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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Jan 1992: Kane-Berman, John

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. Mr. Kane Berman, to start off, what is the nature of the problem that the negotiators will face when they sit at the negotiating table? Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. Some people say it is a racial problem, racial domination of blacks by whites, other say the problem is about the allocation of resources between different populations, and others say it is between two nationalism, white nationalists versus black nationalists, others say yes there are racial differences but that within each racial category, you also have ethnic differences. So, if you were to brief the negotiators on the nature of the problem as distinct from the solution that they are sitting around the table to negotiate, what would you tell them?

JKB. All the things you mention are aspects of the problem but if you want to put it in a nutshell, the problem is that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Racial discrimination is an abuse of power, communism is an abuse of power. The problem that I would say the negotiators have to find a solution to is what limitations should be placed upon the ability of any government to abuse power.

POM. That questions really leads into the second question about the issues that have been swept under the mat. There was a book published last year by a man named Donald Horwitz who argued the case drawing on studies all over Africa and other places that SA was a severely divided society and had to be recognised as such and that if it was not recognised as such, if it was not recognised as that there were real ethnic differences, then government structures could be developed that would lead to the possibility of conflict in the future. Do you think there is an important and strong ethnic dimension to the problem? If you do, do you think it is one of those issues that has been swept under the mat?

JKB. I read Horowitz's book, or rather papers on which it was based, so I am aware of some of his arguments. There is an ethnic aspect to conflict in SA and, yes, it has been swept under the mat. But one has to remember that for that many years the NP government was committed to a policy of divide-and-rule along ethnic lines; it imposed ethnic citizenship against the will of many people, perhaps most people; it imposed ethnic balkanisation on the country through the homeland system, and again that was rejected probably by the majority of black people. Precisely because the NP government manipulated ethnic divisions in pursuit of the divide-and-rule strategy, other people were rather cautious to talk about ethnicity for fear of being accused of promoting the ideology of the NP government. The NP is no longer pursuing that policy. It has committed itself to the sharing of power with people of all races on the basis of one person one vote and also to negotiating a constitution that will enable the homelands to be reintegrated into the rest of SA.

. Ethnic tensions have erupted in what used to be called the Soviet Union and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. I was in Moscow just over two years ago, it was in fact the very week that the Berlin wall collapsed and I remember talking to the editor or deputy editor of a paper called the New Times, published in English, and I think he was a Georgian. I remember him saying to me that in the USSR they had a totalitarian system to sweep ethnic problems under the mat, but now that the totalitarian system was disintegrating, the ethnic problems were going to surface. This has become spectacularly true, and I see no reason why people in SA should be naïve enough to expect that when the perversely unifying impact of apartheid on black people is removed then we will not need to talk about ethnic problems.

POM. What I found last summer in putting this question to the ANC, the PAC and other black liberation organisations was not just a reluctance but an insistence that if the problem did exist it was the product of apartheid and did not precede apartheid. Talking about ethnicity was one more strategy of the NP or whites to divide blacks and maintain more of a control in power. In conversations that you have had with leaders of the ANC and other liberation organisations, do you find a willingness to admit the problems there are still fairly deep rooted?

JKB. There is a reluctance, for the reasons I have explained, to talk openly about ethnicity. How deep and divisive ethnic feelings really are, we do not know. Whether those feelings are a product of apartheid, or a product of earlier history does not alter the possibility that they may be more deep seated than many people realise. They would therefore have to be admitted, analysed, placed upon the table and dealt with so that they don't explode into tribal conflict or civil war. Let us not lull ourselves into a sense of complacency that when apartheid disappears its effects will also simply automatically disappear. That is not going to happen in the economic or the political field.

POM. Just in the context of what you have said, The Economist last June in one of its editorials said that in essence the conflict between Xhosas and the Zulus is not different in nature from the conflict between the Serbs and the Croatians. Would you think that is a valid characterisation? How would you compare from your own trips abroad, having been in the Soviet Union and seeing how things have happened, how do you compare and contrast the nature of ethnicity in Central and Eastern Europe and in South Africa?

JKB. Who made this point?

POM. It was The Economist.

JKB. The Economist?

POM. Yes.

JKB. I cannot compare and contrast the situation in Yugoslavia or Europe with that in SA because I don't know enough about the situation in those countries. In its typically simplistic and arrogant way once arguing that what SA needed was not less apartheid, but more. So I have never taken the reviews of The Economist very seriously.

POM. Is there an underlying fundamental difference between what the government and the NP regard as the nature of the process and what the ANC and other black liberation organisations do? That the government for example, always speaks about the sharing of power, whereas when you talk to people in the ANC and the PAC, they always talk about the transfer of power. Are we talking about semantic differences here or are we talking about two different understandings of what is going on, or two fundamentally different strategies in terms of what the respective parties want?

JKB. I don't see these as semantic differences at all. The government has not only used the term 'sharing of power' but said quite explicitly that it is looking towards a political system that will virtually enforce government by coalition. The State President has made the point that the ANC, or indeed any other black political organisation, is not going to be in a position to take control of power and enforce all its radical policies.

. Other organisations talk about a transfer of power which I understand to mean that the NP must abdicate power to parties claiming they are in the majority. What we don't know is to what extent the NP may be talking in particular terms, and the same applies to the other organisations, for the benefit of their own constituencies, whereas under the table, so to speak, they are willing to make compromises.

POM. On the face of it, there are fundamentally different understandings of what is being negotiated.

JKB. I think the ANC and the PAC would like to be in the position that the NP has been in for the last 40 years. Here power was highly centralised and parliament was sovereign. This parliament whittled away the powers of the provincial administrations and the local authorities and was able to impose the NP's ideology on the entire country because there were not sufficient judicial or constitutional checks, or not balances. The NP now realises the risks of allowing power to be highly centralised, to be monopolised by one political party. It fears that if that were to happen, it would be the victim of the kind of abuse of power that it imposed on everyone else. If organisations such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) believed they were in the majority, I suspect they would also like to monopolise power.

. So the question comes back to the point I made at the beginning. It is what limitations are going to be placed upon the capacity of government to abuse power. Because whether Buthelezi rules this country single-handedly, or Mandela rules single-handedly, or the NP or anyone else, we must operate on the assumption that they will abuse power unless we ensure, through a series of mechanisms, that they cannot.

POM. Do you think perhaps some of the problem with regard to the government comes from the fact that it has been the bad boy for 40 years, so even when it raises legitimate concerns, they are sometimes seen as mechanisms to maintain their own power and privilege rather than to protect a legitimate minority? In Northern Ireland, the starting point for the British government is that majority rule is not democratic rule, that if there is to be a democratic society power must be shared. And in a way the starting point here is for liberation organisations and for many of their supporters in democracies and the rest of the world have been of the view that majority rule is democratic rule and that the sharing of power of somehow corrupts what real democracy is about.

JKB. Many people suspect that the NP wants to limit the power of whoever rules this country under the future constitution in order to hang on to as much privilege as it possibly can. But we need a much more subtle and sophisticated understanding of democracy than simple majoritarian rule. There are such things as tyrannies by the majority. A democracy means much more than simply voting systems and parliamentary arithmetic or electoral arithmetic. A democratic society, one which includes a vigorous and free press, one where people can form trade unions and sports clubs and cultural or religious organisations and pursue their own interests irrespective of what the government may think they should do. A democratic society also needs an independent judiciary to protect the right of freedom of association, the right of parents to choose the language of instruction of their children. A democratic society is also one which takes account of the interests of minorities.

. Democracy does not simply mean that you add up who has got the most political support and they are entitled to do as they please. If it were the case that Adolf Hitler had majority support among the German electorate, that majority support did not entitle him to invade other countries or liquidate trade unions or murder Jews and Gypsies. So the will of the majority is not the only component in democratic societies. A democratic society is one in which the individual has as much freedom to pursue his or her own interests, be they economic, cultural, religious, or political, to the maximum extent possible provided in so doing he or she does not trample on the rights of other people. So democracy in my view means limited government and a system in which people, ordinary people are protected from potential abuses of power by politicians.

POM. You said in response to a question about five minutes ago that what the ANC would like or the PAC for that matter, or Inkatha Freedom Party for that matter, would be the highest concentration of political power, to be in the position that the NP has been in for the last 40 years. If you look at the history of Africans since say 1967, I think that with only one or two exceptions, there has been no transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another. Either the government has enjoyed such overwhelming support among one election or it has been a one-party state. What do you think are the specific factors that might prevent SA from going a similar route?

JKB. You mean towards a one-party state?

POM. Yes, as it has happened in the rest of Africa.

JKB. I cannot talk with authority about what has happened in the rest of Africa. I know what the general picture is but I don't know exactly what went wrong in Kenya, or Nigeria, or anywhere else. If one looks at SA there are a number of factors which may help us become a multi-party democracy rather than a one-party state. One such factor is that black political society as well as black civil society is pretty diversified. There are well-established political forces in the black communities. There is the ANC tradition, which has been there since 1912, there is the IFP tradition, Inkatha being of a much more recent foundation but in a sense a breakaway from the ANC the pre-1960s. Then of course there is the PAC breakaway from the ANC at the end of the 1950s, and many more organisations of more recent foundation such as AZAPO. Black people have already made the choice of multi-party democracy in SA, because they have joined, in varying numbers of course, different political parties. Black South Africans have already long since voted with their feet for multi-party democracy. The question the country now faces is to devise the constitutional system and structure of the state that will enable the members of those different parties and their leaders to thrash out their differences in a democratic fashion rather than to slaughter one another.

. Another thing that strengthens and enhances the chances of a democratic outcome is that black civil society is diversified. There are different trade union groups with different political alignments. There are teacher organisations which have political alignments, but there are also long-established teacher organisations, some of them dating back to the early part of the century, which do not believe in any kind of political alignment. There is a whole range of activity in the non-party political sphere, where people have set up institutions to pursue their own interests outside political parties.

POM. I was struck in 1990, when the violence on the Rand escalated, by the way in which organisations other than the ANC responded to it. The PAC, AZAPO, BCM, Inkatha all said that if you looked at the violence in the previous years the common factor in all of it is the ANC, the ANC always seems to be involved. Then last year that changed and you had on the one hand the ANC moving from the position of saying Inkatha was behind the violence to talking about a third force, to Mandela's actual statement that the government itself was orchestrating the violence, that the government had a double agenda, the olive branch on the one hand and the attempt to wipe out the ANC in the townships. If you look at this almost constant preoccupation with the violence since August 1990, what does the evidence suggest to you? Is there any evidence that the government is behind this, that de Klerk and the government are involved, or elements in the government, not rogue elements but that elements in government are involved? Is there substance to the stories produced by the Daily Mail, showing the close association between the SADF and Inkatha. Is it political between Inkatha and the ANC, is it ethnic between the Xhosas and the Zulus? What does the evidence suggest?

JKB. On that last point, it is difficult to be certain without a lot more investigation. Let me give an example of how wrong one can be about jumping to conclusions. In the earlier part of the 1970s, was an outbreak of violence in the mine compounds in the Orange Free State. A number of people were killed at the beginning of conflict in compounds which within three or four years had left about two hundred dead people. The mining industry said that this was tribal conflict between rival groups of black people. The liberal response was that the underlying cause of such conflict is the migrant labour system itself.

. I commissioned a black trade unionist to go down to the Free State and infiltrate the compounds (which only a black person could do and I as a white could not do.) He came back with a fascinating story. What this person found was that there was rivalry between differing political loyalties among Basotho workers in the compound. The ruling party of Chief Jonathan in Lesotho had banned the opposition party and used the Police Mobile Unit (PMU), to curb it. As a result the opposition party took advantage of the relatively freer conditions in the Free State and went and mobilised there. So the political conflict of the rival parties in Lesotho was being played out in the Free State.

. I investigated another case of such 'ethnic conflict' at a mine in the Transvaal and it turned out to be a dispute over a woman. One man was fighting with another man over a woman and the one man killed the other. The room-mates of the person who had been killed took revenge on the attacker. Because the mining industry housed those people ethnically the conflicts were seen to be ethnically orientated.

. So I think we need to be cautious about whether the IFP/ANC conflict is tribal. It may be ideological, it may be conflict between people with revolutionary strategies and people who have much more conservative political strategies.

POM. In interviews I have done with Buthelezi, the King, Themba Khoza, people at different levels of Inkatha, they all say the same thing, that the ANC is trying to establish a one-party state and those who are standing in the way of this one party state are the Zulus so the ANC is out to destroy the Zulus. Again it is this kind of political rhetoric and propaganda that has taken hold and becomes self-believed. Do you think that the Zulus in the hostels actually have deep rooted fears about this happening?

JKB. That the ANC wants to eliminate the Zulus?

POM. The Zulus are seen as the only thing that stands between the ANC becoming a one-party government, and trying to subjugate the Zulus. And the Zulus must fight very hard to prevent that from happening.

JKB. I think you will have to ask the ANC to respond.

POM. My question to you is do you think this is a propaganda method brought about from the top down or a propaganda that is the official propaganda from higher echelons, propagated to the masses in the hostels, or whether the hostel dwellers really believe this, if it is a real fear that they have?

JKB. I have not spoken to hostel dwellers on that issue, and I think it would be presumptuous of me to say what they believe. You would have to speak to them directly.

POM. I am looking for your comment on it. Your understanding of the nature of SA society. From your understanding of it, can you see that one tribe would develop this fear and have it, and therefore -

JKB. One of the facts that we know is that there is very, very serious violent conflict between the ANC and the IFP. Each side claims that large numbers of people have been assassinated, office bearers, activists, officials. They have not said who has been assassinating those people but it is quite clear that these are not people simply killed in crossfire, as it were, but people targeted for elimination.

. It stands to reason that although they may not say so explicitly, the ANC believes that Inkatha is behind at least some of the assassinations that have taken place and that Inkatha believes exactly the opposite. What the origins of the conflict are, whether it is tribal, ideological, conflict over strategies, battle for market share or a combination of all these things is a more complex question.

POM. The ANC has moved on and talked about the third force, or Mandela said last year that it is the government itself that is behind the violence. Do you think that sufficient evidence of that has been produced to suggest that it is true?

JKB. I think the government has admitted that there may be rogue elements within the security forces that are involved in violence and murder and provoking divisions within the black community. But I have seen no evidence that the government, as some people have alleged, is itself orchestrating this violence as part of its strategy. I am well aware that an allegation has been made not only by the ANC but by other people. The government has repeatedly denied these allegations and has repeatedly said produce the evidence. I have not seen any evidence.

POM. What weight would you attach then to the stories last week in the Weekly Mail regarding involvement of the SADF in the training of units in Inkatha?

JKB. These allegations have been reproduced now I think at least three times in that paper. The State President has talked about training in what he calls VIP protection of members of the KwaZulu police. Chief Buthelezi also talked about VIP protection training. That was their response to the accusation. I have no hard evidence of my own to be able to say any more.

POM. Do you think the National Peace Accord's working structures are in place and it is working as a facility to mediate conflict and has significantly reduced the level of violence?

JKB. That is difficult to say. First of all I don't know if all the structures are yet in place. Secondly, we had talking in our hall here during the very week in September last year when the National Peace Accord was signed, Dr Frank Mdlalose from the IFP and Mr Jacob Zuma of the ANC. They were talking in fact even before the Peace Accord was signed about their own relatively successful efforts in bringing peace to parts of Natal. So it seems that in some parts of the country, already there were successful localised Peace Accords. In the period after the signing of the Peace Accord, and indeed also immediately leading up to it, there were a number of major assassinations. The figures that we have indicate that last year as a whole violence dropped by about 26%, but last year started off with a relatively low level of political violence and then it peaked and then went down again. The preliminary figures for this year so far indicate that the level of fatalities in political violence is about a third of what the average figure was for 1990. If this relatively low level continues and then leads into a downward trend, then we will be on the way to getting rid of this problem of political violence. But I think that is it too early to say the Peace Accord is working or not working. I really don't have enough evidence.

POM. Looking at CODESA and simplifying things by looking at the ANC and the government (the two major players), what do you think are the major obstacles that they face?

JKB. The major obstacles?

POM. Obstacles. What must Mandela do, what constraints are on him, what can he do, what can he not do? How much room do they have to manoeuvre?

JKB. That is very difficult to say. My personal feeling is that the NP does have a problem on its right and has perhaps been a bit complacent about the possibility of serious losses to its right. We will see how serious a threat the right is from the electoral point of view in the forthcoming by-election in Potchestroom.

POM. Is that a parliamentary seat?

JKB. It was an NP seat held by Mr Louis Le Grange, the former Minister of Law and Order, who then became Speaker. So it was very much NP country. It is also the seat of the Dopper church to which Mr. de Klerk belongs. I have an idea that he is also the Chancellor of the University of Potchestroom, so it has strong NP ties and de Klerk ties as well. We may see the NP retain its majority, but the Conservative Party has made quite strong showings in a number of by-elections. In every single by-election in the white House of Assembly since 2nd February 1990 it has registered a strong CP swing.

. It is more difficult to get a grip on the ANC than it is on the NP, because it is not a political party with a coherent strategy and policy. It is a movement which has been geared for 30 years, through the stupidity of the government in banning it and driving it underground and into exile, for armed struggle conducted from neighbouring states and for the international isolation of SA economically and in other ways. In other words it has not been structured for internal, normal political party activities. It relies on symbols and its strategy of mass mobilisation. I don't know to what extent Mr. Mandela would weaken his support base if he abandoned mass action and mass mobilisation, which is what the government is urging him to do. He may fear losses to the PAC if he adopts a more moderate stance.

. I think one should step back however, from the NP and the ANC and the others involved in CODESA and ask whether the absence of the Conservative Party, which now probably speaks for a substantial number of the whites, and the absence of the PAC and the absence so far of the King of the Zulus, is not a fundamental weakness.

POM. Is the threat of potential violence from the right a serious threat or is it to try and disrupt the process but not derail it?

JKB. There is a (threat) that we will now move into a supposedly democratic society where a large part of the white population, if not actually involved in, at least gives moral support to sabotage, petrol bombs, limpet mines and all the kinds of terror that we have seen practised by the left.

POM. Do you think that Mandela is sensitive to the problem that de Klerk faces in that regard? How far can de Klerk go before the problem you mentioned points the way to a society that would not be a society within you would like to live?

JKB. Mr. Mandela has publicly said that he would like the Conservative Party to join the negotiation process and I think he has given some indication that he is worried about threats to Mr de Klerk from the right. At the same time the ANC has said that it is not going to hand in its arms caches or abandon the armed struggle. That is not calculated to help Mr de Klerk with regards to the right.

POM. If Mandela were to say the ANC agrees to power sharing of the government, with the ANC as the senior partner and the NP as the junior partner, but nevertheless sharing power, do you think he could sell that to his constituency?

JKB. A bilateral deal between the ANC and the NP?

POM. Could Mandela sell such a bilateral deal to blacks?

JKB. I think he would find it easier to sell that to his own constituency than to blacks that don't support him. I think he might be able more easily to sell a bilateral NP/ANC deal than a coalition government in which the IFP would also be involved. A bilateral deal may be a bit of a problem with his own constituency. A trilateral deal or quadrilateral deal which brought in the PAC as well would be something that I believe the ANC, the IFP and the PAC could jointly sell to enough black people in the country for it to be a workable deal.

POM. Would this be a model in which you would have power sharing on a proportional basis?

JKB. What one is looking at here is power sharing on a proportional basis in the Cabinet and in a federal parliament. But one is also looking at power sharing on a geographical basis, the devolution of power to provincial structures, obviously not on a homeland basis, but on a logical economic or administrative basis. What would be desirable which would be a system of checks and balances that would horizontally separate powers between of the judicial arm, the executive and the legislative arm of central government. The separation of powers vertically is where central government can do certain things, the defence force and foreign policy ... There is no reason why provincial second-tier government as opposed to federal government cannot deal with education, or forestry, or agriculture and why local government cannot deal with such things as policing and a whole range of other things. Is there any reason why local government cannot have a much greater say in education than it does at the moment? I think these are all the issues that need to be considered if we are to cater for the ethnic diversity and the political and ideological differences within the black population.

POM. One last question. Where does Buthelezi stand? I was interested in a poll in one of the newspapers that shows Mandela with an extreme performance amongst whites of about 10%, and Buthelezi has a stronger standing among Afrikaners, and a relatively low standing amongst Zulus, and de Klerk has a relatively high standing among blacks and whites. Where is Buthelezi in this process? Is he still a key player? Has he been sunk by Inkathagate somewhat?

JKB. That is a very difficult question to answer. Chief Buthelezi has been written off by the media, by the diplomats more frequently than any other person in SA. If all those reports have been true, he would now be a black hole. But he has proved to have staying power over 15 years in a very, very tough political market place. I also think he has been the victim of unprecedented vilification by the local and foreign media on a scale which certainly merits a PhD study. For him to have survived against that hostility says something about his staying power. How seriously the exposure of these secret payments has damaged his political stand in among his own supporters, or among Zulus who are not necessarily IFP supporters, I quite frankly do not know at this stage. I think there is a tendency in the media to write Buthelezi off yet again. They may be right this time but they have been wrong in the past. There is undoubtedly a great deal of very intense animosity in some newspapers' reporting of this whole story. It has been striking that they have not followed the time honoured rule of, for example, allowing Buthelezi the opportunity to answer the allegations that have been made. If you want to see what Buthelezi's viewpoint is in response to these allegations you have to go and find another newspaper, you won't find it in the Weekly Mail.

. The fundamental point I think is that maybe Chief Buthelezi has been finally killed off by these allegations and the exposure of certain facts such as that the IFP did receive certain payments, and that UWUSA, which is a trade union linked to them, did receive certain payments. The question is, in the eyes of which constituency? The white liberal community, the diplomatic corps may be absolutely horrified that Inkatha got money from the SA government channelled through the police. That may not be how the Zulus, which would obviously be Chief Buthelezi's main support base, might see it. And without wanting to draw any analogies between Buthelezi and Richard Nixon, let us not remember that the Chinese and the Russians could not understand why the Americans could make such a fuss about Watergate.  So it is all a question of perception.

POM. Thank you very much. I have a host of other questions but, time is short.

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.