Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 1996
Volume 7
Issue 4
Page Numbers 185-88
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South Africa

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is examining human rights abuses under apartheid. On August 21 it heard testimony from National Party leader F.W. de Klerk, and on the following day it received a statement from Deputy President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC). Excerpts from the two statements appear below:

F.W. de Klerk:

One of the main aims of the Commission’s activities is to promote reconciliation. This cannot be achieved unless there is also repentance on all sides. It is in this spirit that I want to emphasize that it is not my intention to excuse or gloss over the m any unacceptable things that occurred during the period of National Party rule. They happened and caused immeasurable pain and suffering to many. This is starkly illustrated by the evidence placed before the Commission at its hearings across the country. Many of the accounts by witnesses are deeply moving.

I should like to express my deepest sympathy with all those on all sides who suffered during the conflict. I, and many other leading figures, have already apologized for the pain and suffering caused by former policies of the National Party. This was accepted and publicly acknowledged by the chairperson of the Commission, Archbishop Tutu. I reiterate these apologies today. . . .

Another prime purpose of the truth and reconciliation process is to learn from the experiences of the past and to ensure that we never again repeat the same mistakes. I suggest that we should draw the following lessons and conclusions from all of these traumatic experiences:

No single side in the conflict of the past has a monopoly of virtue or should bear responsibility for all the abuses that occurred.

Neither can any single side claim sole credit for the transformation of South Africa. The transformation belongs to us all. . . .

We should limit the power of government through the kind of mechanisms [End Page 185] that we have included in our new constitution—including the charter of fundamental rights; the concept of a rechtsstaat; the separation of powers; and the maintenance of free and independent courts and institutions of civil society.

We must, at all costs, avoid conflict in our diverse, complex, and fragile society. We must accommodate diversity and provide security for all our people and all our communities. We must promote mutual tolerance and respect and work together to build a ne w, overarching and all-embracing nation. In particular, we must commit ourselves to improving the conditions of millions of South Africans who still live in circumstances of unacceptable poverty and deprivation.

Lasting solutions to complex problems can be found only through peaceful means, through compromise and through the accommodation of the reasonable interests and concerns of others. We must accept the importance of reconciliation, of coming to terms with ourselves, our neighbors, and our past—of forgiving and of being forgiven.

May God, Almighty, grant the Commission the wisdom and the insight to succeed in achieving the worthy goals that parliament has set for them.

Thabo Mbeki:

The ANC supports the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. By knowing what happened and why it happened, South Africa will be better placed to ensure that the evil deeds of the past are never repeated. . . . It would be morally wrong and legally incorrect to equate apartheid with the resistance against it. While the latter was rooted in the principles of human dignity and human rights, the former was an affront to humanity itself. . . .

Given these circumstances, the ANC wishes to submit that it conducted itself well: above all, by ensuring the survival of a liberation movement which, at the beginning, had everything stacked against it. Yet we do acknowledge that, in the context of this work, excesses did occur. . . .

The ANC highly regrets the excesses that occurred. Further, we do acknowledge that the real threat we faced and the difficult conditions under which we had to operate led to a drift in accountability and control away from established norms, resulting in situations in which some individuals within the Security Department started to behave as a law unto themselves.

. . . The system of apartheid and its violent consequences were systematic; they were deliberate; they were a matter of policy.

Therefore, the basic premise in correcting the historical injustice is for South Africans to pay allegiance to, to consolidate and defend, the democratic constitution and human rights culture that it espouses. It is for all citizens to promote and utilize to maximum effect the rights that we have attained, and ensure that open and accountable government becomes a matter of course in our body politic. It is for us to promote equal individual rights without regard to race, color, religion, language, and other [End Page 186] differences; and at the same time ensure that equal collective rights pertaining to these issues are protected. And it is for us to work together to build a better life for all.

Combined with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, all these efforts will afford us the confidence to say: Never Again! We appreciate the fact that the Commission is pursuing its work without fear or favor; and we hope that at the end of t his process, South Africans will be the wiser, and better able to march to the future with confidence in one another and in their capacity to create a prosperous, peaceful, and just society in which any violations of human rights will be fading memories o f a past gone by, never to return.


On June 6 Senator Jacques Oudin, who had been asked by Prime Minister Alain Juppé to prepare a report exploring the establishment of political foundations in France, convened a colloquium in the French Senate on “Political Foundations in the Western Democracies: What Role and What Future?” There follow excerpts from remarks presented by Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Why are we meeting today to discuss the establishment of political foundations in France? Why are there people here from other Western democracies—Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States—to join in this discussion? Indeed, why have other democracies such as Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands also established such foundations? . . .

The subject of political foundations has become an issue today because the world has changed. We’re all trying to adjust to a new world reality, and the establishment of political foundations seems to be a practical step to take.

For one thing, we’re all still trying to absorb the changes unleashed by what Samuel Huntington has called the “third wave” of democratization. Political assistance is needed to help consolidate the new democracies, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Hence political foundations.

But there is an even more fundamental factor. . . . The principal source of conflict in the contemporary world derives not from interstate rivalries but from internal problems of states—from ethnic hatred, social breakdown, and national or religious extremism.

How, then, can we help other countries make the transition to modernity, to successful, participatory systems within the context of their own individual histories, cultures, and traditions? I suggest that the political foundation is one means to address t his new reality. It offers a way to assist political development within other countries. It gives us a way to relate directly to people, to work with them—cooperatively—toward the establishment of stable political institutions, institutions that are flexible [End Page 187] and open enough to accommodate the rising political pressures and clamor for participation in the modern world.

This suggests a broad strategic priority for the advanced democracies, which constitute only a small portion of humanity. It is to help the other nations, which constitute the majority, make the transition from one era to another. It is to help transform a zone of conflict and chaos, over time, into a zone of peace and stability. This is obviously a very long-term goal which will be achieved incrementally at best. But it is a worthy goal that is best pursued cooperatively through a combined effort of the world’s democracies.


A reception on July 18 at Mongolia’s embassy in Washington, D.C., marked the opening of its new parliament (the Great Hural), where democratic parties now have a majority for the first time in 75 years. The reception was cohosted by the Asia Foundation, the International Republican Institute, and the U.S.-Mongolia Business Council. Following is an excerpt from remarks prepared by Radnaasümbereliyn Gonchigdorj, chairman of the Great Hural, and Tsahia Elbedorj, majority leader:

Today [July 1] marks what will be recorded by historians as one of the greatest moments in Mongolian history. On this day, a new Mongolian parliament was sworn in, ushering in the first democratic government of Mongolia. It is with great pride and tribute to all Mongolians that this peaceful transition of power, which began at the ballot box, was completed in a stable, orderly manner.

It has been six years since the tide of democracy swept over our land and cast aside the communist system that kept the Mongolian people isolated and oppressed. Who would have thought that in only five short years the democratic opposition would be able t o transform itself from a collection of various parties with only six representatives in parliament to a unified force that could garner 50 seats in the newly seated parliament? With this election, the Mongolian people have turned away from the failed policies of the past, and given the Democratic Union Coalition a mandate to speed up free-market reforms, reform the government bureaucracy, and create an environment for economic prosperity and political freedom. . . .

In our moment of joy and happiness, we realize that the support of democratic countries, including that of America, was an important factor in our success. Although today is the culmination of a great victory for Mongolians, it also marks a victory for th e democratic process throughout the world. The victory of democracy in Mongolia demonstrates that the values of life, liberty, freedom of speech, and respect for human rights and justice are not just American values, but universal values inherent to all people, including the people of Asia.