A New Contstitution The ANC Ascendant

The ANC walked out of Codesa in mid-May 1992 after failing to reach agreement with the NP on substantial questions. The bleakness of the political situation was compounded shortly thereafter by the Boipatong massacre on 17 June 1992.

After breaking off negotiations, the ANC embarked on a campaign of ‘rolling mass action’, declaring that what it could not get at the negotiating table, it would gain by  demonstrating its popular support. Boipatong was the turning point in the negotiations: whereas previously the ANC and the NP had been fairly evenly balanced, the scales now tipped in the ANC’s favour. Pessimism was deepened by an episode at Bisho, capital of Ciskei, where 29 people died.

After the Bisho massacre the dangerous downward spiralling of the economy and heavy diplomatic pressure forced the ANC and the government to resume bilateral negotiations. This resulted in De Klerk and Mandela signing the Record of Understanding on 26 September 1992, opening the way for the resumption of formal negotiations in 1993. The Record followed De Klerk’s suggested model, but added that an elected constitution-making body should have a fixed time frame and adequate deadlock-breaking mechanisms. Moreover, the elected body would act as an interim Parliament, and an interim government of national unity would govern the country. The ANC wanted as short a time frame as possible, whereas the National Party was holding out for an openended period of multiparty government.

But the major change was symbolic, underlining the ANC’s new ascendancy. It got a reluctant De Klerk to agree to the release of political prisoners, the fencing and policing of hostels and the prohibition of carrying dangerous weapons. The latter two decisions seemed to pin the blame for the political fatalities mainly on Inkatha. Buthelezi was enraged that he was not consulted. He joined the Concerned South Africans Group (Cosag), consisting of various homeland governments and ultra-right wing organisations, including the Conservative Party. Its aim was to act as a counterweight to what it regarded as an ‘unholy’ alliance between the ANC and the National Party.

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