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SPEECH: SOUTH AFRICA'S CONSTITUTIONAL TRANSFORMATION: AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

RENWICK 6 JUNE

Mr De Klerk, Elita, former Premier, Mr Friedrich, ladies and gentlemen,

I am really honoured to have been asked to speak on this occasion, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the FW de Klerk Foundation and the 25th anniversary of true democracy in South Africa. Apart from its founder, I would like to pay tribute to the contribution David Steward and Dr Theuns Eloff have made to the Foundation and the leading role it has played in defence of the Constitution.  

As for the contribution FW de Klerk has made to the history of this country, we all remember the extraordinary scenes here in South Africa as, for the first time in their lives, millions of people who hitherto had been disenfranchised, for the first time in this country’s history were able to go to the polls and cast their vote for the government of their choice. None of which would have been possible without the extraordinarily courageous decisions taken by FW de Klerk as President of South Africa.

And we should pause for a moment to remember just how remarkable those decisions were. When I arrived in South Africa as a British Ambassador in 1987, the country was in the grip of severe repression. It was an eerie experience to have to walk into the study of PW Botha at this time to argue with him about people’s lives - in particular those of the Sharpeville Six.

The rest of the world had turned its back on South Africa. In response to the Rubicon Speech fiasco, international banks refused to continue lending to South Africa so that, henceforth, instead of importing international capital to fund South Africa’s development, you were obliged to export this country’s savings to pay the interest on your debts. 

The police and army leaders had no idea what this meant. But the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gerhard de Kock, understood all too well that henceforth South Africa’s economy would be growing at a rate below that of the growth in population, with dire consequences for the future. That, ironically, is exactly the situation you find yourselves in once again as a result of the “lost decade” with Jacob Zuma. 

You were increasingly isolated. The US Congress enacted comprehensive sanctions against South Africa. We did not believe in isolating South Africa, but we could not prevent you isolating yourselves. Most people outside South Africa, and many inside the country, believed that you were heading ineluctably towards ever greater violence and an eventual civil war.

I did not share their pessimism. In my very first meeting with FW, before he became President, he noted that I had served in Rhodesia during the ceasefire and elections there. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that if I have my way, we will not make the same mistake they did.”

“What was the mistake?” I asked. “Leaving it much too late to negotiate with the real black leaders”, he replied. 

Not long afterwards, I had dinner with FW on the day PW Botha banned the United Democratic Front. It was obvious that FW had not been consulted and did not agree with the decision. I made a speech at the time suggesting that “If you want to get out of a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging”. Your Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, summoned me to protest about it, before telling me that he agreed with it. 

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