He reminded his audience of how desperate the situation in South Africa had been in the mid-1980s. Efforts to reform apartheid had failed. The country was beset with internal unrest and increasingly violent protests. International banks had refused to roll over South Africa’s short-term debt. There were increasing demands for comprehensive economic sanctions and the SADF was confronted with escalating border wars.

De Klerk said that there had been “no signs of light on the dark and stormy horizon”.

However, by 1990 South Africa had clawed its way back from the precipice:

De Klerk said that by the beginning of 1990 these events had opened a historic window of opportunity for a peaceful and negotiated settlement. “We did not hesitate. We jumped through – and after almost four years of roller-coaster negotiations we were able to reach a national accord on our future. It was our proudest moment”. The 1993 and 1996 constitutions were the outcome of the genuine give and take process. The agreements contained all the basic rights that were needed to maintain a free and prosperous society.

De Klerk then listed South Africa’s “many, many successes” since 1994 – many of which had resulted from government action.

At the same time, he added that one could hardly disagree with the diagnosis of the National Planning Commission regarding the challenges that South Africa now faced. They included:

De Klerk added that on top of all this had come the Marikana massacre of 16 August last year; the subsequent wave of violent and uncontrolled wildcat strikes and hopelessly unrealistic wage demands. All this had been compounded by the precipitous fall of the rand against the US dollar.

In turning to the future, De Klerk observed that although predicting the future was difficult in rapidly changing times there were a number of salient factors that would undoubtedly influence the future course of events.

De Klerk said that he remained an optimist. He believed that South Africa would be able to surmount the challenges that confronted it – just as it had been able to overcome the much greater problems that it faced 25 years ago.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation Cape Town
16 September 2013