One of the contributions that we South Africans can make to the international community is to show that even the most bitter, complex and intractable problems can be solved peacefully, through negotiations.
South Africa’s road to peace will not necessarily be the same as the road that Colombia will take. However, I would like to share some of our experiences – and leave it to you to decide what is, or is not, relevant to the situation in your country.
25 years ago South Africa was caught up in a seemingly unsolvable conflict. Indeed, it was difficult to imagine parties that were further apart than the ruling white National Party, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress.
- ANC – with about 60% national support mainly among the black population – was allied to the South African Communist Party and had an African nationalist/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. It insisted that the new Constitution should be drafted by an elected constituent assembly.
- The National Party – with 20% support mainly among South Africa’s white, mixed and Indian minorities – strongly favoured a free enterprise economy, a federal state, and limited central government intervention. It wanted the new Constitution to be written before the first election.
- The traditionalist Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party – with about 10% of national support – had combated apartheid from within the system. For this reason it was distrusted by the ANC with whom it had been waging a low intensity civil war in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The IFP was strongly federalist; it supported free market principles and also wanted the new Constitution to be written before the first election.
What enabled these parties – and the 20 other parties that joined them in the multi-party 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;
- Our problems could be solved only through negotiation: 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 require genuine concessions and painful compromises by all sides;
- We would have to put the bitterness of the past behind us and search for genuine national reconciliation;
- We would need a strong Constitution to provide the basic rules for our new society and to guarantee the rights and security of all our people and communities.