How SA emerged as a democracy from the crises of the 1990s

The Government of National Unity and the making of the new Constitution

Altogether 19,726,579 votes were counted and 193,081 were rejected as invalid. The African National Congress, in alliance with the labour confederation COSATU and the South African Communist Party, fell slightly short of a two-thirds majority.

The ANC-led Government of National Unity, headed by Nelson Mandela, included members of the NP and IFP.

The Government of National Unity was to oversee a new South African constitution.

The new South African Constitution was adopted on 8 May 1996. The Constitution is considered by many as one of the most advanced in the world, with a Bill of Rights second to none. South Africa's Constitution was drafted by an all-inclusive constitutive assembly, which had representatives from all the major political parties and liberation organisations.

The constitutional assembly sat between May 1994 and October 1996 drafting and completing the new constitution. The new Constitution was the embodiment of the vision of generations of anti-apartheid freedom fighters and democrats. These people had had fought for a South Africa that belonged to all, and for non racialism and human rights.

The guiding principles of the new constitution were first articulated in the ANC's African Claims document of 1943, the Non-European Unity Movements 10 point program of 1943, and the 1955 Congress Alliance Freedom Charter. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, against which all other laws are judged.

The constitution made provision for the establishment of a constitutional court which is the final arbitrator of the interoperation of the constitution. The constitution makes provisions for the way the country is governed, the establishment of parliament, the election of the president, the creation and government of provinces and local authorities.

Do you know the Preamble to the constitution?

We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country;

and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person;

and Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God se?Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Preamble means 'attached to the beginning'.

Last updated : 21-Jul-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 22-Mar-2011