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Mahlabatini Declaration

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Title: Mahlabatini Declaration  
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Subject: Progressive Federal Party, Liberalism in South Africa, 1974 in South Africa, Negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa, Harry Schwarz, South Africa
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Mahlabatini Declaration

Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith

Created 4 January 1974
Signatories Mangosuthu Buthelezi Harry Schwarz
Purpose Provide a blueprint for government of South Africa by consent and racial peace in a multi-racial society

The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith was a statement of core principles laid down by South African political leaders Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz on 4 January 1974. It was signed in Mahlabatini, KwaZulu-Natal, hence its name. Its purpose was to provide a blueprint for government of South Africa by consent and racial peace in a multi-racial society, stressing opportunity for all, consultation, the federal concept, and a Bill of Rights. It also first affirmed that political change must take place though non-violent means. It was the first of such agreements in apartheid South Africa by acknowledged black and white political leaders in South Africa, which would ultimately end with the negotiations between President F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela in 1993.


On 4 January 1974, Harry Schwarz, Transvaal leader of the official opposition United Party, met and had discussions with Gatsha (later Mangosuthu) Buthelezi, Chief Executive Councillor of the black homeland of KwaZulu. They jointly issued a document, which stated that "the situation of South Africa in the world scene as well as internal community relations requires,

Signers of the Mahlabatini Declaration

Harry Schwarz
Gatsha Buthelezi
in our view, an acceptance of certain fundamental concepts for the economic, social and constitutional development of our country". It was intended for these core concepts to be the foundations for negotiations involving all in South Africa. Both leaders were acting in personal capacities.

The declaration's purpose was to provide a blueprint for government of South Africa for racial peace in South Africa. It called for negotiations involving all peoples, in order 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 first affirmed that political change must take place through non-violent means. The concept of a non-discriminatory society had been outlined in the 'Act of Dedication' of 1973 that Schwarz had written, while Leader of the Opposition in the Transvaal. Schwarz had called for the Transvaal and South Africa to adopt and subscribe to the act. While the United Party Transvaal caucus unanimously adopted the initiative, the National Party refused for it to come to debate. The principles of the act were adopted at the 1973 National United Party Congress.[1]

Reaction and aftermath

The declaration was the first of its kind, in that it laid down the concept of a peaceful solution to South Africa's problems at a time when neither the National Party nor the African National Congress was interested in peaceful solutions or dialogue. The declaration took place during a period when virtually no formal or informal political contact existed between black and white groups. Political figures such as Alan Paton praised the declaration. The agreement was heralded by many as a breakthrough in race relations in South Africa. The declaration drew much media interest both inside and outside South Africa.

Black reaction

Shortly after the declaration was issued, several chief ministers of the black homelands, including Cedric Phatudi (Lebowa), Lucas Mangope (Bophuthatswana) and Hudson Nisanwisi (Gazankulu), met in Cape Town. The leaders announced to the press that they fully supported the declaration.

In February 1974, Prime Minister of Swaziland Makhosini Dlamini praised the declaration as as inspiration to South Africans "across the color line" and as an example of effectiveness in working for his people within the framework of the law.[2]

In March 1974 Chief Phatudi, Harry Schwarz and M. I. Mitchell (United Party MP), had discussions at Sheshego. They issued a joint statement, endorsing the principles embodied in the Mahlabatini Declaration. It also stated that all South Africans must be united to meet any external threats, subversion, or terrorism, and that the best way of uniting the people to meet such threats was to give them a real state in society which they were asked to defend.[3]

United Party and opposition realignment

Despite considerable support from black leaders and the English speaking press, the declaration drew much criticism from the establishment of Harry Schwarz's United Party. Schwarz, who had recently deposed the more conservative Marais Styen from the leadership of the United Party in the Transvaal, was a controversial figure in the party for his outspoken views against apartheid and was known as the leader of the liberal 'Young Turks' within the party.

In 1975 divisions over the Mahlabatini Declaration manifested in several 'Young Turks', including Schwarz, being expelled from the party, by leader Sir de Villiers Graaff. The members who were either expelled or resigned, formed the Reform Party, with Schwarz as its leader. In July 1975, the Reform Party merged with the Progressive Party, which eventually became the Progressive Federal Party in 1977. This proved to realign opposition politics in South Africa, with the demise of the United Party as the PFP became the main opposition party, following the 1977 general election.[4]


  • An appetite for power: Buthelezi's Inkatha and South Africa
  • A Survey of race relations in South Africa by South African Institute of Race Relations
  • If courage goes: my twenty years in South African politics by Catherine Taylor
  • Loosing the bonds: the United States and South Africa in the apartheid years by Robert Massie
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