Contrary to expectations that the African National Congress (ANC) would gain nearly all the seats at the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994, the party won only 63% of the seats, short of the two thirds majority (67%) required for allowing the party to unilaterally amend the constitution. Commenting on the results of the elections, Nelson Mandela wrote the following in “Long Walk to Freedom”, his autobiography: “Some in the ANC were disappointed that we did not cross the two thirds threshold, but I was not one of them. In fact, I was relieved; had we won two thirds of the vote and been able to write a constitution unfettered by input from others, people would argue that we had created an ANC constitution, not a South African constitution. I wanted a true Government of national unity.” These words of wisdom from an outstanding freedom fighter and statesman should ring loud in our ears at a time when the Labour Party/MMM alliance is clamouring for a 60/0 victory at the forthcoming general elections in Mauritius.
Prior to 1990, South Africa was governed within the framework of the apartheid system that restricted suffrage to its White citizens only. Yielding to pressure from the ANC and the international community, the South African Government took a first step towards the abolition of the system on 11 February 1990 by liberating Nelson Mandela, a leading member of the ANC who had been condemned to life imprisonment on 12 June 1964 because he had been militating against the injustice brought about by apartheid. Stepping out of prison after over 27 years, he bore no grudge towards the Whites and worked actively for a society inclusive of all irrespective of skin colour, culture or religion. The ANC participated in a lengthy and arduous dialogue among South African political parties that resulted in the adoption of an interim constitution which provided for an electoral system for holding general elections in 1994 and a Government of national unity to be formed by parties returned to Parliament after the elections. Furthermore, the interim constitution gave the National Assembly elected in 1994 the task of adopting a permanent constitution.
Benefiting from a wide prestige both in South Africa and on the international scene, Nelson Mandela could have manoeuvred for an electoral system akin to the first past the post (FPTP) system that would have assured his party an overwhelming number of seats in Parliament. As the FPTP system demonstrates in Mauritius, any party or alliance that polls slightly more than 50% of the votes can win a disproportionately high number of seats in Parliament. Instead, he agreed to an electoral system based on proportional representation where the number of seats that a party wins is roughly proportional to the percentage of votes that it secures at the general elections. The 1994 general elections returned 7 parties to the South African National Assembly. As indicated above, the ANC polled 63% (62.65% to be exact) of the votes and were allocated 252 seats (63% of 400) in the 400 seat National Assembly. The smallest returned party polled 0.45% of the votes and secured 2 seats (0.5% of 400) in the National Assembly.
The interim constitution, later transformed into a permanent constitution, spared South Africa an all-out civil war, which had been predicted by the American journalist Keith Richburg of the Washington Post when he witnessed the antagonisms that existed in the country prior to 1994. After that year, South Africa enjoyed relative peace, stability, and progress. Besides, the 1994 general elections, South Africa has held four other general elections with smooth transfer of Presidential power between four different personalities; Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlante, and Jacob Zuma. To prevent the monopolisation of power by one person, the constitution stipulates that the President, who in South Africa is the highest decision maker, cannot hold office for more than two five year terms.
In sharp contrast with Nelson Mandela who aimed for a constitution that would include the views of all South African political parties, the leaders of the Labour Party/MMM alliance in Mauritius are working to have a constitution tailored for their political future. A 60/0 victory at the forthcoming elections and the stranglehold that they have on their respective political parties will ensure such an outcome. A 60/0 victory will allow them to amend the constitution in one sitting instead of several sessions with cooling off periods in between; which would have allowed other political parties, trade unions, professional groups and civil society to put across their views. We need a Mauritian constitution, not a Labour Party/MMM constitution, and still less a Ramgoolam/Berenger constitution. We must, therefore, vote intelligently at the next general elections to prevent the Labour Party/MMM alliance from winning a three quarters majority, the threshold for unilateral amendment of the Mauritian constitution.