Former South African President F.W. de Klerk is a man who knows how to read the warning signs of history and he urges Cypriot leaders not to miss another opportunity to make peace before it’s too late.
“Timing is important, sometimes the time is right for something to happen and if you don’t see the opportunity and use it, the window closes again then you lose time again…has that happened here? Yes,” de Klerk told Knews in an interview during a private visit to Cyprus this week.
De Klerk negotiated with Nelson Mandela to fully dismantle a brutal apartheid regime and establish a transition to universal suffrage to end white minority rule in 1993 – they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this.
The man who decided to end white rule in South Africa said there are lessons that can be learnt from showing the courage of your convictions.
“The main lesson we’ve learnt is that there is no solution if you don’t talk to each other"
“The main lesson we’ve learnt is that there is no solution if you don’t talk to each other and there’s no solution if there isn’t the will on both sides to reach a solution.”
“I want to avoid trying to be prescriptive coming from the outside…I think from the lessons we’ve learnt Cyprus can also take some those lessons and apply them to their particular situation.”
The Nobel winner said it was “a pity” that President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Aknici failed to reach an agreement at the Conference for Cyprus in Switzerland last July.
De Klerk said there was movement towards resuming deadlocked Cyprus talks based on the UN Secretary General’s guidelines.
“It’s a pity that last year’s negotiations on the secretary general’s guidelines broke down, it is my sincere hope for the sake of all the people of Cyprus that it can be resumed successfully.”
“It seems as if there is a window of opportunity to resume negotiations now and it is my hope that it will be used positively.”
He called on both leaders to focus on what unites them rather than what divides them because reunification should be their only goal.
“We tried a 10 state solution in South Africa…but it didn’t work out, with the information I have, I don’t think a two-state solution will work or is the right direction to take for Cyprus.”
“There are Greek Cypriots and there are Turkish Cypriots and I think somehow or another a way must be found to put the emphasis on ‘although we are Greek, although we are Turkish, we are all Cypriots’ - and inclusivity seems the better route to go, to find a way of devolution of power but of working together for a united Cyprus.”
Inclusivity not Separateness
He said South Africa abandoned the concept of separateness because “it offered no real solutions, the violence and the conflict would continue and intensify and would end up in a catastrophe”.
The 82-year-old Afrikaans’ said leaders trying to solve conflict need to take initiatives to break logjams.
“I’m concerned about Cyprus because I feel that too many years have gone by and too many opportunities to reach a reasonable settlement has, over the years, been bypassed.”
“I’m concerned that the United Nations might decide that it has had enough…a time might come when the United Nations will say we have done everything they could.”
But De Klerk said that the South Africa experience showed that “even the most intractable conflict can be resolved through solution-orientated dialogue and negotiation.”
Although the veteran statesman warned time was running out.
“In many conflict areas time is running out, there’s a whole new global trend of disillusionment with historical political parties manifesting itself in many parts of the world, this plays into the hands of the radicals.”
Apart from his beloved South Africa, de Klerk commented on other issues especially Greece as his wife is Greek and he visits the country regularly.
“I’m glad to know that things have slightly improved in Greece, I was deeply concerned about the economy and the tremendous suffering of so many Greeks and I sincerely hope that things will continue to improve.”
“I personally believe the European Union can be somewhat kinder to Greece than it is and more forgiving.”
“I’m worried about certain trends in Turkey it seems as if freedom of speech is under threat and some other freedoms and human rights are being infringed upon which is not a good development.”
“I’m no expert on Turkey but an opinion has been given to me about someone who knows better that it’s because there are some dark clouds on the economy of Turkey and that President Erdogan might feel that better to have elections now before the economy gets worse…but I’m not in a position to judge whether that’s a correct evaluation.”
“If I were an Englishman or a Brit I would have voted to stay, I would not have voted to leave. My gut feeling is that the EU is making an example of Britain by being very harsh and strict as a warning to other countries who might change their position.
I personally think when Cameron was looking for a few concessions they (EU) should have helped him more than they did.”
It’s developing into a mess, no question – and the big parties are divided on this issue.”
“Mandela could be a very difficult man, he was not always the benign man that everybody knows but I have the greatest respect for him, he was a very special person and he was committed to a negotiated solution and I was committed and that commitment made a difference.
That’s a lesson everyone can learn from our experience…it takes two to tango.”
“What I and my fellow leaders in the National Party were driven by is conscience, it wasn’t sanctions…It was conscience driven.
We came to the conclusion that apartheid was wrong and morally unjustifiable and therefore my conscience would not allow me to continue with it.
It had to be replaced by a system that was just and equitable, and one of my biggest challenges was to take a majority of the white electorate – in terms of the old constitution they could unseat me – to take them with me and I succeeded in doing that.”
SA President Cyril Ramaphosa
“I am not a supporter of the ANC but he is the best man the ANC could bring in as president, he is a good man, he has seen life from all sides, he was a trade unionist, he was secretary general of the ANC, he was their main negotiator during the negotiations in 1990-96…he decided to go into business and made a big success of that in an honest and transparent way.”
“Now he is back in politics and I welcome his emphasis on fighting corruption.”
Deposed president Jacob Zuma
“Zuma has done South Africa tremendous damage and corruption grew to a totally unacceptable level…Zuma and a few other families were robbing the country of billions.”
“I believe he will be taken to court for corruption which happened during his reign as president.”
The greek version of this story by Charlie Charalambous and Marina Economides appears in Sunday's Kathimerini, dated 6 May 2018.