SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE GLENCREE RECONCILIATION CENTRE, 16 AUGUST 2002
THE BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR PEACE-MAKING
It is a pleasure for me to be able to participate with you in this year’s Summer School at Glencree.
The work you are doing to promote peace and understanding between divided communities can be of the greatest importance to building peace in Northern Ireland. It can also inspire other communities throughout the world that are also struggling with the challenges of reconciliation and co-existence.
The reality is that throughout the world the greatest threat to peace now comes from the inability of diverse communities to coexist within the same constitutional units.
In 1999 only two of the 27 serious conflicts in the world were between countries: the rest were within countries – primarily between ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious communities. Such conflict are often characterised by extraordinary brutality – involving ethnic cleansing and massacres of whole communities – and by the implacable hatred that develops between the contending communities.
Multicommunal societies are like uranium atoms with large unstable nuclei. The challenge is to ensure that the forces that bind the nuclei together remain stronger than the centrifugal that drive them apart. The nucleus must also be protected against bombardment by radical particles – which if unrestrained could set off an uncontrollable chain reaction.
One thinks of the words of your great poet W.B,Yeats in “The Second Coming”:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are filled with passionate intensity.”
The work that you are doing at Glencree is designed to strengthen the centre and to make sure that it does hold:
- that the passionate intensity of the worst is neutralised;
- that the conviction of the best is strengthened;
- that the blood-dimmed tide is stanched;
- that mere anarchy does not prevail;
- that things do not fall apart; and
- above all, that ordinary people can practise their ceremonies of innocence in peace and security – that they can go about their daily lives without the threat of sudden and devastating violence and brutality.
This was also the challenge that also confronted us in South Africa at the end of the ‘eighties. We were caught in a seemingly hopeless downward spiral of violence and repression. Few observers believed that we would be able to find a peaceful solution. What enabled our parties to bridge the enormous chasms that divided us? 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.
- that our problems could be solved only through negotiation – that any attempt by any party to continue to impose its will by force would simply lead to the destruction of the country and the economy.
- a successful outcome would require genuine concessions and painful compromises.
- we would have to put the bitterness of the past behind us and search for genuine national reconciliation.
- we needed a strong Constitution that would provide the basic rules for our new society and that would guarantee the rights and security of all our citizens and communities.
Looking back on our experience we can identify the following key factors that contributed to the success of our negotiations:
- There must be a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution by all the main parties. The balance of forces must be such that no party should think that it can successfully impose its will on the others.
- Win/win outcomes. The success of negotiations will depend on the ability of the negotiators to address the reasonable interests and concerns of all parties. One-sided solutions seldom last and simply make the eventual resumption of genuine negotiations more difficult.
- Timing is crucial. Had we started our negotiation initiative earlier – say, in the middle ‘seventies – it is doubtful that the National Party government would have been able to take its followers with it. If we had launched our initiative too late, we might have entered the negotiation process when the balance of power had begun to shift against us – as Ian Smith did in Zimbabwe.
History sometimes opens a window of opportunity, when all the forces involved are ripe for negotiation. Our window of opportunity opened at the end of the 1980s:
- key leaders in the ANC and the former South African Government had reached the conclusion that an armed or revolutionary solution was not possible and that the only hope for the future lay in genuine negotiations.
- the collapse of global communism in 1989 removed our most serious strategic concern. For us, the prospect of Soviet expansionism was not just an empty propaganda exercise. During the previous years our armed forces had been involved in serious military clashes with Soviet and Cuban led forces in Angola. The ANC had a close alliance with the South African Communist Party, which controlled its armed wing Mkontho we Sizwe and which had a majority of members on its National Executive Committee. The ANC was closely allied to – and supported by – the Soviet Union.
- There was no longer any serious debate about the economic policies that would be required to ensure economic growth in a future democratic South Africa. The devastation that Communism had caused to the economies of Eastern Europe and many of our African neighbours – was there for all to see.
- Negotiations must involve all significant parties. One of the major problems that we encountered was the boycotts of the talks that were initiated first by the ANC and then by the IFP. We had to persuade all the major parties to rejoin the process before the elections. This we ultimately managed to do with only eight days to spare!
- Leadership. Parties must be able to take their constituencies with them. Strong and determined leadership is essential. An important, but time-consuming factor was the lengthy process for participants to consult their constituencies before important decisions.
- Personalities also play an important role. The main role players from the negotiating parties must be able to develop personal relationships based on mutual trust and confidence.
- We found it very useful to develop special mechanisms to deal with deadlocks and problems. One such mechanism was a two-man committee of senior officials, whose task it was to suggest compromises and solutions when deadlocks and problems arose.
- Ultimately, negotiators must be prepared to take risks to assure a successful outcome to their efforts. Few agreements will ever be absolutely water-tight and at some juncture a leap of faith will usually be unavoidable.
- Perserverance. We had to deal with several severe crises when things appeared to be falling apart. Change is not easy. It cannot be managed by cissies or quitters. Parties must never allow the crises and frustrations of the present to blind their vision of the benefits of future peace and co-operation.
These are among the factors that enabled us in South Africa to reach agreement. Some of them were developed specifically for our own complex situation. Others may have a more universal application. I will leave it to you to decide which aspects of our experience are relevant to the search for peace in Northern Ireland.
We also learned, however, that the conclusion of peace is just the beginning of the process.
In the sphere of human relationships there is no point at which one can sit back and say that one has solved the problem. The reality is that unless all human relationships receive constant and ongoing care, nurturing and communication, they begin to unravel. Reaching agreements to end conflicts is only the beginning of the process. The challenge then becomes to ensure that conflicts do not flare up again, that newly established relationships are placed on firm foundations, and that agreements are honoured. In order to achieve this there are a number of basic requirements:
- The first is forgiveness. Parties to bitter conflicts have to put the past behind them: they must find some way of gaining release from the burden of anger, fear and guilt that oppresses them.
- The second need is meaningful reconciliation. Parties must put the divisions of the past behind them; they must identify the present common interests and values; and they must develop a vision of a better future for all that will inspire and unite them.
- The third need is the acceptance of basic rules of behaviour and guidelines for the maintenance of peace.
- The fourth is justice. Unless all sides believe that they are being treated fairly and that their reasonable interests are being accommodated, peace will be short-lived.
Forgiveness is essential. Conflicting parties will be able to escape from the vortex of violence only if they can find the strength to forgive one another. Forgiveness is also the beginning of the road to reconciliation.
It is much easier to reach agreement on the future than on the past. .
In South Africa, most of us agreed that we needed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to determine the ‘truth’ about the conflict of our past as a necessary precursor to forgiveness and reconciliation. However, we discovered that the search for the truth could itself be highly divisive and could lead to alienation rather than reconciliation.
The TRC did, indeed, succeed in uncovering some of the truth about our past conflict. However, at the end of the day the ‘truth’ that it presented was the truth of only one of the parties – primarily because the other two main parties the conflict – the old National Party and the IFP of Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi – were not included in the process. It was as though an all-Protestant or all-Catholic commission were to try to write the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
In my view, the truth regarding the past needs to be hammered out in frank discussions between all the parties involved. Unless the final product is broadly – and probably grudgingly – accepted by all the major parties, it will not lead to reconciliation but to further misunderstanding and recriminations.
The third requirement for harmony between communities in newly reconciled societies is the establishment of clear rules and guidelines for their future relationship. I should like to suggest the following broad approach:
- In multicommunal societies all communities should be given maximum “breathing space”. Communities must have the right to nurture and use their own traditions, culture and language.
- Multicommunal societies, should strive for inclusivity. Simple majoritarianism, where significant minorities can be excluded from all the processes of government should be avoided. All communities should feel that they are adequately represented in all of the institutions through which they are governed.
- A culture of toleration and pride in diversity should be cultivated. Simultaneously, a new inclusive identity should be nurtured that is based on common values, common goals, and common symbols.
- Discrimination of any form should be strictly prohibited. No person should feel victimised because of his or her cultural, religious or ethnic identity.
Finally, there must be justice. If communities in newly reconciled societies do not perceive that they are being treated justly, peace agreements will be of short duration.
In our case, in South Africa, we must work for the maintenance and realisation of our vision of a free, just, democratic and non-racial society. We have a prescription for such a society: it is our constitution. We must defend and promote the rights and values that it guarantees. We must ensure, in the words of Archbishop Tutu, that the injustices of the past are never again repeated.
Justice, however, requires more than the simple observance of the letter of our constitution. It also places a duty on all South Africans to address the continuing problem of inequality. It requires us to work for a society in which all our people will be able to lead decent lives and attain, in practice, the ideals set out in our constitution. This means that
- we must combat poverty;
- we must create jobs;
- we must improve education;
- we must protect our people from violent crime; and
- most urgently, that we must work day and night to fight the dreadful pandemic of AIDS that is decimating our population.
I believe that we have shown in South Africa that even the most intractable conflicts can be solved. Our challenge now is to show that societies emerging from conflict can continue to live in peace –
- through forgiveness and reconciliation;;
- through the adoption and implementation of sensible rules of behaviour and
- by assuring real justice for all.
You in Glencree and in the broader communities of Northern Ireland and Ireland face a similar responsibility. Together we must show people caught up in conflict in societies all over the world that there is a better way:
- that it is possible for former opponents to live together in peace and justice;
- that the centre can hold;
- that things need not fall apart;
- that it is possible to create circumstances in which ordinary men and women can practise the ceremonies of innocence in peace and goodwill.