Negotiating Democracy in South Africa

1990-1994: How democracy was forged.

By The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Introduction, Negotiating Democracy (2020-05-20) by Dreamfuel mediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Nelson Mandela walks out of the gates of Victor Verster prison (1990-02-11) by Gideon MendelThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Setting the scene for negotiations

2 February 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the unbanning of the liberation movements in South Africa and the inauguration of the country's transition to democracy. Nine days later, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years of imprisonment. A number of factors led to this moment, both nationally and internationally, which led to an acceleration to negotiation, transition and the birth of a new democracy.

Then and Now / Marikana (2020-05-22) by Dreamfuel mediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The long struggle for Freedom finally had the apartheid government against the wall; unrest and violence swept the country, and economic sanctions against South Africa had taken a heavy toll on the country. In fact while in prison in the mid - 1980's Mandela had already begun engaging the apartheid government about the possibility of "talks about talks", which was followed by similar processes from 1987 between the ANC and representatives of the Nationalist government.

Thirty years later, the failures of the post-apartheid state brought into sharp relief public discourses questioning the negotiation process, critiquing the compromises that were made and even portraying Mandela as a sell-out.

On the balcony of the Cape Town City Hall (2020-06-20) by Distilled PhotographyThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

In order to engage with these concerns, the NMF has developed this exhibition, Negotiating Democracy, in collaboration with Khulu Mbatha. His collection of photographic images of ANC leaders in the 1990s form the fulcrum for a reflection on the negotiation process. The exhibition’s content is also supported by the O’Malley archive – especially the interviews with those who appear in Mbatha’s photographs – Mandela’s own notes and the Ebrahim and Goldstone archive.

Dr.Khulu Mbatha (2020-05-22) by NMF and DreamfuelThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Photographs by Khulu Mbatha

The photographs taken by Khulu Mbatha from the time the ANC was unbanned and Nelson Mandela released, and throughout the Negotiating process, inspired this exhibition.

Dr Mbatha, currently the special adviser on international relations to President Cyril Ramaphosa, went into exile in 1976 after the Soweto Uprising. In 1977, the African National Congress sent him to study in Germany where he earned his Master’s and PhD degrees – both in philosophy, from the Friedrich-Schiller University.

On his return to South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC, he worked as the co-ordinator of the ANC’s National Executive Committee and its National Working Committee (1991 to 1994).

He worked in the Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma administrations with three breaks in between, serving until 2014, before returning to government in the Ramaphosa administration. He is an accomplished diplomat, author and columnist.

The hidden hand (2020-05-22) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The hidden hand

The road to democracy, like the many, many years before, was paved with extreme violence. The white right wing was furious, and 27 ‘townships’ across the country were declared ‘unrest areas’. The first stories emerged of an apartheid ‘hit squad’, later revealed as the Civil Co-operation Bureau, which was used to assassinate opponents.

Then and now, 'Negotiating Democracy' exhibition (2020-05-15) by Gallo ImagesThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

De Klerk suspended its operations ahead of a judicial inquiry. The Ciskei fell after a military coup, and at least 13 protesters were killed in Sebokeng after police opened fire. Members of a far right group raided the SADF Air Force headquarters in Pretoria, stealing machine guns and rifles. Venda’s government was overthrown.

The ANC condemned the “tolerant attitude the South African authorities have adopted to the violent activities of far-right and fascist groups” after a bomb exploded in a Johannesburg bus and taxi terminal, wounding more than 25 persons. It sent a report on police violence to De Klerk and demanded an end to “the shocking inhumanity” of police action in rural areas.

Caspirs in the township (2020-05-22) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Troops were deployed to handle fighting between the Inkatha Freedom Party and ANC supporters in which 150 people died. Security forces were accused of orchestrating the conflict in townships, and claims that a ‘hidden hand’ was involved grew stronger. It was against this background that ‘talks about talks’ had to take place in order for negotiations for a peaceful solution to be reached.

Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk (2020-05-22) by Benny GoolThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Talks about talks

In March 1990, Nelson Mandela was elected Deputy President of the ANC, and its headquarters were moved from Lusaka to Johannesburg. Talks between the government and an ANC delegation, aimed at removing obstacles to the negotiating process, were hammered out between 2-4 May, in an agreement known as the Groote Schuur Minute. 

Interview Pallo Jordan for the 'Negotiating Democracy' Exhibition (2020-05-20) by Dreamfuel mediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Both parties pledged to try to end to the “existing climate of violence and intimidation” and reiterated their “commitment to stability and to a peaceful process of negotiations”. The four-year-old state of emergency was lifted on 7 June 1990 – except in the then-Natal.

The Pretoria Minute followed in August 1990. The ANC suspended its armed actions, and the government considered lifting the state of emergency in Natal, as well as a review of security legislation to ensure free political activity.

Buthelezi quits talks (2020-05-22) by The StarThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Ongoing violence once again scuppered talks. The ANC demanded the removal of Defence Minister Magnus Malan and Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok as well as the CCB hit squads and counter insurgency units – or it would suspend constitutional talks. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi threatened to withdraw the IFP from talks and raised the spectre of civil war.

In June 1991, De Klerk reshuffled his cabinet and sidelined the hawkish ministers, saying, “Today, I wish to commit myself once again to transitional arrangements, which will ensure in a constitutionally accountable manner that the government is unable to misuse its position of power to the detriment of its discussion partners in a negotiating process. I have an open mind on alternative methods. However, any steps in this connection have to result from negotiation.”

Demonstrator, The Inkatha Conundrum (2020-05-18) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Inkatha Conundrum

Just 13 days after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela addressed over 100 000 people in Durban. He urged an end to the factional warfare in which more than 2 500 people had died over a five-year period. While the state of emergency was lifted in three provinces in June 1990, Natal remained under siege. A campaign of mass action started on 2 July 1990 to pressure the government to end the violence in the province. “The apartheid state and Inkatha have access to armies, police forces, and unlimited access to weapons. We have the support of the people, and the people’s strongest weapon is mass action,” the ANC said. 

Weapons (2020-05-22) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Two weeks later, Buthelezi announced Inkatha was to transform into a multiracial political party. By August 1990, the violence had spread to Witwatersrand. Over 500 died in 11 days of fighting as Zulu migrant workers, armed with axes and spears, went on the attack.

Mandela and De Klerk held emergency talks, and a state of emergency was declared. The ANC and IFP discussed ways of ending the violence.

In April 1991, the parties adopted a five-year plan to end violence between their supporters. However, all hell broke loose in July 1991 after newspapers claimed Buthelezi had a secret bank account into which the Security Branch had been making payments, and that security forces were funding and running a trade union linked to Inkatha. The scandal was dubbed ‘Inkathagate’, and the government admitted culpability.

14 september peace comittee (2020-05-18) by Len SakThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The National Peace Accord, A remarkable achievement

The apartheid government and 18 other organisations – including trade unions, political organisations and churches – signed the National Peace Accord (NPA) on 14 September 1991, committing themselves to a peaceful process of negotiation. It included a code of conduct for political parties, and for the police and the security forces, as well as provisions for socio-economic development, and a complex set of enforcement mechanisms.

A National Peace Secretariat was established along with 11 regional peace committees and more than 200 local peace committees. Approximately 15 000 peace monitors were trained across the country, drawn from all sections of society.

It wasn’t a silver bullet by any means. The Human Rights Commission of South Africa estimated that 3 400 people died in political violence in the year following the signing of the Accord. It nevertheless played a significant role, in that manifestations of violence could be addressed in forums outside the main negotiation process.

Trevor Manual, Jacob Zuma and Ronnie Kasrils (2020-05-20) by Khulu MbathaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Still, it was a complicated situation. Steven Goldblatt, legal counsel to the Thokoza Civic Association, said in July 1993: “...The [peace] structures can only create a temporary peace, because they are not equipped to address the underlying issues at the root of violent conflict in the townships”.

Those issues are ones that are still at play in a democratic South Africa. There was agreement then that “much of the violence was about distribution of scarce basic resources such as shelter, water and work”.

7 PANEL 9 (2020-05-18) by Dreamfuel MediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

African National Congress (ANC
Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers of South Africa
Confederation of Metal and Building Unions
Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa)
Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)
Democratic Party (DP)
Dikwankwetla Party/QwaQwa government
Federation of Independent Trade Unions
Ximoko Progressive Party / Gazankulu government
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)
Intando ye Sizwe Party
Inyandza National Movement/KaNgwane government
KwaNdebele government
KwaZulu government
Labour Party of South Africa
Lebowa government
United People’s Front
Merit Peoples’ Party
National Forum
National Party/Government of South Africa
National Peoples’ Party of South Africa
Solidarity Party
South African Communist Party
United Workers’ Union of South Africa

Coming Home -Negotiating Democracy (2020-05-22) by Louise Gubb , NMF and Dreamfuel mediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Coming Home

The release of political prisoners, detainees (not yet charged or convicted) and the return of exiles was a key condition stipulated by the ANC ahead of talks, and a precondition for the suspension of the armed struggle. But it proved a protracted and fraught process highlighted by the fact that no register of political prisoners existed. In March 1990, 343 political prisoners on Robben Island went on a hunger strike demanding their release in order to strengthen the bargaining positions of the ANC. 

On 21 March 1990, Foreign Minister Roelof ‘Pik’ Botha said South Africa had agreed the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would begin returning exiles to South Africa.

In March 1991, 4 805 people had been indemnified, and in April that year, 933 prisoners were released.

By mid-July 1991 the ANC claimed over 800 political prisoners remained incarcerated. The following month, the UNHCR and South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of an estimated 40 000 South African returnees.

By November 1991 the parties agreed to start negotiations on a larger political settlement for the country.

Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) (2020-05-20) by Eric MullerThe Nelson Mandela Foundation


The CODESA Declaration of Intent, signed on 21 December 1991 at the first plenary meeting, established it as a standing body to facilitate the negotiating process. The United Nations, the OAU, the Commonwealth, the European Community and the Movement for Non-Aligned countries would act as observers. 

Codesa Poster (2020-05-22) by SAHAThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

The first gathering saw “heated exchanges” between Mandela and De Klerk. Five working groups, each to report to the second CODESA plenary, were established:
• Working group 1 dealt with matters relating to the creation of a climate conducive to free and
fair elections
• Working group 2 handled constitutional principles
• Working group 3 was tasked with envisioning an interim government
• Working group 4 looked into the reincorporation of homelands
• Working group 5 was to devise a timetable for transition

Inkatha agrees to participate in the elections (1994-04-19)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

De Klerk sought a mandate from the white electorate and held a referendum on 17 March, when almost 70% of white voters polled in favour of the continuation of negotiations to end white minority rule.

Agreement was reached that a multiparty transitional executive council be established that could make decisions with an 80% majority.

Farmers with guns (2020-05-18) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Massacres and Mayhem

It is a testament to those negotiating South Africa’s future that CODESA wasn’t completely derailed by the extreme violence sweeping the country. Just over a month after talks reconvened in May 1992, tension between residents of the KwaMadala hostel, home to residents affiliated with the IFP, and ANC supporters in Boipatong, escalated, resulting in a horrific massacre. 

Unrest and riots (2020-05-20) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Groups of hostel dwellers, numbering between 300 and 500 and armed with spears, axes, pangas, AK-47s and handguns, attacked Boipatong residents from several directions. Forty minutes later, 39 were dead and hundreds more injured. The death toll rose to 45.

On 7 September 1992, another massacre took place, this time in the Ciskei, which was under the military rule of Brigadier Joshua ‘Oupa’ Gqozo. A mass gathering of around 80 000 people in Bhisho called for the end of military rule and for the Ciskei to be absorbed back into South Africa. When some marchers tried to cross the Ciskei Defence Force from the Transkei into Ciskei, Gqoko’s soldiers opened fire, resulting in the death of 28 protesters and one soldier.

'Willie Hofmeyer is freed' (2020-05-20) by Weekend ArgusThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Justice Goldstone stepped in and condemned both the ANC and the South African government. This resulted in Mandela and De Klerk signing a Record of Understanding on 26 September 1992 which would see negotiations resume in 1993. Still, the violence continued.

On 10 April 1993, SACP leader Chris Hani was assassinated in the driveway of his home. South Africa exploded into violence. Mandela called it a “watershed moment”, and urged all South Africans “to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for - the freedom of all of us”.

Joint Press release, by African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party (2020-05-20) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

A few weeks later, four members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army, APLA, stormed the suburban St James Church in Claremont, Cape Town, opening fire on the congregation. Eleven died, and 58 more were wounded. The attack was seen as an attempt to derail peaceful constitutional negotiations.

On the 30 December 1993, APLA opened fire on the Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory, Cape Town. Four were killed as well as a restaurant owner who gone outside to investigate the gunfire. An unexploded bomb was found outside.

Popo Molefe and Gill Marcus (2020-05-22) by Khulu MbathaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Codesa 2 : A fraught process

The lead up to the plenary was fraught with distrust. Debates around constitutional principles and an interim government were particularly tense, especially the disagreement over the percentage needed to pass the final constitution, the issue of a second chamber of parliament, and the scope of regional powers. 

Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer (2020-05-22) by Louise GubbThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

At the end of July 1992, the government and the ANC held talks brokered by the United Nations Special Envoy to South Africa, Cyrus Vance, to break the political stalemate.

On 21 August, Secretary General of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the NP’s Constitutional Affairs Minister Roelf Meyer met to discuss possible compromises. Five days later, a bilateral summit resulted in a joint Record of Understanding that laid the basis for the resumption of negotiations.

Cartoon (2020-05-18) by Len SakThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Agreement was reached, in particular, on the banning of dangerous weapons throughout the country, the fencing of a number of hostels, the release of all remaining political prisoners before 15 November and the need for an elected Constituent Assembly with a fixed time frame and adequate deadlock-breaking mechanisms.

Printed South African Constitution booklet (2020-05-22) by Nelson Mandela FoundationThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Still, the issue of violence prevented real discussions and the ANC’s NEC said it would not resume negotiations until the government dealt with it. A peace summit took place in September where Mandela and De Klerk agreed to resume constitutional negotiations.

Tea break during NEC meetings (2020-05-22) by Khulu MbathaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

In April 1993, the parties returned to negotiations, in what was known as the Multi-Party Negotiating Process (MPNP). A committee of the MPNP proposed the development of a collection of “constitutional principles” with which the final constitution would have to comply, so that basic freedoms would be ensured and minority rights protected, without overly limiting the role of the elected constitutional assembly.

Timeline: from negotiations to liberation (2020-05) by NMFThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Negotiation timeline at a glance

'Negotiating Democracy' Exhibition: finale video (2020-05-20) by Dreamfuel MediaThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Credits: Story

Nelson Mandela Foundation in collaboration with Khulu Mbatha and produced by Dreamfuel Media

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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