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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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The administrative team charged with managing the constitution-making process and charting its direction had no precedent to follow. Some singular challenges were to face this hastily assembled but strong-minded team.

The CVs piled in boxes in the offices of the fledgling Constitutional Assembly administration offices belonged to people with totally diverse backgrounds. But whether the applicants were from liberation movements, political party offices, the business sector or the civil service, what was required of them was the same: they had to be prepared to work hard for long and unpredictable hours and, more importantly, to give two years of their lives to a cause.

It was with high ideals and an unclear vision of the task at hand that the three-person directorate headed by Hassen Ebrahim started building an administration in late 1994. There was no precedent for the organisation that would not only manage the constitution-making process, but would also chart its direction. Already a quarter of the time allotted to the writing of the constitution had gone and serious committee work was due to begin in January 1995.

"We needed to get our heads of department in place. That was the priority," says Marion Sparg, one of the two deputy executive directors. "The challenge was to build an administration that could also serve as a model for a future public service. That meant it had to be representative of all, especially when it came to women."

The challenge, too, was to over-come the apprehensions of those in the Constitutional Assembly who feared it was an administration packed with ANC members. Executive director Hassen Ebrahim, a lawyer with the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was known to the key negotiators because of his involvement in the Kempton Park talks and the Transitional Executive Council. Marion Sparg had run Ramaphosa's Shell House office, while the other deputy executive director, Louisa Zondo, was an advocate from Natal who had served as a provincial secretary in the TEC.

"The only way to overcome the fears was to prove that we could be neutral and serve the interests of all the parties," says Sparg.

One of the key tasks facing the newly appointed trio was to assemble a skeleton staff as quickly as possible. Conventional recruitment methods, CVs supplied by political parties and personal recommendations were used to fill the positions. In all, about 100 people were employed on a contract basis.

The prime task of the administration was to facilitate the operation which was being run by nearly a dozen committees. To this end, an efficient secretariat was needed as well as a documentation centre that would supply 20 million photocopies by the end of the process. Legal advisers were needed, as were travel clerks, receptionists, accounting staff and drivers.

It soon became apparent that to fulfil a basic principle-that the public would participate in the process-would require specialist staff.

A team was appointed to put together publications, liaise with the media, foster public relations, manage the large advertising campaign and communicate by means as varied as murals at railway stations and radio talk shows that reached ten million people a week in eight languages. An unprecedented two-way public participation programme involved flying Constitutional Assembly members to far-flung corners of the country to meet the people whose lives would be most affected by the new constitution. Sector hearings were arranged at which interest groups could make organised input into the process. Constitutional Education Programme co-ordinators in all nine provinces held more than 400 workshops in disadvantaged communities to prepare people to make submissions.

When submissions were invited it was never dreamed that almost two million letters and petitions would stream in. The four floors of the office building in Adderley Street were soon bulging with staff hired to handle and document the avalanche of paper. .

All the while the clock was ticking and the deadline for the constitution-making exercise was nearing. Late hours, rushed documents, urgent minutes and the inevitable unexpected political developments placed enormous pressure on the CA staff. At Regis House, the CA's headquarters in Adderley Street, things did not always go smoothly. Two serious shortcomings were a lack of personnel management and, predictably, a lack of time.

"One of the comments made when we started hiring people was that they were all strong-minded people and that there would be lots of fighting," says Sparg. "There were personality conflicts but we needed people with drive and personality, A-types, to get the work done."

"We weren't employees, we were people with a mission," adds Ebrahim.

Quick thinking and initiative were often required. On one occasion, a secure venue for 50 negotiators, CA staff and legal experts had to be organised within 48 hours. The result was the Arniston bosberaad which would prove crucial to meeting the May 8 deadline for adoption. The bar and pool table, communal dining room and isolated environment were effective ice-breakers. At parliament, midnight meals and fizzy vitamin drinks were conjured up for weary negotiators. When the needs of the huge communications exercise dictated, millions of rands of funding was solicited from foreign governments and local business groupings. And the CA could throw a good party-even an on-again-off-again dinner in a marquee for 1 500 (eventually estimated to be 2 000) of the country's political elite in the middle of a Cape winter.

Much of what the Constitutional Assembly achieved was possible because it operated independently-and some would say arrogantly-of any government department. Less red tape and fewer bureaucratic delays meant quicker action. But the quasi-public service status of the administration was sometimes problematic.

"Ideally there should be some sort of task team from State Expenditure to assist fledgling administrations like ours," says Sparg, "with a clear, short version of all the rules that have to be followed. Often, we found ourselves in grey areas." It was to the administration's credit that the CA always operated under strict financial controls and came in under budget.

As the process began to wind down, so did the administration. People who had built up a rare esprit de corps began loosening the bonds formed during the long, late hours and by a shared passion for the new constitution. For many, leaving the surrogate family was traumatic. The pressured time around the May 8 adoption was also filled with farewells as staff took up positions in other government departments, went into business or left to study abroad. By June 1996, the complement was reduced to about 20-mainly media and administrative staff.

"One of the sad things is that we built an administration in the hope that we would be ableto keep a core together, to move somewhere as an entity," says Sparg. "Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. But what is gratifying is to see the interest in our people when they have applied for other jobs. The skills and confidence they have acquired show the value of the CA experience."

The ties and memories will persist, as will the special sense of ownership CA people feel for the document that belongs to all South Africans.

The success of the administration ultimately lay in the strength of its people and can be measured by the goodwill that existed between politicians from across the spectrum and the staff. At the last Management Committee meeting in May, amidst the post-adoption euphoria, veteran National Party negotiator Alex van Breda paid tribute to the staff: "When they were appointed, we were suspicious because they were ANC, but now I don't think anyone, from any party, can say that they weren't treated fairly at all times."

For Marion Sparg, as she cleared her desk, there was one crucial factor to acknowledge: the unqualified backing of Cyril Ramaphosa. "We couldn't have done it without knowing that we always had his support. His management style was hands-off: delegation almost to the point of abdication, but we could rely on the fact that he would always be there for us. This was his administration and his reputation was on the line, too."-Sarah Hetherington

BALEKA MBETE-KGOSITSILE

WOMEN have played a forceful role in shaping the policies of the ANC. Their committed struggle for gender equality has ensured that the party's ideals, as expressed in its various declarations and constitutions, are being translated into tangible gains for the empowerment of women. Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile has shown what unshackled women can achieve.

For this former school teacher, the adoption of the constitution was followed a few days later, on May 28 1996, by her election as deputy speaker of the National Assembly. It was in part a recognition of the leadership qualities she had shown, from the time of her involvement with the ANC as an exile in Swaziland after 1976 to her elevation as secretary-general of the ANC's Women's League.

Mbete-Kgositsile was at the heart of the negotiations from 1991 at the World Trade Centre where she was also a member of a panel of chairpersons of the multi-party negotiating process.

From January to April 1994-those crucial last months before the first democratic election in South Africa-she worked with the ANC press centre as national spokesperson. She was an ideal candidate for the job, having worked as an exile on the organisation's Radio Freedom between 1977 and 1983.

The ANC's victory earned her a seat in the first National Assembly in post-apartheid South Africa. She also became an elected member of the ANC national executive committee in 1994, having previously served in ex-officio capacities.

A member of the Constitutional Committee, she was also co-chairperson of theme committee six. The committee specialised in structures of government and investigated the independence and impartiality of the Public Service Commission, the Reserve Bank and the Public Protector.

It also had the task of defining the functions and monitoring the performances of the police, the military and the intelligence services to ensure that their operations serve the national interest of a democratic South Africa. Other products of this theme committee are the Human Rights Commission, the Gender Commission and the Commission on the Restoration of Human Rights.

Mbete-Kgositsile made her mark as a logical, reasonable and persuasive negotiator who would not, however, yield on the party's bottom line. Her contribution was further recognised in 1995 when she was elected chairperson of the ANC parliamentary caucus-the same year in which she became a member of the presidential panel on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 1996 she replaced the NP's Dr Bhadra Ranchod as deputy speaker of the National Assembly.-CYRIL MADLALA

COLIN EGLIN

IF there were one person whose words of caution were always accorded respect, it was this Democratic Party stalwart. It was so even as the negotiations drew to a close, when the smaller political parties in particular constantly expressed fears that the quality of the product was being sacrificed in order to meet the deadlines.

Eglin's reasoning was that meeting a target date should not negate "well considered and thorough work on constitution-making."

That the wise old man of parliamentary opposition politics was accorded that respect was significant: other parties were at times exasperated by the DP's insistence on certain principles and would accuse the DP of arrogating to itself the right to guide the country towards "true democracy".

Perhaps it was Eglin's sober, analytical manner of presentation that demanded he be given an ear. But his decades of experience as an elected representative, political strategist and party leader and negotiator were of inestimable value to the negotiations.

Eglin began in politics as a municipal councillor and rose through the ranks to the Cape provincial council and the South African parliament. One of the founders of the Progressive Party in 1959, he became leader of that party and its successor, the Progressive Federal Party.

He led the official opposition in parliament for two years from 1977, and for a further year from 1986. He was in on negotiations from the very beginning, serving in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), the forum which conducted the early phase of talks on the interim constitution. For the first months of 1994 he served as co-chairperson of the Transitional Executive Committee and its management committee.

Although he is a quantity surveyor, Eglin has not had much time to pursue that profession. However, those who witnessed his performance in the transformation of South Africa would agree that his talents were better employed in estimating what it would take to build a good constitution.- CYRIL MADLALA

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