SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
TO THE SOUTH AFRICA GOLF DAY DINNER
27 MARCH 2008
SOUTH AFRICA – THE WAY AHEAD
Madame Deputy High Commissioner, I should like to take this opportunity to thank you for hosting this dinner and for the support that the High Commission has always given to Geoff Johnson and the South African Charity Golf Day.
Last year the South African Charity Golf Day raised over £ 34 thousand for South African charities. That’s almost 600 thousand rand – in real money – and over 1.5 trillion Zimbabwean dollars. The funds are channeled to four South African charities – the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Ma Afrika Tikkun, the Starfish Greathearts Foundation and the F W de Klerk Foundation.
We have passed on two thirds of our share to the Alta du Toit School in Cape Town which provides ongoing support to young mentally handicapped adults from all our communities. We are giving the remaining third to the Study Trust – a long-established organization that provides bursaries to children from disadvantaged communities. So, the participants in the Golf Day are making a real difference to the lives of South Africans – helping children and helping handicapped adults to make the most of their lives. Incidentally, there are no hidden administrative costs: all the money we receive goes straight to the intended beneficiaries.
I would accordingly like to give special recognition to Geoff Johnson and everyone who has helped to make this – the 11th South African Charities Golf Day – such a great success.
I have been asked to speak to you tonight about South Africa – the Road Ahead.
There are many challenges on that road. But you as golfers know all about challenges – about bunkers, water hazards, deep rough …. But there are also broad fairways, open vistas and manicured greens.
Which reminds me of the story about a golf match between Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino. Tiger landed behind a really tall pine tree about 120 metres from the pin. He asked Lee Trevino whether he should try to hit over it to the green. Lee replied “Why, Tiger, when I was your age I had no problems hitting over that tree to the green.” Tiger was a bit dubious – but took out his 9 iron and hit a beautiful shot – but not good enough to clear the tree. “How did you manage to clear that tree?” he asked, a little annoyed. Trevino replied “Well, Tiger, what I told you was absolutely true. I could hit over that tree when I was your age – but back then the tree was only 20 feet high!”
I could dwell on the hazards, obstacles and traps that confront us in South Africa – that in some circles are causing yet another bout of jitters regarding about the future of our country. My Foundation is receiving increased mail from concerned – and sometimes – very bitter South Africans full of gloom, doom and despondency. They blame me for “selling the country down the river”, of opening the way to another Zimbabwe, of surrendering to the forces of darkness – by which they generally mean Eskom. One of our critics even accused me of being responsible for Eskom’s power blackouts!
The thought process is that if only the National Party had remained in charge we would not be experiencing all these problems. There would be no blackouts; there would be no hijackings; there would be no affirmative action; no Zuma; no problems with the composition of the national cricket and rugby teams. Mind you, there would have been no international sport either! Most of our correspondents are white – and many – interestingly enough, live overseas.
Our response to such critics is to remind them of the need to retain some balance in their perspectives of what is happening in South Africa.
In the first place, what we did in 1990 in initiating our process of democratic transformation was without the slightest doubt the right thing to do. We could have clung to power for a decade or two – but in increasingly isolated, impoverished and desperate circumstances. Our economy would have been crippled; our young men would have been spending much of their time fighting on our borders or suppressing internal unrest. We would have become involved in a downward spiral of insurgency and repression. With each year that passed animosities would have become more intense and mutual hatred more implacable. The prospects for any reasonable and balanced settlement would have become more and more remote – as they eventually became for the Rhodesians. Many, many more white South Africans would have emigrated. Worse still, we would have found it increasingly impossible to provide any moral justification for our policies.
Instead, when the collapse of Soviet communism opened a window of opportunity for us at the end of 1989 we did not hesitate in jumping through. We commenced negotiations before the balance of forces had shifted against us. As a result we were able to negotiate an excellent constitution with a bill of rights that protects the fundamental interests of all South Africans.
Consider what has happened since then.
We produce 45% of the GNP of sub-Saharan Africa
We have rejoined the international community. Our country is widely respected and plays a leading role in promoting the well-being of our continent.
There are more foreign embassies in Pretoria than in any other capital in the world with the exception of Washington.
Our sportsmen and women have attained new heights in international competition: we are the rugby world champions – again; we are the top one-day international team in world cricket; since 1940 South Africans have won more golf major championships than the any other country except the United States.
Our country has become an increasingly popular tourist destination – and tourism now contributes 8% to our GNP – as much as gold. Some of our restaurants and hotels are counted among the best in the world in international surveys.
Our car and truck industry also contributes about 8% of GNP – with exports of the highest quality Mercedes-Benz and BMWs to countries all over the world.
Those who are so quick to think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence would do well to consider that according to a recent survey three South African cities – Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth – are regarded as being among the best 100 cities in the world in which to live.
More importantly, life is getting better for more and more South Africans. According to the Financial Mail the black middle class grew by 30% in 2005 – adding another 421 000 adults to our middle-income group. The growth of the black middle class is not only a spur to consumer growth in general – it is also a major factor in promoting stability.
However, it is not only the black middle class that has benefited from the new South Africa. Since 1994 we have been building an average of 500 houses per day – most of them for disadvantaged communities. Huge progress has also been made in bringing electricity and water to South African households.
Also, with respect, the great majority of white South Africans have fared very well in the New South Africa. According to a recently published household income and expenditure survey conducted by STATS SA whites still comprise 72% of the top decile of income earners – and the top decile earns 94 times as much as the lowest decile.
None of this detracts from the very real problems that confront us.
• The reality is that there we are going through a period of uncertainty after the ANC’s conference in Polokwane last December.
• There is a change of guard in the offing between President Mbeki and everything that he has represented for the past ten years and the new leadership that was elected in Polokwane.
• And there is inevitably some uncertainty regarding the role that Mr Zuma will play in our future because of the criminal charges hanging over his head.
• Also, some of the resolutions that were adopted at Polokwane were disturbing – particularly those on the independence of the judiciary; proposals for new expropriation legislation and the dissolution of the Scorpions.
All these are serious developments and only a fool would ignore them.
To these can be added the critical need to address the real challenges that confront us:
• The AIDS pandemic;
• The problem of poverty – that almost half our population has yet to benefit materially from our new democracy;
• The closely linked problem of unemployment;
• The huge skills shortage;
• The need for a balanced transformation process.
We give the following advice to our gloom and doom correspondents:
• support the Constitution. Those involved in the current debate on whether or not there are now two centres of power in South Africa – one in Thynhuis the other in Luthuli House should remember that there is actually only once centre of power and sovereignty – and that is the Constitution.
• South Africans who are concerned about the future should also make use of their political rights by becoming actively engaged in the party of their choice;
• They should use their freedom of speech to express their views in the media – and if necessary on the streets;
• They should use their skills and their financial resources to help as much as they can to make South Africa a better place for all its people;
• They should engage South Africans from other communities and other political parties in debate;
• They should build positive relations by treating South Africans from other communities with respect, courtesy and consideration.
I am confident that we can solve the challenges that confront us – if we work together – just as we addressed and resolved the enormous challenges that confronted us in the 1990s.
However, what I miss now is the lack of any concerted effort to rally all South Africans behind common efforts to address our national challenges.
Instead, the tone from Polokwane is exclusionary and even hostile to those who do not share the ruling movement’s ideology. We should have learned that we can achieve so much more if we work together than if we continue to regard one another as antagonists. We need to recapture the spirit that enabled us to reach agreements during the early nineties on matters of seminal importance, despite our different perspectives.
South Africa – as so often before in its history – is entering “interesting times”. I remember previous periods when our less stout-hearted compatriots despaired about the future. I think back on the dreadful times we encountered in 1985 – when we were confronted by internal insurrection, international isolation and the collapse of international confidence in our economy. I think of our winter of discontent in 1992 – when the ANC had pulled out of the constitutional negotiations and was attempting to achieve its objectives through rolling mass mobilization in the streets.
The difference between our problems then – and the challenges that we face after Polokwane – is that we are now armed with an excellent Constitution supported by independent courts. Also, we have shown during the past fourteen years that we can run a very successful and competitive society – and we shall continue to do so in the run-up to the Soccer World Cup in 2010. Accordingly, I remain confident about the future of South Africa. Our people have a special ability to succeed and to overcome challenges. We astounded the world in 1994 and we shall astound them again. After all, we did score 438 runs against Australia – the world champs – in the most fantastic cricket victory in One Day International history. I believe that we still have the ability to pull off miracles!