The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Michegan, 6 June 2000

St Georges House, Windsor Castle, 2 December 2000

North Iowa Community College, Mason City, Iowa, 19 September, 2001

National Truck, Leasing Association, New Orleans, 20 September, 2001

Conference on “Citizenship and New Powers”, Lisbon, 24 October 2001




It is a great pleasure for me to be able to speak to you here in Iowa.

We are in the first years of a new millennium.     There were a lot of prophets of doom who said that we would not make it to the new millennium.  According to Nostradamus the world was supposed to have ended in July 1999.  Others predicted that we would be wiped out by an asteroid.  Well, they were wrong.  I hope, after almost two years, they have learned to live with their disappointment!

There were also a lot of prophets of doom eleven years ago who said that we in South Africa would never make it.   Well, they were also wrong.    My message to you tonight is that despite the enormity of our problems, despite the unprecedented changes with which we must wrestle, we can control our destinies and we can manage change.

The millennium is not just a nice round number:  in fact, it coincides with some of the most profound changes and developments in human history:

The first of these is globalisation.  During the past decades we have begun to lay the foundations of a new supranational global economic and information community:

What may well turn out to be another major development in human history also coincides almost exactly with the millennium – the human genome project.   Just as year ago we finally succeeded in mapping our entire genetic code.  We stand on the threshold of being able to understand – and manipulate – the genetic patterns that determine our very being.  We may soon unravel the causes of many diseases and may even be able to understand and influence the ageing process.  The implications of such knowledge are as astounding as they are unpredictable.

Finally, the millennium coincides with increasingly urgent signals that our environment can no longer sustain the current pace of human and industrial development:

We dare not ignore these warning signals.

The new millennium confronts us – not only with breath-taking opportunities – but also with awesome challenges:

One of the central implications of globalisation is that we can no longer ignore crises and grievances in distant countries.  Non-performing economies cannot be consigned to a basket-case category outside of the mainstream of the world economy.   The reality is that the gap between the poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994.

The world cannot accept a new de facto apartheid between a rich white north and an impoverished and unstable black south.  In a shrinking world, the problems of one region will inevitably become the problems of other regions and ultimately of the whole world:

Neither can the first world dismiss ongoing conflicts in distant third-world countries with 30 second segments on the evening news.  Many of these conflicts have their roots in poverty and under-development.  Eleven of the thirty poorest countries – including Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Sudan, Liberia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have in recent years been wracked by devastating wars.  On the other hand, there has been very little conflict in the twenty richest countries.

Our second great challenge in the new millennium will, I believe, be our continuing search for personal meaning and identity in an increasingly confusing, materialistic and culturally uniform world.

The rich cultural diversity of our planet is one of our greatest communal and personal heritages.  However, as a result of globalisation a new international uniformity is developing in many areas that had previously been characterised by cultural diversity:

The result is the development of a new generation of global citizens whose attitudes, tastes and aspirations are increasingly uniform.   Everywhere regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure.   It has been estimated that half of the world’s 6 000 languages will disappear during the next century.  Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.

Finally, the new millennium presents us with the pressing challenge of learning to live in harmony with our global environment.

We cannot allow the mindless and wholesale assault on our fragile environment to continue.  We must ensure that our governments move beyond declarations and lip service in their efforts to protect the global environment. Out future and the future of our children depends more on this than perhaps on any other factor.

Perhaps, all these challenges are part of the single overarching challenge of managing the accelerating processes of change that confront us on all sides.    As we enter the new millennium, we can make the following three observations about change:

During the past century – and particularly since World War II – there has been an exponential acceleration in the pace of change.  Our society probably has changed more during the past ten years than it did in the first ten thousand years of our development as a species.

Change is also unpredictable.   Some of the main developments that have fundamentally transformed the world, were entirely unforeseen only fifteen years ago:  think of the internet and the world-wide web; the collapse of the Soviet Union and international communism and AIDS.

The change that we are experiencing is also fundamental.  It affects virtually every aspect of our lives.

Everywhere the forces of change are in full flood.  They are obliterating the familiar and comfortable landscapes in which we grew up.  Like flood victims, they leave us clinging to the few certainties that have not yet been inundated.

The question for us as countries, as companies and as individuals is how we should deal with the uncertainty that this accelerating, fundamental and unpredictable change is bringing to our lives.

Perhaps we can learn something from nature – since uncertainty is the basic state of nature – and of most human history.

Anybody who has ever visited a water hole at dawn in the Kruger National Park will understand this.   In the first light of dawn groups of impala, zebra and wildebeest emerge from the bush and make their way to drink silently at the water’s edge.  Somewhere nearby lions lie in wait.  At any moment there can be an explosion of muscle, dust and claws.

The animals that survive are

Perhaps, in the uncertainty of our rapidly changing world we, also, will have to develop similar survival skills.  We too must be acutely aware of the rapid changes in our environment; we must be fit and possess real skills; and we must have the flexibility to adapt and change direction quickly.

These are some of the skills that we in South Africa have tried to cultivate to help is to deal with our rapidly changing environment.  South Africa’s recent past is very relevant to a rapidly changing world precisely because – through good luck or good management – we have shown that it is possible to manage historic forces of change – that we can avoid catastrophe and move toward a better future.

How did we do it?   I would like to share with you the following lessons.

The first step is to accept the need for change. 

Resistance to change is deeply ingrained in us.  We  fear the unknown and dread the prospect of moving into uncharted waters.   In our case, in South Africa, the whites and other minorities had well grounded reasons to fear change.  We were deeply concerned about:

Nevertheless, by the beginning of the ‘eighties it was becoming increasingly clear that we were on the wrong course.  We realised that we were being drawn inexorably into a downward spiral of conflict and isolation.  We spent a great deal of time coming to terms with the realities of our situation and wrestling with the need for fundamental change.

The main reason for our acceptance of change, however, was not the pressure that we were experiencing from the international community or rising discontent in South Africa.   We could have remained in power for many years to come.  We could have weathered sanctions and withdrawn into a grim fortress of national isolation.  After all, this is the kind of option that many other embattled states have chosen.  For me the key point was simply the realisation that the policies that we had adopted, and that I had supported as a young man, had led to a situation of manifest injustice.  It was this, in the final instance, that persuaded me and my colleagues that we had to accept the risks of radical change.

Having accepted the need to change, the next challenge is to avoid the temptation of pretending to change.  Very often countries, companies and individuals who know they must change, pretend to change.  They think of brilliant new ways of doing the wrong thing better.  Smokers, like myself, will tell themselves that if they cut down the number of cigarettes they smoke they will be addressing their problem.   Others who are overweight will fool themselves that by taking no sugar in their tea, that they are really coming to grips with their problem.  The same thing happens on an international and national scale.  For example, when he launched his perestroika reforms, President Gorbachev continued to insist that there was basically nothing wrong with communism.  It just had to be reformed and implemented in a more open and democratic manner.  In the same way, countries and companies will, for sentimental reasons, cling to industries that are no longer relevant instead of breaking through into entirely new cutting edge technologies.

For years we white South Africans also fooled ourselves that we could ‘reform’ apartheid and thereby avoid the traumatic decisions and risks that real change always involves.  It was only when we accepted that we would have to take extremely uncomfortable decisions and risks that real change could begin.

Once you have accepted the need to  change  you must articulate a clear and achievable  vision of where you want to go.

On 2 February 1990 I presented a new vision to the South African Parliament of a peaceful and democratic solution to our problems.  I set goals that included a new and fully democratic constitution; the removal of any form of discrimination and domination; equality before an independent judiciary; the protection of minorities as well as of individual rights; freedom of religion; and universal franchise.

By 1994 – to the astonishment of the world – we had turned our vision into reality.

A vision gives direction and purpose to our actions and provides a way of measuring our progress.  Without a vision, we have no idea of where  we are going or of how far we have come.  And if we don’t know where we are going it doesn’t really matter how we get there!.

Change management  requires special  communication skills.

We live in a world of perceptions – and perceptions are created as much by how we communicate as by what we do.  For us it was very important to convince the media and the world of our vision.  It was also essential to encourage our own supporters and reassure them that we were on the right path.   Most people can deal with change and are even prepared to make essential sacrifices – but they cannot deal with uncertainty.

We had to deal with people who were steadfastly opposed to change.

Most of my supporters accepted the necessity of fundamental change.  However, there were some who did not want to change course – even though they could see the breakers smashing on the reefs ahead.  In 1982 some of the most die-hard right wing elements broke away from our party, the National Party, because the Government had, by that time, already begun to change course.  Their departure greatly helped those of us who remained behind.  It was no longer necessary to make unwieldy compromises to keep them on board.   So, it is a good idea to encourage those who don’t want to change, to leave.

Timing is crucially important.

It is stupid to be vociferously right at the wrong time or to move so far ahead in the right direction that your followers can no longer hear or see you.  History, markets and events move at their own pace – sometimes agonisingly slowly, at other times with frightening speed.  A leader must watch the tides and currents and must position himself accordingly.

I was often criticised before I became President for not racing out ahead of the pack in the pursuit of reform.  Had I done so I would have alienated key players and important constituencies.  I would not have become leader of my Party 1989; I would not have been able to do the things that I did when I was President; and I certainly wouldn’t have been invited to speak to you today.

Strong leadership is essential

History awards no prizes to leaders who have the right answers.  It is often quite easy to see what needs to be done.  The art is in being able to do it successfully.  History recognises only those who have the ability to translate their vision of what is right into reality.

A leader must have a weather eye open for changes in political tides and currents.   He must also be ready to ride the wave of history when it breaks.   After I became President my hand was greatly strengthened by the historic events that were occurring in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  The collapse of international communism helped to allay fears of Soviet expansionism and of the influence of the South African Communist Party within the ANC Alliance.  The stage was ready for the speech that I made on 2 February 1990.


If you want to manage change you must be prepared to take calculated risks.

There were many points during the transformation process when we had to take calculated risks.  Among these were our decisions

We realised that these decisions would unleash a chain of events with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. It was rather like paddling a canoe into a long stretch of dangerous rapids.  You may start the process and determine the initial direction.  However, after that the canoe is seized by enormous and often uncontrollable forces.   All that you can do is to maintain your balance, avoid the rocks and steer as best you can – and right the canoe if it capsizes.   It is a time for cool heads and firm, decisive action.

Finally, one must accept that the process of change never ends.  There is no point at which you can say that you have ‘solved’ any problem in a rapidly changing environment.  As soon as you have achieved your objectives, you must begin to address the next challenges that change will inevitably throw down.

This is very much the case in South Africa now.  We have achieved most of the primary objectives that we set ourselves in 1990:

Nevertheless, we dare not rest on our laurels.  Our main challenges now will be to ensure that

I have established a small Foundation that I hope will be able to make a contribution to these goals and to continuing to manage the historic changes with which our society and world are wrestling.

These then were some of the main principles that we applied during the transformation of our country.  I hope that they might be of use to anyone caught up in the maelstrom of change – whether they are individuals, companies or countries.

Our challenge at the beginning of this new millennium will be to learn how to navigate on the flood of change.   Clinging to the treetops of the past offers no long term solutions.

At the beginning of this new millennium we will all have to confront difficult and uncomfortable challenges:

These are questions that I believe are just as relevant to you in the United States as they are to us in South Africa.    How we respond to them will determine the kind of world in which we and our children will live in this exciting and rapidly changing new millennium.