REMARKS BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK DURING THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE INITIATING MEETING OF THE GLOBAL FORUM ON NEW DEMOCRACIES, TAIPEI 26 JANUARY 2007
Mr President, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen
Democracy grows out of centuries of experience of other forms of government in which power is controlled by this or that interest group supported by the security forces. Because such systems seldom enjoy the support of the people they can remain in power only by coercion. Also, changes of government are difficult and often hold the potential for armed conflict.
Democracy represents a dramatic break from this legacy of repression and conflict. It rests on the premise that government should be in the hands of the freely elected representatives of the people. It requires free institutions to survive. There can be no competitive democratic process without the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Democracy also requires a free and independent judiciary and non-partisan security forces and public service.
Freedom, in turn, is very beneficial for society. There is a direct correlation between the existence of free economic and political institutions and a whole array of social benefits – including high economic growth, low unemployment and reductions in poverty and inequality.
However, democracy is a fragile plant. It requires special attention, particularly during the first years of its growth. It is essential that the values and conventions upon which it rests should take root in the hearts of the people and in the institutions of the state. In particular, the levers of state power – the security forces, the public service and the judiciary – must owe their first and only loyalty to the constitution and the rights and conventions that it embodies.
TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE AND CHOOSING A CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM:
One of the premises on which South Africa’s transition to democracy was based – was the agreement that there would be some form of amnesty for past offences. It was only when the then government agreed to grant indemnity to members of the armed formations of opposition groups like the ANC and the PAC that negotiations could begin. Likewise, it was only when all sides agreed that there would be amnesty for people from all sides who had committed offences with political motives that the negotiating parties could move ahead to agreement on our interim constitution in December 1993. Accordingly, that Constitution ordered that “amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives and committed in the course of conflicts of the past.”
Subsequently, the new government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to oversee this process, to determine the truth about the conflict of the past and to promote national reconciliation. Unfortunately, the TRC did not include any commissioners who could speak on behalf of the former governing National Party or the Inkatha Freedom Party, two of the three main participants in the conflict. As a result, the TRC produced a final report that represented the views of only one side to the past conflict and thus missed an historic opportunity to promote national reconciliation and genuine transformative justice.
All parties made substantial compromises when choosing our new Constitution. The ANC originally wanted a unitary government with only limited property and cultural rights. The then governing National Party would have liked a more inclusive constitution with institutional power-sharing between all significant political parties and the communities that they represented. In the end, we reached a compromise agreement that accepts the need for equality and social justice on the one hand, and strong property, cultural and language rights on the other.
IDENTITY DIVIDE BETWEEN THE STATE AND ETHNIC GROUPS AND MASS MEDIA AND DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT
Because of the intensely multicultural and multiethnic nature of South Africa, the relationship between the State and ethnic groups played a leading role in the constitutional negotiations that led to the establishment of the new South African democracy. The Constitution gives recognition to South Africa’s eleven national languages. It also recognises everyone’s right “to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice” and to “enjoy their culture, practise their religion and to use their language.” It also recognises that everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable.”
One of the main challenges in many new democracies is to manage the delicate relationship between minority cultural, religious and language communities and the State – and between these various communities. This requires on the one hand, the greatest possible support for communities to practise their cultures; to use their languages and to educate their children in their traditions. On the other hand it requires the development of overarching national identities firmly based on common values, ideals and aspirations.
The drafters of our Constitution also recognised that the mass media play an essential and indispensable role in the democratic process. Indeed, without free media it is difficult or impossible for political parties to participate in competitive and free elections. Free media are also essential in the processes of monitoring government actions and policies; in calling government to account for shortcomings and in informing the public of their rights and of public issues.
THE JOINT PROPOSAL FOR THE DECLARATION ON THE GLOBAL FORUM ON NEW DEMOCRACIES AND ON THE DRAFT PROPOSAL FOR THE FOUNDING OF THE GLOBAL FORUM ON NEW DEMOCRACIES
Our presence here is Taipei is already an indication that we support the establishment of the Global Forum on New Democracies. There is also general agreement that the first two decades of new democracies are often the most vulnerable. It accordingly makes sense to exchange views on how democracy can best be consolidated during this period. The proposed joint declaration addresses some issues on which I would like to make the following brief comments:
- Democracies are most likely to take root if they are consistent with long-established national and cultural traditions. The American model – excellent as it may be for the United States – is not the appropriate model for all societies at all times. However, although we must allow latitude for countries to develop their own national models, they must include a number of core principles that are indispensable for any genuine democratic system. These principles include free and regular elections; freedom of speech and expression; freedom to organise and to oppose government; and independent judicial and state institutions.
- In our globalising world, there are fewer and fewer homogeneous states. Many states have long-established cultural, religious and linguistic minorities. Others are becoming more multicultural through mass migration. One of the greatest challenges confronting emerging democracies is to accommodate diversity. If diversity is not properly accommodated, it can become a source of tension and conflict that can easily destroy emerging democracies. Indeed, the failure to accommodate diversity is by far the greatest cause of conflict in the world today.
- Emerging democracies are often confronted by the challenges of how they should deal with past conflicts. In the process, they discover that it is much easier to reach agreement about the future than about the past. An approach based on retribution will usually lead to ongoing resentment and division. An approach that ignores past wrongs can create a climate of impunity and unresolved grievance. All sides should try to reach agreement on their divided past and should err on the side of reconciliation.
- We must also investigate ways and means of strengthening young democracies by strengthening civil society in their countries. Strong non-governmental organisations, religious organisations, and media supported by strong and independent business institutions are important bulwarks of democracy.
I believe that by exchanging ideas on issues such as these and by sharing our experience we will be able to play a significant role in ensuring that our young democracies become permanent and immutable institutions in our evolving societies. For all these reasons, I should like to congratulate President Chen for his initiative in establishing the Global Forum on New Democracies.