Whiter than white?
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> South Africa
Date: 2 April, 2004
Dave Steward. Photo: Charlotte Haines Lyon
'It was a great day of liberation for all South Africans.
It freed whites from the burden of having to carry the whole
country on their backs and not being able to look fellow South
Africans in the eye.'
Dave Steward was South African ambassador
to the UN before becoming head of the government's communication
agency and then President F W De Klerk's Chief of Staff.
So what does a former member of the South African government think
about the country ten years after the end of apartheid? Charlotte
Haines-Lyon found out.
Dave Steward admits that he is from "the
old South Africa". I am surprised by his strangely English
accent. This soon makes sense as he tells me that he attended a
public school in England.
Steward now works with his old boss at the President
De Klerk Foundation. The plush office, with a floor to ceiling window
overlooking the whole of Cape Town, is rather beguiling.
I first ask whether the end of apartheid was
a moral or pragmatic decision. He shifts forward and smiles, "The
reforms that took place, in my opinion, were overwhelmingly driven
by the economic and social developments of the 60s and 70s."
He continues to explain how due to the rapid
growth of that period "it became very clear to white South
Africans that they couldn't run the economy by themselves. This
brought millions of black South Africans into the formal economy
at higher and higher levels. In turn, more had to be invested in
black education, which happened although it wasn't the best education."
"It was developments like these that broke down apartheid,"
Steward insists. "It made absolutely no sense. If you are a
white bank teller and you've got a black colleague, you're really
not going to go to different dining rooms. Afterwards, you're not
going to go to separate places of entertainment or even separate
Apparently, reform occurred as the government
gave legislative recognition to everyday changes. So persuasive
was he, that it was only later in the car, that I realised I should
have asked about the difficulty blacks had in getting passes to
work in banks and other such places.
He compares the last decade of apartheid to "riding
a tiger"; the government wanted to get off but was afraid of
being devoured. This was due to three main concerns; firstly there
was the perceived threat to Afrikaner nationalism - the desire for
self-determination had driven their history for 300 years.
Secondly, there were fears of communism. Steward
is adamant that "this was genuinely not just a question of
Reds under beds. The fact is, a majority of the National Executive
of the ANC were also members of the communist party."
Finally, there was the fear that 'one man one
vote' would end not democracy but in chaos. This was fuelled by
"the fear that we would go the way that so many other African
countries had gone."
Steward claims that apartheid was a government
solution to multi-ethnicity that didn't work. Partition, he says,
is a model that thirty or more countries have followed since World
War Two, including Palestine and Israel.
He adds, "The division of territory, country and resources
wasn't fair. Secondly, there were no areas in South Africa where
whites were anything close to a majority position." These conditions
apparently rendered such partition unfeasible.
1989, it seems, was the year that heralded the
way forward. "The then president, PW Botha, had a stroke and
FW De Klerk became leader. I don't think PW Botha would have been
able to do it," Steward says serenely. "I think he accepted
the need for change but I don't think he had the leadership qualities,
the imagination or maybe the courage to do what was necessary."
Changes were also a foot in the Afrikaner community.
"When the National Party had come to power in 1948, it was
very much a blue-collar, socialist movement," he says before
telling me how a whole generation of Afrikaners became middle class.
Through university, travel and Bill Cosby, "...they
were exposed to global influences. This made them less comfortable
with 'statist' policies like Apartheid. In turn nationalism diminished.
Steward says: "The fact is, it just wouldn't be cool to go
to the Voortrekker monument and sing patriotic songs."
Steward maintains the concern of the communist
threat fell along with the Iron Curtain. Accordingly, the world,
including Mandela started to realise that a market economy was the
solution. He wryly remarks: "Even the British Labour party
was quietly appropriating some of Mrs Thatcher's policies."
Globalisation started to place expectations on
the behaviour of states. These factors combined with the emergence
of Mandela as a reconciliatory leader of the ANC, enabled the dismounting
of the tiger, according to Steward.
Looking back on the last ten years since that first election, Steward
expresses great pride in his country. He comments that the strength
of the economy and peace in the country has surprised many doomsayers
of the 80's.
However, he is also sharply critical of the ruling
government. Their approach to minorities, their attitude to HIV
and AIDS and employment issues, especially with regard to affirmative
action, all come under fire.
"The reality is that ten years after the
birth of South Africa, we are now beginning to experience some disturbing
elements or signs of alienation between the majority and the minority
communities," Steward says.
"What is the future of Afrikaans schools?
What is the future of universities like Stellenbosch and other culturally
based institutions?" he asks as he argues for their right to
maintain an Afrikaner culture and language on the condition that
they welcome all types of people.
He explains the De Klerk Foundation's advocacy
for a second house of representatives from all the communities.
This would be used for consultation to ensure the government does
not only attend to the majority. The failure to create such an organisation
triggered De Klerk's resignation from the government of National
Unity in 1996.
If minorities are not embraced within the so-called
'Rainbow Nation', then Steward fears that there will be what he
calls internal emigration: "Build your wall a little bit higher.
Put some more electric wire over the top and then say 'we'll screw
them, they don't want me so I am going to look after my family.'"
Despite the acknowledgement that whites still have most of the money
and decent jobs, some whites often complain about new employment
laws. That companies must employ a workforce representative of the
country i.e. 70% should be black, particularly incurs anger.
Steward argues that these restrictions are not
helping the vast unemployment rate in South Africa, currently at
42%: "If you are running a company and you can't appoint on
merit then you are not going to survive. You're not going to stay
in business." Criticism also hits the unions who have succeeded
in instituting the minimum wage and other "rigid labour policies".
As to HIV and AIDs, the government have been
ineffective in their response, Steward believes: "It threatens
a cataclysm because people don't really know the difference between
a thousand and a million."
He echoes other South Africans in declaring:
"confronted with this kind of a national crisis we just simply
shouldn't have been spending billions of Rands on advanced fighter
But in spite of these issues, Dave Steward is
proud of being South African and proud of his country's transformation.
When I ask if the last ten years has been a decade of liberation
for him, he leans forward with a serious face and says, "Oh
ja. I feel very much so."
He concludes by saying: "It was a
great day of liberation for all South Africans. It freed whites
from the burden of having to carry the whole country on their backs
and not being able to look fellow South Africans in the eye."
Editor's note: The views expressed
in this interview are not those of surefish.co.uk or Christian Aid
to South Africa index