Courtesy Reuters


South Africa represents the world's first instance of nuclear rollback, a state which has unilaterally and voluntarily relinquished nuclear weapons. President F. W. de Klerk declared to a special joint session of the South African parliament on March 24, 1993, that "at one stage South Africa did develop a limited nuclear deterrent capability," but "early in 1990 final effect was given to decisions that all the nuclear devices should be dismantled and destroyed." De Klerk's speech was the first official confirmation of what had long been suspected: Pretoria had actually developed nuclear weapons. Yet its larger significance derives from the country's unprecedented dismantling of a fully mature nuclear arsenal.

Despite de Klerk's exhortations about opening a new chapter of "international cooperation and trust," South Africa's nuclear past casts a long shadow. For some, de Klerk's announcement resurrected old questions about the country's nuclear behavior, reinforced current suspicions and raised fresh concerns about the country's plans for the highly enriched uranium (HEU) taken from the nuclear devices, as well as its adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), development of export controls, and the prospects for an African nuclear weapon-free zone. As the country moves toward its first nonracial elections in April, these issues have direct implications not only for South Africa but also for the new government's relations with its neighbors and the West. The African National Congress (ANC), the United States and other key members of the international nonproliferation community continue to look for reassurance about Pretoria's future intentions.


South Africa's nuclear program originated in its abundant uranium reserves, which were coveted by the United States and Britain for use in the Manhattan Project. During the two decades after World War II, South African uranium was sold to the Combined Development Agency, a purchasing organization set up by Washington and London to secure adequate uranium supplies for their nuclear weapons programs. But by the late 1950s, Pretoria had decided to establish an indigenous

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