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African history African politics

Groote Schuur Minute: De Klerk and Nelson Mandela write history

The negotiations which began in May 1990 between J.W. De Klerk and Nelson Mandela were the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

The Groote Schuur Minute, released on May 4th 1990, was the result of three days of negotiations between then State President of South Africa, J.W. De Klerk, head of a white-minority government in the last years of apartheid and Nelson Mandela, then spiritual leader of the black African National Congress (ANC), who had just been released from prison after 27 years on February 11th.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had once described the ANC as a “typical terrorist organization”, and as conservative US-President Ronald Reagan also perceived communist “elements”, the American Department of Defense added it to a list of “key regional terrorist groups” as late as 1988, citing several bombings in the 1980s.

Previously, on February 2nd 1990, during a speech at the opening of the 1990 session of the Parliament of South Africa, De Klerk had announced sweeping reforms, including the freeing of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC, which had been declared unlawful on April 8th, 1960 for being deemed to threaten public order and the safety of the public.

Just three months later, two very different personalities, whose working relationship soon became strained, agreed on conditions to be met for ending political conflict in South Africa. At the same time, violence in the black townships, officially designated suburbs or cities for non-whites, was growing even more brutal. The ANC’s demands included the return of political figures exiled mostly in other African countries, the eventual release of all political prisoners, and the gradual lifting of the nationwide state of emergency which had been declared on June 13th, 1986. De Klerk’s administration effectively ended it on June 17th, the same day on which 48 anti-apartheid activists were released from jail.

The name of this decisive event derives from the presidential residence known as Groote Schuur (“Big Barn”), built by the Dutch East India Company around 1657 as part of its granary. Bought and restored by British colonial mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes in 1893, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, it was the official Cape residence of the Prime Ministers of South Africa from 1910 to 1984.

For their efforts to end apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation introduced in 1948, both De Klerk and Mandela received the Nobel Piece Price in 1993. The process which began in May 1990 culminated in the historic elections hold on April 24th, 1994, that resulted in a clear ANC victory. Mandela assumed the presidency until 1999, De Klerk served as Deputy President until 1996.

Tragically, one of the many victims of the “New South Africa” or “Rainbow Nation”, a flowery term coined by Archbishop and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, was De Klerk’s divorced wife. On December 3rd 2001, Marike de Klerk was murdered by a security guard working in the apartment complex where she was living.

P.D.: Now a museum, Groote Schuur is open to the public only by appointment or occasionally, in aid of charity, on days announced beforehand in the press.

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