Cape Town - The historic February 2, 1990, speech by the late former president FW de Klerk was recalled at the annual FW de Klerk Foundation Conference attended by various dignitaries, including former finance minister Trevor Manuel and Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka.
In 1989, De Klerk was elected president of South Africa. During this time, among his first instructions to his Cabinet was to pave the way for a new vision which would end the policy of apartheid, a separation of civil society by race.
His ruling was deemed heroic by many who saw him as the saviour who pulled South Africa from the abyss that apartheid was heading to.
On February 2, 1990, De Klerk delivered a speech at the opening of the 1990 session of Parliament where he announced sweeping reforms that marked the beginning of the negotiated transition from apartheid to a constitutional democracy, including the release of Nelson Mandela.
The 85-year-old former president died peacefully at his home after a battle with cancer on November 11, 2021.
De Klerk’s wife, Elita de Klerk, said her husband played a pivotal role in the nation's history and his leadership during a time of profound transformation has left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness.
Manuel said after 34 years since that speech, “we are reflecting on a set of mutually significant political decisions announced 34 years ago”.
“Those decisions laid the basis for the inexorable and irreversible changes that are manifest in our Constitution. One of the challenges that confronts us is how to ensure that successive generations are kept aware of the journey that our country travelled.”
Public Protector of South Africa advocate Kholeka Gcaleka directed special attention to the growing demand of social grants in SA.
“Now the living conditions in South Africa are that social grants are on the increase. Personally I do not think that is something to be proud of as a country. It is what leads to the decline in economy, because it means that we are becoming a social state, with most unemployed, under developed.
“Sanitation has improved. But, whether we are in a state where we say we've restored the dignity of the majority of South Africans, we cannot say so. Although South Africa has made progress in reducing poverty since 1994, the trajectory of poverty reduction was reversed between 2011 and 2015.
“It is threatening to erode some of the gains made since our democratic dispensation. Approximately 55.5% of the population still living in poverty at the national upper poverty line, while a total of 13,8 million people, 25%, are experiencing food poverty.
“Poverty nonetheless remains a key developmental challenge in social, economic and political terms, not only in our country, but it is what most of the developing world is struggling with.
"Post-apartheid South Africa, fighting the legacy of poverty and under-development, has always been a central theme of government,” Gcaleka added.
Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis recapped the speech by De Klerk in 1990.
“When former state president FW de Klerk stood in front of the National Assembly for the opening of Parliament 34 years ago today, in 1990, he delivered a message that our country desperately needed, but which not everyone was ready to hear.
“Branded a ‘traitor’ to his people, by those in his own party who stormed out, he became a divisive figure to some but a unifier to so many millions more at a time of great change throughout the world and in Eastern Europe in particular.