The Proceedings

The Constitutional Assembly appointed a team of advocates to defend the draft text. Advocate George Bizos, a leading human rights advocate who had been involved in many high-profile political cases against the apartheid government, led a team consisting of Wim Trengove, Marumo Moerane, Nona Goso and Khomotso Moroka. Forty-eight advocates represented the objectors, excluding the attorneys that had briefed and supported them. This was the largest number of legal professionals to be involved in a single case.

One hundred and fifty-five issues to be heard over two weeks with more than 50 lawyers arguing one issue after another, was a hell of an exciting and very pressurised and extraordinary thing.

Most extraordinary of course was that in every legal system, the constitution would normally be the base rule against which everything else is measured and argued. We were now going to be debating the underlying foundation of our law. We knew at the time that this was a highly unusual, once in a lifetime event that we had been called on to do.

Advocate Wim Trengove

Five of us in our team drafted more than 250 pages of argument that we hoped would show conclusively that the proposed Constitution complied. We filed copies of our argument almost a month before the hearing. From the submissions made by the parties we knew that once the oral argument began we would have a lot of work to do.

Advocate George Bizos

The Court had divided the objections into broadly associated topics that were to be heard at specific times on specific days over a period of 11 days. The lead Counsel for the Constitutional Assembly were to be afforded the right to open the debates. Each objection was then heard from individuals, representatives of the organisation concerned or political parties. 

The Court set out in advance how much time – specified in minutes not hours – the Constitutional Assembly and the objector had on every issue. They introduced a unique system of very strict time keeping – a system of three lights. When a person’s time started, the green light would go on. A minute or two from the end of the allocated time, a yellow would go on. The red indicated the time to stop.

You can imagine how fascinating it was because lawyers are used to going to court usually and having a single issue to
argue for a
whole day.

Advocate Wim Trengove


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