The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
LONDON — Whatever allegations critics may throw at former South African president FW de Klerk, on the global stage the Nobel Peace Prize winner remains a statesman of considerable stature. Now 81, De Klerk treated the 150 fortunate enough to be at the Biznews London Forum this week to a memorable occasion. Held at the suitably prestigious Institute of Directors HQ on Pall Mall, the event was recorded in full – and the audio is reproduced here for your enjoyment and edification. – Alec Hogg
It’s 28 years ago that FW became leader of the National Party and he won against Barend du Plessis. Has Barend du Plessis got a home on Lake Geneva?
Not that I know of.
It’s one of those other fake news stories that does the rounds. Anyway, when we spoke earlier, he said that was one of the highlights of his life and ours because as South Africans in 1989, it was a pretty gloomy time if you recall. We were in the middle of a debt standstill. There was a very high budget deficit, getting towards double figures. There was not a whole lot of hope in the country and particularly, when the verkrampte FW de Klerk took over as head of the National Party. However, he wasn’t terribly verkramp because within six months, the ANC had been unbanned. The SACP had been unbanned and Mandela had been released from jail – within six months. We’ll get into that in more detail in a while but FW served as Head of State in South Africa for 4½ years and then stayed on for another two years as the Deputy President in the Government of National Unity. Exactly 20 years ago, you retired from active politics. That was in 1997 at the age of 61. It’s interesting when you compare that 61 is very young in current terms. Jacob Zuma is 75. Mrs Zuma, who’s standing to try and be the next president, is 68.
The one who’s standing to be president. Cyril Ramaphosa is 64 and of course, Donald Trump is 71. The next US President (possibly) will be Joe Biden who is going to be 77 when he runs for the presidency. Maybe it’s a good place to start – 61. By those terms, it’s very young to have retired from politics.
Well, I didn’t actually retire. Let me first say before I react to that, how good it is to see so many good friends, associates, and people I’ve known for many years. It feels like I’m amongst family. It’s nice to be here tonight. Thank you very much for the warm welcome. I retired from party politics – totally – but almost immediately after my retirement, I started the FW de Klerk Foundation, focusing on upholding the Constitution in South Africa, promoting good race relations, promoting the concept of unity in diversity and thereafter, I started a Global Leadership Foundation, which is quite involved in many countries in giving quiet, discreet, and confidential advice by people who have former experience of governance to those in government now. I’m very busy still, too busy for 81.
Who’s on the Global Leadership Foundation with you?
I have 40 members. Forty former Prime Ministers, Presidents, Cabinet Ministers, and Senior Diplomats. They come from all continents so I can’t give you the full list of 40 out of my head but there are some very prominent people amongst them. We constantly rejuvenate because all my members don’t hold political office. Some of our youngest members for instance, is Rudd from Australia and the former Prime Minister of Malta is a member. Then also, some very well-known people in America. So they come from all over and they’re a different mix of people. They come from South-East Asia. The former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is one of the members, etcetera.
Any other Nobel Peace Prize winners?
No other Nobel Peace Prize winners but we sometimes do talk to them. Another organisation, which Gorbachev started of Nobel Peace Prize Winners – we also meet once a year and have very interesting discussions.
What’s he like? The two of you look the same.
We have the same haircut. No, he’s a nice man. He’s really full of bonhomie. He’s seriously analytical. He’s unfortunately very ill at the moment. For the last two years, he hasn’t been attending these functions himself. He’s not allowed to travel. I think he’s getting chemotherapy but he’s sharp and to the point. He’s, as we say in Afrikaans, ‘hy’s ‘n meneer.’
What does he think about what’s happening in his country?
I haven’t seen him recently so I can’t tell you recently. He was worried about what’s happening. He was worried that the tensions are building up again, which became diffused when he was there.
What about our country, what about SA? When you lay awake at night do you think maybe you shouldn’t have had that referendum? Maybe you shouldn’t have gone as quickly as you did?
Looking back I have no regrets. I’m convinced that we had to do what we did for two reasons. The first reason was to bring justice to everybody in SA. We could not build a future for any section of the community on the basis of injustice to another section of the community. The second reason was; we were moving into what would have become a catastrophe.
The Syrians did take a lot of note of what happened in SA, as did the Libyans. How come they didn’t get it right and you guys managed to do it?
Well, you need the will to do it firstly. You need to commit yourself to a negotiated solution. What worked in our case was that I had that commitment and my team, and Mr Mandela had that commitment. He already came while he was still in prison, to the conclusion that we need to negotiate and it was the commitment of two leaders, of the two major political movements in the country to say, ‘we must overcome all stumbling blocks standing in the way of a negotiated solution.’ Which helped us to secure that solution, to reach agreement through a process of give and take, to adopt a constitution of which we are proud of and which the whole world admires as a very good and balanced constitution.
I think they missed that. Many people, not only in Syria and Libya, which you mentioned, but in other parts of the world, in other hotspots of the world are playing with the concept of negotiation. But they’re using it as political pawns, which are being shifted but they’re not committed to a real solution and they’re not prepared to take the initiatives and to make the concessions, which are necessary for meaningful compromises.
When we look back and perhaps, if you look around this room these are expats. These are many people who were in SA. I had a chat with an old sparring partner of mine, David Shapiro last week, and he was saying, ‘they don’t want me here.’ I don’t know who he meant by ‘they.’ But many South Africans no longer feel comfortable in their own country. Is that something you considered?
Well, it’s true. It’s also true that many more continue to leave because they don’t feel comfortable. I think it’s extremely sad. I think it’s sad because SA actually needs them and what better place is there in the world to live than to live in SA, with its wonderful climate and everything it offers. But I think they make a mistake. They look at those who look at them with enmity but there’s a relatively silent majority, who are deeply concerned about what is happening in SA. Who are dedicated to ensure that we don’t go down the road of Zimbabwe. Who want to ensure that we fulfil our rich potential and they organise themselves into what has become an extremely strong civil society. Three pillars of democracy still stand in SA, four actually. The Constitution is standing firm, although it’s under threat and under pressure, it stands. Civil society is well organised and extremely strong. We have a free press and freedom of speech and we have an independent judiciary.
All of these things give me hope. I’m not an optimist about SA, as things stand but I’m not a pessimist. I think the glass is half full. I’m deeply concerned but I’m not panicking, and I don’t think there’s reason to panic. We will be riding high seas with big waves for yet a number of years but, at the end, I believe that we have the capacity to break through to calmer waters. There is a growing number from all races, especially from the black community, the fast-growing middle class, who realise that if we carry on, on the road on which we find ourselves in 2017, disaster awaits SA, and who wants a turnaround and fundamental change to come.
In the end, the ANC is going to split and our politics will be normalised. Away from typically racially based, historically racially based movements and parties. Towards value based and policy driven political movements, and there will be more and more multiracial parties, and it will be about socialism, or moderate socialism or capitalism, centre-right, centre-left and that type of political development is going to take place.
How long from here? How far away is that?
I think it depends who the ANC elects as leader in December. If the election goes a certain way, I can’t predict exactly which way. I think the tensions might even explode before the 2019 election, into a split-off, (some new movement). If they elect a leader who can sort of keep them together and whom they believe will lead them to a victory, of 50% plus in the 2019 election, then it will hold for the time being. But in the end, in the ANC you’ll find together far less socialists, communists. You find black nationalists who are quite racist in their thinking and you find the moderates, who believe in free enterprise, who realise that only economic growth can assure that we can achieve greater equality in SA, who are well balanced people and who feel very uncomfortable in the Zuma regime, where they now find themselves.
You mentioned the racists and the atmosphere within SA. It’s almost poisonous, the current debate, stimulated by Bell Pottinger, a company here from London. Did you follow that whole story?
Absolutely, and I think Bell Pottinger deserves what they got. They devised these slogans of white monopoly capital – it’s not true, it’s incorrect. The economy in SA, if you really analyse it and if you include the PIC, which is the biggest investor in the JSE, then the economy is no longer so much dominated by whites. Yes, they still play a greater role than their numbers indicate but that’s because they’ve invested over centuries because they’ve built with their capital and their investment. They’ve built sturdy, strong, and healthy businesses. This slogan of radical economic transformation – if you analyse older ANC documents and the strategies that they’ve written. If they were to give a real ANC definition of what it really means regarding all non-blacks as the residue of colonialism. As colonialists, who didn’t leave as they left in the rest of Africa when colonialism came to an end. For them radical economic transformation means taking away. Not baking a bigger cake but taking away from those who have and that will, if it were ever to be adopted, that will lead us down the Zimbabwe route.
So we’ve had Bell Pottinger injecting its toxins into the SA debate. They’re out of the picture but the toxins are still there. How does one remove that? How does one get back to a healthy discourse between everybody in the country?
There’s no quick-fix recipe for that. Civil society must play a role and it’s trying its level best to play a role. Let me give you one example. All the foundations, almost all, with the exception of one, are former leaders, the Mandela Foundation, the de Klerk Foundation, the Luthuli Foundation, and the foundations of the Indian, ANC friend of Mandela who died recently, the Kathrada Foundation. Eight of those foundations have started to take hands. I spoke there, Motlanthe spoke there, and Thabo Mbeki’s Foundation is in on it too, and he spoke there, and we started a national dialogue.
To answer your question, the dialogue is aimed to find the answer to that question. How do we build a nation recognising our diversity? How do we build better race relations? How do we make SA a truly, non-racial and a peaceful country? It’s an initiative, which is being taken. The initiative must come from within the political structures too. The moderates must stick their necks out. They must stop hiding in corners and whispering and just be dissatisfied and unhappy. They must come from within, bring the ANC back to Mandela’s values and more and more we hear that chorus rising from within ANC ranks.
It’s a reasonably long road that we have to travel but there are so many forces at work resisting us falling back into becoming a State defined by race. The present regime is trying to drive us in that direction but the resistance is building up in a meaningful way.
Now, your stunt double, Geoff Johnson, calls us here, the 10th Province, the diaspora, those people that you are so sad about, who’ve left SA. What can the members of the 10th Province of SA do to forward this agenda?
Actually, I think about 3 others, which you could add to London and to the UK, in Australia and especially on the West Coast of USA and so on. We miss you in SA. We miss those in the diaspora but we also value those in the diaspora. We have great appreciation for the continuing loyalty, which whenever I talk to South Africans, who have settled outside SA. I find that SA still lives in their hearts and minds but I hope we can stop the outflow and the increase of the diaspora, and we could get with a more successful, a more stable, more secure, better governed SA, which is what I’m working for and what I hope for. If we could get some of them back.
We did have, with the economic crisis in 2008 – we did see a backflow from outside SA, of South Africans coming back to SA. I think if we overcome our present problems and if we accept successfully our present challenges. We will see, percentage wise, quite a return of a high number of people who have left SA.
How much of a mess is the country in right now?
It’s in a big mess. State Capture is not just a slogan but a reality. The important institutions have been compromised. The National Prosecuting Authority, the Special Police section, which was there to fight corruption, ‘The Scorpions’ have been abolished. All the newcomers are in a sense, at the beck and call of Zuma and his team. We’ve had this wonderful Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, but there’s a question mark hanging over the head of the next one, is she not also like the newcomers in the National Prosecuting Authority, which replaced people who were not afraid, went without fear or favour to do the job which the Constitution gives them to do?
Now, we have people who are, to a certain extent, politically motivated and political dominated in these institutions. The economy is in a mess. Economic confidence has been destroyed. Companies are sitting on billions and billions of Dollars and they’re not investing it. They’re waiting for something to happen. They’re waiting to see how things will turn out? The lack of investment is causing unemployment to grow. Our education system is in tatters, bad education. It’s not that there’s not enough. Everybody gets educated but the quality of the education is very low, and many of the things I’m saying, not all of them but this for instance, the question of education. It has been highlighted by the National Planning Commission, of which Trevor Manuel was the chairman and of which Cyril Ramaphosa was the deputy chairman. Their analysis shows that only through better education and more focussed education trained on the labour requirements of the country will result in bringing down the unemployment level. So SA is in quite a mess.
Why hasn’t it exploded?
I think Jan Smuts or somebody said, ‘SA is always in trouble but it never sinks.’ He used other words but that was more or less the message that he gave. I think there is a resilience within SA. There is a quiet moderate majority, also amongst black South Africans who want the country to succeed, and who say, ‘we’re not going to hand over into the hands of reckless leaders. We’re going to discipline them.’ The polls show that the ANC might drop below 50% in the next general election. They’re not losing white voters. They’re losing black voters. Black South Africans are beginning to say to the ANC, the ANC as you are now, where Zuma is leader, ‘we will not vote for.’ Maybe they won’t vote for other parties immediately but there will be a tremendous stay away vote if things continue as they do in the 2019 election.
I want to take you back to something we were talking about this afternoon where you said one of your highlights of your life was a referendum, when white SA voted for a change, they voted to support you. Going into that, what did you think was likely to happen?
Well, I’m not a reckless gambler. I wouldn’t have called the Referendum if I thought we would’ve lost but I thought we would get about 54% of the vote, I was quite confident of that, but I had to renew my mandate. We had a general mandate for reform in the 1989 election, but we went much further with the negotiations and the question was basically saying, “You know now what we’re doing, must we go ahead with this to its logical consequences, yes or no?” and when faced with that, 69.9% of the voters said, “Go ahead” and voted yes. The results came out on my birthday, on the 18th of March and it was the biggest birthday present I ever got.
It was a bit like looking back for some people, the turkeys voting for Christmas though because here was white South Africa voting away power.
Yes, but white South Africa realised white domination must end. We convinced them. I believe that the true task of a leader is to convince people of what he or she believes is best for them and not to say, “What do you want to hear from me?” and then to give them what they want to hear. We went (especially in the Referendum) in homes, on the streets, wherever and to make a clear case for the time for total renewal, for inclusivity, for one united South Africa in which there will be no form of discrimination. They realised that is where the future of their children also lies, not in a minority sitting on top of a landmine.
I remember well, I think it was the Cricket World Cup, just before the Referendum because I think Jonty Rhodes got you guys quite a few extra percentage points.
Yes, that was just before the Referendum, I think.
A very famous dive that he made and the team did well there. South Africans realised that there was a world, a big world outside of South Africa, but where I’m going with this, was you went into that election with an expectation of 54% and the country surprised you hugely on the upside. 2019, could there be that kind of a surprise, it is beyond the realms of expectation that you have a significant or substantial swing as we’ve seen in other parts of the world?
I expect a substantial swing. I mean the ANC had 62% votes in the last general election. They will now feel relieved if they get 51%. It’s a very substantial swing. I think in the same process, the DA, the main opposition party will grow as well. Their target is 30%. I’m not sure they will reach that, but I do think that they will improve their position. I’m worried about Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters. I wouldn’t like to see them become too strong. They might attract some of the disillusioned young black voters who will no longer vote for the ANC, but I don’t expect them to grow dramatically either. They surprised everybody with their initial vote received, but in municipal elections, and so on it became clear that they’re not all that strong and all that popular; they have a sort of a fairly narrowly defined constituency, if I can put it that way. So I expect dramatic swings, but maybe not as dramatic as from 54% to 69.9%.
That’s on the premise that the ANC stays as one party.
If it were to split, then we’re definitely in for coalition politics. Then of course, one’s hopes would be that the moderates will do very well and that the radicals will fight it out with the EFF for a more limited part of the total constituency of South Africa.
We tried coalition politics, you tried coalition politics in the government of national unity, but you walked out.
I walked out for two reasons; it’s still the decision, my one decision that is mostly criticised even by ex-colleagues that I took. The one is, I committed myself during the negotiation process, to an ongoing form of power sharing and the ANC refused that. They said, “Yes, for a five-year term” and promised us, while we negotiate in that five-year term, the final constitution; they’re open to suggestions for how we can have a form of power sharing at the executive level in the future. Once we were in the coalition, in the government of national unity, which wasn’t a coalition by the way, it was a constitutional structure, they gave a cold shoulder and said, “This is for five years and thereafter the democracy will be fully normalised”, we made our last proposal, and it was a very mild proposal.
We proposed that if any party gets more than 50% of the vote, that party forms the government as in any normal democracy, but that in the constitution we should establish a consultative council on which the other bigger parties would also be represented and that the constitution should then say to any future government, “All the major decisions you take, before finalising it, it needs to be referred to this consultative council in an effort to find consensus. If consensus is reached, that consensus becomes the policy of the country, if consensus is now reached then normal democratic practices and principles will apply”. They said, “No” to that and because that is one promise on which I did not deliver, that was my one reason and I said, “If anything is to come to an end in five years, why don’t we bring it to an end now and start fighting as a strong, normal opposition”.
My second reason was that they wanted to shut me up. In the first 18 months or so, they realised that they were going through a learning process. I chaired every second cabinet meeting and Thabo Mbeki chaired every other one, we rotated. Mandela never chaired the cabinet meetings. He attended, but he didn’t chair it. So, after about 18 months they felt, “Now we’ve learnt enough” and then when I criticised a decision, which was taken, which we resisted in cabinet. As the leader of the opposition, I said, “We don’t agree with this decision”, they said, ”No”, I’m not allowed to, I’m the Deputy president, I had my chance in cabinet and I’m not allowed as leader of the National Party (the main opposition party), to criticise any cabinet decision outside. That is not what was expected within the structure and it was in resistance to that that I took the party out of the National GNU.
You don’t have a third reason.
Again, where I’m heading here is, given your experience, why doesn’t Cyril Ramaphosa leave the ANC now? If you were in his shoes and he’s three years older than you were when you retired from active party politics, so he has plenty of experience, why would he not learn from your experience and perhaps leave now?
Well, it isn’t a good example that you quote because the National Party no longer exists.
So starting up a new party is not so easy. My successor in the National Party sold out, gave up and actually joined the ANC and became a minister in the ANC cabinet, which I hold against him.
Do you still call him “Kortbroek”?
No, I never called him denigrating names, but he is still called “Kortbroek” publicly.
So, it’s just us, the media.
The fact is that there is still room in the present situation in South Africa for a centre right party. The DA is in essence, a liberal party, it’s not a centre right party and although most former supporters of the National Party vote for the DA, there is room for a right and centre party, a sort of an Angela Merkel party.
I’d like to go back to State Capture and get quite specific now. Through the global leadership Forum, you engage with very powerful people around the world. Bell Pottinger is no more, they’re in bankruptcy, but the three companies that have been named and shamed and exposed in the Gupta leaks, which have been authenticated, are KPMG, McKinsey and SAP. Now these are massive multinationals that are starting, as we see, in the British Media, to come under pressure. Do you think that those, first of all, if you’ve had a chance to look at what they’re alleged to have done, that they acted appropriately and secondly, if there were to be action against those organisations, do you think that would scare off investment or bring investment into South Africa again? In other words, “If you operate corruptly in South Africa, this is what happens to you”.
I don’t really feel qualified to answer that question well, but let me just give you my gut reaction. Firstly, I think it’s all still under investigation, so I don’t want to go too far in making a pronouncement now. Secondly, I think that it was more a question of negligence and a question of not wanting to lose big clients, which led to that, than subscribing to corruption or corrupt practices. So somehow or another I don’t have sympathy for them, but I think we must give them a chance to really explain themselves.
Do you think they are? They’ve been very quiet.
Well, they fired a few and they took some actions and steps.
Andersen went down for less than what they’re alleged to have done.
Anyway it’s interesting. We’ll no doubt be hearing a lot more. I hope there’s no one from KPMG in the audience recording this. Well, we’re recording it, so Jeff, if you can grab the microphone, if you have a question, if you would put up your hand and Jeff will come along, pick up your question, and ask. What are the chances, before we move onto the questions, of another Zimbabwe in South Africa, how high would you put that percentage?
Personally, I think we won’t become another Zimbabwe, I’m fairly confident in my mind about that. South Africa is different from all the other former colonies in a certain sense. It has its own economy. Weak as it is at the moment, there is something like a true South African economy, which has been built up over more than a century. Therefore, we have a private sector, which is quite different. We don’t only have outside investors; we have people whose full investment is in South Africa. We have this strong civil society, we have a good constitution, and we have a constitutional court, which is not afraid to castigate the government and even Parliament if they act unconstitutionally. So I feel we have enough checks and balances in South Africa to prevent us becoming a Zimbabwe.
Are they sufficient though, to spark a Brazilian type Operation Car Wash? Those of you who haven’t been following what’s going on in Brazil, a President has been impeached, the richest man has been jailed for 12 years, the second-richest man is now facing similar charges. There are 36 crony capitalists and politicians in jail as we speak. Operation Car Wash is three years old and they reckon there’s a long way to go yet. Those checks and balances you speak about, could they spark something similar in South Africa?
Yes I believe it can, I think there’s a case before the courts at the moment asking to force the National Prosecuting Authority to prosecute President Zuma on the more than 700 counts of fraud which is hanging over his head arising from the arms scandal. There‘s a group contemplating if the National Prosecuting Authority gives a “nolly” as they say in legal terms and we won’t prosecute because there isn’t a sufficient case, and that’s allowed in our law, bring a private prosecution against Zuma. I think our legal system can accommodate this type of action to the extent of bringing to book the real crooks.
So if we were to look ahead five years and a foreign investor approached you and said, “I’m struggling to understand BEE, people who want kickbacks, etcetera, in South Africa, I really don’t want to put any money there”, how would you respond to that?
I will start by simply saying, “Well, I will die there and all three of my children are there and will stay there. I have confidence in the future of South Africa and I think it’s a time you can really do bargain deals right now in South Africa, carpe diem, grab the day and go now and I’m convinced in my heart in ten years you won’t be sorry that you invested there”. South Africa is destined to play a pivotal role in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s already, even with all the problems. If you analyse how many companies launch their African operations, Sub-Saharan African operations, from South Africa it’s impressive. It is the portal, also in the economic sense of the word, definitely of Southern Africa, but even of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.
What’s going to spark it, what’s going to change the extreme negative view that exists towards the country from investors?
I think the election of a leader, even if you don’t support them, but of a leader of the ANC who will be regarded as somebody who deserves to be given a chance to do the right things, I think a bad result for the ANC in the 2019 election will help to make people feel democracy is normalising, we’re not a one-party state. At the next election there might even be further changes and I think the achievement of real economic growth, which will inspire further confidence, we need to get the economy growing, but for that, we need to get into cabinet again. People like the ones who have been fired instead of the ones who have been appointed in their place and only a new leader can do that.
Thank you Alec, we have a number of questions. I’ll collect more once Mr de Klerk answers these questions. First question up, what is the extent of official land reform, can South Africa survive when or if its agricultural sector fails and coupled to that, is the wholesale slaughter of farmers a politically motivated genocide?
Well, firstly agriculture is part of the backbone of the South African economy. If you look at the number of people that it employs and if you look in good agricultural years at their contribution towards GDP, it’s an important sector of the economy. I think that the government is not dealing well with agriculture. Because most of the big farmers are white, they’re not helping the agricultural sector as most other countries, as the developed world is doing. We’re going through a drought now and the help, which is coming, is too little too late, so again, we need better governance in order to allow the agricultural sector to bloom. It’s not blooming; it’s suffering at the moment. There is a need for land reform and that is written into the constitution, but the land reform must not be at the cost of productivity and of the present landowners.
If there’s expropriation, it must be on the basis of a proper evaluation, a proper price for the property. The ANC is playing, Zuma is playing, not everybody in the ANC, but Zuma is playing with the same concept as Malema and that is appropriation of land without compensation, which is absolute nonsense. It’s based on the archaic view that all the land belongs to the nation and that individual land ownership is actually something alien to Africa, which is nonsense in this day and age. I think the number of farmers is dwindling, but inescapably, to remain competitive, bigger and highly trained people are farming bigger farming units quite successfully.
Mechanisation is reducing the number of people employed in the farming community, so agriculture is going through a period of fundamental change, but it’s holding its own. For a long time, it thought by nestling up to the ANC, that it could achieve their goals. They have come to realise, I think that you can’t trust the ANC as it is on deals, they must make a stand, and they must make a firm stand. On the issue of farm murders, I don’t think it could be compared with genocide, I think it’s the result of the high unemployment rate, it’s the result of the loneliness and the easy targets which farm houses and farmers pose and in that sense of the word, I’m extremely upset about the rate of farm murders, but I don’t think there is a big conspiracy somewhere to kill all white farmers. I think that it’s individual cases of criminality.
It’s an interesting point that you make there about the farmers taking a stand. We’ve seen a similar change in the business community from one of appeasement to now taking a stand as well. What do you think the impact of that’s going to be, hardening of attitudes?
Well if it initially hardens attitudes, let it harden attitudes. I also think the business community was too cosy with the government for too long and thought that they could, by being good friends and meeting each other very regularly and socialise quite a lot with them, they could help to keep things on track, but they became captives of the present regime as has been shown in a number of instances and I welcome the new stronger stance by business to stand up for itself. It’s an important pillar of civil society, our business community, they must speak up, and they must make their backs stiff.
How do the initiatives you talk of move forward when personal safety is so threatened by crime and coupled with that, is the current unrest in the Western Cape, Kleinmond and Hout Bay politically motivated to make the DA Cape ungovernable?
A real analysis, and once again I’m not unsympathetic towards those who are threatened by crime, but a real analysis shows what makes us the most murderous country in the world is not the murders which take place in places where you and your family live or would have lived in South Africa, it takes place in the squatter towns where eight people sleep in one bedroom under dire circumstances. The very high rape figure is not for, let’s say the first world community, it’s not out of step with the figures of Great Britain and of America and whatever, the high rape figures come from the squatter town where utmost poverty reigns.
So economic growth, development will improve the security in that regard, but of course we also need much more effective policing and the quality of policing has gone down as the quality of services in general has. What is one of the reasons for that? Cadre deployment. People are appointed to jobs, not because they’ve been properly trained for it, not because they have the right experience but because of whom they know or because of the colour of their skin. Therefore, we need to get the concept of cadre deployment refocused on saying, “We deploy people who can do the job, who are properly trained, and who have the right experience for the job”. Then we will see dramatic change in the delivery of services, in the case of the Western Cape, the unrest that we’ve had there in the number of settlements.
I think there’s an element of political inspiration, yes. I don’t think it’s spontaneous. Cape Town is better governed than any other part of South Africa. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but it’s definitely better governed and more effort is being made to really address the problems that such communities face. So I think there’s a big element of unfair criticism against them and that there is some political motivation to say, “You see, the Western Cape isn’t as good as they claim to be”.
You touched on poverty. Is there much that you left, your legacy that was there to address poverty? You’re often accused of doing a great deal for the whites.
In the years of separate development, it was quite socialistic in a certain sense of the word. If you count how many new universities were erected, if you look at education as it was in 1948 and you look at it as it was in 1989 when I was Minister of National Education, there were dramatic improvements as well for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Many opportunities were created as well. When I say that, they say I defend Apartheid. I don’t defend Apartheid, I admit it’s morally unacceptability, but to deny the fact that much was done and achieved in housing, health and education, if you go back 50 years then it’s also factually true.
What about the poverty problem? It’s almost like in the new South Africa, the white populations past privilege has become a lightning rod, certainly for Zuma in Parliament, he uses it in every opportunity, is there a system, is there a structure that we can address it with?
Poverty has grown under the ANC since 1994.
If you analyse figures, poverty has grown. There are more people now living beneath the breadline than there were, not only more, but also properly mathematically compared, than there were in 1994, in 1989. So an element of the people suffering under poverty is the lack of economic growth, is the breaking down of an investor friendly economic climate and they must take the blame for that.
Take the money out of the system. You’re not going to get growth, and everyone’s going to suffer.
How do you change culture of institutionalised corruption in government? Should a new leader who is willing to eradicate corruption come to power?
By instituting rules and regulations, by having an effective police service, by having an effective national prosecuting authority, by implementing the law without fear or favour and by having as in large state corporations which handle so many billions of Rands, proper management, proper leadership, well-trained people running those big institutions.
Following on from that, could the new mayors of metropolitans like Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and Tshwane be part of the national leadership?
Well, I think they have quite a lot on their hands to fight corruption, which they inherited within their municipalities. But if they succeed, they will have a hand in the national fight against corruption because they will become a shining example of what can be achieved by proper action and on the last one, I’m not going to say whom I want to see, I don’t want to give anyone the kiss of death.
Whom don’t you want to see?
The more we praise, if I were to praise and people like me were to praise one, it becomes a burden on that person’s shoulders.
Okay, so you don’t want to say who you don’t want either.
No, I want somebody with insight into the economy, somebody with clean hands, somebody with an understanding of the complexity of our diversity, and somebody who will return to Mandela’s biggest legacy, the need for reconciliation in South Africa. Those would be some of my requirements that I would say before I say, “I like that man”, or “I like that woman”.
I’m going to break a little bit, Alec, if you don’t mind because we have every prominent member of our society here, Barry Davison and I’m going to ask Barry to pose the question himself.
I’m just going to say, relative to your most recent answer here, that you’re like Jacob Zuma looking for the second coming in your next president and that’s actually one of my questions and if I may I’ll start with the second question. It’s going to take a person of extraordinary vision, stature, balls, be they male or female balls to turn South Africa around. I think we all know that. Do you see, and this is partly related to previous question, do you see such an individual emerging in South African politics?
I’ll expand on this, but do you see any leader in any country in the world at the moment who complies with your requirements? We have a dearth of leadership in the world at the moment. I don’t see anybody like the one you describe at the moment, also in South Africa.
No, I don’t see anybody like that, but I want somebody who comes nearest as possible to that. There are good people in South Africa; there are also good people in the ANC. I would like one of the good people with his or her shortcomings, one of the good people who is honest in his or her commitment to help South Africa successful in becoming the leader of the ANC or to become the next president in South Africa. I don’t want another bad person who plays for own interest, who surrounds him or herself with weak people to get into power.
A leader, a good leader surrounds himself with strong people. He likes the strong people to tell him, “You’re wrong on this”. I tried to do that, I surrounded myself with strong people. I appointed Derek Keys as Minister of Finance. I wanted expertise in that field because I don’t have the expertise and I didn’t have the expertise in the rest of my cabinet. I would like to see a leader who says, “I surround myself with strong people, strong-willed people with expertise, with good knowledge, with good experience and I will listen to them before I jump to conclusions and before I just follow my head or follow my heart”.
I think we all agree with that. I agree with that. My question to you was, not the description of the person we need, but do you see any such person emerging and frankly, I don’t believe the standard of leaders that we have anywhere in the world answers the question. I think we’re going to require somebody quite extraordinary in South Africa and I wondered with your considerable insights whether you had any suggestions.
Can I just say this? Amongst the contenders, there are people who’ve made quite a success of what else they’ve done in life and amongst the contenders are people who whatever else they did in their life did not make a success of what they embarked upon.
I guess what Barry’s saying is we have very high standards in South Africa, so we would like to see whether or not they can be achieved and I put this to you and I put it to the audience here, I’ve engaged with many people in the financial game in London and their view is pretty callous: As long as corruption can be kept to a certain level, we’ll live with it, we are happy to put money in South Africa, which goes very much against the Rainbow Nation dream and perhaps the idealism of someone who follows my profession and hopefully someone who followed yours as well. What do you say to those kinds of individuals?
Firstly, I say I don’t think corruption can be eradicated totally in any country. There is much corruption in highly developed countries, it’s just much more sophisticated, it’s rough and raw in South Africa and in Africa, it’s highly sophisticated in highly sophisticated societies, but there’s a lot of corruption in America. I’m sure there’s corruption in the UK, I’m sure there’s corruption in Germany, so corruption is a problem like sin which will be with us forever, but yes, so I would agree that there should be firm, strong and visible action against corruption.
There should be strong deterrents against corruption, there should be prosecution if people are caught out and there should be people trying to catch the corruptors and the corrupted. We must also remember that in corruption there are two sides always. There’s somebody receiving a bribe, but there’s somebody giving that bribe, so generally speaking I would agree with that assumption and I would further agree, what we need when I refer to cadre deployment, we need to get a new interpretation and application of things like Black Economic Empowerment and things like Affirmative Action. There should be a balance struck between experience about training, about being properly suited for a job from a technical or an academic point of view and on the other hand, the need for giving black South Africans a much more active role in all walks of life.
Yes, give them a chance. Jeff, do you have a question? Let’s just follow on from that while Jeff’s getting to the next question. We didn’t really explore this to the degree I’d like to, but the role that people in this room can play in that, in helping to perhaps educate, in helping to get South Africa back on its feet.
Well, I would say a few things. One is, to fight extreme pessimism about South Africa, to speak up for South Africa as I’m doing tonight. I’m doing it from conviction, not because that’s the theme of the discussion that I was being invited to. What I’m telling you is what I believe and if you feel that notwithstanding all the problems and it’s a big stack of problems, that somehow or another, you believe that South Africa isn’t as bad as some people believe, as some over pessimistic people believe. Speak up for South Africa and say, “No, but there’s another side to the coin, South Africa is different, South Africa has this resilience, South Africa has this strong civil society”.
Secondly, by supporting civil society in South Africa, financially I’m not making a bit now for donations to the FW de Klerk Foundation, but I won’t turn any donations down. Although, there are so many good organisations in South Africa that are doing a sterling job. Help them, support them when they reach out to you, help them and to the younger ones, when things get better, or when the Rand becomes strong, consider coming back to South Africa, we need you.
Thank you, Alec. I think this is another question moving on from the point. Is the church uniquely positioned to make a contribution to a fundamental value shift in South Africa?
The church has a role to play and it’s beginning to play it. The church is at the forefront now together with others, but it’s one of the institutions at the forefront of demanding Zuma to step down, of how do you say in English, “Om die doekies om te draai nie”, of not –
Covering up, sort of the deficiencies of the present government and in a very forthright manner coming out against corruption, against the corrupt leader, against racialism and so on. So, the church is in a good position to influence the hearts and minds of people, but we have a strong separation between church and state in South Africa. We’re a secular country and the church shouldn’t get directly involved in party politics, I believe and party politicians shouldn’t directly get involved in trying to get the church to do knee bends and to assist in and to support it.
What did you make of the gathering of a million people outside of Bloemfontein with Angus Buchan, the day of prayer because some very interesting things have happened since that gathering of people there?
No, I think it’s a manifestation of believers in God that intervention from above is also necessary or is fundamental to help resolve the problems and the negatives, which we have in South Africa at the moment.
You mentioned Derek Keys earlier. On one of your tours in the early nineties with Nelson Mandela in New York, you were asking for the release of sanctions, I’m sure you’ll remember it and Derek was with you and I was with the SABC following you around with a camera and I asked Derek Keys about the way he was reading it and was this divine intervention? Because at that times things didn’t look good if you recall. He said, “It probably was, but we have been made to wait for quite a long time for this”. The divine intervention that happened then clearly is obviously possible again, but do you think there was some other force at work then and potentially now?
Well, I’m a Christian, I’m a believer, so I believe that God is this force which allows things to happen and makes things happen, yes, but I don’t think one should try and say, “Now it’s because God intervened that FW changed his attitude” or “It’s because God intervened that this happened”, we must say, “God has given all of us an responsibility to do in an honest and open way what we believe should be done to rectify situations which are wrong and to stabilise situations which are good and to create opportunities for better situations, that’s our task. Humanists believe in this, also non-believers, agnostics believe in these values of human rights, of free enterprise, of freedom of association or freedom of the press etcetera and the rule of law. So, we should accept our responsibility and not sort of pick ourselves on the shoulder and say, “God made me do this”. Then you become a sort of an unsettled person at times.
But we’ll take help from anywhere we can get it right now. Jeff?
Yes, there are some great examples of South African entrepreneurs leading the way in developing innovative new technology throughout the world. Where and how do you see South Africa as a nation innovating to kick-start the economic growth in South Africa?
On the technical side, we have reason to be very proud of South Africans. I’ve read a recent article about the top people in the new technical industry, which has developed around the internet, and South Africans play a very important role in that. I’ve also recently read an article that part of the problem of unemployment in South Africa is because the economy of South Africa has changed substantially away from the major main manufacturers. Manufacturing share of the GDP has sunk, the agricultural share has shrunk, mining share has shrunk, and on the technical side and the technocratic side, South Africans share of the GDP has grown. So, we are moving along with the world although we’re not near the leadership in the world, but we have reason to be proud of what South Africa is doing in the technological field.
You just wonder what Elon Musk would do if he were to come back to South Africa, but I need to ask you something because Pik Botha, your sidekick for many years, his grandson is shaking up Silicon Valley.
Roelof Botha. Was Pik that clever, was it his genes or did he marry well?
Pik is extremely clever, he has the memory of an elephant and he’s not healthy at the moment, but you can ask Pik any question about the past and he will come up with the facts, slightly coloured by his emotion, but with the facts.
And his grandson, what he’s doing there… Clearly, they would keep in touch?
Oh yes, he’s a family man. No, Pik is quite an enigma.
But I suppose that also plays to what you said earlier about the sadness of losing such talent from South Africa.
How does that get reversed? You said you’d like to see it happen, but what are the green shoots that would keep the talent in the country and perhaps draw back?
I think the end of blatant racial discrimination. The reasons given by people who leave are discrimination on the basis of race and colour and insecurity because of the high crime rate and then there is of course, the third reason that with the value of the Rand as weak as it is, if you get a decent job overseas you can pay off your study debt so much easier and so much quicker and so the lure of greater financial success I think also plays a role. What will it take to keep them, to give them the feeling, “In this country, I can realise my full potential”.
Right, I think one final question. The South African constitution is considered to be one of the most advanced constitutions in the world because of its positive rights, e.g. housing, but what use is such a constitution if it does not adequately protect the people from government. Was there anything that you could have done differently to ensure that the people, especially minorities would be better protected?
Firstly, it does protect the people from bad governance by upholding an independent judiciary. Of course, going to court is expensive, which is a problem, but more and more we see that there are organisations starting to say, “We will help you to assert your rights in court if you can’t afford to do it yourself”. I’m not a great supporter. I think they’re a bit too far right and too racial in their thinking, although they’re not fully racial, but solidarity has drafted Gerrie Nel, the most famous prosecutor in South Africa to them to do private prosecutions where the National Prosecuting Authority fails to prosecute. In my own foundation, I employ two lawyers fulltime and we advise people on their constitutional rights. In deserving cases, we help them to get legal assistance so they are protected. There are protective measures. Whether minorities are sufficiently protected or not, it’s an open question.
The fact is the present regime of ANC tries its level best to undermine the protection, which has been built in. If you look at the right, for instance, to mother tongue education, there’s such pressure on schools to become firstly, dual medium schools that single language except if it’s English language. Afrikaans single language schools are under tremendous pressures. The result is more and more private schools come into being, and more and more people send their children to those private schools.
The right of Freedom of Association, the ANC tries to undermine that by saying, “No, no, the whole country must look like the composition of the population register”. In other words, only 5% of the people are white, so only 5% of whites should serve in boards of companies etc. They call it “representivity”, what’s the word before it? I am just having a senior moment. Therefore, those sections in the constitution, which has the capacity to protect minorities, are under threat because of the Black Nationalist grouping within the ANC, which are returning to a new form of racism, which is as unacceptable and as wrong as apartheid was.
I want to close off with a couple of questions. Warren Buffett, the thing that worries him, that scares him is a nuclear war. Right now, the world’s looking at North Korea and it’s of great concern. South Africa also had nuclear weapons, which you dismantled. Do you see any parallels here or is there any insight you can give us to this whole issue that the world’s grappling with?
The only way to get North Korea to do that is to appoint FW de Klerk as its president. With the man that there is, I think it’s absolute pie in the sky to expect him to just quietly decide, I will dismantle my nuclear capacity in order to get international acceptance again in order to get sanctions lifted and so on, which is one of the reasons why I dismantled them. I also dismantled them because I didn’t believe in them, I didn’t believe we needed such a deterrent, I didn’t believe we should or would or could ever use such a weapon and it cost billions and billions and billions.
I’m anti-nuclear weapons per se, also for America, also for England, also for France, also for Russia, but you can’t expect them to give it up while the illegal ones who aren’t given that right in terms of the MPT, while they have it. So, it’s a sort of a chicken and egg situation, but somehow or another we need a great international debate about the whole issue, how can it be better regulated and how can all those who have it, legally or illegally start to bring down their reserves until it comes to nil. I know that’s very idealistic, but if I were a young man, that’s one issue I would’ve attached myself to and I would’ve tried to influence public opinion in that direction.
Do you talk about that with…
Because of what we did in South Africa, with my speaking circuit hat on, I quite often attend conferences, which focus on these issues, yes.
The last question, which is related, is the whole proposed nuclear power deal in South Africa, which has the potential to bring RW Johnson’s predictions, well to accelerate them to bankrupt the country, force it to the IMF etc. That nuclear deal, is it going to happen?
There’s a fear. I can’t substantiate it, so I won’t call it more than a fear or a suspicion that actually quietly, behind closed doors, a deal has already been made with Russia. That allegation is being made. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. I think we can do with one more nuclear power station, maybe even with two over a longer period, but it’s too ambitious a plan, it will bankrupt South Africa. It’s too expensive to do, it’s unnecessary and I think that internally, in South Africa, the resistance against that is building up to such an extent that any government will have difficulty to push it through in its present conceptions, but one or two more, I think that might be a realistic possibility.
To close, you’ve said earlier that you see the glass half-full. Why?
Because of the strengths which I have mentioned and because of what I perceive to be happening in the South African nation, the shifts which I’m beginning to see. I also see non-racialism work in South Africa. Those of you who no longer liver there, will be astonished if you come back and see how easily people mix, how easily in schools black and white kids go together to the same school. There’s a backbone in the South African nation of balanced people who, when things get really out of hand, will stand up and wipe away those who are dragging South Africa down into darkness. So, I believe in the people of South Africa and I believe we have enough good institutions and systems in place including mainly our constitution, which is not just words written on paper; it’s a live document to prevent another catastrophe from overcoming us.
Thank you very much.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.