SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE CAPE TOWN PRESS CLUB: 28 FEBRUARY 2005
THE ROLE OF MINORITIES IN THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA
Ten years ago the Constitutional Assembly was locked in discussions on the final constitution. At that time I felt strongly that some provision should be made to accommodate our cultural diversity at the executive level of government. I was worried that if we adopted a simple majoritarian system minorities would in future feel excluded from the processes by which they are governed.
We proposed that, alongside the cabinet, there should be a consultative council on which all our minorities would be adequately represented and which could consider all questions of national importance as well as questions that affected the interests of minority communities. The consultative council would not have had the power to veto any proposal of the government, but it would, to my mind, have ensured that all our communities would have been fully consulted and involved in the process of government.
The ANC rejected even this relatively modest proposal out of hand. The other significant opposition parties – the DP and the IFP – were also not interested in supporting such a mechanism. I felt so strongly about this principle that it became the most important consideration in my decision to withdraw from the GNU. Why continue with the pretence of power-sharing in the GNU with all its attendant political liabilities if there was no prospect of a more meaningful power-sharing processes extending into the future?
Ten years later it is becoming increasingly apparent that my concerns regarding the future of our minorities were all too well founded.
Instead of an approach that accommodates diversity, there is an increasing tendency to require minorities to conform to the goal of ‘representivity’. The idea is that in a perfectly non-racial society all institutions in the public and private sectors should reflect the ethnic composition of society at all levels. Accordingly, the owners, the boards, top management, middle management and employees of all companies and organisations should ideally be 76% black, 12% white, 9% coloured and 3% Indian. The same should hold true for all aspects of government and all state, provincial and municipal institutions – and ultimately for all sports teams as well.
At first glance this would seem to be fair and reasonable. However, on deeper examination it becomes clear that in a multicommunity society ‘representivity’ means that minorities would be subject to the control of the majority in every area of their lives – in their jobs, in their schools, in their universities and in their sports
In effect, the concept of representivity is irreconcilable with the constitutional principle of cultural diversity. Diversity requires an environment with numerous centres of cultural, social and economic activity – all existing in mutual toleration and respect. It presupposes a degree of community autonomy and acceptance that there are important spheres of life that should be free from majority interference and control. It creates space for community-based education; for Hindu temples; Islamic schools; Chinese restaurants; and Portuguese green-grocers. It means that it’s OK for Jewish South Africans to build up businesses that are predominantly Jewish and for English-speaking South Africans to have schools that reflect their values and traditions. The right to freedom of association also means that there is nothing intrisically wrong if cultural groups prefer to associate with their own kind and live in their own neighbourhoods – as they do, indeed, all over the world. All this, of course, is predicated on the principle that none of these institutions should exclude people on the basis or race or on the basis of any of the other grounds that are rightly prohibited by the constitution. The essence of diveristy is that individuals, families and associations should be free to decide how they wish to lead their lives – all within the framework of the values contained in the constitution.
The reality now is that whites – and I believe members of other minorities as well – feel increasingly disempowered. According to Lenin, politics can be reduced to two words: “who, whom” – who exercises political power and against whom is it exercised. Minorities increasingly feel that they are on the wrong side of the Leninist power equation – particularly as transformation policies begin to impact on virtually every aspect of their lives.
Recently President Mbeki wrote that “the end of the system of white monopoly on political power did not mean the replacement of white domination with black domination, an outcome to which the ANC was and is opposed”. The question is: how will we be able to avoid black domination in a situation in which the black majority in effect now has a de facto monopoly of political power? What else is it but domination if the black majority dictates the agenda for the white, Indian and coloured minorities and negatively affects their core interests? How else can this process be described?
Whites – and other minorities to a greater or lesser extent – have responded to their growing disempowerment in differing ways:
- A small minority – including the NNP – have sought their future within the ANC.
- Others – like the DA – continue to oppose the government vocally and sometimes stridently in the media and from their beleaguered position in Parliament. But is the government even listening?
- For this reason, others are withdrawing from political arena altogether – as the low voter turn-out in last year’s election indicated.
- Some seek to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be by giving lip-service to transformation and by ensuring the political correctness of all their utterences. These are the people to whom President Mbeki was referring when he recently wrote that of those who continued ‘to sing sweet songs about what needed to be done to bring about change’ but who, ‘objectively, were opposed to change’.
- Many are withdrawing into their own communities and private lives. They have decided that because there is no future for them in the public arena they will fend for themselves and their families as best they can.
- Too many – with precious skills – have left South Africa – some because there is lucrative demand for their skills in the globalising economy and others because they see no future for themselves and their children in the new South Africa.
How should members of minority communities react to their new situation? I believe that the answer should be to redouble their commitment to the new South Africa and to the constitution on which it is based.
This is not the time for negativism and despondency. As President Mbeki has rightly pointed out, there are many reasons for optimism: the economy is poised for accelerated growth; confidence levels are at all-time high levels, and South Africa is respected throughout our continent and the world.
My Foundation has accordingly decided to launch a modest campaign to publicise seven things we all can do to help build a better South Africa. They include the following suggestions:
- Support the Constitution as the foundation of the New South Africa. South Africans should insist on their rights and carry out their duties. They should support the values and the national goals in the Constitution The Constitution is particularly important for a country like South Africa with a complex population and a history of division and conflict. It was freely negotiated and accepted by parties representing substantial majorities from all our communities. It provides a blueprint for peace, justice and harmony that is acceptable to the overwhelming majority of South Africans.
The Constitution is especially important for minorities. The majority can usually secure its interests through its control of the levers of government. Minorities on the other hand are often dependent on the Constitution and the law for the protection of their most important interests
The problem is that our constitutional rights are being eroded because people are not claiming them.
- Make full use of your democratic rights. South Africans should become active members of the political parties of their choice. They should vote in elections. Too many South Africans from our minority communities have become politically apathetic. They are so overwhelmed by the ANC’s huge parliamentary majority that they think there is no chance of their making any difference. On the contrary. South Africa needs credible opposition and parties and politicians that will participate robustly in the political debate at all levels of government. The future of democratic pluralism depends on the ability and determination of South Africans from across the political spectrum to make their voices heard.
- Become actively involved in your community through your religious affiliation, a service organisation or other non-governmental organisations. We need to support organisations that are helping to build a better and more just society. There are plenty of excellent NGOs that are making a disproportionate contribution to the well-being of our fellow South Africans. We need to support these organisations with our time and our financial resources – and I include the FW de Klerk Foundation in the list of such organisations!
- Treat South Africans from other communities with respect, consideration and friendliness. Learn about their history, traditions and cultures – and if possible, learn another South African language. Be proud of your own cultural heritage and of the fact that you are a South African. Don’t make negative generalisations and discard stereotypes. Judge each individual on his or her merits and not according to ethnic origin. It costs nothing to be friendly and polite. Take practical steps to help South Africans who are less fortunate than yourself.
- Support a balanced transformation process based on the constitutional principles of nonracialism, equality and fairness. Economic and social transformation will dominate the second decade of the new South Africa. Justice, common sense and political stability demand that
- all South Africans should help to create a fairer and more equal society;
- they should urgently address the problems of those sections of our society who live in abject poverty and who have not benefited from the new South Africa; and that
- national institutions should be increasingly representative of the population as a whole.
However, justice, common sense and political stability also require that transformation should be implemented in a fair and workable manner. Unbalanced transformation has the potential to undermine inter-racial harmony and to impair the country’s ability to deliver essential services and promote economic growth. Accordingly, we need to reach a national consensus on how we can all make transformation work for all South Africans. There are a number of reasonable questions that need to be debated and resolved:
- What are the goals of transformation with regard to institutions that have a special cultural identity – such as churches, clubs newspapers, cultural organisations, schools, universities, old-age homes, ethnic restaurants, etc? Presumably, the Government would not expect that 75% of the reporters on a newspaper like Beeld should be non-Afrikaans speaking black South Africans? What about Afrikaans medium schools and universities? Should English-speaking South Africans be allowed to own and run newspapers, and radio and TV stations?
- Charters generally have a ten-year horizon for ownership, employment and other targets – but what are the final goals? If an industry achieves its target of 25% black ownership in the first ten years will it have complied with all of its black ownership obligations – or will it then have to meet another set of ownership targets during the following ten years? In short, what is the bottom line?
- What happens when a black empowerment partner decides to sell his or her share of a company to white or overseas interests? Should the BEE partner be prevented from selling to whites? Would we have to create separate black and white share and property markets? Or would the company involved simply have to start the process all over again and find new black partners?
- President Mbeki recently pointed out that 182 000 white households now fall in the lowest income group which earns less than R 9 600 per annum while 440 000 black households are now in the highest income group earning more than R153 000 per annum. On what moral and constitutional basis will members of the advantaged black households now be able to claim precendence over the children of the disadvantaged white households when it comes to affirmative action appointments?
- Make sure that you are well informed. South Africans who want to make a contribution to their society should keep up to date with developments in the country and in the national debate. They should listen to the radio and watch the news and current affairs programmes on TV. In particular, the should visit the ANC’s excellent website and discuss issues with their friends and family.
- Build a prosperous South Africa, generate wealth and help to create jobs by working hard and creatively in your chosen career or profession. At the end of the day, I believe along with Adam Smith, that we often quite unwittingly make the greatest contribution to society by pursuing our own individual interests. We need to start new businesses and create new jobs and create new wealth. If we can make South Africa a winning nation, we will at the same time succeed in resolving many of the problems that now beset us.
I am convinced that if we can do these seven things we will succeed in transforming our society. We will also make South Africa a winning nation.
For this reason, I cannot agree with our Minister ot Sport the Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile who recently told Parliament that the government had “called on sport adminstrators to sacrifice a little bit in terms of wanting to win, because even when we field these lilly white teams we lose.”
If we wish to survive in the fierce competition of the globalised world we will need to field the best teams that we can find in every sphere of national endeavour regardless of their colour.
This is because the alternative to winning is losing. The Government has followed its own advice in the delivery of services in the crucial fields of education, health or municipal government. It has dispensed with the services of 120 000 ‘lilly white’ civil servants since 1994 and is now experiencing a serious shortage of skills and experience. As a result we have all become losers.
I agree instead with the conciliatory remarks made by President Mbeki in the debate on his state of the nation speech. He said that all of us would have to internalise the reality that our very collective future depends on the ability of all our people to understand that the success of black South Africa is conditional on the success of white South Africa, and that the success of white South Africa is conditional on the success of black South Africa.
“If indeed we all came to understand this, together we would have to answer the question as to what white South Africa should do to ensure that black South Africa succeeds, and what black South Africa should do to ensure that white South Africa succeeds!”
I couldn’t agree more and look forward to addressing this question with my fellow South Africans. My only regret is the absence of a structured forum in which such a discussion can take place – the kind of structured forum that we proposed ten years ago during the constitutional negotiations.