It is an honour for me to address you on this important occasion in the long relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands.  Not only is 2006 the 125th anniversary of the Nederlands-Zuid-Afrika Vereniging – it also marks the 200th anniversary of the end of Dutch Rule in the Cape.


It would accordingly be appropriate for me to speak today about the development of relations between our countries since then and the challenges that we face.


The establishment of the Dutch settlement in the Cape in 1652 was very peripheral to the great global trading venture of the Dutch East India Company.  We, in South Africa, did not have our genesis in the glamorous search for spices and jewels – but in the rather prosaic need for fresh vegetables and recuperation for the scurvy-ridden crews of the great Dutch trading fleets.  In effect, we started out as a vegetable patch.


Three and a half centuries later, the spice trade is little more than a historic memory.  Many of the trading posts that the VOC established – like Malacca, Cochin and Galle – have subsided into tropical obscurity.  Some, like Jakarta, have become bustling metropolises.   The Netherlands most successful settlement turned out to be New Amsterdam – which evolved into New York after the Dutch unwisely traded the island of Manhattan for the little spice island of Ran in the East Indies.


Cape Town was another Dutch success.   It has grown from being a vegetable patch into one of the world’s most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities.  The city’s Dutch roots are still evident everywhere – in the castle and many of the early buildings, in the street names and the names of the surrounding towns and villages.


The most abiding heritage is the Afrikaans language  – with its close ties to Dutch.  It is spoken by six million South Africans – some 14% of the population.  Afrikaans is the third most predominant language in the country – following Zulu and Xhosa – and is the main language in two of South Africa’s nine provinces – the Western Cape and the Northern Cape.  Most Afrikaans speakers are Coloureds, about 45% are white and the rest are black South Africans who have adopted Afrikaans as their home language.


My own family has long and deep associations with the Netherlands.  There are several references to the De Klerk family in the parish records of Serooskerke-on-Walcheren, where my ancestor, Abraham de Clerq was born in 1671.  He was the son of Pieter and Sara de Clerq who had fled to the Netherlands to escape from religious persecution in France.  At the age of sixteen in 1688 – after his father’s death – Abraham, his widowed mother and his brother and sister, emigrated to the Cape with some 280 other Huguenots.


The little settlement of Cape Town was literally at the end of the earth.   The relationship between the Netherlands and its small outpost at the end of Africa was never easy.  The colony expanded not because of, but despite, the efforts of the Dutch East India Company.  Almost from the moment of their arrival, the first settlers proved to be a fractious lot.  They deeply resented the restrictions that the VOC placed on their ability to trade feely with passing fleets.  Their expansion into the hinterland involved the Company in expensive border wars with the Koi, the San and later with the Xhosa.  The settlers, for their part, complained about the misrule of the governors and their unwillingness to provide protection on the ever-expanding frontier.


Unlike the British settlers who arrived in the 19th century, who continued to identify closely with their British homeland, the Dutch settlers seemed forever intent on breaking free from their roots in the Netherlands and in establishing their own identity in Africa.  Soon they were calling themselves Afrikaners.


The century that followed the end of Dutch rule was a turbulent time for Southern Africa.  It witnessed the wars of Mfecane that were unleashed by the great Zulu king, Shaka.  They led to the deaths of several hundred thousand people and caused migrations as far north as modern day Malawi.    It also witnessed the Great Trek and the establishment of Boer republics in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.


The nineteenth century was however dominated by the relentless expansion of the British Empire and the conquest of the independent states of the Xhosa, the Zulus and ultimately of the Afrikaners in the Anglo Boer War.


Throughout this period the Afrikaners retained some tenuous links with the Netherlands.  They still spoke Dutch and learned to read from the great Dutch family bibles that accompanied them everywhere they went in their wanderings through the wilderness.  They still adhered to the Calvinist religion which provided them with their moral and religious orientation; and occasionally, wealthy families in the Cape still sent their sons to Utrecht or Leiden to complete their studies.


However, even in the remote wilderness of the Eastern Cape, there were echoes of the religious debates that raged in the Netherlands during the mid-nineteenth century.   Like their conservative counterparts in the Netherlands, many Afrikaners were deeply disturbed by growing evangelical and Methodist tendencies in their church.   These tendencies had arisen during the Batavian Republic’s brief rule over the Cape between 1803 and 1806.  Commissioner De Mist and Governor Janssens were steeped in the traditions of the Enlightenment and introduced strongly humanist tendencies into the liturgy.  The New Church Order that De Mist introduced in 1804 did not even use God’s name – but referred only to the “higher Being”.  When the British took over the Cape these tendencies were reinforced by the introduction of Scottish clergymen into the leadership of the local reformed church.  They included  most notably the Reverend Andrew Murray – who had strong evangelical tendencies and who also brought the church under the influence of the British government in the Cape.


Conservative Afrikaners in the Cape were particularly disturbed by the introduction in 1814 of non-biblical hymns that they regarded as idolatrous.  They identified strongly with religious conservatives like Groen van Prinsterer the Reverend H de Cock of Ulrum in the Netherlands who also vehemently rejected the liberal and humanist tendencies that had been introduced by William I in the wake of the French revolution.


Finally, in 1857, the conservatives requested the reformed church of the Netherlands to send them a minister who supported the reformed principles of the Dordt Church Order of 1619.  By coincidence, the Christelike Gereformeerde Kerk in the Netherlands had already decided to send the Rev Dirk Postma to South Africa.  Two years later, the Gereformeerde Kerk of South Africa (GKSA)  – also known as the Dopper Church  – was established.


The Doppers founded a theological seminary at Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape in 1869 where my grandfather studied in 1895.  In 1905 the seminary moved to Potchefstroom in the Western Transvaal.  The Doppers were strongly influenced by conservative theologians in the Netherlands – and particularly by Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch theologian, politician and journalist.  Kuyper was, of course, also instrumental in establishing this university – the Free University of Amsterdam.


The Afrikaans poet and theologian, Prof Dr J D du Toit – also known as Totius – was the first Afrikaner to obtain his doctorate at the Free University.  When he returned to South Africa he played a leading role in transforming the Theological Seminary in Potchefstroom into the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education – which was broadly modeled on the Free University.  My grandfather was the university’s first registrar and it was there that I obtained my law degree in 1958.


Although the GKSA is the smallest of the Afrikaans reformed churches – with only 5% of their total membership – it has played a disproportionate role in South Africa’s history.  President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, Prime Minister Hans Strydom and I were – or are –  all members of the church.


Through these factors Abraham Kuyper – and the philosophy on which the Free University in founded – became significant, although indirect, influences on the development of South Africa during the twentieth century.


There were, of course, many other important links between the Netherlands and South Africa.  The Dutch played an important role in the development of the Transvaal Republic during the 1880s and the 1890s.  In 1887 the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrika Spoorwegmaatschappij was established to build a railway line between Pretoria and Delagoa Bay in Portuguese Mozambique. 3 000 Dutch workers were involved in the construction and management of the railway, which was completed in 1894 and significantly reduced the Transvaal’s dependence on Britain.


The Dutch – like most Europeans – strongly supported the struggle of the plucky Afrikaner republics to defend their right to self-determination against the encroaching might of the British Empire.  During the Anglo-Boer War from 1899 until 1902 many Dutch citizens fought for the Boers – and in 1900, after the fall of Pretoria –  Queen Wilhelmina sent the Dutch cruiser De Gelderland to transport the aging President Kruger to exile in Europe.


Dutch-born artists and writers  – including Anton van Wouw and Thinus de Jonghe – made an enormous contribution to the development of art and literature in South Africa during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Relations between the Netherlands and the Afrikaners remained amicable in the period between the wars and during the Second World War.  However, the world that emerged after 1945 was quite different from the world that had preceded it.  After years of brutal Nazi occupation, the Netherlands was confronted with a determined insurrection in its empire in the East Indies. Finally, in 1949, after four years of struggle the Dutch granted independence to Indonesia.   The days of empire were over and the Netherlands’ future lay unambiguously in Europe.


The world had also changed radically for South Africa.  It had emerged from the Second World War as an honoured member of the victorious alliance.  Its Prime Minister, Field Marshall Smuts had been a member of Winston Churchill’s war cabinet.  In one of history’s more ironic moments he had played the leading role in drafting the preamble to the Charter of the newly formed United Nations in South African Francisco in 1945.  Very soon the United Nations would confront his government with the first rumblings of opposition that presaged the earthquake of decolonisation.  South Africa soon found itself the target of increasingly bitter criticism over its continued control of South West Africa (now Namibia) and over its own segregationist policies – which after 1948 became known as ‘apartheid’.


As the tide of European colonialism ebbed from Africa and the world, South Africa found itself conspicuously and uncomfortably exposed as the last remaining white-ruled country on the continent.   In 1975 the Portuguese Empire in Angola and Mozambique collapsed and in 1981 the last buffer state between it and independent Africa – Rhodeisa – gained independence as Zimbabwe.  Increasingly, South Africa found itself the target of a concerted international criticism – particularly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960; the trial and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in 1964 and the Soweto riots of 1976.


The Netherlands – possibly because of its long historic ties with South Africa – became one of apartheid’s most vehement critics.   The Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement played a leading role in calling for sanctions against South Africa and in providing support to the African Nationalist Congress.  The Afrikaners – whose struggle for self-determination at the beginning of the century had drawn so much support from the Dutch – had within a few decades become international pariahs because of their support for apartheid.


Relations between Pretoria and the Hague were in the deep freeze until 1990 when I announced the initiatives that led to the democratic transformation of South Africa.  In November 1990 I paid an official visit to the Netherlands.  I was given a very cordial welcome by Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers and received a standing ovation from the Foreign Affairs committees of Parliament.  After almost 40 years of estrangement the old relationship between the Netherlands and South Africa was restored.


However, the relationship can – and should – never be quite the same relationship as the relationship that had existed between the two countries before the Second World War.  Now, quite rightly, the Netherlands wishes to build a strong ties with all South Africans and particularly with the black majority – which has understandably become the main focus of its attention.


Nevertheless, the 14% Afrikaans-speaking minority in South Africa and the 5% Dutch-speaking minority of Europe, face the similar challenge of maintaining our cultural and religious identities in the face of rampant cultural globalization.


The culture into which we are born provides the framework within which we later develop our own personal identities.  It provides us with the language through which we first communicate with our family and friends and the concepts by which we first begin to understand our universe; it is the source of many of our core values and attitudes toward life and sometimes even our sense of humour.


However, as a result of globalisation a new international uniformity is developing in many areas which had previously been characterised by cultural diversity.


Everywhere regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure.   It has been estimated that half of the world’s 6 000 languages will disappear during the next century.  Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.


This is particularly the case with Afrikaans.  The guarantees in our constitution that are meant to protect language and cultural rights are not working very effectively:


Our concern about Afrikaans is not simply a question of trying to cling to white privilege – but of the survival of multiculturism in South Africa.  If Afrikaans does not survive – then it is unlikely that any of our other indigenous cultures will survive as written academic languages.


Experience has shown throughout the world that dual medium education drives out the smaller language.  This has also been the experience of former Afrikaans universities that have introduced the extensive use of English.  It has nothing to do with exclusion – since most Afrikaans schools and universities genuinely want to attract as many Afrikaans-speaking coloured and black pupils as they can.


I am sure that the future of Dutch in the Netherlands and Belgium is much more secure – since you retain the power to protect your cultural and language rights.  However, even for you, the pressure to do research and publish in English must be overwhelming; and your music, TV and movie industries – like those of the rest of Europe – are probably finding it more and more difficult to compete with America.


Globalisation presents us with another great challenge:  the challenge to preserve and enhance spiritual meaning in an increasingly materialistic and secular world.  Many of the moral and religious values upon which our families and societies were traditionally based are under serious threat.


The materialistic and rational driving forces behind globalisation are often inimical to our search for spiritual meaning.


The religious impulse of our distant ancestors often had its root in their awe of the unknown; in the mysteries of the changing seasons and the movements of the sun, moon and stars; and in the eternal riddle of the beginning and end of life.  But now, science has provided answers to many of these ancient mysteries.   We now know why the seasons change and how the stars themselves were born.  Scientists are unravelling the genetic secrets of life itself.


Our sense of the divine was underpinned by ceremony and taboo; by the strict observation of the Sabbath; by  prohibitions in some faiths against uttering the name of God; and in others against depicting His image or even the image of men.  In our age, our sense of the divine has been seriously eroded by our appetite for rational analysis and the familiarity bred by Hollywood epics and the mass commercialisation of religion.


Only a generation or two ago, our moral orientation was fixed by immutable commandments, of black and white notions of right and wrong.  But in a world of relativistic and situational morality, most of these commandments have been swept aside and reduced to the proposition that we may do whatever we like provided we do not harm anyone else.


One wonders what would Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper and Totius have said about all these developments?


The second great challenge that I believe we in South Africa and you in the Netherlands will face will be how we coexist with other cultures and other religions.


One of my great-grandfather’s greatest concerns was how he should relate to the terrible people who sang hymns.  Today in South Africa we must learn to co-exist with people from vastly different cultures, religions and political perspectives.  You in Europe are confronted with similar challenges.


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 these communities feel themselves increasingly threatened by the emerging global culture it is likely that they will place an even greater emphasis on the maintenance of their cultural identities.


We must devise approaches and establish norms that will enable different cultural and ethnic communities to coexist within the same states.  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 communities should be represented in the processes by which they are governed and the mechanisms that should be created to ensure cordial relations between communities.


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 – with roots in the Netherlands and France.  I belong to the Reformed Church – which was strongly influenced by Abraham Kuyper.  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 all these relationships.


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.


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.  Neither should they suffer discrimination because of any of these affiliations.


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.


What does the future hold for the relationship between the Netherlands and the six million Afrikaans-speakers in South Africa.?


The Netherlands relations with South Africa will quite rightly focus on ties with all our people – and especially with the black majority.  Nevertheless our common cultural heritage will remain an important aspect of our bilateral relations.


According to the bilateral South African/Netherlands Policy Framework “our common cultural heritage forms an integral part of the prevailing bilateral relations.  It includes not only memories of the VOC-period and slavery but also of shared experiences during the period of apartheid. An understanding of the past is of vital importance to a country’s quest for a national cultural identity.”

According to the bilateral South African/Netherlands Policy Framework “our common cultural heritage forms an integral part of the prevailing bilateral relations.  It includes not only memories of the VOC-period and slavery but also of shared experiences during the period of apartheid. An understanding of the past is of vital importance to a country’s quest for a national cultural identity.”

According to the bilateral South African/Netherlands Policy Framework “our common cultural heritage forms an integral part of the prevailing bilateral relations.  It includes not only memories of the VOC-period and slavery but also of shared experiences during the period of apartheid. An understanding of the past is of vital importance to a country’s quest for a national cultural identity.”

How, exactly, will our two governments set about rewriting history?

·       We cannot change the fact that Jan van Riebeeck founded our mother city, Cape Town, in 1652.

·       We cannot rewrite the fact that the Dutch East India Company brought slaves to the Cape from the East Indies or that their descendents now comprise one of the indispensable strands in our rich cultural tapestry.

·       We cannot erase the influence that Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper have had on my church and its members for the past century and a half; nor that the Free University in Amsterdam has had on Potchefstroom University through the work of Totius;

·       nor the Netherlands role in opposing apartheid or the support that the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement gave to the ANC.

·       Nor can we or should we deny the special relationship that exists between the Netherlands and the Six million South Africans who speak Afrikaans.


All these factors are indelible facets of our relationship.

·     They can be reinterpreted;

·     they can be reconsidered within the framework of new contexts;

·     but they cannot and should not be denied.