A similar exercise gauging the “freedom demands of the people” started in earnest this week in parts of the country, including the Northern Cape
BACK in 1992 a simple and direct question was asked of the white voters of South Africa by then president FW de Klerk: Do you support the continuation of the reform process that the state president started on February 2 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?
The answer to the somewhat politically rhetorical question, as there was no turning back from the negotiated peaceful process already begun, formed an important chapter of our history.
The country’s white electorate “rose above itself”, as De Klerk put it then, and gave him an unequivocal mandate to “close the book on apartheid”. More than two-thirds, 68.7%, voted “yes”.
It was a major gambling act by De Klerk, who had offered to resign should he lose the historic referendum. But in the end it acted as a resounding mandate for the negotiations and a peaceful transition away from the unworkable and unsustainable “crime against humanity”, as apartheid was declared by the UN in 1966.
Going further back in history, a plebiscite of a different, organic and more democratic kind took place in 1955 as volunteers criss-crossed South Africa asking citizens of all colours and backgrounds their views about a future South Africa.
The result was the Freedom Charter, put together at a gathering around this time of the year in Kliptown, Soweto, proclaiming “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”.
A similar exercise gauging the “freedom demands of the people” started in earnest this week in parts of the country, including the Northern Cape.
This citizen poll is more qualitative than quantitative. The ruling party could have simplified matters and called a referendum. But the feelings of the citizenry are far more important.
This whole process, beginning with Parliament’s high-level panel headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, has been far from perfect.
With the general elections about a year away, the motives of some of the main actors are also questionable. And the dangers and complexities are plentiful.
But all is well that ends well. If we can all focus on the stated object of the exercise – to right the wrongs of the past without endangering peace and the economy – we may bring about transcendental land ownership changes that can be good for generations to come.