More than 3 many years have handed for the reason that apartheid govt in South Africa unbanned the African National Congress (ANC), the rustic’s main liberation motion, and launched its chief, Nelson Mandela, from jail. This introduced 4 fraught years of negotiations and violence that ended in South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections.

The e book Dear Comrade President: Oliver Tambo and the Foundations of South Africa’s Constitution, by way of South African historian Andre Odendaal, specializes in a size disregarded in earlier histories and memoirs of this era: the ANC’s charter-framing procedure, which might assist to form the longer term democratic South Africa.

In the mid-Eighties prerequisites for negotiations to finish apartheid didn’t appear promising. President PW Botha’s govt had shifted regulate clear of the white parliament in opposition to the army. A wave of assassinations, proxy terror killings and common raids on neighbouring states was once introduced.

On the ANC facet, maximum felt the path to energy was once armed revolution. Its primary assets of enhance have been the then Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic and Cuba. Much of its management was once beholden to Marxism-Leninism.

Odendaal quotes former South African Communist Party chief Joe Slovo pronouncing (in 1994) that the political content material of the ANC was once “moulded” in those 3 international locations – content material Slovo calls “very mechanical Stalinist concepts”. Slovo provides:

Thinking again on it now it horrifies me to bear in mind the type of issues they have been taught.

This 442-web page e book unpicks the method of adopting constitutional ideas that incorporated enhance for multiparty democracy and a invoice of rights. This procedure was once introduced by way of the ANC chief Oliver Tambo in 1985. It concerned a seven-particular person charter committee which ultimately got here up with a record that proved massively influential in negotiations with the apartheid govt.

Making of democratic South Africa’s charter

The committee arrange by way of Tambo drew up 14 drafts after many delays and far frustration. But it in any case produced a record that was once recommended in 1988, and turned into the root for the Organisation of African Unity and United Nations strategy to South Africa.

This record guided the ANC’s stand in the negotiations beneath the umbrella of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). Odendaal writes:

A function of the negotiating procedure was once the way in which in which the ANC, with its greater than 4 years of targeted pre-making plans, outmanoeuvred fighters decided to dam democracy.

The maximum compelling bits of the e book come with profiles of the primary gamers – Tambo and the ones at the committee, together with Jack Simon, Kader Asmal, Zola Skweyiya, Albie Sachs and the person whose 1985 intervention set it in movement, Pallo Jordan.

Jordan’s paper , The New Face of Counter-Revolution, went towards prevailing modern knowledge. It argued that the ANC will have to take the initiative via backing multiparty democracy with a invoice of rights making sure particular person freedom. It will have to additionally win the enhance of the black heart elegance.

Some inside the ANC had serious doubts, frightened this was once getting in the way in which of revolution.

Challenging orthodoxy

Odendaal counters the view that it was once the cave in of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 – marking the unravelling of the Soviet Union, the primary backer of the ANC’s armed battle – that nudged the ANC in opposition to multiparty democracy. He presentations it had already recommended those ideas greater than 3 years previous.

The cave in of the Soviet Union had “little impact on the ANC’s immediate thinking and strategy in relation to negotiations”, Odendaal provides. (In my view, it without a doubt had an extended-time period affect, serving to open the way in which for one-time Marxists to develop into multi-millionaires.)

Odendaal’s account additionally demanding situations the declare by way of some analysts, together with Niel Barnard, the previous head of the apartheid govt’s National Intelligence Service, that the autumn of communism allowed the federal government to barter. Odendaal recognizes the cave in of the communist bloc made it more straightforward for the federal government to unban the ANC. It additionally supposed the federal government

may now not depend on enhance from Western international locations as a bastion towards the meant unfold of communism.

But the method resulting in negotiations was once already unstoppable by way of then. The secret “Consgold talks”, aimed toward easing the way in which in opposition to negotiations, began in 1986. They have been between the ANC and Afrikaner lecturers led by way of the Stellenbosch University philosophy professor Willie Esterhuyse, and subsidized by way of the National Intelligence Service.

Adding to the momentum have been the talks Nelson Mandela held with apartheid justice minister Kobie Coetsee in 1986, and the federal government’s invitation to Soviet chief Mikhael Gorbachev to interact in discussions.

It’s steadily forgotten that it was once the hardliner PW Botha, who preceded FW de Klerk as president, who met with Mandela and launched Walter Sisulu and different political prisoners on 15 October 1989. The Berlin Wall got here down on 9 November 1989.

Odendaal highlights the position performed by way of the common “safaris” that noticed greater than 1000 South African notables and activists assembly with the ANC between 1985 and 1990. This counters the view promoted by way of Barnard and Esterhuyse that those have been beside the point.

Instead, he suggests, they helped set the local weather for negotiations by way of softening white South African attitudes to the ANC and widening ANC views on prerequisites inside the nation. He quotes Barnard’s admission that those visits to the ANC in exile

have been threatening to take over from the federal government so we needed to act briefly.

Weaknesses and strengths

The e book stresses that mass resistance and world sanctions driven the apartheid govt to the purpose the place it needed to negotiate. But its laser focal point at the ANC’s constitutional procedure signifies that once in a while element will get in the way in which of point of view, resulting in an excessive amount of list of names and no longer relatively sufficient contextual knowledge.