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SPEECH: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF SOUTH AFRICA’S HISTORIC CONSTITUTIONAL TRANSFORMATION: DEFENDING THE CONSTITUTION AND LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

6JuneOpt

Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this celebration of the 20thanniversary of the FW de Klerk Foundation in conjunction with the 25thanniversary of the New South Africa.  I should like to share a few ideas about the process that led to the establishment of our constitutional democracy - and then to say a few words about the work of the Foundation.

Every morning since I became politically-conscious I have woken up and worried about the future of the country.  It is this that distinguishes South Africans from those other peoples in the world who have never had to worry about existential threats - who view politics in terms of economic and social policy, of regular elections and occasional scandals - rather than survival. 

It means that we South Africans have never had the option of complacency.  It has required a constant process of introspection and a never-ending search for some path out of the impasses that have always seemed to confront us.

When I was young, I worried about the future of the Afrikaner nation.  Later, after I went into politics, I worried about how white South Africans would be able to end a manifestly unjust situation and dismount the tiger of minority rule - on which history had placed us - without being devoured.  I remember the desperate period in the mid-1980s following the Rubicon Speech.  The economy was in crisis; we were increasingly isolated; we were fighting a low-level war against the surrogate forces of the Soviet Union; we were confronted with violent uprisings in many parts of the country. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

Then toward the end of the 1980s the logjam in which we found ourselves began to shift:

  • Following the restoration of order throughout the country, the ANC - led initially by Nelson Mandela from his prison cell in Cape Town - began to accept that the problems of South Africa could be resolved only through negotiations.The government had already reached a similar conclusion.
  • After the SADF’s victory at the Battle of the Lomba River in October 1987 - a financially exhausted Soviet Union exerted pressure on Angola and Cuba to reach an agreement with South Africa. The result was the conclusion of the tripartite agreement of 1988 that included the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola in conjunction with the implementation of the UN’s independence process in Namibia.
  • The successful process in Namibia - in terms of which the territory gained independence with a proper democratic constitution - that is still in place - reassured South Africans that fundamental rights could be protected by strongly-entrenched constitutional agreements.
  • Finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union - symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 - helped to address the government’s deep concern regarding the influence of the South African Communist Party - backed up by the Soviet Union - over the ANC.

We realised that the circumstances would never again be so favorable for constitutional negotiations as they were at the beginning of 1990.  The longer we waited to initiate negotiations the more the balance of forces would inexorably shift against us.  And so, on 2 February 1990, I rose in Parliament to make the announcements that would change South Africa forever.

 

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