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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Drafting a Final Constitution

On May 8, 1996, the Constitutional Assembly completed two years of work on a draft of a final constitution, intended to replace the interim constitution of 1993 by the year 1999. The draft embodied many of the provisions contained in the interim constitution, but some of the differences between them were controversial. In the final constitution, the Government of National Unity is replaced by a majoritarian government--an arrangement referred to by its critics as "winner-take-all" in national elections. Instead of requiring political parties to share executive power, the final constitution would enable the majority party to appoint cabinet members and other officials without necessarily consulting the minority parties that would be represented in the National Assembly.

The draft final constitution in 1996 also proposes changes in the country's legislative structure. The National Assembly would continue to be the country's only directly elected house of parliament, but the Senate would be replaced by a National Council of Provinces. Like its predecessor, the new council would consist of legislators chosen to represent each of the country's nine provinces. The new council would include some temporary delegates from each province, however, so some legislators would rotate between the National Council of Provinces and the provincial legislatures from which they were chosen.

Negotiators in the early 1990s had agreed that the 1996 draft constitution would be submitted to the Constitutional Court to ensure that it conformed to agreed-upon constitutional principles, such as the commitment to a multiparty democracy, based on universal franchise without discrimination. In May 1996, however, the Constitutional Court did not immediately approve the draft as received; instead, it referred the document back to the Constitutional Assembly for revision and clarification of specific provisions. Chief among its concerns were the need to clarify references to the powers that would devolve to the provincial legislatures and the rights of organized labor and management in an industrial dispute. The Constitutional Assembly was revising the draft constitution as of mid-1996.

Even before it was approved or implemented, the draft constitution had an immediate impact on the structure of government in 1996. Just one day after the draft had been completed by the Constitutional Assembly, the National Party declared its intention to resign from the Government of National Unity, effective June 30, 1996. In the weeks leading up to the NP's formal departure from the executive branch, NP leaders repeatedly tried to assure voters that the party would play a constructive role in politics as a loyal critic of the ANC-led government. President Mandela, too, accepted the NP departure as a sign of a "maturing democracy." NP legislators continued to serve in the National Assembly and in the Senate.

The Legal System

South Africa's legal system, like the rest of the political system, was radically transformed as the apartheid-based constitutional system was restructured during the early 1990s. Nevertheless, many laws unrelated to apartheid continued to be rooted in the old legal system. Thus, the justice system after 1994 reflected elements of both the apartheid-era system and nondiscriminatory reforms.

Data as of May 1996