Five factors that will shape SA’s future: FW de Klerk

FW de Klerk
FW de Klerk
FW de Klerk

Former President says country continues to present an anomalous picture to the world



I should like to talk about South Africa: our past, our present and our future -­‐ about

  • where we have come from since the 1980s;
  • where we now find ourselves; and
  • where we are going.

It is especially appropriate to do so now -­‐  because I can recall no time since 1994 when so many South Africans have been so despondent.

We should remember 1994 -­‐ not only because it was the birth  of  our  new  society -­‐  but because it provides an important reminder  that  we  South  Africans  have  the  ability  to  solve even  the  most  intractable  problems.

It is easy to forget now how desperate our situation was in the mid-­1980s:

  • Our efforts to reform apartheid -­‐ including the scrapping of more than 100 apartheid laws and the introductions of the tricameral parliament had simply redoubled demands for “one-­‐man, one vote”;
  • We were beset with internal unrest and increasingly violent protests;
  • Scenes of chaos and  insurrection  in our streets dominated  TV  screens throughout the world;
  • After the Rubicon speech the rand had plummeted through the floor;
  • Unsure  of  the  government’s  ability  to  control  the  situation,  international  banks  had pulled the plug on us by refusing to roll over our short-­‐term debt;
  • Demands for comprehensive economic sanctions were reaching crescendo pitch;
  • Our armed forces were confronting increasing attacks on our borders and the borders of Namibia -­‐ attacks that were supported by 50 000 Cuban troops.

There were no signs of light on the dark and stormy horizon.

And yet -­‐  by 1990 -­‐  we had clawed our way back from the precipice.

The victory of our forces at the battle of the Lomba River in September 1987 had finally convinced the  Soviets, the Cubans  and the Angolans that there  was no  prospect of a military victory.

  • The  following  year  we  began  negotiations  on  the  withdrawal  of  Cuban  forces  from Angola and the parallel implementation of the UN independence process in Namibia;
  • Also by 1987 the ANC had accepted that there would not be a revolutionary outcome in South Africa and that the only path to the future lay through negotiations;
  • The successful independence process in Namibia in 1989 showed that it was possible to negotiate successful outcomes with enemies;
  • Finally,  the  collapse  of  the  Soviet  Union -­‐   symbolized  by  the  fall  of  the  Berlin  Wall  in November, 1989 -­‐  signaled the arrival of an entirely new global paradigm.

By the beginning of 1990 these events had opened a historic window of opportunity for a peaceful and negotiated settlement. We did not hesitate. We jumped through -­‐ and after almost four years of roller-­‐coaster negotiations we were able to reach a national accord on our future.

It was our proudest moment.

Our 1993 and 1996 constitutions were the outcome of the genuine give and take process inherent in all negotiations. The final agreement was at least as close to original negotiating positions of the non-­‐ANC parties as it was to that of the ANC.

It contains all the basic rights that we need to maintain a free and prosperous society.

It  articulates  the  values  of  human  dignity,  equality,  fundamental  rights  and  non-­‐ discrimination on which the new South Africa has been established.

It acknowledges the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

It  makes  provision  for  all  the  institutions  and  mechanisms  that  are  necessary  for multiparty democracy based on accountability, openness and responsiveness.

It has served us well for the past 19 years. Which brings me to the present.

It is important to remember the many, many successes that we have achieved since 1994 -­‐ many of them as a result of government action:

  • We have experienced 19 years of economic growth -­‐  interrupted only briefly by the global  economic  crisis  of  2008.
  • The regulation of our security exchanges and our reporting standards are the best in the world;
  • Our banks are the second soundest in the world and our corporate boards are the second most efficacious. Our financial services and protection of minority shareholders are third best in the world and our ability to finance local equity is the fourth best internationally.
  • We are one of the primary gateways to Africa -­‐  and are now the fifth largest investor in the   continent.

We have also made significant social progress:

  • The  percentage  of  the  population  living  in  absolute  poverty  has  declined  to  less  than 20% -­‐  largely because of social grants.
  • More than three million housing units have been built -­‐  enough to house almost a quarter of the population -­‐  with another million units in the pipeline;
  • More than three quarters of the population now have access to electricity, drinkable water and sanitation
  • We have experienced moments -­‐  like the 2010 Soccer World Cup -­‐  when we have lived up  to  Archbishop  Tutu’s  characterization  of us  as  the  Rainbow  Nation  of  God;
  • We have seen the rapid growth of new and self-­‐confident black middle class. Whites now comprise less than 40% of the top decile of income earners.

At the same time we are beset by serious problems. One can hardly disagree with  the diagnosis of the National Planning Commission regarding  the  nature  of  these  challenges. They include:

  • High unemployment -­‐  closer to 40% than the official figure of 25,6%;
  • Poor education -­‐  especially for black South Africans -­‐  who fare badly in comparative tests with  children  from  the  poorest  African  countries;
  • Poor public service delivery -­‐  which has led to virtually daily protests throughout the country;
  • rising levels of corruption; and
  • the fact that South Africa is still a divided society.

Another growing problem is the increasingly destructive role that is being played  by  our militant trade unions. It is one of the main causes of unemployment and of our failure to attract the foreign investment that we need for sustained economic growth:

  • South Africa has the worst labour relations in the world. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report it is the worst of 144 countries assessed in terms of co-­‐operation in labour-­‐employer relations;
  • COSATU has continuously raised labour costs without  commensurate  productivity increases -­‐ which has inevitably resulted in job losses. South Africa’s flexibility of wage determination is the fourth worst in the world.
  • Our labour legislation is amongst the most onerous anywhere. South Africa’s hiring and firing practices are the second worst in the world.
  • COSATU’s campaign to abolish labour brokers would lead to the loss of more than half a million jobs.
  • COSATU has steadfastly opposed proposals to open labour markets to the unemployed.
  • It   is   destroying   jobs   by   alienating   foreign   and   domestic   investors   through   its confrontational stance and open support for nationalisation.
  • On top of all this came the Marikana massacre of 16 August last year; the subsequent wave of violent and uncontrolled wildcat strikes and hopelessly unrealistic wage demands. All this has been compounded by the precipitate fall of the rand against the US dollar.

So South Africa continues to present an anomalous picture to the world:

  • on  the  one  hand  a  picture  of  failing  governance;  out  of  control  trade  unions;  rising corruption and daily service delivery protests -­‐ and
  • on  the   other  hand,  a  picture   of  economic   dynamism,  enormous  opportunities  and  a counter-­‐intuitive sense of optimism -­‐  particularly in bustling Johannesburg.

But what of the future?

Predicting the future is one of the most risky of all endeavours -­‐ since we live in such rapidly changing times. Nevertheless one can identify some of the  salient  factors  that  will undoubtedly influence the course of events:

  • Whatever happens in South Africa will take place within the framework of macro-­‐ developments on the global stage -­‐ just as they have always done in the past;
  • Secondly, current developments within the ANC’s ruling alliance will play a key role. The question is whether the leadership will be able to hold together an alliance which now encompasses the whole spectrum
    • from Stalinism to social democracy;
    • from exclusive black nationalism to inclusive non-­‐racialism;
    • from  genuine  commitment  to  sound  governance  to  pervasive  crony  capitalism and entrenched kleptocracy?
  • Will the ANC be able to continue to plaster over these increasing obvious cracks   -­‐  or will it  split?
  • Thirdly, will it be possible to moderate the behavior of our rampant and wildly irresponsible trade unions?
  • Fourthly, will the government break away from its race-­‐based ideology and accept the idea that the skills of all South Africans must be used to enable the country to address its problems and achieve its potential?
  • Finally, a critical factor will be our ability to maintain the excellent Constitution that we South Africans negotiated between 1990 and 1996 and the institutions that it mandates including
  • free and impartial courts;
  • an independent National Prosecuting Authority; and
  • government that is accountable, transparent and responsive.

So, these are the factors that will play significant roles in determining our future:

  • What will happen on the global stage?
  • What will happen within the ANC Alliance?
  • Will we be able to control the trade unions?
  • Will we be able to liberate ourselves from race-­‐based ideologies? And,
  • Will we be able to uphold our Constitution and achieve the vision that it articulates?

Personally,  I  remain  an  optimist -­‐  and  believe  that  we  shall  be  able  to  surmount  the challenges that confront us now -­‐ just as we were able to overcome the  much  greater problems that we  faced  25  years ago.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, September 16 2013