'Whites feel like second-class citizens' - FW

Time of article published Mar 11, 2007

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By Stephen Bevan

White South Africans feel like second-class citizens in their own country because of the way affirmative action is being implemented, former president and Nobel peace laureate FW de Klerk said this week.

In an interview in Johannesburg, De Klerk, who will celebrate his 71st birthday next Sunday, said: "There's no doubt that affirmative action has led to a substantial percentage not only of Afrikaners but also of all whites and coloureds and Indians feeling that their groups are being reduced to a sort of second-class citizenship."

While the government claimed affirmative action was still necessary to rectify past imbalances the Democratic Alliance and even some ANC politicians had suggested it was at the heart of the current skills shortage.

De klerk, backing calls for the policy to be replaced, said the problem was in the way in which the policy was being implemented by some parts of the government.

"The constitution provides that there should be affirmative action but at the same time it says there shall not be discrimination on the basis of race or colour.

"The challenge is to strike a balance between these two provisions. If affirmative action reaches the stage where it becomes institutional racial discrimination, it becomes absolutely unconstitutional."

Asked whether it had reached that stage, De Klerk said: "I think in some instances, in some particular municipalities, in some particular state departments, yes."

Although he believed "the pendulum is swinging more towards the centre..." he criticised the recent statement by minister of labour Membathisi Mdladlana that the legislation "would never be repealed but intensified".

"It is important to bear in mind that the main vision built into our constitution is that we will be a non-racial state, which you can never be if race is forever a criterion," he said.

It was for this reason, he said, that he had been arguing that the government should "come forward with a clear commitment to, as soon as possible, reach a stage where merit on a non-racial basis will replace this present approach".

De Klerk believed affirmative action was partly to blame for the failure to deal with violent crime.

"Part of the problem with regard to crime as well as other issues lies in the very fast rate of affirmative action since 1994," he said.

"The civil service, the police, the prosecution side of the justice system have all lost a tremendous number of experienced people, most of whom were dedicated to helping to make the new South Africa a success."

Asked about the debate over President Thabo Mbeki's insistence that crime "is out of control", De Klerk said whether you agreed depended on the definition of "out of control".

"If it is that we have fallen into a state of anarchy, then it isn't out of control. If it is that it's extremely serious and that the rate at which violent crime is committed is totally unacceptable, then it is out of control." - Foreign Service

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