- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Former President F.W. de Klerk, who negotiated the end of the oppressive white-minority regime his party created, warned this week that South African democracy is being undercut by the same racial divides of a decade ago.

“Our democracy, although stable, is not very healthy,” Mr. de Klerk said in an interview Monday, as South Africa celebrates 10 years since apartheid’s demise.

As campaigning begins for the country’s third all-race elections April 14, race and ethnicity remain the defining factor in party politics, Mr. de Klerk said. The ruling African National Congress is assured a sweeping victory in a country where blacks represent 75 percent of the 45 million people, leaving minority-based parties to fight it out over a small slice of government.

“I would have liked to see more of a realignment of politics … to a much more value-based dispensation,” Mr. de Klerk said at his Cape Town-based foundation, which promotes reconciliation.

Despite the challenges, Mr. de Klerk, 67, believes the country is on the right track. The economy is growing, and remarkable good will exists among South Africa’s divergent peoples, he said.

With time, he predicted, political alliances will reform around policy positions, and the ANC will lose its overwhelming influence.

“The ANC alliance, with its two-thirds of the vote, was based on a common purpose, and that was the end of the apartheid system,” he said. “That cement is gone.”

The scion of an Afrikaner political clan, Mr. de Klerk stunned the world within six months of coming to power in 1989 by freeing Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison and legalizing the ANC. He then engaged in negotiations that ended white-minority rule and saw Mr. Mandela elected South Africa’s first black president in April 1994.

His efforts won him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Mandela in 1993, but also cost his National Party its place at the pinnacle of power. Unable to shrug off its apartheid history, the renamed New National Party saw its share of the vote fall from more than 20 percent in 1994 to less than 7 percent in 1999.

Mr. de Klerk served as deputy president in a power-sharing government led by Mr. Mandela but quit the post in 1996 and resigned as party leader a year later, saying he wanted to help the National Party break with the past.

“When tough political fights start, there is unfortunately still a tendency to draw a caricature of the National Party,” he said. “In order to drum up support, that apartheid ghost is given new breath.”

Since then, he has kept a low political profile, interrupted by a highly publicized spat with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated apartheid-era atrocities. Mr. de Klerk refused to apply for amnesty from the commission and was criticized by its chairman, fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for insisting he was unaware of widespread torture and brutality by government security forces when he was president.

Perhaps feeling eclipsed by Mr. Mandela, Mr. de Klerk now is quick to point out his party’s role in bringing about peaceful transformation in South Africa.

“We — my old party — abolished apartheid, not the ANC,” Mr. de Klerk said. “When President Mandela acceded in 1994, he received a clean slate.”

Mr. de Klerk accused the ANC of encouraging a “sort of new apartheid” by clinging to a rigid program of affirmative action. He also said the government of President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela, could have been more aggressive about fighting AIDS in South Africa and urging political reform in its tumultuous neighbor, Zimbabwe.

Ever the pragmatist, however, Mr. de Klerk welcomes his former party’s election alliance with the ANC as a necessary “consensus-seeking process” in South African politics.

“The new South Africa is a much better place now than had we tried to cling to a system which had become morally unjust,” he said. “I am positive about our future.”

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