Needed: another De Klerk - Business Day 15th February 2010

John Kane-Berman has resumed his column in Business Day. The edition of 15th February 2010 the follows below:

All the pleas to Jacob Zuma to take the lead have once again proved forlorn. Predictably. He is not that kind of person.

What South Africa needs now is another FW De Klerk. He will have to come from within the African National Congress (ANC), for they still rule the roost, though with diminishing impact as the tripartite alliance degenerates into a three-ring circus.

As the 1980s progressed, more and more members of the National Party (NP) came to realise that their policies were taking the country on a road to nowhere. Liberals had always been right about this, but they were often so blinded by their loathing of the NP that they missed two of the biggest stories of the decade: the Afrikaner Broederbond had become a force for reform, and the military establishment also recognised that the country needed a political solution.

As De Klerk has reminded us in recent newspaper columns recalling his initiatives 20 years ago, even PW Botha knew that apartheid was a dead end. Hence his announcement of the demise of the homelands policy in his much-ridiculed ‘Rubicon’ speech of 1985.

In truth, apartheid had been disintegrating since the early 1970s. It rested on an unsustainable contradiction. The NP did not want the blacks in the country, but it needed them. As PW Botha once replied to a heckler demanding a stepped-up programme of removing blacks from the supposedly white cities and towns, "Stand up any man in this audience whose nappy was not changed by a black nanny."

I visited some of the half-secret arms factories near Pretoria when PW Botha was minister of defence, and it was obvious that the laws prohibiting blacks from performing skilled jobs did not apply there. It was amusing to behold this evidence that not even the military equipment designed to keep the whites on top forever could be produced without black skills. Botha was not going to sacrifice military superiority to the industrial colour bar.

Botha it also was who extended trade union rights to Africans in 1979, and repealed the pass laws in 1986 because they had become unworkable.

For thus dismantling some of the pillars of apartheid, Botha received less recognition at home and abroad than he deserved. No wonder he became disillusioned and embittered. In any event, he had probably reached the end of the road of reform for a man so long steeped in all the nastiness of NP rule.

It fell to De Klerk to seize the moment and extend the social and economic reform over which his predecessors had presided, often with great reluctance, into the political field.

And now here we are, 20 years later. The country is again going downhill, faster than most people wish to admit. ANC policy also rests on a contradiction: it doesn't really want the whites, but it needs them.

At one stage, particularly under Dr Verwoerd, the NP was willing to sacrifice economic growth to racial purity. The ANC is also willing to sacrifice economic (and job) growth, not on the altar of racial purity, but on those of black economic empowerment and employment equity.

This means that the ANC is trying to build a ‘development state’ without exploiting the skills of the whole population. It cannot be done.

There is another reason why the ‘development state’ is going for a burton. This is that development is subordinate to the jobs-for-the-comrades policy which consumes the ANC, its communist and union allies, and its deployment committees. A state treated as a source of sheltered employment and treasure-house to be plundered cannot be an instrument of development. Nor of course, for the same reasons, can most of our parastatals.

Few people in the 1980s believed that the NP could produce a leader willing to jettison the policies which had served it so well for so long. Let us hope such a leader is lurking somewhere in the ANC.

* Kane-Berman is the Chief Executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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