In addition to the other factors at play, apartheid government accounts and expert scholarship view South Africa’s pursuit of nuclear weapons primarily as a direct response to a perceived security threat beginning in 1974. That year, Portugal’s government was overthrown and the country withdrew from its African colonies, among them South Africa’s neighbors, the modern-day Mozambique and Angola. After independence in 1975, the two countries played host to conflicts involving some Soviet-backed communist forces which South Africa’s apartheid government perceived as hostile; to address the threat, South Africa itself sent troops to Angola. To make matters even more precarious, Zimbabwean independence was around the corner. The ruling National Party, run by anti-communist, anti-democratic racists, feared imminent encirclement by black communist governments, and, desperate for a deterrent, bet on nuclear weapons.
In 1991, South Africa shut down its nuclear test site and closed its uranium enrichment facility. Afterwards, it signed on to the NPT as a nonnuclear state, and on March 24, 1993, in a speech to the South African parliament, President F.W. de Klerk announced that his country had secretly built and dismantled six nuclear weapons.
After weighing the options, assuming the risks, and putting in the time and resources to acquire nuclear weapons, South Africa gave them up. Why?