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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Partner to History; The U.S. Role in South Africa?s Transition to Democracy
Princeton N. Lyman

Washington, DC, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002
344 pp, 1-929223-36-6

Former Ambassador Princeton Lyman?s new account of the role played by the United States in South Africa?s historic transition to democracy from 1990-1994, reads like a combination of a political history, an autobiography, and a spine-tingling spy-novel. Readers are certain to be captivated by the Lyman?s eloquent narrative of the subtle influence exerted by the American Government during the tenuous period leading up to the country?s first democratic elections in April 1994. From the outset, Lyman adamantly stresses that U.S. involvement in the process was more akin to a helpful neighbor than a domineering older brother. South Africa?s transition to democracy was owned entirely by the political parties negotiating the new constitution. The United States lent its support through financial aid, invitations to the White House, unofficial mediation from the Embassy, and advice from high-ranking officials at the State Department, Pentagon, and Congress. The author stresses that for readers to have a full understanding of the transition, this book should be read in conjunction with other accounts, like Allister Sparks? Tomorrow is Another Country, which focus on the South African perspective.

Partner to History begins with a brief historical background of the Apartheid system. The focus of the first section of the book, however, is on the growth of the Anti-Apartheid movement in the United States from the early 1970?s. By the mid-1980?s, when State President P.W. Botha had declared a State of Emergency in an attempt to quell the resistance in the Townships, the Reagan administration?s policy towards South Africa had become a central debate in American politics. Lyman explains the arguments for and against imposing economic sanctions against the Botha regime. He also gives an objective assessment of Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Chester Crocker?s oft-maligned policy of ?constructive engagement,? which sought to first convince Pretoria to withdraw its forces from Namibia, Angola and Mozambique before tackling the more difficult question of internal reform. Congress eventually enacted strict sanctions against South Africa and many U.S. corporations chose to divest from the country until Apartheid was dismantled.

After F.W. De Klerk?s speech to Parliament on February 11, 1990 when he announced the imminent release of Nelson Mandela, the un-banning of the ANC and other resistance parties, and the intention of the Government to enter into negotiations with these groups for a new constitution, a new era in South African history was born. The transition period, which lasted for four years, was an extremely arduous process that was under threat of collapse into all out war until days before the elections on April 27, 1994. Lyman was appointed Ambassador in 1992, after a long career in the State Department?s Africa Division, and was immediately thrust into a sea of turmoil where his considerable diplomatic skills were constantly tested. The majority of Lyman?s energies were focused on balancing the needs, desires, and threats from all sides of the political spectrum. Whether he was trying to appease Chief Mangosothu Buthelezi?s unbending desire for a federal system with strong assurances of minority rights, or holding meetings with Mandela about the ANC?s claims that a ?third force? within the Government was contributing to the massive violence in the Townships, or giving deserved credit to De Klerk and his allies in the National Party, the job of the American Ambassador was both perilous and vital.

Princeton Lyman tells us the story of his personal involvement and that of his government in the events which brought democracy to South Africa with clarity, modesty, and a sense of history. Partner to History is a must read.

Michael Goldman, American University

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