PARTY

The 1992 referendum: Twenty years on - FW de Klerk

F W de Klerk
16 March 2012

Former president writes on the day whites finally turned their back on racial domination

20 YEARS AFTER THE 1992 REFERENDUM

At the end of 1991 the National Party lost a key bye-election in Virginia to the Conservative Party. The Conservatives crowed that we had also lost our mandate to continue with the constitutional negotiations and demanded a whites-only election.  Their claims were greatly amplified on 19 February 1992 when the National Party lost another key bye-election - in Potchefstroom. Its majority of 2 000 in the 1989 election was wiped out and replaced by a CP majority of 2 140 votes. The CP's claim that we had lost our mandate to negotiate seemed to have been vindicated.

We had for some time promised that we would hold a referendum at some time to enable the white electorate to express its views on the negotiation process. Our defeat in Potchefstroom convinced me to do so as soon as possible. I accordingly announced my decision to hold a referendum to the NP leadership and caucus the next morning.  I did not put the question to a vote - which I might well have lost - but decided to use my powers as party leader to decide on the issue myself. I was determined to resign if we lost the referendum.

The question we put to the electorate on 17 March 1992 was "Do you support the continuation of the reform process that the State President started on 2 February 1990 and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiations?"

In the run-up to the referendum I told audiences that I was not asking for a blank cheque.  I said that we had already reached broad consensus in the negotiations on a number of key points regarding the future constitution. These included a multi-party democratic system; a parliament comprising an upper and lower house; the necessity for a Bill of Rights; the separation of powers; the independence of the judiciary; proportional representation; a strong regional basis for the future dispensation; the maintenance of language and cultural rights;  and  community-based education for those who want it.

I said that there were a number of issues on which we were still seeking consensus. They included the prevention of domination and the abuse of power; effective protection of minorities; the protection of property rights; career security for public servants; a market-based free enterprise economy; maximum constitutional protection for regional and municipal government; and the dispersal of the powers that were then concentrated in the hands of the State President.

I truly believe that it was on 17 March 1992 that the great majority of white South Africans finally and decisively turned their backs on 350 years of white domination.  In my victory speech on 18 March 1992 I said that they had finally closed the book on apartheid. "The White electorate has reached out, through this landslide win for the YES vote, to all our compatriots, to all other South Africans and the message of this referendum is: Today, in a certain sense, is the real birthday of the new South African nation." 

The mandate that we received enabled us to proceed with the negotiations and to nail down virtually all the goals that I listed in my pre-referendum speeches.

Now, ironically, almost exactly twenty years later, many of the fundamental provisions of the constitution that we subsequently negotiated and adopted are under threat.  

On 5 March the ANC released policy discussion papers claiming that the ‘first transition' had served its purpose and should now make way for a ‘second transition'. The discussion papers proposed that the present provincial system should be amended and that the property rights should be reviewed to facilitate land reform. 

This followed the announcement the previous week of the government's plan to ‘review' the judgments of the constitutional court, accompanied by dark rumblings from the President regarding the need to review the court's powers.  It coincided with the South African Languages Bill that would effectively strip Afrikaans and seven black indigenous languages of their official status.  

Our Constitution has served us well. It has provided a firm foundation for the development of our ‘rainbow' nation. It has provided the framework for sustained  economic growth and impressive social development.

Our failure to make substantial progress against poverty, inequality and unemployment cannot be ascribed to any shortcoming in the Constitution - but rather to inappropriate policies. The Constitution is under pressure not because it is standing in the way of transformation - but because it is limiting the power of the executive and the legislature to do as they please.

The time has come for all our communities - not just white South Africans as was the case twenty years ago - to stand up for the values and rights on which our new society has been based.  Their response will - in a very real sense - determine the sustainability of the new South African nation that I believed was born on 17 March 1992.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, March 16 2012

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Comments

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 responses to this article

Returned
The referendum result is the reason my mother returned from Canada. That day the majority of white South Africa admitted its error and decided to embark on a democratic SA.
Worked out pretty well in the aggregate however we must remain vigilant that . .more

by South One on March 16 2012, 13:39
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Noble Ideas
..they don't always translate to even workable solutions in the real world. We are already well on our way to a despotic Zimbabwe, there is no reprieve or safety net for the millions of white people who will now suffer, because of the actions taken 20yr's . .more

by Apathy on March 16 2012, 13:48
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ANC Stupidity and Greed
As you say, the constitution is the overarching law and forms the basis which allows everyone to grow and move forward. However, you are applying Euro-centric common sense, not "kraal" based common sense, which is also heavily tainted by popularism. It's . .more

by The Clever Native on March 16 2012, 13:50
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FW de Klerk - 20 years after the referendum
Note the typical political ambiguety of De Klerk's referendum question. He asked for a mandate for a continuation of "the reform process" never spelling out a transfer of government to "the majority" in a one-person-one-vote election. Had he been honest, . .more

by Ryk on March 16 2012, 13:53
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FW promised us there would be no dishonourable peace
That promise was kept - now we have no peace and no honour. Even though hindsight shows all our fears have been realised we did the right thing for the best of reasons. We managed to drag ourselves into the 20th century even though we knew we were . .more

by Brett on March 16 2012, 14:28
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difficile à admettre.
Cher Monsieur, vous n'êtes pas sincère avec vous même. nous vous sommes reconnaissant d'avoir organiser un referendum pour une nouvelle Afrique du Sud démocratique, mais hélas, 18 ans après la fin d'apartheid, les inégalités économiques et sociales . .more

by Student Gabonese of France. on March 16 2012, 16:29
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Very partial.
Dear Sir, you are not sincere with you even. We are grateful to you for having to organize a referendum for new democratic South Africa, but regrettably, 18 years after the end of apartheid, the economic and social disparities still persist between races. . .more

by Student Gabonese of France. on March 16 2012, 16:30
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Disparity between blacks and whites continues.
Black South Africans have in twenty years not managed to uplift themselves, despite tilted playing fields and the wind at their backs. The key to using the more-than-equality they enjoy is to educate themselves. This they have spectacularly failed to do. . .more

by Guy Mullins on March 16 2012, 17:28
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"Irony" - what "irony", FW? part 1
"Now, ironically, almost exactly twenty years later, many of the fundamental provisions of the constitution that we subsequently negotiated and adopted are under threat."
Where, pray do tell, is the irony? The correct word is "inevitably" - . .more

by Realist on March 16 2012, 20:52
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"Irony" - what "irony", FW? part 2
"I said that there were a number of issues on which we were still seeking consensus. They included the prevention of domination and the abuse of power; effective protection of minorities; the protection of property rights; career security for public . .more

by Realist on March 16 2012, 21:00
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Realist, are you serious
in suggesting that Christian people could go into the 21st century denying the humanity of the majority of the people of this country?

Go read RW Johnson's article - socialism is nothing but a class front to keep the masses busy and distracted . .more

by Brett on March 16 2012, 21:53
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Brett, are you literate?
Where have I suggested that Christian people should have gone into the 21st century denying the humanity of the majority of the people of this country?

I have read Johnson's article - I've read his books too.

Who are the "we" who put the . .more

by Realist on March 16 2012, 22:10
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criminal stole african land
my question to the whites do you realy think south africa is your country what are you talking that you should not give vote to blacks do you think africa is europe, if you hadnt give up power the south african people would have slaughter you like sheep . .more

by romi on March 16 2012, 22:59
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Grow up or shut up - by romi on March 16 2012, 22:59
Of course the people who paid for the child grant that brought you up have a say in how their taxes are spent!

You forget that FW was the Commander-in-chief of the most powerful army in Africa - consisting mostly of ordinary white kids who had . .more

by Brett on March 17 2012, 14:34
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Well, then Realist on March 16 2012, 22:10
WHat would you have had him do?

by Brett on March 17 2012, 14:36
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First: Destroy communism and centralism of the ANC-SACP
The utopia "Rainbow Nation" can easily be obscured as multiculturalism.

Multi culturalism is a leftish intellectual doctrine that leads people to accept multiple often contradicting sets of moral values within one society.

Multi . .more

by Theo Prinse on March 17 2012, 16:37
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referendum
Please be advised that the referendum question was unilatirally decided upon by the cunning FW de Klerk led sellout. It proved to be a blank cheque!

by Guest on March 19 2012, 07:31
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who belongs where
Here's a thought. If the tribal thinking of romi is to dominate South Africa then why not let it dominate in Europe as well? Let all the Africans living in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy go back to Africa and let me and mine go back to France and . .more

by benjamin on March 19 2012, 12:59
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Smug bug
de Klerk's attempt at squeakjy-cleanliness is marred by the ease with which he avoids mention of his undertaking during the referendum campaign that Walvis Bay would remain part of South Africa and the even greater ease with which he reneged on it.

by Neville on March 19 2012, 19:12
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1992 referendum
I voted yes in 1992. I must admit I did it with trepidation because I realised it was a big gamble, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The optimism and high expectations that we could set the divisive past behind us and live in peace and harmony . .more

by James Bell on March 20 2012, 09:55
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Was YES the right vote?
Did crime, rape & murder increase since 92? Yes
Could it be predicted? Yes, we had other African states to learn from.
therefore, all those who voted Yes in 92 are guity of said crimes.
Why didn't the NP take one province and tryout its plan . .more

by African on December 07 2012, 23:55
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Deception
Now that is a pretty mean misleading question, given the outcome of those "negotiations".

by Andreas Meyer on August 17 2013, 11:29
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