About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Towards Democracy 1st Quarter 1993

Close encounters

Following a series of breakthroughs in bilateral talks, and a successful planning conference, full-scale constitutional negotiations are due to resume soon.

Report by John Battersby

After months of intensive bilateral talks, and a successful multi-party planning conference, constitutional negotiations are finally due to resume on 1 April. The structure and composition of the new negotiating forum and the political backdrop against which it will meet offer the hope that this will be the body that finalises South Africa's transition to democracy and lays the groundwork for the first democratic election.

Following the planning conference held at the World Trade Centre in Kemp-ton Park on 5 and 6 March, a facilitating committee has agreed on a four-tier negotiating forum this time with deadlock-breaking mechanisms and stream-lined procedures which will be well placed to bypass grandstanding by smaller parties, and will have the clout to resolve impasses which threaten to slow the new momentum.

South Africa is heading for a transition in which the conflict potential of competing power centres will be defused for the first five years by power sharing in a coalition government and, thereafter, by a division of powers between central and regional governments which will be a federation in everything but name.

Proportional representation, a two-thirds majority for decision-making in both cabinet and the elected constitution-making body, and a justiciable bill of rights will ensure an equitable and democratic framework in which the power sharing will operate.

The decision by the African National Congress, taken during talks with the National Party on 5 February and ratified by its national executive committee on 11 February, to accommodate the main political losers in the first post-apartheid government is a compromise with few precedents in history. It certainly defies the trend of South African history of the past four and a half decades. There can be little doubt that the essential element here was time, and the chemistry which has unfolded in the marketplace of ideas.

John Battersby is the south-ern Africa correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor.

The major compromise which will have to be reached at the new forum is the reconciliation of the demand to entrench a system of regional government before an election, with the demand that an elected constitution-making body should have the final say over the drafting of a new constitution. This compromise essentially one between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party will be almost as dramatic and far-reaching in its implications as the historic compromise reached in February between the ANC and the ruling NP government.

It is essentially a contest between those parties gathered under the banner of the ANC-led Patriotic Front and those in the loose IFP-led coalition known as the Concerned South Africans Group (Cosag).

A significant feature of the multi-party planning conference of 5 and 6 March was the strengthening of the Patriotic Front through the active and enthusiastic participation of the Pan Africanist Congress and the weakening of Cosag, with a Clear split between the Conservative Party and the IFP and other Cosag members.

Tough battles lie ahead over the powers, functions and boundaries of the regions. But the power struggle which threatened to plunge the country into a civil war after an election has been defused and channelled into a territorial struggle over the shape and powers of regions in a regional/federal South Africa. It has been defused by assuring that the main losers (the NP and the IFP) will have the option of a place in the transitional government of national unity (TGNU).

Also, it has been channelled into a longer-term struggle for territory and regional powers by the decision (recorded in the Record of Understanding between the ANC and NP adopted on 26 September last year) that the first election will be held on a regional basis.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is clear that the final political deal could not have been struck at Codesa 2. In a sense, Codesa had to happen, and it also had to fail. It was only at Codesa 2 that the central issue of the transfer and distribution of political power was really confronted for the first time. And the crucial issue of regionalism/federalism was glossed over with vague undertakings. But the fact that it took less than a year to move from the deadlock over power sharing, which underlay the collapse of Codesa 2, and the ANC/NP power-sharing deal on 5 February is a remarkable achievement.

It was necessary to have the multi-party discussions, but clear, in retrospect, that there could be no multi-party agreements until government and the ANC had defined their relationship. That could happen only in bilateral discussions.

After the multi-party planning conference in March, chief NP negotiator Roelf Meyer noted how vital the series of bilateral meetings had been in advancing the negotiation process. The switch from a multilateral to bilateral format made it more difficult for one party to hijack the process. Also, Codesa was not sufficiently representative; minority parties with little support had too much of a say in its proceedings; participants failed to keep their constituencies informed of developments in the five working groups; and 'sufficient consensus' became synonymous with agreement between the NP and the ANC.

But a more fundamental flaw was the lack of trust between the ANC and the Countdown to democracy April 1.

The multi-party forum (MPF) begins to discuss mechanisms for a transition to democracy (already agreed in broad terms in bilateral talks between the ANC and government.)

End of May

The MPF reaches agreement on powers and functions of the transitional executive council (TEC), its sub-councils and an independent media commission and electoral commission. The MPF continues sitting to formulate constitutional principles, an interim constitution and rules for an interim government (IG) and constitution-making body (CMB).


Parliament discusses and passes enabling legislation for the TEC, sub-councils and commissions.


The TEC, sub-councils and commissions are set up. The MPF agrees on constitutional principles, an interim constitution and rules for an IG and CMB.


A special (and last) session of the tricameral parliament passes enabling legislation for a transitional constitution. This will come into effect only after the first election.


A possible referendum is held to seek broader legitimacy for transition package and ease the way for an election. Election rules are promulgated.

April 1994

(November at the latest): First one person, one vote election. The majority party forms an interim government of national unity, which must also include representatives of all parties which win more than S per cent (the ANC's proposal) or 10 per cent (the NP's proposal) of the vote. The interim parliament sits as a constituent assembly to draw up and finalise the new constitution.

March 1995

The new constitution is drawn up. A bill of rights is enacted. The interim government becomes a transitional government of national unity and reconstruction.

1995 - 98

Regional elections are held to set up regional parliaments, and the rest of the constitution is implemented.


A second national election is held this time under the new constitution. The majority party governs.

NP/government particularly over the causes of political violence and intentions regarding the transfer and distribution of political power.

Events at Boipatong which through the Goldstone Commission led to the involvement of the international community in South Africa's transition and Bisho changed the atmosphere and paved the way to, first, the Record of Under-standing and, later, the series of bilateral meetings where a common interest was finally established.

The seven months following the collapse of Codesa 2 in May last year were the most violent and tumultuous since F W de Klerk changed course on 2 February 1990. Many participants and observers would like to forget that period. And yet it was the three months between Boipatong and Bisho when the real breakthroughs were made particularly the government turnabout on the role of the international community, and the ANC turnabout on mass action.

What happened during this period was a realisation that no constitution however well-drafted and however democratic would be able to guarantee democracy in South Africa unless there was a pact between the government and the ANC to suspend their contest for political power.

If negotiations were not to be continually disrupted, the parties needed to recognise that the negotiating process could not be held hostage by political violence, because the only long-term solution to the violence is the election which the negotiated transition to democracy will provide for.

There also needed to be a pact on the decentralisation of powers to regions. A little-publicised phrase in the Record of Understanding which should have caused the IFP's chief minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi to rejoice rather than protest holds the key to the controversy about which organ will have the final say over regional government. Clause 2 (b) of the Record of Understanding states: The constitution-making body/constituent assembly cum interim/transitional parliament and the interim/transitional government of national unity shall function within a constitutional framework/transitional constitution which shall provide for national and regional government'.

This clearly means that the boundaries of the regions will have to be deter-mined prior to the election by a delimitation commission. The ANC argues that this is all that needs to be done before an election in which each vote would be counted twice once for a national list of candidates, and once for a regional list. But ANC spokesmen have conceded that the delimitation commission could also make recommendations on the powers and functions of the regions to the elected constitution-making body for final ratification.

Buthelezi, mindful that he is likely to have far less power after an election than he has now, wants some form of guarantee that an ANC-dominated constitution-making body (CMB) would not be able to reverse the decisions made on the powers and functions of regions before an election. The elected CMB would have the final power to endorse or reject the boundaries, powers and functions that had already been worked out by a multi-party commission. But the composition of the CMB (50 per cent national representatives and 50 per cent regional) and the status of the commission would make reversal of its decision unlikely.

But what is really missing here is a relationship of trust between the IFP and the ANC, on the one hand, and the IFP and government on the other. To establish this is a challenge facing the multi-party forum. A coalition cabinet made up of all those par-ties which win 5 per cent (the ANC proposal) or 10 per cent (the NP proposal) of the vote is the short-term guarantee for power sharing.

The five-year coalition formula is based on a realistic assessment that a country as deeply divided as South Africa by the legacy of more than four decades of apartheid cannot afford to move to a full democracy in one jump. Clearly, a period of consolidation and reconstruction is required in which national unity can be built and a foundation laid for post-apartheid society.

If one draws up a checklist of gains and losses by the ANC and NP over the past three years, it looks like a fairly even process of give and take. The NP gave up apartheid, and the ANC gave up its 'armed struggle'. The ANC, acknowledging the reality that executive power without administrative power would hinder its ability to rule alone, forfeited its immediate claim to majority rule and settled for temporary power sharing.

The NP gave up insistence on a white veto and agreed to an elected constitution-making body. The ANC gave way on federalism, and the NP agreed to a single chamber interim parliament. The ANC gave way on a market economy, but the NP conceded the need for the state to oversee development and redress the socio-economic backlog caused by apartheid.

The fact that this standoff is well on the way to being resolved is a tribute to the extraordinary leadership of Mandela, and the pragmatism and political deftness of F W de Klerk

The runup to the election will be a testing period. Can society absorb the emotions that will be thrown up by an election campaign which focuses on the past particularly given the current levels of violence?

A non-racial referendum on the transitional package before an election could have a healing effect. It would be forward looking and bring together all those in favour of a negotiated settlement perhaps 80 or 85 per cent of society. It would also prepare people psychologically for the more testing and divisive potential of a full election.

Anyone who thought the negotiation process was going to be easy only needed to remind themselves of the objective spelled out by ANC president Nelson Mandela in the seminal document he wrote in prison in mid-1989. Mandela stated clearly that negotiations would succeed only if they managed to reconcile the black demand for majority rule with the white demand for structural guarantees.

That is the historic compromise that had to be made. It seemed an impossible demand, with the two requirements almost exluding one another by definition. Yet, on 5 February this year, three years down the line almost to the day, the compromise was made.

The ANC, as representative of the majority of black South Africans, said: we will not exercise our majority status for at least five years after a constitution is drawn up, and we will agree to share power with the ruling NP (and others) and keep the civil service and security forces more or less intact.

The NP, as majority representative of the ruling elite, said: we will drop our insistence on a minority veto and entrenched power sharing in return for agreement on a five-year power sharing period and entrenchment of the principle of regional government and devolution of power before an election.

When, on 11 February 1990, Mandela emerged from the relative seclusion of a prison warder's house, there was little sympathy in the black community for any concessions in its quest for political power. There was equally little sympathy for concessions in a frightened and insecure white community, unable to see any other way of preserving its position of privilege than clinging to political power.

The fact that this standoff is well on the way to being resolved is a tribute to the extraordinary leadership of Mandela, and the pragmatism and political deftness of F W de Klerk. The fact that some key institutions like the judiciary survived the apartheid era with substantial credibility and integrity has also played a vital role.

With South Africa becoming part of a rapidly shrinking world, international developments have also played a key role. Just as the crumbling of the Berlin wall in 1989 gave De Klerk the boost of confidence he needed to break with the past, so the catastrophic events in Yugoslavia and the post-ballot disaster in Angola have promoted acceptance of the idea of finding a place for the losers in a government of national unity, and accommodating ethnicity in a regional set-up.

Watersheds in negotiation

November 1989

The Berlin Wall collapses, signalling the end of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

2 February 1990

F W de Klerk unbans the ANC and SACP. Start of pre-negotiations and the period of liberalisation.

August 1990

The decision by the ANC to suspend the armed struggle marks the turning point in the transition from violent conflict to negotiation.

July 1991

Inkathagate disclosures of secret government funding of its allies. The government's position is weakened. Turning point on the principle of an interim government.

December 1991

De Klerk gives way on an elected interim government and constituent assembly. The televised showdown between De Klerk and Mandela symbolises the end of exclusive white rule. Turning point on elections and elected constitution-making body.

March 1992

De Klerk wins a white mandate for reform in whites only referendum. This defuses the right-wing threat. Turning point in whites accepting eventual majority rule.

May 1992

Codesa breaks down over meaning of power sharing. Turning point for the idea of a white veto, and acceptance of the principle of majority rule. Ethnic disintegration and conflict in former Yugoslavia becomes a world story.

June 1992

Boipatong massacre. The government's position is weakened. Turning point on involvement of international community. UN security council debates the situation. A UN special envoy is sent and UN monitors committed.

Some would argue, with good cause, that the power-sharing plan is only a half-way station to democracy, and that its success depends to a large extent on the commitment of the ANC/NP to preserve democracy and fundamental human rights. It is also true that their track records on this score do not give much cause for optimism. Critics of the power-sharing deal argue that if most of the major parties are part of government, there will be no effective parliamentary opposition to keep the interim government on its toes and no alternative to replace it with if, at the end of five years, there is widespread disillusionment among the electorate.

The lack of a strong parliamentary opposition will place unusual demands on the judiciary, the media, and the organs of civil society to act as effective watch-dogs of the interim government. It is difficult to imagine any party winning a landslide victory at the polls after five years of coalition government.

The fate of the interim government will depend largely on the degree to which it will materially improve the lives of lives of, at least, the majority of South Africans in urban townships and informal settlements not to mention those in the rural wastes of the interior. It will also depend on the ability of the interim government to establish a culture of accountability, and exorcise the ghost of corruption and mismanagement of the country's economic resources. But if one compares the possibilities offered by today's scenario with the prognosis in the dying stages of the Botha era, it represents almost a miraculous turn-around.

The multi-party forum marks the end of the period of liberalisation and the start of a period of democratisation, which is likely to last until the end of this century. Then the period of reconstruction will begin.

September 1992

Bisho massacre halts ascendancy of ANC militants. This symbolises the end of mass action as a political option. This leads to the Record of Understanding, which marks the turning point on the ANC's acceptance of an interim constitution and the principle of regional government. The ANC formally agrees to col-lapsing an interim government and constituent assembly into one elected body.

This marks a parting of the ways between government and the Buthelezi option. Turning point for the anti-ANC alliance in favour of the NP/ANC coalition. Turning point in negotiations being held hostage to political violence. General acceptance that negotiations must continue.

September/October 1992

Unita rejects the outcome of the first democratic ballot in Angola, and the country descends into renewed civil war. Joe Slovo floats the sunset clause proposal which envisages a five-year period of power sharing before full majority rule. Turning point for ANC on immediate majority rule.

October 1992

Buthelezi joins forces with right-wing whites and conservative homeland leaders. Marks the point at which the struggle for political power at the centre is trans-formed into a struggle for political territory.

November 1992

Goldstone raids a military intelligence front company, revealing details of third force activities. Turning point on third force. The ANC endorses power sharing proposals. APLA terrorist attacks cement new-found ANC/ government trust since the Record of Understanding.

February 1993

The ANC and government reach agreement on five years of coalition rule, and compromise on the powers, functions and boundaries of regions. This marks a turning point in the power struggle between the ANC and government. Agreement that the main losers will have a place in government for at least five years.

April 1993

Multi-party talks are expected to resume, marking the final stage of the transition to democracy.

What price mass action?

In a widespread debate, popular participation is being held up as a desirable alternative to representative democracy. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert argues that these characteristics are not mutually exclusive, and that an undue emphasis on participative action may undermine democracy itself

There is no self-evident and uncontroversial concept of democracy. Democracy is a value, a stated preference for a certain system of government, and as such it lends itself to various interpretations. We have come through a period marked by competing conceptions of democracy the so-called western concept of liberal democracy versus east European democracies, one-party democracy, people's democracy, total democracy; call it what you will. Generally, west European political scientists have promoted representative and formal democracy. I am going to state some preferences of my own; by doing so, I do not wish to deny anyone the right to disagree with me.

In November last year, the IMPD and the Centre for Policy Studies staged a joint workshop on the question of how representation and participation may be reconciled at local government level. This is an edited version of an address by Dr Slabbert.

'believe the distinction between formal, representative democracy on the one hand and substantive, participatory democracy on the other is based on a false dichotomy. One often hears that representative democracy is all very well but that substantive and participatory democracy is somehow a truer form of democracy; or that formal democracy can be manipulated by people with bourgeois interests at the expense of the masses, who are the true protectors of substantive and/or participative democracy.

By contrast, I believe the only issue is: how does representative or formal democracy become substantive and participatory? This variable can be used to assess the quality of democratic practice in different countries, regions or localities; in other words, formal democracies can differ in terms of the degree of participation, or so-called substantive democracy, they offer.

Furthermore, I believe that to undermine formal or representative democracy by pursuing some special kind of substantive and/or participative democracy is to undermine, in the final analysis, democracy itself. This is often the case where a struggle is taking place for hegemony and/or turf control at grass roots level, when, for example, civics are equated with civil society, or when 'the system' is juxtaposed with 'the struggle'. If participatory or substantive democracy depends being intolerant of alternatives, it makes formal democracy impossible; it in fact becomes a denial of democracy itself. And this is so irrespective of ideological content.

(Above) A rally on Cape Town's Grand Parade ... 'mass action cannot be sustained indefinitely, and when momentum is lost, there may be no democracy at all '.

There can be different styles of democratic practice, depending on the complexity and the scope of the population involved. The political scientist Robert Dahl, for example, talks about assembly democracy and representative democracy. Assembly democracy occurs when you have a small polity, for example in the Greek city states, where all the city fathers could gather to decide how the city would be governed. The closest one could get to assembly democracy today would be on a university campus, for instance; everyone can gather together and there can be an immediate interaction between leadership and followers, debate and resolution. Another example of assembly democracy would be shop-floor debates in the trade union movement. where people have a sense of, 'we are involved in the same setup, we have the same value preferences and we are now in an assembly that can exercise democratic decision-making on an immediate level.'

Assembly democracy may feel more substantive and participative, but is in fact impossible to maintain in complex and large constituencies such as modern industrial societies. That is why mass action cannot be a substitute for formal democracy in industrial society. It can at best help to sustain and inform it, but when, at worst, it becomes sustained populist intolerance, it just destroys it eventually.

Mass action in the massive sense of the word, of regularly having hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, cannot be sustained indefinitely; people drop from rally fatigue. Then, of course, when you lose that momentum there suddenly is no democracy at all; just a few leaders who have more tenacity and endurance than the masses.

As I see it, there are two fundamental operating values for formal or representative democracy contingent consent, and bounded uncertainty. Contingent consent simply means that the party or parties that win an election do not deny the losers the opportunity of winning next time around, and the party or parties that lose the election accept the right of those who have won to take binding decisions over them for the time being.

In other words, you cannot use democracy to destroy democracy; the fact that you have attained a majority at a given moment does not entitle you to regard yourself in perpetuity as the representative of the people, the workers, the women, or the gays in a particular area. You accept that your victory is temporary and has to be tested again. And when you lose, you accept that another party will now have the right to govern.

Therefore this value thrives on democratic pluralism and competition. It may be that in a particular ward, region or constituency there are no other par-ties, because everybody agrees for the moment that that is the way it has to be, but you must allow for the possibility that other parties, factions or interests may develop that may challenge those who have won. For me, this is absolutely essential as part of contingent assent.

Secondly, contingent assent allows for shifts of allegiance; that it is not a form of treachery if I change parties, of if I say I no longer agree with what you are doing and I am going to form my own party.

These are very formal arguments about democratic practice, but they become critical at a grass roots level. In turf battles at local levels in South Africa, there is always the argument that there is only one women's organisation or one youth organisation and that no other organisations have the right to exist. This is what I call the one-party phenomenon; it exists not only on a national level, but starts right there at the grass roots, where you deny competition to what you believe to be important. It is a struggle for hegemony and control.

The value of contingent consent combats hegemonic control and the one-party phenomenon; it refuses to allow democratic practice to destroy democratic principles. For me, the defining and generic value of formal democracy is contingent consent.

Bounded uncertainty, on the other hand, means that there are certain critical issues that, by common consent, are removed from political contestation. This is essentially what a bill of rights does. The individual has a court of appeal outside the sway of political passions. We have seen this in many cases in the United States when people appeal to the bill of rights, or to the constitution, saying that this is a fundamental right which has nothing to do with the ability of any particular party to impose its will on me. So, yes, there is always uncertainty in democratic outcome, but it is a bounded uncertainty; bounded by the constitution that people agree should operate.

This is happening now in the debates in the Metropolitan Chamber, where we say if there is going to be an interim metropolitan authority, there are certain issues which cannot be decided by simple majority; we remove those issues and say they need special attention.

These are the two operating values which I use in judging whether democratic practice on whatever level qualifies to be part of representative or formal democracy.

These operating values imply certain democratic procedures. Every adult has the vote, barring the mentally infirm or those with criminal records; any adult has the right to stand for office and be elected. Freedom of association, freedom of organisation, freedom of movement, freedom of access to competitive information these are fundamental rights of democratic procedure. No elected official will be subject to the decisions or whim of unelected officials. We recently saw examples of this in South Africa where non-elected officials decided that certain people were the enemies of the state, or that people had to live at designated locations on the barren veld. This would be impossible in democratic procedure or practice. These are the elements of what I would call formal or substantive democracy.

Dr Slabbert is a former leader of the parliamentary opposition and a co-founder of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa). He is currently chair-man of the Central Witwatersrand Metropolitan Chamber, and heads a Johannesburg-based political consultancy.

What, then, about participatory or substantive democracy? As I see it, this is the way in which people actually exercise their formal rights under representative democracy. For example, I would say mass mobilisation and protest is a form of participatory democracy under formal democracy. But again I want to stress that this is not a substitute for formal democracy; it takes place within the constraints of formal democracy, and gives content to it.

Another example of participatory democracy would be regular report-backs. I recently had to explain to a particular ratepayers' association the merits or lack of it of the Metropolitan Chamber's constitutional proposals, and the one thing that emerged was: We never know what is going on; you people decide up there; we never see our representative.' Although they are going through the motions of formal and representative democracy, it is not exercised in practice because there is no report back; there is no way in which those who are represented can contact their representative and say that things are not working properly.

Another example of participatory and substantive democracy would be demands for transparency and accountability. We cannot elect you to go and take decisions in secret which we have no access to, especially if our money is involved. We want you to do it in an accountable manner; it has to be transparent. Then we say, once you have made known what you have done with the money, we want to call you to account; we want to say, well, that is not what we had in mind when we elected you.

Local or general referendums would be another form of substantive or participative democracy. Interim elections or dismissals, that you can call a meeting and say, we move a motion of no confidence in the chairman and in the executive, we want to get rid of them and elect new people these would be examples for me of participatory or substantive democracy. None of the above can be at the expense of representative or formal democracy, but it can be there to sustain it and give it content.

Now let me look at what I call democratic systems and practice. Here there are a broad range of differences, but the principles on a national level can also be reduced to local or regional level. Whether a particular democratic system is unitary or federal cuts across representative and participatory democracy. You can be non-participatory in a unitary system as well as in a federal system; there is nothing in a federal or devolved system of government which guarantees that it will be more participatory. Formally the structures that have been created under federal or devolved systems of government may allow for closer contact between the people and their representatives, but there is nothing that guarantees that this will be more participatory, it can be just as alienating or distanciated as any other system.

The separation or the concentration of powers, the separation of administrative, legal and representative powers, and under- or over-representation these are all phenomena that people get excited about. It is not uncommon to have under-representation, simply because they have the capacity to undermine the process itself. The US senate has two senators from every state regardless of their population; that certainly means that certain areas are under- and over-represented. This can go to ridiculous lengths. When I was a member of parliament, my constitution of Rondebosch had 20 000 voters against 4 000 in Walvis Bay, but the guy from Walvis Bay could speak as often or even more often than I could, and his vote had the same value.

You can have concurrent majorities and special majorities; in the Metropolitan Chamber we are saying that in certain cases the local authorities and metropolitan have to have majority support for a particular measure before it can go through, so a concurrent majority must operate in that particular situation.

You can have minority vetoes. I know it makes people's hair rise when the mention the word 'minority'. But minority vetoes are not an uncommon phenomenon in democratic practice; when a court interprets a bill of rights, that judge has a minority veto over democratic practice. But that is done by consent; you say, we give these people the right to do this, or you say, when it comes to certain votes on matters of religion or culture, the affected minority has the right to protest and say, 'you are now impinging on my religious freedom'. This is different to saying that a racial or ethnic minority can frustrate the will of all other parties simply because it happens to occupy a privileged position in a racially biased democratic structure, which is of course what the National Party did for 40 years. That is not a minority veto in the democratic sense of the word.

Then there are different types of democracies; corporatist, elitist, consociational and so on. I don't want to go into theses; the different principles underlying them can also be found in local and metropolitan government.

Let me then dwell on what I call dilemmas for democracy. Are there socio-economic preconditions for democracy? Some argue very strongly that there are; others say that if you cannot use democracy to remove economic inequalities, then democracy means nothing in itself. Now there aren't exactly compelling examples historically where this has happened. At the same time, can you say that formal or representative democracy has no hope of sustaining itself if there are profound economic and social inequalities in society?

I would argue that this relates to the tension between democracy and development. I interpret development as meaning the demonstrable improvement in the material quality of life of the majority of people, through some kind of balance between growth and redistribution. It is very difficult to develop if there is no growth, and if there is growth and no distribution, there is very little development in any case. Development itself is a balance between growth and redistribution, as it effects the quality of life of the majority of people in a given society. Democracy does not guarantee development, although practically speaking every country seeking democracy hopes to have development as a consequence. Therefore the tension between the two is something which has to be politically worked out.

There is no guarantee that there will be development under majority rule. You can have development under minority authoritarian control; this has been amply demonstrated on the Pacific Rim and elsewhere. How we are going to have development and how we are going to marry this to democratic practice is a practical problem. There is no formal argument that resolves the issue.

I don't want to get into huge ideological debates about it, but I know that this has been the major ideological debate of the 20th century; that you can in fact by pursuing a particular economic programme guarantee democratic practice. My view is that it is impossible; it is something which has to be challenged and tack-led every time in a society, depending on its resources and so on.

Another dilemma for democracy, whether formal and substantive, is apathy. How does one cope with apathy? You can say it arises out of ignorance, out of illiteracy, out of the inability to recognise your real as opposed to your unreal interests, but the fact is that apathy is an almost universal phenomenon. I have had to come to the reluctant conclusion that the vast majority of people aren't really all that interested in politics. They become activated when their interests are threatened and so on, but this doesn't sustain itself. What often happens is that certain people are elected in periods of intense political interest, and they then represent those interests to the best of their ability, but in the meantime those people who were passionate about it have just evaporated. New groups come to the fore who feel that what those people are doing now is not related in any way to what they feel strongly about, and so on.

Therefore apathy is a very real problem. A long time ago Robert Dahl wrote

There is no guarantee that there will be development under majority rule. How we are going to have development and how we are going to marry this to democratic practice is a practical problem. There is no formal argument that resolves the issue a book entitled Who governs? in which he basically said that nobody governs a circulating pattern of interest is activated every now and then, depending on social and economic developments, and then suddenly a group comes to the fore, articulates its interests, elects representatives then disappears, be-cause its members feel that the interests are more or less being looked after or not looked after. They become apathetic, and another group comes forward.

C Wright Mills said it was the military industrial elite of the United States that governed they were there all the time, capturing the instruments of representative and formal democracy and excluding others from having access to it. That was a very strong debate; ignorance and illiteracy is another dilemma for democracy I have referred to before.

Afourth problem which we cannot ignore is racial and ethnic outbidding. That is not peculiar to this country; right now it is also taking place in Sri Lanka. When the Tamils were in power as a dominant minority they espoused universal values for everybody; when they were thrown out they went for separatism. One constantly has to look at electoral incentives to combat racial and ethnic outbidding. I noticed that the ANC's discussion document on regional and local government placed heavy emphasis on this as well; that you must not have a situation where racial and ethnic outbidding under-mines democratic practice.

That is a very nice value, but how do you make it possible in practice? Let me give you a very simple example, one that I was quite concerned about in the debate of the constitutional development working group of the Metropolitan Chamber. We were arguing about what kind of electoral system would be appropriate to this metropolitan region, and it was decided that 50 per cent of the votes on the interim metropolitan authority would be on the basis of proportional representation, adult suffrage, and metropolitan wide. A list system would be employed; each party would put forward a list of candidates, we would all vote for our preferred political options, and depending on the proportional out-come a particular party could have the first three, four or five people on its list going to the interim metropolitan authority. This would be for 50 per cent of place within the constraints of formal democracy, and gives content to it'.

I feel slightly queasy about this, because a list system gives enormous power to party bosses. They decide who will be on the list, not the people. What happens in many cases is that people with money, influence or support from special lobbies say they would like to be on the list, and they are told, yes, that is a fantastic democratic idea. Then you as the voter are presented with your party's list, but when you look at it you say, I can't stand this or that person. In any case, we have decided that this is what will happen.

On the ward level, precisely to combat the influence of party bosses at the metropolitan level, the idea has been that representatives should be as close to the people as possible, and to have the greatest demonstrable support. How do you achieve that? One problem is that you can have four candidates in a given ward, and the winning candidate can come in at 20 per cent of the vote because the rest of the votes are distributed. So here you have a person with 20 per cent of the vote representing the whole ward a clear case of minority domination.

There are electoral procedures with which this may be combated. You can have transferable votes, where, if your first option is not elected, your vote can be transferred to another person. Such a person may be most people's second choice, but may actually wind up representing more people in that constituency than the one who won on the first past the post basis. My mind says to me that this is a more representative and more participatory system, but there is a great deal of opposition to this precisely from those who espouse the value of participatory and substantive democracy. They say this is too complicated, and people will not understand it. In a sense this is true. But do you sacrifice participatory democracy because it is too complicated? This is a very real problem.

One way of counteracting ethnic and racial outbidding is precisely by saying to people that, if you are going to appeal to a wider spread of votes in this ward, do not plead any special interest, because if you have 20 per cent of consolidated support behind, say, Inkatha, the South African Communist Party or the Democratic Party and the rest is dispersed between the ANC, PAC, Azapo and the NP, you have five parties that are going to lose to the 20 per cent. And that if mobilisation is undertaken on the basis of parties, group interests, race, ethnicity and so on, you promote polarisation right there at ward level and make participatory politics even more difficult.

Another dilemma for democracy is what I would call ideological intensity. What does this mean? Different types of ideologies can mobilise different kinds of support. The German social scientist Theo Hanff has done a great deal of work on this, based also on the work of the Austro-Hungarian Marxist Renner. Hanff distinguishes between three kinds of ideologies you can look out for in a country or constituency. One kind is inclusively intolerant; we are all the same, one for all and all for one, and if anybody tries to be different he gets thumped. Then you have what is exclusively intolerant; only Jews, Afrikaners or whoever can operate on this turf, and anybody who doesn't accept that is going to get thumped.

The third kind of ideology is inclusively tolerant. This is more akin to the kind of democratic practice I am trying to espouse. For example, it would be to say, we differ among ourselves but we have certain things in common, for example democratic practice, which allows us to mediate our differences in a particular way. But if you have an extraordinary ideological intensity in a situation where there is competing ideologies of, say, the inclusively intolerant and the exclusively intolerant then democratic mediation of that conflict is extremely difficult. Interestingly, the NP has moved from an exclusively intolerant ideology to an inclusively tolerant one, and I would say the same has happened to a large extent with the SACP.

A list system gives enormous power to party bosses. They decide who will be on the list, not the people

If you read Slovo's 'How Socialism failed', he says one of the mistakes made was exactly that the party was inclusively intolerant; it had to represent the people, this was not tested in terms of popular support, and that was a mistake, he says. He says communist parties in eastern Europe have to test their popular support; they have to deserve the role of representing the working class. I have no difficulty with that, provided that he allows others to vie for that honour as well, and not to say that he is the only one who can do so. So ideological intensity is a problem.

In conclusion, let us look at these issues on a more practical level; where we are going to be busy on a metropolitan, local or regional level of government. One of the dilemmas we experience in the Metropolitan Chamber is, how do you negotiate from a profoundly undemocratic position to achieve a democratic outcome? This has implications for both representative and substantive democracy. Let me give you a very vivid description. In the Metropolitan Chamber you see people from the civics; until very recently, the black local authorities; the Transvaal Provincial Administration; the Johannesburg City Council, Rand-burg City Council, Regional Services Council and so on, all of them acutely aware (or so they claim) of their unrepresentative and undemocratic nature, but all of them feeling very strongly that, given the opportunity, they could redress this difficulty. So they feel very democratic, although they are aware of being undemocratic. They feel that 'all I seek is an opportunity to demonstrate the support I know I have got, and therefore if I get that support, I can play a participatory role in a formal democratic structure'.

This is a dilemma we have to work through. There is no solution; you can't pull yourself up by non-existent bootstraps. We have to work from the fact that we are trapped in this situation, and that we have to get out of it.

I have found it fascinating that people are continuously aware of this; as we negotiate with one another to create more broadly based and representative interim structures of local government, we are continually aware of the fact that we are trapped within this undemocratic dilemma. Initially it started off with people making inflated claims about their right to be more insistent about what has to happen. Now there is an acceptance that you can in fact create an interim democratic system of government in which you have no control over the outcome.

For example, at the ratepayers' association meeting I referred to earlier, a person from the northern suburbs got up and said: 'This is all very well, but I want you to guarantee that there won't be quadrupling of my rates in order to pay for all these fancy ideas you are talking about.' I put him at ease by saying, I can guarantee that we can create a structure that will be more democratic and more representative. But we cannot bind those who are going to be duly elected, which we are not, by saying they will never increase rates or taxes in order to pay for poorer areas. We can try and point out what will happen if this is done in a wrong or a bad way, but you cannot have elected representatives being bound by people who fundamentally are not democratically elected. In this way, all of us in the Metro Chamber are faced with problems of representative and substantive democracy on a metropolitan level.

I have continuously looked at the workings of the Metropolitan Chamber in terms of this kind of analytical framework, trying to see where are we now, and whether we are possibly sacrificing substantive democracy for formal democracy. I must be quite honest sometimes I feel there is a danger of doing so, as, for example, on the question of the vote, because of problems of complexity and of difficulty; because of these factors, we run the danger of sacrificing government closer to the people by opting for simple formal representative mechanisms.

You cannot have elected representatives being bound by people who fundamentally are not democratically elected. In this way, all of us in the Metro Chamber are faced with problems of representative and substantive democracy on a metropolitan level unfair advantage by endowing it with facilities and resources not available to the rest. The TEC's other possible roles include putting an end to the violence; supervising the drafting and adoption of a new constitution; giving rise to a core of people who will emerge from the transition with some experience in the running of government; stamping out intimidation, and maintaining law and order.

In transit

A transitional executive council may be in place soon, and a government of national unity after a new constitution is adopted. What are these bodies - and will they work? Vincent Maphai unravels the intricacies

Barring major disasters, multi-party negotiations are expected to resume in April. A transitional executive council (TEC) could be in place before June. The TEC should be distinguished from a 'government of national unity and reconstruction' (GNUR). Although both entail interim measures, the TEC is concerned with 'levelling the playing field' before elections, while GNUR will do so after the adoption of a constitution.* Both the National Party and the African National Congress have evolved and refined their positions in respect of these institutions.

Originally the ANC demanded a TEC, and the NP resisted it. The ANC envisaged the TEC as a mechanism to ensure that the transition process would be fair and impartial. Given that the legitimacy of the incumbent government was in question, there was a need for both an impartial arbiter as well as co-responsibility among actors (Mayibuye: September 1990).

The parties seem to have narrowed their differences, but some persist. The government preferred a power-sharing authority of undefined, if not permanent, duration, to govern a country undergoing a lengthy transition. In contrast the ANC preferred a short transitional power sharing period during which the TEC's major task would be draw up a new constitution for the transfer of power (Eglin: 1992:14).

De Klerk's concern was that the TEC would signal the surrender of power by the Nationalists before the negotiation process had run its course. Ultimately, especially after Inkathagate, the Nationalists conceded that they could not be trusted to control the process unilaterally. Still there were disagreements about its form and content. The ANC envisaged 'a [TEC] with sovereign powers over all the organs of government'. In contrast, De Klerk insisted that 'there should be no tampering with [parliamentary] sovereignty'. He had in mind cabinet representatives of all the major actors provided 'the principles of cabinet government under the present constitution are left intact'.*

Why a transitional executive council?

Various reasons have been cited in support of the TEC. First, the present government is neither impartial nor legitimate. Second, the government is already adopting long-term economic and regional measures in order to tie the hands of a new regime and to ensure that the new government merely manages the pro-gramme initiated by the NP. Third, the present system gives the ruling party an Vincent Maphai is an associate professor and head of the department of political studies at the University of the Western Cape. He is also chairperson of the Sapes Trust, an institute for promoting black research; vice-president of the Continental African Association of Political Science; and trustee of the Energos Foundation (formerly Mobil Education). He serves on various community trusts.

Although initially resistant to a TEC, the NP has since discerned some possible positive payoffs for itself. First, the TEC could broaden the legitimacy of the government from whites to a larger constituency, both at home and abroad. Second, it could serve as another argument to lobby for the removal of remaining sanctions, especially financial and investment sanctions. Third, such 'transition-al arrangements' could reassure the NP's own constituency that their quality of life, and daily life experience, will remain substantially unchanged under a new constitution introducing majority rule. A TEC will demonstrate that coalition governments after the universal franchise election are feasible, and will protect white interests and business interests.

Fourth, it would use the existence of an TEC as an argument against mass action. As Uys (1991:83) points out: 'The longer the major players are drawn into the transitional process, the deeper will become their vested interest in seeing that it succeeds. For one thing, there is nowhere else to go ... sooner or later, the ANC will have an interest in law and order.'

In brief, there are conflicting expectations. Government demanded a long transition, against the ANC's insistence on a short one. The ANC perceived the TEC as a route to power. The NP, in turn, would want the ANC to share obligations without corresponding degree of power.

The idea of a TEC has been opposed by a number of extra-parliamentary organisations, including the PAC and the New Unity Movement. Their general concern is that such an TEC will be subject to the control of De Klerk and his parliament. There are other objections from the right. The Nationalists, it is argued, had demonstrated their ability and willingness to manage transition and pro-mote reform. They should, therefore, simply be trusted to continue with the reform process. Furthermore, it is contended that the present government has a mandate from white voters, and that it has to use that mandate to manage the transitional process or go back to its voters.

Composition and structure?*

A TEC is a special type of a coalition government, where the coalition is explicitly for a limited time period and with limited task. Usually the ratio in allocating posts depends on the balance of power between the competing partners. Its composition could occasion organisational rivalries in respect to the allocation of portfolios between and within parties forming the TEC. Inter-organisational rivalries are dealt with further below.

Intra-organisationally, there could be tensions related to who should serve on the TEC. This is how the problem might manifest itself within the ANC. As a strategy of 'levelling the playing field', the TEC must have effective command over the armed forces and other apparatuses of state. This would, in turn, require the participation by some of the best members of the ANC. This had certain costs, as Van Nieuwkerk (1991:23) cautions: '... participation in interim structures would demand human resources from the ANC. Is it prepared to assign its ablest leaders to an TEC? If it does, its organisation will suffer. If it doesn't, its power within that government is reduced.'

The life span and mandate of such a TEC may be another area of disagreement. Originally, the ANC envisaged a short-term arrangement lasting for approximately 18 months, whereas the government preferred a far longer period of shared rule of 10 to 15 years. By February 1993, the negotiating teams had agreed to recommend to their principals, the formation of a government of national unity. It would consist of all parties which win more than 5 10 per cent of the universal franchise vote. This government would run for five years before normal majority rule. The ANC insists that this is a different matter altogether from the government's concept of 'power sharing'. According to the ANC, power sharing involves a minority veto and a compulsory coalition government regardless of electoral support. In the GNUR, the majority party invites other rivals to participate in the government of national unity, but retains its right to direct public policy.

The structure of the TEC could take a range of forms. The main variants are as follows:

. A super-cabinet condominium: The executives of all participating parties form a cabinet or super cabinet without portfolios, which jointly decides key policies.

Ø. A Rhodesian-style transition. The NP retains all cabinet portfolios, with the other partners being allocated as co-ministers to each cabinet portfolio.

Ø. A coalition cabinet with ministerial portfolios. Each competing partner is offered an allocation of cabinet portfolios.

Ø. A coalition cabinet plus a part-of-the-spoils system. Each competing partner is offered an allocation of cabinet portfolios, plus a proportionate share of bureaucratic, police, military and diplomatic posts.

The super-cabinet without portfolios reassures the supporters on both sides. It is perceived to be confined to negotiating future policy and making and refereeing the rules of the game, while daily administration continues largely unchanged. The government's constituency is reassured that it retains control. The liberation movement is distanced from accusations of collaboration in state coercion. It need only demand investigation of such coercion, and remedies to prevent serious defections from its constituency. The costs to the liberation movement are that the NP-dominated TEC can stall over agreed remedies, while legitimating the TEC through the liberation movement's presence as a partner.

The Rhodesian system of co-ministers is the most ideal for the government, and the least advisable for the liberation movement. It invites derision from the liberation movement's rivals or its militant wing. Representatives of the liberation movement will be perceived as junior ministers bypassed by Afrikaner bureaucrats who take their orders directly from NP cabinet ministers.

A TEC coalition cabinet with a spoils system would integrate the political parties more thoroughly into the state than a joint cabinet alone. But it would be more difficult to achieve than a pre-election coalition with cabinet portfolios alone. This variant would be vulnerable to the same problems as the previous options.

Problems and scenarios

The initial problem to overcome in establishing a TEC now is the suspicions between rivals, and erstwhile enemies jointly monitoring a ceasefire and succession of power. Other possible terrains of fierce contestation include: the abiding bureaucratic culture of government and its civil service which has ruled singlehandedly for 43 years; government resistance to full and frank disclosure of police and military plans and other confidential documents; government's monopoly over the electronic media; and its pursuit of status quo policies rather than budgetary redistribution.

Should the TEC continue the status quo budgetary and financial policies of the NP, it would provoke increasing challenge from the trade union co-ordinating bodies Cosatu and Nactu. The ANC and PAC partners in an TEC would certainly seek to broaden the matters under discussion to include tax, housing, land and other policies. The NP would argue these are a matter for a future government, and seek to perpetuate current policies under an TEC. Sufficient acquiescence to the NP by the ANC might make Cosatu envisage an alliance with Nactu not as a supplement, but as a replacement for the ANC/Cosatu alliance.

Should violent massacre escalate by an order of magnitude, this could place a TEC under a Yugoslav level of strain. If such massacres ethnicise black politics further, or involve white/black killings on the scale of current killings of blacks, the TEC will have to part ways, even if only temporarily.

The TEC will tail off eventually into partners positioning themselves for elections. At that point, they may be tempted to escalate accusations against one another. Demands by the liberation movement for land, income and budgetary redistribution could intensify. The PAC's upping the ante, for example, against the ANC, might involve campaigns or at least rhetoric for nationalisation, war crimes trials, reparations for three centuries of colonial dispossession, and similar grand-standing. This might prompt defections from the NP's constituency to the CP. Political dynamics would demand at least rhetorical or symbolic actions from the government.

A government of national unity

The primary objective of the TEC would be to 'level the playing field' for elections. Why then should it proceed beyond the election of constitution-making body and the first elections? In other words, why the GNUR?

Two reasons have been proffered by the ANC the prevention of a back-lash from the right, and the advancement of socio-political reconstruction. First, the GNUR has to ensure a stable transition to majority rule. Such a viewpoint is based on the acknowledgement that the Afrikaner-dominated South African Defence Force, the South African Police, and the civil service have the capacity to destabilise any future government, if it is perceived to be threatening their interests.

The present government remains sufficiently strong to manipulate the political situation and destabilise its successor. Future stability requires far more than control of potential counter-revolutionaries. A major social reconstruction is required. This requires a national strategy with the backing of all major sectors of the South African community.

There is general agreement between the NP and the ANC regarding a GNUR (or a power-sharing model, as the NP prefers to describe it). Agreement has still to be reached regarding its constitution. There will be a minimum number of votes a party has to collect before it is included in the GNUR (5 10 per cent). This is designed to rid the system of a plethora of unrepresentative parties.

Prospects and problems

Assuming that the GNUR is established, it still faces some challenges. First, a TEC and GNUR present difficulties as well as opportunities for both the NP and the liberation movement. Both will require a broad-based commitment to important shared values, such as a democratic South Africa with a radical departure from racism, and free and peaceful political activity. Given its thrust as an instrument of fairness, the TEC would need to be as broad-based and representative as possible. This should, however, not prompt a sudden proliferation of worthless parties. For this reason, a practical cut-off point for participation, such as the proposed 5 10 per cent electoral support, does not appear unreasonable.

Second, the requirements for 'preventing a counter-revolution' may conflict with those of 'social reconstruction' or affirmative action. Retaining current potentially disruptive elements in the army, police and civil service will be economically costly. Implementing affirmative action to change the character of these institutions will put added strain on the country's scarce means, and divert resources from important areas of need such as health, education and social services.

There is general agreement between the NP and the ANC regarding a GNUR (or a power-sharing model, as the NP prefers to describe it). Agreement has still to be reached regarding its constitution vices to unproductive areas of the public sector. In other words, it may prove a cure which is worse than the disease.

Third, the GNUR's raison d'etre, from the ANC's perspective at least, is an existing structural stalemate. As a result, the GNUR is likely to be sustained for as long as the stalemate persists. Its lifespan will depend on the ANC's ability, within a short time, to alter the balance of forces within the country. If current power relations remain, then there is a great chance of the GNUR extending well into the next century, as originally demanded by the Nationalists.

Fourth, from the outset there may be conflicting agendas within the GNUR. The Nationalists will resist attempts to alter the balance of power substantially, while the ANC aims at speedy affirmative action programmes, in the security forces and civil service, as well as in the socio-economic sphere. Depending on the balances of forces, such a GNUR may end up as a 'lame duck', unable to satisfy any sector of the population.


The TEC and GNUR are almost a certainty. But whether they will achieve what they are intended to remains highly uncertain.


1. Originally the ANC referred to an 'interim government', whereas the Nationalists preferred the term 'transitional arrangements'. Recently, it has become common-place to refer to a transitional executive council. The GNUR is an ANC designation, against the Nationalists' preference for 'power sharing'. Whether these differences are substantive or purely semantic is a subject of ongoing debate.

2. There is, as yet, no formal agreement on both the TEC and GNUR. However, the motives behind each of them are fairly straightforward. Where conjecture and speculation is inevitable is in questions of the structure, duration and composition of these institutions.

3. This section and the next, has been written by Keith Gottschalk of the department of political studies at UWC.


Eglin, C (1992). Interview with Helen Zille. Towards Democracy (1). 92. 10 - 15. Maphai, V (1993). Prospects for a democratic South Africa'. Mayibuye. September 1990.

Uys, A (1991). 'Can a democratic constitution take root in South Africa?' South Africa Foundation Review (22). October. 82 - 85.

Van Nieuwkerk, A (1992). 'Transitional Politics In South Africa: From Confrontation to Democracy.' Occasional Paper. Johannesburg. South African Institute of International Affairs.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.