Going for a better future

FEBRUARY 2 1990 was a watershed day in modern South African history. It was yesterday 20 years ago that then president FW de Klerk shocked the world by announcing that "restrictions" on the ANC, Pan Africanist Congress and SA Communist Party had been rescinded.

FEBRUARY 2 1990 was a watershed day in modern South African history. It was yesterday 20 years ago that then president FW de Klerk shocked the world by announcing that "restrictions" on the ANC, Pan Africanist Congress and SA Communist Party had been rescinded.

Two decades later South Africa is a different world. We have taken giant strides towards reaching the promise of those heady days of 1990, though there is still a lot of work to be done.

As we reflect on De Klerk's speech it is easy, with hindsight, to spot the shortcomings of the speech and the political scenario that unfolded as a result.

We should remember, though, that the leaders who had to chart a path to what was going to be a new South Africa had to make their own template to work from.

Mistakes were certainly made and concessions that some now believe to have been costly were entered into.

Given the circumstances they had to work with, the 1990 leaders across the political divide deserve praise rather than the easy derision that comes with being wiser after the fact.

There is no doubt that, even if it was a necessary move, it was bold of De Klerk to start a process of effectively handing power over to a black majority. It was valiant of Nelson Mandela to lead discussion when the then president had stated that the economic regime would not change even if political power changed hands.

Our imperfect past delivers a challenge to today's political and civil society leadership to ensure that the next 20 years are better than the last.

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