When the deep-rooted system of racial discrimination and segregation in South Africa, known as "Apartheid", was officially terminated in 1994, almost the entire world came to believe that it's possible to put an end to longstanding and complicated disputes and conflicts within the national boundaries through dialog and meaningful negotiations, and that is why the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized the strenuous efforts made by the last president of apartheid era F. W. de Klerk and the first black president of the nation Nelson Mandela in 1993 by awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize.
F. W. de Klerk, who ruled South Africa as the president from August 1989 to May 1994, was the harbinger of negotiations with the previously-outcast, outlawed African National Congress and its jailed leader Nelson Mandela, to find a comprehensive solution for the conflicts and infightings that had taken peace and tranquility away from the African country. Mr. de Klerk was the leader of National Party from February 1989 to September 1997, and almost four months after taking office as the President of South Africa, ordered that Nelson Mandela should be released from prison. This was the juncture when the 27-year term of the iconic black leader in prison was ended and a new page was turned in the contemporary history of South Africa.
After the landslide victory of Nelson Mandela in the 1994 general elections, Frederik Willem de Klerk accepted to work with Mandela as the Deputy President of South Africa in a government of national unity. He retired from active politics in 1997, and then founded the FW de Klerk Foundation which is dedicated to promoting peace, dialog and the settlement of racial and ethnic conflicts across the world.
Mr. De Klerk's efforts in leading negotiations between the National Party and the ANC, which finally led to the complete abolition of the apartheid laws and the beginning of a new era in the history of South Africa, were extremely important and won him widespread popularity in the country. He voluntarily held meetings with Nelson Mandela while he was still in prison, and finally, in a February 1990 speech at the opening session of the South African Parliament, announced that he would be released.
In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, F. W. de Klerk said that resorting to military option for solving the political conflicts deepens enmities and never solves them. He said that the economic sanctions do not work and that the only way of solving conflicts and differences is through genuine negotiations.
Mr. De Klerk, who is the joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, recounts the stories of the apartheid years, his cooperation with the late Nelson Mandela and the future of South Africa, one of the world's emerging economic powers. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Would you please tell us about the emergence and introduction of the apartheid rule in South Africa? Blacks constitute the majority of South Africa's population, and according to the current statistics, around 79% of the South Africa's population is comprised of blacks. So, why did the National Party put in place rules for racial segregation and removed 3.5 non-white South Africans from their homes in the period between 1960 and 1983?
A: In 1948, when the National Party came to power, the Union of South Africa had been in existence for only 38 years. It was essentially a creation of the British and encompassed within artificial borders a number of disparate peoples including Afrikaners, whose right to national self-determination had been universally acknowledged by the international community before the Anglo-Boer War. The new Union of South Africa also included several black nations within its borders whose governance was transferred without consultation and without their consent to the white rulers of the new state.
In 1948, one or other form of segregation was unfortunately and shamefully the general approach to the governance of African and Asian peoples throughout the European empires and in the southern states of the United States. Apartheid was the South African version. However, the primary goal of “apartheid” was the determination of the Afrikaner nation – and the broader white community - to retain their right to national self-determination in the areas of South Africa that they had settled.
In 1958, Prime Minister Verwoerd launched the policy of ‘separate development’ in terms of which the government sought to unscramble the omelet that had been created by the British in 1910 by granting self-government and ultimately independence to the 10 black nations that had been included within the borders of South Africa - within the territories that they had traditionally occupied. The idea was that the white national groups would be able to exercise their right to self-determination in the rest of the country and that the black and white states would co-operate within a Southern African Commonwealth.
This ideological approach did little or nothing to solve the problems of the country because the areas allocated to black South Africans were fragmented, often impoverished and did not include all the territories that they had traditionally occupied. The approach was vehemently rejected by black South Africans and failed to address the reality that the South African economy, by that time, was irreversibly integrated and that there were by then far more black South Africans living in the so-called “white” areas than whites.
Worse still, implementation of the policy involved the forced removal of millions of black South Africans from the areas where they resided and the denial of their right to freedom of movement by the pass laws. This was shocking and unacceptable and was one of the central points of the apology that I made to the TRC on behalf of the National Party in 1996. It points to the dangers of social engineering where policies are determined by ideology – rather than by the realities, interests and rights of ordinary human beings.
Q: When we look at the history of the negotiations between the ruling National Party and the African National Congress that led to the abolition of apartheid laws following the general elections in 1994, we find out that there was a strong opposition to the reforms that were introduced and the efforts that were made to usher in peace and settlement in South Africa, including the signing of the five-point plan for racial peace known as the Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith. How did you finally convince your colleagues in the National Party and the public that the change was needed and racial equality must be implemented?
A: This is simply untrue. To start with, more than 100 apartheid laws had been repealed by the National Party itself before 1986. All the rest were abolished during my presidency. Our whole transformation process was premised on the basis of the establishment of a non-racial constitutional democracy – a goal which was signed by all parties involved in the negotiations in the Declaration of Intent in December 1991. The white electorate gave the National Party mandates to implement far-reaching constitutional reforms in the elections of 1987 and 1989. In 1992, they voted once again overwhelmingly, by 69%, in favor of the transformation process that I had initiated.
Q: One year after you became president, you announced in your speech at the opening session of the Parliament, that ANC and other banned political parties will be unbanned, and that Nelson Mandela would be released after serving a 27-year term in prison. This was a historic decision that heralded the beginning of a new era in the contemporary politics of South Africa. What led you to make this decision? Had you faced opposition from the NP while announcing your plan for releasing Nelson Mandela?
A: I made the speech on 2 February 1990 only four and a half months, and not a year, after my inauguration. My colleagues and I made the decision to embark on a process of constitutional transformation after years of intensive internal debate from which we had concluded that our previous policies stood no chance of bringing about a just and workable solution to the problems of our country. I had almost universal backing within the NP caucus for the initiatives that I announced, including the release of Nelson Mandela.
Q: Nelson Mandela has just passed away, and the international community lamented his demise as he was seen as an iconic figure who contributed to ending the plight of the black South Africans. Would you please tell us more about your cooperation with him, both during the negotiation process, and after his election as the president? You served as Mandela's deputy for two years. Why did you choose to work so closely with Mandela, and how was the experience of working with him? What's your feeling now that he is gone?
A: When we first met, Nelson Mandela and I both concluded that we could do business with one another. However, we were leaders of opposing political parties locked in crucial negotiations about the future of our country. I had to work closely with him because he was the leader of the largest political formation in the country. We often clashed – also when we served together in the Government of National Unity. When we both retired from active politics, we became friends, and frequently expressed our recognition of the essential roles that we had both played in building our non-racial constitutional democracy.
Q: On April 14, 1994, you had a heated televised debate with Nelson Mandela prior to the general elections which brought him to power as the nation's first black president. You clashed on a number of issues. However, at the end of the debate, you held each other's hand in front of the cameras and called for national unity and reconciliation. Would you please tell us more about that debate? Did you expect Mandela to appear so fierce and vociferous in the debate?
A: It was the kind of boisterous political debate that often precedes important elections. We were leaders of opposing parties and both tried to score as many points as we could. That is what leaders do in democracies.
Q: You are a white South African, and once said that you had five servants, including three colored and two blacks. As a leader and politician, what did you think about the laws stipulating racial segregation and the division of public places based on race and ethnic belongings? In the 1992 white-only referendum which you held, 68% of the participants voted for the continued negotiations for the abolition of apartheid laws. So even the white people wanted the black majority of South Africa to have equal rights with them. What's your take on that?
A: How many servants does the President of Iran, or the President of the United States have? I have already expressed my opposition to such laws and dedicated my presidency to the abolition of apartheid. The 1992 referendum had nothing to do with the abolition of apartheid laws which by that time for all practical purposes no longer existed. It was about the continuation of negotiations to establish a non-racial constitutional democracy.
Q: In a May 20, 2012 interview, you expressed your viewpoints about the moral grounds of apartheid and its acceptability. Many of your fellow citizens criticized your remarks, because they believed you hadn't condemned apartheid as a crime and as morally indefensible, and ruled out that it was "repugnant." What's your response to those who had criticized you at that time? Somewhere in the same interview, you say that you're a "convert." So it means that you initially tended to favor the apartheid policies, but gradually come to realize that it was not working. Is this true? May you please elaborate more on that?
A: I have repeatedly stated that my views were taken out of context. I was talking about why I had supported separate development as a young man, not my view of apartheid at the time of the interview. It was my generation of NP leaders who took the initiative to abolish apartheid and to construct a new non-racial constitutional system.
Q: In a February 21, 2011 interview with the Huffington Post, you said that South Africa has been facing problems such as unemployment and illiteracy over the past 12 years. For example, you noted that around 40% of the black South Africans are jobless. What are the possible reasons for that? Do you want to imply that the successive governments after your retirement failed to realize the economic promises you had made to the people? What's your take on that?
A: The causes of unemployment include the failure of our education system to produce people who are properly qualified to enter the job market; aggressive trade unions, with the worst employer/trade union relations in the world; stifling government regulations and the impact on investment of real or perceived threats to property rights. South Africa implemented sound macro-economic policies under Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, but since then the situation has deteriorated. As a result we are not nearly achieving our growth potential.
Q: You played a pivotal and indispensable role in ending the rule of apartheid and bringing in a comprehensive democracy in South Africa that would fulfill the legitimate demands of all citizens. You laid the groundwork for the drafting of new constitution and the adoption of the bill of rights. What were the features of the new constitution and the bill of rights that made them so unique? How could these two documents contribute to the solidification of justice and democracy in South Africa?
A: The main features of our constitution are set out in the founding values in section 1. They include human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. They also require non-racialism and non-sexism and the establishment of a genuine multiparty democracy that is open, accountable and responsive. Most crucially, they include the principle that the constitution and the rule of law are supreme. This means that any law or action by the state or anyone else can be struck down by independent courts if they do not comply with the constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Q: While negotiating with Nelson Mandel and the ANC to work out a solution for the woes of the black South Africans and find ways for ending apartheid, had you ever thought of a day when the Nobel Foundation would recognize your endeavor as a turning point in the world history and grant you the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993?
A: The possibility of winning the Nobel Peace Prize did not even enter my thoughts when I helped to initiate the changes that led to the transformation of our society. I regard the prize not primarily as a reward for my own contribution but as recognition of the essential contribution made by all my colleagues and supporters, and particularly the 69% of white voters who voted yes in the 1992 referendum - despite the enormous threats and risks that radical change always involves.
Q: The FW de Klerk Foundation which you established in 1999 is pursuing different objectives, and of course one of them is to promote national unity and solidarity in the nations that are made of different ethnic minorities. As a leader who has experienced working at the highest executive level in a society with serious racial issues and concerns, what do you think is the best way for the multilingual, multi-racial societies to maintain peace, unity and cohesion while preserving the identity and traditions of different tribes and races?
A: In fact, the Foundation is essentially committed to the same goals that motivated me during my presidency, [namely] the promotion and support of non-racial constitutional democracy and the maintenance of positive relations in multicultural societies. The latter goal has relevance to countries throughout the world, since nearly all the conflicts that we now experience are between ethnic, linguistic and religious communities within the same countries and no longer between countries themselves. In our view the solution is the acceptance of sound principles of multiculturalism in which minorities are able to maintain their identities while working in tolerance and goodwill with other communities as parts of overarching nations.
Q: The case of your successful endeavor with the late Nelson Mandela in ending apartheid showed that negotiations based on mutual respect and on equal footing can be the most effective means of solving the complicated disputes. I would like to ask your viewpoint on the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the six world powers over Tehran's nuclear dossier. The United States has sporadically threatened Iran with increased economic sanctions or leaving the negotiation table and resorting to a military option. Would you please tell us about the effectiveness of negotiations as an instrument of conflict resolution, specifically in the case of Iran?
A: We have learned three things: firstly that the military option deepens enmities and never solves problems; secondly that sanctions do not work; and thirdly that the only way of solving conflicts and differences is through genuine negotiations.