A New Democratic State

In December 1991, the first session of CODESA was held at the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg. As many as 228 delegates representing 19 political groups attended. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the transition from apartheid rule and the constitutional process for change. At the end of the meeting, all parties agreed to support the Declaration of Intent, which called for the writing a new constitution for South Africa.

That was followed by a referendum in March asking white South Africans if they supported the continuation of negotiations with the ANC for a democratic government. Based on an 89 percent turnout, 69 percent of those voting said they supported the negotiations.11 At that point, it became clear the country was moving forward with the constitutional process.

All was not settled, however. When CODESA met again at the World Trade Centre on May 15, 1992, agreement had been reached on the basic principles for a constitutional document, but the ANC and National Party differed strongly on how to define a majority when it came to adopting a new constitution. The ANC wanted a two-thirds majority and the National Party a three-fourths majority.

At the end of that meeting, the ANC and the black trade unions decided to begin a “rolling mass action” consisting of strikes, demonstrations, and boycotts. They chose the date of June 16 to coincide with the anniversary of the 1976 SOWETO uprising, when students took to the streets in protest over a ruling mandating half the curriculum be taught in Afrikaans—an incident during which police confronted and killed several students.12 On June 17, violence erupted in the township of Boipatong, resulting in 46 deaths. Once again, Mandela and the ANC accused de Klerk’s government of complicity and the security forces of instigating the violence, and the ANC suspended talks.13

Negotiations resumed in early February 1993, however, and it was agreed that a general election would be held in April 1994, with the outcome based on the ANC’s definition of majority (two-thirds). It was also agreed that an interim constitution, lasting for two years would be drawn up, including the constitutional principles that would guide the Constitutional Assembly in the writing of the final document. All the parties concurred that if the final constitution did not encompass all those principles, then the constitutional court would not be able to certify it.14

Over the course of three days in 1994, from April 27 to April 30, close to 20 million South Africans waited peacefully in long queues to cast their ballots in the general election. It was the first time all South Africans were eligible to vote. The end result, after delays and accusations of election fraud, was a majority win for the ANC, which received 63 percent of the vote. Yet that was still short of the 66 percent needed to write the final constitution without other parties’ involvement. The National Party won 20 percent of the vote, ensuring de Klerk a role in the new government as one of the two deputy presidents, with the other position going to ANC’s Thabo Mbeki.15

The end of apartheid rule and the transformation to a democratic state was the result of intense bargaining and compromise. Despite predictions throughout the international news media that widespread violence would erupt, the transition of power from the National Party to Mandela and the ANC came to a peaceful conclusion. In 1993, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” 16

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