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Cablegate: South Africans Commemorate 20th Anniversary Of

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TAGS: PGOV SF
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICANS COMMEMORATE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF
FAMOUS DE KLERK SPEECH

1. (SBU) F. W. de Klerk, the last presidential leader under
the apartheid state, stunned the world on February 2, 1990 by
announcing his plans for the unconditional release of Nelson
Mandela and the unbanning of liberation movements such as the
African National Congress (ANC), Pan-African Congress, and
South African Communist Party. De Klerk's speech, now 20
years old, gave the world joy, fear, and -- most importantly
-- hope for change. South Africans remembered the 20th
anniversary of the speech on February 2 and de Klerk used the
anniversary for a rare public reflection on his legacy.

2. (SBU) The hundreds of history books on South Africa's
transition to democracy cover the reasons for de Klerk's
decision and the reactions both from the apartheid regime and
the various liberation movements fighting for democracy.
What is clear from these records is that de Klerk told few
individuals outside of his inner circle that he planned to
release Mandela and unban the groups formerly labeled as
"terrorists." When he made the announcement, most of the
domestic and international world was surprised. One
political commentator remarked in the Sunday Times recently
that he had been assigned to cover the speech for a newspaper
and almost chose not to attend because "those speeches were
all the same." He laughed about what would have happened he
had missed the speech. Nine days after de Klerk's famous
address, Mandela walked out of prison a free man, and six
months later the ANC "suspended" the armed struggle against
the state.

3. (SBU) Numerous ordinary South Africans in recent days
have reflected on weblogs and in telephone interviews about
the day of the speech and their lives after de Klerk's famous
address. Some South Africans, both white and black, talked
about the world that was lost. Others talked about how
quickly South Africa has become a non-racial, non-sexist
state. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was married to Nelson
Mandela at the time of his release and is now the ANC Women's
League President, relived the day on a radio interview on
February 2. She recalled how the police informed her about
de Klerk's speech while she was attending the funeral of her
grandson's father. She said the family was told to make
arrangements to "fetch Mandela from prison on February 11,
1990." She famously met Mandela at the prison and walked
with him as he greeted thousands of South African citizens.
De Klerk, in a separate radio interview, recalled how the
news was received in Parliament. He said, "The news
literally shook the room and the nation. Opposition parties
in Parliament were stunned." He explained that only Foreign
Minister Pik Botha and Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Volk
had advance copies of what de Klerk would announce. He said,
"We informed the whole Cabinet only right before the speech."
When the interview asked de Klerk how he felt about he
decision, the former President said he was convinced he was
doing what was best for the country and added that his
decision was reaffirmed by the success of the 1992
whites-only referendum, in which he was given a mandate to
negotiate with the ANC.

4. (SBU) De Klerk does not often speak publicly about his
legacy, but the 20th anniversary of the speech gave him an
opportunity to reflect. His foundation, the F. W. de Klerk
Foundation, released a statement written by the former leader
QFoundation, released a statement written by the former leader
that said, "For white South Africans, the announcements of
February 2, 1990 signaled their willingness to end centuries
of alienation and division by abandoning the dominant
position they held for more than 300 years. For black South
Africans, it heralded the dawn of a new age of dignity,
equality, and full political rights for which they had
struggled for so long." De Klerk added, "For the world,
these historic events showed that even the most intractable
disputes could be resolved peacefully by negotiations and
good will."

5. (SBU) Comment: Regardless of how South Africans living
in 1990 viewed the world then, their views since that time
have been shaped by what de Klerk announced 20 years ago.
Even though de Klerk has not spoken frequently in recent
years about the impact of his speech, his actions that day
changed the course of South African history and marked the
beginning of the end of the long struggle against apartheid,
and opened the door to a very different future. End Comment.
GIPS

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