The FW de Klerk Foundation decided to dedicate its annual conference this year to the consideration of the future of multiculturalism in South Africa.
We did so because of the strains that have been developing in relations between our communities and because of the central importance of reaching agreement on how communities in our complex multicultural society should relate to one another in the future. These are questions that will play a key role in determining the long-term success of our society and the security and happiness of all our peoples.
This is also a challenge that increasingly confronts countries throughout the world. The main threat to peace during the 21st century no longer comes from the possibility of conflict between countries but rather from the inability of states to manage relationships between ethnic, cultural and religious communities within their own borders.
The age of the single culture, single language state is over. Two thirds of the world’s 200 countries have minorities comprising more than 10% of their populations. Cultural and ethnic minorities now comprise more than one billion people throughout the world – one in seven of the human population.
Our own country, South Africa, is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse societies in the world.
Like so many other African countries, South Africa was a creation of European imperialists. At the beginning of the last century the British drew arbitrary lines on the map of southern Africa which created South Africa as we know it today. In so doing they incorporated within the same state a wide array of different peoples with different cultures, values and levels of development.
In 1910 when the Union of South Africa was established, the British gave white South Africans a monopoly of political power. During the subsequent decades whites used their monopoly of power to promote and protect their own interests. Their relationship with the other peoples of South Africa was characterised at best by condescending paternalism – and at worst by naked exploitation and dispossession.
26 years ago today I initiated the process that would end the white monopoly of power and that would open the way to our present non-racial constitutional democracy.
During the constitutional negotiations the participating parties gave extensive attention to the manner in which the rights of all our communities would be protected and how they would work together in a new spirit of unity in diversity. Our new constitution recognised our 11 official languages and proclaimed that they should enjoy parity of esteem.
- It required us to strive for unity within our diversity.
- It prohibited discrimination, inter alia, on the basis of race, language and culture.
- It enjoined the state to take special action to develop our indigenous languages.
- It stated that government at national and provincial levels must use at least two official languages.
The Constitution importantly recognised the right to receive education in the language of one’s choice in public educational institutions, where such education is reasonably practicable and provided that it does not lead to discrimination.
It also created space for language, cultural and religious diversity.
- Everyone would have the right to use the language and participate in the cultural life of their choice.
- People belonging to cultural, religious and ethnic communities would be able to enjoy their culture, practise their religion and use their language.
- They would be able to form cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.
Our new Constitution was in line with international thinking on multiculturalism at the time.