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De Klerk: The lasting challenge of April 27 1994

FW de Klerk

It is also important to stress that April 27 did not constitute the victory of some South Africans over others, as it is often presented now.

Voters line up during the 1994 general elections. FW de Klerk says the rights and ­freedoms in the Constitution must be used to safeguard it. (Raymond Preston, Gallo Images/Sunday Times)

Few South Africans grasp the real significance of April 27 1994 and why it is important for us to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.

It is not only the anniversary of our first inclusive nonracial democratic election, it is also the date on which our first nonracial and fully democratic Constitution came into effect – and thus the date on which we were all endowed with the full range of human rights and freedoms. Power passed to the people and sovereignty was transferred from Parliament to the Constitution.

It is also important to stress that April 27 did not constitute the victory of some South Africans over others, as it is often presented now. It was a glorious victory for us all. It was the culmination of the work of South Africans from across the political spectrum who came together at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa and in the national negotiating forum to hammer out a joint agreement on how our new society should be constituted.

Since then, our new constitutional democracy has served us well. We have resumed our place in the international community. Our economy is now three times larger than it was in 1994. We have made significant progress in housing, the provision of services and in the reduction of poverty.

It was our 1993 and 1996 constitutions that laid the foundation for all these successes. Unfortunately, some of those foundations are now in danger of being eroded.

The ANC is threatening to accelerate the imposition of what it calls “the second phase of the transition”, aspects of which include:

  • It has promulgated regulations in terms of the Employment Equity Act that would require designated employers to ensure that 79% of the top three levels of management should be occupied by black South Africans. This would seriously prejudice coloureds in the Western Cape and Indians in KwaZulu-Natal;
  • it has announced proposals that would require farmers to hand over 50% of their farms to farm workers and to establish new joint management mechanisms. Farmers would not be paid compensation for the loss of their land; and
  • it has once again threatened to impose racial quotas on national sports teams, in contravention of virtually all international sports codes.

The introduction of increasingly aggressive – and apparently permanent – race-based discrimination has led to a situation where the prospects of citizens are increasingly determined by their race and not by their individual merits. We are approaching the point where we will no longer be able to claim that we are a nonracial democracy.

The ANC is continuing its efforts to seize what it calls the "levers of state power" by deploying its cadres into key positions in the public service, the security forces, parastatals and the SABC. Its cadres are appointed to these posts not because of their qualifications, experience and impartiality, as required by the Constitution, but because of their political connections.

When it becomes clear that state intelligence services are now being used by Luthuli House to bolster the political leadership, we must realise that we are all in trouble.

When the minister of police can appoint Robert McBride as the head of the SAPS Independent Police Investigative Directorate, we must conclude that the government is not really serious about addressing criminality and human rights violations in the police service.

When the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) refuses to accept court orders to release tapes relating to the dropping of charges against President Jacob Zuma in 2009, and when it irrationally refuses to reinstate charges against compromised police crime intelligence head General Richard Mdluli, we should abandon any illusions regarding the NPA’s constitutionally required ability to exercise its functions “without fear, favour or prejudice”.

When the whole leadership of the ANC rallies around Zuma to defend the expenditure of R246-million on the president’s retirement home, we should understand why the prospect of combating corruption is so dismal.

The application of outmoded and discredited ideologies in economic and labour policy – and the increasing erosion of property rights – has led to an alarming decline in investment. As the state’s capacity wanes beneath the weight of maladministration, it is, ironically, insisting on playing an even more intrusive role in directing the affairs of the private sector. As a result of this, economic growth is only a little higher than the level of population increase – and only 43% of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64 are in employment.

What can be done?

First, all those of all races who are concerned about the future of our constitutional democracy should take their heads out of the sand and acknowledge what is happening.

Second, we should use the rights and freedoms that the Constitution bestows on us to defend it.

  • We should challenge unconstitutional laws and actions in the courts.
  • We should mobilise opinion in support of the Constitution.
  • We should stand by those institutions that continue to maintain their independence and to play their constitutional roles, especially the courts and the public protector.

Third, we should continue to use our right to freedom of expression to expose and combat unconstitutional behaviour.

We should ensure that we win on what the ANC calls the "battlefield of ideas". The reality is that ideas based on freedom, law and pragmatism are far stronger than those based on narrow, artificial and disproven ideologies.

Fourth, we should be heartened by the fact that those who support constitutional government, free institutions and genuine nonracialism are part of a growing global consensus. We should remind the international community that it has a solemn obligation to continue to support the constitutional values and human rights it advocated so insistently 20 years ago.

Finally, on this 20th anniversary of our new society, we should all redouble our efforts to work for the real transformation of our society to bring it into closer alignment with the vision and values expressed in the Constitution. These include:

  • Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms;
  • Nonracialism and nonsexism;
  • Supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law; and
  • A genuine multiparty system of democratic government based on accountability, responsiveness and openness.

FW de Klerk was state president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 

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