Thank you for the honour to address this seminal event: ‘the 25 Years since 2 February 1990, a Quarter Century of Building and Defending Non-Racial Constitutional Democracy’.
Historically, 2 February 1990 was a moment of profundity. In like manner, 2 February 2015, is an occasion surcharged with historical significance.
It is now common course that the speech President FW de Klerk delivered on that fateful day passed into history as one of the landmark addresses that presaged a new historical period, perhaps not only for our country but also for the continent of Africa and the world at large.
Apartheid was not just a South African problem. It was in essence a stain on humanity at large. It was a social system that gave a bad name to the very notion of being human. It was for this reason that the United Nations called it “a crime against humanity”. The delivery of this epoch-making speech therefore sounded the death knell to the last vestige of European colonialism anywhere on the African continent. In effect it unveiled a truly post-colonial era.
This is the speech that set the late President Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners free, unbanned political organisations and, thereby, unleashed propitious conditions for a new dawn.
Few have been occasions in the ever evolving, jumbled human story known as history where a society changed from one form to another with such a demonstrable measure of success.
This is not to romanticise our history of transition from apartheid to democracy. It was a deeply painful and difficult moment.
That much is true. When political observers labeled this epochal event ‘the South African miracle’ they were impelled into this metaphysical overdrive by the realisation that our peculiar experience had disproved the widely expected South African apocalypse.
It was indeed a one of a kind political experience. Those with an Apollonian cast would put this down to the actions of men and women of vision; men and women who rationalised that we either swim together or sink together.
I would submit that no matter how historiography looks at this sensitive stage in South Africa’s history, the historical consensus will always be that President De Klerk measured up to historical exigency. On this point the historical record will not falter.
It was through accepting the doctrine of historical necessity that President De Klerk was able to unlock new vistas. It was, as Denis Diderot would say, “different times, different circumstances, a different philosophy”.
The late President Mandela was prompted by the same realisation when he called President De Klerk “a man of integrity”.
Against this background, let me use the remainder of this address to share my observations about post-apartheid South Africa, 20 years on. In this regard, I propose to look at the past 20 years of our system of democracy through the interpretative framework of the CODESA model.
In letter and in spirit, our current Constitution is the outcome of CODESA. Further, intellectually and politically, it is a reflection of the driving impulse of CODESA. In turn, our Constitution sets out the parameters within which we can advance society to higher levels of development, materially and philosophically.
I will therefore maintain that if we all look back to this political model that guided our collective action through the turbulence of the early 1990s, we will rediscover this compass we so need to find our way. Perhaps the persistent difficulties engulfing our country at this point signal our digression from this model rather than its failure to see us through.