Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Twenty one years after the courageous speech by former President FW de Klerk that ended the era of Apartheid, South Africa must face some difficult truths.
On 2 February 1990, as the President announced the unbanning of political parties and the release of political prisoners, we embraced the future with great optimism, and equally great trepidation. There is no doubt that that moment in history set in motion an ineluctable course of events, which led us to where we are and turned us into who we are.
President de Klerk broke the impasse of a country lying hopelessly in a rut of indecision and took us forward into unknown and unchartered territory. We can take pride in the fact that much of what was feared 21 years ago did not come to pass, and is not likely to come to pass.
We have not had a civil war and we have avoided bloodshed. The transition was peaceful and successful.
Many of the fears felt that day, whether expressed or unexpressed, proved to be unfounded and unwarranted. But not all of them.
I still harbour the optimism that united us on that fateful day. For me, it is not a blind optimism, but a platform from which our country can take blunt, candid and merciless cognisance of our shortcomings, in the full optimistic conviction that we can solve our problems if we are big and courageous enough to admit to the full measure of their existence.
The fact is that many of those who feared that a black government could not match the efficiency and competence of a white government have thus far been proven right. Corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude and ineffectiveness are rampant and widespread. Two of our nine provinces have all but collapsed. We must not shy away from these facts.
Yet President de Klerk has been thoroughly vindicated in prompting the country to take the leap of faith into an unknown future.
The liberalisation process that began on 2 February 1990 has radically changed our society. Progress has begun an incessant march, which is far from being completed, but has achieved beyond expectation.
Progress has changed for the better both the previously divided black and white segments of our society.
It is significant that most white people I know would never want to go back to where they were 21 years ago, in a white society closed within its cocoon to the progress and ideas of the world, and with practices and customs which now appear abhorrent to our present laws and mores.
Progress has blessed us all, not only black people who had the opportunity to climb the difficult ladder of self-respect and dignity which took us from being second rate citizens, often regarded as sub-human, to being citizens with equal rights and status, not only within South Africa, but within a broader world to which we now feel we fully and rightly belong.
Twenty one years ago, white married women were legally regarded as minors and were deprived of contractual capacity and dignity. There was no legislation to protect them from sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence or even marital rape. Children had no special protection in law and policy.
In so many respects the society of that time was depriving all its citizens of so much that they were entitled to have or expect. This is not unusual, for history shows us that wherever and whenever a society is constructed on the oppression of one group of people by another, everyone suffers from lack of freedom, lack of dignity and lack of progress.
After 21 years, I believe we must rekindle the optimism we all nurtured and address head-on all that was feared then and has now come to pass. Our society is healthy, has progressed and is moving forward.
We must commit ourselves not to fear additional progress and to continue to roll forward the frontiers of freedom.
Unfortunately, our Government is lagging behind and is not doing as well as the rest of society. Systems are deteriorating, corruption is increasing and the future looks bleak. This must be corrected, not merely by means of words, but through committed deeds within the political realm and under our Constitution.
In this respect, the work commenced by State President FW de Klerk 21 years ago is far from complete, and we all share the responsibility of moving it forward, not only for our own benefit, but to prove the correctness of the courageous actions taken 21 years ago on behalf of all South Africans and, in the final analysis, on behalf of history.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP