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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