F.W. De Klerk on “Paths to progress”

Cape Town, 2 February 2012

We decided to dedicate this conference to the discussion of alternative paths to progress, regarding some of the main challenges confronting South Africa.  We chose the pressing problems of education, unemployment, economic growth and land reform – but there are many other topics on which we could have focussed as well.

The conference is, in one sense, a response to President Jacob Zuma’s recent call “on all South Africans to join a national dialogue on the future of the country.”  It also attempts to contribute to the national consensus and national compact that the National Planning Commission envisaged in its National Diagnostic Report last year.

For this reason, we invited Mr Kuben Naidoo of the NPC to deliver the keynote address this morning.  We believe that the sensible analysis, that has been developed by the National Planning Commission, provides a framework for dialogue – a dialogue that could lead to the development of a national consensus on the future of South Africa.

Both President Zuma and the National Planning Commission are right:  we do need to talk to one another.

The reality is that important components of our society have grown apart since the exciting formative years of our new democracy.

•    We are no longer talking to one another as we did during the 90s.  We are too often shouting at one another from behind barricades of race, class and political ideology.
•    We are no longer sufficiently taking into consideration one another’s aspirations, interests and concerns.  Instead we are breaking down into factions – each one angrily pursuing its own objectives.

And yet we all know that we will not succeed unless we work together.  Two years ago, during the magical interlude of the Soccer World Cup, we showed the world and ourselves what we South Africans are capable of achieving when we lay our differences aside.

We must squarely face the fact, that although we have made great progress in many areas since 1994, we are confronted by enormous challenges that we can overcome only if we work together.  With some of these challenges we have dealt today:
•    the challenge of empowering our children through decent education;
•    the challenge of restoring dignity to 35% of our population by creating jobs;  and
•    the challenge of ensuring rapid and sustained economic growth for the benefit of all our people.
•    Above all, the challenge of promoting real equality to ensure that all South Africans – and not just the richest thirty or forty percent – benefit from our new democracy.

In approaching these and other burning issues through dialogue, we should, however, lay down some ground rules:

Firstly, if we wish to succeed the process should be as inclusive as possible – just as it was at CODESA.  All those who can make a meaningful contribution to the debate – government, business, labour, civil society and religious groups – should be at the table.  There must be a real effort to find common ground and to reach agreement on effective solutions.

In particular, we must check divisive agendas at the door.  We are not going to succeed on a basis where we continue to pit one race against the others;  or workers against employers; or the poor against the rich.    We shall never reach consensus if we engage with one another burdened by our respective prejudices, and senses of guilt and of historic grievance.

Secondly, we should leave our ideologies outside the conference room.  Ideologies are by definition exclusive.  They immediately create an inner circle of those whose views accord with the ideology – and exclude all those who do not.  Ideologies also inhibit open debate by excluding views and approaches that do not comply with their orthodoxies.

We need a pragmatic dialogue in which the views of all participants are respected and weighed in the light of practical experience.  Since 1994 South Africa has done best when it has followed pragmatic policies – and it has done worst when it has allowed itself to be swayed by ideologies.  For most of the past 18 years we followed exemplary macro-economic policies.  At one stage we had a budget surplus and had reduced our national debt to only 23% of GDP.  Now it is heading above 40%.

•    We cannot afford ideologies that are directed toward assuring hegemony for this or that class or section of our society.
•    We cannot revert to ideologies where individual South Africans’ employment or promotion prospects are once again  determined by their race;
•    We cannot accept ideologies that characterise some of our people as colonialists and peripheral – while others are seen as being central to our national identity.
•    We cannot tolerate residual ideologies that continue to regard people as superior or inferior because of their race.

Finally, we need a framework of values, goals and rules within which the debate can take place.

Eighteen years ago we reached such a consensus and articulated it in our new Constitution.  The Constitution is founded on the principles of equality, human dignity and the equal enjoyment of all rights.  It is based on non-racialism and the supremacy of the law.  It creates a democracy in which government is accountable, responsive and open.  It creates institutions to serve our people: an independent judiciary and independent institutions to support constitutional values and rights.  It establishes an executive branch that is the servant – and not the master – of the people.  It creates a legislature that is supposed to represent the voters and hold government to account.

The Constitution is transformative document.  It rejects the idea that we should maintain the status quo.  It calls on all of us to:
•    Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
•    Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is  based on the will of the people and every citizen is protected equally by law;  and
•    To improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.

It specifically empowers government to take steps to promote equality.  At the same time, it protects the reasonable interests of all South Africans and prohibits unfair discrimination.

There is nothing wrong with these values and goals.  Our national dialogue should focus on the many areas where we have failed to live up to these values and on reasonable and practical steps to achieve these goals to the benefit of all our people.

I remain confident about the future of this wonderful country.  But if we want to achieve our full potential we will need to talk with one another and work together to build a better life for all.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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