Government By Essay Crisis

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During the 1980s, the apartheid government came under increasing internal pressure. The National Party attempted a political solution to the crisis it faced by creating the cosmetic Tricameral Parliament. This system of governance tampered with, but did not challenge apartheid.

The reforms had the opposite affect to what the apartheid regime intended. Reforms provided renewed impetus for the resistance movements, and the 1980s was a decade which became a turning point in South African history.

Popular protest by masses of ordinary South Africans against the apartheid regime reached its height in the 1980s, and the government responded with extreme brutality and repression.

The trigger of mass civil society protests in the 1980s:

1983 Tricameral Parliament

Under P.W. Botha, a tri-cameral (three chamber) parliament was created which included limited representation of South Africans classified 'Coloured' and 'Indian' but excluded Africans. Africans were seen to have political rights in the so-called 'homelands' or 'Independent Bantustans' and in local township councils.

Coloureds and Indians were to be given a greater (but still powerless) level of participation in the South African political system. Real political power would remain concentrated in the House of Assembly, the representatives of the 'White' minority.

Voters on separate ethnic voter's roles would elect the members of each chamber of parliament:

  • The House of Assembly (White representatives)

  • The House of Representatives (Coloured representatives)

  • The House of Delegates (Indian representatives)

The Conservative Party had a few seats in the whites-only Parliament. As the name implies, they were even more reactionary than the National Party. The Conservative Party said that the National Party did not have a mandate to implement the Tricameral reforms.

Botha proposed a Referendum through which white people could vote for their preference regarding the Tricameral Parliament. In November 1983, about 70 percent of white people voted in favour of the reforms.

The newly formed Liberation movement, the United Democratic Front (UDF), launched a massive nationwide campaign to dissuade Coloured and Indian voters from participating in the elections for the Houses of Representatives and Delegates.

Civil society protest against the Tricameral Parliament showed that the majority of South Africans were opposed to the new structure. Coloured and Indian voter turnout was extremely low, but in early 1985 the inauguration of the new Parliament went ahead regardless. Those who participated in the Tricameral system were called 'sell-outs', collaborators and 'puppets'.

The position of Prime Minister was abolished and replaced with an Executive President, a very powerful position for one person. P.W. Botha therefore became Head of Government and Head of State.

In reaction to these political developments, mass action campaigns swept through the country. These included strikes, mass protests and school, rent and consumer boycotts. Violence erupted on many occasions, and the Government responded by declaring a State of Emergency that lasted for much of the 1980s. Emergency regulations were used to severely restrict extra-parliamentary activities.

The homes of 'sell-outs', government buildings and beer halls were attacked. The apartheid government spoke of a 'total onslaught' by 'terrorists' and 'communists'. The army was sent into the townships in 1984, but the apartheid regime never recovered.

As one historian summed up the decade:

"The resistance of the mid-1980s destroyed utterly the 'total strategy' tactics of the Botha government. Tricameralism and African urban councils had been firmly rejected by the demand for 'People's Power'. The campaign to win hearts and minds was in tatters, with thousands in detention and an occupying army in the townships ... with the collapse of total strategy, the government seemed bankrupted of ideas, relying on internal repression and international bravadoÁƒÂ¢Á¢Â‚¬.

- Source 'Making of Modern South Africa' by Nigel Worden

Clearly, the best thing a Prime Minister can do is announce that he doesn’t want to be Prime Minister for much longer. David Cameron has just delivered the clearest, most passionate and most authentic speech of his premiership to the Tory party conference, and all of it was founded on him not standing again as party leader in 2020. Early on, he said:

‘We’re only halfway through. For me, that has a very literal meaning. I can say something today that perhaps no Prime Minister has ever really been able to say before. I’m starting the second half of my time in this job. As you know, I am not going to fight another election as your leader. So I don’t have the luxury of unlimited time. Let me tell you: I am in just as much of a hurry as five years ago.’

He may have accidentally told James Landale that he wouldn’t contest another election when he was chopping vegetables during the 2015 campaign, but setting a deadline for his premiership and his near-death experience in May’s election has focused Cameron’s mind so that he has finally set out what he stands for, what he thinks is important, and what he wants to leave office having achieved. He is normally mocked as the ‘essay crisis’ Prime Minister who gets everything done at the last minute and does it annoyingly well, too. But today he appeared more like the final-year student who has grown up enough to plan, research and prepare their truly excellent dissertation ahead of time.

Not all of this was typical Tory catnip. Cameron returned to equality for gay people a number of times in his speech, for instance, mentioning his introduction of equal marriage and putting Gay Pride parades alongside the suffragettes. He extolled the importance of the commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development each year, and paused expectantly for applause when he did. And the applause came. The Tory leader has given his party official permission to obsess about the leadership contest, and in return it has to put up with him being more centrist and more proud of achievements such as aid spending and gay marriage than many would like.

He made social reform the key theme of his speech, saying that ‘to make Britain greater, we need to tackle some deep social problems’. He ran through housing, poverty, education, prison reform, social mobility, discrimination, and extremism.

Cameron has had a good conference: the contrast between Labour’s nervy meeting last week and this annoyingly stage-managed week in Manchester couldn’t have been bigger. He did attack Jeremy Corbyn as possessing a ‘security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology’, and mocked Labour’s economic policy (he told the audience that he had read Richard Murphy’s The Joy of Tax: ‘I took it home to show Samantha. It’s got 64 positions and none of them work’.). But his speech was about what the Tories were going to do while Labour occasionally intruded on them in a comic fashion.

His conclusion had the weak Bonnie Tyler-esque phrase of the ‘turnaround decade’ and the truly awful phrase the ‘great British take-off’, but it did contain a vision of the centrist compassionate Conservatism that Cameron wants to characterise the rest of his time in office.

Picture: Carla Millar

But now he must leave the conference and prepare for an autumn and winter that those who are thinking ahead believe will be ‘brutal’ for the Tories, as they announce big cuts to public spending and try to defuse a growing row on tax credits. Cameron did include a brief passage on the deficit and the need for a surplus in his speech, but he didn’t mention tax credits at all. He was audaciously vague on Europe. He said little on Syria. And those matters will take up much more of his time and energy in the coming months than anything he expounded on today.


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