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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Negotiations and Change

F. W. de Klerk succeeded P. W. Botha in 1989 as head of the National Party and later that year as president of South Africa. Soon after taking office, de Klerk permitted large multiracial crowds in Cape Town and Johannesburg to march against apartheid. He met with Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and other black leaders, ordered the release of many black political prisoners, and lifted the ban on antiapartheid organizations such as the ANC. With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, serious negotiations began over the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa.

The negotiation process proved long and difficult. De Klerk's NP was unwilling at first to consider transferring power to the country's black majority and tried vigorously to institute minority veto power over majority decisions. The ANC then staged general strikes and other nonviolent protests to try forcing the NP to change their position on the issue. The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), which opened in December 1991, finally led to a compromise between the NP and the ANC. Eventually, as a result of compromises on both sides, an agreement was reached on November 13, 1993, which pledged to institute a nonracial, nonsexist, unified, and democratic South Africa based on the principle of "one person, one vote." A Transitional Executive Council was formed to supervise national elections and install new national and provincial governments.

South Africa's first truly nonracial democratic election was held on April 27, 1994, and declared "substantially free and fair" by the Independent Electoral Commission. Nearly 20 million votes were cast and the ANC received an impressive 63 percent, just short of the two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to write the new constitution on its own without negotiating with other parties. The NP won a surprising 20 percent of the votes because of substantial support from Coloured and Asian voters who feared ANC domination. Only two other parties were able to win the 5 percent minimum for a cabinet seat in the coalition government: Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Freedom Front, a coalition of white extremist groups.

The ANC won substantial majorities in seven of the nine newly established provinces, the exceptions being in the Western Cape region where the NP defeated the ANC, in part because of the support of Coloured voters, and in KwaZulu-Natal where the IFP was credited with a majority of the votes despite a number of voting irregularities. The PAC and the liberal Democratic Party had limited appeal for the electorate and made poor showings. Nelson Mandela was elected president of a coalition government by the National Assembly, and he chose Thabo Mbeki as one of two deputy presidents. Former president F. W. de Klerk was chosen by the NP as the other deputy president. In June South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.

Mandela's Presidency

Although all apartheid legislation was repealed, South Africa remained a country of extreme contradictions.  Mandela's government faced the challenge of restructuring the economy and redistributing economic benefits, providing housing and health care, and improving employment possibilities and educational opportunities. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Another challenge Mandela's government faced was how to handle the widespread allegations of human-rights violations and other atrocities committed by the former government during apartheid. In a move toward uncovering past events without further polarizing the society, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On April 15, 1996, this 17-member commission began conducting hearings, presided by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The purpose of the commission was to collect and investigate victims' accounts from the period of 1960 through 1994, to consider amnesty for those who confess their participation in atrocities, and to make recommendations for reparations. The commission was established in the hope that it would foster healing and prevent such crimes from happening again.

Many people in South Africa, however, wanted punishment for those responsible for the crimes, and the commission's compromises involving amnesty and confession have been a source of controversy. Exposures of atrocities point to the highest levels of the apartheid regime. A former chief of the South African police force admitted that he had ordered acts of terror with the knowledge and approval of then President P. W. Botha and the cabinet. Activities of the ANC as well as the apartheid regime came under the scrutiny of the commission. In 1998 the commission released its final report, which condemned actions of all the major political organizations during the apartheid period.

Political Developments

The South African parliament approved a new constitution in May 1996. The right-wing Freedom Front, which seeks to establish an Afrikaner homeland, abstained from the vote in parliament. The representatives of the IFP did not participate in the session at all. IFP representatives refused to participate mainly because the party advocates more autonomy for the provinces than the ANC is willing to allow. The new constitution excludes any discrimination based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, and abolishes the death penalty.

One day after adoption of the new constitution the NP decided to split from the coalition government. The NP contended that the new constitution did not provide shared power at the executive level or any form of joint decision-making. The NP also hoped that by leaving the government it would be able to establish itself as a viable opposition party.

In September 1996 the Constitutional Court declined to certify the new constitution because it failed to meet the terms of the interim constitution regarding the role of provincial government. The court ruled that the new constitution gave the nine provinces substantially fewer powers than the interim constitution required. By the end of the year, members of the Constitutional Assembly redrafted the constitution to meet the court's requirements, and the final version was approved by parliament in December. The new constitution was to be implemented in stages between 1997 and legislative elections in 1999.

In late 1997 President Mandela retired as party leader of the ANC, and was replaced by executive deputy president Thabo Mbeki. Mandela, who announced in 1996 that he would not seek another term as president, groomed Mbeki to succeed him. In June 1999 legislative elections the ANC won almost two-thirds of the seats in the legislature and selected Mbeki as South Africa's next president.

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