SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO DAMESKRING,
JOHANNESBURG, 11 JANUARY 2000
THE POSITION OF AFRIKANERS IN THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA
Exactly one hundred years after the Anglo-Boer War, the Afrikaner people is once again facing a crisis of survival.
100 years ago we were involved in a bitter military struggle to defend the independence of our two Boer republics.
After our defeat in that war, we rallied our people and spent much of the first part of the century rebuilding our nation and reinvigorating our language, our culture and our institutions. During the second half of the century we strove to re-establish our right to rule ourselves in our own state but discovered that economic, demographic and political factors made it impossible for us to do so without inflicting injustice on the other peoples who share South Africa with us. So, we embarked on the painful and arduous path of national transformation through which we brought justice and equality to all South Africans – but which inevitably led to our own disempowerment. As far as I am aware we are the only people in history who has ever willingly made such a sacrifice.
Today, after this process, many of us are dispirited and dejected and many of our institutions appear to be fragmented and to lack direction:
We are worried about crime, declining standards, neglect of our language and culture and reverse racial discrimination in the guise of affirmative action. We are confused and shocked by revelations – real, exaggerated or imagined – of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which have sought to depict us and all that we stood for during the past century as evil.
In short, one hundred years after the Anglo-Boer War, we are again involved in a struggle for national survival – not this time to retain our political independence, but to see whether we, as the youngest people in the world, as a little people, will be able to survive without our own state in a country in which we are but one of many minorities and in a globalised world with an increasingly uniform and materialistic culture.
Perhaps we should ourselves ask whether it is important that we should survive as a people.
Would it not be easier for us to bow to what many people see as the inevitable; to send our children to English schools and to accept that for our grandchildren Afrikaans will be as remote as Celtic or Gaelic are to most modern Scots and Irishmen – a quaint memory of a forgotten past?
I vehemently reject this view.
I believe that the fact that we are Afrikaners – that we have our own unique culture and language – contributes a central and indispensable element of our individual identities. In short, that we cannot be who we are without the culture and language on which we have been weaned. I am also convinced that in an increasingly uniform world dominated by English-orientated entertainment and communication media, the special identity which we derive from our own unique culture will be of inestimable value.
The question is: how should we respond to the problems and realities of the new South Africa?
We can, if we choose, sit on the sidelines and criticise the many aspects of our country that deserve criticism. We can withdraw behind our high walls and electric fences and dash from one security enclave to the next. We can secure our financial positions overseas and educate our children for careers in other countries.
Or we can decide to leave our lagers and become actively engaged in addressing the many problems that confront us.
I believe that we should base our decision on the following seven propositions:
- This is the most beautiful and wonderful country in the world with one of the richest and most diverse cultural heritages.
- This is also our country, our roots here are deep. We are as much South Africans as anyone else.
- It is not necessary for a people to have its own territory or political independence to survive and even to flourish as a people.
- If we have the will to do so, we can maintain our unique cultural and linguistic identity as one of the communities of which our multicultural country is composed.
- We have made an enormous and indispensable contribution to the development of this country. We played an essential and positive role in the creation of the new South Africa and in ensuring that all South Africans would, at last, enjoy the equal rights and freedoms;
- We, as one of the communities of which South Africa is composed, are entitled to exactly the same rights; recognition and respect as any other South Africans or as any other South African community;
- We are utterly committed to being good and loyal South Africans. We accept that our destiny is inextricably bound up with the destiny of all our fellow South Africans and that we must work together to address our common problems.
I believe that
- the overwhelming majority of Afrikaners regard themselves as Africans;
- we want to stay here as Afrikaners and we want our children and our grandchildren to stay here with us and to be brought up and live as Afrikaners; and that
- as Afrikaners and loyal South Africans we want to address the challenges that face us, together with all of our fellow South Africans.
South Africa needs our talents and commitment. We can create a better future for all our people by becoming engaged with other South Africans in addressing our common problems. I should like to recommend the following practical steps:
We can help to preserve our cultural identity as Afrikaners
- by bringing up our children as Afrikaners and by making them proud of their heritage;
- by joining and supporting organisations that support and promote Afrikaans culture;
- by supporting our cultural, religious and educational institutions and, in particular, Afrikaans literature, theatre and media;
- by enthusiastically accepting as part of our community all those who share our culture and speak our language and who consider themselves to be Afrikaners- regardless of their racial origin; and
- by insisting on fair and equal treatment for our language and our culture.
We can, as Afrikaners, be equally good South Africans, by taking the following steps:
- We must ensure that the community organisations to which we belong – our religious denominations; our professional organisations; our companies; our cultural organisations; our service organisations – become actively engaged in addressing the problems and challenges of our country.
- We should all assess what contribution we are presently making and what we can do together with other South Africans to address the challenges in our communities or within our spheres of activity.
- We must reach out more actively to South Africans from other communities. The reality is that nearly all of us live on our own cultural islands, isolated from one another. We must build cultural bridges; we must communicate.
- We must become actively involved in the political life of our country. Regardless of the party we support, we should all try to play an active role in working for the ideals and policies that we espouse.
- In particular, we must uphold and defend our constitution and all the rights that it enshrines. It is the sacred contract that we South Africans have concluded with one another. It is the foundation of our state and sets out the rules and values for our society. We should actively support organisations like the National Human Rights Trust – which are dedicated to upholding the constitution.
- We should insist on the recognition of our – and all South Africans’ – individual and collective rights. We should reject discrimination in any guise and should resist any attempt to consign us or any other South Africans to inferior status and rights because of the colour of our skins or because of our cultural identity.
I have made my decision. I am, and shall always be, an Afrikaner and am completely committed to the promotion and maintenance of my language and culture. At same time, I do not believe that this commitment detracts in any way from my ability to be an equally good and loyal South African – or indeed, an equally good citizen of the world.
I intend to make my own modest contribution by ensuring that the Foundation that I have established plays an active role in maintaining harmonious relations between all our communities:
- it will work for real communication between leadership groups;
- it will encourage advantaged individuals, community organisations and companies to become actively engaged with other South Africans in addressing common problems;
- it will support our constitution and the rights and multiparty democracy that it embodies;
- it will support practical programmes to promote multiparty democracy in neighbouring countries;
- it will stimulate debate on and study of the problems of multiethnic societies. We can learn much from the experience of other complex societies, just as such societies can benefit from our experience.
I am convinced that if all of us become engaged in preserving our culture and in actively addressing the common problems that confront us as South Africans, we will make a success of the new South Africa that we all helped to create in 1994.
In this way, I am confident that we will survive our present crisis – just as we survived the crisis of the Anglo-Boer War a hundred years ago. I believe that when the next century – and the next millennium – dawns, there will still be a strong and thriving Afrikaans community in South Africa , and that because of this, South Africa and the world will be better places.