CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF JOHANNESBURG, 2 JUNE 2000
I have been invited to speak to you this evening about my autobiography, ‘The Last Trek – a New Beginning’ which was published last year in English by Macmillan and in Afrikaans by Human & Roussouw.
To those of you who have bought it, I should like to say thank you!
To those of you who have already read it, I should like to say, congratulations!
To those of you who have not yet read it, I should like to say ‘Buy it! And then, if you like, read it!’
I see that Dushanka Stoiakovic of Macmillan South Africa is here with a good supply of books and she will be happy to help you!
To those of you who have not yet read it, we promise not to reveal the ending!
Our story, like most human dramas, is a never-ending one.
Although most of you are not South Africans, you all share a lively interest in this story. You are working here. Your companies or the organizations or governments that you serve have interests here and for a few years you and your families will be living here.
Many of you may have been first-hand observers of the story that I try to tell in my book:
· You would have observed South Africa with increasing alarm during the dark years of the early ‘eighties;
· Like many South Africans, you would have been surprised by the initiatives that I announced on 2 February 1990;
· You would have shared our anxiety while we South Africans found a way past the obstacles of suspicion, violence and mass action to a negotiated and democratic settlement;
· You would also have been elated when on 27 April 1994 all South Africans voted for the first time as free and equal citizens.
But now, six years after the beginning of the transformation of our country, I am sure that many of you are much more ambivalent about the success of the new South Africa.
You will share our concern over the intolerable level of crime. Some of you may have been personally touched by some outrage.
Many of you in business may also be concerned about the imbalance that has developed in the relationship between employers and employees, where new legislation has apparently stacked all the cards in favour of labour. As a result, the cost of employing people has gone through the roof and has led to alarming rates of unemployment, precisely at a time when job creation should be our number one priority. The swelling army of the unemployed contributes, in turn, to the increase in crime………
You might also share the concern of many South Africans about declining standards and levels of public service – particularly in the spheres of public health care and education.
Despite all these problems, our present situation is still infinitely preferable to what it would have been had we not come together ten years ago to bring about the peaceful transformation of our society.
· By this time South Africa would have been in a grim, unpleasant and isolated state of siege.
· We would by now not be exporting a crate of apples; a litre of wine; a ton of coal or a bag of mielies.
· There would be no international investment or loans; little or no overseas travel or holidays; no international sporting contact.
· We would by now have entered a cycle of repression and insurrection that would probably have become so bitter, that, as in Yugoslavia, there would be little prospect of ever repairing relations with other races.
The fact is that, despite all our woes, we are on what the Clem Sunters and the other futurologists of the 1980s would have called the ‘high road’.
· We managed the transformation process fairly peacefully;
· we avoided the threat of right wing reaction or left-wing revolution;
· we have one of the best constitutions in the world – despite its shortcomings;
· we have rejoined the international community; and
· the ANC has, on the whole, adopted a responsible economic strategy.
In the barrage of negative media reports, we tend to forget some of the many positive aspects of South Africa:
· As our elections last year showed, we are a genuine and functioning multiparty democracy, capable of handling the transition from one president to another with ease and skill.
· Unlike any other country in Africa, we have a large and rapidly growing and educated black middle class with attitudes and aspirations very similar to those of their counterparts in fully developed countries;
· We have an excellent infrastructure, with a system of roads, railways, harbours and telecommunications that can compare with the best in the world.
· We have a well trained and effective managerial base.
· We are richly endowed with natural resources that include substantial proportions of the world’s reserves of a variety of strategic minerals.
· Our electricity is amongst the cheapest electricity in the world.
· Our people are increasingly well educated. South Africa is spending almost 7% of GDP on education – one of the highest figures in the world;
· We have a well developed banking and financial services sector. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange is one of the twelve largest in the world.
· We have several indigenous banks, insurance companies and multi-national corporations that are large by any standard. They can hold their own in any international company.
· We have developed sophisticated technology in some areas – particularly in mining and medicine.
· We are quite highly industrialised. Manufacturing accounts for 22,3% of our GDP compared with and average of about 10% in other sub-Saharan African countries.
· We have more than 700 000 small black businesses in our informal sector, providing employment to millions of people.
· We have tremendous tourist potential. We have an exceptional climate and a beautiful country with world-renowned game parks, beaches, mountains and wine lands.
All of these factors put us into quite a different category from the rest of Africa and even from most other emerging markets.
The question is: how should we South Africans address the very real problems that confront us and how should we maximize our advantages?
South Africa, like many other complex multicultural societies, is like a large and unstable atom. Its particles are held together by the strong uniting forces of common interest, common aspirations and goodwill. But they are also subjected to powerful centrifugal forces of prejudice, resentment and selfishness.
Our task as South Africans is to throw our weight behind the forces that bind us together and to neutralise those that tend to drive us apart.
We must, in particular, rally around the values enshrined in our constitution.
· Our constitution and the charter of fundamental rights that it contains represents the historic consensus that nearly all our parties reached after years of hard negotiations. It is the foundation of the new South Africa and our best hope for stability and freedom. We must make the constitution a living document.
This is why we cannot stand idly by while the principles of free and fair elections, non-racialism and the rule of law are being so blatantly ignored in Zimbabwe.
We must nurture relationships between our communities.
· We must become actively engaged with South Africans from other communities in addressing our urgent common problems. Unemployment, poverty, crime and AIDS ultimately threaten us all.
· We should establish a culture of toleration and pride in diversity and should give all our communities maximum “breathing space” to promote their identities and to cherish their traditions.
· We should strive for inclusivity. All our people should feel that they are adequately represented in all of the institutions through which they are governed.
· We must combat racism and prejudice in any form. No individual or community should feel victimised or excluded from any aspect of national or economic life because of their race or gender.
We must unite in our efforts to achieve common goals.
Whether we are Zulus or Afrikaners, coloureds or British-descended South Africans, Xhosas or Indians we all share the same basic aspirations:
· We all want decent education for our children;
· We all want to eradicate disease and to combat AIDS;
· We all want a strong and vibrant economy that will create the jobs that so many of our people so desperately need;
· We all want an end to crime and corruption.
· We all want effective and responsive government.
What we urgently need is more communication and consultation to reach agreement on how we can best achieve these goals.
By taking these steps we can help to strengthen the forces that bind us together. At the same time we must guard against factors that might drive us apart. The reality is that multicultural countries – like complex atoms – require special care and attention. If they are bombarded by too many radical particles, an uncontrolled chain reaction can ensue.
We must learn from the mistakes of our past:
· We must never again allow ourselves to retrogress to a situation where any South African’s status and rights are determined by his race, rather than by his abilities.
· We must never again permit a situation where the rights of any individual or community can be abused or where the rule of law can be abrogated.
· Above all, we must never again try to impose a centralised state ideology on the country. Most ideologies begin with worthy ideals – such as national self-determination or social and economic equality. The problem arises when governments try to force human nature and economic forces into the narrow ideological channels that they have devised. Whenever and wherever this has been tried there have been human, social and economic distortions – and sometimes disasters. Legislation that ignores basic economic realities and experience leads to stagnation, poverty and unemployment. Initiatives that victimise particular communities and groups inevitably lead to alienation, repression and conflict.
As I mentioned at the opening of my speech, this is a never-ending story. My autobiography deals with a brief chapter in the history of our country. It was an important chapter which opened with predictions of impending doom but which concluded on a note of optimism and success.
Now I have opened another chapter in my own personal book. I have left party politics forever, but still maintain a very active interest in public affairs. After all, was it not Pericles who said that a citizen who is not involved in public affairs is not minding his own business, but has no business being here at all! I remain dedicated to the success of the new South Africa and have developed an active interest in multicultural societies all over the world. I have established a Foundation that is committed to nurturing relations between communities here and in other multicultural societies; that is dedicated to supporting our constitution as the foundation of the new South Africa; and that will also stimulate research and debate on the problems of multicultural societies here and throughout the world.
I hope that we will be able to make a modest contribution to ensuring that the present and next generations of South African leaders build on the successes that we achieved and avoid the mistakes that we made. It will help them if they read – and buy- some of the good books that have been written about those exciting times!