SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
ST LOUIS UNIVERSITY, ST LOUIS,
1 APRIL 2004
THE SOUTH AFRICAN MODEL FOR PEACE AND FREEDOM: FROM APARTHEID TO MULTIPARTY DEMOCRACY
I have been asked to speak to you today about the South African model for peace and freedom and how our country moved from apartheid to multiparty democracy. This is a good time to consider these questions since we shall be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our first universal democratic election later this month on 27 April.
First, I would first like to share with you some ideas on 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 incessant 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 arising and demand constant attention. Tensions build up and need to be defused. Human beings will inevitably differ on a wide range of topics and sometimes such differences can escalate into conflict.
Peace, therefore, is not an absence of conflict or a condition of stagnation.
Peace is a frame of mind.
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.
Peace is also a framework.
It is 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 dynamic processes of social, economic and political development can be regulated and accommodated.
In the final analysis, I personally believe that the greatest peace is the peace which we derive from our faith in God; from certainty about our relationship with our Creator. Crises might beset us, battles might rage about us – but if we have faith and the certainty it brings, we will enjoy peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Fourteen years ago South Africa was a deeply divided society. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine parties that were further apart than the National Party, the IFP and the ANC:
- The ANC/SACP Alliance came from a radical socialist tradition. Before 1990 it was 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 purposes
- The National Party, on other hand, strongly favoured a free enterprise economy, a federal state, and some form of power-sharing.
- The IFP, the third major party, 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 more traditional Zulus of Natal.
What enabled these parties and the other twenty-three that joined them in the multi-party negotiations to bridge the enormous chasms that divided them? 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.
- we would have to put the bitterness of the past behind us and that we would have to search for genuine national reconciliation.
- 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.
- above all, we realised that a successful outcome to our negotiations would often require genuine concessions and painful compromises.
There were also certain objective circumstances that had created a window of opportunity for us:
- 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 previous years 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 central planning and statist controls had wrought on the economies of Eastern Europe was there for all to see. Even social democrat governments in Western Europe had begun to adopt market related economic policies.
- 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.
In the case of my Party, the former National Party, the willingness to commit ourselves to genuine negotiations developed over a number of years. By the early eighties it was becoming increasingly obvious that we were on the wrong course. We had hoped that we would be able to reach some kind of constitutional settlement that would have enabled each of our constituent ethnic groups to retain a right to national self-determination while working together in a commonwealth of South African peoples.
It is important to understand that unlike any other White group in Africa, my people, the Afrikaners, were a nation. The determination to rule ourselves had been the central theme of our 350-year history in the sub-continent. We had secured our right to self-determination in bitter wars against Britain, the mightiest empire of the time. We felt just as strongly about this right as the Israelis, or the Irish or the Bosnians or the Serbs – or, indeed, as Black South Africans did.
However, by the mid 80s it had become increasingly apparent that our policy to partition South Africa was wrong and unworkable. The reality that contronted us was that
- the country and the economy were becoming more and more integrated with each year that passed;
- the division of territory that we had proposed was inadequate and unfair;
- whites did not constitute a majority in any part of the country;
- our solution was vehemently rejected by the great majority of black South Africans; and
- instead of leading to peace and an acceptable solution our policies had resulted in a situation of escalating conflict and palpable injustice.
No amount of social engineering, no elaborate constitutional maneuvering, no manipulation of the economy could alter the central fact that South Africa was more and more a single country, with a single economy and a single constitutional destiny.
We realised that we would have to abandon the ideal that had been the central goal of our people for more than two hundred years – the right to rule ourselvesas a separate and distinct nation with our own state in Southern Africa.
However, knowing that you are on the wrong course and being able to change course are often two very different things. For years we had been riding the proverbial tiger of minority rule. By the mid ‘eighties the tiger was becoming increasingly angry. Onlookers throughout the rest of the world were shouting at us to get off. We certainly weren’t enjoying the ride either. We didn’t want to be there, but how could we dismount without being devoured? We first had to wrestle with some very real concerns and fears. We were deeply concerned about:
- significant communist influence in the ANC,
- the failure of many other African countries to build stable, democratic and prosperous societies; and
- the future of ethnic and cultural minorities under a majority-rule
Our greatest challenge was to confront these fears and to accept the risks that we knew genuine negotiations would involve.
The ANC also had to accept the need for genuine negotiations. Until the late eighties they had thought that they would be able to achieve their objectives through the revolutionary campaigns that they and their allies in the UDF had unleashed from 1983 onwards. At that time, they were not talking about the need for multiparty negotiations, but of overthrowing the State and imposing their demands on their opponents. However, by the end of the ‘eighties the ANC and its allies had come to realise that there was little possibility for a revolutionary seizure of power. They had also come to accept that escalating conflict would lead to a devastating civil war in which there would be no winners. It was with such thoughts in mind that Nelson Mandela opened up a line of communication with the government from his prison cell.
.By the end of 1989 I reached the conclusion that a unique window of opportunity had opened for a constitutional settlement of our long-standing conflict. On 2 February 1990 I presented a new vision to the South African Parliament of a peaceful and democratic solution to our problems. I set goals that included
- a new and fully democratic constitution;
- the removal of any form of discrimination and domination;
- equality before an independent judiciary;
- the protection of minorities
- a charter of fundamental rights and
- a genuine democracy with universal franchise.
The management of the transformation process was difficult and sometimes brought us close to the brink of failure.
We realised that our decision to embark on radical change would unleash a chain of events with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. It was rather like paddling a canoe into a long stretch of dangerous rapids. You may start the process and determine the initial direction. However, after that the canoe is seized by enormous and often uncontrollable forces. All that you can do is to maintain your balance, avoid the rocks and steer as best you can – and right the canoe if it capsizes. It is a time for cool heads and firm, decisive action.
We experienced several such crises during our transformation process.
- Perhaps the most serious of these was the decision of the ANC in July 1992 to leave the negotiating process and to embark instead on a campaign of ‘rolling mass action’. The activists in the ANC hoped that by so doing they would be able to achieve in the streets what they could not secure at the negotiating table. It did not work – but the subsequent violence at Boipatong and Bisho brought the country perilously close to the precipice. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and by September 1992 the ANC had resumed negotiations.
- Another serious crisis occurred in April 1993 when Chris Hani, the leader of the ANC’S armed wing, was assassinated by a right-wing Polish immigrant. On this occasion, Nelson Mandela took the lead by appealing to his supporters for calm.
- We also experienced frustrations with the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi which boycotted the negotiations from September 1992 onwards and did not return until a week or two before our elections on 27 April 1994.
In the end, we managed to resolve all these crises and remove all the impediments to a peaceful constitutional settlement. In this process, the relationship that I had developed with Nelson Mandela was of critical importance. Although it was often characterised by sharp and bitter differences, we were always able to rise above our personal differences during these moments of crisis and ensure that the negotiations remained on the rails.
Finally, by April 1994 we had achieved most of the goals that I had spelled out in my speech of 2 February 1990.
- We had succeeded in negotiating a truly democratic interim constitution;
- we had managed to ensure that all the significant parties were part of the process; and
- we had successfully held our first truly democratic elections.
The question can be asked whether South Africa’s reasonably peaceful transformation from apartheid to multiparty democracy may be relevant for other societies that are wrestling with seemingly intractable conflict. Could our model work in the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis; between the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland; between the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots; between the contending factions in Iraq?
Eevry situation has its own complex history and dynamics. Nevertheless, there may be some aspects of our experience that might be relevant to other conflict situations
We also learned the following lessons:
The first requirement for a successful peace process is the genuine acceptance by all of the parties to the conflict that there is no possibility of a military solution. If the balance of forces is such that any side believes that it can secure or indefinitely maintain its core interests by military force, it will probably not be willing to make the very painful compromises required for genuine settlements. All of the major parties to the conflict in South Africa had reached this conclusion by the late 80s. The old regime in South Africa enjoyed overwhelming military superiority and could probably have maintained itself for another twenty years. However, we realised that there would be a terrible cost to pay: we would have become increasingly isolated; our economy would have stagnated; and with each year of continuing repression and escalating conflict the prospects for a peaceful solution would have receded further and further into the distance.
The second requirement is that the process must be as inclusive as possible. We found that we could not dictate who should be at the conference table and who should be kept away. For years we refused to negotiate with people that we regarded as terrorists or with parties that were involved in an armed struggle against us. Finally, in 1989-90 we reached the conclusion that there could be no solution unless all the parties involved in the conflict were present at the table. This meant inevitably that all the other parties involved had to sit around the negotiating table with groups and individuals that they had traditionally regarded as their sworn enemies. The crux of peace-making is for real enemies to sit down together to try to find real solutions.
We discovered that we could not dictate with which leaders we would negotiate. The essence of negotiations is that the contending parties have to be able to appoint the leaders and negotiators of their choice.
We also learned that negotiators should be careful not to paint themselves into corners by demanding complete compliance with absolute conditions. Although a clear commitment to peace is a prerequisite, and although parties must hold their opponents to their undertakings, there is no way that any side in a complex situation will ever be able to stick 100% to all the terms of agreements. This is particularly the case when parties are not fully in control of all the forces and factions that are associated with them. If negotiators insist on perfect compliance with all conditions they give extremists on all sides the ability to stop the process at any time by committing acts of violence or breaches of the agreement. There are usually plenty of factions and individuals on all sides who welcome every opportunity of throwing a spanner in the works.
Workable solutions inevitably require all parties to make extremely painful sacrifices. If any of the parties walks away from the process with all its bottom-line demands completely intact, the chances are that there is something wrong with the agreement. If other parties feel that they have not been able to secure at least some of their basic interests they will not be committed to the success of the process. There must be a reasonable balance of pain and gain for all the parties involved. At the end of the day, all the parties need win/win solutions.
There is no way that complex and long-standing conflicts can be solved without taking calculated risks. At certain critical points in the process parties have to put their faith in one another and in the process that they have begun. We took a serious gamble when – to the consternation of our security advisers – I permitted peaceful demonstrations and unbanned organisations that we had long regarded as terrorists. I also took a major risk when I decided to hold a referendum among white voters in 1992 to establish whether they still supported the peace process. We had lost a number of bye-elections and the right-wing opposition was claiming that we no longer had a mandate for our reform initiatives. They were wrong. Almost 70% of whites gave me a green light to continue.
Perserverance is essential. Any process designed to unravel years of conflict and to reconcile widely divergent interests will inevitably experience numerous crises. This was the case with our process in South Africa. We had to weather repeated crises – walk-outs by negotiating parties; massacres; mass demonstrations; assassinations of leading figures; deep mutual distrust; vitriolic abuse and criticism. After each crisis we simply had to get up, dust ourselves off and resume the process – because we knew there was no alternative.
Peace-making is not for cissies. It is difficult, dangerous, frustrating and often thankless.
There is a huge peace dividend. The rewards of peace are worth all the sacrifices, risks and tribulations required by genuine negotiations.. After generations of trying to live apart, we South Africans are all beginning to reap the benefits of living and working together. We are no longer isolated. We are no longer at war with one another. We no longer regard one another as enemies, as oppressors or as terrorists. We live in a free and open democracy. Our economy is well positioned for economic growth. We have still have many serious problems and challenges and there is no room for complacency. However, South Africa is a far, far better country for all its children than it would have been had we not embarked upon the difficult and dangerous road to peace fourteen years ago.
In short, peace, harmony and toleration are much better for everyone on all sides that conflict, discord and bigotry.
Finally, we have learned that the process of transformation never really ends. In human affairs, you can never really say that you have solved a problem. All human relationships require constant communication, care and nurturing. The best contribution that we South Africans can make to the resolution of conflicts throughout the world will be to ensure the continuing success of the process that we began fourteen years ago.
My Foundation, the F W de Klerk Foundation, is endeavouring to make a modest contribution in this regard with programmes that
- encourage real and ongoing communication between leaders of our different communities;
- popularise and provide support to our constitution as the foundation of our young and fragile nonracial democracy; and that
- are trying to establish consensus between our various population groups on an economic and social transformation process that will ensure that all South Africans begin to benefit from the successful constitutional transformation that we have experienced during the past ten years.
Finally, the most important thing that we South Africans have been able to show the world during the past fourteen years is that even the most intractable political problems can be resolved peacefully through negotiations. War, conflict, destruction and the enormous injustice and human suffering that they always bring are not inevitable. There is another far, far better way of dealing with ancient and bitter disputes.
The greatest contribution that we South Africans can make is to give hope and encouragement to other peoples caught in the downward vortex of violence and conflict.