Roelf Meyer, President Cyril Ramaphosa's opposite number as chief negotiator for the National Party (NP) government during the transition to democracy, affirmed on Friday his belief that the president can get the country on the right track.
An Order of the Baobab in Silver recipient, 77-year-old Meyer said "we were closer to each other than probably anybody else in our lives [at that time]".
Speaking at the Cape Town Press Club, he continued that "when it comes to the president ... in my view, he is well-suited for the job for two reasons; one is he is a modellist and, second, he is a constitutionalist".
"What I mean when I say he is a modellist is that he will never allow this country to follow the example of Venezuela, Cuba or Zimbabwe. Full stop. That's it. He will not because he's a modellist, he understands that any thinking that would align South Africa with those countries within that space would just be stupid.
"He would rather like to see South Africa grow as a country along the lines of what Japan did after World War II or Germany did after unification or China did in the last three decades, and I think that is where he finds himself right now," said Meyer.
"He has five years to prove himself. If he doesn't prove himself he's not going to be reelected after five years and he has five years to save the country.
"The period that lies ahead is of critical importance not only for him, but for the country," he added.
And Meyer should know, this is not the first time that he and Ramaphosa have peered into the abyss and pulled off the seemingly impossible.
What many of the generation born after the democratic breakthrough failed to understand was that the country was on the "brink of civil war", said Meyer, adding "that we overcame that is amazing."
Today, South Africa is hailed as a "benchmark for conflict resolution" where conflict seems insurmountable, he said.
Meyer, who was a key figure involved in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) negotiations and today works as a consultant on peace processes all over the world, said that there were, however, in his opinion, two serious shortcomings in the democratic transition, the effects of which are still felt today.
Codesa should have happened sooner
"We should have started the [negotiations and release of former president Mandela] process in 1985," said Meyer.
Had the infamous Rubicon speech by PW Botha contained the much-speculated reforms in it, the process to release Madiba and negotiations to end apartheid might have started sooner and the bloodshed that characterised the 1980s might have been avoided, Meyer hypothesised.
"If he had announced that day that Mandela was going to be freed from prison, we could have started the process and it could have taken a completely different route from what we had when we started in 1990," he said.
"From 1985 onwards, we had the national state of emergency, countrywide, it was first on a district level but in 1986 it was overall, countrywide.
"That caused more and more uprisings, more unrest, more violence and the way that they were contained, according to the state of emergency measures, just increased the hatred between the communities in South Africa, between the races in South Africa, black and white and we are still paying the price for that. Now. Every day.
"If we didn't have that five years of a state of emergency, things could have been working out much better," he said.
Arguably, the quintessence of all political malaise over the last decade has its genesis in a generalised increasing unease with the economic structure inherited from apartheid.
To this point, Meyer stated: "We didn't continue with negotiations specifically on the subject of how to manage transformation. What I mean is that I think there is a specific distinction between the transition, the constitutional transition, and the socio-economic transformation that needed to follow.
"If I look back today, we should have continued our negotiations, probably in a different format to make provisions for how this country can change from the old to the new, from an apartheid to democratic economic state, developmental state," he said.
"We don't see the completion of that transformation, for that we are paying a price today because it results in more inequality, more poverty, more unemployment, etc, etc, and we're going to see a price being paid for that politically. And the biggest victim of that crisis is going to be the ANC itself.
"The ANC won't be able to fight another election successfully on the basis of being a former liberation movement."
Fortunately, Meyer and the president have teamed up again to tackle the seemingly insurmountable once again.
Private Public Growth Initiative
"I have had the experience in the past year of working with him and the executive in the context of bringing the private sector and government closer together," said Meyer.
"Under Zuma, there was no relationship between the private sector and government. Nothing. Zuma didn't understand business at all.
"Except part of it..." he added cheekily, eliciting laughter from the audience.
"We started after President Ramaphosa made his first SONA speech last year in February. We started off with a project, which has now become known as the Private Public Growth Initiative (PPGI)."
The brainchild of Johan van Zyl, the CEO of Toyota Europe and Africa, the PPGI is an attempt to foster greater partnership between the public and private sector to stimulate investment in the country and create jobs to combat unemployment and ignite the economy.
"Ensuring jobs and education is the only way to tackle poverty ... those are the two key measures," Meyer concluded.
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