Between 27 April 1994 and 3 February 1997 South Africa was governed under the terms of the interim Constitution of South Africa. Clause 88 of the interim Constitution required that any party holding twenty or more seats in the National Assembly could claim one or more cabinet portfolios and enter the government. This arrangement was known as the provision for a Government of National Unity (GNU).
In the election of 27 April 1994 the African National Congress obtained the majority of seats in the National Assembly, and thus could form the government on its own. The two chief parties who made use of the provision for a GNU were the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party, both of which obtained cabinet portfolios for their leaders and other members of parliament. President Nelson Mandela also invited other parties to join the cabinet, even though they did not obtain the minimum twenty seats in the National Assembly.
The aims of the GNU centred on correcting social and economic injustices left by the legacy of Apartheid. The main aim however, was that of creating a final constitution. The constitution was essentially a two step process. During the CODESA talks – started in 1991 – the NP (National Party) and ANC (African National Congress) agreed to create an interim constitution, which would be the basis for a final constitution. The final constitution was to be drawn up by the two chambers of parliament – the Senate and National Assembly.
However it was important to the GNU that the opinions of ordinary South Africans be included into the constitution. From 1994 to 1996 the GNU organised large media campaigns. This was not easy, considering that they needed to reach 40 million people, most of whom were illiterate or didn’t have television. Slogans such as "You’ve made your mark, now have your say" were used to gain public attention for the cause. Over 1.7 million written submissions were collected over the two years. These included opinions on matters ranging from the death penalty to abortion.
On 8 May 1996 the final Constitution was adopted by the National Assembly and one day later, second Deputy President of the Republic F. W. de Klerk announced the withdrawal of his National Party from the GNU, with effect from 30 June.
The requirement for the GNU lapsed at the end of the first Parliament in 1999. Even so, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Azanian People's Organisation continued to hold seats in the government, as minority partners, until the elections of 2004.