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.

Socially we have serious problems.

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:

Other warning lights are flashing.

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:

 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 need to maintain sound macro-economic policies.

We need to create a climate of freedom in which people, companies and communities can take decisions affecting their own future.

We must address the serious social challenges confronting South Africa;

We need to make our constitution a living document.

In the final analysis South Africa’s future will depend on its people.


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.