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SA 'infinitely better' than 25 years ago‚ but more unequal - FW de Klerk

Former president FW de Klerk .
Former president FW de Klerk .
Image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Monday marked 25 years since former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk stood side by side to accept their joint Nobel Peace Prize.

Today De Klerk believes South Africa has had a mixed bag of successes and failures - but is a better place than it was before then.

Mandela and De Klerk were announced joint Nobel Peace Prize winners in October 1993 for their role in the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa. The award ceremony was held in Oslo two months later.

"We have come a long way since 1994‚ but we still have a very long way to go to achieve our constitutional vision‚" De Klerk said on Monday‚ reflecting on the 25 years since he received the prestigious award and on 24 years of SA's democracy.

"We remain a vibrant and genuine multiparty democracy‚ but struggle sometimes to ensure openness‚ responsiveness and accountability.

"At the very moment that Mr Mandela and I were receiving the Nobel Peace Prize‚ negotiators from all our political parties were putting the finishing touches to an interim constitution that would provide the basis for our nonracial constitutional democracy‚" said De Klerk in a statement issued by his foundation.

He noted that the interim constitution included immutable principles that in 1996 were distilled into the foundational values in section 1 of our final constitution‚ including human dignity; the achievement of equality; the advancement of human rights and freedoms; non-racialism; non-sexism; the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law; and a system of multiparty democratic government that is accountable‚ responsive and open.

"All South Africans now enjoy human dignity that our constitution enshrines - but what does human dignity mean in circumstances in which 40% our people live in poverty and unemployment?" he asked on Monday.

De Klerk believes that SA has made no progress in achieving equality‚ stating that this country was the most unequal in the world and that it has become more unequal since 1994.

De Klerk noted that while the human rights and freedoms of South Africans were protected by the bill of rights and upheld by the courts‚ the country still has a long way to go before they are all enjoyed in practice.

He remarked that SA could no longer be called a nonracial country. "We are rapidly becoming‚ once again‚ a society in which race and not merit is the main determinant of success."

De Klerk noted the positives as well‚ however‚ saying SA has made considerable progress in promoting gender equality - even though too many women were still subject to gender violence and more than half of the women have to bring up their families without the help of a husband.

He also praised the courts for their independence and for fiercely upholding the constitution and the rule of law‚ which has played a major role in combating corruption and the abuse of power.

"However‚ minorities often feel that their special rights are not upheld‚" he said.

De Klerk acknowledged that despite the challenges‚ disappointments and failures - including the fact that SA has fallen "far short" of the vision set in the constitution - the country was nevertheless a much better place than it was "before we embarked on this great journey".

"It is an infinitely better place than it would have been had we not succeeded in resolving our differences peacefully through negotiations‚" he said.

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