The focus of this study is the triumph of the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) over the Reagan administration’s Southern Africa policy - “constructive engagement”. The central question this study provides answers to is: why is it that within two years of its inception, FSAM achieved what had eluded other Afro-American organisations for decades by bringing pressure to bear on an incumbent administration to reverse itself on a major foreign policy germane to Africa. Afro-Americans had shown both a continuing interest in Africa since the era of slavery and a desire to influence the direction of Africa policy of successive administrations. FSAM is therefore an important movement worth studying in view of its uniqueness in being the first anti-apartheid organisation through which Afro-Americans had achieved what had always eluded them.
This necessitated putting FSAM in its historical context with a view to establishing in what sense and ways this movement succeeded while others failed. It was this that led us to identify four determinants of Afro-American influence. These were the Cold War, Afro-American electoral significance or otherwise, the organisational tactics of Afro-Americans in running antiapartheid campaigns, and events in South Africa. These four determinants produced three scenarios which accounted for at best non-durable influence, and at worst - which was quite often the case - failures on the part of Afro-Americans to influence the direction of Africa policy of successive administrations.
FSAM succeeded where others failed because it had learned from the mistakes of its predecessors and pursued a single issue by confining its attention to a single country - South Africa - which it rightly recognised as the sole beneficiary of the administration’s “constructive engagement”. It predecessors were always pursuing multifarious causes covering the entire African continent or at least a region. FSAM also had a united Afro-American community unprepared to put up with four more years of “constructive engagement”. This coupled with the fact that it was an era in which Afro-Americans were conscious of their potential electoral strength within the Democratic Party and in a balance of power situation, meant that FSAM was better placed to reap the wealth of experience emanating from previous numerous failed attempts.
Although TransAfrica, around which FSAM was woven, provided the organisational and institutional structure, it was FSAM’s ability to carry the public along as a tactical device that made all the difference because the pressure which the public brought to bear on the administration to change its Southern Africa policy made it impossible for Congressmen as the representatives of the people to become passive spectators. The result was initiation of a Congressional response to the yearning of the people thereby isolating the President and his “constructive engagement”.