VIEW SPEAKER 00:00:00 00:00:00

Pauline H. Baker Collection

South Africa Forum 1986-1994


Dr. Pauline H. Baker (June 2018)

The South Africa Forum was a prominent speakers project I founded and led for eight years. It simulated debate and exposed the American public to leading figures from South Africa and the Southern African region, during a turbulent period in South Africa, and in U.S.-South African relations. During this period, a heated debate erupted over whether economic sanctions should be imposed against the apartheid government and how the U.S. should try to shape the outcome. In addition to the Forum, I wrote and lectured extensively on South Africa and other African issues and visited the continent and South Africa frequently.

During the years I led the Forum, I worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and, subsequently, the Aspen Institute. All meetings took place at CEIP, which was then centrally located at Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. The meetings were scheduled from 8:30 am to 10:00 am, with an informal format that included a question and answer period.

The series became the longest-standing forum on South Africa (or any continuous foreign affairs issue) in Washington D.C., extending from 1986 when the apartheid government imposed a nation-wide state of emergency to quell internal unrest until 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president.

The foreign affairs community, including people from Congress, the executive branch, media, academia, business, activists and think tanks, attended the meetings. Speakers included South African and regional political figures, clerics, leading personalities from political parties, business representatives, scholars, journalists, South African government officials, anti-apartheid leaders and many others. Soviet experts on Southern Africa, major figures from the Front-Line states, and leading American policy-makers and activists also appeared at the Forum.

There was no intention at the outset to have a formal record of the proceedings. However, the openness of the Forum sometimes presented problems for the speakers when they returned home. A few of the early speakers reported that they had been singled out for harassment after appearing at the Forum. False or unpopular statements appeared in the South African press, leading to allegations or investigations by the government or security police.

I decided to make the recordings to protect the speakers. The tapes ensured that there would be a verbatim record of what was said at the Forum. They were available to the speakers upon request. All the speakers were told in advance that their talks would be recorded. Speakers often expressed gratitude for having the documentation and approximately a half dozen requested tapes of their talks. The tapes in this collection cover only six of the eight years of the Forum and the quality is uneven. Nonetheless, the collection is primary historical documentation of the landmark transition in which influential leaders were commenting while negotiations were going on.

When the Forum ended in 1994, I asked CEIP if the organization wanted the tapes. This included consultations with the president, the secretary, the controller and the manager of the media center. All said that they did not want to keep the tapes, had no storage capacity and no intention of using them. They said I could keep the tapes. I preserved them, knowing that they would be a valuable documentary record for scholars and journalists.

One newspaper article on the Forum appeared in the South African Daily News: "U.S. Meeting of S.A. Minds" by David Braun, October 19, 1990. It described the speakers’ program as having “stimulated and raised the level of debate on South Africa such as in few other places in the world, including possibly South Africa itself.” In his 2002 book published by the United States Institute of Peace, “Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South Africa's Transition to Democracy,” Princeton Lyman, a former ambassador to South Africa, refers to the Forum as "a quiet place for debate, education, and the promotion of understanding."

The origin of the Forum reflected the times. I had concluded after several visits to the country that new voices from within South Africa were not being heard abroad. The debate in the U.S. was also getting very polarized, and considerable misinformation was circulating. Moreover, I thought it was important for influential Americans to hear directly from South Africans, particularly members of the younger generation that were bearing the brunt of the State of Emergency. For a long period of time, high-level U.S. officials were not even allowed to meet with members of the African National Congress (ANC) or other South African anti-apartheid organizations considered communist or terrorist organizations. For decades, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and many other black leaders were included in this category.

I sought funding from U.S. foundations for the Forum, but was not successful because of the huge expense of bringing people from South Africa and because most foundations wanted to spend money in South Africa, not in the U.S. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, headed by Tom Hughes, graciously agreed to support the project.

Initially, I was concerned the program would favor whites who could travel more easily than blacks. My concern was that South African visa restrictions, combined with lack of funding, would inhibit some guests from coming. No expenses or honoraria were paid to the speakers to cover expenses. However, I discovered over time that many South Africans were traveling as guests of the U.S. government, on church missions, as part of educational programs, on training courses, or for business trips. The expanding traffic was indicative of the close ties between South Africa and the U.S. as the debate increased. Fortunately, the Forum attracted a good mix of speakers and it became the place to be invited to reach an influential audience in Washington D.C.

The public debate fueled by activism by American groups decisively influenced the passage of American sanctions against South Africa, which was opposed by the Reagan Administration. I had supported sanctions in my writings. Sanctions do not always hit their target, but in this case, they succeeded in adding to the pressure that made South Africa agree to good-faith negotiations with the ANC and other parties, repeal major apartheid laws, and release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. The debate then shifted to questions of aid to South Africa and other issues, as the U.S. government and American activists continued to follow negotiations and fast-paced events regionally, including in Mozambique where a brutal civil war was taking place, in Angola where Cuban troops were based, and in Namibia which was ruled by South Africa under a U.N. mandate until 1990. All these issues were addressed at the Forum.

Several speakers went out of their way to appear at pivotal times. For example, Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's second president, had agreed to come when he was still in exile, but he sent word just a couple of days before the event that he reluctantly had to cancel. We had more than 200 people expected, and I told him, in a telephone conversation, that cancellation might be seen as confirmation that the ANC was downgrading the importance of the U.S. in the anti-apartheid fight. At the time, commentators had reported that the ANC was "writing off" the U.S. and concentrating on Europe. Mbeki said he had a very important competing obligation, but eventually relented. He caught an overnight transatlantic flight to speak at the Forum, and then immediately left for a return flight to London, where I later learned that he had been engaged in one of the early secret meetings with Afrikaners, a pre-negotiation phase of private contacts that paved the way for full talks.

My work on South Africa had its risks. The AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging), a neo-Nazi fringe group had put me on their "hit list." Prior to one of my visits to South Africa, I was informed by the State Department that they had verified that I had been identified as a target for assassination by the AWB. The list identified people who the AWB felt were responsible for the decline of apartheid and the push for sanctions. (The AWB was the only party not included in the Forum.) I continued to visit South Africa and to host the Forum. The AWB, according to most reports, has ceased to exist.

It is my hope that this collection will serve for many years as a primary historical resource for scholars, students and journalists writing about the U.S. and South Africa and the struggle to overcome apartheid. In addition to its factual content, the collection is a testament to the importance of civil society and dialogue in bringing about political change in conflict zones.

It should be remembered that, at the time, South Africa was said to be an "intractable conflict" with mounting violence that was driving the country toward a race war. Contrary to many predictions, however, it pulled itself back from the brink to become an exemplary model of a self-guided political transition. Power was transferred from a privileged minority to the overwhelming majority, without South Africa becoming a failed state, requiring U.N. or humanitarian intervention, descending into full-scale civil war, or becoming the target of a military intervention to achieve regime change. There are not many examples of this kind of success.

How South Africa achieved this remarkable transition can be gleaned from the eloquent words of the individuals on these tapes.

For publications on South Africa by Pauline H. Baker, please consult:

The United States and South Africa: The Reagan Years, (New York: The Ford Foundation, 1989), in the series entitled, South Africa: Time Running Out, published by the Ford Foundation and the Foreign Policy Association.

South Africa and the World Economy in the 1990s, co-editor with Alex Boraine and Warren Krafchik (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Washington, D.C.: David Philip Publishers (pty) Ltd., and The Brookings Institution, 1993).

"Getting It Right: U.S. Policy in South Africa," in Debra-Liang-Fenton, ed., Implementing U.S. Human Rights Policy (Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2004).

“South Africa: From Beacon of Hope to Rogue Democracy,” with Princeton Lyman, Michael Shiffer and David Shorr, eds., Power and Principles: International Leadership in a Shrinking World, The Stanley Foundation, 2009.

“The United States and South Africa: Persuasion and Coercion,” Richard Hass and Megan O’Sullivan, eds., Honey and Vinegar: Incentives, Sanctions and Foreign Policy, (Washington D.C., Brookings Institution, 2000).

Events in the transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa

Sharpeville massacre by police during demonstration against pass laws, restricting movement of Africans. South Africa declares a state of emergency, outlaws anti-apartheid organizations, and detains nearly two thousand people.

University of California implements the single largest divestment by a college or university by divesting $3.1 billion from companies that did business with South Africa.

Interim South African constitution is approved allowing for a non-racial election.

April 10: South African Communist Party General Secretary Chris Hani is assassinated.

March 17: Referendum to end apartheid gains 68% of the vote. The referendum allows the ANC to run in the presidential elections of 1994.

June 17: Boipatong Massacre - 45 murdered in a village by supporters of IFP. ANC withdraws from CODESA II discussions.

September 3: Mass protests in Bisho call for election of an official in Ciskei, a black homeland.

September 7: Protests meet violent opposition at the hands of Ciskei Defence Forces, ending with the murder of 28 protesters and 1 policeman.

ANC rejoins CODESA II.

Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) begins meetings to discuss a new constitution.

Declaration of intent is signed based on discussions held at the CODESA meeting. Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) refuses to sign.

Namibia declares independence and forms a new bill of rights.

The ban against the ANC is lifted after thirty years.

Nelson Mandela is released from prison after serving 27 years.

National Party publishes its Five Year Plan with vague language of inclusion. There is mention of a bill of rights including group rights, and a review of functions and powers of the Head of State.

July: ANC organizes Five Freedoms Forum in Lusaka.

ANC leader Walter Sisulu is released from prison.

South Africa effectively bans seventeen anti-apartheid organizations, including the UDF.

Angola, Cuba and South Africa sign the interlocking accords (Brazzaville Protocol and New York Accords) that provided a path to Namibian independence while also assuring that Cubans would no longer have a military presence in Angola.

The president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, and U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz meet in Washington D.C.

Reverend Leon H. Sullivan calls for a complete break in diplomatic relations between U.S. and South Africa. He also calls for total economic disinvestment and a trade embargo with South Africa.

Congress passes the Rangel Amendment. This ends the practice of U.S. companies deducting taxes paid in South Africa from taxes owed in the U.S.

The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA) is enacted, signed and implemented. The CAAA specifies concrete actions to be taken, including repeal of fundamental apartheid laws, to lift sanctions

The Second state of emergency is declared in South Africa for the entire nation.

The state of California divests $11 billion in stocks of companies working in South Africa. This was the single largest divestment done by on a state or local government level.

U.S. universities and states join in applying their own sanctions on South Africa.

Nelson Mandela and others abandon the non-violent policy of the African National Congress (ANC).

President Reagan signs an executive order imposing trade and financial sanctions on South Africa as a preemptive measure to avoid stiffer sanctions from Congress. The Administration’s measures were based on the “Sullivan Code” which was published by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan in 1977 calling for equal rights practices in the workplace and funding social programs. Reagan’s moves fail to avoid congressional sanctions enacted soon thereafter, which are much harsher.

President P.W. Botha delivers the “Rubicon Speech” which was anticipated by many as a moment when apartheid would be renounced and Nelson Mandela would be released from prison. But in the speech, Botha dismisses the notion of releasing Mandela, and rejects foreign and domestic calls for fundamental change. Foreign banks suspend credit, setting off financial crisis in the country.

A state of emergency declared by South African President P.W. Botha. The State of Emergency grants him power to rule by decree, is implemented in various regions of South Africa and is used as justification for the search and detention of anti-apartheid activists and suppression of mass protests.

Throughout the year economic sanctions are discussed and then enacted. These sanctions strained not only U.S.-South African relations but also caused strife within the Reagan administration.

Constitution put into effect, followed by the most extensive African uprising since the 1976 Soweto student revolt. Lusaka Agreement between South Africa and Angola is reached (with U.S. mediating the negotiations).

Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique is brokered by the U.S.

U.S. Anti-Apartheid campaign Free South Africa Movement holds a demonstration in an act of grassroots solidarity outside the South African embassy in Washington D.C.

Soweto Student Uprising occurs as students protest inferior education and the compulsory use of Afrikaans, which most Africans do not speak, as the language of instruction. Police fire on students, triggering countrywide protests resulting in deaths of an estimated one thousand protesters over a period of several months. Government cracks down with tougher security measures. Transkei, the first black South African homeland or bantustan reserved for Africans, given “independence.”

Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, banished to a small rural town.

Steve Biko, a leading exponent of the black consciousness movement, dies of a brain injury while held in detention.

United Democratic Front (UDF), a multiracial coalition of anti-apartheid activists sympathetic to the ANC, launches nationally. Constitutional referendum for whites only approves a racially segregated tricameral Parliament for whites, Coloureds, and Indians, but excludes blacks who make up an overwhelming majority of the population. Their representation is limited to bantustans.

Prime Minister Vorster resigns after financial scandal in the National Party. P.W. Botha becomes prime minister.

Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders sentenced to life in prison after admitting to sabotage and preparation for guerrilla warfare to defeat apartheid.

Mandela is arrested and sent to prison for five years.

First elections held with universal suffrage.

April 27: The Interim Constitutions Act is enacted to oversee the first democratic election.

April 29: Nelson Mandela and the ANC win the presidential election, defeating former president de Klerk and the National Party with over 62% of the vote.

Mandela becomes the first black president of South Africa.


Several people were responsible for the production and release of this collection. Thanks must go first to the speakers who gave their time to meet with an American audience and subject themselves to open and often difficult questions. They were unfailingly candid, patient, and forthcoming, making the Forum a serious dialogue with people holding widely varying views.

Tom Hughes, the then president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and his associate, Larry Fabian, provided critical financial, intellectual and moral support. I am deeply grateful, most of all, for the open environment they fostered for all the associates to conduct their research and writing in freedom in a “think tank” without any hint of partisanship. The CEIP staff also worked hard, setting up the Forum at an early hour which allowed busy government officials to attend the meetings and still be in their offices by mid-morning.

The staff at Michigan State University and Library added substantially to the design, content and the archiving of the collection which involved considerable time and labor to review, digitize, document, edit, and produce.