COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARD
OF THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION
WASHINGTON, DC : FEBRUARY 15, 2001
I am honoured to accept the Courage Under Fire Award of the American Conservative Union. Throughout my life I have received several acknowledgments of such diverse nature as environmental awards, honorary doctorate degrees and recognition for my activities in establishing trade unions and for promoting the liberation of my country. They have all been important to me, but none more than the one bestowed upon me tonight captures the essence of my political endeavours for the past half a century.
Perhaps the greatest measure of courage in politics is required to remain who we are, in spite of being constantly vilified and portrayed by press and public opinion as something completely different. For decades now I have been the object of a campaign of adverse propaganda often fuelled by ignorance, which only recently is beginning to be exposed. This evening represents one of my life’s main milestones as I can finally speak openly and directly to many friends, some who have known me for years and others who for many years have often heard of me only from detractors.
I have dared to do what is rarely done in politics and stood by my convictions disregarding the rapidly changing trends of prevailing political correctness. I have trusted in my critical judgement and refused to be persuaded to embrace what I knew to be wrong merely because it was popular. For this, I have been under fire for many decades in situations in which the fire was not only a metaphorical one, as shown by several attempted assassinations. As I look back across the decades, I cannot believe that I could have mustered within myself the courage that it took to stand my ground. I firmly believe that such courage was infused in me by the support I received from my Christian faith and the constant assistance of God Almighty.
I have never spoken of this courage before. On this occasion, among friends I have known for many years, I may now safely look back and rejoice for having endured what I did for as long as I did.
More than half a century ago, in my early political career, I challenged a deeply racially segregated society and crossed the racial divides in my studies and professional formation. After my expulsion from Fort Hare University on account of my political activities, I finished my education at a college intended to be only for Indians, then becoming an associate in a firm of white lawyers. I left my incipient legal career at the request of the leaders of our liberation movement to take up my hereditary position as Inkosi or the leader of my clan, and to preside over the territorial authority established for the Zulu Nation by apartheid. My mission was that of utilising the Zulu Government to foster our struggle for liberation, while providing for the needs and aspirations of the mostly impoverished people of my nation.
Because of that, I was caught in a crossfire. On the one hand, I was attacked by the apartheid government against which I turned its own creations. I prevented the Zulu Nation, the largest single nation in South Africa, from completing the grand scheme of apartheid which called for our nominal independence, which would have deprived us of South African citizenship. On the other hand, I was targeted by others in the liberation struggle who pursued the impossible dream of toppling apartheid through unrealistic military actions and wide-spread violence, rebellion and intimidation. Since the beginning, I stood firm in the belief that only a negotiated settlement could bring long-lasting peace and prosperity to South Africa.
During apartheid, it took courage to bring together blacks, Indians and whites to work a new constitutional project for my then divided province, and in so doing defy the constitutional structure of the time. I was criticised both because I worked with whites and because I openly plotted the end of apartheid. That courage paid off, as we forced apartheid to concede to the establishment of the first inter-racial government of South Africa, the Joint Executive Authority of KwaZulu and Natal.
Often my decisions have not been popular, but I have lived to see history proving them right. I rejected the world-wide call for international sanctions and foreign disinvestment which I knew would impoverish my country without significantly promoting the demise of apartheid. At the time I had the pleasure of meeting with President Jimmy Carter and also with President Ronald Reagan and then with President George Bush, who all had the courage to seek a more balanced approach which became known as "constructive engagement". My first meeting in the Oval Office with President Jimmy Carter occurred after the announcement of the Sullivan Principles.
The most difficult of all my decisions was that of rejecting the call of the African National Congress for a military insurrection and the campaign of rebellion known as the "armed struggle". Because of my decision, my Party and I became the major targets of the armed struggle which was supported by both the then deeply divided Eastern and Western blocs, both in financial and military terms. The armed struggle claimed the lives of over 20,000 black people, killed by black people in a quest for political hegemony after liberation. Only about 600 white people were killed in what was ostensibly a war against minority white rule.
More than 400 leaders and office bearers of my Party were killed in their homes and work-places in a systematic plan of mass assassinations, for which no one has yet been convicted. In spite of enormous pressure on me, I never authorised, ratified or condoned the use of violence or the participation of my people in this low intensity civil war. I knew that had the Zulu nation entered the armed struggle, South Africa would have been turned to ashes and there would have been no spoils from the liberation victory. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, the last President of the previous regime, President FW de Klerk, told the TRC that it was my rejection of their so-called independence a'la Pretoria, which made them abandon apartheid.
Today, South Africa is still struggling with a legacy of violence and intimidation which disrupted the social fibre of our communities during the armed struggle and now fuels crime and social discontent. Similarly, South Africa is now still struggling to regain the foreign investors chased away during sanctions. In the unfolding of history only a few crucial times offer the opportunity of making real decisions. These times do not come often, are seldom recognised and, once the wrong path is taken, negative implications flow for many years. During the process of negotiation from apartheid to democracy, I struggled to ensure that South Africa could be re-established as a federal system, roughly modeled after the type of government in place in the United States.
I felt that federalism was essential in my country, not only to accommodate our vast cultural diversity, but also to defuse the authoritarian, centralistic and totalitarian tendencies which are latent and at work in our context, because of the combined effect of the legacy of apartheid and the Marxist roots and influences in our liberation movement. Sadly, South Africa did not achieve the checks and balances of a federal system and we still need to rationalise a disguised unitary state in which ineffective provinces unfortunately combine most of the costs and duplications of a federal system with few of its real benefits.
I was criticised because I have never regarded any fellow South African as an enemy to be defeated or a foreigner in his or her own land. To foster the reconciliation of all South Africans I have participated in coalition governments since 1994. This was necessary to bring stable peace in our black-on-black low intensity civil war. It was also necessary to counter the enormous influence which trade unions and the South Africa Communist Party exercise over our government. For this, since 1994, I have been under fire from radicals of all types.
I would like to be a radical myself, as I wish nothing more than to accelerate the pace of much needed progress and change. However, I have grown old enough to know the limits imposed by pragmatism. For this reason, since 1994 I have had to resist, and at times oppose, our government’s many actions and policy which have traded long-term economic growth for short-lived social benefits. At times I wonder whether one must be courageous or a political kamikaze to live by this political discipline when our people are drowning in an ocean of unfulfilled basic needs. And yet, a long term vision of stable development is the only way of fulfilling our promise that one day our people will be free from the slavery of malnutrition, poverty, ignorance, unemployment and a lack of such essential services as sanitation, electrification, education and medical care.
I have always believed that only economic growth, promoted through the liberalisation of market forces and trade, can provide long-term solutions to the problems of South Africa. For 40 years I have preached the gospel of self-help and self-reliance. I know that we must promote development both at the grassroots level through community activities and at the macro-economic level through liberal economic policies, maximum privatisation and the limited role of government. I will continue to stand by these convictions which were once regarded as heresy and are now becoming conventional wisdom in many circles, even in my own country.
It has been a long journey for me, which I know to be far from completion. In the past I often had to conduct this journey alone.
For me it is now a source of great joy to know that in this room there are many old time friends who care about Africa in general and South Africa in particular and who will assist us in setting our policies in the right direction. Africa now has the historical opportunity to rise out of its poverty, under-development and many social evils. However, it can only do so on the basis of a pragmatic and long-term vision and sound policies which can succeed where others have failed.
I thank you for the recognition you are giving me tonight and hope that it will remain a token of the dialogue which must be continued between like-minded leaders on the American and African continents.
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