Saturday, 29 October 2011

F W de Klerk

FW de Klerk is a man who knows a thing or two about dispute resolution. As we all know, the former President of South Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, along with Nelson Mandela (whose release he engineered), for his role in ending apartheid. But what I hadn't quite appreciated until hearing him speak at this week's London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) annual dinner, was just how much he approached this incredible challenge with a lawyer's mind and toolkit.  He studied law at university and practised in the Transvaal after graduation.  The key contribution he made to the ending of apartheid was his role in the intense negotiation process between his own governing National Party and Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) aimed at constitutional change and securing equal voting rights for all individuals: the democratisation of South Africa no less.  

At the LSLA dinner he spoke to us on the topic of The Rule of Law and Constitutions in Rapidly Changing Societies"There's a common misconception" he said, "that South Africa’s peaceful transition, in essence, involved the transfer of power from the old National party government that I headed to the new ANC government headed by Nelson Mandela. It did not. Instead, what was involved was the transition from the old South African constitution where parliament was supreme, to a dispensation where the constitution itself - and not this or that political majority in parliament - was supreme."  

He discussed in detail how law has a central role in clearing up the mess of the globalising world. The lessons from South Africa's experience have huge relevance today, with so many countries currently 'in transition'.  It was fascinating to hear these ideas from a man who had engineered change on such an epic scale.  Particularly thought-provoking was his point that the use of legal process can be not only to effect change, but also to create stability in a changing environment:  "Constitutions and the rule of law can accordingly play critical roles in providing a framework within which rapid change can take place, without destroying the foundations of stability.  By the same token, the absence of constitutional frameworks and the absence of the rule of law can have catastrophic consequences."

You can download his full speech here, via the LSLA website. (Just click the link on the left hand side where it says Speech by Former President FW de Klerk...)


This week's local hero has to be St Paul's Chancellor Giles Fraser, for sticking to principle to the point of resigning in the dispute between senior colleagues and anti-capitalist protesters Occupy London, camped outside.  As St Paul's announced possible legal action, Canon Fraser said his position had become untenable and that “the church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence"

Even former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey stepped forward to express dismay at the 'mis-management' of the situation by St Paul's.  If you missed his no-holds-barred critique you can read it in the Telegraph here.  He doesn't hold back.  Great stuff!

[Since posting this blog, we now know of course that the Dean of St Paul's has also resigned...]


On a lighter note, uplifting news came this week from Netflix, the US movie-streaming people, who announced plans to launch in the UK early next year.  YES!  Having recently become an addict of the brilliant music-streaming site Spotify, I am utterly taken with the idea that I should be able to access any music/film, ever made anywhere in the world, at the click of a button and on any console I choose, for a modest monthly fee.  This is my new expectation.  But like many of you, I have been mightily frustrated that movie-streaming is so far behind its music equivalent.  BUT ALL THIS IS TO CHANGE!  Early next year...  I have a birthday in January.  They must know this.  :-)

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