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Interview With Journalists on South Africa

April 20, 1994

Q. Could I begin, Mr. President, with a twopart question? What is the significance of the South African election to you and the American people? And do you have any particular message for the people of South Africa that we could take back to them?

The President. First of all, I think it would be difficult to overstate the significance of this election to the American people for many reasons, first of all, our own history of racial division. We, after all, fought a great Civil War over slavery, and we continue to deal with our own racial challenges today. So all Americans, I think, have always been more drawn to the problems and the promise of South Africa than perhaps other nations have been.

Secondly, our own civil rights movement has, for decades, had a relationship with the antiapartheid movement in South Africa. So this will be a great sense of personal joy to many, many Americans who have been involved in this whole issue personally.

And finally, it's important to the United States because of the promise of harmony and prosperity in South Africa and what that might mean, not only to South Africa but to many other nations in the region and to the prospect of a revitalization, a new energy, a new peace, a new sense of possibility throughout at least the southern part of Africa. So it's very important.

Q. Any particular message?

The President. The message I would have is this: The United States is elated at the prospect of these elections. We have contributed to the effort to fight apartheid. We have tried to support the effort to have good elections and to make them meaningful, and we want to celebrate with and support South Africa. But we realize that the real work will begin after the election, of continuing to live in harmony, of fighting the new problems every day, of making democracy work, of dealing with the social problems and the very severe economic problems. And we intend to be a partner from the beginning. We intend to be a full partner.

Shortly after the election I will announce a substantial increase in United States assistance and support for building South Africa economically, dealing with the social problems, helping the political system to work. And then in June, we will have here a very large conference sponsored by the Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, in Atlanta, bringing together large numbers of American business people to give us the opportunity to urge them to be involved with South Africa in the rebuilding.

[At this point, an interviewer cited the Marshall plan following World War II and asked if a similar plan might be suitable for South Africa.]

The President. Well, I do believe that we ought to dramatically increase our assistance, which we will do. I think we ought to dramatically increase our private investment in South Africa, which I intend to work on. I think we ought to do what we can to mobilize the resources of other nations to also contribute. And I intend to spend a lot of time and effort on that.

I don't know that I would say it's exactly like the Marshall plan or that that is exactly what is needed, but it's obvious that a lot of money, a lot of investment, and a lot of opportunity is going to be needed to sort of jumpstart South Africa. It's a very rich country. And I think that the promise of this new democracy is that people will be able to live up to their potential. And I intend to do what I can to be a strong partner in that.

Q. This is the last one to—would you—you would probably be going to Africa soon, and is there any intention of paying a visit to our country?

The President. Well, I hope that I can go, and I very much want to go. I assure you I'm going to send a very high-level delegation to the inauguration to celebrate the elections. And I have been talking with my staff about when I can go to Africa.

This year, because of the 50th anniversary of the ending of World War II, I will wind up making three trips to Europe, and I will go to Asia in the fall. But in 1995, 1996, my travel schedule is more open. And I very much want to go there.

I think that the United States, frankly, has not—with the exception of South Africa—has not paid as much attention to Africa as it should have and to its long-term potential and particularly to those countries that are trying to resolve their political problems and do things to help their people. So I would be honored to go there. I don't have a trip scheduled, but I hope I can go.

[An interviewer asked whether a successful South Africa would help the world to confront the problem of increased racial and ethnic conflict.]

The President. Well, I do have some thoughts, actually. I think it has worked in South Africa partly because people with enormous influence decided to be statesmen instead of wreckers. After a certain amount of time, you had the leaders of the various groups deciding that there was no longer a future in fighting and killing and dying, that splitting the country up was not an option, and that somehow they were going up or down together. And then they translated those understandings into concrete commitments, not just an election. An election is only part of it, although a big part.

I think the decision to go for a government of national unity for 5 years is absolutely critical to this and making the decision before you know the outcome of the election. The decision to have a bill of rights, the decision to have a constitutional court, I think all these things have made a huge difference. And I think what you've got in other places, these sort of ancient divisions—racial, ethnic, and religious divisions—where people have not come to that wisdom; they don't understand yet, for whatever reason, that in the end they'll be better off if they work together and that controlling territory is of nowhere near the significance in terms of quality of life and meaning of life that it was 100 years ago.

It's almost as if, in some of the places that you've mentioned—and you've written so powerfully about Bosnia, and I know you care a lot about Azerbaijan; you have the Abkhaz problem, you have all these things— it's almost as if the cold war sort of imposed a freeze-frame on the history of a lot of these places. And then when it went away, people woke up and resumed the attitudes that they had held in the early part of the 20th century, which they carried over from the 19th century, as if there had been no communications revolution, as if there had been no changes in the global economy, as if all these things had happened.

Here in this country, too, the ethnic diversity of the United States ought to be our greatest asset as we move into the next century. It used to be in America that the burden we carried was the burden of the fight between blacks and whites going back to slavery and the Civil War and the aftermath. Now, in Los Angeles County alone there are 150 different racial and ethnic groups, 150 different ones in one county. And there was a study released in our press last week that said sometimes these groups resented each other as much as they resented the white majority, depending on what the facts were. So we're still dealing with this.

I have to tell you, I believe that if the elections come off well, and especially in the aftermath of the agreement yesterday where Chief Buthelezi agreed with Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk to participate in the elections and they worked out the constitutional role for the King of the Zulus—I think when that was done— I think if this election comes off, it will send a message around the world that there is another way to deal with these problems and that if it can be done in South Africa, how can you justify the old-fashioned killing and fighting and dying over a piece of land, over divisions which are not as important as what unites people in other places.

I mean, it's amazing; you think of it—contrast what we see in Gorazde with what we see about to happen in South Africa. It's a matter of enormous historical impact. And I think that when it is shown around the world it has to reverberate in ways that we can't fully assess but that have to be positive.

[An interviewer said that the proposed aid package for South Africa was much smaller than the one offered to Russia and suggested it might be insufficient.]

The President. Well, first of all, we've not finalized the amount of the aid package. We're working on it now, and we're going to get as much money as we can during this fiscal year from funds that are idle in the appropriate accounts. That is, there are some—we are looking, we are scouring the Government accounts for things, money that won't be spent that we can put into this. And we will do as much as we possibly can.

South Africa is a country of 40 million people where 7 million are homeless, for all practical purposes. There is an enormous amount to be done. If you look at it in the larger sense, if you look at the amount of investment we have, we have only a billion dollars invested now in South Africa since the advent of the sanctions— and I'm glad that I could lift the sanctions— but a billion dollars. In the early eighties we had $3 billion. And one of the things that I intend to do in June with this conference that Secretary Brown is having is to do everything I can to accelerate return of American investment to the levels of the early eighties, and then to exceed that, because we know, as a practical matter, if you look at the incredible human and natural resources of South Africa, that there would be more American money, private sector American money than Government money.

Now, next year and the year after—we're going to stay after this thing on a multiyear basis—we may be able to do better. But I think, given the condition of our budget laws and where the money is right now and the fact that we're in the middle of a fiscal year, we're going to do quite well.

Q. What are you trying to do with this money?

The President. Well, first of all, I want to encourage the South African leadership, once it's elected, to tell us what they think should be done with it. I don't want to be—we're in no position to be dictating that; we should be asking them. But I can tell you, I know we can make it available for economic development projects, for human resource projects like housing and health and education, and for democracy and institution building—how do you set up a system which will deliver these services and function properly.

It occurs to me, for example, the interconnection in South Africa and southern Africa generally, the transportation and waterways and the potential for telecommunications interconnection to leverage economic growth explosively throughout the region, is very great. It might be that your leaders would say, "Well, if you have this amount of dollars, put it into these investments because they'll generate more opportunities." It may be that your leaders will say, "We can't stand the sight of all these people living in substandard conditions; put more of it in housing." It might be that there's a public health problem that you want to deal with. I think that we should be guided in part, or in large measure, by what we're asked to do by the new leaders of the new South Africa.

Q. Mr. President, do you have any plans to invite the new South African President to Washington?

The President. Absolutely, I do.

Q. Quite soon?

The President. Yes, I will issue the invitation promptly after the election.

[An interviewer suggested that South Africa's crucial need was for education in democracy and tolerance and that America might be particularly helpful in this regard.]

The President. Well, we're certainly prepared to do that, to make that kind of investment. And we have, as you know, invested some money, as I said, since I've been President, I think somewhere in the range of $35 million, just to try to make the political process work right.

If you ask me one thing I have learned in my own life growing up as a young boy in the segregated South, it is that this is something that you never solve, you just have to keep improving, you have to keep working with.

My own interest in politics in America was inflamed overwhelmingly by my opposition to racial segregation in my own State, my own community, our own neighborhoods, our schools, and the terrible consequences which flowed from that. And so I thought, well, you know, when I grow up maybe there's something I can do to solve this. And when I ran for public office and when I served as a Governor of my State, and then when I became President, I think that I'll always be able to say I did things to make it better.

But this is not the sort of thing you solve. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, identifiable differences will always be used by narrow-minded people or frustrated people or ignorant people or sometimes bad people as a lever, a wedge, a means of acquiring power or influence or dominance or just inflicting harm. But it can get better and better and better.

That will be the test. The ultimate test of your democracy will be whether a disciplined effort can be made to take the attitudes represented, as you acknowledge, by your leaders and keep working until they become more and more and more real in the daily lives of every citizen of your country. But it is not a job that will ever be completely done. It will always be something you have to work on. At least that's our experience here. It will get better, but you'll always have to work on it.

[An interviewer said that the United States was still a largely segregated country, despite some progress, and asked if it would improve.]

The President. If they work at it I think it will get better. But I think you will, first of all, people will always tend to show a certain affinity to organize their living patterns around people who are more like them. But some people will seek a more integrated life. That's my experience in the South; that's my experience in America. I mean, I was amazed when I traveled around in other parts of America that a lot of people that I knew in other parts of the country lived a more segregated existence than I did, for whatever reason, maybe just the nature of the population of their communities.

But I think there will always be a certain amount of cohesion of people of the same race or ethnic group or religious group, particularly if they have strong religious convictions. You see that all over the world. You see that here. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with that and it's not unhelpful. What is unhelpful is if that is used as a way to divide people and if it leads to some sort of legal or practical discrimination. And I think what Mr. Lewis is saying is absolutely right. We still have too much of that in America.

We had a meeting here this morning, just for example, we had a meeting this morning; we had a couple of hundred people in the Rose Garden to talk about how we could better immunize all of our children in America. And it's appalling that a country as wealthy as we are only immunizes about two-thirds of our kids, about 64 percent of our children under 2 with all the recommended childhood immunizations. And it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that one of the reasons is that children under 2 are more likely to be children of color and more likely to be poor than adults over 50 who tend to make the decisions that control public policy in this country. That's one reason. That's not the only reason, but it's one reason.

So we had a meeting today to celebrate trying to organize ourselves with some discipline at the community level to eradicate not only a health problem but a problem of discrimination against the young, the poor, and often, children of color. But I think you see this played out over and over and over again in every society. But I do believe you can make it better.

And what I think is going to happen in this country is that increasingly we will come to understand that the fact that we are a multiracial society is an enormous asset in a global economy, but only if we take advantage of it, only if we educate all our children, keep them healthy, and teach people to live together in ways that permit them all to succeed. Otherwise, this potential asset becomes an enormous problem.

South Africa has an enormous asset now. You have a biracial society; you have some other ethnic groups, too, I know, and mixed race, but you have essentially two great large ethnic groups of people, each of whom have different experiences, different backgrounds, different contacts throughout the world now. It can be a terrific asset for you that you are different, but only if you use it. It has been a terrible handicap. You can now turn it into an asset.

So I guess my answer to Tony is, some places it will be better; some places it will be worse throughout the world. But if you look at the way the world is going, you basically are going to have two kinds of societies that will do well, it seems to me: highly homogeneous, coherent societies that think they can operate with great discipline by their own sets of cultural rules which are widely accepted within the society, who will then attempt to do well in the global economy by having high rates of savings, investment, and exporting to others but keeping their own life; or open, multiethnic societies which welcome the whole world and try to find a way to make strength out of diversity. And what you're going to see is each of those societies will be dealing with the conflicts that any course of action dictates.

You've got a great reform movement going on in Japan, fighting great opposition, because they're saying, "We need to be more open; we need to appreciate diversity more. But we don't want to be so open we don't have any discipline or control or direction," or whatever. And you have America saying, "This diversity is a great asset for us, but not if we have so little discipline our crime rates are too high, our education systems are too poor," or whatever. So you have these two great models, each of them trying to find the strengths of one another.

You have a chance to do that in South Africa. And it's a unique opportunity, at least in that part of the African Continent. And I think it's an extraordinary thing. And I think the world will come beating a path to your doorstep. It won't just be the United States; the whole world will start showing up down there when you pull this election off, because they will be so exhilarated by the moral and the practical potential of what it is you're engaged in. That's what I believe.

[An interviewer cited the concern expressed by a white South African journalist about possible human rights abuses by the new government.]

The President. I'd like to answer the question—it's a good question and a fair one—and I'd like to sort of—I'll give you two answers, consistent one with the other, but I think showing what I perceive to be the dimension of the problem.

First of all, the leaders of the country have taken great steps to minimize the prospect of that development by agreeing to a constitution with a strong bill of rights and a constitutional court and by agreeing to a government of national unity and by also, frankly, siding with international global developments that are consistent with human rights, renouncing terrorism, renouncing the spread of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. All these things augur for a government that will be balanced and fair and will not tolerate as official policy the abuse of human rights. If that should occur, I would think the United States should have the same obligation to speak against it there as we did before in South Africa and as we do now elsewhere in the world. I think that's hopeful.

I think the far greater danger for the man who wrote the piece—and it was a very moving piece, I thought—the far greater danger is what is in the heart of millions of people who—to go back to your question—who have not yet bought into the whole process that is unfolding. And who knows how many people there are carrying what wounds inside who may think they have some opportunity and some position to which they might be elected or just some opportunity because of their newfound freedom for payback time? I mean, that is something that no one can calculate.

In other words, democracy requires every day millions and millions and millions of decisions in a country as large as 40 million, by people— they just make decisions—sometimes you'll begin to make them almost subconsciously—to support the democratic process, to show personal restraint, to respect the rights of other people, to deal with all these things. I think that's going to be the far bigger challenge, is when you get the government in place and you've got the laws, you've got the bill of rights, you've got all this stuff, the government's going to try to do the right thing, I think the majority party will try to do the right thing—what will happen is, what about all the people up and down the line? And what is in their hearts? What kind of temptations or opportunities will be there? Those are things that happen to free societies, and you'll just have to work at stamping them out and minimizing them. I think that's what the real problem is.

[An interviewer asked if the United States would make a greater effort to assist Africa.]

The President. I think the United States should focus more on Africa as a whole, as a continent.

Q. Do you intend to do that?

The President. And I intend to do that. Now, you know today, of course, we're profoundly— I know that—I won't use your term, but you know what occupies our headlines, of course, are in the north, Somalia and Sudan and the problems there and then moving down the continent to Rwanda and Burundi and then moving down to Angola where more children have been injured by land mines than in any war in human history. It's not on CNN at night, so people don't talk about it. And we're terribly troubled by Rwanda now, but it wasn't so many months ago that in a period of months it's estimated that as many as a quarter of a million or more people died in Burundi.

So it is true. But there are other stories in south Africa as well. There are other countries where progress is being made, where democracy is beginning to work, where people are beginning to try to put together these things that will make a successful country. And it seems to me that the United States ought to be working with countries that are trying to make good things happen, as well as doing what we can to alleviate human suffering where there's a tragedy.

And I think we need a more balanced and more aggressive policy in Africa, and I am hopeful that we'll be able to provide one. We've been so caught up with our own financial problems and cutting back on everything. And in our country, foreign aid of all kinds has a history of being unpopular among the people and, therefore, among the Congress. But I think that if there is a success in South Africa, which I expect there to be, I believe America will try to come to you; I believe the world will try to come to you; I think there will be a fascination about it. And I think that it will not only spark greater development in the southern part of Africa, but it will give us a more balanced view about what our overall policy should be. I realize I'm an optimist, but that's what I believe will happen.

[An interviewer praised the President's sincerity and stated that South Africa was fortunate to have Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk as role models in the move toward tolerance and democracy.]

The President. Well, if I might just comment on that and say one thing—I thank you for saying that. And I thank you for being positively inclined toward me. If you lived here, you would have an obligation to be more critical of me. [Laughter] I accept it.

Let me tell you what I think about that. I think that both Mandela and de Klerk are remarkable stories, and together, they are a stern rebuke to the cynics of the world: de Klerk for the reason you said, because he was an Afrikaner and because of the image we all have of that and what it was and what it meant politically and racially and every way; Mandela because he spent the best years of his life in a prison cell, walked out by most standards an older man, still ready to be young and vigorous and able to free himself of the bitterness that would surely have destroyed most people who had to live for 27 years behind bars. That also is an astonishing story.

If these two people are capable of that sort of internal growth and wisdom and understanding, there must be a way for the rest of us to impart some of that to the society at large in South Africa and the United States or wherever, so that they, in turn, can live together. But both stories are truly astonishing.

I think also they owe a lot to others, too. We were talking before I came into this interview—I believe, in the history of the Nobel Prize, the conflict in South Africa between the races is the only thing that's produced four Nobel Prizes over the same issue: Albert Luthuli, then Bishop Tutu, and then Mandela and de Klerk. I mean, this is something that the world has been fixated on with you for a long time.

But the internal changes of those two people, that's what you have to find a way—that goes back to where you started. You have to find a way to mirror that down here where people live and buy newspapers and go to work every day and find a way to live together.

Thank you.

NOTE: The interview began at 7:03 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The interviewers were Richard Steyn, editor-in-chief, The Star, Johannesburg, South Africa; Aggrey Klaaste, editor, The Sowetan, Soweto, South Africa; Anthony Lewis, New York Times; and Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune. This interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on April 22.

William J. Clinton, Interview With Journalists on South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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