SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE,JOHANNESBURG; 8 NOVEMBER 2002
SOUTH AFRICA: MANAGING THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Eight years after our first democratic elections the past still remains very much with us.
The TRC did not succeed with its goals of discovering all the truth about the past or of promoting national reconciliation. Although much of its work was praiseworthy and often had a cathartic effect, its composition was too one-sided to produce a report that would be broadly acceptable to all South Africans. The fact is that it did not include a single person associated with the old National Party or the IFP – two of the main parties to the conflict of the past. As a result we continue to have widely divergent perspectives of where we have come from; of where we are; and of where we are bound.
On the one side, many people continue to think and act in terms of the ‘struggle’ approach of the past. They often view the economy, agriculture, education and sport not as vehicles which can take South Africa toward its national goals, but as yet more battlefields in the unresolved and ongoing struggle of the past.
On the other side, too many people believe that now that political power has been transferred into other hands, they no longer have a responsibility to address the many pressing challenges that confront our country.
One of the central differences is our view of where we have come from. Those who espouse the struggle model see the new South Africa simply as the first stage in an ongoing campaign to defeat their traditional enemy. Victory will not be complete until they have control over all the levers of society – including the economy.
In contrast other parties see the transformation of South Africa as a historic compromise in which the vast majority of South Africans were voluntary and enthusiastic partners. They think that the struggle is over.
The attitude of the former group is the driving force behind court actions that have been launched in the United States against Swiss and American Banks. The premise is that any company or bank that had dealings with the old South Africa must have supported apartheid and the repression of black South Africans.
In my view this premise is completely wrong.
The main factor in breaking down apartheid was not sanctions and disengagement from the South African economy but the rapid economic growth and social evolution, primarily in the 60s and 70s, that were in part made possible by international trade and investment in South Africa. Economic growth led to the breakdown of apartheid by further integrating the economy; by accelerating the flow of rural black South Africans to the supposedly ‘white’ cities; by bringing more and more black South Africans into the economy at higher and higher levels; and by exposing more and more white South Africans to contemporary first world attitudes and values. As in many other societies throughout the world and throughout history changing economic relationships led to changing social relationships that ultimately exerted irresistible pressure on archaic constitutional relationships.
The fact is that South African Government expenditure was financed almost entirely from its own revenue sources – and not from foreign loans. It did not need the support of Swiss banks to devise and implement apartheid. In addition, by far the greater part of government revenue was expended on bona fide social programmes. By 1987 65% of social spending was directed to programmes for black South Africans.
If the courts were ever to find against the banks, they would open the way to international litigation that would soon cripple the ability of banks and companies to do business anywhere. Cases could then be made against banks that had made loans to the many countries throughout the world that have, at one time or another, been accused of serious human rights breaches
Clearly, Fagan’s lawsuit against the Swiss and American banks would open the way to chaos. Although the case has little substance and is unlikely to succeed, it does have the potential to cause real harm. In particular it could make international banks and companies even more reluctant to do business with any country with a less than pristine human rights record – and this unfortunately includes most of the countries in Africa which need foreign investment most urgently.
I have always believed that the best way to make amends for apartheid was to dismantle it and to open the way for the democratic transformation of our society. This we did. The elected representatives of all our major parties reached agreement on a new constitution that guarantees basic rights for all our people and that also lays down guidelines on how we should deal with the injustices of the past. The challenge is to continue to work for policies that will bring political, social and economic justice to all our people. This will be a much more realistic and effective form of compensation than waiting in vain for a cheque from foreign banks.
Where do we stand today with the New South Africa?
Economically we are faring a lot better than most sceptics believed would be possible eight years ago.
- The Government has adopted tough and sensible macro-economic policies;
- We have a serious problem with inflation – but much of it is imported and the Reserve Bank has shown that it has the will to hold the line;
- The Rand has been faring very well. It is no longer a basket case and has begun to show that it can hold its value.
- We are increasing the value of our manufactured exports – particularly of cars.
Socially we have serious problems.
- Too many South Africans continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation.
- One of the main causes of this is the unacceptably high rate of unemployment – however defined.
- We have one of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world and are faced with an impending crisis of enormous dimensions;
- The government is experiencing serious problems in delivering social, health and education services.
- On the other hand, we are making great progress with housing, electrification and the provision of water to rural communities.
- We are also developing a large and genuine black middle class that will be a base for stability and economic growth.
How is our democracy doing?
During the past eight years we have held two free and fair national elections and municipal elections. We have an Independent Electoral Commission which is functioning independently and effectively. We have also seen the smooth and peaceful transition from our first president to our second president after the retirement of President Mandela.
However, we also have some quite serious problems:
- Our multiparty democracy is not really working very well. This is not due to the Constitution itself, but rather to the voting patterns of our electorate. Most South Africans are still voting along ethnic lines and have yet to make the leap to non-racial value driven politics.
- The result is a dominant governing party without any credible electoral challenge. Voters who vote for opposition parties feel increasingly disempowered and alienated.
- Parliament is not nearly the dynamic forum that it should be.
Other warning lights are flashing.
- South Africa is experiencing a process of political centralisation that is incompatible with true democracy and with the right of people to rule themselves.
- In the name of transformation, the state is increasingly intervening in areas of civil society – in schools, universities, businesses, sport – where it does not belong.
- Individuals, organisations and companies are disturbingly hesitant to claim their rights or to question these trends because of their fear of being ‘politically incorrect’ or of alienating an increasingly powerful government.
Here, I want to place one matter above any doubt: I fully support the necessity for transformation, backed by balanced affirmative action. Change must come in all spheres of life. We simply cannot proceed as in the past. The tradition of historic advantage for white South Africans in particular must be replaced by a dispensation of equal opportunities for all. All forms of racial discrimination must be eradicated, root and branch. Access to quality education for everyone is essential. Welfare creation, coupled with more equal distribution, is an extremely important priority.
However, a better balance must be found between the need for transformation on the one hand and the rights and autonomy of people and of civil society on the other.
This brings me to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. How are we doing eight years after 1994? Here. also, I believe that that there are some warning signals particularly with regard with aspects of freedom of association;. language and education policy, affirmative action and the threat of reverse racial discrimination.
However – despite all this – I believe that after eight years the new South Africa is doing pretty well:
- we have one of the most liberal constitutions in the world;
- inter-community relations are – on the whole – good:
- our government is implementing sensible macro-economic policies and we are well positioned for economic growth.
What of the future?
South Africa’s future success will be determined by our ability to achieve the following goals:
We need peace and stability.
- We must work untiringly to promote positive relations between all our communities to avoid the communal strife that has crippled many other complex societies. In particular we must address friction between communities wherever and whenever it occurs
- We must fight crime. South Africa will not reach its full potential if so many of its citizens continue to fear that their lives and property are in constant danger.
- We need a framework of law and a functioning justice system.
We need to maintain sound macro-economic policies.
- The Government is implementing sensible macro-economic policies. It must continue to do so.
- We must make our labour market less rigid. Unless we bring down the cost of labour and make it easier for companies to employ people, we will continue to struggle with potentially catastrophic levels of unemployment.
- The Government must make it clear that it accepts that property rights are sacrosanct.
We need to create a climate of freedom in which people, companies and communities can take decisions affecting their own future.
- At the most basic – and perhaps the most important – level democracy depends on the ability of people to take decisions that most immediately affect their lives and the lives of their families.
- Freedom and democracy also presuppose the reasonable autonomy of the organisations composing civil society to which people belong: the clubs of which they are members; the companies for which they work; the religious institutions where they worship, the schools and universities where they educate their children. If the state unreasonably interferes with the right of any of these associations to conduct their lawful business as they see fit it is an abrogation of their freedom and an unacceptable interference in their democratic right to manage their own affairs.
We must address the serious social challenges confronting South Africa;
- We have to prepare ourselves to deal with the worst phases of the AIDS pandemic – and particularly with the new generation of orphans that will be created by the disease.
- We need to address poverty by doing everything we can to promote economic growth; by urging the government to address unemployment by adopting less rigid labour policies; and by supporting sensible social welfare proposals.
- We must redouble our efforts to improve education.
- We must accept that all of us – individuals, churches, NGOs and companies – and not just the government – have a role in addressing these challenges.
We need to make our constitution a living document.
- Our Constitution plays an even more central role in ensuring social and political stability than do the constitutions of most other countries. Because our complex population lacks a common heritage, traditions and culture it was essential to create a foundation for our new state that would be acceptable to all our people. The Constitution is in a very real sense the cornerstone of our new multicultural democracy. It is the repository of our national values and the guarantor of the basic rights and freedoms of all our citizens and communities. The principles that it contains were negotiated over a number of years by representatives of most of the country’s divergent political parties. They are at the very heart of the historic compromise that made it possible for all South Africa’s major parties to end generations of conflict and join together in creating the new South Africa.
In the final analysis South Africa’s future will depend on its people.
- We must make use of the political freedom that is guaranteed by our new constitution. If we are unhappy about aspects of the new South Africa, we should exercise our freedom of speech and say so;
- we should use our political rights by actively supporting the political parties of our choice;
- we should vigorously participate in the activities of civil society and promote the autonomy of the organisations that make up civil society;
- we should claim the rights that the Constitution guarantees; and
- we should do everything we can to defend, promote and popularise the Constitution – because it is the foundation of our democracy and of the new South Africa.
Finally, we South Africans must communicate with one another more openly and more frequently. We must begin to develop a common vision of where we have come from; of where we find ourselves now; and of where we want to go in the future.
Right now we are all working with different road maps of South Africa. We will not be able to find one another if we do not share co-ordinates; and we will not be able to reach a common destination if we continue to travel along different routes.