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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

30 Jul 1991: Harber, Anton

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. I should start today with Anton Harber, the Editor of the Weekly Mail. I say congratulations on what would appear to be the stories of the decade in relationship to covert government involvement with Inkatha and perhaps other organisations. Is there any doubt, at this point, in your mind that the allegations made throughout all of last year by the ANC that the violence in the townships was orchestrated by the government is true and almost beyond a shadow of doubt?

AH. I would word it a little more delicately. I don't think there's any shadow of doubt that there are elements of the Security Forces, particularly military and more particularly within Military Intelligence, who have a hand in one form or another in a good deal of the violence that we've seen in the last year or so. There's obviously a fair amount of violence that's spontaneous and in a way inevitable in a society, in the position ours is in. But there's also no doubt that they've had a hand in stirring it up and in particular incidents.

POM. Just to backtrack from that. One question I've been asking people, particularly politicians, is to define the nature of the problem that they think they will be sitting at the table to negotiate over. There's conflict about the nature of the conflict, some saying it's merely a question of white racial domination over blacks and others saying it's more complicated, it's white and black nationalisms, others going further still saying it's really a conflict involving racial and ethnic groups and ethnic differences within racial groups. How do you perceive the problem that negotiators will sit down to negotiate?

AH. I certainly don't see there's a problem between nationalisms. I think the two most nationalist elements of our political spectrum are by now peripheralised, they've been pushed to the periphery of the debate.

POM. That is?

AH. The Africanist, Pan Africanist Congress element and the white Afrikaans nationalist element. That's a difficult question.

POM. There's a book, maybe I should read a statement, it's from a book by a man called Donald Horowitz who's a very eminent scholar in the United States, definitely is regarded as a perhaps one of the leading experts on the theory of divided societies and conflict among ethnic groups, and he starts his book by saying: "There is disagreement over the extent to which the conflict is about race as opposed to being about oppression merely in the guise of race, or among nationalisms among groups demarcated by race, or about contending claims to the same land. There's disagreement over the identification and even the names of the racial categories, there is disagreement over the extent to which the conflict also involves ethnic differences within each of the racial categories, there is no consensus whether a future South Africa might also be divided along racial and ethnic lines and if so how severe these divisions might become, and there is discord over the measures that might be required to reduce future conflicts." His point being that there was no common perceptual framework of the problem, therefore that makes it very difficult to negotiate a settlement and essentially each party to the conflict has an inherently different perception of what the problem he's negotiating is.

AH. I think that is true for this society. I mean we have a white perception that try and negotiate a settlement that brings peace but affecting their lives as little as possible.

POM. In the one year since I've been here, have you noticed any change in that white position or has it more or less remained the same?

AH. I think there's been a slightly greater realisation that whites are not simply going to be able to shape the new South Africa, that the new society that hopefully will emerge in the process will - they will not control in the way they had hoped, control the process or the outcome. Clearly the black perception is very different and so on and it's of changing white lives radically, giving access to many of the things preserved for whites. I mean it's a battle, if one wants to capture what the battle is about, it's between a minority and majority for access to land, resources, demanding access to the economy, housing and that kind of development.

POM. If we were to scan the media, at least in the United States, during the past year and there was an increasing tendency to portray the violence in the townships as being violence between Xhosas and Zulus, and The Economist, I think just two weeks ago in an editorial, made a statement that the violence between Xhosas and Zulus was no different from that between Serbs and Croatians. Do you think that's a false understanding of the situation?

AH. Yes, I think it is crude. It's not a simple ethnic violence. There's a bitter fight in the country over access to very limited resources. That sometimes takes an ethnic form but it often takes other forms as well. The violence in the last year, to simply see it as Xhosas fighting Zulus I think is to defy the reality and in a lot of areas like Natal it's Zulus fighting Zulus and it's Zulus who owe allegiance to Inkatha fighting Zulus who owe allegiance to the ANC, or it's Zulus with access to shacks, limited housing, squatter camps, as opposed to those excluded from that.

POM. Again in Willem de Klerk's book about his brother, he quotes the State President as saying that there is some kind of an analogy between what's happening in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and what's happening in South Africa, that as communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union suppressed nationalisms came to the fore and ethnic tensions began to emerge, and he feels that a similar situation might pertain in South Africa where apartheid is lifted ethnic group conflict will come more to the foreground. Do you think that is possibly accurate?

AH. I think there is going to be an element of ethnic conflict but I don't think it's a fundamental conflict, I certainly don't. And I think there will be more over the next few years but I don't think it will be - I mean the essential conflicts in situ will be between those who are included in what resources there are and that includes those on the edges of the city who have some housing or some legal squatting camp or some access to water and some job of one form or another as opposed to those who are outside of that urban centre and who don't have, who are unemployed, don't have access to education, housing, etc.

POM. Let's talk about the revelations in The Weekly Mail. Just for my own curiosity, was this a story broken by The Mail and kind of picked up by The Guardian or broken by the Guardian and picked up by The Mail.

AH. No, we did it absolutely together as we've often done things together with The Guardian in the past. They did certain things, we did certain things, we agreed to publish simultaneously. I don't think either of us could have done it, or at least done it as effectively, without the other.

POM. We were just flying here on the day that the story first broke and it was interesting to see the way that other British newspapers treated it. They treated it as exclusively as a Weekly Mail story, The Guardian got no credit.

AH. And The Guardian were pretty upset, quite naturally, so we've made a point of emphasising we often work with The Guardian. The Guardian bureau is here in our office. We have a very close relationship with The Guardian and have had for six years and it was all by agreement, they got certain material, we got certain material, we put it together. We did a lot of the leg work, they did other stuff and then we said we'll do it simultaneously and we swapped copies of stories and all of that.

POM. So in terms of the political fallout of the stories, who would then be the political winners, who are the losers?

AH. I think that's quite clear here.

POM. And will De Klerk's actions of last night be sufficient to start to recreate a climate of trust or is there really a very long way to go?

AH. The loser is clearly De Klerk, who isn't open to any contract, but the credibility of both have taken a very severe knock. The winners are clearly the ANC, although they're watching from the sidelines by and large, they clearly have won a great deal of ground from it. It's given them a chance to seize back the political initiative in a way they haven't been able to in the last year or 18 months. Last night's acts alone are not enough to put the matter at rest. I expect at six o'clock tonight he will announce more. That may go a good deal of the way, some kind of Commission of Enquiry, some kind of different form of control over those funds at this point. But what De Klerk has lost probably for good is the trust and goodwill that would have allowed him to hold off the argument for an interim government. In other words I'd say the vast majority of South Africans now would take the view that the government can't be trusted to oversee the administration during the period of transition. That they are almost certain to abuse it in one way or another and, therefore, what it's added enormous weight to is the call for a transitional government of some sort.

POM. And Inkatha, Buthelezi?

AH. I would have thought their power base has shrunk to the most loyal nationalist Zulu element, traditionalist, nationalist element. To be seen to be close to the Security Police in this country is a kiss of death, and Buthelezi has not really emerged out of it with much personal credibility.

POM. When you talk about people like Frank Mdlalose and kind of having doubts about the relationship of Inkatha to the Security Police, the funding of that or just dealt towards Buthelezi ...?

AH. This took place in the context of ANC/Inkatha peace moves and the context with that peace talks are actually going quite well when Buthelezi suddenly switched and called them off.

POM. This was in the Natal, for the violence in Natal?

AH. That's right, 1989? Well this was early in 1990, late 1989 early 1990. I would now suspect that he called them off after being talked into doing that probably by Major Botha, but I have no evidence for that, it's just circumstantial. I think he faced at the time a grave disillusionment among some of his key people who could not understand why he was trying to block the peace talks when in fact they had been going quite well between second level leadership and that's when Mdlalose was unhappy and that's when Dhlomo left, or shortly after that.

POM. After Buthelezi met with Mandela in Durban, magazines like Time and Newsweek had him on the front page or himself, Mandela and De Klerk on the front page and it was a triumvirate. They were now three major players. Do you think part of the fallout of these revelations is that it is essentially again a two-person - or is Buthelezi diminished that much that he's no longer able to act in the same way?

AH. It would be if he wasn't seen, if I didn't believe he was a man who will force his way back to be the third party by whatever means necessary. I think at the moment the perception of most people, and certainly of mine, is that there's two key players and that Inkatha is sidelined in that. The problem is that all the indications are that Inkatha's importance and Buthelezi's importance has been over-inflated by the violence. The tragedy is that violence has served him well to force his way on to a national platform as the third part of the triumvirate. That is in fact not reflected in reality in terms of their support basis or anything like that.

POM. What kind of future revelations could send even more shock waves through the system?

AH. Well clearly the critical thing relates more directly to the violence and to the hand of the security forces in the violence. Because, that's obviously the heart of De Klerk's double agenda. So what's critical now is to expose who and what is manipulating the violence to break down that strategy.

POM. Just talking of the double agenda for a moment, Mandela himself made the accusation that De Klerk was pursuing, not the government, but De Klerk was pursuing this double agenda and that this goes back to - on numerous occasions Mandela must have gone to De Klerk and said, now here's this, here's that, we are convinced and yet no action was taken. What defence can De Klerk make for himself?

AH. Well I don't think so, I mean it's been the one issue, control over the security forces, which until last night he has never acted, he has never taken any steps really, any substantial steps to draw them into line. His defences were - where's the evidence? That was his essential defence. There's no proof, there's no evidence. What our story did, it crossed that border of deniability and we presented documentary evidence which there hadn't been before, there'd been circumstantial evidence, there'd been fragmented evidence, but not irrefutable documentary evidence.

POM. So do you think he never took steps before because he was in thrall to the right within his own party?

AH. No because I think he was part of, and approved of, that double strategy.

POM. You think he was part of it? So we're no longer talking about De Klerk as a man of integrity, we are talking about somebody who actually did have a double agenda?

AH. That's my view.

POM. Would you say there are an increasing number of influential white South Africans who now are adhering to that view?

AH. The vast majority of South Africans, of white South Africans, know but yet among the influential, among a lot of the decision makers, yes. But I can tell you that from the business community we've had a very negative reaction to our story, very negative, I mean we've had a few advertisers just pull their adverts.

POM. Is that right?

AH. Which is a reflection. I mean the business community in this country is even less ethical and morally driven than most and when the Stock Exchange takes a tumble as it did when we published the story they react negatively. I think certainly among the diplomatic and international community the perception has changed.

POM. So the gleam is off De Klerk?

AH. Yes, I think absolutely.

POM. And the moral high ground has - I mean one of the questions I was going to ask you is that during the last year the perception from abroad has been of the ANC following a very zigzag course of making demands and either backing down or changing deadlines, but on the whole being reactive and the government as being the people who are continually seeking the political initiative. What accounts for the zigzag course of the ANC in the last year?

AH. The lack of a clearly defined, responsible, well-structured leadership in a situation of flux, uncertainty, unpredictability and change. You know, that's the circumstances they had to face, the whole new circumstance of being unbanned they had to face would have, under any circumstances, been difficult to handle. Then you add to that the fact where you have an ageing, unrepresentative leadership with a lot of incompetents and no clear structure of authority to sit down and work out a strategy to deal with this, you end up with a haphazard mess, which is what they had. The hope always was and there remains quite a lot of hope that last month's conference, if nothing else, had the effect of creating a coherent leadership structure that is able to sit down this week and develop an active strategy and not just to respond. They are meeting tomorrow to decide how to respond to De Klerk's speech tonight. We'll see if that's the case, they have a perfect opportunity to steal the high ground.

POM. We've had talks with a number of people on the Working Committee around the National Executive and what we've been struck by is the diversity of viewpoints, that there is not a line. I mean there are, I think everyone we've talked to has had, in fact on many of these issues, a different line and this morning Kathrada said, yes that's true but it's because we are, that's why we're still a political movement, a liberation movement, not a political party. I mean at some point though they must start becoming cohesive.

AH. Yes. Look it's a strange body the ANC because it does represent a very wide body of opinion, from communists through to liberals, from black businessmen through to guerrillas coming from camps in Angola. It represents an extraordinary range of opinion in this country as a whole and it's very hard to have one line come out of that.

POM. Talking to members of the government, one gets the idea that what they have in mind is a multi-party conference, all-party conference; a new constitution is drawn up, you have a newly elected government, it is one in which the National Party continues to play a part, continues to exercise executive power in parliament and in the Cabinet. They are a junior partner, but a partner, and that this would last for - well there are two views, that is part of the final arrangement. That's the impression that Viljoen gave us the other day. Power sharing in that executive sense has to be part of that final arrangement.

AH. Yes.

POM. And the second view is that, well that would be there for a substantial period of time and then you'd have an evolution to clear majority rule. But talking to the ANC no-one gives any impression at all of being interested in power sharing along the lines that Viljoen is talking about.

AH. Yes. Some ANC, a lot of key ANC people would a year ago, or maybe a bit more, 14, 15, 18 months ago, have been weighing up the possibility of an alliance with the National Party. What happened between November and last year and the ANC ultimatum, when was that now? May or so?

POM. May, on Vlok and ...

AH. Was a fundamental reassessment of De Klerk and his government and their position. That happened over a period of time and which none of us really saw coming until that ultimatum where suddenly there was just an incredible disillusionment, and the goodwill and the trust in De Klerk as an individual had disappeared.

POM. So you would be surprised ...?

AH. Latest scandal has killed that off once and for all I would say. Look you're dealing with a very fluid situation so one doesn't make predictions.

POM. Oh sure.

AH. I would not rule out the possibility.

POM. But what I'm trying to get at is at a point in time people only have a certain lens to look through and that's what I'm trying to get, how do people picture the possibilities at a point in time, at this point in time?

AH. At this point in time I would say that the likely scenario is going to be the ANC and a few kind of allies against an alliance, a centrist alliance built around free market principles, lead by the National Party/Inkatha/various other moderate elements they would draw in with them.

POM. What about the right? This time last year there was considerable apprehension of there being a white backlash. White backlash doesn't appear to have happened.

AH. I believe that was the great analytical error of last year, was to believe that the major threat to the process was in the white right wing. It wasn't. It wasn't then, it isn't now. They're fragmented, they're disorganised, they can't take the political initiative, they're too fat and lazy and overfed after 40 years of National Party rule to provide a substantial challenge. The threat is, I believe, and the real threat is elements of Military Intelligence, special forces, etc., creating a Renamo-like destabilising force to upset the process.

POM. So if there were an election held - there was a poll that came out that was put in one paper last week that kind of surprised me, that two out of three white voters would oppose one man one vote.

AH. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yes, but I think there's a growing realisation that that's inevitable. I think two out of three white voters would prefer not to see it, but I think there is a growing realisation that it's inevitable. The remaining hope of those people would be some kind of minority guarantee.

POM. Do you see minority guarantees in terms of a Bill of Rights?

AH. More than that, more than that I would say. The kind of thing Zimbabwe had, reserved white seats that prevent constitutional changes.

POM. Only for a period of time though?

AH. I would think so, yes. I would think so. The ANC may look at it for a period of time as Mugabe did. They certainly wouldn't look at it in perpetuity.

POM. As you look at the last year in terms of your hopes and your optimism, were you more optimistic this time last year in terms of the manner in which this process would develop than you are at this time this year?

AH. I probably was, yes. I can't remember what I may have said to you but I probably was. I remain optimistic, I remain optimistic that if that one element can be contained, security forces and the disparate elements that are involved in violence then there's enough agreement on what kind of new constitution we're looking at to move quickly there. I mean I remain pessimistic in the short term, the next year or two are going to see a lot of violence, a lot of uncertainly, a lot of instability, failure of the economy to take off. I'm quite pessimistic about the economy.

POM. Is the economy at this point this year in worse shape than it was this time last year or is it just that the stagnant period without much hope of getting off the ground?

AH. No, last year at this time we were at the beginning of what's turned out to be a very, very bad recession. There's some optimism that early next year or so it will start to lift. I'm uncertain of that because I think the injection of foreign capital will be slow to come because of instability, uncertainty. I just can't see a central investor rushing to this country until there's more certainly about our political future.

POM. So the way you're talking is you would be surprised if the process had arrived at some point of fruition by 1994? Or is that still, is the deadline of the next election, is that still a deadline that looms there or is it becoming just ...?

AH. No I think it's still a real deadline. I don't think the economy could survive a process that was drained out longer than that.

POM. But it's likely that before that time comes that an interim government - I mean, do you see the government backing down on the issue of an interim government?

AH. The signs we're getting are that they are prepared, they are increasingly prepared to look at some arrangement which will probably have a different name and not the form that the ANC is asking for.

POM. Well my understanding would be the government would be prepared to bring the ANC in in terms of giving it positions [- all other groups as the PAC].

AH. I think they would be. I think if they could give Cabinet posts to the ANC now they would. I think it's clear the ANC is not going to accept Cabinet posts.

POM. But the ANC has something different in mind, which is that where the government resigns and there is a government, a new government ...

AH. And an interim arrangement is created for a period. Yes, I'm saying in between those two I think some arrangement will probably be found reasonably soon. A great deal depends on Vlok's speech tonight. He's got the six - what did I say, Vlok? On De Klerk's speech tonight. Because if he doesn't do enough about this issue, if he doesn't do more than he's done so far there is no doubt that the ANC National Executive tomorrow will call off contact, they will attempt to force the issue. It's clear from the COSATU conference this weekend that they're ready to fight, to organise strikes, to organise, to really push for an interim government.

POM. Two final quick things; one, what about the PAC? Where have they landed in the last year?

AH. They never fulfilled the promise we saw for them at the beginning of last year. We all thought a year ago that the PAC would continue to grow in strength, picking up the disaffected ANCs. It hasn't been borne out. There's no evidence that the PAC is any stronger, any better organised, has any more coherent a leadership than they had a year ago.

POM. So in a way the last year has seen a stripping down in terms of the ANC and the government or the National Party emerging as the two stronger forces, with the minority parties becoming less influential or less relevant to the process?

AH. That's true except that if you do a sort of graph of Inkatha as a third party it would have reached a peak earlier this year and now be over the peak and have dropped a little. Where it's going to go I don't know. Certainly the PAC and the far right wing have diminished I believe. Inkatha remains uncertain.

POM. And finally, is the process of change irreversible?

AH. In the sense that we could never go back to the kind of society we had two years ago, yes. In the sense that the military could step in or something could go wrong and there could be a breakdown of law and order, there could be an outburst of major violence that stopped the process and set us back, that's still possible. But even if we had a military coup tomorrow we wouldn't have the society we had two years ago.

POM. In one paper we kind of got conflicting messages from the ANC, on the one hand there being the suggestion that until the remaining obstacles to negotiations are in fact taken out of the way there will be no negotiations, and on the other hand a kind of an acknowledgement that negotiations are the only game in town so one has to get on with them one way or the other even if it means compromising over what one sets down as being almost non-negotiable demands for negotiations to begin.

AH. I think that's a reality both sides have actually come to accept, that there may be impediments and obstacles and delays, etc., but that they both have no choice but to negotiate and come to a settlement in the long run. That's why one has cause for optimism because in the end both sides have realised that they've got to move and come to a settlement. The elements of the ANC that followed its own double strategy, or was trying to get the ANC to follow its own double strategy has, I understand it, at the conference and since then been fairly soundly defeated.

POM. That would have been the double strategies?

AH. The militarists really who said, keep alive the military option, the underground option, the armed caches, keep that on the boil as a fall-back position. My belief is that the other elements of the ANC said that we have no choice but to negotiate and that will only hinder us and call into question our goodwill and our commitment to negotiations and it's false anyway because there isn't a military option. They have won the day.

POM. Patricia?

PAT. I need to have one question it's about the nature of Louis Botha. In any other society he probably would have been fired, but he still seems to be around? Right? And where's the accountability process at work there?

AH. Well fundamentally we have a state for whom accountability means nothing. We have De Klerk clearly grappling with it. I don't know if you saw Pik Botha on television last week, that was the most clear thing. He had no sense of the fundamental of democracy and public accountability. He sounded like the Pik Botha of five years ago.

POM. In any other society the government would have fallen.

AH. Yes. Exactly.

POM. He kind of took minister who shuffled in the Cabinet.

AH. Well this is a society that has to learn the notion of the accountability of public feelings.

. PAT And so he still functions in his role in the security forces in Natal?

AH. Oh yes. Well, yes, I mean the Security Police have formally been disbanded and moved elsewhere into a branch of the police that isn't distinct. But I mean we've been phoning him repeatedly and he's got an office in Durban. He's not returning our calls but he's there at work, carrying on similar activities. They've sheltered him.

PAT. Have they?

AH. Yes.

PAT. And before he was pretty up front?

AH. Well he didn't have any sort of national profile. He was known around Durban and known around Inkatha watchers, he was known there and known among detainees. He dealt with a lot of detainees during the emergency. In fact he seems not a bad one. I spoke to a couple of lawyers who had represented detainees and had often had to go to him to ask for access or parcels in and out of prison and they said they had found him helpful and reasonable. He seems to be that exceptional South African phenomenon an intelligent, educated, reasonable policeman but just a driven man, you know.

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.