SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE ESKOM AFRICAN BUSINESS LEADERS FORUM
JOHANNESBURG, 13 OCTOBER 2004
It is much easier to speak with authority about the past than about the future – particularly in our fast-changing world. Almost every second speaker this year has been able to relate the undoubted successes of our first decade. And there have been some remarkable successes, including
- The government’s macro-economic policies that have reduced inflation, interest rates and the deficit to the lowest levels in decades;
- The highest business confidence levels in ages;
- The modest – but sustained – economic growth that we have been able to achieve; and
- The strong growth that we have recorded in our manufactured exports and in our tourist industry.
Speakers can also point to
- The emergence of a vibrant multiracial middle class;
- The more than a million new homes that the government has built;
- The provision of electricity and pure water to millions of South Africans; and
- The substantial increase in welfare payments to children and pensioners.
On the other hand, when critics look back on the past ten years they can mention
- The widening gap between rich and poor with all the social problems and tensions that this causes;
- The growth in unemployment – although there are some promising indications that the economy has, at last, started to create jobs again;
- The continuing unacceptable levels of serious and violent crime – despite the progress that we are beginning to make; and
- The enormous challenge and tragedy of AIDS.
We can speak with some certainty on all of these topics – even though we may have widely differing interpretations of their causes and effects. We can do so because they have happened and have been observed by us all.
But what of the road ahead? to what extent can any of us speak with authority about developments that have not yet taken place?
Crystal gazing remains a very inexact science.
Just think back on the High Road/Low Road future scenarios that Clem Sunter propagated in the mid-eighties. They were developed by the best and brightest minds of the time – but nevertheless failed to foresee many of the seminal developments that would radically change the world in which we now live. In 1985 no-one predicted the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union and the bipolar competition that dominated global politics; nobody predicted the coming of the internet and the scope of the information revolution that we have experienced; no-one foresaw the dreadful effect that AIDS would have on the world and on our own population; and hardly anybody would have believed that within the next ten years South Africa would have undergone a largely peaceful democratic revolution.
So how then can one try to assess the road ahead for South Africa during the next decade?
I would suggest that any predictions should be made with the greatest tentativeness and in the sure knowledge that in our rapidly changing world there will be many developments that we simply cannot foresee.
If we nevertheless wish to identify the factors that will determine South Africa’s course during the coming ten years we should, perhaps, examine the factors that determined events in the past.
The most important of these is that South Africa’s future will in the future as in the past be largely determined by developments in the world as a whole.
Most of the factors that have created the country in which we now all live had their roots in developments overseas. Think of the effect on South Africa of European mercantilism; of the rise of the European empires; of the great depression; of the first and second world wars; of the decolonisation of Africa; the global struggle between communism and capitalism; of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union and now of the huge opportunities and threats presented by globalisation.
South Africa during the coming ten years will be strongly influenced by developments on the world stage. But what are the forces that have traditionally affected developments on the world stage? We can identify the following elements:
- Demographic factors have had a major influence in determining the course of human history. Much of history has been driven by population growth and the migration of peoples. What effect will the almost unrestricted inflow of economic refugees from the rest of Africa have on South Africa during the coming decade? How will rapid population growth in our poorest communities affect our efforts to eradicate poverty and to build a better life for all our people?
- Human history has been defined in terms of the technologies that we have developed. We talk of the stone age, the iron age, the steam age, the atomic age and now of the information age. Just think how cellphones have affected the daily lives of millions of South Africans during the past ten years. What new technologies will emerge during the next decade? How will rapidly developing advances in genetic engineering, computer technology, the internet and nanotechnology affect the world and – in turn – South Africa during the next ten years?
- Much of history has been determined by the interaction between peoples that has flowed from trade, cultural contact and even from war. How will our multicultural society stand up to the globalised English-based consumer culture onslaught? What chance do our indigenous cultures – including Afrikaans – have of surviving this onslaught and what will the implications be for our own individual identities and for our ideal of multi-culturalism?
- In a globalising world all countries will be increasingly integrated into worldwide economic and trading systems. How would a global recession or of continued increases in the price of oil affect South Africa’s economy? What chance do developing countries have of gaining fairer access to global markets? Will we succeed in attracting our fair share of foreign direct investment?
- How will developments in global power relationships affect us? The present unipolar domination of global politics by the United States cannot continue indefintitely – particularly if the Americans fail to achieve their goals in Iraq and the Middle East. It is likely that during the coming decade the world will move back towards a more multipolar dispensation, particularly when China, India and the European Union begin to play more prominent roles on the international stage. What will the implications of these developments be for South Africa? How will we be affected by the growing clash of cultures between Islam and the West? Will any of these developments affect our own geostrategic security?
- Perhaps the most important influence on human history during the past hundred thousand years was change in the the global environment. The development of our species was profoundly influenced by the succession of ice ages that occurred during this period. We are now receiving increasingly insistent warnings from our environment that we are once again entering an era of unstable climate. Global warming is melting the polar ice caps at an alarming rate. Scientists warn that dramatic changes in the global climate can occur within time frames as short as ten years. The chances are that the most serious change factor with which we will have to contend in the coming decades might well be environmental. Our greatest challenge may well be to take far-reaching and urgent action to promote sustainable development.
All of these global factors will dramatically influence the environment in which South Africa will operate in ten year time.
The progress that we make within that global framework will, however, still be determined by the decisions that we South Africans take.
In my view the success we achieve during the coming ten years will be determined by our ability to meet four great challenges:
- Will we be able to improve the lives of the 50% of our population that continue to live in abject poverty?
- Will we make a success of black economic empowerment?
- Will we be able to compete successfully in a globalising world?
- Will we be able to maintain national cohesion and avoid racial alienation and friction?
The roots of black poverty lie on the one hand in unemployment and on the other in the fact that the poorest South Africans continue to have the largest families. The main cause of black poverty is unemployment, which increased for the black population from 36.2% in 1995 to 46.6% in 2002. Less than 10% of the total number of people in the poorest decile of the population are employed compared with more than half of the total number of people in the top income decile.
What then is the main cause of unemployment? Many relevant answers come to mind – including
- retrenchments resulting from the intense competition in the globalised economy;
- lack of skills and training;
- sluggish foreign and local investment in the economy; and
- competition for jobs from the huge and growing number of illegal immigrants.
However, another central cause is South Africa’s present labour legislation. The reality is that we have adopted a social democrat labour system that is not even working in countries like France and Germany. It has raised the real cost of labour way above levels in other emerging economies with which we must compete in global markets. High costs and over-regulation are a major disincentive to the creation of new jobs – particularly for small and medium-size businesses.
Clearly, we need to develop a labour system that establishes basic minimum standards for all. However, in a country like South Africa much greater flexibility is required, especially for meduim size and small businesses.
Family size is another factor in the perpetuation of poverty. It stands to reason that the more people there are in a family, the fewer the resources there will be to provide decent care and education.
We also need to improve service delivery to the poorest sectors of our society. Efficient education, social services and health services can greatly help to improve the basic living conditions in which poor people live.
All these factors lying at the root of poverty in South Africa need to be dealt with in a concerted and imaginative manner.
President Mbeki is quite right to emphasise that our second decade must focus on economic and social transformation. If we wish our young democracy to succeed we must ensure that all South Africans benefit from our new society and that its private and public sectors are much more representative than they are now.
All of us – black and white South Africans working together – must make a success of black economic empowerment.
- The best way to do this is will be to improve our education system. We need primary and secondary schools that will produce matriculants with proficient language and mathematical skills. Dilution of standards and introduction of over-sophisticated education approaches are no substitute to the development of sound basic aptitudes. . We need universities and technicons that will provide the engineering, technical, scientific and managerial skills that will enable South Africa to compete effectively in globalising markets. We must streamline the existing SETA system and do more to encourage companies to provide excellent education, training and mentoring to their employees.
- We need to remove any remaining prejudices or obstacles to appointment or promotion that might stand in the way of any South African from achieving his or her full potential.
- We need to develop natural approaches to extending ownership of economic resources to disadvantaged South Africans – particularly by enabling employees to become shareholders and through wider participation in pension and insurance schemes.
- We need to encourage and nurture entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities.
- We need a balanced and effective approach to the very sensitive question of land reform. This process should begin with land that is already controlled by the government. The objective should be to ensure that agricultural land – whoever farms it – remains fully productive. Successful land reform will require the commitment of much greater resources; intensive agricultural training; effective follow-up services and mentoring and close co-operation and communication between all the main roleplayers – including white farmers.
I am confident that if we do these things we will achieve black empowerment targets much more quickly and naturally than will be the case if we artificially interfere in market mechanisms, management autonomy and property rights. The white population cannot nearly provide the numbers of skilled workers, professionals and managers that a growing economy will require. Inevitably, and quite rapidly, the South African economy will grow to reflect the population composition as a whole.
However, the economy will not grow satisfactorily if we do not appoint and promote people with appropriate skills whatever their race; if we interfere with the ability of companies to manage their affairs; or if we dilute property rights.
The third requirement for success during the coming ten years will be our ability to compete successfully in increasingly tough global markets.
The government has done well on the economic front precisely because it has consistently implemented economic policies that are in line with a tried, tested and successful global consensus. After having done so much good work, the government must beware of the temptation of trying to legislate economic outcomes. If we wish to attract the investment that we need for growth and if we are serious about maintaining our competitive edge we must continue to play by the basic rules that govern the globalised economy. Any attempt to dilute property rights, economic freedoms or basic standards of administration and management will prevent South Africa from effectively competing in the international economy and will relegate us to economic and developmental marginalisation.
Finally, if we want to achieve success during our second decade we must continue to work for reconciliation and national unity. South Africa’s constitutional transformation has worked well precisely because it was the result of negotiations and compromises between parties that represented the great majority of all South Africans from all our communities.
The problem is that South Africa’s minority communities have not been sufficiently consulted with regard to the challenges of our second decade and particularly with regard to economic and social transformation. Minorities often perceive transformation as a new form of racial discrimination while the majority regards it as a long-overdue rectification of the deep injustices of the past. Minorities feel less and less represented in the processes by which they are governed.
I am deeply concerned by growing alienation between our communities. 72% of white males now believe, rightly or wrongly, that affirmative action has now turned them into second-class citizens in their own country. 70% of black South Africans believe that white farmers should be forced to sell their land. Less than 25% of black South Africans agree that land owners should have the right to dispute land claims by going to court. The indications are that inter-community tensions are increasing – and not decreasing – with the passage of time.
There is very little frank debate. Many whites publicly express politically correct, but qualified, support for transformation – while they privately educate their children to work overseas. The result is that too many whites are emigrating – either overseas – or inwardly into their own communities. They are withdrawing behind their security fences and are not making the contribution to the broader society that they could make – and I believe would dearly like to make. South Africa cannot afford to lose skills and commitment on this scale.
We South Africans need to talk to one another about the challenges of our second decade. We need to work toward a national understanding that will enable us all to make the fullest possible contribution to achieving the vision in our constitution of a truly free, nonracial and equal society.
The stakes involved are very high. Our ability to reach a balanced national consensus on the challenges that confront us will be a key factor in determining whether South Africa will become the first African country to join the ranks of the first world nations.
It will determine whether South Africans from all our communities can live together in goodwill, equality and mutual respect.
And finally, it will determine whether the brave experiment that we South Africans launched fifteen years ago will continue to succeed and offer a beacon of hope for other divided societies throughout the world.
I am confident that we South Africans will rise to the occasion – just as we did between 1990 and 1994. I believe that if we do so, South Africa in ten years time will be a much better country than it is today – and an infinitely better country than it was twenty years ago.