FW de Klerk : Lessons For The Young And The Old Who Can't Remember!

2017-02-25 14:39

I'm saddened to see an increasing number of South Africans who see fit to criticise FW de Klerk ("FW") - in fact, some even attempt to demonise him!

I say "saddened" because FW most definitely does not deserve such treatment - and I therefore must assume that those who criticise, or attempt to demonise him, are either very young, and don't know that much about SA history, or they're not young, but just have short memories!

Let me say upfront that I was never a supporter of FW's political party, the National Party, but that doesn't prevent me from seeing the good in the man.

For those of you who don't know/don't remember what the state of affairs was like in SA, in those years immediately preceding our first democratic election in April 1994, let me enlighten you:

- in 1990 FW , as SA's President announced:

the unbanning of the ANC and of other liberation organisations; and

the release of Nelson Mandela and of certain other political prisoners;

- in the period 1990 to April 1994 (the date of the Election), there was widespread violence, especially between the ANC and the IFP (Zulu) supporters - there were also bombings/shootings of Whites by Blacks, and of Blacks by Whites. But the ANC-IFP "war" certainly took centre-stage!

The chances of a peaceful transition to democracy was further complicated by the Zulu nation wanting to remain as a separate kingdom, outside of the "new SA", and the homeland of Bophutatswana wanting to remain as an independent state, outside of the "new SA".

These impediments were resolved by:

the Zulu King and Zulu nation being convinced to throw in their lot with the transitional process and

by military action, against the Bophuthatswanan Government, by the SADF.

- in April 1994, SA's first democratic elections took place - it was, in the opinion of most, a miracle that this had been achieved!

That's a very brief background to some of the main events leading up to the April 1994 Elections.

Reverting back to FW - the criticism that is more and more frequently being levelled against him is that he and the Apartheid/SA Government were forced into the political change that occurred, and that they had no option but to accept such change.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Sure, Apartheid SA was encountering extreme hardship through international trade and sporting boycotts/isolation but the country was far from being "on the ropes", as so many people now like to imply!

Amongst the White constituency were many people who were afraid of what would happen to them were the Apartheid/SA Government to accept majority rule - to put it bluntly, they feared for their lives!

It also happened to be that amongst those who were afraid of majority rule were the so-called "right-wingers", many of whom had formed themselves into paramilitary organizations and, very importantly, many of whom were the generals etc who controlled the SADF - a powerful, battle-ready, force, armed with a vast array of sophisticated, state-of-the-art weaponry.

We also know, today, that SA possessed a nuclear weapons capability and it is believed (but has never been confirmed) that it had live-tested this capability in 1979.

The SADF's Permanent Force, at that time, comprised some 45 000 men/women and, as an adjunct to this, had a very large, and generally combat-experienced, Citizen Force which comprised some 500 000 men.

SA's "right-wingers", it appeared, were contemplating a bloody showdown in the event of the Apartheid/SA Government accepting majority rule.

The ex-Head of the SADF, General Constand Viljoen, was a key figure in this potential conflict and he would need to be convinced that armed conflict was not in their interest, if a peaceful transition to a full and proper democracy was to be achieved.

And so FW had the highly challenging task of allaying the fears of these militarily powerful "right-wingers" and of convincing them to lay down their arms, and to take that massive leap of faith by embarking on the irreversible path of negotiation which would inevitably result in the relinquishment of the power that they held - FW did this!!

That FW was able win over the confidence of Constand Viljoen and his "right-wing" supporters was an amazing achievement and it was no doubt for this reason that FW and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 - just a few months before the 1994 Elections!

I have not touched on the greatness of Nelson Mandela - we all know about the great man and we were all very fortunate to have him heading the ANC at that time.

I trust that I have now put FW's involvement, in our peaceful transition to democracy, into some sort of perspective.

For those of you who delight in criticising the man - remember, he dragged this militarily very powerful constituency to the negotiating table, some "kicking and screaming", some still scared but, importantly, in peace!

And, very importantly, on the other side we had Nelson Mandela whose amazing attitude of forgiveness, coupled with his level-headed statesmanship, also ensured that SA avoided a civil war.

A civil war with the SADF being turned on SA's people would have been too horrific to contemplate - it would most certainly have been the "mother of all civil wars" - with SA being left as a barren wasteland!!

So let's also appreciate FW's key role in our peaceful transition to a full constitutional democracy - give credit where credit is due!

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