Introductory comments by F W de Klerk in anticipation of the F W de Klerk Foundation Bosberaad, Grande Roche Hotel, Paarl, 19 January 2001
At the outset, I should like to stress the informal, unstructured and off-the-record nature of the bosberaad. We want no publicity and I would respectfully ask that none of us should speak with the media about the fact, nature or content of the bosberaad.
Our foundation’s focus is the promotion of harmonious relations in multicultural countries such as our own. We are particularly interested in identifying those approaches that enable different communities to coexist peacefully and we also want to examine the causes of inter-communal tension and conflict. We do this because most of the conflict in the world today has its roots in disputes between communities within the same countries and no longer between countries themselves. Also, the future success of our own country depends on our ability to maintain positive relations between our many diverse communities.
It was because of our concerns over recent developments in race relations in South Africa that we decided to hold this bosberaad – and particularly because of growing criticism of, and uncertainty about, the role of white South Africans. These concerns arise from
- President Mbeki’s ‘two nations’ analysis, in terms of which South Africa is divided into two nations, one white and rich (because of apartheid) and insensitive to the plights of blacks, and the other black and impoverished (because of apartheid), and increasingly angry;
- The proceedings and report of the TRC which strongly reinforced central elements of the two nations perception – and particularly the idea of white collective guilt for gross violations of human rights blamed on apartheid;
- The Conference of Racism, which further reinforced the theme of white guilt; and
- The recent ‘Home for all’ initiative of Mary Burton and Carl Niehaus which sought to acknowledge and articulate white guilt.
White concerns and demoralisation have grown apace. Many are disillusioned with the new South Africa which most enthusiastically welcomed in 1994. Because of the above-mentioned factors many whites no longer feel truly welcome in their own country or represented in the institutions by which they are governed. They are increasingly concerned about
- affirmative action, new forms of racial discrimination, and the prospects for themselves and their children;
- developments in Zimbabwe and fears that the government’s ambivalent response may reflect a lukewarm commitment to property rights and non-racialism in South Africa ;
- the goverment’s inability to do anything to stop the murder of white farmers and of rampant crime; and
- perceptions among Afrikaners that their language and culture are under threat.
These developments and perceptions have led to a growing sense of alienation among many whites. Because of this, many are withdrawing into their own communities; others are encouraging their children to acquire international qualifications; and emigration has increased. These responses, in turn, add to black perceptions of white insensitivity and lack of commitment to the country.
In my view there is no room for complacency. Whether or not we agree with the ‘two nations’ analysis, there can be no doubt that it represents the perception of the Government and underlies many of its transformation policies. Also, we would be foolish to ignore the historic reality that privileged ethnic minorities have traditionally presented attractive targets, particularly in times of economic hardship.
One of the key problems is that although whites are frequently addressed and targeted as a group (President Mbeki, TRC, Racism Conference, Home for All initiative) they do not in fact constitute a coherent group and also probably do not want to be regarded as such. For this reason the response from whites to the above-mentioned developments – has mostly been fragmented and ad hoc and consequently relatively ineffective.
The purpose of this bosberaad then is to consider this situation as well as the following questions:
- Should there be a more organised and coherent response to this situation and If so, from whence should it come and how should it be presented to maximise its impact?
- What are the essential elements of such a response in dealing with the past and the present?
- Should White South Africans respond because they are targeted as such or is there a way to deracialise counter action?
- How can White South Africans be better mobilised to become involved?
- Which existing mechanisms can be used in such a process and what new mechanisms are needed?
After careful consideration, we decided not to include representatives of other communities in these discussions at this stage. We have accordingly invited a cross section of leaders from various sections of the ‘white’ communities to assist us with these deliberations. A next step would be to involve leaders from other communities.
The participants are:
- Dr Francois Venter, the head of the Afrkanerbond – perhaps one of the most influential organisations within the Afrikaner community;
- Dr Frits Kok, the head of the Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuur Vereniging, the foremost body representing Afrikaans language and cultural interests;
- Dr Lawrie Schlemmer, one of South Africa’s leading political commentators and experts on political attitudes and trends;
- Neil van Heerden, the Executive Director of the South Africa Foundation which represents the top local and foreign companies in South Africa;
- Dr Chris du Toit, the immediate past Head of the South African Agricultural Union and well positioned to comment on the concerns of our farming community;
- Dr Frits Gaum, the editor of the Kerkbode, the newspaper of NGK, the largest Afrikaans denomination;
- Bill Johnson, the Executive Director of the Helen Suzman Foundation and well positioned to articulate the concerns of many so-called English-speaking South Africans;
- Hermann Giliomee, one of our foremost political commentators and writers;
- Wynand Malan, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and well positioned to give perspective on the TRC’s activities and the attitudes to whites that emerged from its report; and
- Mrs Sheila Camerer, former Deputy Minister of Justice and current justice spokesperson of the Democratic Alliance.
We will start off by inviting all our participants to make short introductory statements that should not exceed ten minutes. I would like to suggest, without being prescriptive, that the above questions be addressed in such opening statements, maybe from the perspective of the following topics:
- Dr Francois Venter – the position and future of Afrikaners in South Africa;
- Dr Frits Kok – prospects for the Afrikaans language and culture;
- Dr Lawrie Schlemmer – trends in black/white relations;
- Neil van Heerden – private sector perspectives and the contribution that companies are making to the development of less advantaged communities;
- Dr Chris du Toit – farm murders and land tenure;
- Dr Frits Gaum – the role of the church in promoting reconciliation and in mobilising members to address the problems of less advantaged South Africans;
- Bill Johnson – the future of multiparty democracy and its implications for relations between blacks and whites;
- Hermann Giliomee – defending pluralism in civil society and the threats to inter racial relations posed by dominant party rule;
- Wynand Malan, – the effect that the TRC and the subsequent Conference on Racism have had on White/black relations.
- Mrs Sheila Camerer – affirmative action, necessary remedies or new forms of racial discrimination – and for how long?
The first session will last until lunch at 1:00 pm. I hope that the various contributions will elicit keen discussion at the lunch table and will whet our appetites for the afternoon session, in respect of which I will submit a draft proposal towards the end of the morning session.
It is my sincere hope that our discussions will be solution orientated. We need to become more focussed in our development of action plans and strategies, rather than on open ended problem analysis.