Tuesday, May 26, 2009

De Klerk 'cautiously optimistic' about Zuma

Last week Robert Krause and I published an article in the expatriate newspaper, The South African (19 May 2009). Below is the report we wrote on a speech FW de Klerk gave to the Royal Commonwealth Society (12 May 2009). De Klerk gave a measured analysis of the current state of politics in South Africa following the elections and there was plenty of vigorous discussion afterward. Congratulations to the Commonwealth Club for putting on a successful event.

Read the full edition of The South African in digital format here. (our article is on pg. 5)


Download the full text on the FW de Klerk Foundation Website.


"The reality is that Mr. Zuma will not be acceding
to the presidency in the happiest of circumstances"

Former President F.W. De Klerk was in London this week, and he expressed cautious optimism about the future of South Africa after the election of President Jacob Zuma. The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate described Zuma as a pragmatic, non-ideological leader, but warned South Africans to be vigilant in protecting the constitution and the integrity of democratic institutions.

Addressing a packed hall at the Commonwealth Society Club on Tuesday 12 May, De Klerk said South Africans today have “much to celebrate”. The April 22nd polls constituted the fourth orderly transfer of power in line with the constitution, he said. “The election showed our young democracy is resilient and adds to the achievement of the past fifteen years,” de Klerk said. He also spoke highly of the long period of economic growth under former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s stewardship, which led to the emergence of the black middle class. Over 3 million houses have been built, and state allowances extended to 13 million children, he added.

The emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) also offered the prospect of a strengthened non-racial opposition to hold government to account, he said. Similarly, the victory of the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape was important as it “broke the monopoly on power at the provincial level.”

However, de Klerk lamented that South Africa still has serious problems, such as the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS with much time lost in tackling the crisis due to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialism. The country is also burdened with an incredibly high level of social inequality, which de Klerk ascribed to the high rate of unemployment and poor education.

In his speech De Klerk identified two major trends in the African National Congress that were cause for concern. Firstly there is the tendency of the ruling party to advance its own interests at the expense of state institutions. Second is the desire for the left wing of the Tripartite Alliance to depart from the Washington Consensus orthodoxy, which De Klerk credits for the growth South Africa has enjoyed until recently, when the global economic slowdown began to impact negatively on the domestic economy.

De Klerk feared that the circumstances in which Zuma’s charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority meant that “in the future the ruling party will decide who would be prosecuted”. Equally worrying were the attacks by senior ANC leaders on the courts and the supremacy of the constitution, the most recent example of which was Zuma’s recent statement that the powers of the Constitutional Court should be reviewed and that the justices of the Court were “not God”.

De Klerk also claimed that if the South African Communist Party and COSATU succeeded in getting the ANC to adopt redistributive policies it would be a disaster for South Africa which would “kill the goose that laid the golden egg”. There was no middle path between ‘orthodox’ and statist economic directions, he said, and President Zuma will eventually have to choose which direction is best.

Despite these concerns, De Klerk, said he was optimistic that South Africa would ‘confound the prophets of doom.’ One reason for his optimism was his assessment of Zuma as a good listener and primarily a pragmatist not driven by ideological agendas. Then there was his choice of cabinet which was inclusive. For example conservative Afrikaners’ interests were represented by new deputy minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Pieter Mulder of the Freedom Front + [Ed: see my interview with Mulder before the elections]. Key portfolios such as finance and housing were in the hands of moderates. Trevor Manuel retained his influence on policy through his appointment as head of the National Planning Commission, a position de Klerk likened to almost that of a Prime Minister in the scope of its powers.


Photo by David Ansara

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi - Please call, fax or email the Burmese Embassy


The message below arrived in my inbox this morning from the Social Justice Coalition and I felt it necessary to give it some more air time. I have blogged and published an article on the injustices in Burma on previous occasions - and particularly South Africa's response to the situation there. This is a small, but meaningful step that we can all take as citizens of democratic nations to resist authoritarianism. Our brothers and sisters in Myanmar do not enjoy the most basic freedoms; let us at least show our solidarity with them, even if the Generals won't necessarily listen.

It also sends a message to the new Jacob Zuma-led government that the era of appeasing dictatorial regimes in the name of some ill-defined 'national interest' must end.

Dear All

Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned without visitors in her home (pictured above) in Burma since 1990 by a military dictatorship. In 1990, the National Democracy League won a general election by a large majority and the military refused to hand over power and instead crushed the National Democracy League and all political dissent.

On 13 May 2009, an American protester (John William Yeattaw) swam across the river that passed her home and despite being ill, she has been put on trial. 61 year old Suu Kyi now faces imprisonment. Please call the Burmese (Myanmar) junta's embassy in Pretoria: Tel: 27-12-341 2556 or 341 2557 Fax: 27-12-341 2553 and to demand freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma. or Email: mepta@myanemb-sa.net

Just use your phone or email today. Send the message

“I demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma as well as the restoration of democracy."

Support a human rights-based International Relations policy. Build Global Solidarity for freedom and social justice.

Zackie Achmat

To get onto the Social Justice Coalition's activist mailing list email:


Or to sign up visit:



Post Scriptum:

I found it interesting that there is an embassy for the Myanmar junta in SA. I still think it is worth preserving diplomatic ties with these countries, despite their terrible abuses. You need to maintain access and you cannot do that if you force representatives out. For this reason I disagreed with COSATU's call in Jan/Feb of this year for the expulsion of the Israeli diplomatic mission.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Forum: Northern Ireland - what future for peace?

Since arriving in the United Kingdom I've had the privilege of attending an audience participation show called Forum, broadcast weekly on the international news service Press TV. I always try to ask a question as I think it is an excellent opportunity to engage with some leading thinkers and opinion-makers. You can see my question in the clip above or if you are interested in exploring the issue more you can download the full length episode here.

In this broadcast of 24 March 2009 the panel discusses the impact of British involvement in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The debate got pretty heated, with some vicious comments coming from the audience invoking the imperialistic behaviour of the British government stretching back 300 years.

As a South African I am keenly aware of Britain's colonial past and I do not romanticise the expansive Empire one bit. In Northern Ireland, British militarism was in many instances just as oppressive as in faraway Africa. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, where 27 civil rights activists were gunned down was one of many atrocities in this region. But the Irish Republican Army also committed some shocking acts of violent terror during the Troubles. It was an awful mess and the cyclical nature of the conflict left both sides morally compromised.

The pannelists seemed to agree that the framework for peace in the region was lasting and sustainable (despite recent sporadic violence by bittereinders calling themselves the 'Real IRA'). My question to the them concerned something greater than merely a cessation of hostilities. I was wondering if any attempts are ever made to reconcile the Protestant and Irish Catholic communities.

The answer I got was that a TRC-type model could never happen, as the wounds are still too raw. I disagree in that this process needs to take place while victims are still alive to tell their stories. So much of people's hurt comes from years of being ignored and you need to give voice to this anger, even if it makes you uncomfortable to hear it out in the open. The attainment of complete 'truth' is not as important here as acknowledging that an injustice was done and compensating victims for their losses.