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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

28 Aug 1991: Mdlalose, Frank

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. I'm talking with Dr. Frank Mdlalose on the 28th of August. Dr. Mdlalose, I'm going to start off with something that might sound like a very naive question, but given the range of responses that I've received from people whom I've asked the question, it provides me with a lot of valuable information. And that is, what is the nature of the problem negotiators will seek to resolve when they sit around the negotiating table? Now, some scholars and politicians say that the problem is one of the racial domination of the black majority by the white minority. Some say it's a question of two competing nationalisms, black nationalism, white nationalism. Some say, yes, there are racial disparities but within each racial category you have significant ethnic differences which, if not taken into account in a future governance structure, may explode into violence at some point. You have those who say it's about privilege and power on the one hand, white privilege and white power versus black disadvantage and lack of power. In your view, what is, not the solution, but what is the nature of the problem itself negotiators will try to resolve?

FM. I think the first thing that they must address themselves to will be the constitution of the country. Insofar as a constitution of the country is concerned, they will have to address themselves to the issue that we're dealing with human beings, irrespective of colour, irrespective of race, irrespective of sex, and all these problems that have hindered us in the past. I think, myself, that the goodwill is there among most people to forget the past and get on with a new constitution of South Africa which recognises human beings as human beings. I think that's the first thing that they'll try to do. And in the course of dealing with the constitution of the whole country, they will then meet the problems of how to cater for minority groups. And this is where the issue of colour or race will be dealt with. But that will come, really, not first but as the second problem. But an important one.

. The second problem may take us a long time in the course of the problem-solving process. Because we need trust for that and because certain people, I think, in the white right will be wanting to maintain their own privileged positions and they'll be wanting to, therefore, see that it will be under the guise of protection for the minorities but actually will operate to maintain their privileges. But then, in the same breath, I must also comment on the fact that the minorities need to be somehow protected. Not protected in the sense of enhancing their privileges or whatever, but in the sense of making sure that some majority does not just walk over them.

POM. I want to follow up with a couple of questions on ethnicity. The ANC would insist that if there are ethnic considerations there, they're basically ethnic considerations and differences that were created by apartheid but they did not precede apartheid. So they are artificial differences. That's one thing. Two, among a large number of progressive whites that I've talked to, when I ask them: is there an ethnic factor? They will say, yes, there is. And when I ask: well, is this talked about in your circle? The answer is, no it's not, because if you talk about ethnicity you appear to be an apologist for the government. You appear somehow to be saying, the government is right, they just got the solution wrong. So instead of being open to that accusation, they say nothing. In your view, is there an important ethnic factor involved, which if not acknowledged and dealt with, could pose problems for a future government down the road?

FM. I think you've put it succinctly and quite correctly. There is an ethnic factor in life. And if one does not consider it, one will freeze problems that will keep surfacing. Now, the fact that somebody is an Afrikaner and has an Afrikaner culture, talks Afrikaans at home and has grown up in the Afrikaans or the Afrikaner milieu, is a reality and there's no way of sweeping that under cover. And the fact that you've got a Moslem, an Indian who's a Moslem, who has grown up under that tradition, which is different from the Hindu tradition, which is different from the Calvinistic teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church, these are realities, these cultural realities which, in South Africa, happened to be in a way coincidental, to a large extent, with ethnicity. Not entirely, not 100% so, but to a large extent that is coincident to ethnicity. So those factors are there. And unless we unravel them and say, what is it that is in it? we will really be skirting around the problem.

POM. Increasingly over the last year, the western media in particular have been portraying the violence in the Transvaal as ethnic violence, as that between Xhosa and Zulu. And The Economist, which is a very respected periodical, about five weeks ago ran an editorial in which it said that the violence between Xhosa and Zulu was really no different in its nature from the violence between Serb and Croatian. They weren't comparing the two, they were just saying in both situations the ethnic factor is the key to understanding the violence. Do you think that was a fair assessment or a correct assessment by The Economist?

FM. I don't think so, really. I think that the fair assessment for violence in South Africa is that it has been brought about by political ideologies. We know very well that the African National Congress in exile, had its ideology of the armed struggle, to seize power and render the country ungovernable. These are things that are not secret to anybody. So, having had that philosophy, they, in fact, tried to recruit Inkatha in 1979 to join hands with them in violence, render the country ungovernable, and we're talking about mayhem in the country. And sending people who were, to their cross-borders, to their camps where they would be trained as soldiers. We refused, we wouldn't accept that. And that seems to have been a big cause of misunderstanding or, shall I say, cause of difference between that approach to politics between ANC and the IFP.

. So in the early fifties that came up and the two bodies apparently could not get on well together, because of those different philosophies. We in Inkatha felt that violence is not our game. In the ANC violence was their game. That is a fact! So, they recruited and formed the UDF in 1983 and the UDF was the surrogate of the ANC. They tried to deny that at the beginning, but everybody knows by now that it is, that it has been all along a surrogate of the ANC. That is why, in fact, it has disbanded now, now that the ANC has come back. They refused and said, no, no, they are on their own, and many of the journalists, many of the writers of books would say, no, it's an independent organisation, which is just a lie. And they knew it was a lie. They are just surrogates of the ANC and they took orders from the ANC to render the country ungovernable. That is why they attacked the councillors, which, even now are still being attacked. That is why they killed people in the Eastern Province. That was the start of the violence. It was the UDF that started it among their own Xhosa people. It is a question of ideological differences. And that's spread through the whole country and even in Natal it was a question of ideological differences between Inkatha and the UDF. Between Zulu and Zulu. It was ideological.

. But, of course, ethnicity comes in it in a way from the point of view that the ANC is largely led by Xhosas and that Inkatha is largely led by Zulus. These are not exclusive statements, these are largely, I'm quoting, largely led by so and so, or largely led by the other. So, that is where the ethnicity comes in, but it was not a fundamental feature, it was an ideological feature. One group believed in violence and believed in rending the country ungovernable and believed in destroying whatever it saw as, or taking apart the structures of government. One was wrong in that perception.

POM. We've gone out into the townships around Durban and into the hostels and talked to Zulu workers or people who had been chased out of their homes in the surrounding areas outside of Durban. And almost to a person, they would say to us that the ANC was a Xhosa-dominated organisation which wanted to found a one-party state, and that they saw the Zulu people as an obstacle towards achieving that goal. Would that reflect what you find on the ground among the rank and file?

FM. I was giving you the cause, the start of it all. It was purely ideological. Violence believers. And there's a good deal of violence. And if we don't see that part of it, then we get lost. But then, as things went on, you found that, after all, within the ANC ranks it was mostly Xhosa, within the highest ranks, which was last June. So, then, they took up an ethnic dimension, particularly when the attempt was made to destroy KwaZulu as KwaZulu. And that was an ANC target. And that is when they emphasised ethnicity in the whole game. They started getting into the ethnic problem and that problem was as if, destroy KwaZulu as KwaZulu. KwaZulu police must be gotten rid of, anything that's in KwaZulu had to be destroyed. That is what changed the minds of many. So, this is not just an ideological battle, it has been made by an ANC anti-Zulu threat.

POM. Do you believe that if the present level of violence, and one is struck by the fact last year if ten people were killed in a township or in an incident, it would be across the front page. And now if ten people are killed, you have to go to page three or four. It's like so many people have been killed that human life is being diminished and the value of human life is being diminished in the process. But do you think if the present level of violence continues, that it really makes meaningful negotiations impossible?

FM. Violence has had its rise and its fall. Incidents of violence has abated at one point or another over the past few months. But, again, over the past week or two it has risen, acts of violence or something where men have been killed. For the past two weeks, Inkatha has suffered a tremendous wave of killings. One other factor that one must bear in mind, believe it or not, if an ANC man is killed by a black man, that is front page news in most of our press. If an IFP man is killed by an ANC man, it is no real news. It's page four or page whatever. That is what we have.

POM. Why is that?

FM. I don't know. But that's the way it is. If you asked a journalist, and I have asked this, if anything is be forwarded to them by the ANC, it disappears quickly in the media. There are those who conduct from overseas or not from overseas, from the borders, who were in the camps and all sorts of camps. They are full up in the country and they are talking, giving the world what has happened to them. They are telling the world about the tortures that they went through. They were here with the Inkatha Freedom Party Youth Brigade conference and they gave the whole low-down. How many papers reported that? The Mercury reported it on page two, we can show you a picture of it. But you didn't see it in any of the other papers! If you take the people of Umlazi, they were supposed to be a Christian paper in the past, I don't know what it is now. They are a called a communist paper or whatever, I don't know. The latest paper hasn't got a single line on those fellows who have been ill-treated and who have been subjected to all sorts of torture. And they told stories about people who have buried out in shallow graves out there, that's no use to Umlazi. But if one little thing had been done by the Inkatha Freedom Party, it would have been spread on the front page and perhaps carried on for weeks on end. This is the sort of thing.

POM. Well, have you ever inquired, do you ever ring up newspaper editors and say, is there anybody who watches and then goes after the press, goes after editors to, even if just to complain about the unequal or unfair coverage?

FM. I have personally complained many a time about that. We even had in our pursuit of peace, in the units, we have that. Met editors, there was a time when I, in the presence of some ANC members, questioned the editors of a number of newspapers to talk about this. So that doesn't seem to change the situation. And there is no clear explanation that I can get from them.

POM. Going back, though, do you think if the violence doesn't fall to a lower level, or doesn't taper off, that if it continues at this fairly constantly high level, that it'll make negotiations difficult, if not impossible?

FM. It will make negotiations difficult. In negotiations, we are dealing with people that are talking

POM. Sorry, it's not?

FM. That talk at negotiations. It's people who come from the communities. It's people who have relatives in their communities. It's people who, when their relatives are killed, take the issue to heart. And then they go to the negotiation table with their relatives lying in a pool of blood behind them. With their relatives being buried behind them. With their houses destroyed behind them. If they come to negotiations, it's bound to affect the tone of negotiations! Very fairly so.

POM. Now you've been playing a very prominent part in the peace negotiations that have been underway in the last couple of months under the auspices of the South African churches and business. And you're due to, I think, issue a report around the 14th September. It's clear that you and the ANC and the government, the three major players here, were able to reach a fair amount of agreement. Could you just go through the kind of process that you would go through? Because you all came to the table with very different perspectives on who was causing what, and yet in some way you've managed to bridge those and to come up with a set of procedures that hopefully will reduce the level of violence. Could you just go through the steps in the process? Like, how you operated?

FM. First, the State President in April called for a conference, a summit conference on the violence and intimidation, on the 24th and 25th of May. That is where the whole thing began. And many of us said, yes, wonderful, let's talk about that! To get rid of violence and to get rid of intimidation. So, we went to that conference and sadly, the ANC did not go to that. And so, its brothers, the South African Council of Churches, would also not go there. But we established there a Continuation Committee as well as a Facilitative Committee. This Facilitative Committee was to consist mostly of spiritual leaders and some business people to interview and see who we thought had to come. It was an effect on violence, and a large factor too, to interview them and then to bring them in into this committee. Talks went on after the 25th May and ultimately, at the end of it all, there was a meeting on the 22nd June, where there was the National Party from the government, Inkatha Freedom Party, the African National Congress, other groups who participated, and business and the church. Now, people, writers and journalists, want to forget that originally there was a call by the State President for that two-day conference. For instance, I don't know, I didn't realise you were asking me, you say, this is church led, and people are speaking of this initiative of the church. You see, it's the President and everybody has taken that propaganda hook, line, and sinker. And those of us who say it started with the State President, no, no, no, you are telling lies! That didn't happen! I mean, these are the things that are happening, right from under our eyes. And to us, we love truth and we love reality. It is disappointing. I notice, sir, that you also started from that line, this church-led and the church-inspired initiative or whatever. And you have absorbed it and I don't blame you.

POM. I take the point.

FM. I don't blame you. It's the way it is. When one has had to come out of that atmosphere of prejudice, untruths, into the reality of saying, we want peace. we don't want violence. They are coming in on the guise of saying it was never said by the State President. Fine! As long as we'll wait, so we're inclined to say, look, you seriously want peace? It is under that shadow that we have worked since the 22nd June. There've been all sorts of ideas coming up but we have moved on, I think, reasonably well. That was the five committees and each of those committees have worked through September, across the nights and have come up with something. But it's not always been absolutely accepted by everybody but we've come to a position where we have said, this we can go along with. So, we have reached the point where we are. There's still some points that are outstanding and the committees, there's a committee that is meeting even today and tomorrow afternoon at four o'clock, I am involved in the Peace Prefectory(?) Committee, in which we have taken into account any new additions to the National Peace Accord that we have come to by the time of the interview with the political parties on the 23rd August. We have our hands open for any suggestions up to the 9th September. And hopefully whatever news, I guess, has come up now, because this isn't, for parties which haven't been taking part in this exercise, whatever comes up fully, it will not be so difficult to accommodate, that we cannot lay everything for the people on the 14th September.

POM. Why do you think when the long delayed and postponed meeting between Dr. Buthelezi and Mr. Mandela took place, why do you think that failed to bring a stop to the violence?

FM. Well, you've said it was a long-delayed meeting. We are talking about between now and January. I think you can have, examine it yourself, what the cause of the delay was. And you should look into that, you'll probably get a better answer to the question.

POM. Well, I know that the ANC forces in Natal didn't want the meeting to take place. But here you had the two men coming together and affably re-establishing a personal relationship, calling on their followers jointly to call a halt to the violence. And yet, it didn't work.

FM. Yes, but you see, you realise, you said it yourself, there are those that were saying that they'd rather not see Mr. Mandela being open to meeting Buthelezi. But it is obviously their forces. There are forces that do not want peace to come about. There're forces that didn't want the two of them to get together. So, if Zuma and myself are working towards this get-together, it isn't that everybody does. There are those that have said it's all wrong. In fact, there has been a conversation, I think, in this regard, at a meeting which was on the 5th of November last year of the Natal leaders, where he was accused of hobnobbing with me and doing a Chamberlain on ANC. Last year in 1990 we formed the a committee which tried to make some headway in arranging a meeting between the two leaders. In fact there was some headway made, until the 23rd October when we went into Mpumalanga to see the devastation on the ground. We came from both sides, ANC and IFP; the ANC led by Jacob Zuma and the IFP led by myself. And we went together, arm in arm in front of the people to demonstrate that, with all of our differences, we don't have to kill each other. That was the whole purpose and we can still talk and understand each other. That was severely criticised in a meeting within the ranks of the ANC, Natal midlands. That is where, on the 5th November, followed that exercise of our going together to see the devastation there, where it was reported to have been like a Chamberlain. You know the story of Chamberlain and Munich? And he was selling the ANC. I mean, these are the forces that are within ANC but do not want peace! But of course most journalists don't have the content.

POM. Now, are those forces still at work? What makes you more optimistic that this agreement that's being worked out now will be able to mitigate, maybe will be able to put a stop to the efforts of those who continue to want to use violence?

FM. No, I have not said so!

POM. No, I know you haven't. I said, what would make you more optimistic?

FM. We are trying.

POM. You are trying but you've no idea, yes?

FM. You are aware that it's climbing up a mountain, a steep mountain. It's a mountain of sand. If you stop at any one time, you move back. You will keep walking and in the course of walking, have some sense and respect. You cover some ground, you might actually get on top of the mountain. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Men never is but always to be blessed. So, we're trying and try to hope and make attempts to get onto peace. We can't stand back and say, hey, we have won! We can't with those forces, evil forces, that are working against us, even now when we go to Natal. I don't know what I'm going to hear. We might hear things that will put the whole exercise back. That is why when I hear newspapers talk, oh, wonderful, wonderful! I wish it were. But, no, the reality is I have fears! I will only be able to say that we'll cover ground when the 14th September comes and the signatures are there. And then I can say, we can start. We're still moving, it's not complete. It will be a start of a peace process. So far we have 20 pages of paper, so far we're trying to say these are the blocks that we must deal with. That's on the 14th September. If we all sign that together, we'll then say, now we start working! But between now and then, there are many forces out there. And even after the 14th September I have no doubt that some of those forces will come and sit down and say, oh, we have lost!

POM. Are you encouraged by the fact that you and members of the ANC and the National Party were able to sit down together around this kind of explosive issue? That you were able to work together, develop relationships, get into real negotiations? You know, learn to appreciate each other's point of views, to give and to take? That's very encouraging.

FM. It was encouraging. It is encouraging. But then, of course, I'm a realistic person, I'm pragmatic. I know that we are talking about the people that interacted and then grew together. But there are those who are outside who also have influence, great influence.

POM. I'm, sorry, were you going to add to that?

FM. No, no, no.

POM. The ANC insists that the government had a double agenda with regard to the violence. One, that they accused Inkatha of being part of it, then they moved on to a third force, and then they moved on to elements of the government itself. Do you believe that the government, in whatever form, might have been involved in the orchestration of violence or in putting both Inkatha and the ANC at each other's throats?

FM. I don't believe that.

POM. You don't.

FM. I have no evidence and so forth. I do believe, though, that some policemen, not the government, I do believe that some policemen may have had some axe to grind with certain people. And they have acted in a manner that was detrimental to police and may have, in fact, made certain forces fight one another. So, I think that, from the evidence that has come up, it is certainly possible.

POM. On the other hand, do you think that the ANC has been pursuing a double agenda?

FM. Well, insofar as the ANC's concerned, I think just what you have said indicates that they are not a united force, they are a divided force. So, obviously their agendas can't be the same. Whether it's one man pursuing two agendas at the same time or two people pursuing two of their agendas at the same time, within the ranks of the ANC, where that would come. But certainly there have been various agendas floated by members of the ANC among themselves. But it is also possible that some individuals, as individuals, might have had two or three agendas for themselves. That I cannot prove, but it is possible. I know what is proven is the fact that there are those that would prop Mandela and there are those that who see Mandela as throttled.

POM. Do you think that splits along kind of ANC/SACP lines, or that's an overlap?

FM. I don't follow the question.

POM. Do you think that this is, that the ANC's divided between kind of hard-liners and non-hard-liners. Do you think that divide falls strictly along SACP lines?

FM. SACP? No, not strictly. Not strictly. I think within the ANC, people themselves, and the SACP are also very unhappy. Between the SACP and some members of the ANC there's some collusion.

POM. Do you see any possibility, or maybe 'prospect' might be a better word, for the ANC actually to divide these tensions between the hard-liners and the moderates might reach a level where their political demands are simply incompatible?

FM. I could only guess.

POM. Well, guess away.

FM. I said, I could only guess but I wouldn't know, I wouldn't even know what to guess!

POM. I suppose I have to bring up what's been called Inkathagate. And let me treat it this way. One is, do you believe, and I know you've answered this partially, do you believe that you were treated harshly by the media for the Inkathagate affair? And if so, is there a concerted effort out there somewhere to get Buthelezi, to get Inkatha? And was the manner in which Inkathagate was played in the press part of that concerted action?

FM. Well, I believe that Inkatha was treated unfairly by the press in this so-called Inkathagate. I think it was treated unfairly. The press had a field day and some of it treated it with relish. And they called the Chief and they want him to generate all sorts of talk against it and it went on and on and on. And then when issues disappear they try and throw it up again. It is beautiful manna for them. But as I say, the issue of the people that have been killed in squatter camps, buried in shallow graves, who have been tortured out there and the money that has been collected, millions! From Sweden, Norway, from the eastern countries, from Czechoslovakia, things that are going and coming from Cuba, from Libya and so on. Nobody's going to worry about that! That is all those millions. The 250,000 rand? Aieey, that is large slush money! Terrible! How dare you have the morals? Aieey, you must be better! But the millions have come from outside and you cannot question that, of course. If somebody doesn't think that's a double standard, then I must have my head read.

POM. Just before we came to visit you, we talked with Musa Zondi and he said that at the Youth conference last weekend that there was a resolution passed to the effect, which was the belief of the conference, that it was the South African government who were trying to, through Inkathagate, undermine Inkatha. Is that a fairly widespread view out in the community?

FM. The fact is that the South African government gave the money, unsolicited. The South African government gave the money to Inkatha through that place that Inkatha has, as you know, the whole history. Now, that's as far as I know the facts. But now whether that was done by the South African government for the purpose of undermining Inkatha, that I could not say with my hand out, I couldn't say.

POM. Someone had to release the documentation. Somebody had to know where the relevant documents were.

FM. Yes, that's right. And those documents were taken from some government offices of some sort and how they went out, I wasn't there. So, I couldn't tell you.

POM. But would I be correct in saying that as far as the IFP is concerned, that Inkathagate was just a blip, that with a very transitory impact and that it doesn't affect the party in any long term?

FM. Well, the people have spoken badly about Inkatha and that has affected us in terms of settlement, but by no means all people. In fact, it caused among the whites, to make them feel, some of them, that Inkatha is not so well-behaved. It means, what I'm saying, that the government of South Africa is not so well-behaved. They're saying Inkatha is not so well-behaved. There's some pounding by the press, some have come to that conclusion.

. But interestingly enough, many whites have sympathised with us. Many whites have sent letters to us, assuring us of their support. Many whites have asked if there's any way in which they can support us. There have even been some whites that have just sent cheques and said, "Look, we think you've been unfairly treated. And you have to repay that 250,000 rand, here is a hundred rand towards that! Not that it will go very far to minimise that loss that you've suffered." But there are many whites that have acted in that manner. But we know there are those that are much more gullible to the press, as they read it, the English press, in particular. On the other side, when you come to the blacks, we have seen a tremendous upsurge of support from the blacks. Absolutely!

POM. Is this across the country?

FM. Across the country. Across the country. At this week's conference, we had for the first time delegates from places that had been dormant for a long time. There were delegates from some new places. There were delegates from the North Western Cape.

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.