OPENING STATEMENT OF FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE CONFERENCE ON UNITY IN DIVERSITY, RADISSON HOTEL, GRANGER BAY, CAPE TOWN, 28 FEBRUARY 2008
The new South Africa is founded on the premise that no-one – no majority, no minority, no individual – should ever again be able to unjustly deprive anyone – whether a majority, a minority or an indivual – of any fundamental right. The foundation of our historic national accord was that henceforth relationships between the state and citizens would never again be governed by the arbitrary decisions of this or that group or party – but by the carefully crafted and nationally agreed precepts of the Constitution.
The fathers of the Constitution drafted a historic charter that provided the basis for genuine democracy; the rule of law and the enjoyment of fundamental rights. The constitution that they produced takes into account the legacy of past injustice and division and makes provision for the accommodation of the apprehensions and sometimes competing aspirations and expectations of our remarkably diverse population. In so doing it has found a balance
• between the need for equality on the one hand, and the need to avoid unfair discrimination on the other;
• between the need to protect property rights on the one hand and the need to promote a fair and balanced process of land reform on the other;
• between the need for demographic representivity in the state and the need for the effective provision of services to all our people; and finally,
• between the need on the one hand to nurture and protect our rich heritage of cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, and, on the other, the need to promote over-arching national unity based on the values, aspirations and rights set out in the Constitution.
By so-doing we also created a new foundation for national unity. We identified national values, aspirations and obligations with which the vast majority of our diverse population could identify and enthusiastically support. That unity, however, is entirely dependent on the continuing ability and willingness of our government, our courts, our communities and our citizens to respect and maintain the essential balances contained in the Constitution. The objective of this conference is to discuss the degree to which we are succeeding in this regard – particularly in the sphere of cultural and linguistic diversity – although the maintenance and protection of political and ideological diversity is equally essential.
Unfortunately, there are reasons for concern in the area of cultural and linguistic diversity – which twelve years ago was regarded as so important that it was accommodated in the Founding Provisions of the Constitution:
• English has become the de facto single official language of the national government – despite the requirement that it must use two official languages;
• our ten official indigenous languages clearly do not, in practice, enjoy parity of esteem with English and are not treated equitably;
• in practice, few provinces fully respect the requirement that they must use two official languages;
• very little is being done to develop indigenous languages – especially black indigenous languages;
• recommendations have been made for the dissolution of Pan South African Language Board and the Commission for the Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Minorities;
• the state is not properly respecting the right to mother language education – particularly for children who speak black, African languages. Few receive mother language education beyond Grade 3 – often to the irreparable detriment of their subsequent education prospects;
• many Afrikaans single-medium schools – and traditional Afrikaans universities – are under enormous pressure to introduce and expand English parallel tuition with serious implications for their long-term viability.
The constitutional balance that is essential for the preservation of national unity is under serious threat from a number of tendencies:
• The universal application of demographic representivity – outside the constitutionally sanctioned areas of the public service, the security forces and the judiciary – is irreconcilable with the maintenance of diversity. Diversity requires numerous centres of cultural, social and economic activity – all existing in mutual toleration and respect. It presupposes a degree of community autonomy and acceptance that there are important spheres of life that should be free from majority interference and control. It creates space for community-based schools, businesses and institutions provided firstly, that none of these excludes anyone on the basis of race or on any of the other grounds that are rightly prohibited by the Constitution; and secondly, that in their diversity, all our citizens should give their first and overarching loyalty to South Africa and to the Constitution. In contrast to this, the pervasive application of demographic ‘representivity’ would mean that minorities would be subject to the control of the majority in every area of their lives – in their jobs, in their schools, in their universities and in their sports. The essence of diversity is that individuals, families and associations should be free to decide how they wish to lead their lives. The foundation of our unity is that we should all do so within the framework of the values and goals contained in the constitution.
• The balance will also be destroyed if the melting-pot view prevails that “healthy osmosis among our various cultures and attributes” should lead to the emergence of a new (composite) African nation – or common identity. Likewise, the assertion of “African hegemony in the context of a multi-cultural and non-racial society” is irreconcilable with the founding principles of equality and human dignity that underlie our Constitution.
• In the same manner, calls for the judiciary to identify with, and to be accountable to, the masses “who engaged in the struggle to liberate our country from white minority domination” and to be inspired “by their hopes, dreams and value systems” would mean that South Africans who do not belong to “the masses” would no longer be able to approach the courts with any confidence that their constitutional rights would be upheld. This would destroy, for once and forever, any prospect of maintaining the constitutional balance on which national unity depends.
It is for this reason that I strongly and unreservedly welcome and support the Bill of Responsibilities for the Youth of South Africa that was recently published by the Minister of National Education. It is firmly rooted in the values and spirit of the Constitution and includes principles that should guide not only our youth – but all South Africans. As I mentioned last week, I have some problems with the School Pledge that flowed from the Bill of Responsibilities because to my mind they would have consigned some children on the basis of their race to a situation of perpetual moral inferiority. However, I am sure that with some sensitive editing the Minister will be able to produce a pledge that will, indeed, contribute to our common effort to promote national unity.
These are all issues of fundamental importance to the continued well-being and success of our young democracy. I accordingly welcome the willingness of the government and of such a wide spectrum of community and academic leaders to participate in this conference and to debate these questions. I would, in particular, like to welcome Prof Fernand de Varennes from Murdoch University in Western Australia who will remind us that the questions that we are discussing today, are also seminal to the maintenance of stability and progress in countries throughout the world. Finally, I would like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for its generous support for the conference and the dialogue that it represents. This is yet another example of its deep and constructive commitment to the continuing success of our multiracial democracy