Negotiating the Constitution (Part Two)

South Africa’s Constitution is lauded as one of the most democratic in the world, but it took years of painstaking negotiations to deliver.

President FW De Klerk in his vehicle visiting Boipatong, 20th June 1992

President FW De Klerk in his vehicle visiting Boipatong, 20th June 1992

In December 1991 the first Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) was held at the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg. The second CODESA, which would take place just a few short months later was unfortunately not as successful as the previous discussions. After three days of talks, tensions were running high and it was clear that the various parties were not going to reach agreement. The ANC and COSATU decided to have a campaign of ‘rolling mass action’, with the first stayaway taking place on the 16th June 1992. The following day, the Joe Slovo Informal settlement in Boipatong, just outside of Vereeniging, was attacked by a group of about 300 armed men from a hostel in a nearby township, resulting in the death of dozens of people, and conjuring up images not dissimilar to the June 16th Soweto Uprising. The attackers were affiliated with the Inkatha Freedom Party, and it was believed that the attack was aimed at undermining the delicate process of negotiations between the government and the ANC. In response to the massacre, which saw 45 men die, the ANC withdrew from negotiations, blaming the National Party for the attack.

In March 1993 negotiations officially began again at the World Trade Centre. Moving on from the failure of CODESA II, the parties decided to change the name of the convention to the Multi-party Negotiating Process (MPNP). The MPNP drew up an Interim Constitution which was to last for two years, and adopted 34 Constitutional Principles which would guide the Constitutional Assembly responsible for drawing up the final Constitution. If the final draft of the Constitution didn’t follow and include all 34 Constitutional Principles then the Constitutional Court would not be able to certify the Constitution.

Chairman of the CA, Cyril Ramaphosa, with former President, Nelson Mandela

Chairman of the CA, Cyril Ramaphosa, with former President, Nelson Mandela

After the first democratic elections in 1994 the Constitutional Assembly began writing the final Constitution, with the now-president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, as its chairperson. Two years later, in May 1996, the CA adopted the final Constitution. But the finishing line was still some way off as the Constitution still needed to be certified by the Constitutional Court. In July 1996 the Con Court held its first hearing about the Constitution. Two months later the presiding judges came to the conclusion that the the Constitution did not follow all of the required Constitutional Principles, and the Constitutional Court refused to certify the Constitution.

But even in its draft stage, the Constitution had an immediate impact on the structure of government. Just one day after the draft had been completed by the Constitutional Assembly, the National Party declared its intention to resign from the Government of National Unity, effective the 30th June 1996.

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