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FW De Klerk On The Future Of South Africa, Jacob Zuma And The End Of Apartheid

"The ANC alliance has started to break up, and we need it to happen. We need to move away from racially based politics towards policy-driven politics."

02/10/2017 15:13 SAST | Updated 02/10/2017 16:27 SAST
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Former South African president FW de Klerk.

President FW de Klerk played a major part in shaping today's South Africa by helping to end apartheid. I had the pleasure of interviewing him last year and, with the hindsight of events since then, his answers are even more illuminating. The rest of the interview, including his life lessons, can be found here.

Q: In the wake of the Nkandla scandal, are you still positive about South Africa and its future?

A: I am still positive about South Africa and its future. I think we're facing a few rough years, but the recent judgment by the Constitutional Court has firmly reinstated South Africa's position as a constitutional state and it found President [Jacob] Zuma and Parliament guilty of transgression of the Constitution. This gives me a lot of hope. I expect a realignment in South African politics.

The ANC alliance has started to break up, and we need it to happen. We need to move away from racially based politics towards policy-driven politics, from old divisions to new formations. And I think that's going to happen in the next four or five years in South Africa.

Q: Do you think Zuma will ever step down? Do you think it is more likely that he is recalled instead, or that the end of his presidency will come when the ANC loses a parliamentary majority?

A: I don't foresee that the ANC will lose its parliamentary majority in the next general election, but I also don't see Zuma completing his term of office as president of South Africa until 2019. My expectation is that the ANC and he will reach some sort of agreement, and he will step down by 2017 at the latest when they have their next big national conference.

Q: What made you switch stances from supporting segregation of universities to being anti-apartheid?

A: Not only me, but the broad leadership of the National Party went through a period of deep introspection. Originally, we thought that creating 10 to 11 nation-states and binding them together in something like the European Union could be the solution to giving full political rights to all South Africans. For various reasons, this failed.

From the late 1970s and early 1980s, the conviction grew within the National Party leadership that we had reached a point where the policies implemented and applied were morally indefensible. There was then a split in the National Party, and the right wing that wanted to cling to apartheid or separate development broke away and formed what they called the Conservative Party.

This liberated those of us who remained behind to concentrate on the need for fundamental reform. So, if you ask me what made us abandon the concept of separateness and embrace the concept of inclusivity, of one united South Africa, it was conscience-driven. It wasn't the sanctions, it wasn't the pressure from outside, though those things played a role, it was conscience-driven. We realised that our policies were morally indefensible, that apartheid was wrong and that we had to make a 180-degree turn. It was my privilege, when I became the leader of the National Party and president, to lead this process.

Q: Do you think that the significant part you played in ending apartheid is understated in popular media and more generally in the public?

A: I didn't do what I did to get recognition. It had to be done. Firstly, we had to do what was right. Secondly, we did it to avert catastrophe in South Africa. So, I have no problem with the recognition that I and my team are getting. I am getting a lot of recognition and, at times, I find it actually embarrassing.

I think that Afrikaans culture as such is not under threat: it is alive and well. But I think the Afrikaans language, as one of the 11 official languages and as one of two world standard languages, is under threat.

Q: What was it like winning the Nobel Peace Prize?

A: It was a wonderful recognition. When I accepted it, I made it clear that I was accepting it on behalf of all the people who supported me, in the role that I played. On behalf of the 70 percent of the white electorate who voted "yes" in the referendum that I called in March 1992.

On behalf of the people who were far-sighted enough to say that we have to undertake fundamental change and bring justice to all South Africans. Also, the recognition that I got alongside Nelson Mandela was a great stimulus and inspiration to complete the process. So, it was a great moment, not so much for me as for South Africa.

Q: Do you think the Afrikaans culture is under threat? Do you think more should be done to try to protect it?

A: I think that Afrikaans culture as such is not under threat: it is alive and well. But I think the Afrikaans language, as one of the 11 official languages and as one of two world-standard languages, is under threat. The present regime in South Africa is putting pressure on Afrikaans at a school level, as well as at university and tertiary level. It is driving the language issue towards a point where English is to become the official language of the country, for all official work and for tuition.

That is unconstitutional: the Constitution allows mother-tongue education where it is practicable and as long as it is not misused for racial discrimination. I'm deeply concerned about the pressures that I have observed on Afrikaans as an academic language. But as a spoken language, it is not under threat. There are wonderful Afrikaans cultural occasions arranged around the country. Afrikaans music is doing well. But the Afrikaans language is being targeted by the ANC, as things stand at the moment.

Q: How much of an impact has the Global Leadership Foundation had globally? How might it change in the future to adapt to changing political landscapes?

A: The Global Leadership Foundation works under the radar. Its focus is to give discrete, confidential advice. It is very difficult to measure to what extent we can claim credit. We are not in the game of claiming credit. For us, success is to convince a leader of a country to accept the good advice that we give and, at the end of it, to implement that good advice, because he or she believes that it is the right thing to do, not because the Global Leadership Foundation said it was the right thing to do.

So, we're not in the game of calculating what influence we had where. But, in broad terms, yes, we are making a difference in most of the countries with which we have engaged, or are negotiating with at the moment. I am convinced that this approach of giving discrete and quiet advice, not charging fees for it, is having a good effect and that there is room to expand our activities.