Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 10/12/2023


Thirty years have passed since the cold winter’s day in Oslo when Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a time of great excitement, of great optimism and great trepidation. In South Africa negotiators were putting the final touches to the 1993 Constitution – in terms of which the first fully inclusive democratic elections would be held on 27 April 1994.

Everyone accepted that Nelson Mandela, already an international icon and one of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients, would emerge as the country’s first democratically elected president.

Under the circumstances, it took considerable political courage for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the prize to FW de Klerk as well.

In his acceptance speech, FW de Klerk spoke about the nature of peace. He said that peace was not the absence of conflict – since many repressive societies were peaceful.

“There can be no peace without justice and consent. Neither does peace necessarily imply tranquillity.”

He continued that peace “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.”

He added that peace was 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.”

Five years ago, FW de Klerk issued a statement on the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to him and Nelson Mandela. He asked how South Africa had fared since then and made the following observations:

  • “All South Africans now enjoy human dignity that our Constitution enshrines – but what does human dignity mean in circumstances in which 40% of our people live in poverty and unemployment?
  • We have made no progress in achieving equality. We are the most unequal country in the world – and have become more unequal since 1994.
  • The human rights and freedoms of our people are now protected by our Bill of Rights. The courts have upheld these rights and freedoms – but we have a long way to go before they are all enjoyed in practice. In particular, the language, cultural and non-discrimination rights that are central elements in the Bill of Rights are under enormous pressure. 
  • Sadly, South Africa can no longer be called a non-racial country. We are rapidly becoming, once again, a society in which race and not merit is the main determinant of success. 
  • We have made considerable progress in promoting gender equality, but too many women are still subject to gender violence, and more than half our women have to bring up their families without the help of a husband.
  • We have independent courts that have fiercely upheld the Constitution and the rule of law – and that have played a major role in combating corruption and abuse of power. However, minorities often feel that their language and cultural rights are not upheld.
  • We remain a vibrant and genuine multiparty democracy, but struggle sometimes to ensure openness, responsiveness and accountability.”


Sadly, the situation described by FW de Klerk has not improved since then.

As he observed five years ago: “Nobody imagined that the future would be easy. Peace requires a never-ending struggle. We have the framework for peace, of which I spoke, in our constitution. We need to find once again the frame of mind that enabled us to reach an agreement after so many years of division and bitterness.”

FW de Klerk concluded his Nobel Peace Prize speech with a quote from NP van Wyk Louw, who had written of a deed that might one day be enacted by South Africans, “that o’er the earth resounds and mocks the ages in their impotence.”

That deed was the relatively peaceful resolution of the seemingly intractable crisis that confronted South Africa in the 1980s for which both FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. 

It should still be a source of hope for all South Africans that we will, once again, be able to reach an agreement on how we should unlock the tremendous potential of our country.  

However, to achieve this potential, we will need to find once again the frame of mind and the framework of laws and conventions that made our historic agreement possible.


Image © AP