Today in History: South Africa holds White Referendum


Results of a referendum held on 17 March 1992, gave former President F W De Klerk an overwhelming “Yes” to the question of whether they supported reforms that he had started two years prior. Only whites were asked. How ironic that only the beneficiaries of apartheid policies were the only people asked. Your guess is as good as mine as to the outcome had Blacks been included. It would be interesting to hear your views….

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on the background leading to the referendum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_apartheid_referendum,_1992

On 2 February 1990, in his opening address to parliament, State President F. W. de Klerk announced that the ban on different political parties such as the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party would be lifted and that Nelson Mandela would be released after 27 years in prison. De Klerk announced that capital punishment would be suspended and that the state of emergency would be lifted. The State President said in his speech to parliament that “the time to negotiate has arrived”.

Nelson Mandela was released on 11 February 1990 from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl near Cape Town. On 21 March 1990, South West Africa became independent under the name of Namibia. In May the government began talks with the ANC. In June the state of emergency was lifted and the ANC had agreed to a ceasefire. In 1991, the Acts which restricted land ownership, specified separate living areas and classified people by race were abolished.

Prior to the referendum, the governing National Party had lost three by-elections since announcing negotiations to end apartheid two years earlier, and its position was opposed by the Conservative Party which opposed the negotiations and boycotted the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). On 24 January 1992, President de Klerk opened parliament and suggested that a referendum would be held, in which the vote of each race group would be counted separately. When the National Party was defeated in the Potchefstroom by-election on 19 February, after calling it a test vote, its credibility was placed in doubt.

In the meantime, negotiations between the government and the African National Congress were making slow progress. Violence was increasing in the South African townships, different right wing groups were becoming more prominent, and there was growing dissatisfaction within the white community. Conditions and the mood in the black townships was worsening as well. The government was thus under domestic and international pressure to make progress in the negotiations.

While the Conservative Party claimed that the government did not have the mandate to negotiate with the ANC after its defeat in Potchefstroom, State President F. W. de Klerk announced 20 February, that a national referendum for the white electorate would be held to test the government’s—and his own—support: if the referendum’s outcome had been negative, de Klerk would have resigned and general elections held. When de Klerk initially announced the referendum, many were critical of the fact that only whites had the right to vote in the referendum.

Here’s how the New York Times reported on the day http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/19/world/south-african-whites-ratify-de-klerk-s-move-negotiate-with-blacks-new-order.html?pagewanted=all


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