[translations idioma=”ES” url=”https://archives.rgnn.org/2013/10/28/transicion-a-la-democracia-el-caso-de-sudafrica”]
WARSAW, POLAND. ROOSTERGNN is proud to present exclusive access to the following speech by former President Frederik Willem de Klerk, given as part of the Civic Academy at this year’s World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Warsaw, 2013.

View the entire World Summit series here.

October 21st, 2013

I’m often asked whether the decision that I took after I became President [of South Africa] in September 1989 to transform South Africa was the result of some or other Damascus Road experience. You all remember Paul was a persecutor of the Christians when he was still Saul and then, on the way to Damascus, a blinding light blinded him and he became the greatest advocate of Christianity.

I didn’t have such a Damascus Road experience. It was a process. To start with, I did not make the decision alone; I took it together with my colleagues in the then-governing National Party. Neither was it a sudden change of direction; it was in fact the culmination of a long process of introspection and the reform that started in the late 70s. My feeling says that P.W. Botha [Pieter Willem Botha, Prime Minister of South Africa (1984-1989)] clearly understood the need for change, the need for, as he has put it, to adapt or die.

For some years, black South Africans and the international community have been vociferously demanding that the South African government should dismount the tiger of white domination, on which history and ourselves have placed them.

White South Africans had three concerns at that point in time, in the late 70s and the early 80s, regarding this process of dismounting the tiger. Firstly, how would they, and particularly, my people, the Afrikaners, be able to maintain in a one-man, one-vote situation the right to national self-determination that had been the central theme of the history for more than 150 years. My people formed the first freedom war against the empire of Great Britain and at the end of the 19th century, 1898 – 1902, we lost it but we wanted to govern ourselves free from oppression or governance by another government or an empire.

Second concern was how could they be sure that one-man, one-vote would not lead to the chaos and tyranny that had characterized the decolonization process in so many other parts of Africa. We looked north and we were worried that there would be chaos, as there is chaos maybe to a certain extent in Libya now.

Finally, the government was worried about the possibility of a communist takeover. This was not a question of reds under beds. Throughout the 70s and the 80s, virtually all the members of the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee were also members of the South African Communist Party and they were getting weapons from Russia, from the USSR, they were getting military training, they were getting money, they were going to communist universities. They were the front, which the USSR, the Soviet Union, used for their expansionist policies in Southern Africa.

P.W. Botha, my predecessor’s approach to tiger dismounting, was that one does it quite gingerly; you do it slowly, one foot at a time. The first foot was to bring people of mixed origins, coloreds and Indian South Africans into the parliamentary system in terms of far-reaching constitutional amendments. By 1986, the coloreds and the Indians were represented in the tricameral parliament, they were part also of the cabinet of the national executive, far-reaching labor reforms had been introduced and more than 100 Apartheid laws had been repealed.

The crucial process of lowering the second foot to the ground: the question of Black political rights was referred to a special council, called the President’s Council, which considered all sorts of constitutional approaches. I was a member of a cabinet committee that wrestled with a need for transformation. By 1986, we, and particularly I, in my heart and mind, had accepted that all South Africans, regardless of race, would have to be accommodated within the same constitutional system. We fought for and held an all-white election in ‘87 on a reform platform, asked for a mandate for constitutional reform and won with a reduced majority.

In my first speech after my surprise election as leader of the National Party in February ‘89, I made it clear that we intended to embark along a process of far-reaching transformation. I said, and I quote from that speech,

“Our goal is a new South Africa, a totally changed South Africa, a South Africa which has rid itself of the antagonism of the past, a South Africa free of domination or oppression in whatever form.”

My task when I became President in September ‘89 was greatly facilitated by a number of developments. All parties accepted that there could be no violent, military solution to the problems of the country.

The second was the successful implementation of the United Nations independence plan for Namibia. It lead to the withdrawal of 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola. And to the realization that positive, mutually acceptable outcomes could be achieved through negotiation.

And, thirdly, and as I said this morning, very significantly, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, removed our due strategic concern regarding the threat of communism. Also there were enormous socioeconomic forces at work that facilitated change.

The Black share of disposable income grew dramatically from 1970 -1994, the number of Black South Africans who passed the national school leaving exam increased from fewer than 15,000 in 1980 to more than 210,000 by 1994. By 1994, there were more Black students registered at universities than whites.

These events had, by the end of 1989, opened an historic window of opportunity for us. We knew that circumstances would never again be so propitious for a fair and balanced negotiation settlement. So we did not hesitate.

On the 2nd of February 1990, we leapt through the historic window of opportunity and initiated the process that led to constitutional negotiations, and at the end of that, an acceptable constitution having the support of the overwhelming majority of all South Africans.

During the years of negotiations, I was greatly assisted by the fact the ANC [African National Congress] was under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, a leader with remarkable charisma and integrity.

As political opponents, we often clashed. However, when circumstances required it, we were always able to break deadlocks and to ensure successful outcomes.

So, on the 2nd of February, I spelled out a new vision. A vision of a new democratic constitution, of universal franchise, of no racial discrimination, of equality before an independent judiciary, of the protection of minorities as well as of individual rights, freedom of religion and a sound economy based on proven economic principles and private enterprise.

By December 1993, we had achieved all these goals and were ready to hold our first non-racial, democratic elections on the 27th of April, 1994.

South Africa has, on the whole, done pretty well since then. After decades of isolation and criticism, the new South Africa has emerged as a respected member of the international community. We have had 19 years of economic growth, interrupted only briefly by the economic crisis of 2008. During this period, South Africa implemented sound macroeconomic policies that helped to ensure steady growth rates, rising to 5% in 2004 and 2005.

We have the 28th largest economy in the world; we produce 30% of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa, with only 6,5% of its population. Tourism now contributes almost 9% of GDP, more than mining. Everybody looks at South Africa and says it’s about minerals; tourism is now a greater source of income.

We have also made remarkable social progress. The percentage of the population living in absolute poverty has declined from 31% in 1995 to 23% in 2008. 94% of households now have access to running, drinkable water, more than 3 million housing units have been built; ¾ of the population now has access to electricity and sanitation compared with only ½ in 1994.

In other areas, we have performed badly. We have a poor record in terms of labor relations. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, it [South Africa] is the worst of 142 countries assessed in terms of cooperation in labor-employer relations. Labor costs have been raised out of step with growth and productivity and with inflation.

Our labor legislation is about amongst the most onerous anywhere, the biggest trade union cooperation has steadfastly opposed proposals to open labor markets to the unemployed and all this has led to an extremely high unemployment rate. 25% of our population is unemployed. If you look at young, Black South Africans, between 18-30, 50% of them are unemployed. So, the trade unions, instead of helping to create jobs, have prevented the creation of jobs.

Greater state ownership, including more strategic use of existing state-owned companies, greater state involvement in mining, falling short of outright nationalization, all of these things have put off prospective investors and we’re not getting the investments which we need for high economic growth to create the jobs. And our education system is in a very bad state. These developments have undoubtedly had the negative impact on present and future foreign investment.

South Africa, however, does well in many other respects. In a number of categories assessed by the World Economic Forum, in its Global Competitiveness Reports, we get very high marks. The regulation of our security exchanges and our reporting standards are the best in the world. Our banks are the second soundest in the world and our corporate boards are the second most efficient. South Africa is also in the top 10% in the world in respect of its legal rights index: Investor protection, the quality of its management, schools reliant on professional management, the focusing of its legal dispute settlement system, the size of its domestic market, and university-driven innovation.

What emerges from all this, and I could give you all the data, is a picture of dysfunctional government, on the one hand, and a fairly sophisticated private banking and commercial sector on the other.

The good news, as far as I’m concerned, is that government is increasingly aware of its shortcomings, and is in the process of adopting realistic plans to address them. It is doing so under the guidance of our national planning commission, which has brought out a report which has been accepted by the governing party now.

All the main problems that I have referred to are addressed in this national development plan and I’m sure that if it is implemented properly, things will turn for the better in South Africa.

I also remain an optimist about South Africa’s future because of the excellent foundation that our inaugural constitution has created for our present and long-term stability. It is a good constitution, of which we are proud. And support for this is no longer a black and white thing. Black politicians, journalists, businessmen and religious leaders are in the vanguard of those who support the constitution; it was the result of intensive negotiation. And we really have reason to feel that it has laid the foundation for a secure future.

South Africa will succeed, provided that we can work together as South Africans, to support our constitution, to demand the rights that it guarantees, and to achieve the vision of human dignity, equality, and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms it articulates.

On that basis, the question is what lessons are to be learned from our experience for other countries in transition?

I think the first lesson lies in the fact that peace in a country, which has been wrecked by conflict for a long time, can only be achieved by reaching agreement between the parties to the conflict. If a military solution proves to be possible, and in our case, and in most cases it is, we could carry on and I could still be President today, we have the strongest army in Africa, but we would never have successfully suppressed the uprising of people who felt deprived of their rights. They could carry on with their armed struggled and they would never have succeeded as long as we have the biggest and strongest army in Sub-Saharan Africa or in the African continent. But both sides realized it; military solutions also don’t hold. In the end, those who are defeated will rise up again in a military situation.

Poland is a good example of this. You were defeated and look what has happened after the Second World War, after you threw off the Soviet Union yoke, you are a free country. So, you need to negotiate.

We also learned that in a transition, negotiation needs a give and take process. If you sit around the negotiation table as we are sitting here now and if that side gets everything it wants, and I get, on my side, get nothing of what I want, I will walk away and it will sow the seeds of new uprisings, of new resistance. If, however, that side and my side can take back to their support base, to their constituents, a message: we didn’t, in the negotiations, get everything we want but all the important things, our core interests, we did succeed securing in those negotiations. Then you will find, from both constituencies, although they don’t regard the final result as perfect, acceptance of the agreements reached.

And in our case, it became more than just an agreement. It became a national accord, in which we said, all of us commit that this will be our guiding line, our guiding light for the future, on the values contained in this agreement, we will build a secure nation, we will build a reconciled nation with eleven official languages, of great diversity, but around this agreement, which we negotiated, we will stand together.

A problem in many parts where you have conflicts at the moment. That Syria’s negotiation is not taking place. There are too many preconditions.

Let’s just talk for a moment about Israel and Palestine. There are too many preconditions. There are two things, which need to happen in Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians need to say we acknowledge the right of the state of Israel to exist. And the Israelis need to say we acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to have a state of which they can be proud, with borders which are fair and just and equitable. If they say those two things, the basis for successful negotiations about all the other details would have been laid.

We need negotiation in Syria. Syria needs transition; it can’t carry on the way it is. At the same time, we can’t just hand over Syria to an amorphous group, influenced by so many sources, maybe with Al-Qaeda influence, and Al-Qaeda’s support, somehow or another, moderate solutions need to come out. A stable government needs to come out.

So, transition requires negotiated solutions built on universally acceptable values.

Lastly, transitions need to be supported by the international community. If the international community or elements in the international community are prescriptive, then it might even become a new form of colonization. The lesson we’ve learnt, the best agreements are reached between the people of the country. We did everything without international intervention. We had international help in the sense that they were glad that we were talking. They, at times, acted as go-betweens, and when there were hitches and problems, they were helpful. But it was South Africans sitting around, around the table negotiating a new dispensation for themselves. Not being prescribed to by outside forces or powers.WARSAW, POLAND. ROOSTERGNN is proud to present exclusive access to the following speech by former President Frederik Willem de Klerk, given as part of the Civic Academy at this year’s World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Warsaw, 2013.

View the entire World Summit series here.