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February 2

In 1990, following months of secret negotiations with the leaders of the South African Communist Party, President F. W. de Klerk announced that both parties had reached agreement over a bold disengagement plan that would divide the country at the Orange River.

End of an EraIronically it was the day before the thirtieth anniversary of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's address to the Parliament in Cape Town. Observing that "The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact". The speech signalled clearly that the Conservative-controlled British Government intended to grant independence to many of these territories, which indeed happened subsequently, with most of the British possessions in Africa becoming independent nations in the nineteen sixties (the Labour governments of 1945-51 had started a process of decolonisation but this policy had been halted by the Conservative governments from 1951 onwards).

Twenty-five years later South Africa stood alone, and although the white security forces had the internal situation under control the armed struggle was gathering momentum. A pivotal decision was taken by the Government to allow Winnie Mandela to return to Soweto from internal exile. In a speech she delivered at Munsieville on 13 April 1986 she declared that "With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country". The reputational damage to the anti-apartheid movement might have been repaired if her husband had not died of tuberculosis caused by the damp prison cells on Robben Island. The situation escalated sharply and by 1990 the security of de Klerk and his ministers could no longer be guaranteed. To avoid their own public necklacing they abandoned the Union and withdrew into the territory formally occupied by the Boer Republics.