On 17 March 1992, in a referendum restricted to White voters, 68.73% answered “Yes” to the question, “Do you support continuation of the reform process which the state president began on 2 February, 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?”
An interim constitution was ratified by the Multiparty Negotiating Forum on 18 November 1993, preceding South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994.
Two decades have passed since those heady days, and South Africans still live in tumultuous times. The then President, FW de Klerk, was a key figure in achieving a negotiated settlement against a backdrop of a potential civil war.
Mr. De Klerk has since been portrayed in various ways: as a pragmatist who understood the grave dangers of continuing minority rule; as a man who betrayed the interests of his constituency; as a patriot who acted in the broader interests of the South African nation.
The achievement of a negotiated settlement was in itself remarkable, given third-force violence against civilians, massacres in Boipatong and Bisho, the assassination of Chris Hani, brinkmanship by traditionalists, and killings by extremists on both ends of the political spectrum, all right up to the election date. All South Africans can rightly be proud of that moment on 27 April 1994 when the country regained its place amongst the international community of nations.
Alas, the dream faded rather quickly, given the historical antipathies, ideological agendas, massive inequalities and quite simply, greed and a lust for power. We all know the story as it is a familiar one on the continent. The mainstream from all population groups embraced reconciliation at the dawn of democracy in SA.
Almost twenty years later, the dream lies in tatters and there are many years of darkness and desolation ahead. The ANC will rule, we are told, “’til Jesus comes”. Now, with 20-20 hindsight, would South Africans choose a different solution to the one negotiated in the early 1990s? In your opinion, would there have been any other way at the time, and is there any other way now? Did FW do the right thing? What would you have done in his place?
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