JOHANNESBURG — In the same Capetown hall where apartheid laws were once passed, a jubilant celebration broke out yesterday after South Africa adopted a permanent post-apartheid Constitution that guarantees equal rights for all.
The Constitutional Assembly voted 420 to 1 to approve the document after two years of work. The move is the final dismantling of apartheid.
Although the apartheid state officially ended with the first-ever multiracial elections in 1994, which resulted in Nelson Mandela becoming president, it took the creation of the Constitution to permanently balance the rights of minority whites and majority blacks. Two years ago, an interim constitution required President Mandela to include minority parties in the government.
F. W. de Klerk, the former president who paved the way for the all-race elections, was given the post of deputy president. Under the new Constitution, a party that wins more than half the seats in Parliament in a national election will have the power to choose a president, who would form a cabinet.
On the day the deadline for completing the Constitution was to expire, the two main parties, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the former ruling National Party (NP), finally reached agreement.
This 11th-hour deal is typical of the way South African politicians have worked in the last five years, but is a tribute to their willingness to make consensus and work for the good of the country.
Under the Constitution, a bill of rights bans discrimination on the basic of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy, or marital status. It establishes rights to adequate housing, food, water, education, and health care, all of which were denied the black majority during apartheid.
The only remaining issue that troubles South Africans is the status of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and its leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Mr. Buthelezi, Mandela's biggest black political rival, led his party in a boycott of the constitutional writing process.
Triumph marred by civil war
There has long been strife between the IFP and the ANC. Local elections in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, an Inkatha stronghold, were postponed this week for the second time because of the undeclared civil war between supporters of the two groups. Some 14,000 people have been killed in the past 10 years. The latest victim was a member of the Zulu royal household.
But for now, South Africans are celebrating what they consider to be a continuation of the stunning string of events that has resulted in peacefully transforming South Africa from a pariah state to a multiracial democracy.
"The approval of this constitution marks the true beginning of a new order," said Kenneth Kotelo, a political analyst at Africa Institute, a Pretoria-based think tank. "[It] shows a willingness to compromise and a great deal of political maturity on the part of our parties."
Some points proved so contentious, however, that they almost brought the country to the point of a possible dissolution of parliament. A few days ago, President Mandela had warned that if no last-minute compromises were reached on unresolved issues, there could be a referendum.
One major issue that had the parties deadlocked was that of education. The NP - which promised whites here, who are a 5 to 1 minority, that handing over power would not mean losing their language and culture. In the end, they managed to get the ANC to spell out that the government would have to consider Afrikaans language and culture when formulating education policy.
Another key sticking point was that of property rights. Businesses feared the government might eventually take ownership of mineral rights. The crisis was resolved by dropping the word mineral from the property clause.
Businesses were also concerned about losing the right to lock out striking employees. The NP and the smaller Democratic Party supported the provision; the ANC opposed it. Under pressure from South Africa's largest union, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which helped bring the ANC to power, the ANC fought to keep the provision out. In the end, the Constitution simply refers to existing legislation allowing lockouts.
But Mr. Kotelo and others warn that Inkatha continues to be a serious stumbling block. The party left the Constitutional Assembly more than a year ago because, it said, the ANC reneged on a promise to include international mediators in the discussion of the Constitution, but also because the party insisted on sweeping provincial powers.
The IFP considers federalism a key demand since Zulus here make up one-quarter of the population and are concentrated mainly in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
More power to the provinces
Ironically, the ANC ended up conceding much more on the issue of powers to the provinces than many had expected, according to analysts here.
"It was a big mistake for the IFP to stay out of the process," says Tom Lodge, a political science professor at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. "The ANC has been quite generous on the issue of provincial powers, but if the IFP had been involved in the negotiations they could have succeeded in pushing the issue even further."
But South Africans are proud of what they have achieved, a document that they feel will set them on firm footing for generations to come.
"Now we have a policeman," said Kotelo, "a supreme policeman who can forever keep everyone from getting too far out of line. The Constitution will be there from now on."