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


  1. most interesting David! thanks! interesting that De Klerk still subscribes to the 'Washington consensus', when almost the whole Western world seems to have moved beyond maybe even a 'post-Washington consensus', or maybe he is not the only one and that much of the SA govt still subscribes to the W-c (which perhaps is now just for the developing world...!)

  2. Yeah, de Klerk seems to have gotten more economically right wing with age, even as his social outlook has become more liberal. Not a complete contradiction - the free market of ideas and players where rational choice is emphasised and the rule of law respected.

    Ironically, the Nationalists for all their rooi gevaar had a deeply statist understanding of the economy. The civil service was heavy with useless jobs like tapping train wheels and endless stamping of rubber.

    Now we have a minimalist AND inefficient state apparatus which is equally bad.

    On the Washington Consensus, I think it is a general term for market-driven economics and a small budget deficit (under 3%) that prioritises growth over redistribution (pro-business, pro-foreign investment).

    De Klerk raised an interesting point which wasn't covered in our article. It is fine, he says, to have all this so-called fluidity in the global economy but agricultural subsidies in the developed world prevent the developing world from operating on a level playing field.

    Especially with the scarcity of arable land in the world this is an area where Africa could really compete in future. The Indians turned themselves from a famine-struck country in the 1960s to a net exporter of grain in the 1970s through the 'Green Revolution'. We have the means to do the same on the continent, but not if French livestock and Texan corn is subsidised to the hilt.

    FW says he makes this call whenever he possibly can when he's visiting the first world. I support that call wholeheartedly.

    Thanks Mark for your continued interest in QPQ!