About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 Aug 1990: Boraine, Alex

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. We're talking to Dr. Alex Boraine on the 7th of August. A lot of change has taken place since we talked last, which was last August. And it seems that de Klerk's actions took most people by surprise. One, did they take you by surprise? And secondly, what do you think motivated him to move so rapidly and so broadly at the same time?

AB. I think what I found surprising was that he did so much in one go. One anticipated that he would have to make some of these changes because of the pressures that were coming from the international community, the convergence of international opinion, as well as the fact that the internal situation was certainly not going away despite the states of emergency and all sorts of things. The climate of violence is endemic. And the resistance was stronger than ever. But to actually unban, not only the ANC and the PAC but the Communist Party, the SACP, I thought would take a lot longer. And also his approach to the MK which I thought would also be much longer. So, it took a great deal of courage, as far as I'm concerned, for him to have done all of that in one go. And lots of people who say they thought he was going to do it, I'd say most of them are lying. And most of us were taken by surprise. Could you just switch that off for a moment? [Tape off, then on] So, yes, it certainly did come I think as a very pleasant surprise and I think that a whole lot of other things have followed in its trail.

POM. Do you think that de Klerk has a grand plan, a strategy?

AB. No. I honestly don't think so. I'd say, if you look at the comments that have been made by himself and by Viljoen, in particular from time to time, it's almost as if they're doing it on the run. Because I don't think he's got any clear picture of how it's going to look at the end of the day. I think he has certain ambitions, desires, hopes, that of some sort of collective white Afrikaner, black Nationalist fusion, but how it's going to happen, when it's going to happen, whether it's going to happen - I think it's very unclear [a lot of unclarity.]

. What he is determined about, and I'm moving on to your second question, is to get rid of apartheid. And he understands it. And to move towards, to use a phrase, a new South Africa and to try and explain that is not easy. It's complex. And it's both personal and strategic. I think one of the things, and I've talked to a lot of National Party MPs and Cabinet Ministers and former Cabinet Ministers, like Chris Heunis and people like that, as to how they saw it, one thing that does come through very clearly is that when he became leader of the National Party, he became privy to intelligence reports which he had not been seeing up to that time because he was not a member of the State Security Council. He had a lot of soft options in terms of his jobs - important, but not security. And I think he was astonished (a) at the clear support for the ANC on the ground, which meant that it was a nonsense to sort of demonise this crowd and stick them up in Lusaka somewhere together with Moscow - a point we had been trying to make for a long time, as you know. And on the basis of that I think he realised that there was going to be no resolution to the conflict unless you involved some of the key actors who couldn't be involved unless he did something about it.

. Secondly, Viljoen, I gather, said to him, and this is what Heunis also argues that he said to de Klerk, he told me this subsequently, "That I tried to tell him that no credible black in South Africa was going to sit down in this new Council we're trying to form unless Mandela was out of jail and unless the ANC was participating." That even Buthelezi couldn't afford to do this. That none of the homeland leaders, none of the municipal leaders - and what have we got? We've got a so-called Coloured House and Indian House which was also with minimum and marginal support. So something had to give on that one. And he's an intelligent man, he's a lawyer, he thinks logically. But he certainly was a conservative, right of centre. I mean, in twelve years in parliament that I have debated against him extensively and talked with him privately in the corridors, on planes, and on visits and so on it's quite unbelievable that the man should change like this.

. So it's not only a logical, new formation that's come forward. He uses a phrase himself in a discussion I had with him, after February, that he said" A lot of people don't understand that I and my party have made a spiritual leap." I don't know whether to put too much on this but I think the combination of the man's basic philosophy of life, and his shaping by his church and by his family and by his history, that once he came to the conclusion that change had to take place, then it was sort of balls and all. He wasn't the kind of pussy-footing gradualist. Apartheid worked. So long as it worked, he believed in it, it was right. And therefore you would impose it. He was a grand plan man. When it's wrong, then it has to be gone, and you've got to move forward and everything has to be argued: what is right and what is wrong. So, there's a lot of that sort of aspect to it, I think.

POM. Do you think he's making a distinction between abolishing apartheid and conceding majority rule? Or do you think he has conceded majority rule?

AB. I think he's conceded majority rule by definition. The moment you accept that there's one South Africa and that it's one person, one vote of equal status, then demographically he's not stupid. He's got to accept that. But, I would think he feels, oh, I'm sure he feels, very strongly about the introduction not merely of an attitude but of mechanisms which would restrain unbridled majoritarianism, to use a phrase from the American constitution. And I think he is very firm on that. I think he wants to see some protection of minorities and his dilemma is how to define minorities so that it doesn't have a racial connotation. And I think he wants to get away from the race aspect but he doesn't quite know how. So, it's Upper House and Lower House stuff that he's been throwing out via Viljoen. I think he would seriously argue that at the negotiation table but that he accepts - and I said to him that at the end of negotiations it's going to be very different from the start of the negotiations - so that there's no guarantee of all the sorts of things that he wants, but I think he thinks he can make a deal.

POM. Would you draw a distinction between the protection of minorities on the one hand and power sharing on the other? Like, a number of people that we've talked to have talked in terms of his trying to reach a power-sharing arrangement which to me conceptually seems to be quite different than, in operation, than provisions to protect minorities with regard to certain things.

AB. I'm not sure that he sees that as a rigid distinction from listening carefully to what he's been saying. I think he would say that it's a question of whether it's a handing over of power, which is one thing and which he's opposed to. And the other is a negotiated power sharing which suggests that if you're going to share power, that you must share it fairly so that minorities aren't pushed down or ignored. And I think he's very concerned about the whole question of language rights, freedom of religion, that sort of thing. That's why I say he's moving all the time. There was a time, only a few months ago, where he's fairly rigid in terms of white minority rights, Afrikaner minority rights rather than just white, a much more narrow concept. And I see the man, the more he meets with Mandela and the chemistry that is taking place there is quite remarkable. And others. The more he gets talking to people internationally and across the country and black and white, the more he seems to be willing to not take such a rigid line. So, I think he's talking about genuine power sharing, but would still feel very strongly that there ought to be, either through a very tough Bill of Rights, which would be an individual Bill of Rights, which I think he now accepts could also ... if I felt my religion was being undermined, then those who felt like me would be a group but I would have access to the courts on the basis of my individual rights being under some threat. And I think Pierre Olivier of the Law Commission, who's also undergone a remarkable conversion, is now ahead of the government, advising people like de Klerk and saying, "You can't go that route." My guess is, at the end of the day their report will focus far more on an individual Bill of Rights rather than on any group concept.

POM. You know, this promise that he's given to go back to the white electorate. Is that a promise he can keep?

AB. Well, you see, there, too, if you look at - I mean, he's really fudged that one, hasn't he? He said a number of things. I'm not sure yet, when you listen Viljoen and de Klerk exactly what they mean by that. They use the same argument with a different framework. The one seems to be, yes, whites have to be consulted through a referendum or through an election of some means. On the other hand, he interchangeably uses the argument that the existing parliament will have to be consulted, which immediately talks about Coloured and Indian and white. And not only Coloured and Indian in parliament but people who could vote if they so wished. Which means you're introducing a very larger area of acceptance of his basic point of view. And of course, obviously, the Democratic Party, which has virtually collapsed into the National Party already, will support negotiations and support his point of view as well. Therefore, I think he could secure a majority. If it was specifically to whites only, he'd have far greater difficulty because his own party has eroded quite considerably but, you know, the wording of the government of the day - the actual words of the question in the referendum - is in a very powerful position. And it's not beyond his ability, and he has considerable ability and people close to him, to so word the referendum. You know, 'Are you in favour of peaceful negotiation rather than conflict?' How would you say no to that?

POM. How do you think the process will unfold, looking on the one hand at the scenario of a Constituent Assembly, then the one in which the negotiation table would be broadened and representative of every political view as to participate and some kind of consensus on the way forward arranged? And then the third being an interim government or not an interim government that evolves into a different government than is there at the moment with some kind of commission of eminent people, again, representing every political point of view, drawing up a constitution.

AB. It's the question at the moment. Especially now after the news of earlier on this morning. It's the critical question. If the obstacles are now removed how do you actually go on to negotiation? Who's at the table? Mandela still argues, well, that's not part of the Harare Declaration. They've smuggled that in quite nicely. I can understand that. But they can't do it on the basis of the Harare Declaration. It's the Namibian thing, I think, which seems for us ... like, I would, I could buy that, I could understand why they would want to do that. What we're really talking about it popular legitimacy. And I think the onus is on de Klerk if he does not want to go the route of a Constituent Assembly to come up with some other formula which will demonstrate popular legitimacy. And I think that's a tough one. The one way, of course, is to take, say, a Chief Justice or the head of the Law Commission and say that he, together with a group of eminent persons, should decide not on the constitution but on who should be at the table in terms of who has a constituency, and what proportion.

POM. But isn't the problem there that you'd have, it would be that those who should decide who should sit at the table should be representative of the population at large, not confined to one or two groups?

AB. Yes, but then you would, if your eminent persons could assess the situation, you would have, for example, clear indication that Inkatha has a constituency and that the Labour Party has a constituency. And that whether one agrees with them or not is another thing. The fact of the matter is, they've got people on the ground whom they can represent and they've made that clear, that that is so. The ANC, the PAC, AZAPO, National Party, Democratic Party, there're a number of very easily recognised groups which would, in effect, involve very much the popular sort of people on the ground. It's a question then of, how does - and where Mandela is strong, of course is that a Constituent Assembly which is produced on the basis of an election clearly demonstrates the kind of proportional representation which is there. Whereas any other - you're going to have to make some sort of an assessment and people may disagree. I mean, Buthelezi might say, 'Uh-uh, I've got far greater support than you're suggesting.' Whereas I think all the indications are that his power base is being eroded. Considerably. The ANC you don't have to argue about. I mean, the government has already selected them - once the chief opponent, now the chief partner. I don't see any other alternative. There are those who say that de Klerk simply cannot and will not accept a Constituent Assembly because that puts him at a very considerable disadvantage.

. And, what happens about the governing of the country in the meantime? If it's shown that he has such small percentage of support, then what sort of mandate has he got? Then you bring in the possibility of some form of interim government, a hell of a risk I would have thought for the ANC, but they seem to have been willing to take those sorts of risks by today's announcement, for example. Which is quite a remarkable thing, I put it on par with February 2nd. I mean, that's how significant I think it is. When you think, it's 30 years of history that we're throwing aside overnight. Remarkable! And with 60% of young people, blacks, under the age of 23. That's quite a risk. And a whole lot of people in the camps, still, you know, and that sort of thing.

. So, yes, nothing will surprise me. That's what so nice about South Africa. There was a time when you could predict and there was such a wall, monolithic, horrifying. Now and then, you know, there's great stuff. I mean, there're all sorts of things. I learned yesterday, for example, that the ANC economic people had been meeting with Barend du Plessis and Stals in a private meeting in Mozambique and elsewhere on a whole lot of issues. We were trying to arrange something along those lines, and I find that they've done it, which is great! Best news one can get. That sort of thing. A lot of things are happening that nobody even knows about yet. Secret, private meetings. The pact thing that's going on.

POM. When you talk about the risks that the ANC is taking and the whole constituency of young people - when the government unbanned the ANC, what assumptions do you think it made about what the ANC could deliver?

AB. I think they were actually somewhat euphoric, as I think most whites were. Now that this has happened, well, that's fantastic, it's all over, and they can all be reasonable, and Mandela's going to be able to command the total allegiance of all blacks, or mostly, or particularly the young blacks, because this was the problem area, the unemployable, the uneducated, the angry. And I think that they have realized, to their great shock, that he can't do that automatically. That he himself is aware of that. And there's a lot of grumbles. And the Natal situation, there's clear indication that his word has not always been accepted. The fact that a whole lot of kids still stay away from school, that teachers went on strike despite him saying, 'Go back to school.' And he himself has realised he can't be the schoolmaster who stands on the public platform and says that's how it's going to be. He's got to get right down there in the dust and talk to people and listen to them. Sebokeng - marvellous example of first announcement, the loss of life, tragic, deplorable, but it will not interfere with our meeting. He goes to Sebokeng and he announces the meeting is postponed because of the impact. [Tape off, then on] ... a lot of preparatory work and so on. It's gone really well. I'm not sure if I answered your last question?

POM. Well, it was in relation to what Mandela could deliver. You were talking about Sebokeng.

AB. Yes. I think that de Klerk, to answer more precisely, really felt that Mandela could wave a wand. And I think most whites felt the same. And I think possibly Mandela thought the same. But I think he now recognises that it's a lot tougher and the ANC's transformation from a liberation movement to a political party is so, oh God, it's so problematical. In the Western Cape here, I mean, it's just been months of delay of just setting up an office. And the whole tyranny of democracy, in one sense, is making life difficult. Where every single person has got to be involved in a purchase of a table for the office and it's that sort of thing they're dealing with now. We must involve the people. But, you know, there comes a time when, you know, you've got to do certain things and just get some sort of mandate and go for it. And people must trust one another. And that's, according to Trevor, one of the major problems they're having. There's a lot of suspicion. A lot of jockeying now. Suddenly it's power play going on. Very normal! Very natural! But everybody's prone to it. You know, why don't they just get on with it? It's not like that, the human dynamics and then 'Hey, we're getting close to elections, we're getting close to being a government', ambitions. You know. Very normal, very natural. So, but very problematical.

. I think, too, that the ANC in terms of leadership is very thin. So when one's seeing what sort of things can Mandela deliver, it's - you know he's out of the country for six weeks. What happens then? I want to tell you, it's a total vacuum. Nothing happened! And the moment he came back, the whole thing just took off. And the day after he got back instead of collapsing on holiday, like everybody expected him, he was with de Klerk at Union Building. Sisulu can't do that. Mbeki can't do that. Mandela's got that sort of relationship, and that personal relationship with de Klerk. I saw Mandela just straight after he came back from meeting with de Klerk last week, he had three hours with him. And I saw him and I expected - it was a private meeting and I really thought he was going to be bothered and that, you know. God, he was serene! In total command, very confident, said then, 'Make no mistake, we will be dealing with the armed struggle and the whole question of violence very soon now.' Because that's one of the issues I was raising with him. The other one was the whole sanctions bit. He's quite convinced that that's got to go. He's got to just find the way so it's a joint declaration rather than de Klerk winning, or him winning, or whatever. Flows out of negotiations which I think is excellent and the only way to go forward. So, yes, he's going to deliver a hell of a lot but he's not a free agent. He has to consult with his Executive and COSATU breathing down his neck. The trade union movement are determined they're not going to be left out of this and they haven't been left out. There's constant consultation and negotiation taking place with the trade unions and the ANC and the SACP. I think he's right that they have agreed that they will stick by whatever agreement the ANC reaches and they will honour that.

POM. When you say the leadership ranks of the ANC are rather thin, and then one takes out the number of the members of its Executive who are members of the Communist Party, what's left?

AB. Well, let me put it this way, that there are a number on the Executive who are very lukewarm communists. I mean, I would have thought that Thabo Mbeki probably signed their membership of the SACP at some time but if there's one guy who couldn't give a damn about the SACP it's Thabo Mbeki. We had, Van and I had dinner with him last Tuesday night before we went to see Mandela. I mean, privately, it's very clear where he stands. He's way ahead of a lot of that stuff. And I think that goes for a lot of them. But when you take away Thabo Mbeki and Pallo Jordan and Aziz Pahad and a few others, there are a lot of very weak people even on the Executive. I'm sure you've met them. I mean, ye gods! And you know, because of the work we've been doing over the last three years, we've met just about every one of their people all over the world. And taking away the thin line of really good people, I would willingly serve under Thabo Mbeki as the President of the South African republic any day, but there are a whole lot of others I wouldn't like to. Not because I'm, you know, but just because I don't think they've got it! They haven't got the abilities. And right now there's a huge amount of criticism of the ANC because they don't keep appointments.

POM. (Laughter) That's okay, you can tell him.

PK. That's what kept happening ...

AB. That's right. And sooner or later they've got to accept that in a political party, they're judged by what they produce and not what by their rhetoric.

POM. How would you define the difference between a member of the South African Communist Party and a member of the ANC?

AB. Jeepers. Well, I suppose it's a - it's a, what? Certainly on the one hand it's a political, or it's an economic definition rather than a political one. Slovo makes it very clear in discussion that he's committed to a sort of two-stage theory where political change has to happen, apartheid has to go, there has to be majority government. And that's the whole thing. Then he says we can discuss the future economic system for the country which would be of the greatest advantage to all but we will do that around a table and not in the streets - to quote his views, his famous phrase. And I think that there are those with fundamental differences, one of ideology and one of mainly an economic base rather than a political base.

POM. Do you think COSATU is closer to the SACP in terms of its economic agenda?

AB. Yes. Without a doubt. Look at the 22 people. Very keen. And I know personally of a number of people in COSATU, well-known leaders there who are SACP. Card-carrying members. And I think they have got very, very strong views on the economy which people like Mbeki and Mandela and others who would favour much more emphasis on a mixed economy, on the recognition of markets, and so on, and the role of the markets. Whereas I think the SACP have got very firm views about it, that socialism has not failed, it's simply got distance between itself and the people. And once you put that right through democracy, then, my God! This is the answer. And they are convinced that when you get down into the ranks of the trade unions - I was speaking at a workshop the other day and the public relations guy for NUM was speaking. I mean, it was classic, almost Stalinist stuff. I mean, it was straight down the line, as though nothing had happened! And I think that guys like that don't know where else to go. We sent a delegation of young scholars to the Soviet Union ...

PK. We read about your son's report in the newsletter.

AB. Yes. Well, you know, what was even more telling, a comment by Khehla Shubane, a young guy, if you haven't met you should meet sometime. He's working with the Centre for Policy Studies at Wits. Very bright young man. One of the best guys going. And he's had time on Robben Island. He's young but he's had time on the Island and so on. And he'd been in the Soviet Union about four days and he was deeply distressed after one experience and he said, 'They lied to me in prison.' When he came back, I said, 'No, no, they didn't lie to you. They believed what they were telling you. That was the Promised Land. That was the other alternative. And you mustn't feel that they deliberately lied to you. They were as confused as many other people in the Soviet Union were. Now you must just do your analysis and look at the situation and learn if there's anything to learn from it, anything that's good, that's fine.' But, I mean, the major thrust is like - Slovo more or less says that the plane of socialism, the aeroplane of socialism, had a pilot error. Stalin. There are others who suggest that the plane was ...

POM. The ultimate reductionism.

AB. Yes. But, you know, if you talk to him he knows. I mean, he's too smart and too bright, old Slovo. He knows he's in trouble on this one. But he's got a fair ability of answering tough questions in a very wonderful way.

POM. Sound bites. He's mastered sound bites. When you look, just what you've said, when you look at the obstacles or stumbling blocks that lie in the path of Mandela to hold his constituency together, what are the potential points of division?

AB. Well, I think one is the sort of doctrinaire, ideological thrust of the SACP which very often has a very much tougher side and the Chris Hani approach that we've got to keep it all. Clearly, now, Mandela's won that battle because he would never have gone into those negotiations the last 24 hours unless he had got complete unanimous support from the Executive. And Chris Hani is on the Executive. So, I mean, he's won that, clearly. And he told Van Zyl and myself last Tuesday, Wednesday, that yes, he was irritated by some of the people who were causing unnecessary waves. And that's as far as he went, it was very nicely put. But it was clear, and clear from his public statement as well. And clearly Chris Hani has been told that you can't go prancing around in camouflage uniform making these threatening noises because that's not in the spirit of the process of which you are a part. So, I think he's won that one but I think that will crop up every now and again. I think that's par.

. I think, too, and this is the way the business community is so short-sighted, unless there can be some short-term gain, short-term, underlined, gains in the socio-economic area so that blacks in terms of housing, in terms of education, in terms of health services, in terms of jobs, can begin to invest in the transition, invest in the negotiation. Because it's going to have some very clear returns. I think that's where the debate ought to be, incidentally, on the historic grievances which are justifiable in every sense of that word of the vast majority of people who have been frozen out, frozen out of the political situation, frozen out of the so-called free enterprise system. Frozen out! Let's now include them. Unless they can be seen to be included, he's going to have a hell of a lot of problems with people who are just hungry, who are jobless, who are uneducated or unemployable. And who are saying, 'Well, I've got nothing to lose, let's burn a few tyres.' And remember the age factor. Most blacks are young and therefore volatile and therefore open to all sorts of other influences. He can't be everywhere. And the lower you go down in the ANC hierarchy the more unimpressive are the people who are getting leadership at the local level with some exceptions. Funnily enough, I mean some of the people who were not in exile, the Trevor Manuels of this world rather than the Reggie Septembers. I mean, Reggie September is a sort of cold, generally. I think he's quite useless. You know, he's just - Trevor can run round rings around the guy because the man is too street-smart and he's on the ground and he knows what's happening and he's fantastic, whatever else is done. He's remarkable. I was with him, talking to about 70-odd business people in the Western Cape. And, I mean, God! He charmed them out of the trees. Whereas Reggie September comes with a hammer, you know, boof! And they can't hear what he's saying. Whereas they listened to Trevor because he was warm and he was generous, he made concessions, and then he's made sort of demands or requests.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.