SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
TO BENCHMARK SPORTS GROUP
GROOTE SCHUUR, CAPE TOWN
5 APRIL 2006
It is a very special pleasure for me to be with you tonight. Groote Schuur holds many memories for me.
I lived here for almost seven years.
- It was next door to Groote Schuur that I put the finishing touches to my speech of 2 February 1990 in which we made the announcements that began the transformation of South Africa.
- It was here on 4 May 1990 – in the dining room – that we held the first historic meeting between the former National Party Government and the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.
- It was in these rooms that I wrestled with many of the crises that beset us during the ensuing years of intense negotiations – and also here where I celebrated our successes and breakthroughs.
Of course, Groote Schuur is no stranger to history. It was designed by the great imperial architect Sir Herbert Baker and was built in 1896 on the site of one of the first settler farms in the Cape. It means, literally, ‘big barn’.
Its first resident was the archetypal British Imperialist – Cecil John Rhodes – who made a fortune in gold and diamonds and became Premier of the Cape Colony. He, no doubt, sat on the back porch and looking up to Devil’s Peak dreamt of a British African Empire stretching from the Cape to Cairo. His dreams included the destruction of the two Afrikaner republics in the interior – the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. So, some of the first seeds of the Anglo-Boer War were probably also germinated here – over cigars and port where we are sitting this evening.
Like many ill-considered wars its authors seriously underestimated the implications and costs. It was supposed to be over by Christmas – but ended up with the deployment of almost half a million Imperial troops in the most serious war that Britain fought between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War. It also sowed the seeds of bitterness and division that dominated South African politics for the next sixty years.
Groote Schuur was later the home of Field Marshal Smuts – South Africa’s Prime Minister during World War II. A close confidant of Winston Churchill, he was a member of the British War Cabinet and actually served during one of Churchill’s absences as Britain’s acting Prime Minister. Unlike many of his fellow Afrikaners, he believed that South Africa’s future lay with the British Commonwealth. He was also a significant philosopher and a world-class botanist who used to climb Table Mountain several times a week.
After the 1948 victory of the National Party, Groote Schuur became the residence of Prime Minister D. F. Malan and after him of my uncle, Hans Strijdom. Their frame of reference was still the defeat of the two Afrikaner Republics in the Anglo-Boer War at the beginning of the 20th century and the system of rigid racial discrimination that the world grew to know and revile as apartheid. Their dream was the re-establishment of an Afrikaner Republic.
They were followed by Dr Hendrik Verwoerd who thought that South Africa could solve its racial problems by leading black South Africans to independence in the nine tribal homelands that they had traditionally occupied. Four of the homelands ultimately became independent – but the remaining five refused to do so because they saw their future as part of a united nonracial South Africa. Verwoerd’s dream failed dismally because the division of land was unfair, because it did not take into account the increasing economic integration of South Africa and because the great majority of black, Coloured and Indian South Africans were vehemently opposed his plan.
Finally, by the time I moved into Groote Schuur, the National Party that I led had changed its vision. After a great deal of painful self-examination it acknowledged that its policies had led South Africa down a blind alley of injustice, isolation and escalating conflict. We accepted that South Africans of all races shared a common constitutional destiny – even though this meant that Afrikaners would have to give up their historic ideal of absolute self-determination in their own state.
The rest, as they say, is history.
On 27 April 1994 we held our first election in which South Africans of all races could at last vote. On 10 May 1994 I officially handed power to Nelson Mandela, the newly elected president. Few leaders have worked harder to lose their jobs – or have ever regarded their exit from office with a greater sense of achievement – than my colleagues and I in the last white dominated South African Government did.
I thereafter served for two years as Deputy-President in a Government of National Unity from which the National Party withdrew in June 1996. A year later I retired from political life altogether which brings me to what Presidents (and CEOs) do when they retire.
“Power”, Henry Kissinger, once said “is the ultimate aphrodisiac”. How then do we people who used to be presidents or foreign ministers (like Henry Kissinger) get by after retirement? Does it mean that once we have left office we are doomed to a progressive decline? Happily, this is not necessarily the case.
High office brings with it enormous excitement:- the ability to implement policies in which you believe; the sense of being at the center of things; the power to make things happen; and the incessant barrage of journalists, cameramen and photographers. All this excitement and the trappings of power – the government jets, red carpets and honour guards; the grand residences and state banquets – can become addictive – which perhaps explains why so many leaders fail the final test of knowing when to go. History offers numerous examples.
However, despite these attractions of power there are also major negatives: the loneliness of being the final decision-maker; the interminable jockeying for position that surrounds leaders; the crises and the inevitable criticism – much of it shallow and often bitterly unfair; the lack of privacy, of never being out of earshot of security guards or photo lens-reach of the media.
The whole thing was summed up quite well a few years ago in the movie, “The American President” starring Michael Douglas – in which the president discovered that it was almost impossible for him to visit a local florist to buy flowers for his girlfriend!
The real challenge of retirement lies in remaining constructively engaged.
Although retired from active politics, I am still deeply committed to the causes for which I worked during my presidency: harmonious relations between communities and the strengthening of the multiparty constitutional democracy that we established in South Africa seven years ago.
Like many former leaders I have established my own foundation – the F W de Klerk Foundation – to promote these causes. We strongly support the Constitution and is in the process of establishing a Centre for Constitutional Rights that will
- monitor compliance with the constitution;
- provide constitutional advice and information;
- and help individuals and organisations to claim their constitutional rights.
We furthermore organise dialogues between minority community leaders from civil society and the government at which we informally discuss issues such as balanced transformation and the building of national consensus on economic and social transformation.
We have also channelled more than one million rand to charities that provide bursaries to gifted children from disadvantaged homes and to others that care for orphans, disabled children and children with AIDS.
Internationally I have established the Global Leadership Foundation – a group of internationally respected former national leaders who are prepared to share their experience with the current generation of national leaders.
This Foundation’s objective is to provide discreet advice and help to national leaders seeking to promote peace, good governance and development in their countries.
The GLF’s approach is distinguished by two features:
- it focuses on specific issues;
- its action is confidential; GLF will not publicise the fact or the scope of its advice.
Because of this discreet nature of our activities I cannot talk to you about specific projects – but we are working on a number of very interesting initiatives in Eastern Europe and Africa.
So, although I am retired I have seldom been busier!
I therefore see a significant role for elder statesmen and former CEO’s. Their challenge is to exercise a constructive influence, without becoming prescriptive or lost in detail;
to play a positive role in promoting necessary action, but to do so without alienating the powers that be;
and never to surrender to the temptation of trying to make a come-back – despite the pressures from former supporters.
As far as I am concerned Henry Kissinger can keep his aphrodisiac.
Let me close by sharing with you a few thoughts about the South Africa of today.
The New South Africa can justifiably be proud of its many achievements:
- We have established a functioning constitutional democracy that recognizes the dignity, rights and equality of all its people;
- our Government has implemented exemplary economic policies that have slashed inflation and interest rates and that have laid the foundations for sustained economic growth;
- millions of black South Africans have moved into the middle income group;
- many more South Africans now have access to electricity and to clean water;
- far more pensioners and children now receive grants;
- We have rejoined the international community where we are playing a respected and constructive role – particularly in our own continent, Africa.
At the same time we must acknowledge some critical failures:
The most serious of these is the harsh reality that almost half our population has hardly benefited at all from our new democracy. Ironically and unacceptably, South Africa today is a less equal society than it was in 1994. The poor have become poorer and the rich have become richer.
According to a recently published study there were more people living below the poverty line in 2001 than there were in 1996.
The reason for the persistence of poverty is not hard to find: it lies in unemployment: 11% more black South Africans are now unemployed than in 1995. At the same time, many of those who are most seriously afflicted by poverty are experiencing a crisis with the delivery of services as a result of serious deficiencies in half of our municipalities. The same people are hardest hit by the ravages of AIDS.
This then is the reality. We have much to feel proud of, but we are faced with tremendous challenges at the same time.
Time does not allow me to deal in detail with what needs to be done to meet these challenges successfully. In a nut shell:
- We should remove all impediments to employment.
- We must improve service delivery.
- As a national priority we must improve our education levels.
- We must ensure that black economic empowerment succeeds in a way which will not harm the economy and disrupt good relations within our nation.
- We must work towards a dynamic action plan to deal with the ravage of Aids.
To achieve this we need all South Africans – black, white, brown, Indian – to take hands, to be on the playing field and to be constructively involved. And to ensure that we achieve this cooperation between all our people, we need to honour and uphold the constitutional accord of 1993 to 1996 as articulated in the 1996 Constitution.
It is to this that I am now dedicating most of my energy and experience.