29 JANUARY 2001





More than six and a half years have now passed since the magical day in May 1994 when the new South Africa  came into being.


It happened on an early winter’s morning under eggshell blue skies and silver sunshine.   The venue was the Union Buildings in Pretoria which for 84 years had been  the administrative seat of the all-white governments that had ruled the country  since the Union of South Africa  was founded in 1910.

The inauguration of South Africa’s new President, Nelson Mandela, took place in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings where the funeral of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid had taken place 28 years earlier.   Many of the VIP guests, dressed in bright African fabrics, were members of the African Nationalist Congress which had just won the country’s first one-man one-vote elections.  They sat beside minister’s and senior officials from the outgoing National Party government.  Officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force, resplendent in their dress uniforms traded stories with members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC.  Until recently they had been locked in a bitter conflict  that had come close to spiraling out of control and engulfing the country in full-scale civil war.

The amphitheatre was also filled with representatives of countries from all over the world who had come to join in the celebration of the birth of the new multiracial South African democracy.  They included Tippa Gore and Hillary Clinton, the Duke of Edinburgh and Fidel Castro – with whose forces our own army had recently clashed in neighbouring Angola.

Many of the foreign guests were still amazed that we South Africans had, against all expectations, managed to find a peaceful and negotiated solution to our seemingly intractable problems.

They called it ‘a miracle’.

These are some of the questions that I would like to speak about tonight.

Obviously, there is no single recipe for the  peaceful resolution of all conflicts.  Each situation has its own roots and complexities.   What succeeds in one instance might fail in another. There are, however, a few basic principles which would seem to be relevant to the solution of most conflicts.  The fact that they are obvious does not necessarily mean that they are easy to apply:

Before the process can begin, the basic prerequisites for genuine negotiations must be present.

The first of these is that there must be a genuine willingness on the part of the major parties to a conflict to pursue a peaceful settlement.  They must be prepared to accept the risks and make the painful compromises that peace nearly always requires.

In the case of my Party, the former National Party, the willingness to commit ourselves to genuine negotiations developed over a number of years.  By the late seventies and early eighties it was becoming increasingly obvious that our country was on the wrong course.

Given the demographic and economic realities of South Africa, there was no way that the then prevailing policy of trying to create viable separate states for all our different national groups, was going to work.  No amount of social engineering, no elaborate constitutional maneuvering, no manipulation of the economy could alter the central fact that South Africa was more and more a single country, with a single economy and a single constitutional destiny.

However, knowing that you are on the wrong course and being able to change course are often two very different things.  For years we had been riding the proverbial tiger of minority rule.  By the mid ‘eighties the tiger was becoming increasingly fractious.  Onlookers throughout the rest of the world were shouting at us to get off.  We certainly weren’t  enjoying the ride either.  We didn’t want to be there, but how could we dismount without being devoured?     We first had to wrestle with some very real concerns and fears.   We were deeply concerned about:

Our greatest challenge was to confront these fears and to accept the risks that we knew genuine negotiations would involve.

The ANC also had to accept the need for genuine negotiations.  Until the late eighties they had thought that they would be able to achieve their objectives through the revolutionary campaigns that they and their allies in the UDF had unleashed from 1983 onwards.  At that time, they were not talking about the need for multiparty negotiations, but of overthrowing the State and imposing their demands on their opponents.  However, by the end of the ‘eighties the ANC and its allies had come to realise that there was little possibility for a revolutionary seizure of power.  They had also come to accept that escalating conflict would lead to a devastating civil war in which there would be no winners.   It was with such thoughts in mind that Nelson Mandela opened up a line of communication with the government from his prison cell.

Thus the scene was set for negotiations between the two major roleplayers.

The second prerequisite for the peaceful solution of disputes is the willingness to accept that the reasonable core interests of all significant parties must be accommodated during the negotiations.  This will often require painful compromises.  However, if genuine win/win solutions are not found the result of negotiations will not be a free agreement, supported by all the parties, but a win/lose situation.  Such outcomes  never lead to lasting peace.

In our case, all our major parties would have to make major concessions before the negotiation was successfully concluded.

The former National Party had to abandon the ideal that had been its guiding principle since its foundation – the ideal of sovereign self-determination for white South Africans as a separate and distinct nation with their own state in Southern Africa.

Unlike any other White group in Africa, the Afrikaners were a nation.  The determination to rule themselves had been the central theme of their 350 year history in the sub-continent.  They felt just as strongly about this right as the Israelis, or the Irish or the Bosnians or the Serbs – or, indeed, as Black South Africans did.   One of the most difficult decisions that we had to make was to accept that we would have to abandon the ideal of untrammeled national self-determination.

The ANC also had to make painful concessions.  It had to abandon many of its revolutionary ideals – including the establishment of the centralised socialist State that it had been propagating for many years.  It had to accept that such an approach was simply not a practical proposition given South Africa’s need for inter-racial harmony and economic growth.

The third prerequisite for successful negotiations is that the balance of forces must be such that all the parties to the conflict will be able to secure their reasonable core interests at the negotiating table. If one side perceives itself to be overwhelmingly powerful, it will not usually be prepared to make the concessions that genuine peace nearly always requires.

Since the balance of forces is seldom static, it is essential to take advantage of windows of opportunity  when neither side feels itself too strong or too weak. Timing is, accordingly, of the greatest importance.

We, in South Africa, experienced such a window of opportunity at the end of the 1980’s.

From the Government’s side, it was apparent by the early eighties that, although we were overwhelmingly powerful in the military arena,  we were spiralling toward a civil war that would have disastrous consequences for all South Africans.  The great majority of black South Africans were increasingly adamant in their rejection of our policies.   Simultaneously, with each year that passed, we were becoming more and more isolated from the international community.  All of this – together with international sanctions – was having an increasingly negative impact on our economy.   The collapse of the Soviet Union helped to remove our long-standing concern regarding the influence of the South African Communist Party within the ANC Alliance.  By 1990 classic socialism had been thoroughly discredited throughout the world and was no longer a serious option,  even for revolutionary parties like the ANC.

At about the same time, the ANC was reaching a similar conclusion that it could not achieve a revolutionary victory within the foreseeable future.  The State of Emergency, declared by the South African Government in 1986, and the collapse of the Soviet Union – which had traditionally been one the ANC’s main allies and suppliers – led the organisation to adopt a more realistic view of the balance of forces.  It concluded that its interests could be best secured by accepting negotiations rather than by committing itself to a long and ruinous civil war.

The fourth prerequisite for successful peace initiatives is the establishment of minimal trust and confidence between the parties.

Opposing parties in long-standing conflicts bring to the negotiating process a great deal of negative emotional baggage.  They see their opponents through the prism of their own propaganda.  They remember the ancient injuries  and hostilities.  They often come to the table with radically differing ideologies and ways of seeing the problems that they wish to resolve.

Before meaningful negotiations can take place it is essential that leaders must discard as much of this baggage as they can and establish meaningful relationships with their opponents.

In South Africa’s case this process began with tentative and secret meetings between the ANC and leading Afrikaners in the mid 1980s.   It was consolidated by growing interaction and discussion between Nelson Mandela and members of the government in the years that followed.  Finally, when Nelson Mandela and I met for the first time in 1989 we both concluded that we would be able to do business with one another.

During the negotiations we arranged many more unpublicised meetings between leaders from all of the major parties during which we managed to break down the stereotypes that we had developed of one another.  We found that it was always much easier to agree on future goals than on past differences.

The relationship that I developed with Nelson Mandela was of critical importance during the negotiations.  Although it was often characterised by sharp and bitter differences, we were always able to rise above these during moments of crisis and ensure that the process remained on the rails.   Other leading members of our respective negotiating teams – such as Roelf Meyer from our side and Cyril Ramaphosa from the ANC – also managed to establish relationships of trust.  Although we seldom dropped our respective guards, we learned that we could indeed do business with one another.

By the end of 1989 I believed that the prerequisites for successful negotiations were in place in South Africa.

The stage was set for the speech that I made on 2 February 1990.

My first priority was to articulate a clear and achievable vision of where we wanted to go.

A vision gives direction and purpose to our actions and provides a way of measuring our progress.  Without a vision, we have no idea of where we are going or of how far we have come.  And if we don’t know where we are going it doesn’t really matter how we get there!

On 2 February 1990 I presented a new vision to the South African Parliament of a peaceful and democratic solution to our problems.  I set goals that included

The management of the transformation process was difficult and sometimes brought us close to the brink of failure.

There were many points when we had to take calculated risks.  Among these were our decisions

We also had to deal with the crises that we knew would arise and to persevere with the process until its logical conclusion.

We realised that our decision to embark on radical change would unleash a chain of events with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. It was rather like paddling a canoe into a long stretch of dangerous rapids.  You may start the process and determine the initial direction.  However, after that the canoe is seized by enormous and often uncontrollable forces.   All that you can do is to maintain your balance, avoid the rocks and steer as best you can – and right the canoe if it capsizes.   It is a time for cool heads and firm, decisive action.

We experienced several such crises during our transformation process.

Finally, by April 1994 we had achieved most of the goals that I had spelled out in my speech of 2 February 1990.

We had also learned that the process of change never ends.  There is no point at which you can say that you have ‘solved’ any problem in a rapidly changing environment.  As soon as you have achieved your objectives, you must begin to address the next challenges that change will inevitably throw down.

This is very much the case in South Africa now.  During the past six years we have made remarkable progress:

Nevertheless, we dare not rest on our laurels.  We continue to face enormous challenges:
We have not achieved the levels of economic growth that we desperately need – partly because of the negative global economic climate and the crisis that emerging markets have had to endure – and partly because we have not succeeded in attracting sufficient foreign and domestic investment.  Despite all the lip service that is given to the success of our new multiracial democracy, the jury is still out when it comes to making decisions on long-term investment in our country.

Another area that raises concern is increasing strains in inter-community relations.  The apparent ease with which we completed the first years of our national transformation may have led us to underestimate the underlying fragility of our complex multicultural society.   As a result, insufficient attention has been given to nurturing the relationships between our diverse communities. Signs of strain are beginning to appear in the relations between some of our communities:

These are all serious problems, but, in my opinion, they are more than outweighed by many positive factors as well:

All of these factors put us into quite a different category from the rest of Africa and even from most other emerging markets.   The stage is also set for us to play a leading role in Africa – and particularly in southern Africa.

Apart from all of these advantages,  we have proved that we have the ability to meet and overcome historic challenges – as we did with our transition to democracy six years ago.

I will leave it to you to judge to what extent these prerequisites for negotiations are present in other conflict situations around the world  – in the disputes between the Israelis and the Palestianians, in Northern Ireland, in Cyprus and Sri Lanka and the many other countries around the world that continue to wrestle with inter-communal conflict.

The questions that we must ask in these situations include

So, revisiting the South African miracle after six and half years, my conclusion is that it wasn’t really a miracle at all.

It required a great deal of patience, perseverance, and hard work.  Sometimes we needed luck – and often we needed courage and resolve.   We surprised the world then – and I am convinced that we have the will and the potential to surprise the world again by becoming a winning country in the economic sphere as well.  Watch us.  President Mbeki might be right.  This might indeed be the dawning of the African century!