SOUTH AFRICA AFTER TWENTY YEARS OF CHANGE: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Former President / South Africa/ H.E. de Klerk
Historians will regard the beginning of February 1990 as the watershed of South Africa’s modern history. There were many events that opened the way to the speech that I delivered to the South African Parliament on 2 February 1990. However, the nine days between it and the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February changed South Africa forever. Those crucial nine days set the country irreversibly on the road to a different and, I believe, a much better future.
This afternoon I would like to look back over the 20 tumultuous years since then and express some views on the lessons that we have learned that might also be relevant for the world.
Change was a process that did not start with me. My predecessor President P W Botha clearly understood the need for change - or as he put it, to ‘adapt or die’. For some years black South Africans and the international community had been vociferously demanding that the South African government should dismount the tiger of white domination on which history and circumstance had placed it.
White South Africans had three concerns regarding the tiger dismounting process:
Firstly, how would they - and particularly Afrikaners - be able to maintain (in a one man, one vote dispensation) the right to national self-determination that had been the central theme of their history for more than 150 years?
Secondly, how could they be sure that universal franchise would not lead quickly to the chaos and tyranny that had sadly characterised the decolonisation process in so many other parts of Africa?
Finally, the government was worried about the possibility of a communist take-over.
President Botha’s response to the question of how one dismounts a tiger - was that one does it quite gingerly - one foot at a time - with as much military fire-power as one can muster. The first foot was the decision to bring Coloured and Indian South Africans into the parliamentary system by means of the tricameral constitution of 1983 - while at the same time dispensing with some of the most controversial apartheid legislation.
By 1986 Coloured and Indian minorities theoretically enjoyed equal rights with whites; far-reaching labour reforms had been introduced and more than 100 discriminatory laws had been repealed. The crucial process of lowering the second foot to the ground - the question of black political rights - was referred to the President’s Council which considered at length all sorts of extensions of constitutional models.
Reforms nearly always unleash a revolution of rising expectations. One of the results of the far-reaching reforms of the early 80s was widespread unrest led by the newly established United Democratic Front. By the end of 1985 nightly scenes of turmoil in the black townships had brought about a collapse of international confidence in the government’s ability to control the situation. South Africa was faced with a dire economic crisis as the rand collapsed and foreign banks refused to roll over $14 billion
in short-term international loans. Order was restored only after the imposition of the 1986 state of emergency.
In the winter of 1986 there appeared to be very little hope for the future.
And yet within three and a half years the situation had changed entirely. What factors contributed to the dramatic changes that led to 2 February 1990?
The first factor was the government’s realisation that its partition policies had failed and held no prospect whatsoever of bringing about a just or workable solution. The partition of the country on which it was based was hopelessly unfair – with the 78% black majority being allocated only 13 % of the land; the economy – and the supposedly white cities - were becoming more integrated with each year that passed; whites did not constitute a majority in any geographic region of the country; and the solution was vehemently rejected by a vast majority of blacks, coloureds and Indians.
A critically important factor was the acceptance by all sides that there could be neither a military nor a revolutionary victory – and that continuing conflict would simply turn South African into a wasteland. The security forces had accepted this reality by the early 80s. The ANC did so only after the 1986 state of emergency restored order in the country. Discreet contacts between the ANC and the government - originally initiated through Nelson Mandela while he was still in prison - enabled both sides to explore possibilities for negotiated solutions.
Sanctions were, of course, also a factor. By the mid-80s our economy was increasingly isolated and we had to deal with the crisis caused by the refusal of international banks in 1985 to roll over our short term loans. Sanctions caused enormous distortions in the economy and probably cost us 1.5% growth per annum. Nevertheless, the economy actually grew at an annual rate of 2.7% between April 1986 and February 1989. Sanctions were often counter-productive. They increased opposition to foreign interference – and hobbled two of the greatest forces for change – economic growth and exposure to the world.
Economic growth of the 60s and 70s was a major change factor. Between 1970 and 1994 the black share of personal disposable income increased from 29% to almost 50%. Millions of black South Africans moved to the cities and improved their standard of living and education. By 1989 they had begun to occupy key positions in the industrial and commercial sectors.
Increasingly they were becoming indispensable in the white-collar professions. By 1994 there were more black South Africans at university than whites.
Similar changes were taking place in the white Afrikaner community. In the decades following 1960 a whole generation of young Afrikaners moved from the working class to the middle class. They graduated from university and travelled abroad – and were inevitably influenced by global values. The new generation no longer shared the fiery nationalism of their parents and grandparents. By the early ‘eighties they were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with many aspects of apartheid – and wanted the NP leadership to find some way of dismounting the tiger of growing black resentment without being devoured. By 1989 they were ripe for change.
A further factor was the successful conclusion of a peace agreement in 1988 between South Africa, Cuba and Angola. This resulted in the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola, the implementation of UN resolution 435 and the independence of Namibia. The negotiations with the Angolans and the Cubans and the subsequent successful implementation of the UN independence plan during 1989 reassured the government that it could secure its core interests through negotiations with its opponents.
The final – and critically important - factor for change was the collapse of global communism in 1989. At a stroke, it removed the government’s primary strategic concern. The demise of international expansionist communism and the manifest success of the free market economies also meant that 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.
By the time I became president in September 1989 the National Party was already committed to fundamental transformation. After my election as leader of the National Party in February 1989 I had made it clear that our goal was “a new South Africa, a totally changed South Africa”. I told my supporters after the September 1989 election that “the main issue was not whether all South Africans should be accommodated in future election, but how this should be done”. However, the collapse of Soviet communism enabled us to accelerate the process. When history opens a window of opportunity it is important to jump through it. We knew that the circumstances for a reasonable constitutional settlement would never again be so favourable. So we jumped.
There are a few points that emerge from all of this:
Firstly, it would have been virtually impossible for us to have done in 1980 what we did in 1990. White public opinion would not have tolerated it. As late as 1986 only 30% of whites supported the idea of negotiations with the ANC. Also, what we regarded as our main strategic threat - the SA Communist Party supported by the Soviet Union - was still a dominant factor throughout most of the 80s; Secondly, it would have been very difficult for us to initiate successful constitutional negotiations in South Africa If we had not been able to hold the line along the Namibian/Angolan border in the period after 1975. Our negotiating prospects would have been severely weakened if Cuban forces had not withdrawn from Angola and if Soviet-backed SWAPO forces had been permitted to achieve a military victory in Namibia.
It would have been equally impossible for us to initiate successful negotiations had we not been able to restore order after the unrest of the mid 80s.
In my speech of 2 February 1990 I spelled a vision that included “a new, democratic constitution; universal franchise; no domination; equality before an independent judiciary; the protection of minorities as well as of individual rights; freedom of religion; a sound economy based on proven economic principles and private enterprise...” In the end, we succeeded in achieving all these objectives - including some additional goals such as our quasi-federal system of provinces.
The question is: what have we learned during the past twenty years and what can the world learn from our experience?
In the first place, I believe that our experience is relevant to the world. The reality is that, in the new millennium, the most serious threat to peace no longer comes from wars between countries. It comes from conflicts between cultural, language, ethnic and religious communities within the same countries.
Throughout the world populations are becoming more cosmopolitan: the world’s 200 countries now include more than 6 000 different cultural communities. More than 130 countries have cultural minorities comprising more than 10% of their populations.
Cultural diversity is being augmented by new waves of migrants seeking economic opportunities and freedom. Everywhere people are on the move - and everywhere they are confronting once homogenous societies with new challenges.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute there were 19 serious conflicts in the world in 2004, nearly all of which were cultural and religious conflicts inside countries. Six of these conflicts were in Africa and six in Asia. Three were in the Americas and three in the Middle East and one was in Europe.
Nearly all the conflicts have their roots in the failure to manage diversity. Too often, minority communities feel that they are not sufficiently accommodated, politically or culturally, in the processes by which they are governed. They feel that their governments are insensitive to their languages and cultures; that they are subject to discrimination, repression and efforts to integrate them forcibly into the majority culture.
This sense of alienation often breaks out in conflict, rebellion, demands for secession and sometimes in acts of terrorism. Present or recent conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey and in many countries in Africa provide more examples of this phenomenon.
South Africa, with our great variety of racial, cultural, language and religious communities could well become a laboratory for multiculturalism throughout the world.
Secondly, the constitutional agreement is a monument to the fact that, given the right circumstances and a serious commitment from all sides, even the most difficult disputes can be resolved in a peaceful and negotiated manner. It means that even in the most difficult situations there is an alternative to the horror and hopelessness of violence, war and division.
Looking back on our experience we can identify the following key factors that contributed to the success of our negotiations that might also be relevant to other divided societies throughout the world:
There must be a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution by all the main parties. The balance of forces must be such that no party should think that it can successfully impose its will on the others. Perceptions of relative power - and projections of future shifts in the balance of power - are crucial. It is such perceptions that will often determine the demands and concessions that parties will make at the negotiating table.
Parties must abandon their stereotypes of their opponents. Once they get to know their opponents, they usually discover that they are not nearly as bad as they had imagined - or as they had depicted them in their own propaganda. To their amazement they will often discover that they share many of the same aspirations for the future. They all want peace. They all want prosperity and freedom. They all want security and a better life for their children.
Parties must search for points of common interest. Parties must search for such areas of shared interest and build binding agreements on them. In the process, they will find that it much easier to reach agreement on the future than on the past.
Timing is crucial. Had we started our negotiation initiative earlier - say, in the middle ‘seventies - it is doubtful that the National Party government would have been able to take its followers with it. If we had launched our initiative too late, we might have entered the negotiation process when the balance of power had begun to shift
against us - as Ian Smith did in Zimbabwe. History sometimes opens a window of opportunity, when all the forces involved are ripe for negotiation. It is the task of statesmen to recognise such windows and lead their followers through, before history once again slams the window shut.
Inclusivity. Parties cannot dictate with whom they will or will not negotiate. If all the parties to the conflict are not present - and not represented by their chosen leaders - negotiations will not succeed. One of the major problems that we encountered were the boycotts of the talks that were initiated first by the ANC and then by the IFP. It was essential for us to persuade all the major parties to rejoin the process before the elections. This we ultimately managed to do with only eight days to spare!
Leadership. It is equally important for parties to be able to take their constituencies with them. Strong and determined leadership is essential. An important, but time -consuming - factor in our negotiations was the lengthy process for participants to consult their constituencies before important decisions. Leaders must be able to develop personal relationships based on mutual trust and confidence. They must also develop a strong sense of patience and the fortitude to deal with the frequent frustrations and obstacles. In our case - and despite frequent sharp differences of opinion - Nelson Mandela and I always somehow managed to defuse the major crises which developed during the negotiation process.
Mechanisms. In our negotiations we found it very useful to develop special mechanisms to deal with deadlocks and problems. One such mechanism was a two-man committee of senior officials, whose task it was to suggest compromises and solutions when deadlocks and problems arose.
Risk. Ultimately, negotiators must be prepared to take risks to assure a successful outcome to their efforts. Few agreements will ever be absolutely water-tight and at some juncture a leap of faith will usually be unavoidable.
Win/win outcomes. The success of negotiations will ultimately depend on the ability of the negotiators to address the reasonable interests and concerns of all parties. One-sided solutions will not last and simply make the eventual resumption of genuine negotiations more difficult.
Finally, the most important lesson from South Africa’s experience is that peace makes all the sacrifices, risks, and crises worthwhile.
Consider the peace dividends that South Africa has received since 1994:
With 6.5% of the population, South Africa produces 37.3% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP.
South Africa experienced uninterrupted economic growth between 1994 and 2008 - but like the rest of the world went into recession during 2009. In the four years ending in 2007 economic growth averaged 5.1%.
Our multi-racial middle class has grown rapidly since 1994. Almost 20% of South Africa’s household’s now have middle class incomes.
Tourism has grown dramatically since 1994 - at three times the international rate during 2006 - and now contributes 8.3% of GDP- which is greater that the contribution of the mining sector.
South Africa produced more than 600 000 motor vehicles in 2008 and the automotive sector contributes about 7.5% to GDP. South Africa exported 170 000 vehicles in 2007.
During the past twenty years South Africa has successfully moved out of the growing international isolation of the pre-1990 years to acceptance
and prominence on the world stage. We now have 124 overseas missions - compared with only 24 in 1990.
South Africa is the current rugby world champion and last year had the highest ranked cricket team. South African golfers have won more major tournaments than those of any nation except the USA. Next month we will be hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
During the past 20 years Government has built more than 3 million houses - enough to house almost a quarter of the total population. Government has also improved access of households throughout the country to electricity, water and sanitation.
None of this would have been possible had we not taken all the risks involved in choosing a peaceful negotiated settlement.
However, our successes do not detract from the very real problems that confront us which include
the AIDS pandemic;
the problem of poverty – that almost half our population has yet to benefit materially from our new democracy;
the closely linked problems of unemployment and crime;
the huge skills shortage; and
the need for a balanced transformation process.
However, the problems of peaceful societies can be resolved with hard work; appropriate policies and the best use of national resources. The problems of societies divided by conflict can ultimately be solved only by peace.
Finally, perhaps the greatest lesson that we have learned and that we are still learning is that you never really solve problems in human relations. There is no point at which you can clap yourself on the back and walk away from your success. All human relationships - including those between communities in multicultural societies - require constant and continuing attention, care, communication and commitment. Without these, the most promising relationships very soon unravel. If you don’t believe me, just see what happens if you don’t communicate properly with your wife or your husband for two weeks!
Our greatest challenge in South Africa is to keep the miracle of our peaceful transition to democracy and justice alive and successful. This will require open communication, consideration and scrupulous commitment by all parties to the historic agreements on which our new society is based. The best contribution that we in South Africa can make will be to work day and night for the continued success of our own complex multicultural society. We must continue to show the world that there is another way, that different cultural communities can coexist harmoniously within the same States, that there is a peaceful solution to even the most complex problems and disputes.