George Bush photo

Remarks Following Discussions With State President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa

September 24, 1990

President Bush. To our friends from South Africa, once again, welcome to the White House. We've just come from an extraordinarily useful meeting. President de Klerk and I have conversed on the phone several times in the past, but it was a great pleasure to hold this face-to-face meeting with the first South African leader to visit the United States in more than 40 years.

President de Klerk described for me in detail what he is trying to accomplish in South Africa: the process of ending apartheid and negotiating a new political reality for all. We talked of this very promising, sometimes difficult situation, especially the recent violence. And I think all Americans recognize that President de Klerk is courageously trying to change things. After all, we have seen in other parts of the world the culture of political violence overwhelm the culture of dialog, and this must not happen to South Africa. The Government has a special responsibility to maintain order, but all political parties and groups have a special responsibility to support the process of peaceful transition.

One thing is apparent in this process of change: The move away from apartheid toward a new political reality is indeed irreversible. And much has already happened. Leading political figures, including Nelson Mandela, have been released from prison. The Government and the ANC, the African National Congress, have reached an agreement on a plan for the release of the remaining political prisoners. Political organizations banned for years are now free to conduct peaceful political activities, and restraints on the media have largely been removed. A framework has been agreed to, between the ANC and the Government, to lead to negotiations over the political future of the country. Other groups are invited to join in. Except for the beleaguered Natal, the nationwide state of emergency has been lifted through the country.

Who among us only a year ago would have anticipated these remarkable developments? Clearly, the time has come to encourage and assist the emerging new South Africa. The United States clearly endorses the principle of constitutional democratic government in South Africa, and I'm here to tell you that I have enormous respect for what President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela are trying to achieve together in pursuit of this principle. And it is not simply this President -- I believe, sir, it's the entire American people that feel that way.

South Africa needs a constitutional system based on regular and free elections with universal suffrage, a civil society where authority is responsible in every sense of the word. South Africa needs an unvarying respect for human rights and equal opportunity for all its citizens. And we also would like to see an economic system that's based on freedom and individual initiative and market forces. We believe that only a society that opens equal opportunity to all can remedy the social and economic deprivations inflicted on so many people for so many years by apartheid. And President de Klerk agrees with this principle of equal opportunity for all.

And it is in such a context that the issue of sanctions often arises. Although our meetings today were not about sanctions, obviously, we discussed it; the topic did come up. And let me just say a quick word. As I stated, we believe the process of change in South Africa is irreversible, a fact that we'll bear squarely in mind as we consider specific issues in the future. Our goal must be to support the process of change, and of course, I will consult fully with the Congress on these issues. And as you know, all the conditions set in our legislation have not yet been made, in spite of the dramatic progress that we salute here today. But let me emphasize that these conditions are clear-cut and are not open to reinterpretation, and I do not believe in moving the goalposts.

Finally, we will be in touch with our traditional allies in Western Europe and elsewhere on what we can do to help build democracy in South Africa. It is only in this way that South Africa can again be fully accepted into the wider international community.

Apartheid has long hindered South Africa from within, depriving it of the talent and very dreams of millions of men and women. Little wonder then that the end of apartheid holds the promise of unleashing the creative energies of the restless millions, and that's why the end of apartheid can really mean the beginning of a greater South Africa.

Mr. President, if you're successful in this effort, South Africa around the world will become a beloved country not for one people but for all. And for that -- your efforts, your courage -- you leave with our gratitude, our appreciation, and a hearty Godspeed. Good luck to you, sir, in this wonderful endeavor. We're pleased you're here, very pleased, indeed.

President de Klerk. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, may I, at the outset, also say publicly how appreciative we are of the very kind reception which we have had here in the United States of America. For us it is, indeed, an historical occasion for me to be the first State President ever to visit the shores of America from South Africa.

From the moment we set foot here, we've been overwhelmed with friendliness. And in particular, Mr. President, I want to thank you for the very frank, very open, and very fruitful discussions which we were able to have today for over 2 hours.

I want to say, Mr. President, that from the people of South Africa I bring a message, a message of recognition for the awesome responsibility which rests upon your shoulders in the handling of the very difficult situation in the Gulf. We admire you for the strong leadership which you have shown, and South Africa has fully identified itself with that leadership. You can count on us, as we have publicly stated, to support the steps you have taken to assure that democracy and that the political process of dialog and the political process of keeping all channels open will also be maintained in that part of the world. We will support you, sir, in the very definite steps you have taken to assure that the unacceptable form of aggression which manifested itself there will be withstood; and South Africa will play its part in that regard. We wish you well in handling this awesome and tremendous responsibility.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for the acknowledgment of the new reality which exists in South Africa. There is, indeed, as you have stated, sir, a new reality; and the process in South Africa is indeed an irreversible one. There will be negotiations, and from those negotiations there will come about a new constitutional situation, a new constitution which will offer full political rights within the framework of internationally acceptable definitions of what democracy really is.

There will be a vote of equal value to all South Africans. There will be effective protection of the very values which you in the United States of America hold so dearly: values such as an independent judiciary; such as effective protection of the rights of the individual in the form of a bill of rights, of checks and balances to prevent the abuse of majority power to the detriment or suppression of minorities and smaller communities. There will be in South Africa the protection of fundamental values with regard to the assurance of an economic system which will create sufficient growth to meet the tremendous challenges which we face in the field of addressing the problems of poverty and illiteracy and housing and urbanization.

There will be in South Africa -- the process is irreversible -- through negotiation a new constitutional and economic dispensation which will offer equal opportunities and full democratic rights to all its people. In that sense of the word, the international community can rely on us. We will not turn back. The fact, sir, that you have today given recognition to this fact will serve as inspiration to us. We stand on the threshold of a tremendously exciting period in the history of our country. We are adamant to use the window of opportunity which history has given us to assure that we will bring about a new and just South Africa.

In that process, the Government of South Africa won't be acting unilaterally. Our goal is to bring about this fundamental change, to bring about this new and just South Africa, on the basis of building and achieving a broad consensus between all the leaders with proven constituencies, whether they be large or small, in South Africa.

We are making headway with that. There are some stumbling blocks in the way. We have a problem of volatility to deal with which sometimes erupts into violent situations which are totally unacceptable. We've taken steps in an impartial manner, through the use of our security forces, curbed the violence. We are as anxious as you are, sir, that we should move as soon as possible to a situation where also in the Province of Natal the state of emergency can be lifted and where the political process in South Africa can be fully normalized. We've already taken great steps in that direction.

I view, Mr. President, today as an important moment where real progress has been attained in normalizing our country's situation with regard to the international community. You, sir -- as leader of the strongest country in the world, economically speaking and militarily speaking -- your acknowledgment of the progress which we have made and your encouragement with regard to the progress which we are committed to make in the future is, for us, extremely important.

I thank you for the warm reception. And I look beyond the immediate problems and the historical problems, forward also to the day when South Africa, the new South Africa, with a new constitution and a new government, will, together with the United States of America and other important powers -- being one of the strongest regional powers in the Southern Hemisphere, being the hope of the rebuilding of prosperity and opportunity for almost the whole continent of Africa -- where South Africa will, by taking hands as we are now already doing with you and with others, will play a constructive role in ensuring stability on the globe, in ensuring that the vision which we share with you of peace between all countries -- where we can make a contribution to ensure that that vision will also become reality.

We wish you, sir, and the American people everything of the best. We invite you to play the constructive role which you have spelled out here today. South Africa is going to overcome its problems. South Africa will become once again a proud member of the international community. And South Africa will be a trustworthy friend of the United States of America in maintaining the very values on which your system is built.

My country, ladies and gentlemen, today finds itself in step, in step with the basic value systems of this great country, the United States of America. And we say to you, sir, thank you for a kind reception. Everything of the best in your endeavors to assure global peace. You will not find South Africa lacking in support when you need it.

Note: President Bush spoke at 1:30 p.m. at the South Portico of the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader. Prior to their remarks, the two Presidents met privately in the Oval Office and with U.S. and South African officials in the Cabinet Room, and then attended a luncheon in the Old Family Dining Room.

George Bush, Remarks Following Discussions With State President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives