As Mr De Klerk said in his own message to mark Freedom Day, 27 April was not only the 20th anniversary of our first inclusive non-racial democratic election:  it was also the date on which our first non-racial and fully democratic Constitution came into effect; and most importantly, it was the date on which all South Africans were endowed with fundamental human rights – including the rights to dignity, equality and non-racialism.

Mr De Klerk would, however, like to add that he was not acting alone: he had the support of almost 70% of white South Africans and the solid backing of his cabinet and his caucus. He also had the support of the great majority of security force members who continued to play their essential task of maintaining peace under the most difficult circumstances.

As the recent eNCA programme, “A Bloody Miracle” graphically illustrates, there were elements that wanted to derail the negotiations at the last moment. Such a development would have been catastrophic for all South Africans and would have plunged South Africa into civil war and the deepest imaginable chaos and international isolation. We should all be thankful that wiser counsel prevailed and that most of those who had been considering this option decided instead to participate in the elections.

Mr De Klerk, for his part, has never hesitated to praise the ANC government for the progress that it has made in improving the lives of millions of South Africans. He has also on numerous occasions expressed his view that South Africa today, with all its challenges, is a much better country for the vast majority of its citizens of all races than it was in the past.  He has reiterated his view that the main foundation for the progress that we have made has been our balanced Constitution. He has accordingly criticized any behavior from any quarter – including government – that threatens the constitutional agreements and values on which our new society is based.

He would also like to agree with President Zuma that former President Nelson Mandela was, indeed, a formidable opponent in negotiations. However, it is not true that it was only the National Party and Mr De Klerk who made concessions in order to reach agreement. As the ANC admits in its own Strategy and Tactics documents it also had to make painful compromises to achieve our common goal. That is the nature of any tough negotiation process.

This was particularly the case when the ANC decided to return to the negotiation process in September 1992. One must remember that at the end of June 1992 the ANC had walked out of the negotiations and had openly embarked on a non-negotiated seizure of power through the so-called “Leipzig option” (based on the East German example where mass demonstrations had led to the fall of the communist regime). Instead, it returned to the negotiations and signed off on all the main agreements that had been reached at CODESA.  These included the critically important compromises that

However, as Mr De Klerk pointed out in his Freedom Day message: “27 April did not constitute the victory of some South Africans over others. It was a glorious victory for us all. On 27 April all of us – whatever our race – enjoyed far greater rights and freedoms than any of us had previously enjoyed before.”

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation

Photo credit: GovernmentZA / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)