How the team created a strategy for the
public participation campaign

This extract from Hassen Ebrahim’s this extract from Hassan Ebrahim’s memoir, From Marabastad to Mogadishu: The Journey of an ANC Soldier, describes the process that he and his administrative team underwent to create the public participation campaign:

Taking our cue from [Collins Chabane], my team crafted our vision and strategy which had as one of its stated objectives the promise that the process of constitution making would be transparent, open and credible. We argued that our final constitution required an enduring quality and had to enjoy the support of all South Africans irrespective of their ideological differences. The history of political conflict and mistrust in our country demanded that the final constitution be credible. We therefore set ourselves the goal of ensuring that the people would be able to claim ownership of the constitution. We believed that it was necessary to placate the fears and concerns of minorities and yet find favour with the majority. In short, the constitutional foundations of democracy had to be placed beyond question.

To respond to this challenge, I developed an ambitious programme for the management of the constitution–making process. To succeed, our first step was to get our programme approved by the Constitutional Committee, which met in December 1994 and proved by the baptism into the politics of the Constituent Assembly. The committee consisted of 44 members representing all political parties. The meeting took place in the old cabinet room at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. I remember this meeting well for several reasons. The room had wooden panels covering the walls in a most beautiful ornate setting allowing for participants to sit in a circle. The room was very stately. It was obviously a place with a lot of history and where important decisions were taken. This time, however, we were meeting to change the history of the past in a profound way.

 Because we took a decision to make all our meetings open to the public, I thought it a good idea to invite my father along to observe. He would then be able to see the work that I was doing. The meeting started in a most dramatic way. Before we could get our business under way, Walter Felgate of the IFP launched a vicious attack on me complaining that I would not be able to do my work in an objective way because I was a member of the ANC. Pravin Gordhan immediately came to my defence. After a short debate, the meeting confirmed their confidence in me and made me conscious of the importance of my integrity. The debate however did little to ease my nerves. It was my first public presentation before the most senior leadership of all the political parties, whose respect and support I hoped to earn. Our proposal was a bold one and very different. I therefore had good reason to be nervous. It did not help that my father, who was set quietly in one of the coves, fell asleep and started blissfully snoring away as he usually would watching TV.

I prepared what I thought to be a slick PowerPoint presentation. I spent several days getting it to be as perfect as I could. In 1994, we did not have powerful projectors as we do today. I had to rely on a contraption placed on the top of an overhead projector. I dimmed the lights in the room and walked over to the laptop to start my presentation. I was so nervous that I stumbled over the cables linking the laptop to the projector. This brought the entire system including my laptop and projector tumbling to the floor with a loud crash. Everyone was stunned. I was devastated. 

But, for reasons I cannot explain, I very calmly walked over to my seat and started delivering my presentation as if the technology did not exist. I suspect that people were so disappointed for me that they allowed me a very easy passage and adopted my programme which provided a work plan for both the negotiation of the constitution with an elaborate integrated process of participation by the public. It also included a constitutional education programme. Needless to say, the programme broke new ground in defining a new international best practice; and, which successfully guided us through the entire process.

Hassen Ebrahim

then Executive Director of the Constitutional Assembly


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