Media release: Lessons from 1987 Dakar Conference must be revisited to save South Africa

Dakar Media Release
23 May 2017

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) co-founder and executive director Leon Louw is honoured to be participating in the 30-year Dakar Conference commemorations taking place in South Africa and proud to have played a role in an event widely credited as the catalyst that broke the ice between the National Party government and the ANC. Dakar contributed to decisive meetings between Nelson Mandela and PW Botha in 1989, followed by the negotiated settlement that ended apartheid.

In 1987 Louw was part of the historic and groundbreaking Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (IDASA) delegation to the Dakar Conference in Senegal. He presented one of the delegation’s four formal papers, his being on the Structure of Government in post-apartheid South Africa.

The Dakar Conference has profound implications for South Africa today. Insights generated then should be remembered now.

Risking charges of sedition and imprisonment, sixty-one mainly white Afrikaners met with banned ANC leaders in exile as compatriots seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis of conflict and economic stagnation facing South Africa. How could apartheid be ended without the need to pit race against race or destroy the economy?

Louw said, “Playing a role in the Dakar conference was an immense privilege and a highlight of my personal contribution in the struggle. A generation has been born and grown up since. Most are virtually unaware of the role played by the Dakar Conference or the bearing it could have on solving today’s problems. The eventual success and the peaceful end to Apartheid came from opposing sides being willing to talk, listen, find common understanding and eventually consensus. Dakar began that process. Today role-players – politicians, businesses, unions, civic society and media – should seek a correspondingly reflective and progressive path. Instead, we see many influential people promoting racial division, hostility and conflict of the kind generated by apartheid. The lessons and values of Dakar revive the spirit of nation-building, unity and prosperity for all.”

Dakar had four key themes: strategies for ending apartheid, building national unity, the structure of post-apartheid government, and economic policy in a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa. Discussions covered such issues as the armed struggle, domestic violence, a negotiated settlement, political pluralism, democratic checks and balances, cultural rights, the economy and distributive justice.

The discussion ensuing from Louw’s paper, and that by Professor Kadar Asmal, explored constitutional models drawn from the book Louw co-authored with his wife Frances Kendall, “South Africa: The Solution”, a number one best seller for many months. Louw argued for “intensive democracy” with checks and balances to ensure that power would never again be abused, to which end there should be universal franchise, a bill of rights, separation of powers and devolution.

On economic policy, Louw argued that the conspicuous benefits of free market policies reserved at the time for whites should be extended to black South Africans, that the Freedom Charter is not socialistic as its authors said at the time and since, and that the loot owned by the regime – land and state owned enterprises  – should be returned by the government to “the people as a whole” as the freedom Charter says, to be held “in their own name” as Mandela said. Louw’s contribution at Dakar, through the book, and during the transition, made a significant difference to the evolution of the Constitution.

On 23 May, Brand South Africa, in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch, is hosting a session on "Political Dialogue and the Dynamics of Socio-Political Change – Lessons from Dakar” as part of the HSRC’s annual Africa Unity for Renaissance Conference. As a Dakar veteran, Louw will participate.
The session seeks to draw lessons for South Africa from the 1987 Dakar dialogue, particularly how a democratic society can and should nurture such dialogue, strengthen our constitution, enhance the rule of law and respect differences in social identities in an era of transformation.

President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, the host of the Dakar conference, was one of the first African heads of state to acknowledge the role of white South Africans like Louw who resolutely opposed apartheid. In his opening conference speech he reminded Afrikaners of their African roots and extended an African hand of friendship to them. Louw has observed that the word Afrikaner arose when white Africans said they were Africans – Afrikaner is Afrikaans for African.

For over 40 years, Louw and the FMF have never waivered from fundamental principles of equal liberty for all, which, economically, entails open and free markets that uniquely promote inclusive prosperity for all. These values and policies work wherever they are implemented, which is why the government should reverse the trend towards a greater role for government. Increasingly, regressive policy developments are reminiscent of apartheid racism and authoritarianism.


1. Background
*Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a member of the opposition, resigned from the Progressive Federal Party and the South African parliament in January 1986, describing it as irrelevant and that he would explore other avenues of negotiations between white and black South Africans. Dr. Alex Boraine left with him. Van Zyl Slabbert and Boraine established The Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (IDASA), a non-partisan organisation that aimed to promote inclusive democracy in South Africa by talking to people of all races within and outside the country.
Slabbert, in communication with Thabo Mbeki, member of the ANC National Executive, discussed the change in attitude amongst some of the Afrikaner elite towards Afrikaner Nationalism and Apartheid.
Out of these discussions came the idea for a possible meeting between them and the ANC. This would be a change from the opposition White liberals attempting to force political change from within the parliamentary system to the Afrikaner elite taking direct action in shaping the future direction of South Africa.

2. Known participants
•    Thabo Mbeki
•    Pallo Jordan
•    Mac Maharaj
•    Francis Melli
•    Aziz Pahad
•    Lindiwe Mabuza

•    Frederick van Zyl Slabbert
•    Dr. Alex Boraine
•    Professor Andre du Toit – political scientist University of Stellenbosch
•    Reverend Theuns Eloff – chaplain University of Pretoria
•    Professor Lourens du Plessis – University of Potchefstroom
•    Abraham Viljoen – brother of Constand Viljoen
•    Tommy Bedford – former rugby captain
•    Andre Brink – writer
•    Breyten Breytenbach – poet
•    Leon Louw – executive director Free Market Foundation
•    Lawrence Schlemmer
•    Christo Nel
•    Theuns Eloff – religious leader
•    Hermann Giliomee
•    Riaan de Villiers

•    Abdou Diouf – Senegalese President
•    Danielle Mitterrand – Wife of the French President

Help FMF promote the rule of law, personal liberty, and economic freedom become an individual member / donor HERE ... become a corporate member / donor HERE