10 Months Away

While marches and protests took place outside, the Theme Committees continued to thrash out several contentious issues behind closed doors. As time went on, it became apparent that the parties were quite far apart on many matters. The upbeat spirit and co-operative alliances that had characterised the first year of the Constitutional Assembly were starting to show signs of dissipating. 

Indeed, by the end of August 1995, it became clear that the first draft Constitution would not be tabled on time as initially planned. Hassen Ebrahim appealed for more time. This was reluctantly agreed to, although all political parties still insisted on 10 May 1996 as the final deadline. There were just ten months to go and a draft of the Constitution had yet to be produced.

A new sub-committee, known as ‘The Bird’, was established in a bid to break the deadlocks that had developed. With its supposed ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the process, it was hoped that this initiative would hurry things along. The Bird faced three bulky reports listing proposals from various Theme Committees as well as contentious issues. After a few weeks, The Bird had made no headway on such controversial issues such as the division of powers between the provincial and central government, the role of the Auditor-General and the Reserve Bank.

Ramaphosa conceded that it was ‘only bilateral meetings between the parties that could now enhance the process’. FW de Klerk expressed his own worries about an important issue for the NP – the protection of minority rights. He asserted that his party’s demands were ‘not a smokescreen to continue to preserve privilege or to maintain a form of separatism or apartheid’ but insisted that ‘this is what this country needs’.

We believe that South Africa with its complex society … requires formulae which can create win–win situations, which can effectively protect minorities however you define them, whether they are religious, political or cultural minorities … Only if all the component parts of the total society feel that they are not threatened by being part of this bigger nation, that they won’t be trampled upon, that they are not asked to stop being what they are by becoming and being loyal South Africans, will we get the right atmosphere which will make nation building really succeed.


 First State of the Nation address, 9 May 1994

Constitutional Assembly members debating in the old chamber of Parliament. Subash Jeram / Constitutional Assembly

Hassen Ebrahim was convinced that meeting the deadline was impossible at this point. He called for more time but instead of conceding, the political parties, especially the ANC, reaffirmed their commitment to the May 1996 deadline regardless of political pressure. The National Party, Democratic Party and Freedom Front followed suit although they left their options open by saying they wanted to re-evaluate the process three or four months hence. Nevertheless, this revealed the extent of the political will and showed how the politicians intended to proceed.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994