SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
TO THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION
JOHANNESBURG, 15 MARCH 2004
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION – THE CHALLENGE OF THE SECOND DECADE OF THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA
I have had the pleasure of addressing your organisation on a number of occasions in the past.
In November 1989 I told the FCA that we were standing at the threshold of great developments in Southern Africa. I said that an irreversible process had started; that we were moving inexorably to a new dispensation that would include all South Africans. I said that for the sake of a safe, secure and prosperous future for all South Africans we had embarked on a road of fundamental renewal through negotiation and that we were determined to follow that road to its logical conclusion – a new, fair and just South Africa.
To be quite frank, I don’t think that many of your members believed me at that time. Instead, they thought that this was just another ploy of the National Party to try to avoid sanctions by pretending to accept the need for negotiations.
When we next met, on 12 November 1992, your members took me more seriously. By that time we were in the middle of the roller-coaster ride of the negotiation process and were hanging on for dear life. We had gone through CODESA I and II and we had weathered the serious crises of the 1992 winter of discontent.
When I addressed you on 22 October 1993 our main concerns were the outstanding constitutional issues, the inclusivity of the constitutional process and ongoing political violence. Despite the despondency that prevailed at that time, I was confident that we would be able to manage these problems and that we were on the verge of an historical accord.
When I next spoke to the FCA was on 24 April 1995 I was able to report on the successful realisation of the vision that I had spelled out five and a half years earlier.
I last spoke to you in June, 1996 – just after the National Party had announced its decision to withdraw from the Government of National Unity. I spelled out the policies that I would support as leader of the opposition – and also shared with you my views on the requirements for peace in multicultural societies such as South Africa.
In 1997 I retired from active politics. Like many former leaders I wrote my memoirs; I went on the international speaking circuit; I participated in many stimulating forums where it was my privilege to share South Africa’s experience of transformation with others; I tried to improve my golf handicap; and I established a small foundation with its focus on the maintenance of peace in multi-community societies.
And now, ten years after our first democratic elections, you have invited me to address you once again – no doubt hear my views on our first decade and my assessment of our future prospects.
Recently I was asked what I thought were some of the most significant developments of the first ten years of the new South Africa. I would like to share my thoughts in this regard with you:
- The most notable moments of change occurred predictably enough at the beginning of the New South Africa with our first fully democratic election on 27 April 1994 and the subsequent inauguration of President Mandela on 10 May 1994 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The inauguration signalled not only the beginning of a new era of freedom for all our people but also South Africa’s full reintegration into the international community.
- Another milestone was South Africa’s victory in the rugby world cup in 1995. President Mandela’s historic gesture of donning the Springbok rugby jersey symbolised more than anything else the reconciliation that he promoted so successfully between blacks and whites and the first steps in the foundation of a new national identity.
- The TRC hearings represented yet another stage in our development. The hearings – which were often quite cathartic – relentlessly exposed some of the brutalities that had been committed during the conflict of the past. However, the exercise was deeply controversial and probably did more to divide South Africans than to reconcile them. The revelations caused deep introspection in the white – and particularly Afrikaner – community – and too often resulted in a sense of growing alientation and ‘inward migration’.
- The 1999 election was important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped to consolidate South Africa’s young democracy. Secondly – and more disturbingly – it confirmed that South Africans still voted overwhelmingly according to their ethnic background and not according to the policies presented by the various parties. The election showed that, for the foreseeable future, South Africa would remain a dominant party democracy.
- President Mbeki’s inauguration and Nelson Mandela’s retirement from active political life were also important milestones. They represented a seamless and democratic transition of leadership – all too rare in African politics.
- The presentation of the Black Economic Empowerment Commission’s report in 2000 was certainly one of the most significant developments. It focused attention on one of the country’s central priorities – the economic and social transformation of South Africa, parallel to the constitutional transformation that was initiated in 1994. The BEECom report provided the basis for much of government’s subsequent empowerment legislation and for the negotiation of transformation charters for the mining, petroleum and financial sectors of the economy. Black empowerment legislation also caused growing concern among minorities and raised fears of reverse discrimination.
- The decision of the South African parliamentary observer mission to declare the Zimbabwean presidential election of 2002 essentially free and fair was one of the most disturbing developments during the first ten years of the new South Africa. Coupled with the standing ovation that was given to Emerson Munangagwa at the 51st congress of the ANC in Stellenbosch in October that year, it raised serious questions overseas and inside South Africa regarding our interpretation of basic democratic principles.
- The export – for the first time – of more than 100 000 luxury cars in 2001 was also one the high points of the new South Africa because it illustrated the country’s ability to increase its manufactured exports and to compete successfully in the globalised economy. Car production now accounts for almost 7% of GDP and for annual exports of R 40 billion – more than our earnings from gold.
- The successful campaign of the TAC to persuade the government to provide antiretrovirals to AIDS sufferers was also a critical point in the development of the New South Africa. It focused national and international attention on South Africa’s most serious crisis – the AIDS pandemic – and also showed how successful civil society could be in our new democracy.
- The loss of between half a million and a million jobs in the formal and agricultural sectors of the economy was one of the greatest failures and disappointments of the first decade. Unemployment lies at the root of the poverty that continues to afflict almost half of our population (but, interestingly enough, only 2% of trade union members).
- The building of more than 1.2 million houses and the provision of fresh water and electricity to millions of households was one of the government’s greatest achievements. It illustrated what can be done when the government and the private sector work in tandem to bring tangible improvements to the daily lives of millions of South Africans.
All in all – if I compare our situation now to the situation that existed when I first addressed the FCA in 1989 – I think that we can report astonishing progress.
The first ten years of the new South Africa have been dominated by the successful constitutional transformation of South Africa. I believe that the process has been largely successful because it was the product of intensive and inclusive negotiations. Our final constitution – despite reservations from all sides – enjoys the broad support of all major parties representing substantial majorities in all our communities.
I have little doubt – looking to the future – that the second ten years of the new South Africa will be dominated by the economic and social transformation of the country. The reality is that our constitutional transformation has had very little effect on the lives of at least half of our population. They have the vote – but most of them do not have jobs or adequate housing; they enjoy the full spectrum of human rights; but in practice they continue to live in poverty and deprivation; they have been promised the world – but in reality they have received only crumbs from the new society.
The reality is that too many of our institutions are still insufficiently representative of the South African population as a whole. For many black South Africans very little has changed: The same people still own the big houses; they still hold down the best jobs; they still drive the fancy cars that speed – unseeing – past the black informal settlements that line our first-world highways. They still own more than 80% of the country’s farmland.
Naturally, this is not the total picture. In fact, South Africa’s privileged classes are now more than 50% black. Black South Africans have made steady progress in the middle echelons of the private sector and firmly control the public and parastatal sectors.
Nevertheless, the reality remains that we are still very far from achieving ‘the human dignity, the equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all’ proclaimed in the first article of our constitution.
The manner in which we deal with economic and social transformation during the next decade will determine the long-term success and viability of the new state that we founded ten years ago. The problem is that there have been no comprehensive negotiations on how we should tackle the complex challenges presented by economic and social transformation. There are no agreements on transformation to which they great majority of all our communities subscribe – as there were in the case of our constitutional transformation.
The result is that transformation has become one of the most emotionally divisive issues confronting our society today. Black, white, coloured and Indian South Africans hold diametrically opposed views on the issue. Minorities often perceive transformation as a new form of racial discrimination. Blacks emotionally reject any such notion and regard the process only as a long-overdue rectification of the deep injustices of the past. Too often there is little frank debate. Many whites publicly express politically correct, but qualified, support for transformation – while they privately advise their children to obtain international qualifications and to emigrate. Many blacks – on the other hand – see transformation more as a passport to personal wealth and advancement than as a process that will genuinely address the underlying inequalities in our society.
There are many unresolved issues and unanswered questions relating to transformation:
- What degree of equality must be achieved before transformation can be said to have succeeded? No modern society – including communist socities – has ever succeeded in achieving anything close to equality.
- Is it the intention that the boards, management, shareholders and employees all companies and organisations should ultimately reflect the proportions of the South African/regional population as a whole? Would this not relegate non-designated minorities to positions of permanent disempowerment – and would this not constitute a new form of ethnic subjugation?
- What are the goals of transformation with regard to institutions that have a special cultural identity – such as churches, newspapers, cultural organisations, schools, universities, old-age homes, ethnic restaurants, businesses that have always had an ethnic character etc? Should the editorial staff of an Afrikaans newspaper like Beeld ultimately comprise 75% non-Afrikaans-speaking black South Africans?
- Do people from minority communities have a future in the public service and in the security forces? Should young whites, coloureds and Indians still consider careers in these institutions? If they do, can they be assured that they will be treated fairly and according to merit?
- Does transformation have a cut-off date – or will it continue forever? Many white parents accept the need for transformation – but ask why their children who were not involved in the conflict of the past should also be subjected to discrimination.
- Is transformation not simply enriching already advantaged black South Africans?
- What motivation will there be for entrepreneurs from minority communities to establish successful businesses – with the knowledge that they might ultimately have to surrender control and significant shareholding to black South Africans?
- What effect will transformation have on the ability of companies to run their businesses in the most effective manner? The appointment of key personnel is a critical management function. Any attempt to deprive management of this function or to force companies to appoint key personnel on any basis other than merit might seriously undermine the viability of the companies involved – and discourage new foreign and local investment.
These are all reasonable questions and require reasoned responses. Our problem is that South Africans are not talking to one another about them.
In my view we need the same kind of negotiations, compromises and agreements on economic and social transformation that we had on constitutional transformation ten years ago. We need to work toward a national accord on transformation that will ensure that we achieve the central objectives of transformation without jeopardising the reasonable rights and interests of any of our communities.
Such an accord should, in my opinion, be reached within the framework of three imperatives:
Firstly, we need real transformation that will, within the next ten years, substantially address the poverty and deprivation of those South Africans who have not yet benefited from our constitutional transformation. During this period we need to move naturally and organically toward far more representative institutions.
Secondly, transformation must take place within the framework of the basic rules governing the globalised economy. Any attempt to significantly dilute existing property rights, economic freedoms or basic standards of administration and management will prevent South Africa from effectively competing in the international economy and will relegate us to economic and developmental marginalisation.
Thirdly, transformation must be implemented in such a manner that it does not undermine national unity or lead to inter-community alienation and conflict. Transformation will not work unless it enjoys the free and genuine support of all our communities. It will certainly not work if it results in increasing alienation, withdrawal and conflict.
I believe that we South Africans have shown that we have the ability to reach historic agreements on the challenges that confront us. We did so between 1990 and 1994 on the critical question of constitutional transformation. Now, ten years after the creation of the new South Africa we need to do so again.
The time has come to start another great national debate.
The debate on transformation must be informed. One of our problems is that whenever blacks and whites discuss transformation they generally do so from widely differing perceptions of the realities of the new South Africa.
We need reliable data on the following topics to inform the debate:
- We need an analysis of current transformation policy and legislation;
- We need opinion surveys to assess understanding of, and attitudes toward, transformation among communities and companies;
- We need an analysis of the ethnic distribution of income in South Africa now – and how this has changed during the past thirty years;
- We need an analysis of the ethnic distribution at various levels in the private and public sectors during the past ten years;
- We need an analysis of the ethnic composition of the skills base of the country and how this has changed during the past ten years;
- We need information on affirmative action in countries such as the USA, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
The debate on transformation must be positive
- It must provide an approach to transformation that will enjoy the active support of all our communities and of the private sector;
- it must unlock the enormous resources and talents of advantaged communities and mobilise them to address the pressing challenges of our society;
- it must focus on effective education and training programmes;
- it must facilitate the achievement of agreed levels of representivity in the private and public sectors as quickly as possible through negotiated and attainable goals and
- Above all, it must address the plight of the most disadvantaged South Africans, particularly through the creation of employment opportunities and the improvement of the delivery of social and educational services.
The debate must not be seen as an attempt by white South Africans to cling to the privileges of the past – which is the general response from blacks as soon as whites start to talk about transformation.
At the same time it should be clearly understood that property rights are not a privilege;
the right to maintain cultural diversity is not a privilege;
the right to educate our children in the cultural milieu of our choice is not a privilege;
the right to freedom from racial discrimination is not a privilege.
These are all fundamental rights that are guaranteed by our constitution. The essence of the debate will be the manner in which they can be balanced with the rights to equality and decent conditions of life that are also enshrined in our constitution.
The stakes involved are very high.
Our ability to reach a balanced national consensus on transformation will be critical to the continuing success of our society.
It will determine whether South Africa will gradually slide into the backwaters of African marginalisation – or whether it will be the first African country to join the ranks of the first world nations in the great process of globlisation.
It will determine whether division, discrimination and the subjugation of one group by another must be the inevitable outcome in multi-community societies – or whether different communities can live together in goodwill , equality and mutual respect in a non-racial democracy;
And finally it will determine whether long-standing and intractable disputes between ethnic, cultural and religious communities can be resolved peacefully through goodwill, negotiations and compromise. It will determine whether the brave experiment that we South Africans launched fifteen years ago will continue to succeed – and whether South Africa will continue to be a beacon of hope for other divided societies.
I was an optimist when I first addressed you in November 1989. I remain an optimist today. I would like to repeat what I said to you in October, 1993, just before the adoption of our interim constitution. I promised you a long period of very interesting reporting and went on to predict that
“at the end of it we will surprise you all – and perhaps even ourselves. What is going to happen in South Africa in the months and years to come will be overwhelmingly good news”