I love inadvertent digitisation – when something you previously only had in hard copy is suddenly available on the internet. Last year, my masters supervisor, Prof Pierre du Toit, emailed me and asked if he could nominate my MA thesis for upload to Stellenbosch University’s SUNscholar, as they are slowly updating the repository with pre-2009 theses and dissertations. The title was Prenegotiation in South Africa (1985-1993) : a phaseological analysis of the transitional negotiations (I still don’t know if ‘phaseological’ is a word).

I said yes, not only because it took me three years to write and I lost my digital copy in a late 20th century computer crash, but also because the topic of South Africa’s transitional negotiations remains relevant today, 20 years after the formation of our democracy. The thesis is now available as a downloadable PDF here.

South Africa between 1985 and 1993 was a case study in how an interplay of multiple factors – from the pressures of the global political economy, to domestic unrest and civil disobedience, to the sheer will of individual personalities – could realign a whole society towards a new future. South Africa in 2014 is in the middle of a multifaceted debate over the real gains and losses of its diverse population groups and how systemic and persistent inequalities should be addressed during a period of slow economic growth.

We tend to forget how significant and unexpected our (relatively) peaceful transition was, or what lessons we learned at the time. It might be opportune to revisit the transition and do a fresh analysis of the success factors then, to gauge their relevance for a new national compact for the next 20 years.