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Sports and culture
South Africa's isolation in sport began in the mid-1950s and increased throughout the 1960s. Apartheid forbade multiracial sport, which meant that overseas teams, by virtue of their having players of diverse races, could not play in South Africa. In 1956, the International Table Tennis Federation severed its ties with the all-white South African Table Tennis Union, preferring the non-racial South African Table Tennis Board. The apartheid government responded by confiscating the passports of the Board's players so that they were unable to attend international games.
In 1959, the non-racial South African Sports Association (SASA) was formed to secure the rights of all players on the global field. After meeting with no success in its endeavours to attain credit by collaborating with white establishments, SASA approached the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1962, calling for South Africa's expulsion from the Olympic Games. The IOC sent South Africa a caution to the effect that, if there were no changes, they would be barred from the 1964 Olympic Games. The changes were initiated, and in January 1963, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) was set up. The Anti-Apartheid Movement persisted in its campaign for South Africa's exclusion, and the IOC acceded in barring the country from the 1964 Games in Tokyo. South Africa selected a multi-racial team for the next Games, and the IOC opted for incorporation in the 1968 Games in Mexico. Because of protests from AAMs and African nations, however, the IOC was forced to retract the invitation.
Foreign complaints about South Africa's bigoted sports brought more isolation. Racially selected New Zealand sports teams toured South Africa, until the 1970 All Blacks rugby tour allowed Maori to go under the status of "honorary whites". Huge and widespread protests occurred in New Zealand in 1981 against the Springbok tour – the government spent $8 million protecting games using the army and police force. A planned All Black tour to South Africa in 1985 remobilised the New Zealand protesters and it was cancelled. A "rebel tour" – not government sanctioned – went ahead in 1986, but after that sporting ties were cut, and New Zealand made a decision not to convey an authorised rugby team to South Africa until the end of apartheid.
Vorster replaced Verwoerd as Prime Minister in 1966 following the latter's assassination and declared that South Africa would no longer dictate to other countries what their teams should look like. Although this reopened the gate for international sporting meets, it did not signal the end of South Africa's racist sporting policies. In 1968 Vorster went against his policy by refusing to permit Basil D'Oliveira, a Coloured South African-born cricketer, to join the English cricket team on its tour to South Africa. Vorster said that the side had been chosen only to prove a point, and not on merit. After protests, however, "Dolly" was eventually included in the team. Protests against certain tours brought about the cancellation of a number of other visits, including that of an England rugby team touring South Africa in 1969/70.
The first of the "White Bans" occurred in 1971 when the Chairman of the Australian Cricketing Association – Sir Don Bradman – flew to South Africa to meet Vorster. Vorster had expected Bradman to allow the tour of the Australian cricket team to go ahead, but things became heated after Bradman asked why black sportsmen were not allowed to play cricket. Vorster stated that blacks were intellectually inferior and had no finesse for the game. Bradman – thinking this ignorant and repugnant – asked Vorster if he had heard of a man named Garry Sobers. On his return to Australia, Bradman released a one sentence statement: "We will not play them until they choose a team on a non-racist basis."
In South Africa, Vorster vented his anger publicly against Bradman, while the African National Congress rejoiced. This was the first time a predominantly white nation had taken the side of multiracial sport, producing an unsettling resonance that more "White" boycotts were coming. Almost twenty years later, on his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked a visiting Australian statesman if Donald Bradman, his childhood hero, was still alive (Bradman lived until 2001).
In 1971, Vorster altered his policies even further by distinguishing multiracial from multinational sport. Multiracial sport, between teams with players of different races, remained outlawed; multinational sport, however, was now acceptable: international sides would not be subject to South Africa's racial stipulations.
In 1978, Nigeria boycotted the Commonwealth Games because New Zealand's sporting contacts with the South African government were not considered to be in accordance with the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Nigeria also led the 32-nation boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games because of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's ambivalent attitude towards sporting links with South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the Games and thus thrusting apartheid into the international spotlight.
In the 1960s, the Anti-Apartheid Movements began to campaign for cultural boycotts of apartheid South Africa. Artists were requested not to present or let their works be hosted in South Africa. In 1963, 45 British writers put their signatures to an affirmation approving of the boycott, and, in 1964, American actor Marlon Brando called for a similar affirmation for films. In 1965, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain called for a proscription on the sending of films to South Africa. Over sixty American artists signed a statement against apartheid and against professional links with the state. The presentation of some South African plays in Britain and the United States was also vetoed. After the arrival of television in South Africa in 1975, the British Actors Union, Equity, boycotted the service, and no British programme concerning its associates could be sold to South Africa. Sporting and cultural boycotts did not have the same impact as economic sanctions, but they did much to lift consciousness amongst normal South Africans of the global condemnation of apartheid.
While international opposition to apartheid grew, the Nordic countries – and Sweden in particular – provided both moral and financial support for the ANC. On 21 February 1986 – a week before he was murdered – Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme made the keynote address to the Swedish People's Parliament Against Apartheid held in Stockholm. In addressing the hundreds of anti-apartheid sympathisers as well as leaders and officials from the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement such as Oliver Tambo, Palme declared: "Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated."
Other Western countries adopted a more ambivalent position. In Switzerland, the Swiss-South African Association lobbied on behalf of the South African government. In the 1980s, the US Reagan and UK Thatcher administrations followed a "constructive engagement" policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions, justified by a belief in free trade and a vision of South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation, and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was "living in cloud cuckoo land". The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative lobbying organisation, actively campaigned against divesting from South Africa throughout the 1980s.
By the late 1980s, with the tide of the Cold War turning and no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions (realised as the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986), the release of Nelson Mandela and a negotiated settlement involving the ANC. Thatcher too began to take a similar line, but insisted on the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle.
Britain's significant economic involvement in South Africa may have provided some leverage with the South African government, with both the UK and the US applying pressure and pushing for negotiations. However, neither Britain nor the US was willing to apply economic pressure upon their multinational interests in South Africa, such as the mining company Anglo American. Although a high-profile compensation claim against these companies was thrown out of court in 2004, the US Supreme Court in May 2008 upheld an appeal court ruling allowing another lawsuit that seeks damages of more than US$400 billion from major international companies which are accused of aiding South Africa's apartheid system.
The Cold War and Total Onslaught
During the 1950s, South African military strategy was decisively shaped by fears of communist espionage and a conventional Soviet threat to the strategic Cape trade route between the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The apartheid government supported the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as its policy of regional containment against Soviet-backed regimes and insurgencies worldwide. By the late 1960s, the rise of Soviet client states on the African continent, as well as Soviet aid for militant anti-apartheid movements, was considered one of the primary external threats to the apartheid system. South African officials frequently accused domestic opposition groups of being communist proxies. For its part the Soviet Union viewed South Africa as a bastion of neocolonialism and a regional Western ally, which helped fuel its support for various anti-apartheid causes. From 1973 onward much of South Africa's white population increasingly looked upon their country as a bastion of the free world besieged militarily, politically, and culturally by communism and radical black nationalism. The apartheid government perceived itself as being locked in a proxy struggle with the Warsaw Pact and by implication, armed wings of black nationalist forces such as Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), which often received Soviet arms and training. This was described as "Total Onslaught".
South African initiatives designed to counter "Total Onslaught" were known as "Total Strategy" and involved building up a formidable conventional military and counter-intelligence capability. Total Strategy was built on the principles of counter-revolution as espoused by noted French tactician André Beaufre. Considerable effort was devoted towards circumventing international arms sanctions, and the government even went so far as to develop nuclear weapons, allegedly with covert assistance from Israel. In 2010, The Guardian released South African government documents that revealed an Israeli offer to sell the apartheid regime nuclear weapons. Israel categorically denied these allegations and claimed that the documents were minutes from a meeting which did not indicate any concrete offer for a sale of nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres said that The Guardian's article was based on "selective interpretation... and not on concrete facts."
From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, defence budgets in South Africa were raised exponentially. Covert operations focused on espionage and domestic political manipulation became common, the number of special forces units swelled, and the South African Defence Force had amassed enough sophisticated conventional weaponry to pose a serious threat to the "front-line states", a regional alliance of neighbouring countries opposed to apartheid.
Foreign military operations
South Africa had a policy of attacking insurgent bases and safe houses of PLAN and MK in neighbouring countries beginning in the early 1980s. These attacks were in retaliation for acts of sabotage, urban terrorism, and guerrilla raids by MK, PLAN, and the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA). The country also aided organisations in surrounding countries who were actively combating the spread of communism in southern Africa. The results of these policies included:
- Support for guerrilla groups such as UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique
- South African Defence Force (SADF) raids into front-line states (e.g. the Raid on Gaborone). Bombing raids were also conducted into neighbouring states. Air and commando raids into Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana occurred the same day, against ANC targets.
- An assassination attempt on Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister and future President of Zimbabwe, on 18 December 1981.
- A full-scale intervention into Angola: this was partly in support of UNITA, but was also an attempt to strike at PLAN bases.
- Bomb attacks in Lesotho.
- Kidnapping of refugees and ANC members in Swaziland by security services.
- An unsuccessful South African organised coup in the Seychelles on 25 November 1981.
- Targeting of exiled ANC leaders abroad: Joe Slovo's wife Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb in Maputo, and "death squads" of the Civil Cooperation Bureau and the Directorate of Military Intelligence attempted to carry out assassinations on ANC targets in Brussels, Paris, Stockholm, and London.
In 1984, Mozambican president Samora Machel signed the Nkomati Accord with South Africa's president P.W. Botha, in an attempt to end South African support for the opposition group RENAMO. South Africa agreed to cease supporting anti-government forces, while the MK was prohibited from operating in Mozambique. This was a setback for the ANC. Machel hoped the agreement would alliterate the civil war and allow Mozambique to rebuild its economy. Two years later, President Machel was killed in an air crash in mountainous terrain in South Africa near the Mozambican border after returning from a meeting in Zambia. South Africa was accused by the Mozambican government and US Secretary of State George P. Shultz of continuing its aid to RENAMO. The Mozambican government also made an unproven allegation that the accident was caused intentionally by a false radio navigation beacon that scrambled the aircraft's navigational system. These charges were never proven and is still a subject of some controversy, despite the South African Margo Commission finding that the crash was an accident. A Soviet delegation that did not participate in the investigation issued a minority report implicating South Africa.
Beginning in 1966, PLAN, armed wing of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), contested South Africa's occupation of South West Africa (now Namibia). This conflict deepened after Angola gained its independence in 1975 under the leadership of the leftist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) aided by Cuba. South Africa, Zaire and the United States sided with the Angolan rival UNITA party against the MPLA's armed force, FAPLA (People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola). The following struggle turned into one of several late Cold War flashpoints. The Angolan civil war developed into a conventional war with South Africa and UNITA on one side against the MPLA government, the Soviet Union, the Cubans and SWAPO on the other.