South African President Jacob Zuma, second left, talks with Mandla Mandela, left, after they and other dignitaries unveiled a bust of former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, at the South African Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, April 28, 2014. South African President Jacob Zuma and members of the South African Parliament unveiled the bust of Mandela at Parliament, forming part of celebrations for 20-years anniversary of a democratic Parliament in South Africa after the end of white rule. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)


Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has heaped praise on apartheid’s last president FW de Klerk for the “pivotal” role he played in the country’s “almost disastrous” transition to democracy.

Zuma was speaking at the unveiling of a bust of Nelson Mandela at Parliament on Monday, as part of the 20 Years of Democratic Parliament celebrations which De Klerk, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Madiba’s grandson and Mandela family head Mandla attended.

Before his speech, Zuma requested permission to “abuse” his privilege of addressing the ceremony “as one of the old men around the village”, to speak a little bit about De Klerk.

“I’m sure it should be remembered since we are celebrating our 20 years of democracy that president De Klerk was the last president of the apartheid government and it was him and through him that we were able to make the breakthrough to create conditions for the birth of a new democracy,” said Zuma to applause from audience.

Zuma said he thought Monday was an “important occasion” to remember De Klerk – who shares a Nobel Peace prize with Mandela – and to “recognise” him.

“But indeed FW de Klerk our former deputy president (post 1994) played a very pivotal role and I’m sure those who must have seen the current film (eNCA documentary) that is (being) played, how much we averted a disaster in the country. He led some of the generals who would have been ready to receive a negative order, but he didn’t. Even his generals were plotting against him as we now hear, to capture him together with Madiba... to come out with an agreement that they would like,” said Zuma.

Zuma quipped that he didn’t envy being in De Klerk’s position and facing Mandela during negotiations.

“Madiba was squeezing out every compromise from him. And I think it was because of (De Klerk’s) appreciation of the fate where the country was that at times he agreed on points that some would not have agreed. At one point after Boipatong the ANC put 10 points, very tough points to accept (without which) other negotiations would have broken,” recalled Zuma.

He said during the process of negotiations, De Klerk had on occasions “a very tough task to be on the other side of president Mandela”.

“Now I can’t tell you the details of what happened in some of the interactions, (but) the one I remember very well was when we discussed the point that ANC should now stop the armed struggle.

“It was one of the toughest of all of them and I think we arrived at the final point at 1am,” said Zuma.

Zuma said given the fact that the country was celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy, it was time that the nation remembered how this had come about.

Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu said over the last two decades, South Africa had successfully changed “the entire legal edifice” to root out apartheid legislation and its legacy.

Political Bureau