It is a great honour for me to be able to address you this afternoon in your wonderful and ancient island.  As you all probably know, I have now developed a very special interest in everything associated with the Greek culture!  Elita and I greatly look forward to seeing more of Cyprus and regret that we shall not be able to stay here longer.


As we cross the threshold of the new millennium, the most serious threat to peace no longer lies in warfare between nations – but in the inability of different ethnic, cultural and religious communities to co-exist peacefully within the same countries.


The present or recent conflicts in Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, southern Asia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Kashmir all bear stark testimony to this fact – as does the continuing and unacceptable division of your own country.


One of the great challenges of the new millennium will be to defuse such conflicts and to devise norms and approaches which will enable different communities to live together in peace with one another.


In our shrinking and globalised world, different cultural, religious and ethnic communities will inevitably and increasingly be brought into greater proximity with one another.  The international community will have to pay far greater attention to this question than has thus far been the case.  It is a sensitive question – because the overwhelming majority of states include some or other significant cultural or ethnic minority and few would welcome international scrutiny of such relationships.


These sensitivities do not, however, detract from the urgency of the problem, nor from the need for more intense international debate.


For some people, the most obvious solution to inter-communal conflict is partition – particularly where communities constitute clear majorities in definable geographic areas.  This was accepted as the solution in the case of Slovakia and the Czech Republic and was the basis for the fragmentation of the old Yugoslavia.   But would it be practical or desirable in other cases?  What would the position be if the Inuit – the native inhabitants of much of the north of Canada – wished to establish their own state, or if the Navajo were to decide to do so in their homeland in the south-western United States?  Clearly we would open the door to chaos if every such community decided to opt for partition.


In South Africa, from 1960 onwards, we tried to achieve a solution to our complex problems on the basis of ethnic partition.  We failed – because economic and demographic forces had already integrated the country to such an extent that separation was impossible.


It is accordingly my view that in our shrinking and increasingly inter-dependent world, the challenge is not how different communities should best go their separate ways, but rather, how they can best learn to coexist in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect within the same constitutional entities.


The challenge is to devise approaches and to establish norms which will enable different cultural and ethnic communities to coexist within the same states.  We must reach broad agreement on the cultural, linguistic and educational rights that such communities should enjoy.    We should also establish globally acceptable norms for the manner in which they should be represented in the processes by which they are governed and the mechanisms that should be created to ensure cordial relations between communities.


One of the contributions that we in South Africa can make to this international debate is to continue to show on the one hand that even the most bitter, complex and intractable problems can be solved peacefully, through negotiations, and on the other, that communities with widely different cultures can coexist amicably within the same states.


Naturally, if we wish to make such a contribution we will have to continue to make a success of our new multiracial democracy in South Africa.   It will also be our point of departure that every 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 Cyprus.   I will, however, be happy to share with you some of our  experiences during our own process of transformation.   I will leave it to you to decide what is, or is not, relevant to the situation in Cyprus.


Ten 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 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 them in the  multiparty 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 a 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 a  Transitional Constitution which 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.



The constitutional agreement that we reached 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, war and division.   However, it does not provide any room for complacency.


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




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.  Others may have a more universal application.  I will leave it to you to decide which aspects of our experience are relevant to the situation in Cyprus.


The second area where our experience may be of relevance to the international community  is the manner in which we are attempting to accommodate a wide variety of communities, with greatly differing cultural backgrounds and levels of development, within the same constitutional entity.


Until 10 May last year we really had little or no sense of common nationhood.  South Africa was like an archipelago where each of our communities lived on its own cultural island with little interaction or communication between them.  At the core of our problem was the fear that in a unitary state one  group would dominate another.   Part of our solution was to devise a new constitutional dispensation in which all our diverse communities would feel secure.


We accepted that all our cultural groups – many of them nations in their own right – would in the future have to maintain their cultural identity within a new, broader South African nation that would encompass all of the peoples who live in our country.


The question was how this can best be achieved.   We have identified the following basic principles in this regard – some of which have been incorporated into our new  Constitution:



I believe that if multicultural communities observe these principles, they can live together in harmony.   We have made significant progress in South Africa – but there are still many strains in our own society.  The reality is that relations between communities – like all human relations – require constant attention, nurturing, and communication.

If you don’t believe me just try ignoring your husband or wife for a couple of weeks!  It does not matter how good your relationship was beforehand, you will soon be in trouble!


The effort that we invest in improving our communication and in nurturing our relationships is one of the best investments we can make.  The fruits of peace and unity are bountiful while the price of continued division and conflict is bitter and unacceptable.


The best contribution that we in South Africa can make will be to work day and night for the continued success of our own complex multicultural society. We must continue to show the world that there is another way,  that different cultural communities can coexist harmoniously within the same States, that there is a peaceful solution to even the most complex problems and disputes.