21 MARCH 2001





Our theme for the day is ‘The Afrikaans Community and Racial Reconciliation’.  This presupposes two points of departure:


Firstly: There is an urgent requirement for racial reconciliation in South Africa.

Secondly: The Afrikaans community is confronted  by special challenges in this regard.


As a member of the Afrikaans community I agree wholeheartedly with this analysis of the problem.  And if I listen to what President Mbeki has to say, then he also agrees.  However, when we dig deeper and listen more closely to the debate on race relations in South Africa and to all of the voices involved, the following becomes clear:


There are a number of schools of thought that are speaking totally past one another.  And because they are talking past one another there is a serious risk that we will become caught up in irreconcilable camps; that racial reconciliation can fall by the wayside and that racial tension can once again be stirred up; that we will begin to shout at one another instead of entering into meaningful discussion.


I hope with all my heart that today’s meeting will help to clear the air and place the debate on a more constructive basis.


I have been asked, by way of introduction, to speak in general about the problem of harmony in a pluralistic world.


There is no need to prove that there is a problem. A recent worldwide survey by the Centre for International Development and Conflict Management shows that of the 27 most significant armed conflicts in the world in 1999, only two were between states.  The other 25 were within states, between citizens of the same country.


At the root of these conflicts, almost without exception, lies a single problem – the inability or failure to manage or accommodate diversity (whether ethnic, cultural or religious) – the inability of divergent communities to co-exist peacefully.


The present and recent violence in Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Sri Lanka Kashmir and Indonesia are examples of this.   So also are the continuing problems in Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Spain.  And naturally there is also the escalating conflict in Israel.


And through all of this, the rest of the world goes its way, almost undisturbed. The international community and the leading countries of the world take action now and then if the crisis becomes too great or if excessively gruesome TV images agitate the conscience.  However, for the most part this sort of conflict is ignored and consciences  are salved by sending a little aid.


I believe that one of the greatest challenges of the new millennium lies precisely in this.  The time has come for an incisive international debate on the underlying causes of this conflict instead of the symptoms.  The challenge is not only to defuse present conflicts, but also to prevent new conflicts.


Those that imagine that globalisation will solve the problem of group conflict and clashing identities, are in my opinion making a great mistake.  What is indeed happening is that most countries are becoming more cosmopolitan and less homogeneous.  Add to this the fact that many communities feel threatened by the growing phenomenon of an English-dominated world culture, and then one sees the recipe for growing ethnic, cultural and religious tension and conflict.


What then is the solution?


For some it lies in partition, especially where particular communities form overwhelming majorities within clear borders.


In most cases, however, this is not the answer because demographic and ethnic realities dictate otherwise.  It is not the answer for Afro-Americans or American Indians, and as we know, it was also not the answer for Zulus and Afrikaners.  As we in South Africa are trying to do, other countries with complex population compositions will have to find a way to peaceful coexistence and cohabitation, to harmony and mutual respect.  And for the most part they will not succeed without outside assistance.


I am accordingly calling for a new worldwide approach to the problem of diversity and the conflicts that flow from it.


My point of departure is that the protection of individual rights in constitutions and charters is not sufficient to address the underlying causes of ethnic, cultural and religious conflict.  In other words:


There is a need for the recognition and protection of what I would like to call collective rights besides individual rights – of the freedoms and rights of communities, minorities, institutions, organisations and groups, however defined, besides individual rights.


Whenever someone like me says something like this in South Africa, there is usually a predictable reaction.  It typically sounds like the following:


There he goes again. He is still caught up in an apartheid mindset.   His actual motive is to entrench the whites’ privileged position.


I want to reject such criticism in categorical terms.  What I am calling for has nothing to do with apartheid or privilege, but everything to do with peace, harmony and nation-building.


It is in line with the sentiments that former President Mandela recently expressed with regard to nation-building and minorities.


It is in line with President Mbeki’s view that the reality of our country with its diversity and inequality cannot be swept under the carpet.


It is in line with our Constitution’s recognition of language and cultural communities as well as the need for affirmative action in favour of certain defined groups.


It is also in line with certain broad principles that are already contained in international conventions.  Among these may be counted


Although such treaties and conventions are often vague and ambiguous, certain broad conclusions can nevertheless be drawn.  I would like to draw attention to a few:


There is, however, less clarity on a number of other important and sensitive questions.  Among these may be counted


Once again critics will say:


There he is going again with his apartheid mindset, with concepts like

mother-tongue education and power-sharing


And once again I reject such an accusation.  Our history teaches us that the British attempt to suppress Afrikaans served as the rallying point for mobilisation and resistance.  Our education results prove that mother-tongue education is in the best interest of schoolchildren.  And many of the conflicts throughout the world are the result of a feeling of powerlessness among important minorities.


I believe that the time has come for everyone in South Africa to become involved in a genuine open discussion on the challenges presented by our enormous language, cultural and ethnic diversity.  We dare not allow the fact of our apartheid history to prevent us from looking today and tomorrow’s realities squarely in the eye.


In this spirit I should then like to ask:


How can we here, and others elsewhere, deal more effectively with the problems associated with diversity and pluralism?


How can democratic systems be maintained or brought into being – systems within which the will of the majority will prevail, but in such a manner that minorities do not feel alienated or threatened?


The answer in my opinion, may be found in the following broad approach:


  1. Cultural communities in multicultural societies should be given maximum space and opportunity to promote their identities and to cherish their traditions.  Fear often lies at the root of prejudice, tension and conflict.  This is particularly the case when a perception exists that the intimate interests of a particular community are under threat from those in power.  The remedy for this is accordingly to make all cultural communities feel secure in the manner in which their cultural rights are recognised in word and deed.


  1. The right of all communities to equal treatment must be acknowledged and given practical effect. Minorities must not be forced into the straightjacket of a kind of second-class status.  On the contrary, all communities should be regarded as valued bricks in the building of the overarching nation.  To achieve this, all communities must equally enjoy protection and bear responsibilities, regardless of their ethnic, religious or cultural origin.  There is in this regard a fatally dangerous view that prosperous communities cannot qualify for the same protection as others.  In fact, such communities are often at the greatest risk.


Just think about the Indians in Uganda in the ‘60s; the Chinese in some countries in South East Asia quite recently; whites today in Zimbabwe; and naturally the Jews over the centuries in Europe, those who finally became the victims of the barbaric murder and slaughter of the Nazis.


  1. Significant minorities in multicultural societies should be meaningfully involved in the decision-making and governmental processes. Simplistic domination arising from the winner-take-all approach should be avoided.  All communities should feel that they are adequately represented in all of the institutions by which they are governed.   Care should be taken to prevent any community from feeling isolated or alienated.  On the contrary, a climate should be created in which minorities feel that their concerns are meaningfully and sympathetically dealt with.


Apart from this, ethnic and religious communities should play a key role in decision-making that specifically affects their community interests.


  1. A culture of toleration and pride in diversity should be cultivated. The educational system, language policy and the media have an important role to play in this regard.


  1. Discrimination in any form should be strictly prohibited. No community should be given any reason to feel victimised or excluded.


  1. In balance with all of this, nation-building must be a priority. Symbols, common values and goals with which they all can associate themselves, should be the cement that binds all communities in a shared national identity.


I believe that these points of departure, wherever they are applied, offer the key to harmony and co-existence.  In South Africa we have made good progress along this road, although we must guard against the temptation of detours.


The whole world is watching us with anticipation.   They wonder whether, as with our peaceful negotiation and transition process, we are going to set and example for the successful management of pluralism, of unity in diversity, of the elimination of racism and the prevention of ethnic conflict and tension.