SPEECH BY F W DE KLERK TO THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S FORUM OF SOUTH AFRICA, SANDTON, 31 JANUARY 2003
RECONCILIATION AND PEACE
Ladies, gentlemen and distinguished guests.
This conference provides dramatic evidence of the enormous strides that the New South Africa has taken during the past nine years:
- In particular – it illustrates the greatly enhanced role of women in our new society. We are proud that South Africa has become a world leader in promoting gender equality and that we have more women in government and in our parliament than almost any other country. Much remains to be done – but there is no doubt that we are on the right road.
- The conference also illustrates the degree to which South Africa has resumed its rightful role in the international community. Not only has it done so – it has also become a leader and trend-setter in many important areas – including women’s rights.
- Finally, this conference – which includes South Africans from all our communities and from virtually all strata of society – illustrates the progress that we South Africans have made in promoting reconciliation and in putting centuries of bitterness and division behind us.
I should like to deal in greater detail with the concepts of reconciliation and peace.
Reconciliation is a concept that requires thorough analysis if one is to avoid the misuse of the word as simply another rhetorical catch-phrase. It has a number of different meanings, each, in its own way essential for the establishment of lasting peace.
Its first meaning is the bringing together of those who have previously been alienated from one another. It is the coming together that continues to elude many warring communities throughout the world – because they cannot liberate themselves from their burden of hatred, fear and grievance.
It is the new sense of common purpose and communion that I believe we, in South Africa, are developing after so many centuries of division and alienation. It is the peace that has developed over the past fifty-eight years between countries that fought against one another in the Second World War.
Reconciliation in this sense, requires us to put the hurt, reproach and conflict of a divided past behind us and to concentrate, instead, on the promise and common purpose of a united future.
Many of the conflicts that continue to afflict the world have their roots in the inability of contending parties to put the past behind them and to find reconciliation.
Think of the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These two communities are locked in a downward spiral of violence that offers no prospect of hope or security for anyone. Each terrorist bombing and each devastating reprisal simply adds to the bitterness and intransigence on both sides. If the Israelis and the Palestinians want to break free from this hopeless cycle of violence they will have to do what we in South Africa did thirteen years ago:
- They will have to accept that there is no possibility of a military solution. Neither side will be able to impose its views on the other – either by desperate acts of terrorism or by military domination.
- There can be no solution without justice. The reasonable concerns and interests of both sides will have to be accommodated.
- There will be no peace without real and painful compromises and concessions by both sides.
- There will be no future for either side unless they accept that their future will inevitably be a shared one, based on a symbiotic relationship that they must still develop.
Unless the Israelis and Palestinians can break the cycle of violence their ongoing conflict will continue
- to cripple their ability to create a better life for both their peoples;
- It will continue to be a source of serious instability throughout the whole of the Middle East; and
- It will continue to poison global relationships between the Islamic world and the West.
Likewise, many of the other conflicts that continue to afflict the world have their origins in ancient wrongs and unforgiven grievances. Think of Northern Ireland, where the origins of the still simmering conflict go all the way back to the original settlement of the Province by Protestants in the seventeenth century. Consider the recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. They also had their roots in memories of ancient grievances – some of them dating back hundreds of years to conflicts between the Turks, the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians.
Very often, the fuel that keeps such conflicts smouldering – or ablaze – is the memory of past wrongs – all carefully nurtured and remembered – all of them unforgiven and therefore unresolved.
The second sense of reconciliation is the auditing concept of balance. All of us have, at some time or other, struggled to reconcile our bank statements with the often wildly inaccurate figures in the stubs of our cheque books. We overlook long-standing debts and debits. Sometimes we are surprised by unexpected credits. And we have all experienced the satisfaction when we finally succeed in balancing our books to the last penny.
So it is also with our search for reconciliation with one another. We must forgive and we must hope to be forgiven. But we should not do this blindly without cognisance of our responsibilities, debts and credits. For that reason reconciliation requires that we should also carefully, and dispassionately, examine our collective accounts of our past relationships and seek to find a balance. The purpose of such an exercise must not be a reversion to the kind of reproach or retribution that caused our alienation from one another in the first place. But it is a necessary exercise before we can finally close the books on the past. The essence of the exercise, however, remains balance and the production of a statement that accurately reflects all of the data at our disposal. If all statements are not brought into reckoning, the accounts will not balance and our efforts will not lead to reconciliation.
We, in South Africa, sought to achieve this sense of reconciliation through the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We learned – in the process – that it is much easier to reach agreement on the future than on the past:
Our approach to the future is usually driven by unifying aspirations and rational interests; our view of the past is often filled with divisive memories and bitter emotions. And yet we need to reach some basic agreement on where we have come from in the past if we are to find one another in the present and join one another on the road to a common future.
In South Africa, most of us agreed that we needed to establish the ‘truth’ about the conflict of our past as a necessary precursor to forgiveness and reconciliation. However, we soon discovered that the search for the truth could itself be highly divisive and could lead to alienation rather than reconciliation. It became apparent at an early stage that South Africans from across the political spectrum all had their own sincerely held views of what constituted the truth about the past.
The TRC succeeded in uncovering a great deal of information about many of the gross violations of human rights that had been perpetrated during the dark years of conflict and confrontation in South Africa. However, the Commission did not include a single member who could represent the views of my old Party, the National Party, or the Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi – two of the three main parties that were involved in the conflict. The result was that the perspectives of important parties were virtually ignored in the Commission’s final report. The report did not represent a national consensus on the past and for this reason, did not succeed in promoting reconciliation. As a result, South Africans from different communities and parties still have quite divergent views on the nature of our past conflicts, on where we are today and where we are going in the future.
Reconciliation can never be a one-sided process. All the parties involved must be willing participants and co-owners of the process.
A third meaning of reconciliation is the acceptance of things that, in an ideal world, we would rather not accept. We say, in this sense, that we have reconciled ourselves to this or that reality. We would have preferred something more but the imperative for compromise requires us to accept something less.
Reconciliation, in this sense, is also a prerequisite for peace. The reality is that any search for lasting solutions to the problems that have caused conflict in the past, will require all parties to make real – and sometimes painful -compromises.
In the case of South Africa, the ANC entered the negotiation process as a revolutionary socialist liberation movement. It wanted a centralist state that would have the power to implement far-reaching social reforms on all parts of our society, regardless of the complexities of our country and the demands of globalised economies. I am sure that it has been difficult for many of their supporters to accept the broadly liberal, plural and free market society that has emerged in South Africa.
We, on the other hand, had to make one of the greatest sacrifices that can be asked of any people. My people, the Afrikaners, had to give up the right to exclusive national self-determination for which we had struggled for more than three centuries. We are as much a nation as any people on the face of the earth – with our own language, culture and history. Yet we realised that our efforts to continue to maintain this right would inevitably lead to further injustice to others and to a downward spiral of conflict and devastation.
In South Africa we have learned that reconciliation and peace require us to accept compromises. Also, the pursuit of reconciliation and peace nearly always requires a leap of faith and a willingness to trust those whom we have previously regarded as our enemies.
I would also like to make a few observations regarding the nature of peace.
Peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict:
Throughout history, there has been an absence of conflict in many repressive societies. This lack of conflict does not have its roots in harmony, goodwill or the consent of the parties involved – but often in fear, ignorance and powerlessness.
There can thus be no real peace without justice or consent.
Neither does peace necessarily imply tranquillity.
The affairs of mankind are in constant flux. No relationship – between individuals or communities or political parties or countries – remains the same from one day to the next. New situations are forever creating conflicting interests and attitudes. These conflicting interests must be resolved within a framework of law, fairness, compromise and toleration.
As I observed when I accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, peace is not an absence of conflict or a condition of stagnation.
It is a frame of mind in which countries, communities, parties and individuals seek to resolve their differences through agreements, through negotiation and compromise, instead of threats, compulsion and violence.
It is also a framework – a framework consisting of rules, laws, agreements and conventions – a framework providing mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of the inevitable clashes of interest between countries, communities, parties and individuals. It is a framework within which the irresistible and inevitable dynamic processes of social, economic and political change can be regulated and accommodated.
Now, when the world is once again faced with the threat of war, we would do well to remember these realities:
- We should not act outside the framework of international law that has been developed since the Second World War.
- There can be no unilateral solutions in a globalised world.
- Military solutions do not work. They are extremely risky, particularly when they are launched in volatile neighbourhoods. They nearly always generate new grievances and resentment that, in turn, sow the seeds for future conflict.
The reality is that maintaining peace is an arduous never-ending process.
There is no point at which one can sit back and say that one has solved the problem. The reality is that unless all human relationships receive constant and ongoing care, nurturing and communication, they begin to unravel. Reaching agreements to end conflicts is only the beginning of the process. The challenge then becomes to ensure that conflicts do not flare up again, that newly established relationships are placed on firm foundations, and that we adhere to the agreements that we reached.
What does this mean for us, in the New South Africa, in practice:
- It means that we must continue to communicate with one another – particularly about the contentious issues – like affirmative action, cultural and language rights, and land redistribution – that threaten to divide us.
- It means that we must honour the agreements that we have reached that constitute the foundation of the New South Africa. Foremost among these is our new Constitution of which we South Africans can be justifiably proud. It guarantees our most fundamental individual and collective rights. It articulates the values on which our new society is based and it presents us with worthy national goals for which we should all strive. We must make sure that it becomes a living document for all our people.
- It means that we must continue to labour and exert ourselves to create the conditions in which peace can take root
Peace does not flourish in circumstances of poverty, deprivation and disease. We South Africans must redouble our efforts to create a better life for all our people – and to combat the dreadful AIDS pandemic.
Peace does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information. We must ensure that all our citizens receive a sound basic education and that they have access to information.
Repression, injustice and exploitation are inimical with peace. We must ensure that all South Africans enjoy in practice the protection that is granted to them by law in our constitution.
Peace is gravely threatened by fear, intolerance and prejudice. We must create a culture of respect for diversity and tolerance for those who differ from us. We must guard against the re-emergence of racial or gender discrimination in any form.
I believe that if we can do these things we will strengthen the process of peace and reconciliation that we began in 1990. We will also lay the foundation for the realisation of the ideals set out in the preamble to our constitution, to:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
I believe that we have already made great progress in achieving these goals.
We have taken our rightful place as sovereign state in the family of nations. Our most important task in this context may be to show other societies that are wracked by conflict that there is another, better, way – that peaceful solutions can be found to even the most bitter and intractable disputes.