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FWDK Mandela hands

Tomorrow we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.  

He was rightly acknowledged by the whole world as one of the greatest leaders of the latter part of the 20th century - and he was certainly one of the most impressive people that I met during my long political career.  He had enormous charm, charisma and the natural self-assurance of a born aristocrat. He had steel-like self-discipline and determination that he gained during the long and bitter years of his imprisonment.  Above all he had an unshakable commitment to the goals of the African National Congress and to the establishment of a non-racial democratic South Africa.  

His first great contribution was, in my opinion, his decision in 1985 - without the sanction of ANC headquarters in Lusaka - to open a line of communication with the National Party government.  He realised almost before anyone else that South Africa’s intractable problems could be resolved only by negotiation and that continuing conflict would result in the destruction of the country and economy, to the enormous cost of all the people of South Africa. 

His second great contribution was the manner in which he led the ANC during the negotiations for a new constitution.  He was able to hold his supporters together through all the crises that beset the country during those tumultuous years. On several critical occasions he and I came together to resolve make-or-break issues.  In September 1992 he brought the ANC back to the negotiating table and helped to lead the process to its natural conclusion with the first universal democratic elections in 1994 and the adoption of our final constitution in 1996.

His greatest contribution came after his inauguration as President in May 1994 in the manner in which he tirelessly worked to heal the divisions of the past, to promote national reconciliation and to lay the foundations for what Archbishop Tutu called the ‘Rainbow Nation of God’. 

Now, five years after his death and 24 years after the foundation of the non-racial constitutional democracy to which he dedicated his life, much of his legacy is under threat:  

  • Between 2009 and 2017 elements in the ruling elite captured important state institutions and state-owned enterprises with a view to the subverting the Constitution and to unrestrained self-enrichment.
  • In 2012, with the launching of the radical second phase of its National Democratic Revolution, the ANC decided to dispense progressively with important provisions that had been negotiated into the constitution by non-ANC parties. These provisions included the cultural and language rights of South Africa’s minorities; their protection against unfair discrimination and their property rights. 
  • In recent years the ANC has all but abandoned Nelson Mandela’s great project of national reconciliation and is instead deepening divisions between our communities.

The 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth provides all South Africans with an opportunity to renew their commitment to the vision that inspired him and that is articulated in the foundational values of our Constitution.   We should all work together to ensure - as he resoundingly declared during his presidential inauguration - that “never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another”.

Statement by former President FW de Klerk
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
17 July 2018


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