Merging Radical and Liberal Traditions: The Constitution Committee and the Development of Democratic Thought in the African National Congress, 1986-1990
The years between 1986 and 1990 encompass an important, yet often overlooked, period in the development of democratic thought in the African National Congress (ANC). Following the end of apartheid in 1990 and the unbanning of the liberation movement, a process commenced to negotiate a political settlement and draft a new constitution for a democratic South Africa. It was during the latter half of the 1980s, however, that the ANC began formally to develop and codify its own vision of a democratic state. Through examination of historical documents and discussions, and a series of interviews, this article examines this development and codification between 1986 and 1990, through the work of the ANC's Constitution Committee. It identifies that this period signified some important shifts in the ANC's thinking, moving it away from the Marxist-inspired revolutionary discourse of its past, toward the formal acceptance of some key liberal democratic principles, including a multi-party future and the protection of individual rights. The work of the Constitution Committee, however, appears to have largely taken place in intellectual isolation from the broader movement. As such, while ANC cadres were guided by revolutionary theory, and activists on the ground waged a struggle of 'people's power' for a radical form of democracy, the Constitution Committee was moderating its radical language, formalising a vision for a future state shaped less by past traditions and increasingly by constitutionalism and rights.