Definition of the term “Sunset Clause” in the South African political context:

It was Joe Slovo, leader of the South African Communist Party, who in 1992 proposed the breakthrough “sunset clause” for a coalition government for the five years following a democratic election, including guarantees and concessions to all sides.

The Apartheid system in South Africa had ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by the De Klerk government. These negotiations took place between the governing National Party, the African National Congress, and a wide variety of other political parties. 

Negotiations took place against a backdrop of political violence in the country, including allegations of a state-sponsored third force intended to “destabilise” the country- these resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial election, won by the African National Congress.


Apartheid was a system of racial discrimination and segregation in the South African government. It was formalised in 1948, forming a framework for political and economic dominance by the white population and severely restricting the political rights of the black majority.

Between 1960 and 1990, the African National Congress and other mainly black opposition political organisations, were banned! As the National Party cracked down on black opposition to apartheid, almost all the leaders of the ANC and other opposition organisations, were either killed, imprisoned or went into exile.

However, increasing local and international pressure on the government- as well as the realisation that apartheid could neither be maintained by force forever, nor overthrown by the opposition without considerable suffering- eventually led both sides to the negotiating table. 

The Tripartite Accord, which brought an end to the South African Border War in neighbouring Angola and Namibia, created a window of opportunity enabling conditions for a negotiated settlement, recognized by Dr Niel Barnard from the National Intelligence Service. 

Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith:

On 4 January 1974, Harry Schwartz, leader of the liberal-reformist wing of the United Party, met with, Gatsha, later, Mangosuthu Buthelezi Chief Executive Councillor of the black homeland of Kwazulu, and signed a five-point plan for racial peace in South Africa, which came to be known as the Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith. Signers of the Mahlabatini Declaration:

Harry Schwarz and Gatsha Buthelezi

The declaration stated that “the situation of South Africa in the world scene, as well as internal community relations, requires, in our view, an acceptance of certain fundamental concepts for the economic, social and constitutional development of our country”. It called for negotiations involving all peoples, to draw up constitutional proposals stressing opportunity for all with a Bill of Rights to safeguard these rights. It suggested that the federal concept was the appropriate framework for such changes to take place. It also affirmed that political change must take place through non-violent means. 

The declaration was the first of such agreements by acknowledged black and white political leaders in South Africa that affirmed these principles. The commitment to the peaceful pursuit of political change was declared at a time when neither the National Party nor the African National Congress was looking to peaceful solutions or dialogue. The declaration was heralded by the English speaking press as a breakthrough in race relations in South Africa. Shortly after it was issued, the declaration was endorsed by several chief ministers of the black homelands, including Cedric Phatudi (Lebowa), Lucas Mangope (Bophuthatswana) and Hudson Nisanwisi (Gazankulu). Despite considerable support from black leaders, the English speaking press and liberal figures such as Alan Paton, the declaration saw staunch opposition from the National Party, the Afrikaans press and the conservative wing of Harry Schwarz’s United Party. 

Early contact:

The very first meetings between the South African Government and Nelson Madela were driven by the National Intelligence Services (NIS) under the leadership of Niel Barnard and his Deputy Director-General, Mike Louw. These meetings were secret and were designed to develop an understanding of whether there were sufficient common grounds for future peace talks. As these meetings evolved, a level of trust developed between the key actors (Barnard, Louw, and Mandela). To facilitate future talks while preserving the secrecy needed to protect the process, Barnard arranged for Mandela to be moved off Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982. This provided Mandela with more comfortable lodgings but also gave easier access in a way that could not be compromised. Barnard, therefore, brokered an initial agreement in principle about what became known as “talks about talks”. It was at this stage that the process was elevated from a secret engagement to a more public engagement.

The first less-tentative meeting between Mandela and the National Party government came while P.W Botha was State President. In November 1985, Minister Kobie Coetzee met Mandela in the hospital while Mandela was being treated for prostate surgery. Over the next four years, a series of tentative meetings took place, laying the groundwork for further contact and future negotiations -but little “real” progress was made- and the meetings remained secret until several years later. 

As the secret talks bore fruit and the political engagement started to taking place, the National Intelligence Service withdrew from centre stage during the process and “moved” to a new phase of operational support work. This “new phase” was designed to test public opinion about a negotiated solution. 

Central to this planning was an initiative that became known in Security Force circles as the “Dakar Safari.” This resulted in several prominent Afrikaner opinion-makers engaging with the African National Congress in Dakar, Senegal and Leverkusen, Germany- at events organized by the Institute for Democratic Alternatives of South Africa. 

The operational objective of the meeting was not to understand the opinions of the people themselves, as that was already well known within strategic management circles.  It was to gauge public opinion about a movement away from the previous security posture of confrontation and repression to a new “posture,” based on engagement and accommodation…