Article published in Sunday Times on FW de Klerk's CNN interview
F W DE KLERK’S JOURNEY FROM APARTHEID TO NON-RACIAL DEMOCRACY
By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the F W de Klerk Foundation
The reaction to F W de Klerk’s recent interview with Christiane Amanpour - in which he discussed the factors that had motivated him as a young politician - shows how difficult it still is for South Africans to have a rational discussion about our past.
Of course De Klerk supported National Party policies when he was a young man. He had grown up in an intensely political home. His father was a prominent cabinet minister and his uncle – Hans Strijdom – had been Prime Minister. During his youth the main political issue was the struggle to re-establish a republic in which Afrikaners would be able to regain the national sovereignty that they had lost during the Anglo-Boer War.
It was only at the beginning of the 1960s with the independence of many African countries that the main focus of South African politics shifted to the relationship between black and white South Africans. Verwoerd’s response to the winds of change was to launch his own process of internal decolonisation. He would unscramble the omelet that British imperialists had created in 1910 when they had arbitrarily included some of the existing peoples of southern Africa in the Union of South Africa – and excluded others.
Verwoerd postulated a vision of a Southern African constellation of independent states, coexisting in a spirit of good-neighborliness. Capital cities were built; border industries were developed; universities were established; Chief Ministers and Presidents were appointed. Think tanks were established that supported the burgeoning ideology. It was quite easy for young NP supporters to be swept up by Verwoerd’s vision.
Of course, the whole scheme – like many other ideologies – was delusional. The division of land – with black South Africans receiving only 13.7 % scattered in dozens of detached patches - was clearly unfair. South Africa’s economy was becoming more integrated with every year that passed. Black South Africans constituted a substantial majority in the supposedly ‘white’ areas and were vehemently opposed to the policy.
By the end of the ‘seventies Verwoerd’s grandiose scheme had unraveled into a hotch-potch of unviable states and tin-pot dictatorships. Worse still, it involved the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of people from settled communities in the so-called ‘white’ part of the country to the destitution of the homelands.
It was evident to all but the most blinkered NP supporters that separate development could not solve South Africa’s problems. However, the new NP leader, P W Botha, still believed that apartheid could be reformed. Real trade union rights were extended to black workers; more than 100 apartheid laws were repealed; coloureds and Indians were included and in the Tricameral Constitution; and the President’s Council was instructed to consider ways of accommodating the rights of black South Africans in the ‘white’ areas.
Botha’s reforms simply fueled black expectations and demands for full political rights in a single country. Although he accepted the need to adapt or die, he could not cross the Rubicon.
That task was left to his successor, F W de Klerk. By 1987 he and the NP leadership had concluded that apartheid was morally unjustifiable and that it had to be abandoned in its totality. They further decided that South Africa’s problems could be resolved only by entering into negotiations with the genuine representatives of all its people. The goal would be to establish a non-racial constitutional democracy in which the rights of all South Africans and all our communities would be protected.
On 2 February 1990 De Klerk launched the initiatives that opened the way to inclusive constitutional negotiations. He presided over the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws and the reincorporation of the national states. He persuaded his constituency to accept the risks involved in accepting a one-man, one-vote dispensation and played a leading role in the negotiations that led ultimately to the adoption of our non-racial constitutional democracy in 1996.
De Klerk identifies himself completely with the values and aspirations expressed in our Constitution and has dedicated himself, in his retirement, to doing everything he can to uphold the Constitution. He has no residual belief in, or attachment to, separate development. In May 1997, in his address to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he made a full and sincere apology to the millions of South Africans who had suffered as a result of apartheid.
Like so many white South Africans of his generation, De Klerk’s career has been a journey from the narrow nationalistic and exclusive perspectives that he espoused as a young man, to the much broader, more just and inclusive non-racial constitutionalism that he now espouses. We South Africans need to spend more time discussing our respective journeys to the new South Africa. Perhaps it will help us to find one another on the road to the future.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation