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Why we need more de Klerks

With ongoing catastrophes around the globe, the world needs more selfless men and women: people who are willing to go beyond their comfort zones to pursue justice and perpetuate a better life for others. One of these people is Nobel Laureate F.W. de Klerk, the key speaker at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College. De Klerk spoke about his work in engineering an end to apartheid, South Africa’s racial segregation policy, and the lessons he learned about contemporary peace today. After listening to his speech, I was convinced that the world needs more people like him. After President de Klerk freed Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, the two men worked closely together to transform the country into a multiracial democracy, end apartheid and establish a new constitution. In 1993, together they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. De Klerk has also been recognized for his decision to eliminate South Africa’s nuclear arsenal, which made South Africa the only country in history to take this step toward peace.

During his speech, de Klerk explained how he was raised under the apartheid policy and later realized that the system was wrong. He explained how his government struggled with the questions of right and wrong, and how to ensure that the white Afrikaners would be safe in a new independent South Africa. With the collapse of the communism and the success of the free market economy they found themselves in a morally indefensible position. In 1994, South Africa was granted independence and de Klerk facilitated the change.

One of the major questions de Klerk wanted to address was how leaders can leaders possibly know what position to take to pursue peace in the world. He emphasized that the world is changing and predicting the future is impossible. The days of single race states are gone and ethnicity is one of the biggest threats to global Peace. The three problems de Klerk outlined were liberal western materialism, fundamental Islam, and Taliban Afghanistan. However, he highlighted that these threats can be combated and that with technology “almost anything is possible”. He also suggested that the west should lessen its dependency on oil from the east. Above all these, he emphasized that leaders should value dialogue as a way to resolve conflict.

The interesting point he raised is the threat that China poses to the west for consumers and resources. He highlighted that China and India have a cohesive power towards Africa. In response to this, the western world has to make the difficult decisions on how to deal with these emerging Asian giants. However, even though de Klerk “liberated” South Africa, he admitted the progress since 1994 has been slow.

He is optimistic that South Africa is going in the right direction, despite experiencing a rising crime rate and a poor state of education. Although de Klerk didn’t explicitly acknowledge this, there is a huge economic gap between the black and white communities of South Africa and I hope that with time, this inequality will come to an end. It is people like de Klerk that inspire young people like myself to seek further understanding of global issues and pursue dialogue as a way to resolve conflict. We have the capacity to change how things are in the world, especially if we understand that the world needs us to play our part. Creating an understanding that we not only have to be responsible for ourselves and our family, but also for everyone within the human race. That way, we see the need to come out and do something about all the injustices around the globe; a step that great people like President de Klerk took.

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