It is a great honour for me to address this important meeting of the Bondsraad at the Voortrekker Monument – this national shrine which is so central to the identity, the history and the soul of our people.
It is also an appropriate time to address the Bondsraad. The AB’s predecessor played a central role in the history of our people during the 20th century – first in the revival of Afrikaner nationalism after the First World War and then in the political affairs of the Afrikaner people in the tumultuous years that followed.
The AB played a leading role as an intellectual sounding board in the construction of separate development. When it became evident that separate development could not provide a just resolution to our complex problems, the AB – particularly under Prof De Lange – helped to prepare the way for a negotiated solution – a solution that would protect the rights and freedoms of all South Africans.
It is now 21 years since the commencement of our new constitutional democracy. During this period our Constitution has provided a framework for relative peace and progress. We are once again a full member of the international community; we can look our fellow South Africans in the eye as equals; our economy is three times larger than it was in 1994; and most whites have prospered – more so than any of our other communities.
There are many critics of the decisions we took at the beginning of the 1990s. Some say we should have clung to the old dispensation. Others claim that we could have negotiated a better deal. Some think that we could have retained some or other minority veto.
Let me state quite clearly: if we had not reached a settlement as soon as possible – following the collapse of the Soviet Union – the balance of forces would have inexorably – and quite quickly – shifted against us. With each year that passed, our ability to secure our core interests would have weakened – which is exactly what happened to Ian Smith in Rhodesia.
Clinging to power was simply not an option. We could probably have continued to rule South Africa for another 15 to 20 years under increasingly grim circumstances. We would have become completely isolated. Our economy would have been crippled. A high percentage of the white population would have emigrated. Our young men would have spent half of every year fighting on the borders or repressing dissent in the townships. Inter-racial animosities would have increased to a level that would have made a mutually acceptable negotiated solution less and less possible with each year that passed.
Others would have liked us to carve out a white homeland somewhere in the country. However, there is – and was – nowhere in South Africa where whites are close to being in a majority. There was no possibility that whites would have given up their comfortable livelihoods in our cities and trekked into the far-flung areas to establish a new state.
Others who think we could have secured a minority veto are deluded. Such an outcome would have been completely unacceptable to the vast majority of South African citizens – and would never have been accepted by the international community.
As it is, we negotiated a Constitution in which all sides have to make painful compromises.