A battle that has simmered since the negotiations began between an informal, cross-party women's coalition and traditional African leaders represented at the forum resulted on Tuesday in a crushing victory for the women. Tribal law, which is weighted spectacularly in favour of men, has been accommodated in the new constitution only in passing. Polygamy, if it is engaged in at all, will not be the legal prerogative of men only. Men will not necessarily occupy the position of tribal chief.
But even before Tuesday's consensus resolution, women won substantial victories during the process of the negotiations. According to one rule, each party at the talks was entitled to two delegates, one of whom had to be a woman.
The vocabulary of the talks holds to the strictest norms of political correctness. Every clause in the tomes that make up the new constitution and bill of rights carries the words 'and women' whenever men are mentioned. The word 'chairperson' replaces 'chairman'.
Perhaps the most dramatic blow for women's rights has been struck by the African National Congress. In recent years the long-standing call for a 'non-racial South Africa' has been unfailingly supplemented at ANC rallies and in ANC documents by the additional demand for a 'non-sexist' South Africa. Backing up words with deeds, the ANC announced last week that when they put forward their list of candidates for next year's elections a third of them will be women.
South Africa's first democratic parliament will almost certainly contain one of the highest proportions of women of any parliament in the world.