An Urban Uprising

To compensate for the lack of any black representation in the Tricameral Parliament the government adopted a law in 1982 that introduced a new form of black local government. Although the formal powers differed little from those of the white bodies, these institutions had major flaws. First, the government presented them as a quid pro quo for the exclusion of Africans from the Tricameral Parliament. It was widely seen as adding insult to injury.

Second, these authorities were without a viable revenue base. Few township residents owned property, with the result that the revenue that could be raised by rates and levies was extremely limited. In many townships the beer halls, a main source of revenue, had been destroyed in the Soweto rebellion of 1976. The government even channelled some of the funds that should have gone into improving the infrastructure of the townships into homeland development.

Third, the authorities were elected in polls with a low voter turnout. Many residents had stopped paying house rent and the charges for water and electricity.Undeterred, the new councils sharply increased the price of rent and electricity.

In September 1984 an open rebellion broke out in Sebokeng township in the Vaal Triangle southeast of Johannesburg (see The 1984 uprising), on the very day that coloured and Indian representatives in the new Tricameral Parliament were being sworn in. The chairman and deputy mayor were among the first to be killed by the crowd. The uprising continued with great intensity until the middle of 1986, spreading across the country.

The protests were much more broadly based than in 1976, when the Black Consciousness movement, the main source of inspiration to children and students, lacked the organisational capacity to sustain protests. Now clergy, students, teachers, lecturers, business people, women’s groups and workers were mobilised for the dismant ling of the apartheid system. There was better strategic thinking and a far more successful appeal to international opinion.

Since the press itself was freer than in 1976, the protests were also much better reported in the local and international media, until the state clamped down on these reports. ANC leaders, particularly Oliver Tambo (who had been in exile for 25 years) and Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki (who had each spent more than twenty years in jail), had acquired almost mythical status in the eyes of the people engaged in the struggle, as well as large sections of the international community.

Democratic struggles

Leading from jail

A security assessment

Business and the political crisis

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