Mr President, Madam Vice President, Ladies and Gentlemen


It is a great honour for me to be able to address you this morning.  I have visited Taiwan several times in the past – including an official visit when I was President.  I also had the honour of attending a luncheon that was hosted by President Lee in Pretoria on 9 May 1994 – the day before our historic transition to full democracy.  Your country was – and remains a loyal friend and supporter of South Africa – even though the nature of our relations has changed in recent years.  I can assure you that there are many of us who will never forget their friends.


I have been invited to share with you the lessons we have learned from South Africa’s dramatic transition over the last 10 years.  In doing so I want to stress at the outset that every conflict situation or potential conflict situation is different.  Each one has its own history and complexities and will require its own solution.


Accordingly, I would not presume to suggest that our experience in South Africa will necessarily be applicable to the situation in the Taiwan Strait.   I will leave it to you to decide what is, or is not, relevant to the situation that prevails between you and the mainland.


Eleven years ago South Africa was caught in the grip of a seemingly irresolvable conflict.  Indeed, it was difficult to imagine parties that were further apart than the three biggest parties of the time – the National Party, the IFP and the ANC.   All of the parties involved saw one another – not as they really were – but as the stereotypes depicted by their own propaganda:



What enabled these parties and the other twenty-three that joined in the multi-party negotiations to bridge the enormous chasms that divided them?  I should like to suggest the following.  There was common acceptance that:


There were also certain objective circumstances that had created a window of opportunity for us:


It was factors such as these that enabled us, in December 1993, to reach basic agreement on our new Transitional Constitution, despite the numerous crises, boycotts and walk-outs that we experienced during the process.   The key compromises that lead to our agreement are now a matter of record:


The result of this process was the adoption in December 1993 of our new Transitional Constitution.  It made provision for a fully democratic system of government based on the rule of law, with guarantees for the full range of human and civil rights.


Our new Constitution and the process of negotiation that led to its final adoption is a monument to the fact that, given the right circumstances and a serious commitment from all sides, even the most intractable disputes can be resolved in a peaceful and negotiated manner.  It means that even in the most difficult situations there is an alternative to the horror and hopelessness of violence and war.   However, it does not provide any room for complacency.  Constitutional arrangements and delicate inter-party relationships – like any human relationships – require constant care and attention if we wish to ensure that they do not unravel.


The best contribution that we in South Africa can make will be to work day and night for the continued success of our own peaceful transition.   We must continue to show the world that there is another way, that violence and conflict are not inevitable, that there is a peaceful solution to even the most complex problems and disputes.


Looking back on our experience we can identify the following key factors that contributed to the success of our negotiations:


“Our legions are brim full, our cause is ripe.

The enemy increaseth every day:

We at the height are ready to decline.

There is tide in the affairs of men,

which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”


It is seldom remembered that, in his own case, he badly misread the tide, and his decision did not lead to fortune but to his disastrous defeat at Philippi.


Had we started our negotiation initiative earlier – say, in the middle ‘seventies – it is doubtful that the National Party Government would have been able to take its followers with it.   If we had launched our initiative too late, we might have entered the negotiation process when the balance of power had begun to shift against us – as Ian Smith did in Zimbabwe. History sometimes opens a window of opportunity, when all the forces involved are ripe for negotiation.  It is the task of statesmen to recognise such windows and lead their followers through, before history once again slams the window shut.



These are among the factors and processes that enabled South Africa to reach agreement on our peaceful transition to multi-racial democracy. Some of them were developed specifically for our own complex situation.  However, most of them I believe have a more universal application.  I will leave it to you to decide which aspects of our experience are relevant to the search for peace in the Taiwan Strait.


In this process all the people of South Africa and I wish you success.  The fruits of peace are well worth the effort, sacrifices and frustrations involved in negotiations.  The price of conflict in the end becomes unaffordable.  The challenge we all face at the beginning of the new millennium is to peacefully resolve ongoing conflicts and to successfully prevent the outburst of new ones.


In this modern day and age there is, except for legitimate self defence, no place for the use of violence in the pursuit of political objectives – not in South Africa – not in the Middle East – not in the Taiwan Strait – not anywhere.