CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO
THE ARCO FORUM OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS,
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, CAMBRIDGE MA,
7 FEBRUARY 2001
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address this famous forum at this world-renowned university.
Harvard is, I believe, the oldest university in the United States. I understand the special status that this gives a university, since I myself attended Potchefstroom, the oldest university in the Western Transvaal! It was also a great honour to be invited to address the ARCO Forum by the Council of Women World Leaders. In this regard I am happy to be able to report that the new South Africa is a world leader in the area of women world leadership. Our parliament and government have a higher percentage of women members than those of almost any other country.
This brings me to the theme of my speech, which is the need for democracies to extend rights not only to individuals but to classes and groups of people as well.
Democracy is much more than the rule of the majority.
Your own founding fathers were acutely aware that majorities could also be tyrannical. James Madison warned that “If the majority will be united by a common interest, then the rights of the minority will be insecure”. Perhaps the greatest safeguard for minorities is the hope that they might in due course become the majority. This helps to ensure that the majority of the day will respect the rights of the minority, in the hope that their own rights will be similarly respected should they ever become the minority. As we have recently seen, minorities can also win elections and form governments! This is surely another reason why their interests should be considered.
But what happens in the case of those who find themselves in permanent minority positions? How can they be assured that majorities will not ride roughshod over their interests? What would happen, for example, if the permanent majority of women in nearly all countries were to use their 51% of 52% of the vote to subjugate the permanent minority of men? Can one imagine the outcry from us men! Fortunately, there is (I hope!) little prospect of such a development, since majorities in western democracies are formed according to more sensible criteria, such as shared values and political affiliation.
The prospect of permanent exclusion is however a stark reality for some ethnic, cultural and religious minorities in countries all over the world – and it lies at the root of most of the conflict in the world today.
As we enter the new millennium we are confronted with a new threat to peace – the spectre of inter-communal conflict. Traditionally, the main source of conflict was the rivalry between nations, alliances and ideologies. It was such rivalries that spawned the first and second world wars during the first half of the last century and which posed the major threat to global peace in the cold war stand-off after World War II.
However, since the collapse of global communism the threat of international and inter-alliance warfare has receded. Another form of conflict has come to the fore that has its roots in the inability of different ethnic, cultural or religious communities to coexist within the same political units.
The present and recent violence in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Indonesia are all examples of this kind of conflict. In some cases, such as those in Kashmir and central Africa, such conflicts also hold the potential of sparking off wars between neighbouring nation states. Ethnic conflicts are also often characterised by implacable hatred and extraordinary brutality – frequently involving ethnic cleansing and communal massacres.
One of the great challenges of the new millennium will be to defuse such conflicts and to devise norms and approaches that will enable different communities to live together in peace.
In our shrinking and globalised world, different cultural, religious and ethnic communities will inevitably and increasingly be brought into greater proximity with one another. As communities feel themselves increasingly threatened by the emerging global culture it is likely that there will be a reaction and that communities all over the world will place an even greater emphasis on their cultural identities. The international community will have to pay far greater attention to this question than has thus far been the case. It is a sensitive question – because the overwhelming majority of states include some or other significant cultural or ethnic minority and few would welcome international scrutiny of such relationships.
These sensitivities do not, however, detract from the urgency of the problem, nor from the need for more intense international debate.
For some people, the most obvious solution to inter-communal conflict is partition – particularly where communities constitute clear majorities in definable geographic areas. This was accepted as the solution in the case of Slovakia and the Czech Republic and was the basis for the fragmentation of the Soviet Union and the old Yugoslavia. But would it be practical or desirable in other cases? What would the position be if the Inuit – the native inhabitants of much of the north of Canada – wished to establish their own state, or if the Navajo were to decide to do so in their homeland in the south-western United States? Clearly we would open the door to chaos if every such community decided to opt for partition.
In South Africa, from 1960 onwards, we tried to achieve a solution to our complex problems on the basis of ethnic partition. We failed – because economic and demographic forces had already integrated the country to such an extent that separation was impossible.
In our shrinking and increasingly inter-dependent world, the challenge is not how different communities should best go their separate ways, but rather, how they can best learn to coexist in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect.
The challenge is to devise approaches and to establish norms that will enable different cultural and ethnic communities to coexist within the same states. To achieve this, we must reach broad agreement on the cultural, linguistic and educational rights that such communities should enjoy. We should also establish globally acceptable norms for the manner in which they should be represented in the processes by which they are governed and the mechanisms that should be created to ensure cordial relations between communities.
International conventions are ambiguous on most of these questions. Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) stipulates that persons belonging to
‘ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities….shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language’.
The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1994) is more categorical and declares that ‘indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination’ and that they may ‘freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’. They also have the right to
- ‘maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State’;
- establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning; and
- to participate fully at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies;
However, if these rights are accepted for indigenous peoples, on what moral basis can they be refused to other communities?
In terms of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic or Religious Minorities (1993), States are required to
‘protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories’ and ‘encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity’.
The Declaration also recognises the right of
‘persons belonging to minorities… to participate effectively in decisions on the national and, where appropriate, regional level concerning the minority to which they belong’ – but this must occur ‘in a manner not incompatible with national legislation’.
The Declaration falls short of recognising the right of minorities to mother tongue education and to their own educational institutions and merely calls on States ‘wherever possible’ to make sure that minorities ‘may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue.’
The Declaration also contains a strong caveat against secession by stipulating that nothing in it may be construed as permitting any activity that might pose a threat to the territorial integrity of states.
The European Union’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995) calls on parties to
‘promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.’ It also specifically prohibits ‘policies or practices aimed at assimilation of …national minorities against their will.’
In effect, the EU’s framework convention guarantees for national minorities the basic human rights enjoyed by other citizens and protects them from discrimination. However, it makes no real provision for mother-tongue education – although it permits minorities to establish private schools at their own cost. Nor does it provide for any political role for minorities in determining policy on their own affairs, apart from a vaguely worded provision that parties should ‘create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.’
Once again, the Convention emphatically excludes ‘any right to engage in any activity that might threaten the territorial integrity of States.
We can draw the following broad conclusions from these international documents:
- in most cases secession is not an option, because it would pose an unacceptable threat to the territorial integrity of existing states;
- the forced assimilation of the melting pot is also unacceptable – not only because of the resistance and conflict that it is likely to cause, but because it does not work and because it is inconsistent with democratic norms and notions of basic justice.
- There is also a generally accepted norm that states should not discriminate against their citizens because of their ethnic, cultural or religious affiliations.
However, there is less unanimity regarding
- the right of cultural minorities to mother tongue education and the responsibility of states to provide such education;
- the right of communities to a voice in decisions affecting their own communities; and
- the degree to which special provision should be made for the inclusion of minorities in broader national decision-making processes and in the national identity.
South Africa, has a great deal of experience in dealing with intractable ethnic disputes. Until ten years ago, we were involved in a seemingly hopeless downward spiral of conflict and repression. Yet, to the surprise of the world – and sometimes to our own surprise – we managed to pull back from the abyss and resolve our long-standing differences through peaceful negotiations.
How did we achieve this? And can our experience help other divided societies to solve their problems peacefully? I believe it can and want to share with you a few of the lessons we have learned from our successes and mistakes.
We accepted that all our cultural groups – many of them nations in their own right – would in the future have to maintain their cultural identity within a new, broader South African nation that would encompass all of the peoples who live in our country.
The question is how this can best be achieved. I have identified the following basic principles in this regard – some of which have been incorporated into our new Constitution:
- Communities should be given maximum “breathing space” to promote their identities and to cherish their traditions. The root of prejudice and inter-communal conflict is fear – the perception that the intimate interests of the community are under threat. The foundation for inter-communal peace is accordingly community security and the assurance that the basic language and cultural rights of communities will be respected.
- All communities should be regarded as equal. Minority communities should not be relegated to some kind of second-class status. Their identities should be accepted as essential parts of the national identity. They should be entitled to the same rights as other communities regardless of their ethnic, religious, cultural or class origins. There is a very dangerous view that economically advantaged communities should not qualify for the same protection as others. In fact, such communities are often at the greatest risk. One has but to think of Indians in Uganda during the 60s; the Chinese in some South-East Asian countries more recently; whites in Zimbabwe today: and of course the Jews throughout the centuries in Europe culminating in the horror of the holocaust.
- Multicultural societies, should wherever possible strive for inclusivity. Simple majoritarianism, where significant minorities can be excluded from all the processes of government should be avoided. All communities should feel that they are adequately represented in all of the institutions through which they are governed. Special care should be taken that no community feels isolated or alienated from the governmental process.
- Cultural, ethnic and religious communities should play a major role in all decisions that affect their interests. The principle of a high degree of autonomy for such communities within the broader national framework, should be respected.
- A culture of toleration and pride in diversity should be cultivated. In multicultural societies, mutual respect and pride in the diversity of national cultures should be fostered through the educational system, through the teaching of national languages and through the media.
- Negative discrimination of any form should be strictly prohibited. No community should feel victimised or excluded from any aspect of national life because of its cultural or ethnic identity.
- There should be a concerted effort to establish an inclusive, overarching national identity. Common values; common national symbols; and common goals should form the framework for the new national identity.
I believe that if multicultural communities observe these principles, they can live together in harmony. We have made significant progress in South Africa – but there are still many strains in our own society. The reality is that relations between communities – like all human relations – require constant attention, nurturing, and communication. If you don’t believe me just try ignoring your husband or wife for a couple of weeks! It does not matter how good your relationship was beforehand, you will soon be in trouble!
Just as democracy requires more than regular elections and majority rule, freedom requires more than the affirmation of individual rights.
We humans are complex social beings with many important concentric relationships. We are individuals. We belong to families. We pursue our economic interests. We belong to clubs and organisations. Many of us have religious affiliations. We often belong to distinct cultural groups. We have gender and sexual orientation. We are citizens of countries and increasingly we belong to the international community.
All of these relationships are important to us – and some are critically important. In many, if not most of them, we are minorities. True freedom consists of our being able to make lawful choices for ourselves and our families in all these spheres. The borders of these freedoms should be defined only by manifest public interest and the point where our freedoms begin to impact negatively and unfairly on the interests of others.
For example, I am an individual. I belong to the De Klerk family. I belong to the Reformed Church. I am a member of a number of private organisations – including a number of golf clubs. I am an Afrikaner. I derive my language, my history, and my traditions and much of my identity from this fact. I am also very proud to be a citizen of the new vibrant and multi-cultural South Africa. Like my ancestors since 1688, I am an African – and I like to think that I am a citizen of the world. After all, I have a Greek mother-in-law!
None of these relationships is mutually exclusive. People can be all these things at the same time. Their reasonable rights in all these spheres need to be protected (– especially their position vis-à-vis their mothers-in-law!) Neither should they suffer discrimination because of any of these affiliations.
In all of them people must accept that they also have duties. They must respect the affiliations of others and the reasonable claims of the broader society.
For example, I am also a member of an increasingly persecuted minority. I am a smoker. I believe that I have an absolute right to smoke – but I have come to accept, albeit reluctantly, that this right is limited where it impacts negatively on others!
As I have pointed out above, the affiliation that is increasingly relevant to the maintenance of peace and harmony in our shrinking global community is our cultural identity:
- We need to do much more to define and protect the rights of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities throughout the world.
- We need to establish an international norm for these rights, just as we have already done for individuals, for women and for children.
- We need to measure the behaviour of governments against this norm. If we do so, I am confident that we will soon discover that the societies that are the worst afflicted by inter-communal violence are also those that have the least respect for the rights of their constituent communities.
We have entered the global village. It is exciting; it is often very confusing; and sometimes a little frightening. Increasingly, people from different cultural backgrounds will be rubbing shoulders in the streets and market places of the global village. The presence of people from so many different cultures is one of the most enriching aspects of our new world. But it will also require us to observe new codes of behaviour and to acknowledge the multidimensional rights of people – as citizens, as members of organisations and communities, and as individual men and women.