Princeton Lyman, former US Ambassador to
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PRINCETON LYMAN: Nelson Mandela went out on the field on the first game to support the
team. You had tens of thousands of white South Africans standing on their feet yelling, “Nelson,
Nelson, Nelson.” It was things like that that he’s done that said, “We’re one country now. We’re
going to come together and do it.”
KEITH PORTER: Problems and promise in the new South Africa on this edition of Common
LYMAN: Education will be the liberating factor. If they succeed in that, it will give the
South African majority the access to the same science, technology, and business capacity that the
whites have used to build up the country so far.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
South Africa has undergone amazing changes since apartheid first began to crumble. Today we hear
from the outgoing US Ambassador to South Africa, Princeton Lyman. He begins by summarizing the
impressive gains made since Nelson Mandela was elected president over two years ago.
LYMAN: They’ve grown remarkably well. They’ve grown well for a number of reasons. There
was in that first two years a government of national unity that really did operate on the basis
of consensus and major economic policy, major social redevelopment policy, setting up the
constitutional court, naming all the members, and a whole range of issues were decided on a
largely consensus basis. So much of the structural post-apartheid change was taken in those first
two years and done very well.
The other thing is that the Parliament has become a very vibrant source of democratic activity.
The old Parliament was a rubber stamp. This one isn’t. They’re dynamic. They ask the tough
questions, whether it’s the ANC members or any other party members. Very able leadership. The
premieres are by and large very strong leaders. The economy has turned around from a very
negative, depressed level to a 3 to 3½ percent growth rate. There’s a fair amount of business
So the first two years were remarkable, and people felt good about themselves. Only now, the
reality of all the problems are coming to the surface. The celebration is kind of ending.
PORTER: On the positive side of this, give us some examples of what President Mandela has
done to promote reconciliation over these last two years.
LYMAN: He’s been extraordinary. It’s not just something he does for political reasons.
This is a very, very deeply felt commitment on his part, the way he sees South Africa; he sees it
deeply as a nonracial democracy. He sees it practically that way. He does not want the people who
have skills and capital to leave. They have a contribution to make. He’s done a number of things,
some of them very symbolic. He had tea with the wives or widows of all the major presidents of
South Africa in the last 30, 40 years—meaning all of those who were leaders of apartheid
together with the wives or widows of the leaders of the ANC. It was an extraordinary event. And
then when one lady couldn’t come, he went out to her home out in faraway rural area to have tea
The most striking thing was the World Cup Rugby, which has been a largely white sport in South
Africa and white-supported. The soccer (football) is the black sport, if you will, in terms of
audience support. Rugby has been very much a white game. It’s very important to the white
population, and apartheid locking them out of world rugby was devastating for them. So to come
back into it and have the World Cup played in South Africa was important. But among the blacks it
was kind of a, “Gee, do we really want to support this?” Nelson Mandela went out on the field on
the first game to support the team. You had tens of thousands of white South Africans standing on
their feet yelling, “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson.” It was things like that that he’s done that said,
“We’re one country now. We’re going to come together and do it.”
He’s followed a very moderate economic policy, support for the private sector, etc. So in many
ways he has sent the message very strongly of reconciliation and of a single unified country.
PORTER: In an attempt to bring some justice to the years of oppression, there is the
Truth Commission headed by Archbishop Tutu. Tell us how that has worked and how it’s going.
LYMAN: This is the most trying political issue other countries—Chile, Argentina, El
Salvador—have faced. How much do you look to justice and truth about what went on in the past
versus reconciliation which would lead you to say, let’s forget it, put it all behind us. It’s
been a long difficult debate in South Africa. They’ve created a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission. They drew a lot on the Chile experience and others. The Truth and Reconciliation
Commission has three tasks: (1) to learn the truth of what happened, (2) to grant amnesty to
those who confessed to various human rights abuses, and (3) to develop some recommendations for
compensation for the victims. By naming Archbishop Tutu to head it, it alleviated some of the
fears that it would be a witch hunt or that it would tear the country apart, because Archbishop
Tutu is a man of peace and reconciliation.
But it will be very tough. It’s going to bring some very painful, painful memories up and some
very sore points. It’s going to be politically controversial. But the people who have argued for
it have said that if you don’t bring the truth out it will fester. People will want it, and
they’ll bring it out some other way. It’s better to bring it out in an organized fashion.
PORTER: How has it gone so far?
LYMAN: It has just begun; it really just started. There has been some telling testimony
before the commission, some very moving and powerful testimony. There is still some controversy
over how the ANC should talk about abuses that took place in their camps in exile. But, on the
whole, I think it has gotten off to a good start.
PORTER: Prior to the first all-race elections in South Africa, the ANC (the African
National Congress) put forth a detailed Reconstruction and Development Program. How much of that
has been implemented, and how much has been jettisoned?
LYMAN: A modified version of it was adopted as the government’s Reconstruction and
Development Program. It is the basis of the socioeconomic policy of the government. A lot went
into planning and programming, etc. But they were doing this at the same time they were trying to
reduce the government deficit, so that the amount of new money that could be spent on this was
very limited. Instead, they have tried to reorient existing budgets toward the objectives of the
RDP, as it’s called. The next year or two will be the time to see whether all this planning and
redirection are going to produce results.
Not many changes took place in the first two years. People’s lives didn’t change in the township.
But now we’ll see sewer systems, new streets, jobs, and housing—not at a miraculous level, but
at a level that people get hope. We’ll see. A lot of planning, a lot of programs, and a lot of
complaints there were more plans than reality. Now the test comes.
PORTER: When I was in South Africa, I visited the Morris Isaacson School in Soweto. Many
people probably know it from the musical, “Serafina.” It is sort of a popular place, lots of
politicians seem to stop by there. When I was there it was in terrible condition. Now obviously
education was going forward there. I mean bright-eyed students who really wanted to learn were
there. I read something just recently that there is now not a single broken window, a single
broken pane of glass at the Morris Isaacson School. Have you been there? Have you seen this?
LYMAN: I haven’t seen this since it’s been fixed up. That’s wonderful. Education is going
to be one of the most important sectors. This terrible disparity existed for so many years, not
just financial disparity between white and black education but the subjects that were taught and
the preparations. It’s going to be very difficult to change that without frightening away the
whites who feel that their school system will go down. That’s one of the great challenges.
Education will also be the liberating factor. If they succeed in that, it will give the South
African majority the access to the same science, technology, and business capacity that the
whites have used to build up the country so far.
PORTER: There’s been a new constitution written and approved, I take it, in South Africa.
What’s been the world reaction to this document?
LYMAN: Some of the most significant aspects of this new constitution are that it will
bring to an end the government of national unity that was required in the first constitution,
that is that any party that achieved the 5 percent vote or 5 percent of the Parliament was
entitled to a proportional share of cabinet members. That meant that DeClerk’s party which got 20
percent of the vote got 20 percent of the cabinet and the vice presidency. That will no longer be
required. What it means in practical terms is that the ANC will be in charge of policy and
government for the foreseeable future, and it puts a tremendous responsibility on the ANC not to
abuse that power. That’s going to be the real challenge. But the constitution also has tremendous
protection for human rights and tremendous protection for economic freedom in the private sector
and on property, even while they carry out land reform. So it’s a very impressive document
PORTER: Having a plan now sort of raises the question of successorship. What do you see
happening when Nelson Mandela passes from the political scene?
LYMAN: There’s only one Nelson Mandela. Everybody admits that, and the ANC admits that.
There is a cadre of very, very capable leaders to follow him. None of them will have his moral
stature; none of them will have his ability to reach out in ways that only Nelson Mandela has
been able to do. So it’ll be a challenge. It’ll be a challenge to maintain the same sense of
cohesiveness. Also, it’ll be more difficult for the ANC to keep its different factions together.
It’s a movement more than a party. It goes all the way from the Communists on the left to some
budding millionaires and businessmen on the right. Holding that together, especially while
following relatively moderate economic policies, has not been easy. I think it’s going to become
more difficult after Mandela leaves the scene.
PORTER: The government faces some determined and often violent opposition from the
Inkatha Freedom Party. What can be done to reconcile the differences between these groups?
LYMAN: It’s going to fester for a long time. It’s a deep, deep rivalry. It overlays a lot
of historical and other ethnic problems within the province. It’s not, as some people say, a Zulu
versus Xhosa for example rivalry. It’s mostly Zulu vs. Zulu in KwaZulu-Natal province. But it is
also a fight between a more feudal and rural-based society and a modernized industrialized
society with the Inkatha Freedom Party drawing its support heavily from traditional chiefs in
rural institutions in KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC drawing its support from the labor union and the
urbanized Zulu population. It’s going to last a long time. The personalities are such that
reconciliation is very difficult, and the mistrust is very great.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with Ambassador Princeton
Lyman. He is now President Clinton’s designee as Assistant Secretary of State for International
Organizations. He has most recently served as the US Ambassador to South Africa. Printed
transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast
for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit,
nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and
encourage dialogue on world affairs.
You mentioned KwaZulu-Natal, the place where most of the violence takes place. What are
conditions like there? What’s life like there now?
LYMAN: It’s a bit deceiving you know. Durban is the capital, the main city of
KwaZulu-Natal, a bustling city with a lot of economic activity and construction going on. The
first major convention center in South Africa is being built in Durban. It’s doing very well. In
Durban you would hardly know that the province is having so many difficulties. But the governance
of KwaZulu-Natal is caught up in this rivalry. Therefore, the RDP program is not functioning very
well. In the rural areas and suburban areas, the townships around Durban and elsewhere, that’s
where a lot of the violence takes place. Their life is very hard and very chancy.
PORTER: We’ve talked about that kind of violence. What about on the other end of the
spectrum? At the time of the elections there was so much talk about the conservative whites, the
separatists. How are they doing, and how are they faring in all this?
LYMAN: That’s one of the remarkable things about the South Africa scene, how completely
gone the threat of white military resistance has been. It was very real leading right up to the
election. Even General Viljoen, who now sits in the Parliament, admits that there was real talk
of a military insurrection and even trying to join with the armed forces to do so. But once the
election was over, it seems to have disappeared almost entirely. The extreme right on the white
side seems to have almost no support anymore. While perhaps it could rise again if things became
critical or difficult, right now it is not a threat.
PORTER: Are you convinced that the sort of democracy that we’ve come to see in South
Africa will survive or is there a threat that we’re going to have sort of a de facto one-party
state in South Africa?
LYMAN: There’s a very deep commitment to democracy. It’s very moving to see how seriously
people take democracy—democratic institutions, human rights, etc. As you look at the debate over
the constitution and all the protection that has been built in, it’s like America in the early
stages of writing our own constitution. People take it very, very seriously. But I think you’re
exactly right. There is a danger of a one-party system in South Africa, because the overwhelming
majority of blacks who make up 80 percent of the population vote for the ANC. And there is no
party on the scene now which can command loyalty from the black population. That is over time a
threat unless eventually one evolves into a more even multiparty system.
PORTER: We’ve talked about lots of challenges. Are there other major challenges out there
that you see for South Africa?
LYMAN: There are. The economy has to grow at twice the level it’s growing now. That’s
going to take a lot of structural adjustment and change and liberalizing of the economy. It’s a
very protected economy. The apartheid regime had a very, very protected economy with a heavy,
heavy role of the state. Privatizing, liberalizing, and opening up which means some painful
adjustments. It’s going to be necessary to move the growth rate from 3 percent to about 6 or 7
percent. If they don’t do that, they won’t cut into the tremendous amounts of unemployment that
take place. Crime, organized crime, and drugs are serious problems, because of the lack of
capacity of the police force and it’s use in the past for only political purposes. That’s a
problem that’s got to be dealt with. It’s going to take a lot of effort to do so.
As I mentioned before, how to reform the education system without losing a lot of people, those
are the problems I see as the most critical.
PORTER: Another thing I remember seeing, there were just a number of people living in
shanty towns, lean-to shacks. Some people even think of that as being Soweto, but Soweto is an
almost middle-class neighborhood. At least they’re permanent structures, but there are so many
millions of people. Are they still living there, and how long will they live there?
LYMAN: The real challenge for South Africa is that in two years people are freer; but the
lives, the daily lives and economic situation for the vast majority of blacks haven’t changed at
all. And that is a reality. The most ambitious housing programs the government has which rely
heavily on the private sector approach will take now (the ANC themselves admit) at least ten
years to rectify some of these housing problems. The population is very urbanized. It’s urban and
pari-urban, it’s not a big rural population. So it’s going to crowd in on the cities very much.
That’s going to take a long time. The one thing that is progressing very fast is the
electrification of these areas. In five years, most of the people will have electricity. That’s
moving very, very fast. Even in those shacks, they’ll have electricity.
PORTER: South Africa has begun to play a leadership role in Africa. How useful is this,
and how much can South Africa do to bring along many of its neighbors?
LYMAN: When Nelson Mandela went to his first OAU meeting after being elected…
PORTER: The Organization of African Unity…
LYMAN: …the Organization of African Unity. As president, he said, “I am not a saint.”
What he was saying is that South Africa can’t really solve everybody else’s problems. There was a
tremendous effort to draw South Africa in on almost every problem. On the other hand, they know
they’re going to be a major player in Africa. Trying to play a significant role without
overplaying it perhaps defines South Africa foreign policy today more than any other thing. The
region of Southern Africa will be their first priority. They’re playing a very active role there.
Mandela was very active on helping bring about the peace in Angola and the settlement to
Mozambique. They have ambitious regional, economic development programs, particularly now with
Mozambique; but that later could go to other parts of the region. So that’s where they’re going
to play the most dynamic role.
Over time they will start to play a bigger role elsewhere. They did already play a major role in
helping bring about the indefinite extension of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. That they
had to go up against their other African countries and up against many of the leaders of the
nonaligned movement. But South Africa was a peculiar country, the only country in the world to
have had nuclear weapons and destroyed them. They saw a particular moral responsibility here, and
they led the fight with us to extend that treaty. So they will pick and choose, but gradually
over time they’re going to be playing more and more of a role.
PORTER: You mentioned nuclear nonproliferation. South Africa has a healthy arms industry
as well. Are they continuing to export weapons?
LYMAN: Yes. This was controversial. You mentioned Archbishop Tutu. He wanted the whole
industry destroyed. He thought it was immoral. Mandela has taken a different attitude. He says it
is an industry that employs a lot of people and can earn foreign exchange. It’s a very aggressive
industry. It’s not big in world terms, but in terms of Third World markets, Middle East markets,
conventional weaponry, etc., it probably will do reasonably well. They have also developed some
of the best demining equipment in the world. They’re active in Yugoslavia and in Angola, and
we’ve looked to them to help in some of the demining around the world.
PORTER: Finally, let’s talk about the US relationship with South Africa. It seems like on
the one hand we sort of seem blind at times to what was happening in apartheid air of South
Africa; yet on the other hand, so many people here played a role in bringing about the change.
What’s the relationship like now?
LYMAN: I think it’s a very good relationship. South Africans are very much aware of the
role the United States did play. As you say, the private community in the United States was very
dynamic and active. That was well known. Then, of course, we did come to sanctions—strict
sanctions—in the middle 80s. That has produced an ambivalence there, as many people who thank us
for it. There are many people in South Africa who suffered who resent us for it. That crops up in
our relationship from time to time. Overall, the relationship is very good. But they would have
liked us to be able to do more in foreign aid than we were able to do. We thought our program
sounded pretty good; they thought it was disappointing.
There is a feeling that when they cooperate with us there are critics who say, “Oh, we’re being
co-opted by the United States.” So they struggle with how do they distance themselves from the
United States. At the same time, they agree with us on democracy, freedom, nonproliferation,
peaceful resolution, and dispute. There is a lot of American investment going into South Africa,
a lot of trade.
On the whole, I think it’s a very, very positive relationship. But we have to work at it. We have
differences. They’re friendlier to countries that were helpful to them during the anti-apartheid
struggle—like Libya and Cuba and Iran and Iraq—than we are. We’re going to differ over that.
They’re not going to get into an arms relationship with those countries, they know why they
shouldn’t do that. But they’re going to invite Fidel Castro and Khadafi to visit, and that’s
going to give us heartburn.
We’ve got to manage those differences. We have to recognize that those differences are there, but
much more fundamental things represent agreement between us.
PORTER: You mentioned the economic relationship. What are the key sectors that we have
trade with South Africa or investment?
LYMAN: The balance of trade is roughly even, two billion dollars each way. We import a
lot of minerals, gold, diamonds, and platinum, but increasing some manufactured products from
South Africa. They import grain, manufactured items, telecommunications, and communications
equipment from the United States. In the investment sector, a lot of consumer manufacturers like
Kodak have gone back in, Ford has gone back in, IBM…all the computer…Apple, all of them have
gone back in to South Africa. There is a lot of market there. There’s been a lot of investment
from the United States in the South African stock market. Great deal of investment there. The
opportunities in the future will lie, again, more in consumer industries, in infrastructure, and
construction—particularly in the corridor between South Africa and Mozambique and agro industry,
where I think we’ve got a lot that we can offer.
PORTER: Cape Town is particularly beautiful. Do you think there will be a tourist
attraction there for Americans?
LYMAN: It should be. Americans are not major tourists to South Africa, Europeans are. One
of my colleagues said that there are more tourists going to London in a week than go to South
Africa in a year from the United States. It’s a long way. Once people realize the variety that
one can see in South Africa, it will become more popular. We also don’t have direct American
carriers going there, which is unfortunate. So you don’t get the same commercial advertising
But Cape Town is gorgeous. Its one of the prettiest areas in the world. Everybody loves Cape
Town; but you have that cape area which is mountains and sea and the wine country. Then you have
the eastern area with the great game parks and the mountains and the wonderful scenery there. If
you’re a desert lover, like I am, there’s a quasi-desert between Johannesburg/Pretoria on the one
hand and Cape Town on the other. You can gamble and go to big resorts, casinos. So its got a
little bit of everything.
Cape Town is bidding for the Olympics in the year 2004. If that happens, I think it’ll have a
dramatic affect on tourism for South Africa.
PORTER: Ambassador Lyman, you’re optimistic about the future of South Africa?
LYMAN: I am. I think the potential is very great. I don’t underestimate the problems, but
there is a wonderful dynamism there that you feel when you’re there. If they can just manage
these issues and problems that I’ve mentioned and let the economy open up and move forward, I
think they’ll do very, very well.
PORTER: That is Princeton Lyman, the former US Ambassador to South Africa. For Common
Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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