Two dacades on, new SA reflects

2010-02-02 11:29

TWENTY years after announcing president Nelson Mandela’s release

from the Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, the Western Cape, former State

president, FW de Klerk, will today commemorate the speech that began dismantling

the apartheid regime.

De Klerk will give the closing address at a conference

commemorating his February 2 1990 speech to South Africa’s Parliament, which

called for a new democratic Constitution, lifted the ban on dissident political

parties and announced the release of all political prisoners, including


Conference organisers said De Klerk’s speech “opened the way to

South Africa’s constitutional transformation” and “announced the steps –

including the release of Mr Nelson Mandela – which helped to open the way to the

democratic transformation of South Africa”.

“It really was a turning point of South African history,” said Dave

Steward, executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation, which organised the

conference and which the former president chairs.

De Klerk, South Africa’s president from 1989 to 1994, had been in

office for just five years when he delivered the historic speech. A one-time

hard-liner in the pro-apartheid National Party, he would go down in South

African history as the last apartheid president.

Mandela, for his part, was released nine days later – on February

11 1990 – ending his 27-year imprisonment. He would go on to become the

country’s first democratically elected leader.

The two – De Klerk and Mandela – shared the Nobel Peace Prize in

1993 for their work in ending the apartheid regime and building a new democratic

South Africa.

But 20 years ago, De Klerk’s speech was not an obvious political

move, analysts told AFP.

“For a white president to stand up and say, as De Klerk effectively

did, that the South African government was willing to reconsider the principle

of white minority rule was, at the time, an earth-shattering political

development,” said Laurence Caromba, a South African political analyst.

“It was a brave move. A very brave move in the face of potential

disaster,” said Paul Graham, executive director of the Institute for Democracy

in Southern Africa.

“At the time, South Africa’s divisive political system had brought

the nation to the brink of civil war. The economy was collapsing under the

weight of international sanctions, and the country was “a steadily deteriorating

pariah” internationally, Graham added.

With his speech, De Klerk (73) set in motion the country’s

transformation into a multi-racial democracy and the sustained economic growth

that followed the first all-race elections 16 years ago.

Organisers said the commemoration will both revisit De Klerk’s

speech and assess the country’s progress in the two decades since.

The leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, will also

deliver a keynote address on South Africa’s development since 1990 – a period

that has seen Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, rise to political


The country still faces many challenges 20 years on, including 30%

unemployment, endemic crime, a faltering education system and the world’s

biggest divide between the rich and the poor.

“As we celebrate 20 years, I suspect there will be some reflection

on whether we’ve made the best use we could have of the opportunities it

provided,” Graham said. “There’s a sense that it’s a still-unfinished project, I


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