SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE CYPRUS POPULAR BANK,
NICOSIA, 9 FEBRUARY 2000
RESOLUTION OF ETHNIC CONFLICTS: ONE OF THE MAIN CHALLENGES OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM
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:
- The ANC/SACP Alliance had a radical socialist tradition. It was committed to nationalisation and the immediate introduction of an egalitarian society. It advocated a strong central government and state intervention in the economy to achieve its social purposes. It insisted that the new Constitution should be drafted by an elected constituent assembly. It viewed the National Party in terms of its experience of apartheid and of security force repression during the liberation struggle.
- The National Party, on other hand, strongly favoured a free enterprise economy, a federal state, and limited central government intervention. It believed that the new Constitution should be drafted before the first election. Its views of the ANC had been formed by the ANC’s use of indiscriminate violence against civilians; by its intimidation of black non-ANC members; and by its close alliance with the Stalinist South African Communist Party.
- The IFP, the third major party, had chosen to combat apartheid from within the system. For this reason it was distrusted by the ANC with whom it had for some time been waging a low intensity war in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It was strongly federalist; it supported free market principles and had its main support base among the Zulus of Natal.
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:
- whether we liked one another or not, there could be no long-term solution that did not involve all the major parties and population groups of our country.
- that our problems could be solved only through negotiation – that any attempt by any party to continue to impose its will on its opponents by force would simply lead to the destruction of the country and the economy.
- a successful outcome to our negotiations would often require genuine concessions and painful compromises.
- we would have to put the bitterness of the past behind us and that we would have to search for genuine national reconciliation.
- we needed a strong Constitution that would provide the basic rules for our new society; that would guarantee the rights and security of all our individuals and communities.
There were also certain objective circumstances that had created a window of opportunity for us:
- the collapse of global communism in 1989 removed the major strategic concern that had dominated the thinking of the previous government for decades. For us, the prospect of Soviet expansionism was not just an empty propaganda exercise. During the previous years our armed forces had been involved in serious military clashes with Soviet and Cuban led forces in Angola. The ANC /Alliance was closely allied to – and supported by – the global Soviet strategic apparatus.
- There was no longer any serious debate with regard to the economic policies that would be required to ensure economic growth in a future democratic South Africa. The devastation that central planning and statist controls had wrought on the economies of Eastern Europe was there for all to see.
- Throughout the negotiation process, all sides received strong encouragement from the international community to persevere in their difficult attempts to reach peaceful accommodation. There was a sense of reassurance in the willingness of major powers to underwrite the democratic agreements that were to emerge from the negotiating process.
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:
- We overcame our differences on when and how the new Constitution should be written, by accepting an historic compromise: the negotiating parties would first reach agreement on a Transitional Constitution in terms of which a new parliament would be elected. The new parliament, sitting as a Constituent Assembly, would then write our final Constitution. The final Constitution would, in turn, have to be adopted by a two thirds majority and would have to comply with thirty-four immutable constitutional principles that would already be included in the Transitional Constitution.
- We agreed that for the first five years after the election there would be a Government of National Unity, which would include all parties that received more than five percent of the vote.
- We agreed that South Africa would henceforth include nine provinces with substantial powers of their own.
- We agreed that all those, from all sides, who might have committed politically motivated offences during the period of our national conflict before 6 December 1993 would have a right to amnesty.
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:
- There must be a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution by all the main parties. The balance of forces must be such that no party should think that it can successfully impose its will on the others. Perceptions of relative power – and projections of future shifts in the balance of power – are crucial. It is such perceptions that will often determine the demands and concessions that parties will make at the negotiating table.
- Abandon your stereotypes of your enemies. Once you get to know your opponents, you usually discover that they are not nearly as bad as you had imagined – or as you had depicted them in your own propaganda. To their amazement they will often discover the same.
- Search for points of common interest. You will find that there are many more than you had imagined. Build on them. You will, in the process, find that it much easier to reach agreement on the future than on the past.
- It is essential for negotiators to win one another’s trust and confidence. Without trust there can be no genuine agreement.
- Timing is crucial. 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.
- Negotiations that do not involve all the parties are like soccer matches in which one of the teams fails to appear. One of the major problems that we encountered were the boycotts of the talks that were initiated first by the ANC and then by the IFP. It was essential for us to persuade all the major parties to rejoin the process before the elections. This we ultimately managed to do with only eight days to spare!
- It is equally important for parties to be able to take their constituencies with them. Strong and determined leadership is essential. An important, but time -consuming – factor in our negotiations was the lengthy process for participants to consult their constituencies before important decisions.
- Personalities also play an important role. The main role players from the negotiating parties must be able to develop personal relationships based on mutual trust and confidence. They must also develop a strong sense of patience and the fortitude to deal with the frequent frustrations and obstacles. In our case – and despite our frequent sharp differences of opinion – Nelson Mandela and I always somehow managed to defuse the major crises which developed during the negotiation process.
- In our negotiations we found it very useful to develop special mechanisms to deal with deadlocks and problems. One such mechanism was a two-man committee of senior officials, whose task it was to suggest compromises and solutions when deadlocks and problems arose.
- Ultimately, negotiators must be prepared to take risks to assure a successful outcome to their efforts. Few agreements will ever be absolutely water-tight and at some juncture a leap of faith will usually be unavoidable.
- Win/win outcomes. The success of negotiations will depend on the ability of the negotiators to address the reasonable interests and concerns of all parties. One-sided solutions seldom last and simply make the eventual resumption of genuine negotiations more difficult.
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:
- In plural societies all cultural communities should be given maximum “breathing space” to promote their identities and to cherish their traditions. For this reason, the immutable principles that we negotiated stipulate that “the diversity of language and culture shall be acknowledged and protected, and conditions for their promotion shall be encouraged”. In terms of the fundamental rights contained in our Constitution “every person has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of his or her choice”. Every person also has the right to instruction in the language of his or her choice where this is reasonable practicable.
- Plural societies, should wherever possible strive for inclusivity. Simple majoritarianism, where significant minorities can be excluded from all the processes of government should be avoided. All communities should feel that they are adequately represented in all of the institutions through which they are governed. Special care should be taken that no community feels isolated or alienated from the governmental process. Unfortunately, the ANC government refused to include any meaningful provision for power-sharing at the executive level in our new constitution. As a result, some important communities feel alienated from the process of government.
- A culture of toleration and pride in diversity should be cultivated. In multicultural societies, mutual respect and pride in the diversity of national cultures should be fostered through the educational system, through the teaching of national languages and through the media.
- Negative discrimination of any form should be strictly prohibited. No community should feel victimised or excluded from any aspect of national life because of its cultural or ethnic identity. Unfortunately, in South Africa today, many whites and coloureds (South Africans of mixed ancestry) feel that they have now become victims of unbalanced affirmative action programmes favouring black South Africans .
- There should be a concerted effort to establish an inclusive, overarching national identity. New national values, based on those in the Constitution should form the framework for the new national identity. Common symbols and pride in national achievements should be propagated.
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.