
Figure 1 - The Bantustans (Homelands) Distribution In South Africa

Thompson, Leonard. A history of South Africa. New Haven, Yale University Press. 2001.