There is no doubt that we have made great advances in the area of human rights. We have a Bill of Rights that is enforced by the courts and that guarantees the whole spectrum of civil and political rights.

We have a functioning democracy. We have held four free and fair elections and will soon hold the fifth. We have on three occasions witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from one president to his successor. We have established a strong and functioning non-racial constitutional democracy. We have free and independent courts and institutions that uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

During this period the government has significantly improved the lives of millions of South Africans. It has built more than three million new homes – enough to accommodate almost a quarter of the population. It has brought electricity, water and sanitation to more than three quarters of our population. The percentage of people living in absolute poverty has diminished significantly.

We have also witnessed 20 years of sustained economic growth – with a brief interruption in 2009.

At the same time we have experienced serious failures: we have failed to provide decent education to our children; we have failed to create jobs for almost 40% of South Africans; we have made little or no progress in promoting equality; and the national reconciliation for which Nelson Mandela worked so unceasingly is taking strain.

In his acceptance speech, President De Klerk referred to the first speech that he had made on February the 8th, 1989 after becoming Leader of the National Party when he had said:

“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; a South Africa within which the democratic forces – all reasonable people – align themselves behind mutually acceptable goals and against radicalism, irrespective of where it comes from.”

“Since then we have made impressive progress, thanks to the co-operation of political, spiritual, business and community leaders over a wide spectrum. To Mr Mandela I sincerely say: Congratulations. And in accepting this Peace Prize today I wish to pay tribute to all who are working for peace in our land. On behalf of all South Africans who supported me, directly or indirectly, I accept it in humility, deeply aware of my own shortcomings.”

In concluding De Klerk quoted NP van Wyk Louw:

“O wye en droewe land,
onder die groot suidersterre.
Sal nooit ‘n hoë blydskap kom
deur jou stil droefenis? …
Sal nooit ‘n magtige skoonheid kom
oor jou soos die haelwit somerwolk
wat uitbloei oor jou donker berge,
en nooit in jou ‘n daad geskied
wat opklink oor die aarde en
die jare in hul onmag terge; …”

Translated freely it means:

“Oh wide and woeful land, alone
Beneath the great south stars.
Will soaring joy ne’er rise above
Your silent grief?
Will ne’er a mighty beauty rise
above you, like the hail-white summer clouds
that billow o’er your brooding peaks
and in you, ne’er a deed be wrought
that over the earth resounds
and mocks the ages in their impotence?”

De Klerk said that what was taking place in South Africa was such a deed – a deed resounding over the earth – a deed of peace. It brought hope to all South Africans. It opened new horizons for sub-Saharan Africa. It had the capacity to unlock the tremendous potential of our country and our region.

The new era which was dawning in our country, beneath the great southern stars, would lift us out of the silent grief of our past and into a future in which there would be opportunity and space for joy and beauty – for real and lasting peace.

In his acceptance Speech Nelson Mandela said that the value of our shared reward would and must be measured:

“…by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race, will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise.”

“Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognises that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance.”

“Such a society should never allow again that there should be prisoners of conscience nor that any person`s human rights should be violated.”

“Neither should it ever happen that once more the avenues to peaceful change are blocked by usurpers who seek to take power away from the people, in pursuit of their own, ignoble purposes.”

“…We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born.”

“This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.”

The intervening years have borne witness to the degree to which the visions of the two Nobel Peace Laureates have become reality. It is fitting to consider the distance that we have come in past 20 years as we commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation