As South Africa worked to draft a post-apartheid constitution in the months leading up to its first fully democratic elections in 1994, the disparate groups negotiating the transition from apartheid needed to set the country’s internal boundaries. By 1993, the negotiators had agreed that the new constitution would divide the country into provinces, but the thorniest issues remained: the number of provinces and their borders. Lacking reliable population data and facing extreme time pressure, the decision makers confronted explosive political challenges. South Africa in the early 1990s was a patchwork of provinces and “homelands,” ethnically defined areas for black South Africans. Some groups wanted provincial borders drawn according to ethnicity, which would strengthen their political bases but also reinforce divisions that had bedeviled the country’s political past. Those groups threatened violence if they did not get their way. To reconcile the conflicting interests and defuse the situation, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum established a separate, multiparty commission. Both the commission and its technical committee comprised individuals from different party backgrounds who had relevant skills and expertise. They agreed on a set of criteria for the creation of new provinces and solicited broad input from the public. In the short term, the Commission on the Demarcation/Delimitation of States/Provinces/Regions balanced political concerns and technical concerns, satisfied most of the negotiating parties, and enabled the elections to move forward by securing political buy-in from a wide range of factions. In the long term, however, the success of the provincial boundaries as subnational administrations has been mixed.
Tumi Makgetla and Rachel Jackson drafted this case study based on interviews conducted by Makgetla in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa, in February 2010. A separate case study, “Refashioning Provincial Government in Democratic South Africa, 1994-1996,” focuses on the two-year mandate of the Commission on Provincial Government. Case originally published August 2010. Case revised and republished October 2012.