SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE CONFERENCE ON TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE: FROM CONFLICT TO RESOLUTION AND HEALING;
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA; 17 APRIL 2002
It is a great honour for me to be able to address this conference in a city that has played such a central role in the struggle of the people of the United States against racism and injustice. It is most appropriate that you have decided to focus on South Africa this year. I welcome the opportunity for us to exchange views on the progress that we have made and the enormous challenges that still remain in bringing justice to all our people.
During the past twelve years we, in South Africa, have gained considerable experience – experience that might be relevant to other societies emerging from conflict. Reaching agreements to end conflicts is only the beginning of the process. The challenge is to ensure that
- conflicts do not flare up again,
- that newly established relationships are placed on firm foundations, and
- that all sides adhere to the agreements that they reach.
In order to achieve this I believe there are three basic requirements:
- The first is forgiveness. Parties to bitter conflicts have to put the past behind them: they must find some way of gaining release from the burden of anger, fear and guilt that oppress them.
- The second is reconciliation. Former combatants must shift their focus from the bitterness of a divided past, to the common interests of the present and the promise of a shared future.
- The third is justice. Unless all sides believe that they are being treated fairly and that their reasonable interests are being accommodated, peace will be short-lived.
Forgiveness is essential
- not only because it is a central commandment for Christians
- not only because it is critically important for our own spiritual and mental well-being
- but also because it is the starting point on the road to peace.
Until we truly forgive our enemies we carry within our hearts a bitterness that can poison every other aspect of our lives. Only when we forgive the wrongs that have been done to us can we free ourselves from this burden. By continuing to nurse grievances against those who have done us wrong, we give them continuing power over us. With each remembrance of past wrongs we perpetuate the evil that has been done to us. In the end we forgive those who have done us wrong not only for their sake, but also for our own liberation.
There are, of course, also very practical reasons why we should forgive one another. Unforgiven grievances lead on to alienation, vengeance and new conflict.
Think of the current tragic and explosive situation in the Middle East.
The Palestinians and the Israelis are being sucked into a vortex of pain and brutality where they are rapidly losing sight of one another’s humanity and of the fact that they share a common destiny. Their sense of grievance and injustice; their fear and their suspicion have become so deeply rooted that neither side now seems willing or able to move back to negotiations. They will be able to escape from the vortex only if they can find the strength to forgive one another, to make a fresh start and to develop a shared vision of the future.
The same is true of the conflicts in Northern Ireland; in the Balkans; Rwanda and Burundi, in Cyprus and in many other divided societies.
Forgiveness is the beginning of the road to reconciliation which I believe is the second requirement for peace between former conflicting parties.
Reconciliation has a number of different meanings, each, in its own way essential for the establishment of lasting peace.
Its first meaning is the bringing together of those who have previously been alienated from one another.
It is the new sense of common purpose and communion that we, in South Africa, are tentatively beginning to develop after so many centuries of division and alienation. It is the peace that has developed over the past fifty-seven years between the combatants in the Second World War.
A second meaning of reconciliation is the acceptance of things that, in an ideal world, we would rather not accept. We say, in this sense, that we have reconciled ourselves to this or that reality. We would have preferred something more but the imperative for compromise requires us to accept something less.
Reconciliation, in this sense, is also a prerequisite for peace. Reconciliation requires all parties to make real – and sometimes painful -compromises.
The third meaning of reconciliation is the auditing concept of balance. Most of us have, at some time or other, struggled to reconcile our bank statements with the often wildly inaccurate figures in our cheque books. We overlook long-standing debts. Sometimes we are surprised by unexpected credits.
So it is also with our search for reconciliation with one another. We must forgive and we must strive to be forgiven. But we should not do this blindly without cognisance of our debts and credits. For that reason reconciliation requires that we should also carefully, and dispassionately, examine the collective accounts of our past relationships and seek to find a balance. The purpose of such an exercise must not be a reversion to the kind of reproach or retribution that caused our alienation from one another in the first place. But it is a necessary exercise before we can finally close the books on the past. The essence of the exercise, however, remains balance and the production of a statement that accurately reflects all of the data at our disposal. If all statements are not brought into reckoning, the accounts will not balance and our efforts will not lead to reconciliation.
Most of us in South Africa agreed that we needed a process to establish the ‘truth’ about the past as a necessary precursor to reconciliation. However, we discovered that the search for the truth could itself be highly divisive and could lead to alienation rather than reconciliation. It soon became apparent that South Africans from across the political spectrum all had their own sincerely held views of what constituted the truth about the past.
In our opinion, a problem arose with the composition of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite our protests it did not include a single member of my party, the National Party, or the Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi – two of the three main parties to the conflict. Reconciliation is not something that can be managed and dictated by one side only: all the parties should have experienced ownership of the process – as was the case with our constitutional negotiations. They should all have been involved in asking the questions; in hammering out the truth; and in reaching agreement on a final report that would have been broadly acceptable to everyone. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
The TRC did, indeed, succeed in uncovering a great deal of the truth about some facets of our past conflict. We welcomed this part of their work – which in many respects built on the findings of the Goldstone Commission which I myself appointed when I was President. Their hearings also often had a cathartic effect. Nobody who listened to them could fail to be moved by the testimony of people who had been abused or tortured or of families who had lost loved ones. Neither could anyone fail to be shocked by the testimony of perpetrators – who often, in subdued tones described in matter-of-fact terms how they had tortured and murdered their victims. These hearings had a therapeutic affect on many of those involved, perpetrators and victims alike
However, the overall effect of the TRC process was, in our opinion, the creation of a version of our past that was acceptable to one side only because it had been determined and articulated by only one side. It created a black and white picture in which there was little good on the one side and little fault on the other. In particular, hardly any recognition was given to the fact that the former Government had been one of the main initiators of the peaceful transformation of our society, nor to the fact that its peace and reform initiatives had been supported by almost 70% of the White electorate. As a result, many white South Africans began to feel increasingly alienated from the new South Africa, that they had enthusiastically welcomed in 1994.
One of the goals of the Foundation that I established when I retired from politics, is to overcome this feeling of alienation and to work for the continued building of bridges between our diverse communities.
The third requirement for continuing peace in formerly divided societies is undoubtedly justice. Here, we need to consider
- how one should deal with past offenders;
- how one should compensate victims; and
- how one should promote present and future equity.
How should we deal with those who committed heinous offences during past conflicts? Should there be a trade-off between justice and reconciliation?
In an ideal situation everyone who perpetrates crimes – and particularly gross violations of human rights – should be called to account – and if found guilty should be punished accordingly.
However, in the case of South Africa amnesty was a sine qua non for the settlement of our long-standing conflict. We had not been defeated on the battlefield. On the contrary, we commanded overwhelming military power. There was no way that the former government and particularly its security forces would have committed themselves to a peaceful process of transformation without reasonable guarantees that they would not be subjected to persecution after the installation of the new government. At the same time, the ANC and the other revolutionary forces insisted that their comrades who had been convicted of crimes – many of them heinous and disproportional – should be released from prison or granted indemnity from prosecution.
My government originally advocated the application of the Norgard principles – that had been used at the time of the independence of Namibia. In terms of these principles a distinction is made between those who had committed offences in the bona fide course of the struggle and those who had perpetrated brutal and gratuitous crimes. The Norgard principles then dictate that the latter category should not qualify for amnesty, either on the side of the security forces or on the side of the revolutionary movements. We in South Africa were, however, forced to abandon this principle when the ANC, in September 1992, insisted that all of its imprisoned followers should be released regardless of the crimes that they had committed. Agreeing to this demand was one of the most difficult and painful decisions of my presidency – but it was necessary to get the negotiations back on track. I would have preferred the Norgard route.
No doubt, the cause of full justice suffered in the process.
But what was preferable?
- the restoration of justice to 40 million South Africans and the opportunity for peaceful transformation ?
- or the prosecution and punishment of a few hundred guilty individuals?
In the end I believe that our compromise on the issue of amnesty served the greater good of our nation, however imperfect it might have been.
Also, remember this:
if justice were to have prevailed then all those from all sides who had committed heinous offences would have had to be dealt with in an equal and impartial manner. Justice without even-handedness would not have been justice at all; it would simply have been retribution masquerading in legal robes. One-sided prosecutions would in turn have reopened old wounds and animosities and would greatly have complicated the process of reconciliation and nation-building.
Another question which arises is:
How does one compensate the victims of the past?
There are demands that those who suffered should receive financial compensation. Such reparations might seem, at first glance, to be consistent with natural justice – but there are many practical problems:
- who should be compensated – only the victims from one side or all victims?
- how much should they receive? How do you fix a financial value to a lost son or daughter or to a broken life?
- who should pay? Should it be the Government? Should it be perpetrators? Would they have sufficient resources? By what just and lawful process could guilt and responsibility be apportioned?
We are still grappling with these questions.
Injudicious or one-sided reparations could be fatal to the cause of national reconciliation. We must not forget that one of the main causes of the Second World War was the unjust reparations that were imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles.
There are others who believe that the best form of reparation is to guarantee and entrench the goal of a free, just, democratic and non-racial South Africa for which many of the victims of the conflict struggled and suffered.
We have a prescription for such a society: it is our constitution.
- It was negotiated by all our major parties over a number of years.
- It is the foundation of our new state.
- It guarantees our individual and communal rights and ensures that we will all continue to live in a free and democratic society.
Accordingly, one of our highest priorities must be to ensure that it becomes a living document and that all the rights and values that it embodies are scrupulously observed. We must ensure, in the words of Archbishop Tutu, that the injustices of the past are never again repeated in South Africa.
Justice, however, requires that we should do more than simply observe the letter of our constitution and insist on the protection of our rights. It also places a duty on all South Africans to address the continuing problem of inequity in our country. It requires us to work for a society in which all our people will be able to lead decent lives and attain, in practice, the ideals set out in our constitution. This means that
- We must combat poverty;
- We must create jobs;
- We must improve education;
- We must protect our people from violent crime; and
- Most urgently, that we must work day and night to fight the dreadful pandemic of AIDS that is decimating our population.
This for me is the challenge of restorative justice:
- we must ensure that all the rights guaranteed by our constitution are enjoyed by all our people and communities;
- we must make sure that the injustices of the past are never repeated;
- we must work to eliminate the inequity of poverty, unemployment, deprivation, ignorance and disease.
I believe that if societies emerging from conflict can
- if they can achieve reconciliation; and
- if they can assure real justice for all
then the peace that they have found will be permanent and binding.
We in South Africa have a duty to the rest of the world to continue to show that even in the most complex societies this is possible. You in Birmingham, in Alabama, in the United States have a similar responsibility. Together we must show people caught up in conflict in societies all over the world that there is a better way, that it is possible for former opponents to live together in peace and justice.