The Archive of the Constitution-Making Process
This archive in-the-making forms a key part of the online exhibition that tells the remarkable story of how South Africa’s Constitution and Constitutional Court were forged – a critical period in the birthing of a democratic nation. It is a gathering point for the collections drawn from the National Archive and Record Services of South Africa (NARSSA) and those of institutions and individuals who participated in critical historical events such the adoption of the Freedom Charter at Kliptown, the coming together of 19 parties at CODESA, the backroom workings of Constitutional Assembly and the debates and discussions over the establishment of the Constitutional Court.
“The writing of the South African constitution was not simple. There was no single organization to leave a simple print, it was the work of thousands trying to define the essential dignity of humanity. The archives show an enduring tree, it twists and turns and refuses to be denied. I understand justice under the tree better now that I have seen these roots.”
-Kerry-Lee Skinner, archivist for the Constitution Hill Trust
The documents in our collections lend texture, nuance, and depth to the intellectual, legal, and activist history that birthed and sustains our Constitution. They also reflect more intimate accounts of how South Africans, past and present, confronted and challenged injustice in the areas of law, family and community life, collective struggle, land, women’s issues, identity, creativity, and constitution-making.
It is our wish that learners, researchers, scholars and the broader society be challenged, moved, and profoundly enriched by visiting our collections. The archive, together with the stories told on other sections of this virtual platform, will create a space for knowledge generation, learning, and engaging with the history and significance of the Constitution as a guidepost of South African democracy. In combination, these activities will honour the past while ensuring the archive is a vital actor in contemporary spaces, debates and dialogues.
We are working with national and local institutions to identify and selectively digitise relevant primary source materials that are either inaccessible or in poor condition. To date, we have identified 462 collections from 22 archival institutions. We have also been on a concerted campaign to bring to light hidden jewels sitting in dusty boxes in people’s garages and storerooms. In this way, we have come across rare treasures such as Liz Carmichael’s Peace Accord collection. This is the most comprehensive set of papers related to the peace structures during the negotiations. It even includes the original designs of the doves that were created as the visual symbol of the call for peace.
The CHT is in the process of cataloguing, preserving, restoring and digitising the five seminal collections of archival documents that are the founding documents of our nation. The collections contain all the formal documents of the two stage negotiating process that gave South Africa its first democratic Constitution, transforming the country from an apartheid state into a non-racial, non-sexist democracy based on the principles of human dignity, equality and freedom. They include:
- Convention of a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) documenting the negotiations at the World Trade Centre, Kempton Park, which commenced in December 1991;
- Multi Party Negotiating Process (MPNP) documenting the negotiations at the World Trade Centre which commenced in 1993;
- Transitional Executive Council (TEC) documenting the arrangements of the transitional authorities which oversaw the first democratic elections;
- Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) documenting the first democratic elections in 1994;
- Constitutional Assembly (CA) documenting the drafting of the final Constitution from 1994 – 1996;
- Two certification cases in the newly created Constitutional Court which had to certify the new Constitution and see if the 34 Principles in the Interim Constitution had been duly complied with.
With the support of the CHT archival team and student volunteer, the unsorted documents which are held in the storeroom of the National Archives and Record Services of South Africa (NARSSA) in Pretoria, have been catalogue, inventorised and digitised. The digitisation project contributed to stabilizing and preserving large parts of the collection of these founding documents to prevent them from deteriorating further. This is particularly the case for the tapes and multi-media that no longer conform with any current media players. The digitisation project ensures greater accessibility to the collection, which would otherwise only be accessible during office hours in Pretoria. It also means that the materials can be used for exhibitions, educational programmes and discussions, ensuring that the archival material have an active role in contemporary debates and dialogues.
In the same way that other mature democracies protect, cherish and display their founding documents, we are hoping to elevate the status, promote the accessibility, and ensure the continuing relevance of the of our core documents of the process of making South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
In addition to the seminal collection from NARSSA, the project also received collections form individuals who were closely involved with the Constitution making process and institutions that are connected to the Constitution. These collections are shared in the interest of and the belief that this information is to be made freely available to the nation and the world.
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In essence, this project is vital for our national memory and the digital archive platform will allow a younger and more mobile generation to open the doors and walls to our nation-building story and break down the, barriers and borders to access information and dispel the many misconceptions about this seminal part of our history.
“There is an idea out there that the Constitution doesn’t represent all South Africans but whilst looking at the archive, I saw how many South Africans contributed to its making and how the smallest constituencies were considered. It completely changed how I see the constitution today.”
– Zinhle Mbali Mdluli