JOHANNESBURG, May 8 -- South Africa approved a new constitution Wednesday to replace the interim one that has guided the country from apartheid to democracy. Meeting in the coastal city of Cape Town, the multiparty Constitutional Assembly voted 421 to 2, with 10 abstentions, to adopt the constitution drafted during the two years that followed the 1994 installation of South Africa's first democratic, all-race Parliament.
Constitutional Assembly Chairman Cyril Ramaphosa called the constitution the true birth certificate of democratic South Africa. The path to the adoption ceremony, however, was fraught with tension as the African National Congress and the National Party, the two largest political parties whose combined support was needed to guarantee adoption of the document, only managed to secure agreement on the constitution late Tuesday following several days of deadlock. Agreement was reached after the National Party, a junior partner in the coalition government, softened its insistence on the entrenchment of mother tongue schooling and the right of employers to lock out striking workers. The ANC, the dominant partner in the government, agreed to stronger private property guarantees. Failure to reach agreement and adopt the constitution would have resulted in the use of potentially divisive deadlock-breaking mechanisms including a national referendum. Nonetheless, the constitution, which will be phased in alongside the interim constitution which falls away completely at the next general election in 1999, does not enjoy universal support. The Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party withdrew from the constitution drafting process last year to protest an ANC breach of promise that it would use international mediators to help determine the powers allocated to the KwaZulu-Natal province where Inkatha controls the provincial legislature and seeks large-scale autonomy.