Toward Democracy

South Africa Table of Contents

Through dogged perseverance, amid claims and counterclaims of sabotage and brutality, key political leaders began formal constitutional negotiations on December 20, 1991. Calling themselves the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), delegations from nineteen governmental and political organizations began planning the creation of a transitional government and a representative parliament. They established five working groups, each made up of thirty-eight delegates and thirty-eight advisers, to take the lead in creating a climate for free political activity; in determining basic constitutional principles; in establishing transitional procedures for the nominally independent homelands of Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei, and Venda; in setting and overseeing timetables for the transition; and in dealing with new problems that would arise during the transition itself.

International organizations and other countries were torn between recognizing South Africa's impressive accomplishments and encouraging further progress. Most international sanctions were lifted soon after the Population Registration Act, Group Areas Act, and Land Acts were repealed. In July 1991, the United States Congress lifted remaining sanctions under its Comprehensive Antiapartheid Act, although laws restricting commercial ties with South Africa remained on the books in many states and cities in the United States. The EC lifted most trade and investment bans in January 1992 and remaining restrictions on sporting, scientific, and cultural links three months later. On April 6, 1992, the EC lifted its oil embargo. Other countries gradually lifted a range of boycotts, and many African governments--under pressure from their own business communities--reestablished diplomatic ties with South Africa. The United Nations General Assembly would wait until late 1993 to lift remaining UN sanctions.

Much of de Klerk's effort in 1992 was directed toward appeasing and weakening his right-wing opponents--staunch defenders of apartheid who had broken with the NP during the 1980s. He first tried reassuring them about the future. Then, as conservative resistance hardened, he called for a referendum among white voters to test his mandate for change. The question posed in the March 17, 1992, referendum was carefully worded: "Do you support continuation of the reform process which the State President began on February 2, 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?" The outcome was a resounding 68.6 percent "yes." Election analysts reported that support among Afrikaners was even slightly higher than among English speakers. Only one region of the country--the northern Transvaal (later Northern Province)--voted "no." A few militant defenders of apartheid boycotted the referendum.

Buoyed by the outcome, de Klerk presented Codesa with proposals for a two-phase transition, the first phase managed by transitional councils appointed by Codesa, and the second phase--the constitution-writing process--managed by an elected transitional government headed by a multiperson presidency and a bicameral legislature. The ANC's counterproposals called for a single-stage transition, a committee elected by proportional representation to draft the constitution, with a two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional provisions. Negotiations were suspended as both sides sought to refine their proposals and to unify their constituencies.

In mid-1992 escalating violence, allegations of police brutality, and government financial scandals threatened to derail negotiations. After a particularly brutal attack on June 17, 1992, by IFP supporters on ANC sympathizers in Boipatong, a township near Johannesburg, the ANC suspended negotiations and threatened to withdraw entirely unless the government made greater efforts to end the violence and to curtail covert police support for the IFP. Mandela took his complaint to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the UN, where, on July 15, 1992, he accused the government of "a cold-blooded strategy of state terrorism." Finally, in September 1992, de Klerk and Mandela arrived at a Record of Understanding affirming police responsibility for protecting residents in workers' hostels, where support for the ANC was high. ANC fears lingered, however, especially in late 1992, when the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation (Goldstone Commission) released its findings of a "dirty tricks" campaign against the ANC, apparently sanctioned by senior figures within the South African Defence Forces (SADF).

In protest against the Record of Understanding, Zulu leader Buthelezi established an alternative to Codesa to include the leaders of groups disadvantaged by the ANC's strong lead in the Codesa forum--i.e., white conservatives and black homeland leaders, whose power bases were eroding. The resulting Concerned South Africans Group (Cosag) pressed for a federal constitution to preserve the rights of ethnic minorities, especially the Zulu and whites.

Negotiations resumed on March 5, 1993, but the fragile process was again threatened a month later, when Chris Hani, the popular general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), was murdered. ANC leaders joined the government in trying to stem outbreaks of retaliatory violence, and several white extremists were arrested within weeks after the murder. With a new sense of urgency, political negotiators tried to speed the process and set the date for nationwide elections no later than April 27, 1994.

The draft constitution published on July 26, 1993, contained concessions to all sides--a federal system of regional legislatures, equal voting rights regardless of race, and a bicameral legislature. Negotiators were undeterred by the storm of protests that followed, and they went on to establish a Transitional Executive Council (TEC), a multiracial body that would share executive responsibilities with President de Klerk during election preparations. Cosag boycotted the TEC and formed the Freedom Alliance to demand equal status with the government and the ANC. Sensing new momentum, however, the government cracked down on right-wing violence and tried to reason with white extremists, without slowing the pace of election preparations.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress