The Formation of the Multi-Party Negotiation Process

After the Convention for a Democratic South Africa's ( CODESA) collapse, F. W. De Klerk and Nelson Mandela exchanged memoranda and the NP considerably softened its demands. By August 1992, the ANC had agreed to establish a 'channel bilateral' for maintaining quiet dialogue, nominating Cyril Ramaphosa to hold talks with the NP's Roelf Meyer . They made considerable progress and on 26 September Mandela and De Klerk held a summit to sign the Record of Understanding . They agreed on the principles of an interim government at the national and regional levels empowered by an interim constitution. They also agreed on a formula for an elected assembly that would serve as an interim parliament and draft a constitution based on principles agreed in prior multi-party negotiations. They agreed that to improve efficacy, in future negotiations, the ANC and NP would first reach agreement on a bilateral basis before going to other parties for multilateral negotiation: in sum, others could either agree to be a part of the process or be left behind.

The agreement appalled most right-wing parties - sparking the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Conservative Party (CP) to join with a number of homeland governments and Afrikaner parties to form the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG). They rejected the principles outlined in the agreement and demanded it be scrapped. In the following months, Buthelezi threatened secession but the move was met with intense diplomatic pressure that revealed his isolation. The agreement also surfaced fault lines within the NP and the ANC over both tactical and substantive principles. The pro-negotiation faction within the NP leadership was eventually able to predominate. The ANC engaged in consultations with constituents and eventually committed itself to a positive-sum negotiating position based on a transitional period of power-sharing, thus decisively moving away from a maximalist, zero-sum strategy aiming at the immediate elimination of the NP as a political force.

Towards the end of the year, African National Congress (ANC) and National Party (NP) teams met for several days in a secluded game lodge - an atmosphere that proved conducive both to developing political formulas and humanizing the working relationships. At a similarly structured meeting in January and successive bilaterals thereafter, they formulated a joint negotiating position to guide their participation as a bloc in a future multilateral forum. The COSAG members became increasingly aware that if they did not participate in such a forum, they would have little influence on the outcomes. By January 1993 they agreed to resume multi-party talks but wanted to have a voice in the creation of the new negotiating forum - even if many of its terms had been predetermined by the ANC and NP. A Negotiation Planning Conference was held in early March, where the political parties were able to restructure the process and address some of the previous objections to CODESA. Agreements reached in principle in the earlier forum would be a guide but were non-binding. Reluctant to use the name CODESA and unable to agree to a new one, on 1 April 1993 what became known as the Multi-party Negotiating Process (MPNP) opened at the World Trade Centre. It convened 26 participating parties comprising political groupings, national and homeland government representatives and traditional leaders. For the first time the PAC, CP and Volksunie participated; only the far-left AZAPO and several extreme Afrikaner parties refused to join.

MPNP structures and working methods

There were a number of innovations in the MPNP structure. The highest decision-making body was the 208-member, 26-party, parliamentary-style plenary. But the process was focused around a Negotiating Council that met three to four days a week to develop agreements that would be ratified by the plenary, which met whenever necessary. The Council was composed of two delegates per party - at least one of whom had to be a woman - and two advisers. The original idea for a Negotiating Forum situated between the Plenary and Council was deemed unnecessary and its responsibilities instead devolved to the Council.

Instead of presenting their views orally in the Council, parties prepared written submissions that were first considered by a series of issue-specific Technical Committees consisting of non-party political experts appointed by the Council. They drafted reports that sought to take everyone's views into account, seeking compromise formulas and methods for breaking deadlocks. Their reports were considered by the Planning Committee, which drafted resolutions for consideration by the Council. The Planning Committee assumed most of the same roles as CODESA's Management Committee. It consisted of 10 Council members, appointed in their personal capacities rather than as party representatives, and was chaired on a rotating basis. It tended to set the overall negotiating agenda and oversaw the work of two non-partisan commissions on the demarcation of regions and on national symbols. The process was administered by the Consultative Business Movement, which provided an independent secretariat and administrative support.

Although the Plenary continued to make decisions by 'sufficient consensus', strategies to address the substantive details of the negotiations were developed in the Technical Committees and the tough political decisions were worked out in the Negotiating Council. Bilateral bargaining behind-the-scenes complemented these formal processes.

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Violent attempts to derail the negotiations

Shortly after the MPNP began, an extremist group assassinated the popular militant leaderChris Hani . Amidst the outpourings of grief, anger and frustration that threatened to engulf the country in protest and violence, Mandela appealed for calm; the leadership recognized the killing as an attempt to derail the negotiations. The ANC, NP and other moderate parties realized that they needed to move quickly to reach agreements that could begin to bring home the fruits of the transition, most visible of which would be the country's first non-racial democratic elections. To expedite the process, the Negotiating Council agreed a new Declaration of Intent, noting the urgent need to reduce violence and inspire broad public confidence in the process and a clear vision of the milestones marking the transition process. Senior leaders in the CBM, alarmed at the uncertainty inherent in protracted negotiations and the escalating instability, met with key political leaders to demand swift settlement; a demand underscored shortly afterwards by a similar initiative from the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) labour movement.

At the beginning of June 1993, the Negotiating Council agreed to set the election date for 27 April 1994. The plenary had to ratify the date, which generated tremendous pressure to bargain over the principles guiding the constitution-making process. To keep the COSAG alliance in the process, the ANC made the significant concession to structure the state on the national, regional and local levels, which would each have democratically elected governing bodies. Yet when the ANC and NP blocked the IFP's demand for a debate on a federal constitution, the COSAG group staged a walkout. Although most parties eventually returned, the IFP and CP remained largely outside the process. Following an MPNP decision to reject an Afrikaner homeland, several hundred white paramilitaries stormed the negotiating chambers at the World Trade Centre in late June, roughing up the delegates. Though shocking, it mostly served to undermine the image of the perpetrators. When the Plenary - minus most of the COSAG group - finally ratified the election date, it sparked a wave of violence throughout the country. Yet throughout this period, the ongoing violence appeared to deepen the moderate parties' commitment and bound them further to the negotiation process.

From July to August, the MPNP engaged in intense negotiations over various draft interim constitutions and the structure of the Transitional Executive Council that would be the central governing authority. The IFP, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) and their allies - now regrouped as the 'Freedom Alliance ' (FA) - continued to reject the process. They demanded a summit of select leaders to negotiate the final constitution prior to elections. Violence escalated amidst 'war talk' by both the far left and especially the far right. Nevertheless, in the early hours of 18 November 1993, the Negotiating Council adopted a comprehensive package agreement - including an electoral act and the interim constitution giving legal basis for the transitional institutions and specifying non-negotiable constitutional principles - that became the basis for South Africa's democratization pact.

The leaders were careful to leave the door open to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) and the FA to join the agreement and in the following months sought to bring them on board. Nevertheless there were real fears that the right-wing forces would organize armed resistance leading to civil war. Furthermore, there were fears that South Africa's future would be deeply compromised if major constituencies were not represented in the elections, which would choose parties for the transitional government of national unity and delegates to the assembly that would write the final constitution. If they were not involved in the process, they might then work to undermine it.

Last updated : 24-Apr-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Apr-2015