Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks

News

What Zim leaders can learn from FW de Klerk’s legacy

Published

on

. . . it’s never too late to do the right thing

WHEN the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe met the last apartheid South African leader Frederik Willem de Klerk, who died of cancer-related complications at 85 this week, in Gaborone, Botswana on 23 January 1994, he said it was unfortunate that it had taken so long for Pretoria to change its mind on the system of institutionalised racial discrimination.

OWEN GAGARE

Mugabe, who had gone to the Southern African Development Community headquarters to deal the crisis in Lesotho at the time, said despite the delays in acknowledging apartheid evils, his meeting with de Klerk and trailblazing anti-apartheid champion Nelson Mandela was “a historic, happy occasion”.

Klerk, a senior member of the apartheid cabinet seven years before when South Africa bombed Botswana and Zimbabwe, met the late Botswana president Ketumile Masire and Mugabe in the company of his regime’s one-time prisoner for 27 years, Mandela.

The attacks on Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia in May 1986 were part of South Africa’s “Total Strategy” conceived in the 1970s upon PW Botha’s ascendancy as a holistic response to rising internal and international protests and actions against Pretoria to end apartheid. Botha served as the last apartheid prime minister from 1978 to 1984, and the first executive president from 1985 to 1989 when De Klerk came in.

 Demonstrating its military power in a bid to assert regional hegemony and perpetuate apartheid, South African troops and warplanes had on 20 May attacked alleged ANC guerrilla facilities in the capitals of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen.

Weeping over two dead bodies and 10 injured victims at a camp outside Lusaka, Zambian founding president Kenneth Kaunda described the attack as “a dastardly, cowardly, criminal action” that amounted to state terrorism.

Striking shortly after midnight, South African commandos in one fell swoop blew up the ANC offices in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, and a suburban home linked to its military wing uMkhonto weSizwe (MK). Five years earlier, ANC and MK representative in Zimbabwe Joe Gqabi had been killed by apartheid agents in Harare.

Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s then prime minister who was reluctant to offer the ANC full support, especially military backing, with his voice shaking with emotion, told journalists in Harare on that “the time has come for us to call for more support to be given to the ANC and other liberation movements fighting in South Africa”.

Unlike Zambia and Tanzania, Zimbabwe had not granted anti-apartheid movements any form of diplomatic recognition. They had no formal offices. No guns. Only political and moral support. The Gaborone meeting seven years after the Harare bombing was the first time that De Klerk and Mandela — South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize duo — had jointly represented their country’s interests abroad.

The purpose of their visit was to formalise South Africa’s transformation from being regional warmonger to regional peace-keeper; from a bully to friendly neighbourhood superpower, and deal with the Lesotho crisis. South Africa acceded to the Sadc Treaty on 29 August 1994 at the heads of state and government summit in Gaborone. It was at the behest of Mugabe, once a harsh critic of the regime that De Klerk had served as an MP for 21 years.

 Mugabe wanted to find a common solution to the crisis in Lesotho, the tiny country within South Africa’s borders whose stability was threatened by a military revolt. A proposal by Mugabe suggested that a regional military force, to include the South African Defence Force, should be sent to Lesotho as a symbolic statement of support for the democratically-elected government.

De Klerk and Mandela demurred; they evidently thought such an action would be a trifle premature, for it was decided instead to appoint a joint task force to address the Lesotho crisis.

Mugabe should have contemplated such a proposal offered a dramatic indication of the way international perceptions of South Africa had changed in the four years since Mandela’s release from prison. That meeting partly sowed the seeds of rivalry between Mugabe and Mandela, later to explode.

 At a Press conference in the office of Masire, Mugabe described his first meeting with De Klerk — sitting beside him with Mandela — as an “historic, happy occasion”. The Zimbabwean president said it was unfortunate it had taken so long for the authorities in Pretoria to change their minds about apartheid, but he praised De Klerk for the role he had played in bringing about reform and change in South Africa.

Despite the historic role he played in South Africa’s political transition from apartheid to democracy, De Klerk was a major polarising figure. He was a cog in PW Botha’s apartheid machinery, took over from him in 1989 and presided over vicious repression, including mass detentions, torture and killings (the Boipatong massacre being the most egregious) during the transition.

Yet De Klerk’s dramatic moves and reforms that ushered in the transition and eventually democracy cannot be ignored despite all the atrocities perpetrated under his watch over the years.

In Gaborone, Mugabe had also said: “It is possible to open themselves (South Africa) up to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to open itself up to South Africa and that is what has happened now.” Mugabe’s message was that despite acknowl edged delays, De Klerk had done the right thing. In Mandela’s words: “It’s never too late to do the right thing”.

Due to his political realism and pragmatism not matched by willingness to accept moral responsibility for apartheid and apologise unreservedly, South Africans had always not given much thought to De Klerk after he left Mandela’s government. Like Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, his fellow Nobel Peace laureate, the last apartheid president was more highly regarded outside his own country than in it. However, some South Africans were taken aback by De Klerk’s last message released after his death yesterday.

 “The first thing I want to focus on is apartheid and apartheid and me. I’m still often accused by critics, that I in some way or another continue to justify apartheid, or separate development as we later preferred to call it. It is true that in my younger years I defended separate development, as I never liked the word apartheid. I did so when I was a Member of Parliament, and I did so as I became a member of cabinet,” De Klerk said.

 “Afterwards on many occasions, I apologised for the pain and the indignity that apartheid has brought to persons, to persons of colour in South Africa. Many believed me, but others didn’t. Therefore let me today in this last message repeat, I without qualification apologise for the pain, and the hurt, and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to black, brown and Indians in south Africa. I do so not only in my capacity as the former leader of the national party, but also as an individual. Allow me in this last message to share with you the fact that since the early ’80s my views changed completely; it was as if I had a conversion and in my heart of hearts realised that apartheid was wrong.”

While some people think De Klerk was genuine in his last message, others think it was a continuation of his usual approach: philosophically and in principle he believed in apartheid, but strategically he was forced by events and critical junctures to dismantle and denounce it. The end of the Cold War had also helped in resolving the long-standing South African conflict.

To be sure, Western and Soviet-bloc states had ritually condemned apartheid and imposed economic sanctions against the white government, although some equivocated and opposed that.

 It was the disappearance of the Communist threat and the example of brave Eastern Europeans throwing off their chains that finally allowed De Klerk to persuade even the most hard-line Afrikaner elements of his National Party to accept reform. So, too, did the ANC, which affirmed its readiness, in January 1990, to engage the South African government in peaceful negotiations.

On 11 February 1990, Mandela was released from prison. Talks began on 2 May, complicated by brutal state repression and intramural violence among black groups, especially the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. De Klerk pressed on, however, and in June 1991 parliament repealed its requirement that citizens be categorised by race.

The following month, the late United States president George HW Bush (Snr), citing the progress made, lifted American sanctions against South Africa. But Mandela was only removed from the US terrorist and sanctions list in 2008. De Klerk explained how the transition worked.

“The first, preparatory, phase followed my speech to parliament on 2 February 1990, during which I announced the formal end of the apartheid system and Mandela’s release from prison nine days later,” he said after the Arab Spring uprisings.

 “This phase included three preliminary meetings in Cape Town and Pretoria that dealt primarily with granting immunity to ANC rebels to enable them to return from exile and suspend the group’s decades of armed struggle.

 “The preparatory talks also dealt with the escalating racial violence that presented a serious obstacle throughout the negotiations. We addressed the problem by adopting a National Peace Accord on 14 September 1991. The accord established a national peace secretariat, a national peace committee comprising all the accord signatories, and a national peace commission under the chairmanship of Judge Richard Goldstone, chief justice of the Supreme Court, to investigate and report on violence and intimidation.

“The second phase of the negotiations, the multi-party Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) talks, commenced on 21 December 1991, with the adoption of a declaration of intent. The declaration sketched the broad outline of the kind of state that all the parties wanted, including: a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist political system; a constitution guarded over by an impartial judiciary; a multi-party democracy based on proportional representation; separation of powers with appropriate checks and balances; acknowledgement of South Africa’s diverse languages, cultures, and relations; and a Bill of Rights with equality of all before the law.

 “The Codesa negotiations dealt with myriad thorny issues, including the creation of a media and political climate to allow free participation, the reincorporation of black homelands, and ensuring free and fair elections. By far the toughest negotiations involved setting up the new constitution.

“The main problem was the ANC’s insistence that the constitution should be drawn up by a duly elected national convention, while minority parties maintained that agreement on the constitution should precede the first elections. The impasse was resolved toward the end of the process by the ingenious device of adopting an interim constitution under the terms of which the first election would be held. The newly elected parliament would then adopt a final constitution. To allay minority fears, the final constitution would also have to comply with 35 immutable constitutional principles.

“On 17 June 1992, constitutional talks collapsed over failure to reach agreement on the percentages by which the final document would have to be adopted — and because of escalating violence. It was widely suspected that ANC leaders were under pressure from the group’s more radical elements about the concessions they were making during the negotiations.

 “The walkout may have been a means to calm down these aggressive factions so that the process could move forward. I don’t believe ANC leaders ever truly meant to derail the process, though publicly they said they would make the country ungovernable through mass action. Eventually the talks resumed without drastic measures such as imposing martial law, thereby demonstrating the importance of patience, even under the most trying of political deadlocks.

“On 26 September 1992, the government and the ANC opened the way to the resumption of negotiations by adopting a ‘record of understanding’ that endorsed most of the agreements that had been reached during the Codesa process. One of the main problems we experienced was maintaining the inclusivity of the process. As soon as the ANC returned to the talks, the IFP and right-wing parties walked out and did not return until the eve of the elections. “The final phase of the negotiations consisted of a multi-party negotiating process, which reached agreement on an interim constitution and the mechanisms required for free and fair elections (on 27 April 1994).”

The biggest takeaway from what Mandela and Mugabe, who ironically never apologised for his own evils, agreed on the De Klerk reforms and partial midwifery role in the birth of South African democracy is that it is never too late to do the right thing. Zimbabwean political leaders can learn a lot from that wisdom.

Advertisement

Popular