Together with the announcements of 2 February 1990 it signalled to South Africa and to the world that we had changed course – away from growing confrontation and conflict and toward the possibility of building a new non-racial constitutional democracy.
I am sure that Nelson Mandela would be proud of our many achievements since then:
- We are a functioning multi-party constitutional democracy with a strong Bill of Rights and independent courts.
- We have freed ourselves from the injustice and humiliation of apartheid.
- Our economy is three times larger than it was in 1994.
- We have built 3.5 million houses and have provided much greater access to electricity and basic services.
- After decades of isolation, South Africa is once again a respected member of the international community.
However, I am equally sure that Mr Mandela would have found some other aspects of our new society extremely disturbing. He would be deeply troubled by:
- Our failure to provide decent education to millions of our children;
- Unacceptable levels of unemployment – particularly among our youth;
- The fact that we have made so little progress in achieving greater equality;
- The deaths of four million South Africans as a result of AIDS, and – despite the success of our anti-retroviral programme – by the deaths of the 170 000 South Africans who died of AIDS last year.
- Rampant corruption – and the undermining of independent institutions that are supposed to combat corruption; and
- The fact that without having won a single vote, the SACP has seized control of the National Democratic Revolution and now dominates economic policy.
However, I am sure that the development that Mr Mandela would have found most disappointing would be the unravelling of his admirable efforts to promote reconciliation and to build a strong non-racial society at peace with itself. He would have been appalled by the increasingly strident tone of our debate on racial issues and would be shocked by the unrepudiated statement of a senior ANC leader that “the phase of reconciliation that brought together fair-minded white and black people is over” and that “we are now engaged in a struggle for economic and social justice.”
Nevertheless, I am sure that, 25 years after his release, Nelson Mandela would agree with me that South Africa today is so much better than it was in the past. He would also agree on the need for all South Africans to work together – rather than to struggle against one another – in our efforts to build a society based on human dignity, the achievement of equality, and the advancement of rights and freedoms.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation