South Africa - First 20 Years of Democracy (1994 - 2014)

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Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, was drawn up by the Parliament elected in 1994 in the first non-racial elections and approved by the Constitutional Court (CC) on 4 December 1996. It was signed into law by President Nelson Mandela on 10 December 1996 at Sharpeville, Vereeniging.This came two years after the first democratic election (1994) of the President of the Republic of South Africa. Public submission amounted to a staggering number of 1,753,424 were made to the Constitutional Assembly during its inclusive drafting process. The Constitution of South Africa provides the legal foundation for the existence of the republic, sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of the government. In particular, it incorporates an extensive bill of rights that forbids discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth It is the supreme law of the country of South Africa and no other law or government action can supersede the provisions of the Constitution.

The date on which the constitution was signed marked International Human Rights Day. Furthermore, the location where the constitution was signed was significant and symbolic of the betrayal and brutality of past governments.  In 1902 the Treaty of Vereeniging signed between the British and Afrikaners disenfranchised the Black majority and set in motion processes that laid the foundation for apartheid. On 21 March 1960 police opened fire on a crowd demonstrating against pass laws in Sharpeville, Vereeniging.

On 2 February 1990 the National Party (NP) government unbanned political parties and began a process of releasing political prisoners, detainees and unbanning political activists. This resulted in the negotiations for the dismantling of apartheid to usher in a democratic South Africa. Twenty-six groups assembled at Kempton Park to draft a constitution, but it was later considered inappropriate for the groups to draft a final constitution as they were not elected. The draft produced was to serve as an Interim Constitution pending the drafting of a constitution by a democratically elected Constitutional Assembly. The Interim Constitution was endorsed by the last apartheid parliament and became law as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 on 27 April 1994. Thus after the 1994 elections South Africa was governed by an interim constitution.

This Act required the Constitutional Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a final constitution by 9 May 1996. Between January 1995 and May 1996 the CA met regularly to draft the final constitution and on 8 May and forwarded to the Constitutional Court for ratification. The Constitutional Court ruled in September 1996 that the new constitution failed to adhere to principles stated in the interim constitution. It was referred back to CA and after intense negotiations, a revised draft was submitted the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996. On 10 December 1996 President Nelson Mandela signed the final draft of the constitution into law effective from 3 February 1997.


References:
• Dugard, J. (2008). The New Constitutional Order in International Law: a South African Perspective. Cape Town: Juta & Co Emfuleni.gov.za (2010). Constitution Square, from Emfuleni Local Municipality [online]. Available at www.emfuleni.gov.za [Accessed 24 November 2010]
• Mandela, N. (1996). Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the Signing of the Constitutionfrom Polity.org[online]. Available at www.polity.org.za [Accessed 24 November 2010]
• David, L., and Annamarie, R., (2001). A Political Chronology of Africa. Taylor & Francis. pp. 277.
• Kriger, N.J., (2007). ‘Keep your head down”: unprotected migrants in South Africa’. Human rights watch, New York. Vol 19, No.3(A)

Last updated : 21-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 23-Apr-2014

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South Africa - First 20 Years of Democracy (1994 - 2014)
South Africa - First 20 Years of Democracy (1994 - 2014)
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South Africa’s advent to democracy was ushered through the 1993 Interim Constitution, drawn up through... more