Africa‘s Global 1989
Vol 29 No 5 (2019)
The expectation expressed in 2009 that the many particular histories of 1989 would come together to form a great, coherent global history and that this would further deepen the interpretation established by the contemporaries witnessing a special moment in world history has not been fulfilled. Rather, different memories of 1989 are cultivated in different regions of the world, and most recent historiography is more concerned with the question of how the upheaval of 1989 in Eastern Europe is linked to the rise of populism. The article that introduces this thematic issue tries to offer some explanations for this development that can be seen as both an indicator and part of a departure from a certain ideology of globalization that has confused increasing connectivity worldwide with a neoliberal globalization project. Even if one limits oneself to the African continent, as most of the contributions in this issue do, it is already more than clear that this does not mean a withdrawal from global contexts and their memory, quite the contrary. In this respect, the reconstruction of some important moments of the African contribution to the global moment in 1989 is perhaps more illuminating for understanding this caesura than would be a further appropriation of the diversity of that year for a homogeneous narrative.
This article looks at responses over time by the OAU and its successor, the African Union, to popular uprisings and revolutions in member states. With a focus on the critical junctures of 1989, 2011, and 2019, the article concludes that these changes were mainly dealt with against the backdrop of continental experiences, but rarely situated in a global context.
Resting on newly obtained archival sources and interviews with key actors, this article aims at filling some gaps in the historiography on the end of the Cold War in Southern Africa. It discusses the final years of the South African nuclear weapons programme against the backdrop of the winding down of the Global Cold War in the Southern African region. It argues that the events in Eastern Europe in 1989 should be juxtaposed against the fundamental changes in South Africa after a decades-long liberation struggle against the oppressive Apartheid regime. It shows how September 1989 proved to be as significant in South Africa as it was in Leipzig.F.W. de Klerk’s election as State President put South Africa on a path of unprecedented reform, including a decision to tear down Apartheid’s proverbial ‘nuclear wall’. The paper argues that while the decision of the De Klerk government to terminate and dismantle the indigenously developed nuclear weapons arsenal was triggered by a confluence of domestic and regional factors, the events in Eastern Europe also had an influence, not least being the impending fall of the Soviet Union, the Apartheid’s regime decades-long enemy. The decision to denuclearize furthermore had important repercussions beyond the region. This is exemplified by the phoenix-like rise of Pretoria’s leaders on the global non-proliferation scene, following the end of its programme and NPT accession.
The changes in Southern Africa that began during the 1980s were due to a specific interaction of internal and external factors. However, this interplay must be placed in a historical perspective, because it goes back to the early 1960s, when decolonisation took hold of large parts of the continent, but also encountered coordinated resistance of the hitherto ruling powers in southern Africa, which led to a long social and military conflict that, like the Cold War in general, first weakened and then came to an end. The external shock of the revolutions in Eastern Europe brought the revolution in Africa, which had begun in 1960, to a successful end. The direct effect could be seen in South Africa, where the de Klerk government abandoned its fear of a Soviet-backed Communist takeover, while the ANC opened up to the prospect of a mixed and globally networked economy. The other states of southern Africa followed the general trend towards liberal democratic constitutions and elections to a very different degree, and the regional integration process initiated with the founding of SADC remains fragile. Nevertheless, in the end it can be concluded that the upheaval of 1989 was far more significant for the region than the subsequent caesura of 9/11 or the financial crisis of 2008–2010.
This article evaluates new materials from British and US-American archives that have now become accessible and concern diplomatic negotiations on the end of the conflicts in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique as well as the end of apartheid in South Africa. Older interpretations that view the withdrawal of the Soviet Union as a betrayal of the old allies within the communist and liberation movements in southern Africa are supplemented by a more nuanced view that locates the beginning of this change in 1988 and in the negotiations over the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and Namibian independence. The aim of Soviet foreign policy was no longer to give unconditional support to its allies, but rather to calm and stabilise the political situation in order to help the new world order that was seeking to break through. As a result, a democratic government for South Africa, supported by a majority vote of the electorate, also moved into the focus of Soviet policy, which in turn reduced fears on the US side of a socialist one-party system. From the consulted British and US sources it can also be seen that in a complicated process of rapprochement, the Soviet negotiators developed sympathies for capitalist development in South Africa and also saw opportunities emerging for their own