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Failure to promote non-racialism 'biggest failure' in SA - FW de Klerk

Former President FW de Klerk.
Former President FW de Klerk.
Image: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht

South Africa's last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, has decried the government's failure to promote non-racialism, saying this was perhaps the country's greatest failure after its poor record on equality.

De Klerk was addressing the Cape Town Press Club, giving an assessment of the state of the nation 25 years since the dawn of democracy.

While by and large he was positive about the country having a functioning multi-party democracy holding free elections and where citizens enjoyed freedom of expression and had rigorous and open political discourse, he slammed what he called an enormous threat to the non-racial constitutional democracy established 25 years ago.

“It is a matter of the deepest regret that, in my opinion, South Africa can no longer be regarded as a non-racial society,” he said.

“Indeed, it is probably once again one of the most racially dirigiste societies in the world, a society in which the prospects of individuals are once again increasingly determined by the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character,” said De Klerk.

He said the country was observing a disturbing escalation of aggressive racial rhetoric, punctuated by ugly incidents such as the recent “victimisation” of a young teacher in Schweizer-Reneke and the invasion of a primary school by an angry mob.

De Klerk said there was no balance in the manner in which racist remarks and incidents were judged with foolish and unacceptable racist remarks by white “non-entities” not intended for public dissemination treated far more harshly than incendiary remarks made in public by political leaders openly calling for racial violence.

“Our government has virtually abandoned the great tradition of promoting racial reconciliation that was exemplified by Nelson Mandela. Instead, it now consistently pumps out negative stereotypes of white South Africans whom it labels with ‘original sin’, in some statements, it does not regard as part of 'our people' and whom it says are not the rightful owners of land to which they hold legal title”.

De Klerk also accused the government of blaming whites for all of the continuing problems of the country and claimed it referred to them as “colonialists” and aliens who do not really belong in South Africa.

De Klerk also criticised the country for what he said was a dismal failure to achieve equality saying South Africa was more of an unequal society in 2019 than it was in 1994 “and to our shame is now the most unequal country in the world”.

He said inequality had also grown within all communities with levels of inequality within the black community almost as high as they were in the country as a whole.

De Klerk had positive things to say about President Cyril Ramaphosa, saying the country was "extremely fortunate" that he had emerged as leader of the ANC at its December 2017 national conference.

“I believe that he is sincere in his efforts to restore the integrity of state institutions and state-owned enterprises after many of them were captured by his predecessor and his Gupta cronies,” he said, adding that the revelations of the Zondo Commission were astounding with new exposures of the brazen corruption that was at the heart of the last administration.

“The very fact that we have institutions that can fearlessly expose corruption in the highest echelons of government is in itself a cause for confidence in the future. However, the key test will be the degree to which the truths now being exposed in the Zondo Commission and others will have consequences for the perpetrators”.

He said it was essential that Ramaphosa succeeded in restoring the integrity of the National Prosecuting Authority, the SA Revenue Service, the intelligence services, the police, SOEs and other state institutions and stamp his authority on the institutions of his party which were still heavily influenced by the culture of his predecessor.

De Klerk predicted that the outcome of this struggle within the ANC would probably have much more significance than the outcome of May’s election. “If President Ramaphosa wins and is able to succeed with his efforts to restore the integrity of government institutions, I am reasonably confident about the future.

“The other sine qua non is that he should take concerted action to end South Africa’s slide into new forms of racism and should resume Nelson Mandela’s proud tradition of promoting national reconciliation,” he said.

Without mentioning the DA, De Klerk revealed that he would be voting for an opposition party that has a good record and a good administration.

De Klerk repeatedly sought to remind his audience about his role in South Africa's transition, telling critics of that transformation process: “Let me make it clear to critics of our transformation process that had we not taken the actions that we initiated in February 1990 we would have continued down the 1985 road to a catastrophic racial war; to the destruction of our economy and to a very bleak future for all our people.”

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