“Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.” F W de Klerk

President F W de Klerk opened the gate, ending apartheid and paving the way for democratic elections, freedom and equality.  This is part 2 of the political situation in South Africa: a ‘white South African’ perspective which in no way undermines Mandela’s mighty achievement documented in my December blog post. 

In December of last year I joined journalists and commentators from around the globe in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela.  Through his suffering, he was transformed from a passionate and happy go lucky civil rights campaigner and freedom fighter to a giant who pioneered freedom from apartheid for black South Africans.  The cost was 27 years of incarceration, solitary confinement and hard labour on Robben Island.  The prize: equality between black and white South Africans.

Nelson Mandela is the name we know who achieved international acclaim but he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with President F W de Klerk.  The white South African Leader encouraged the emancipation of black South Africans and sprung the end of apartheid upon white South Africa.  This followed protracted negotiations with Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC.  White South Africans held the power, including the Police force and the military might of the country as well as forming the Government.

President F W de Klerk ended apartheid in 1990 in one historic speech and explained why he was given the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nelson Mandela.  F W de Klerk invited all political parties of every colour and race to, “Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.”

In 30 minutes on 2nd February 1990, ‘President F W de Klerk had dismantled apartheid.  He ‘unbanned’ 30 other political parties unconditionally, released political parties’ prisoners with immediate effect, lifted the state of emergency and suspended the death penalty.’

Most significantly of all, De Klerk ‘opened the way for South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 300 years by promising “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.” De Klerk announced an independent judiciary and a commitment to equal justice for all enshrined in a new human rights manifesto.’  (Independent 02/02/10)

F W de Klerk wanted to seize his moment in history and protect his legacy.  He didn’t mention Nelson Mandela until late in the speech and only then named Mandela as a key player in negotiations, affirming Mandela’s willingness to participate in peaceful discussions.  A little known fact is that Mandela had refused unequivocally, when offered his release five years before, on condition he renounce violence.  De Klerk now confirmed Mandela’s unconditional release and promised an end to persecution.  Only then could Mandela trust F W de Klerk.

The comparison is when Gerry Adams, a former terrorist, was allowed to appear on television, write in the newspapers and eventually stand for election to the British Parliament in Westminster.

Why does this matter and what is happening now, twenty years later?

There is violence on the streets and in the townships from time to time, as before.  There is great wealth inequality but now the Black South Africans wield the power.  The giant who was Nelson Mandela has passed away in the natural cycle of life.  White South Africans hesitate to travel around South Africa for fear of reprisals and anecdotally the younger generations feel more kinship to the Germans after the Second World War than any other race or nation.

Confused, some consumed by guilt, white South African men unable to protect their women and families.  The result: they live in gated compounds with swimming pools, seeking to shelter themselves from violence on the streets, hatred and incomprehension.  The ruling White South Africans were oppressors, F W de Klerk dismantled the oppressive structures.  Mandela willed black South Africa to celebrate their freedom and forgive which is the only way that peace and true democracy will flourish in a united South Africa.

The father of a White South African friend of mine suffered the far lesser torment of relentless insomnia for 10 years before being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This disorder is not incarceration and hard labour for 27 years but is indicative of significant trauma.  The failure to diagnose the condition underlines the complexity and everyday tragedies witnessed by Doctors working in South Africa.  My friend’s wife, who was her husband’s carer for more than 10 years, needs a garden and has moved to Britain because her husband requires the security of a flat with an armed guard and concierge.  White South Africans are afraid that the disorder in Zimbabwe may befall South Africa.

In the Western World, a house in a safe neighbourhood with a garden is the norm for a middle aged couple.  Some households cannot afford a garden but the safety of civilians including women and children is protected and enshrined in most constitutions and any racial incidents rightly herald a public outcry.  The family of Stephen Lawrence has served Britain well, in confronting institutional racism head on.

My hope is that Black South Africa will continue to be able to forgive, not seeking retribution nor reprisals but peace and understanding.  There will be corruption, anger, resentment, incomprehension and belligerence but unity must triumph.  As Desmond Tutu aptly immortalised the words in his book, ‘there is no future without forgiveness.’  The intransigence, foresight and willpower of Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk must live on and the new nation of South Africa, now 20 years old, must become a mature democracy.