The O’Conner Justice Prize
Former South African President FW de Klerk
16 February 2019
It is my sincere pleasure to introduce the 2019 Sandra Day O’Connor Justice Prize honoree:
Former President of South Africa, Nobel laureate and Chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation, the Honourable FW de Klerk.
Simply put: in my lifetime, in all the world, no one has done more to advance human rights than President De Klerk.
His heroic decision to end apartheid and lead a peaceful transition to full democracy in South Africa may have shocked his countrymen but it also inspired democracy and human rights movements aross the African continent and around the globe.
Decades after his presidency his Global Leadership Foundation continues to advance freedoms in scores of other countries.
Let’s start twenty-nine years (and two weeks) ago tonight, with President De Klerk’s announcement of sweeping reforms.
In a half-hour speech he upended the apartheid status quo. He:
- Committed to a full democracy,
- With majority rule in a unitary state . . . Including the homelands,
- With an independent judiciary,
- And equal justice for all under a human rights manifesto,
- With no discrimination and
- With a free economy.
- He freed Nelson Mandela and other jailed political prisoners without conditions. . . and
- He set a vision for a free, democratic, multi-racial nation with universal suffrage and economic freedom.
One South African described being “glued to a tv screen (as) the world watched President De Klerk change the course of his country’s history and over 40 million lives in 30 minutes.”
Naturally, his action came with immense personal risk.
Students of significant societal reform will recognize a pattern:
Disruptors of the status quo get awfully lonesome.
President De Klerk was no exception.
He faced skepticism, derision, hatred and threats – from both sides.
Anti-apartheid activists in opposition parties had long detested his national party.
They expected no genuine change from this young president. “just musical chairs”. One called it “a gimmick! Without substance.” They decried.
At the same time, many in his own National Party felt betrayed.
To those who were steadfastly aligned with apartheid policies, his human rights vision was an anathema.
In what might be a definition of great leadership,
President De Klerk had been highly successful in the established system;
Yet he had the wisdom to recognize that his success was within a system that was profoundly flawed and
When empowered, he had the courage to transform it.
In a move that Americans might find hard to fathom,
After completing his service as President, De Klerk agreed to serve as the executive Deputy President under his successor Nelson Mandela.
As a team Mandela and De Klerk united black and white . . . Passion with experience . . . To a successful administration.
We take a lesson in statesmanship from President De Klerk’s words in 1993 when he received the Nobel Peace prize.
“the decisions that statesmen take can make the difference between war and peace; between freedom and tyranny; between prosperity and poverty! The stakes are immensely high; they are the happiness and security of tens of millions of ordinary people.”
When he eventually left government in 1997, FW de Klerk was without official portfolio, but he was just getting started.
Mr. De Klerk’s bias-for-action for justice, human rights and rule of law gained worldwide reach through his global leadership foundation.
Founded by President De Klerk in 2004, the donor-supported Global Leadership Foundation has nearly 50 members, all former Presidents, Prime Ministers or other distinguished statesmen.
Teams of Foundation members advise current Presidents and Prime Ministers who face intractable challenges . . . But only when invited, always confidentially and usually without compensation.
Think of a new President of a developing nation who seeks experienced, discreet advice for
- Improving his or her investment climate, or
- Establishing monetary policy, or
- Structuring education,
- Defeating terrorists,
- Reconciling political differences,
- Building democratic institutions,
- Implementing international agreements or
- Setting up fair elections.
Global Leadership Foundation offers discreet, experienced, peer-to-peer advice on these issues and more.
And so, through his Chairmanship of the Foundation FW de Klerk continues his legacy of transformation of nations to foundational equality, democracy and economic freedom.
The O’Connor Justice Prize is a fitting recognition for a man devoted to these virtues throughout his life and a man whose devotion has been put into action to lift up so many other lives.
Now, may I conclude with a word about President De Klerk’s influence here at Arizona State University?
Yesterday, President De Klerk spoke with 75 attentive law, Honors and Thunderbird students.
Two years ago he visited many ASU stalwarts when he and his exquisite wife, Elita, were hosted here by the O’Connor Institute.
Plus, in the recent past two other Members of his Global Leadership Foundation brought their lessons in good governance and courageous leadership to ASU and the O’Connor Institute.
Finnish Minister Elisabeth Rehn spoke on campus and to an enthusiastic O’Connor Institute audience.
And at this time last spring, through the Global Leadership Foundation, former Latvia President Vaira Vike-Freiberga (the first woman to lead a former Soviet country) interacted with ASU students for 6 weeks.
Imagine it: President Vike-Freiberga and her husband actually lived on campus in the dorms with Honours students!
So the influence of President and Mrs. De Klerk is not just in distant lands. They have inspired ASU and the valley in many ways as well.
And now, we will see a short video and then hear from our award recipient.
But first, ladies and gentlemen please join me in celebrating the 2019 Sandra Day O’Connor Justice Prize recipient -- the Honourable FW de Klerk.