Lord RenwickI am very honoured to follow two former Presidents and also Prince Buthelezi, all of them leaders of different political persuasions, all of whom I admire. And I am very pleased to count all three as personal friends.

I would like to start by recalling the situation you were in on 1 January 1990. This Foundation should reflect for a moment where you would have ended up if President De Klerk had not taken the very difficult decisions he made in the run-up to his great speech 25 years ago and then the subsequent negotiations on a fully democratic Constitution.

At the time South Africa was increasingly isolated with all sorts of sanctions applied against you by all your major trading partners. The UK had imposed military, nuclear, oil and sports sanctions, though, together with Germany and some others, we opposed blanket sanctions against South Africa that would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost for black South Africans with no other means of support, and would have resulted in the destruction of the neighbouring economies long before that of South Africa. Nonetheless, that is where you were heading.

I told PW Botha on behalf of Margaret Thatcher that if there were more air raids on the neighbouring capitals or attacks on the ANC personnel in London, we would be forced to retaliate. With another two years of the militaristic policies that were being pursued at that time, South Africa would have ended up totally isolated. Not only that but, self-evidently, you were heading for ever-greater internal conflict. As FW de Klerk told the police generals, the status quo could only have been maintained by the use of ever-greater violence by the state. And you were using quite a lot of violence already.

So every business person in this country and everyone who wanted a more peaceful future owes an inestimable debt to FW de Klerk and his colleagues for what they did at that time. Now Mr De Klerk has been criticised by some in the ANC and others as the last apartheid President. In reality, he was the President who abolished apartheid, repealing in 1991 all the apartheid laws, including the Population Registration Act, centrepiece of the entire system. He also dismantled your nuclear weapons system, on which one billion dollars already had been spent.

Nelson Mandela told me at the time that FW de Klerk richly deserved his Nobel Peace Prize for he was the person who, and I am quoting Mandela, “Made peace possible.” And as for the antics of the local section of the ANC in Cape Town, you have heard a much more senior, highly respected leader of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, pay tribute to what FW did then. You also will have read, I hope you all have read, the letter today in the Cape Timesby another good friend who I admire greatly, Ahmed Kathrada.

And the idea that Mr De Klerk had his back to the wall and had no other option but to do what he did is complete nonsense. In fact, two weeks before he made his speech, Mr Alfred Nzo, then Secretary-General of the ANC – inadvertently read out to the press an internal ANC memo which said: “We have to acknowledge that at present we do not have any capacity to intensify the military struggle in South Africa.”

What happened after that – in the world which had shunned South Africa – after the 1994 elections was huge admiration in the rest of the world, as there is today, for FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela setting the country on a new peaceful democratic path and a desire to embrace South Africa and welcome it back into every international forum; the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and so on. And you then benefited for several years from the sort of stardust sprinkled by Nelson Mandela, who was the world’s favourite leader, with huge popular appeal everywhere. And as we all know, he could charm the birds off the trees.