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February 22nd, 2012 PATRICIA SAUTHOFF | Q & A
 

Hotseat: F.W. de Klerk

The Nobel Laureate and last white president of South Africa talks cultural identity and Obama’s prize.

hotseat.deklerk_3816F.W. DE KLERK - Image courtesy of Keppler Speakers

In South Africa, F.W. de Klerk was an unlikely reformer.

He had risen in that country’s white-minority power politics as a defender of apartheid. But in 1989 he emerged as a leader to end the practice. As president, he released African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela from prison and paved the way for free elections and majority rule. In 1993, de Klerk and Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Now out of politics, de Klerk, 75, continues to work for peace and democracy.  He’s speaking twice in Portland on Feb. 29 (First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., 5:30 pm, $20; and Downtown Hilton Hotel, 921 SW 6th Ave., 7:15 pm, $100 includes dinner. Tickets must be purchased in advance; go to  wholisticpeaceinstitute.com). 

WW caught up with de Klerk as he prepared for his visit.


WW: Tell us a little about what you’re doing now.
F.W. de Klerk: I have two foundations. One is the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, focused on South Africa, to a great extent a watchdog organization over our negotiated constitution. 

The other is the Global Leadership Foundation. I have brought together 29 former presidents, prime ministers, cabinet ministers and senior diplomats. All of us work in small teams to advise governments in the developing world on how to govern better. They are truly globally representative.

What can everyday Americans do to improve the lives of people here and around the world?

The heart of the problem lies in realizing that, with globalization, the world has become the proverbial village. We all need each other, and Americans cannot afford to be inward-looking. No matter how strong America might be, America can’t go it alone—particularly helping with other leading countries to stimulate economic development.

The two biggest challenges we face in this century are the great divide between two-thirds of the world living more or less comfortably, and one-third living in abject desolation and poverty and bad health conditions and lack of education.

The second is the challenge of managing diversity. With globalization, the world is become more and more diverse. How do we deal with important minorities? How do we make them feel accommodated, welcome, appreciated as building blocks of the greater whole rather than obstacles to the majority of the population?

In South Africa, we have a microcosm. We recognize in our constitution 11 official languages.

Which is the opposite of the U.S., where Spanish-language education is controversial.

The fastest-growing entity within the American nation is the Spanish-speaking community and those with Spanish-based culture. We already know that in states like Arizona, California and New Mexico, you find recognition of those cultures.

Don’t ask anybody to choose between different identities. All of us have multiple identities. I’m an Afrikaner and I’m a South African and I’m an African. President Mandela is a Xhosa and he’s a South African and he’s an African. If I am asked to say I am no longer an Afrikaner in order to be a good South African, it will bring a lot of pain to me. If anybody were to ask President Mandela to stop honoring his Xhosa heritage, then you would be doing him wrong.

How do you, as a Nobel laureate, feel about the controversial awarding of the Peace Prize to Barack Obama?

I wouldn’t like to comment on his Nobel Peace Prize specifically. The same committee, though maybe not the exact same individuals, who awarded it to me and Mr. Mandela awarded it to him.

They have, over the years, I think, used the Peace Prize to promote peace. In our case, I can testify that giving it to both of us had a very positive effect. I think it was inspirational. I think it helped us to pursue our goal of a negotiated peace. It is my hope that in giving it to President Obama that it will likewise lead to dynamic pursuance of peace goals and peace initiatives.

Thank you. Enjoy your travels.

Is it very cold in Portland?

Yes. And rainy.

So I’d better bring my cap to cover my bald head.  

 
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