Back to the Constitutional Assembly

The drafters returned to Parliament. Armed with the detailed judgment and a passionate will, they began working on amending the text. The fact that none of the political parties questioned the legitimacy of the certification process or the decisions taken by the Court was an affirmation of the new democracy’s commitment to the ‘solemn pact’. Again, the pressure was on. The Constitutional Assembly (CA) had just four weeks to make the changes. There were to be no further negotiations. Again, the Chairperson’s optimism set the tone for the days ahead:

What was required was very technical and it didn’t really require a lot of doing.  I mean it’s like you’ve got a clean bill of health and you just needed to go and do one final test. Take some vitamins and you’ll be okay. And that was it. Easy.

Cyril Ramaphosa

then Chair of the Constitutional Assembly

The CA focused only on the sections that required revision and clarification, but it did also take the opportunity to refine the text which had often been written very late at night when the rest of the country was sound asleep. By 7 October 1996, the job was done. It was time for Parliament to vote again. 

On 11 October 1996, the CA approved the amended Constitution by 369 votes to one, with eight abstentions. The ACDP voted against the Constitution and the Freedom Front abstained from voting. Cyril Ramaphosa once again commended the drafters for what they had achieved and expressed a hope that their job was now at an end:

This Constitution represents the will of our people and the compromises all parties have had to make. I believe we all rose above our principles. We excelled. We shone. We were simply the best. I am not going to say goodbye because we might be referred back. I hope we are not referred back.

Cyril Ramaphosa

then Chair of the Constitutional Assembly

The members of the CA gave their Chairperson a standing ovation. With Ramaphosa calmly at the helm they had achieved the impossible. They had overcome many of their deep differences, formed new relationships and drafted one of the most forward-looking Constitutions in the world. With all nine problem clauses effectively dealt with, the CA re-submitted the text to the Constitutional Court. The same legal team was briefed for the certification process.


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