Mandela signs SA Constitution into law

Constitution BookletConstitution Booklet

Date: 10 December, 1996

Two years after the first democratic election (1994) the President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, signed the final draft of the constitution into law at Sharpeville, Vereeniging on 10 December 1996. 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.

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