SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO COPARMEX
MEXICO CITY, 13 MARCH 2003
THE CONSENSUS REQUIRED FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF TRANSITION COUNTRIES
I often tell visitors to South Africa that our country is not like the rest of Africa – although we share much in common with other countries in our continent. Nor are we like Europe or North America – although people visiting our cities and using our infrastructure would easily imagine that they were in a first world country.
In fact, South Africa is in many respects, much more like other middle-income countries in Latin America and Asia. Like Mexico and Brazil, like Malaysia and Thailand and the other leading countries in Latin America and Asia, we are a country in transition.
We share many of the same challenges as other countries in transition:
- We are experiencing the same enormous flow of people from rural areas to our cities;
- As a result most of us are battling with the same housing problems and proliferation of urban shanty towns;
- We experience the problems caused by great disparities between rich and poor;
- We all have to deal with poverty and unemployment and the crime and social problems that go hand in hand with deprivation;
- Our economies are moving away from dependence on the export of primary products to the development of the manufacturing and services sectors;
- Many transition countries are also wrestling with the challenge of establishing strong and abiding democracies with freedom, equality of opportunity and security for all;
- Many of us also have to contend with the reality that our societies comprise different ethnic, cultural, language and religious communities.
All of these elements can create enormous tensions in our societies, tensions that can easily cause dissension and conflict.
Some key counties in your own region – most notably Venezuela and Colombia – are currently experiencing serious internal divisions and conflict. In such situations nobody wins – everybody loses. Conflict and dissension can effectively halt – or reverse – the transition to first world economic, social and political benefits.
It is accordingly of crucial importance for countries in transition to reach consensus between the contending political, class, ethnic and religious factions in their societies.
We, in South Africa, can speak from experience on this topic.
Fourteen years ago South Africa was a deeply divided country. We have one of the most complex ethnic compositions in the world with four distinct racial groups; eleven national groups; and numerous cultural, linguistic and language groups. Today no single language is understood by a majority of South Africans – English, Afrikaans and Zulu come closest – and we have no fewer than eleven official languages.
Politically we were even more deeply divided.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine political parties that were further apart. Followers of the main parties saw one another – not as they really were – but as the diabolical stereotypes depicted by their own propaganda:
- The African National Congress of Nelson Mandela had majority support among black South Africans who make up 75% of the population. It had a strong socialist tradition and was initially committed to nationalisation and the immediate introduction of an egalitarian society. It advocated a strong central government and state intervention in the economy to achieve its social goals. It viewed the National Party in terms of its experience of apartheid and of security force repression during the liberation struggle.
- The National Party – which was the party that I led when I was President – had majority support among white, coloured and Indian South Africans, who together comprise about 25% of the population. The National Party strongly favoured a free market economy, a federal state, and limited central government intervention. Its views of the ANC had been formed by years of struggle against the organisation and by the ANC’s close alliance with the pro-Stalinist South African Communist Party.
- The Inkatha Freedom party, the third major party, had its main support base among rural and traditional Zulus, who are South Africa’s largest black national group. The IFP had chosen to combat apartheid from within the system. For this reason it was distrusted by the ANC with whom it had for some time been waging a low intensity war in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It was strongly federalist; it supported free market principles and had its main support base among the Zulus of Natal.
What enabled us to find consensus between all these widely differing communities and political parties?
I should like to suggest the following.
There was common acceptance that:
- whether we liked one another or not, there could be no long-term solution that did not involve all the major parties and population groups of our country.
- our problems could be solved only through negotiation – that any attempt by any party to continue to impose its will on its opponents by force would simply lead to the destruction of the country and the economy.
- a successful outcome to our negotiations would often require genuine concessions and painful compromises.
- we needed a strong Constitution that would provide the basic rules for our new society; that would guarantee the rights and security of all our individuals and communities
- and most importantly, there was common acceptance that whether we liked it or not, we were all destined to share the same country and the same future. We could either work together and make that future bright and hopeful for all our children or continue to fight the battles of the past and leave them nothing but a wasteland.
There were also certain objective circumstances – in the case of South Africa – that had created a window of opportunity for us to achieve national consensus:
- the collapse of global communism in 1989 removed the major strategic concern that had dominated the thinking of the previous government for decades. For us, the prospect of Soviet expansionism was not just an empty propaganda exercise. During the ‘eighties our armed forces had been involved in serious military clashes with Soviet and Cuban led forces in Angola. The ANC /Alliance was closely allied to – and supported by – the global Soviet strategic apparatus.
- There was no longer any serious debate with regard to the economic policies that would be required to ensure economic growth in a future democratic South Africa. The devastation that socialist planning and centralised control had wrought on the economies of Eastern Europe was there for all to see.
- Throughout the negotiation process, all sides received strong encouragement from the international community to persevere in their difficult attempts to reach peaceful accommodation. There was a sense of reassurance in the willingness of major powers to underwrite the democratic agreements that were to emerge from the negotiating process.
The following lessons can be gained from our experience in trying to reach consensus between different cultural and ethnic communities.
- All cultural and linguistic communities should be given maximum “breathing space” to promote their identities and to cherish their traditions. Communities should have the right to use their own language and to practice their own culture. In particular, people should have the right to education in the language of their choice.
- Consensus requires a process that includes all significant parties and communities. Simple majoritarianism, where important minorities are excluded from the processes of government, should be avoided. Special care should be taken that no community feels isolated or alienated.
- A culture of toleration, respect and pride in diversity should be promoted.
- Discrimination in any form should be prohibited. There can be no national consensus if any community feels that it is victimised or excluded from any aspect of national life because of its cultural or ethnic identity.
- An inclusive, overarching national identity should be developed. In South Africa, we have started to develop a new national identity based on the values in our new Constitution, on our new national symbols and on our pride in our national achievements since 1994.
We also learned important lessons regarding the mechanics of consensus-seeking in divided societies. Looking back on our experience we can identify the following key factors that contributed to the success of our transition process:
- There must be a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution by all the main parties. The balance of forces must be such that no party should think that it can successfully impose its will on the others
- It is essential for negotiators to win one another’s trust and confidence. Without trust there can be no genuine agreement.
- Timing is crucial. Had we started our negotiation initiative earlier – say, in the middle ‘seventies – it is doubtful that the National Party government would have been able to take its followers with it. If we had launched our initiative too late, we might have entered the negotiation process when the balance of power had begun to shift against us – as Ian Smith did in Zimbabwe. History sometimes opens a window of opportunity, when all the forces involved are ripe for negotiation. It is the task of
statesmen to recognise such windows and lead their followers through, before history once again slams the window shut.
- The process has to include all significant parties.
- Leaders must be able to take their constituencies with them. Strong and determined leadership is essential.
- Personalities also play an important role. The main role players from the negotiating parties must be able to develop personal relationships based on mutual trust and confidence. They must also develop a strong sense of patience and the fortitude to deal with the frequent frustrations and obstacles. Former President Nelson Mandela and I were able to develop such a relationship – even though it was stormy at times.
- In our negotiation process we often found it very useful to develop special mechanisms to deal with deadlocks and problems. One such mechanism was a two-man committee of senior officials, whose task it was to suggest compromises and solutions when deadlocks and problems arose.
- The search for consensus often requires negotiators to take serious risks. Few agreements are ever absolutely water-tight and at some juncture a leap of faith is usually be unavoidable.
- The success of the search for consensus depends on the ability of the negotiators to address the reasonable interests and concerns of all parties. Win/win solutions are essential
These are among the factors and processes that enabled South Africa to reach agreement on our peaceful transition to multi-racial democracy. Some of them were developed specifically for our own complex situation. Others may have a more universal application.
South Africa’s transition to full democracy is a monument to the fact that, given the right circumstances and a serious commitment from all sides, even the most intractable disputes can be resolved in a relatively peaceful and negotiated manner. It means that even in the most difficult situations there is an alternative to the horror and hopelessness of violence and war.
However, the success of our transition process does not provide any room for complacency. Constitutional arrangements and delicate inter-party and inter-community relationships – like any human relationships – require constant care and attention if we wish to ensure that they do not unravel.
The best contribution that we in South Africa can make will be to work day and night for the continued success of our own peaceful transition. We must continue to show the world that there is another way, that violence and conflict are not inevitable, that it is possible to reach consensus between widely divergent parties and communities.
The achievement of such consensus is a prerequisite for the transition of middle income countries to full social, economic and constitutional development.
Although we are still wrestling with many of the serious problems that confront most middle income countries, we, in South Africa, have reaped numerous benefits from the national consensus that we achieved ten years ago:
- We are once again a respected member of the international community and are playing a leading role in our region, our continent and on the broader world stage;
- We have adopted sensible and successful macro-economic policies and we are well positioned for sustained economic growth. Last year, our currency was one of the strongest performers against the US dollar;
- We are now exporting luxury automobile worth billions of dollars each year;
- We are experiencing an unprecedented tourist boom – and have hardy touched the potential market in the developed world;
- Inter-community relations are, on the whole, good and we are beginning to develop a new overarching national identity of which we are all proud;
- Most importantly, we have a genuine democracy, with one of the most liberal constitutions and charters of fundamental rights in the world.
We would have achieved none of this if we had not first reached consensus between our widely differing parties and communities.
Now, the road to the first world is open.