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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
10 Aug 1990: Desai, Barney
POM. I'm talking to Barney Desai and Patricia De Lille of the Pan African Congress on the 10th of August. You had mentioned that de Klerk's speech on the 2nd of February didn't particularly surprise you. Amongst almost everyone that I've interviewed so far everyone has said that they were very, very surprised. Why were you not surprised?
BD. Well I suppose, people who are informed really ought to be saying that they were not surprised that we have come to the stage where he had to make that kind of speech. Really I think that they are surprised at the way he went about the initial steps, the unbanning of the organisations. They probably thought that he would do it in a more gradual and less dramatic way. I'm not surprised because it was quite clear to me that the present structure that had served white supremacy in the this country had come to an end. And it was a question of making a demarcation, February 2nd a demarcation.
POM. What do you think motivated him to move so broadly?
BD. Economic crises.
POM. Do you think that's due to the impact of sanctions or it is just the economic disarray that has resulted from mass mobilisation and resistance?
BD. That in my opinion is due to the jaundiced touch of this country. We were reaching a position where in the first place the economy wasn't delivering the goods. We had become quite uncompetitive because of the structure of the economy. We would not be able to compete on the international markets and therefore we would not be able to export anything but our commodities.
POM. Your reading of de Klerk's speech and his statements since that time, do you believe he has conceded on the issue of majority rule or that he has another design or plan in mind?
BD. The position that the PAC holds is that he has not in fact conceded on majority rule nor that he has said so himself, one can only go by what he in fact said. I have had an opportunity of making an analysis of his utterances and on majority rule he said, 'I want to emphasise that I'm against strict majority rule.' He has said that there have to be checks and balances leading to a consensus government. Votes will have to be of equal value, whatever that means. The PAC posits these questions, can there be a consensus between master and servant? Because that is the situation in this country. We are a disenfranchised people. We are a conquered people. And everything that has been done for 342 years in this country has been done with a design of ruling this country by a particular section and of coming here as an initial stage on invaders to conquer this country who made it their nesting ground and everything that was done in this country has been done for the furtherance of their interests. We see Mr. de Klerk, certainly initially after the February 2nd speech, as making all kinds of proposals but mainly directed at guaranteeing minority rights. We want to know politically speaking what is this guarantee of minority rights mean. Does it mean that the person who is coming to your country and robbed you of your possessions ...? (phone interruption) I was saying that it seems to us that de Klerk wishes to divide three million white votes into fifteen and come up with a formula which basically would mean votes for all but the whites will rule, OK. We can't buy that.
POM. Do you think he is willing to make concessions of a political dispensation in order to ensure that economic power remains concentrated in white hands? That there is little as possible tampering with the economic structures of the country?
BD. Can you rephrase that a bit?
POM. If you look at two things. On the one hand you've got political structures, political power, and the other you've got economic structures and economic power. Is de Klerk willing to trade off some political power, i.e. give political power to blacks in order to ensure that the white community can hold onto their economic power?
BD. Yeah, well that is the purpose of his exercise. The purpose of his exercise is to give us some sops which he'll call democracy and keep his hand firmly on the cash register. And that to us is meaningless when 97% of this land is controlled by white people by law. And in industry only one percent of our people are in any kind of managerial class in this country. We cannot accept that. We'd have to be bonkers to accept that. We know realistically that because of the advantages the whites have had in this country they, the skills that they require and the money that has been spent on their experience and the fact that the economy is firmly in their hands, that they will inevitably be playing an important part, a major part, out of all proportion to that population in the economy of this country but we will not accept a position where political parties emasculate so that we do not have opportunity of addressing the wrongs that have been done to our people economically.
POM. But if the government were to say tomorrow morning, we are prepared to negotiate simplistic majority rule, i.e. that the black majority will in fact rule the country. Would that bring you to negotiating table?
BD. We have additional demands. Shall I spell them out?
BD. First of all we are in agreement with the ANC and they are in agreement with us at the moment that a Constituent Assembly must be called to draw up a new constitution in this country. That we will not budge on. That Constituent Assembly will be constituted on the basis of all people in this country over the age of 18 will be able to vote on a proportional representation basis for delegates to this Constituent Assembly who will be charged with drawing up a new constitution. We perceive that the government wishes to make a deal first, submit it to the white electorate for endorsement or otherwise, and that in itself is macabre. You can't talk of democracy and ask one section of the people to approve of this dispensation. That is nonsense. We can't accept that. Our further conditions are that the Lands Act which reserved 90% of the land to the whites in this country must be scrapped, that the Bantu Education Act must be scrapped, that the Population Registration Act, which is a Nazi manifestation, must be scrapped. That all security legislation which is designed to detain people without time, indefinite interrogation, the refusal of bail, no fair trial, a loaded white judicial, all that must go, that this regime unequivocally commits itself to the redistribution of resources, economic resources to right the wrongs that have been done. Those are our demands and we say now, what has been, we ask ourselves, what has been the response of the government since February 2nd? On the Constituent Assembly this has been rejected out of hand. They don't want a mandated electorate to say to its representatives, you go there and you'll do what we wish you to do.
POM. They may have rejected it but they haven't rejected it to the extent of their saying to the ANC, listen, if you want a Constituent Assembly, go home, because a precondition of our talks with you is that you are not going to have a Constituent Assembly. I mean they have rejected it but they are still at the negotiation table. Don't you understand?
BD. Yes, I see what you say, and I'm afraid that we don't have much confidence in the ANC sticking to it's principles. It's already reneging on the Harare Declaration. The Harare Declaration posses certain conditions which we did not agree to, which we were shanghaied into. Mainly, that all political prisoners should be released, that there should be a genuine climate for negotiations to take place, that all apartheid laws ought to be scrapped before this can take place. Now, you and I can see very clearly that none of this has really happened. We have political prisoners in jail, we have a state of emergency in Natal, we have the security legislation completely still intact. You ask me whether the ANC is going to stick by its guns on the Constituent Assembly and I can't give you any guarantees on that. The way they have already compromised on the Harare Declaration gives me very little confidence that they will stick by the guns.
POM. Would you support the Harare Declaration in its entirety?
BD. We say the Harare Declaration, we've got our objections to it because it does not go to the fundamental questions of the structure in this country. Therefore we have added these conditions because they are absolutely germane and important. They are the bottom line of what we stand for.
POM. But in the mean time a process is underway, what do you think this process is going to lead to?
BD. I think this process will lead to, as it is now underway, if we don't participate in this particular process it will lead to a Nationalist Party/ANC alliance which will hope to rule this country but which I doubt will succeed.
POM. Why do you say you will doubt that it will succeed?
BD. It cannot succeed without addressing these problems.
POM. What if they started to address these problems in government? If land reform began to be made with a large scale massive housing building programme? What I'm after is ...
BD. As a political analyst you must speculate, I must go on what I see. My party has been clear about its issues. My party says these, even the insubstantial matters are being compromised now. What about substantial matter? They will be compromised. Will we accept those compromises? Basically we say we will not be accomplices in our own oppression. We are not going to stand by and see a settlement occur here that will make neo-colonialism look like a picnic in the rest of Africa. Because it will mean that everything we've stood for will be compromised by the ANC. As they have already done. They have unilaterally given up the armed struggle before even going into the Pretoria meeting. What have they got for that? That there will be no more listing of communists. Well no more listing of communists in some register is quite meaningless in any event if you declare the Communist Party legal. They have not tackled the question of security detention without trial. The legislation is still there. The Population Registration Act is still there. The Group Areas Act is still there. And they have given up the armed struggle.
POM. Do you not believe that there will be an election in which blacks will have a vote? I mean, what if there is an election and that a majority of whites vote for the National Party and a majority of blacks vote for the ANC and they form a coalition. In what way has democracy not been served?
BD. Well what is wrong with the proposition of a Constituent Assembly?
POM. There is nothing wrong, what I'm saying is that if there is this process that the ANC engages in and that the government engages in and this process is supported by most of the people as shown in an election for a new parliament, what is undemocratic about that?
BD. If the ANC gives up its stand on the Constituent Assembly it is going to go into consensus politics. Once you go into consensus politics you have emasculated your ability to articulate the feelings of your own people, the disenfranchised. They will go into a situation of checks and balances and so on. I can't see that they will succeed. For example, this country needs a massive injection of foreign capital. I understand as you do that investors are not prepared to take a chance with their money. They are not going to come into this country if there is this kind of instability where there is a deal made between two parties. The right, if you want to bring them into the equation, I think they are not as important as all that, and the left, the so called left, to me of course, incidentally it's quite amazing that anybody who calls for a Constituent Assembly as opposed to a revolution is called left, but there are those in this kind of situation, we have these kind of Alice in Wonderland demarcations or whatever. We see that we've got certain ... only for giving legitimacy to any form of settlement, whether that form of settlement includes a compromise, if a compromise is going to be made, let the people's representatives make that compromise. and let it not be said that a new constitution is made behind closed doors and smoke filled rooms where this whole thing is settled on a very amicable basis between the people who want to talk to each other at the moment and present this as a backlash of what we feel. That is a recipe for trouble.
POM. If the government did say tomorrow, OK, we will have an election for a Constituent Assembly, will that enable you to participate in negotiations?
BD. Yes, it would.
POM. So there is this one condition that is really the condition and that is the one that is, I mean, of all your other preconditions on the Land Act and all these weren't met, but the government saying OK, we will have an election for a Constituent Assembly, you would be able to enter negotiations at that point?
BD. And we would want a commitment that we are going to deal with the resources of this country on a more equable basis. Because it is meaningless to many people to vote and keep the goodies away from them.
PK. So, I understand your answers here . The other six preconditions could be a matter for negotiations and discussions if a Constituent Assembly were part of the process at some point?
BD. Well you see you are now going to the realm of just speculation of what our reactions would be.
PK. But what if the government tells us that they are willing to talk to you about it?
BD. I would say, the government tells you they are willing to talk to us about a Constituent Assembly?
PK. That a Constituent Assembly could enter into this process at some point.
BD. Well why don't they tell us that? Why do they tell you that?
PK. I don't know, you are talking to a ...
BD. No, there are certain limitations, I'm entitled to asked that question. If they want to speak to the PAC why don't invite the PAC and say look come and tell us what you really want us to do. Why is this a two way business?
POM. Well if the government did pick up the phone and someone called you and said let's sit down and talk?
BD. We want to talk about a Constituent Assembly, come and talk to us. I am sure that my party will seriously consider that invitation.
PK. If you picked up the phone and it was the government and they said we want to talk about bringing you into this process?
BD. Not process, no, no, we don't go into any open ended process.
PK. You're not going to sit down and talk to them about your conditions for participation?
BD. They know our conditions for participation.
PK. That's what I wanted to clarify.
BD. They know our conditions for participation. We have made it quite clear in the press and so on. The only thing is that we haven't had any physical connection or contact. But we're saying you know our position. They say to us, those interested in talking, why can't they just talk to us. This is kindergartenish. It's not positive. They must either tell us, look here, we can talk to you about a Constituent Assembly or we can't. Right now, right until yesterday, until this morning I heard on the radio that any constitutional package that they are arranging would be subject to a white referendum. No way. You can't go to an electorate that's been oppressing us to ask them to - give them a veto. We are not going to.
POM. What if Mr. Mandela asked all black political organisations to come together for a meeting to discuss a common strategy for negotiations with the government?
BD. We would seriously consider that.
POM. What I want to get to is that, at least it seems to us who are coming here and looking at what is happening, that this process with the government and the ANC is going to continue in some way. What happens to you? Do you not risk becoming marginalised?
BD. We don't mind.
POM. You don't mind? Why?
BD. We don't mind sticking to our guns. We don't mind sticking to our principles. If we're marginalised in the eyes of some people here and abroad, we don't mind. We are not in this game for power. We are in this game for principle. We are an oppressed people, we consider our organisation to be the voice of the oppressed. If we are marginalised in this particular process, so be it.
POM. Then how do you see your own role developing?
BD. We will continue struggling for our objectives.
POM. Will that include an armed struggle or will it be non-violent protest?
BD. All options are open to us. I do not see how any intervention who is oppressed can say I am going to desist from a particular option because my opponent doesn't like it. We are committed to use whatever means that are at our disposal to free ourselves. As you sir, in Ireland were, as you were in the United States, why we should be a special case I can't understand. The fight for national independence cannot be prescribed by an any person on how you should conduct yourself.
POM. But if, again this brings me to a question that in Ireland concerns the IRA. You know about 30% of the Catholic community Northern Ireland support the IRA and in Ireland as a whole about 6% of the people do and everyone says where is your mandate? You have no mandate from the people, in fact the people don't, the masses do not support what you want to do. And they replied that their mandate comes from history. That as long as there is any British occupation of Ireland that in itself is sufficient to justify their action. I mean what if you were in a situation where in an election a majority of black voters have in fact voted for the ANC, how does that place you in your own perspective of being the voice of the oppressed people? Could you take up arms against an ANC government that would have had or received over 50% of the vote of black people in an election?
BD. My party is committed to democracy unlike the South African Communist Party which is a recent convert to it. My party has been committed to democracy since its forming. We will recognise the democratic right for our people to decide to something other than the PAC. We are not, we will not take up guns if a majority of the oppressed of this country say this is the course we want to follow. No. [We are not a . If we disagreed with the majority and we will therefore do some kind of]
POM. Two questions, one related to the economy, if in fact there was even a black majority government tomorrow morning, what difference would it make to the life of the average family living in a township or in a squatters camp?
PD. I don't think it will make any difference at all. Like earlier on the real cause of the problems is not being addressed. And I think also the point that people don't readily accept is that this regime is legitimate. It's an illegitimate regime. So even if you talk to them the talks are illegitimate because they have not been elected by the majority of the people. So if we put what you call black government there tomorrow, it is not going to solve the problem. The problem is still going to be there. Our people are still going to be detained. Because that will just be addressing the consequences but not the real cause of the problem. It won't make any difference. Because I think really this is what internationally people think that, look these people fighting to have black faces in the parliament. At the PAC we are not fighting for black faces or white faces in the parliament but we are fighting for the people to be elected by the people to be put into that parliament. So whether they are black or white the situation won't change.
BD. It is interesting to note now that Robert Sobukwe 31 years ago said, 'Politically we stand for government of the Africans, for the Africans and by the Africans with everybody who owes his allegiance and loyalties only to African accepts the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as African. Therefore we cannot be characterised as racist. We guarantee no minority rights because we are fighting precisely that group exclusiveness which those who plead for minority rights would like to perpetuate. It is our view that if we have guaranteed individual liberties we have given the highest guarantee necessary.' And then he goes on to say, 'I have said before and I say now, that I see no reason why in a free and democratic Africa that a dominantly black electorate should not return a white man to power, colour will count for nothing in a free Africa.' Now the whole thrust of our policy, as you can see, is we want to get away from this kind of arrangement, we want to open the doors of power, we want to get away from exclusivity. That's the only way you are going to have a stable government. And you know, our party, in spite of the fact that we are victims of oppression, that has not said let's drive the white people out, we've said we can build a future here, but that future, you've got to make a clean break with the past.
POM. In the townships what are the level of expectations among Africans about what's happening? What are they expecting?
BD. They are expecting the world. They are expecting the moon and stars and skies. They see opulence, conspicuous consumption on the part of their fellow citizens and they see themselves being denied opportunities to get anywhere near that. And so they are become, in some cases, pretty militaristic. The people don't understand what is happening, really, the psychology of our people. Sixty percent of our population is under the age of 24. We have 3 million students out of school. We have 690,000 dropouts this year because of poverty. Can you imagine the situation? I challenge the NP/ANC alliance to solve those problems.
POM. Well if it can't in fact, I mean, there's one scenario, kind of might be an NP/ANC alliance but if it can't deliver tangible and real change to people in four or five years a lot of disaffection is going to step in. Do you see yourself as the alternative which will attract that disaffection?
BD. If we stick to our policy and our objectives. Mostly the political process must take place that way as it does in every other democracy if we are going to have a democracy.
POM. Let me go back to how people are feeling in the townships, are they, I heard you say a couple of things, on the one they're expecting the sky, on the other hand there is still a lot of unresolved anger, angry young people who have been denied everything in their lives. I mean do people know what's going on? I mean what do they think is going on? Do they think there is going to be a black government? Do they think housing and electricity and water and the basic amenities are going to be given to them, that the unemployed will get a job? How are the youth reacting to the suspension of the armed struggle by the ANC? What feedback do you get about what is going on?
PD. Yes, I think you know, I mean, your view might, not only your view but internationally, people see that things have changed. That is not the view of any African person. To know that you are reading the newspaper, you are seeing TV and all that. Because of the poverty of the people they are not exposed to media of communication. You know, they can't afford to buy a newspaper, 70% of the people are functionally illiterate. The same applies where there is no electricity in the townships. So there is about 2% of the population of this country who are exposed to that kind of information. Now at the PAC we work we work with those type of people, you know we go to them, we talk to them in their own mother tongue because most of them are not fluent in English. And the people that you get down there and what is happening up here is really - they don't know all these things that are going on because there is no meeting. Even the people who are talking now say they don't agree tomorrow. This is what they are going to discuss. I think your view that there is no consultation with no mandate and as such people are just looking at what is going on at the moment. I mean we are fortunate to see and everything but not the people in the townships. And the situation is really explosive. A few people and the international community feel that things have changed in this country they might be made aware that nothing has changed. For as long as the constitution of this country remain intact and everybody - causes of all the problems remain intact everything that has gone. The people who are the cause of the problem are the people down there. It's not the people up there who are talking to them. So it is something that I think maybe more people should address. We, the PAC, said we'll do that, we go there we talk and we explain what is going on with our organisation, agreement. They are just talking on behalf of us as if we can't talk for ourselves. And if the PAC they are not also given the opportunity to bring our up in the media, because we are being suppressed by the media because the press is controlled by Anglo American and all these big business people who want future in the country.
BD. We have a situation here where I would say, and this is our analogy, the negotiations have come about as a result of the ANC's initiative. [The ANC didn't unorganisation before they made.] It is symptomatic of the influence of the Communist Party of the ANC that it can feel satisfied that it can go it alone and now it can quite clearly see that it can't go it alone. And I suspect that the ANC has been asking us to meet. But I suspect that they will have to formalise this whole question before they can carry on with negotiations any farther to consult with the people of this country and not take unilateral actions. It's unrealistic to think that everybody who is black in this country thinks along the ANC/Communist Party line. We don't.
POM. What is the difference between a member of the Communist Party and a member of the ANC?
BD. I think that question must be put to them. I can't answer that. Because I am very, very confused in my own mind on how the two political parties, one who has got a majority of members on the National Executive, ANC, that the CP can consider themselves two separate parties when in fact they are one.
PK. Has the ANC made any significant initiatives to meet the people from the PAC like they have with some of the other organisations?
BD. No, they, the ANC have been operating on the principle that the PAC doesn't exist. They are operating internationally on the same principle. They have been for the past thirty years whilst I, certainly while I was in exile, watched them closely trying to denigrate any other form of opposition as being insignificant and of no consequence. They will learn the hard way.
POM. We have heard form a number of people across the political spectrum that we've talked to that what the ANC is interested in is a one party state, an ANC state.
BD. They've changed a bit because they have been told by other people that that is not on.
POM. So you think they are interested in a two party state?
BD. Without the Communist Party's conversion to multi-party state. Anything that the Communist Party of South Africa is converted to the ANC is converted to. I'm sorry for being so cynical. These are the hard realities.
PK. What about the PAC, is it for multi-party?
BD. The PAC is firmly committed to democracy.
PK. Does that include a multi-party system.
BD. I don't know what you think about democracy. Democracy means an opportunity of choice doesn't it?
BD. Then I cover it by saying that we ...
PK. But are you saying that you are committed to a multi-party system?
BD. But that's implicit in democracy.
PK. So the answer's yes.
BD. Yes. You see, you're asking me this question, I don't mean to be offensive, but you're asking me this question against a background of the Communist Party's recent conversion to multi-party politics. Labour leaders' dictatorship. We've never believed in dictatorship and that is why we can say that if you call a Constituent Assembly and the ANC wins my President is on record as saying we will shake the hand of the winner. Now what more can we do to prove ourselves? Conversely what do we see? Wherever the ANC is operating, wherever the PAC has made its presence felt, there have been clashes, physical clashes. Is this a commitment to a multi-party democracy? Not only with us, they've done it with AZAPO, they fought with AZAPO, they fought with PAC, they fought with Inkatha. I must say that I have great reservations about their commitment. We haven't gone out of our way to fight with them. And if there's any indication of their intolerance then you can see that they fought with everybody across the political spectrum within the opposition. So where is that commitment? That commitment is very suspect.
POM. Where is Nelson Mandela in all of this?
BD. Dr. O'Malley, you must excuse me, I can't speak for Dr. Mandela. PAC can't speak for him. He knows his own mind.
POM. I mean what do you think he is doing? Here is a man who did spend 27 years in jail.
BD. The man is honestly for settlement and for that reason, and we in the Western Cape feel it particularly because our constituency is composed of people who put up a great battle against -, and the first thing that Nelson Mandela did when he got out of jail was to shake the hand of this man Hendrickse and give him respectability. This is disgraceful. Our young people are dying fighting these people and these people have been nothing but traitors to our cause and we find them being embraced by the ANC. And the eruptions in Port Elizabeth now, witnessed eruptions in Port Elizabeth now, the young people in Port Elizabeth are saying, according to my information, that they are disgusted with the ANC having this relationship with the Labour Party. ANC are prepared to talk with anybody who has had any kind of dealings with this particular government in the past, irrespective of what their dealings have been in order to make some white(?) kind of package.
POM. One final question. A year from now will this process that is underway between the ANC and government have gone further? Will there be a negotiating table with people like Buthelezi and perhaps the Democratic Party and maybe the Conservative Party taking part in it? What do you think the year holds?
PD. I think the ANC has got their own programme, the National Party has got their own programme and that's their right to have their own programme. We in the PAC have got our own programme. So what is happening in a year in their programme is their thing you know, it doesn't concern us because we are not in competition with ANC. They've got their programme and we've got our own programme.
BD. Our programme is unfettered right to take political part, unfettered right through the ballot box. If that right is frustrated then we reserve our rights as individuals to exercise our human rights to make it possible.
POM. Thank you.