20 December 2011

CODESA negotiations began in December 1991 – a significant transitional step towards a democratic South Africa

On the 20th of December 1991, the first plenary session of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) took place at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park - to negotiate a way out of apartheid and to forge a smooth transitional process towards democracy.

This year marks the 20 year anniversary of that important event. In accordance with the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act, records in the custody of the National Archives must be made publically available after a period of 20 years has elapsed since the end of the year the records came into existence. Accordingly, from January 2012 documents held by the National Archives which relate to CODESA shall be publicly available, presenting an important opportunity for researchers and others interested in knowing more about the event.

Negotiations to end the apartheid system began in 1990, starting with the release of Nelson Mandela and some political prisoners from Robben Island prison. These talks continued until 1993, one year before the country's first democratic elections where all South Africans had a right to cast votes for a party of their choice to run the republic. 

F.W. De Klerk was the state president at the time and a leader of the National Party which engineered apartheid. He has been hailed as instrumental in setting a favourable climate under which such negotiations could take place to bring apartheid to an end. The apartheid regime lasted 46 years in total, leaving behind a trail of destruction that is still felt to this day.

CODESA negotiations and other debates to end apartheid did not go smoothly. The country was wounded, emotions were high and a lot had to be discussed. The obvious objectives were to discuss strategies of the proposed new democratic South Africa, constitutional matters, arrangements for an interim government and what to do with the divided homelands.

The majority of whites appeared to support the idea of a united democratic South Africa and things looked great...until a year later when all hell broke loose.

At CODESA 2, in May 1992, negotiations broke down over arguments based on power sharing and majority rule. Violence erupted as a result, including the infamous Boipatong Massacre in June of the same year. Boipatong is a black township near Vanderbijlpark, south of the Gauteng province. 46 people died and many were injured when the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters attacked African National Congress (ANC) supporters.

It was alleged that the attacks were influenced by the clandestine co-operation between the IFP and the then South African National Defence Force. The massacre forced the ANC delegation to withdraw from CODESA talks with Mandela accusing F.W. de Klerk and his government of being complacent in the attacks. CODESA 2 ended unsuccessfully.

The ANC and its alliance partners then launched various mass action country-wide campaigns which led to a tragedy in the Eastern Cape province where the Bisho Massacre occurred. This incident happened on September 7, 1992 where the army of the then Ciskei homeland attacked ANC protesters marching to demand that their town be reincorporated into South Africa. 28 people were killed, which demonstrated the urgent need for negotiations to resume and an amicable decision to be reached.

It was later reported that behind-the-scenes talks between a cabinet minister, Roelf Meyer, and the ANC's Cyril Ramaphosa managed to get negotiations back on track, leading to a Multiparty Negotiating Forum (MPNF) on April 1, 1993 which paved the way forward.

On the 27th of April 1994, the first democratic elections were held, the ANC won with Mandela becoming the first democratically-elected president of the republic. In order to facilitate a government of unity, De Klerk became his deputy together with the ANC's Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela and served two terms.

This year the Freedom of Information Programme used the Promotion of Access to Information Act to obtain a copy of a draft inventory of records on CODESA held by the National Archives. A copy of the inventory is available in the following collection:

AL2878 - The Freedom of Information Programme Collection

If you are interested in obtaining access to records regarding CODESA that are not publically available at the National Archive, the Freedom of Information Programme can assist you in obtaining the records under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. Contact the Freedom of Information Programme for assistance.