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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Mar 1992: Dhlomo, Oscar

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. I am talking to Dr. Oscar Dhlomo, the Executive Chairman for the Institute for a Multi-Party Democracy. Oscar, if I could go back in time and talk about the nature of the problem that the negotiators will face when they sit down to negotiate, it seems that if they disagree on what the problem is, you will have a difficult time conducting successful negotiations than if there was common agreement of what the problem is. On one end of the spectrum, you have those who say that the problem is racial domination of blacks by whites and that this is the problem that must be resolved, then in the middle, you might have those who say this is a problem of competing nationalisms, black nationalism vs. white nationalism, again white domination; and then you have those who say that it is a more complicated problem. There are racial differences, certainly racial disparities that must be taken account of; but also within racial groups, you have ethnic differences. And that ethnic differences exist in South Africa in much the same way as they do in many divided societies today and if we don't take into account these ethnic differences and build structures that will ameliorate them, that we will in fact be building that would not work, that would breakdown in a future South Africa. What in your view is the nature and dimensions of the problem that should be put out there to the negotiators?

OD. Yes, I think that the three dimensions that you have mentioned really form parts of the problem in one way or the other, and one expects that a solution that will ultimately come out of this will have taken all those into consideration. The first angle which sees the problem in terms of a clash of the two nationalisms, white and blacks, I would say is perhaps represented more by extreme, not even extreme, the right wing of white politics. And, of course their solution is that you don't want to try and reconcile these nationalisms, the solution is to lock them away into various compartments through a policy of partition. I don't think that's a real point that any of the major political players will buy, and this includes the National Party (NP). It is a policy that has been tried before; all of what we call separate development, or apartheid was based on that policy and it is only perhaps the Conservative Party (CP) which is saying that apartheid failed, or separate development failed not because it was unjust and unworkable policy, but because it was incorrectly applied. So they want more of the same thing. So leaving that option out, it might be tabled if the CP ultimately agrees to go to the table, everybody says they should go and everybody, including the ANC is saying it is a particular viewpoint, but it must be stated at the negotiating table.

. The other one, which recognises ethnic diversity in the country is considered by most parties. They differ as to how to deal with it though. The black political position seems to be saying ethnicity is a reality, there are certain ethnic rights that could be protected in a future democratic constitution and these are language, religion, culture. The other viewpoint which still persists within NP circles, but not all of them, some of them have already abandoned that, says it won't help to protect just that, you also need to protect the political self-determination aspect of the ethnic minorities. Now once again, because of the experiences of ethnic based politics, which was the hallmark of the whole separate development policy, I think we are unlikely to have a constitutional settlement that uses race and ethnicity as a building block. So, I would write that one off as well, and go with the qualification that yes there are certain universal ethnic rights that no-one would complain if they were protected.

. The final one, which is a struggle against domination of one group by the other, that once we are ready to reconcile those two sides, one side being the concerns of the white minority, no matter how liberal they might be about the prospects of domination by the black majority, and of course we will have drawn up our new constitution, as I always say, that is the gist of the constitution, how does one reconcile the legitimate concerns of a minority, with the equally legitimate aspirations of the black majority? That is where I think our constitution makers will be tested to the full. Fortunately, they now recognise that that is the challenge. People like Mr. Mandela have been quoted in the past as conceding that black majority rule, if it is democratic, should not necessarily be perceived as a threat to the white minority.

POM. I think when I came to see you last year, it was just before the outbreak of violence in the Transkei. Increasingly over the last two years, at least in the US and Great Britain, the growing perception was that there was a very strong component of ethnicity to this side, that is was more than just Inkatha versus the ANC, it was Zulu versus Xhosa. Even two weeks ago, The Economist of London, which is widely respected in the UK and US, in an editorial said the violence between the Xhosa and the Zulu and the Transkei was really no different from the violence between Serbs and Croatians in Yugoslavia. What is your analysis of the violence in the Transkei in that context. Would you agree or disagree with what the Economist said?

OD. Well, I would disagree with what The Economist said because although there are manifestations of ethnic conflict conflicts, I wouldn't put it as strongly as I would for instance do in the case of the conflict between the Serbs and the Croatians.

. Certainly in Natal, where the violence started, there wasn't any ethnic factor at all. It was only when the violence spread to the Transvaal that the ethnic factor was introduced into the conflict. And that too has a history behind it. At a certain point during the violence in Natal, the ANC/COSATU/UDF decided to stage a national protest against the violence and in this protest, they were calling for the dismantling of the KwaZulu homeland, the dismantling of the KwaZulu police, and the resignation of Chief Buthelezi as Minister of Police in KwaZulu.

. I remember I wrote at the time that this was a serious blunder by the ANC to single out the KwaZulu homeland. I went on to say they are playing into the hands of those elements within KwaZulu and in Inkatha who would like to see this as an ethnic conflict. And, I said, the ANC/COSATU/UDF could have easily called for the repeal of the Act that established homelands, and they would be heard to say all homelands must be abolished, including the homeland police forces, and the homeland ministers. Indeed, immediately they singled out KwaZulu, Chief Buthelezi and other Inkatha spokesmen began to say, 'There you are, this is no longer an ideological conflict, it is now a campaign against the Zulu people. Otherwise, why is the ANC not calling for the dismantling of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and the others? Why is the ANC able to allow its leaders to visit Transkei, which is far more Bantustan than KwaZulu, having taken independence, and yet they can't visit Ulundi? So this is a campaign against the Zulus. So every Zulu, regardless of his political affiliation is now a target'.

. So that is how this wave of highlighting ethnicity in the conflict started. So when the violence reached the Transvaal, there was already that angle and it found a lot of support within the hostels to begin with. Immediately Zulus were pitted against Xhosas, there were conflicts until the ethnic group that was overrun had to leave the hostel and then it became uni-ethnic. The same thing happened in the squatter areas in the Transvaal. So, I would say, whilst here it is true that there is now an ethnic dimension, there are reasons why the ethnic dimension was highlighted and fanned by both sides in the conflict, both ANC and Inkatha, and there is reason to believe that if the whole issue had been differently handled, it would have remained basically an ideological conflict, as it has ever been in Natal for instance.

POM. My question would be, has there been a successive element of violence of an ethnic character that a future constitution should have some kind of checks and balances that would act as some kind of protection against that kind of violence happening?

OD. Yes, I would personally say that with the experience that we have gone through, there need to be constitutional checks and balances, which would ensure that phenomena like ethnicity are not abused for political purposes, people are not able to incite ethnic hostility, or even racism. I think one would need to think of that. I don't know at the moment what that would be, but it would be folly to ignore that kind of thing.

OD. That is quite correct, that is what is happening. But again there is a reason for that. Ethnicity was terribly abused by the present government with its policy of separate development, to such an extent that many black people began to try and hide their ethnic origin. In the independent homelands like Transkei, Ciskei and Bophuthatswana and others, your ethnic origins, whether you were in South Africa could cause you to be sacked to those independent homelands, and you would be stateless in South Africa, you wouldn't get a South African passport. The government would say, 'Well you are a Tswana by birth, then your homeland is Bophuthatswana'. It didn't matter whether you have ever seen Bophuthatswana in your life. That is what happened to Dr. Ntatho Motlana, who was told that he couldn't have a South African passport, he had to get a Bophuthatswana one. So the reaction amongst blacks generally was to deny, or ignore their ethnic origin and say they were South Africans, they were black South Africans. That is part of our history, and perhaps, once the story of apartheid is properly written, it will be found that part of its major disasters was to abuse ethnicity for ideological purposes, and that kept many people away from the appreciation of ethnicity as an anthropological and non-political fact of life.

. Let us come back now to the reluctance of the black political groups and academics to talk about it. That is true. Basically, it is no longer talked about because of this past history. I have said myself, I talk a lot about ethnicity, that because of the way the government has abused ethnicity we face a danger now of throwing away the ethnic baby with the apartheid era in the new constitutional settlement, which need not be the case. We need to recognise the ethnic factor and find a mutually acceptable way and democratic way of dealing way of dealing with it within the constitution itself.

POM. In that regard one other observation has been made, one that has been subscribed to by de Klerk, and there is this kind of comparison made between the collapse of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the erosion of apartheid here. The analogy is that where communism for 50 years has suppressed ethnic nationalisms in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and that as you lift the yoke of oppression deep ethnic differences began to emerge, and that similarities in South Africa were that apartheid kind of created a common bond of blacks in South Africa, they were all being oppressed. But take away the yoke of apartheid and ethnic differences may start coming more to the forefront as they have in Eastern Europe. Do you think this is the case?

OD. I do see that part of the problem, but, as I look at it, it all boils down to saying that abusing ethnicity for political purposes tends to produce a backlash. As you say in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the tendency was to suppress ethnicity in the hope that a new society, free of ethnicity would arise. In South Africa the tendency was to exploit ethnic differences in the hope that ultimately ethnic groups would live and thrive within different ethnic states.

. In the Soviet Union, that didn't work. It looks to me that in our case, the Balkanisation, ethnic Balkanisation didn't work either, but the extreme reaction is to try and say, 'Never again will we have any constitution that deals with ethnicity as a building block'. I expect that that will be the case. Even the violent have been convinced that no-one in South Africa will buy that constitution. But, I have always said to myself that within a few years from now, when the whole story of apartheid has been laid to rest, I would not be surprised if we see a serious debate, constitutional debate, focusing on the role of ethnicity in a democracy. Because what is ethnicity? Ethnic diversity can reconcile with a democratic system of government. I think we South Africans because of separate development have simply developed a constitution that says we are not at this stage going to think about any such possible constitutional options. And, I think we must be allowed to pass through that experience, but I have no doubt that given time, and once apartheid is really behind us, there will be a far more rationale acceptance of ethnicity.

POM. I want to take that answer that you gave and put it into the concept of the fact that if you go back to 1967, there has been no case in Africa with one exception, where power has passed from one elected government to another elected government. There has always been a transference of power where the government took ... of the opposition, that either they become one party states or one tribe or ethnic group dominated to such an extent that elections were irrelevant. What do you think would make SA different?

OD. First I think that what would make South Africa different is that it has a fairly large white minority population which is not expatriate, which regards itself South African, like the black South Africans. It has no home to run away to and it is locked up in this constitutional debate in a country that does not really represent a colonial situation. We are now talking about a decolonisation process here. We are talking more about a struggle for human rights amongst the residence of the same country, where one has denied the others the right to be citizens. That is number one.

. Number two, there is some sort of inbuilt demographic control over ethnic groups, if you see what I mean. We do have many ethnic groups in South Africa, but fortunately for us there isn't a single one that can form a future government single-handedly. The largest of these groups in South Africa are the Zulus, who number 7 million. Even if, for arguments sake, Inkatha had to win each and get every vote amongst the Zulus and therefore got 7 million votes, they would still be unable to rule South Africa on their own. They would still need to form alliances and co-operative agreements with other ethnic parties. So I think that we have that demographic situation which somehow forces our ethnic groups to begin to work in cohesion with others if they want to have a share of political power in the future. We are unlike most African countries, we certainly are unlike Zimbabwe where there were only two ethnic groups and the one outnumbered the other absolutely, the Shona's and the Ndebeles, or even Namibia, where the Ovambos outnumbered the rest, Hereros and others, quite significantly and I think that makes South Africa different. We have tried ethnic government, which the Afrikaners ran for 40 years, and even when they had opened up to such an extent that they allowed English-speaking South Africans to be part of that government, the fact remained that they were a minority, they couldn't run the country on their own forever. The same would happen to a Zulu government, if we had a Xhosa, or Sotho government. So, I think that is one demographic fact that makes us rather different from the rest.

POM. Since the violence in the Transvaal last August, as the year progressed, first the ANC and then Mr. Mandela have increasingly accused the government of having a double agenda of there being an element of the defence forces involved in the violence, of the government having a part in the negotiations and fanning or even orchestrating this violence to undermine the ANC within the communities. Do you think that now sufficient revelations have now come to light? That the ANC have been substantially justified in their accusations?

OD. Yes, I think there has been proof that the government has not acted even-handedly in overseeing the process of political transition. It has favoured some parties at the expense of others. Like in the case of the recent government/Inkatha funding scandal. There is now evidence that the government favoured Inkatha in preference to the ANC. But the revelations don't go as far as to say the government also supported Inkatha in the violence against ANC. You can make such inferences, but they would be seriously debated, because the principle has been established, the government can support others against others. But there is still no clear evidence which says the government really stood with Inkatha against the ANC in the issue of violence.

. But the allegations of the ANC, especially as espoused in their minutes, their ultimatums to government, where they were saying the government was bolstering Inkatha with a view to promoting it as one of the three major players. There is evidence now that indeed the government did that and this has strengthened the ANC's position and weakened the government position. The ANC is now more justified than ever before in calling for a joint management structure to oversee the process of political transition, and the government understands those concerns. They can no longer be trusted as overseers of the process themselves.

POM. What has surprised me is the fact that not very much attention has been paid to the moneys the government gave to the DTA in Namibia but at the same time was supposed to be overseeing the election towards democracy.

OD. That has been mentioned and it is one other issue which makes the ANC's case in calling for a joint management transitional authority to be installed because the government has not just been caught helping Inkatha, it did so in the past as well where it really didn't need to do anything because Namibia was a foreign country. Whether it was DTA or SWAPO in power it should not have concerned the South African government so much. How much more where their own future is at stake? Can you trust that they can do it? It is impossible.

POM. Given what your Institute is about, it seems to me that part of your mission is to create the basis of trust and reconciliation. Many ANC people that I have talked to, I have talked to several members of the working group, they are adamant in their belief that the government has been helping to orchestrate the violence. That the government has been involved in the violence. This Inkatha revelation is just like icing on the pudding. Is it not an enormously difficult task to put the negotiating table together, if one party at that table believes that the people sitting on the other sides are actively trying to undermine the process.

OD. Yes, I think it would be difficult but not impossible because, if you look at the situation this way, this scandal has somehow, I expected it, made the ANC more eager now to go forward with the negotiating process, and it has even strengthened their call for an interim government. The way they call for it of course might not be acceptable to government, they are saying the government must resign. What they would welcome is an effective and influential role, together with the government in the process of transition. So the scandal did not prompt them to break off talks, the multi-lateral talks about violence, convened by business and churches, those were never suspended, in fact they are about to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the security police and the political parties. I think there is a realisation somehow on the part of the ANC and the government that they can't wish each other away. They don't have alternatives to what they are expected to do.

POM. But are there some minimum kind of confidence building measures that the government must take to dissuade the ANC that it has been and still may be helping to orchestrate the violence?

OD. Yes, I think the government realises that they may have to do that, now especially that they have been caught funding Inkatha. They have committed themselves to the establishment of a commission, permanent commission, that will look into the problem of violence, make recommendations and even implement the recommendations of the Peace Committee.

POM. By and large the ANC accepts that as being sufficient?

OD. No, the ANC have welcomed the idea of a commission of enquiry but they are saying they would want to look very carefully at its composition and its terms of reference, and if it will be really independent. The government has also accepted the idea of a code of conduct for the police, worked out by all the interested parties and monitored somehow by institutions that could be trusted by all sides. The government has accepted the fact that it is not itself that will convene a multi-party conference or chair it. They now accept that there will need to be a neutral party that will convene it; that that conference would have to draw up its own agenda; that it would not be under the influence of government at all. They have also accepted that the first item on the agenda of that conference will have to be a discussion on the structure of a joint transitional authority. This tells one that, whilst in the past they were saying we are the government, we will remain in power until the eve of the elections, they now realise that this is not possible and the ANC is recognising this. And in any case, they also recognise the fact that it is unwise to prolong a process where they are in a weak position. In a position of powerlessness, where the government has free rein in discrediting and weakening them, the solution is to hasten that process as much as possible and go for power. Because ultimately it is democracy that will do away with secrecy, corruption and hit squads (hopefully), etc. If you hasten that process you are dealing with your present position of political powerlessness.

POM. Going back to at the moment what has been loosely called Inkathagate, who are the political winners, who are the political losers, and what did it do to Inkatha, and in particular where does it leave Buthelezi?

OD. I think obviously the winners are the ANC. Just recently the ANC has been saying government is boosting Inkatha, so they have found proof of this, so they are in a strong position. The losers are Inkatha and the government. Because, whether they like it or not, they are now seen as belonging to one unholy camp. Where does this leave Inkatha? Three levels one could look at: it doesn't mean much change within Inkatha itself, within the structures of Inkatha, the leadership structures, the membership and so forth. My view is that the members of Inkatha will accept whatever explanations their leaders come up with and I don't think, judging by what happened at their conference, I don't think they are even aware of the of all the possible angles of this thing. They accepted what was reported to them and they confirmed Chief Buthelezi as their President with a vote of confidence in him. So, I don't expect anything to happen within the organisation itself. It will be business as usual.

OD. Nationally they will be harmed, it looks to me. First their chances of forming alliances with major political opposition foes will be seriously affected. Already, a meeting that was due to be held between Inkatha and the PAC was called off by the PAC as soon as they heard about this funding scandal. The ANC, which was beginning to get more and more into bilaterals with Inkatha, especially on the question of violence, has announced that they are seriously reviewing their bilateral contacts with Inkatha, and so, their capability to enter into alliances with other major black political players must have been harmed by this. Certainly their credibility has now been harmed. It will now be difficult for Inkatha to be believed if it came up with a policy position, whether it is original, people will ask questions if at all this position is real, if at all there is something or somebody behind the policy position.

. Their role in the negotiation process, I think will be diminished. They will be there, no doubt about that, but their role is likely to be diminished because, before this happened, there was beginning to be a growing perception that in fact there were three major players in the process of transition; ANC/NP/Inkatha. I think that what one would expect now is that more and more families will begin to say there are two players, the ANC/NP and Inkatha on one side, and I think this will therefore be quite a serious development for them. Internationally, they will also be harmed. Friends, especially in Western democracies, would have been disappointed by what happened, some of them have already said so, and Chief Buthelezi's own personal stature will be affected by this. Inkatha's enemies overseas of course will claim that their suspicions have been confirmed.

. For many years Chief Buthelezi has been going overseas to promote an anti-sanctions view. I happen to know that was his own view originally, nothing to do with government, but each time he went there people would ask him if he was sent by the Pretoria government, if his trip had been funded by the Pretoria government, which was not so. He felt an anti-sanctions stance was a stance he needed to take in the interest of his supporters back home and in the interest of the economy. Now, he will find it difficult to continue to say that, when his organisation was funded by the SA government in order to hold an anti-sanctions rally. So, it is a very difficult position.

OD. But all said and done, of course this is not going to blow Inkatha out of the water altogether. They will still be there, but their image will be dented.

POM. Do you believe that he didn't know or that the character of the transactions was such that he had to know?

OD. Yes, as I know him, I would be surprised if he didn't know.

POM. I have just read a report, last night in fact, there's not much to do except to read, (have you glanced through it or had a chance to look at it?) saying that the apartheid struggle dictates more than it should and that there was only one correct strategy, one liberation movement. He talked about the pre-conditions that the government had to meet before he would enter into negotiations, the pre-conditions that were laid down by the ANC. What is going on? Why has he become such a ... of tradition and disunity in the black community when he says that his whole message for his public career has been on black unity?

OD. I think that he has problems, so has Inkatha, with reconciling theory with practice. In attempting to live what he preaches, because he has a very credible theoretical political theme but somehow when he begins to act, the two, theory and practice, don't add up. He also has a problem which casts him in the mode of an opponent of whatever the others are doing, sometimes justly, sometimes you think unjustly. For instance, on sanctions he was anti-sanctions. I understood his rationale. The armed struggle, he was anti-armed struggled. I understood his rationale. On mass action, he was completely against mass action. I don't quite understand the rationale. Consumer boycotts, again I don't understand the rationale. Use of worker power, he was also against that. Now, there I don't understand his rationale because a black leader who ever spoke about the possibility that blacks could use their consumer and worker power to press for their demands was not the ANC but Buthelezi. He said that we could reach a stage when we could use our worker power or our consumer power. So, as far as I was aware, he is not against those strategies in principle, but he has tended all the time to oppose them when the other groups have embarked upon. But even there sometimes with a justification where he would always say where there was no consultation. The other groups did not consult with the rest of the Inkatha membership. So that has been the programme in his strategies. I think that has been the problem of perception with his strategies all the time, he has been perceived as being against strategies of the other parties and not really initiating alternative strategies.

POM. Do you think this relates to his decision to stay out of the Patriotic Front?

OD. Well, that too I don't quite understand. I don't understand his rationale for staying out. The first time I heard that he would stay out was in his speech in the conference. For one thing, I know that he had not even yet been approached. The PAC, which was due to see his organisation in August, was supposed to, amongst other things, invite him to be a party to that Patriotic Front. But already he has taken a position and I am not sure he understands the aims of the Patriotic Front because they have not yet been explained to him by the initiators of the Front. Again that is yet another example that will be used against him, unfortunately. He is never where the others are. His immediate reaction is to condemn what the others are doing which is unfortunate. It is not a helpful perception.

POM. Your assessment of the ANC for the last year, or of the PAC? Is the PAC in danger of marginalising itself? The ANC seeming to following a very zigzag course during the year?

OD. I think that the PAC might end up marginalising themselves if they stay out permanently from the negotiating process. I think there would have to come a time when they would have to find a reason for being part of the process, because there is no longer any viable alternative, either for themselves or for the government.

OD. They tried the armed struggle together with the ANC, it did not work. The government tried apartheid, it also didn't work. So it is imperative for both sides to look for alternatives. Most sides believe they have found the alternative in negotiation. So I don't see that the PAC would make progress if it stays out of the process.

OD. The ANC has gone through a period of disorganisation in the last year since they were unbanned. They had to struggle with the problem of integrating three strands of leadership; outside leadership; leadership from jail and; the internal leadership that was the backbone of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). I think that they were also unable to move forward before they had leaders that were elected by constitutional congresses. They have now done that. They have elected their leaders and in so doing, funnily enough, they appear to have been able to involve all of the three strands of their leadership and I expect that they will now begin to put their act together. In fact it looks like they have started to do so, and hopefully there will be more rapid and purposeful progress towards constitutional talks.

POM. There was a lot of concern this time last year that the Conservative Party was gaining among whites, that if you had a whites only election again, they would perhaps get a majority of the white vote. They appear to have kind of a surfaced again.

OD. Yes, I think that the perception is that we will not have another white election and that any party that would follow a strategy based on the possibility of a white election would be following a cul-de-sac.

POM. Has the white support to the CP that appeared to be there last year been reversed?

OD. Yes, I think that they are no longer going to grow substantially in terms of membership.

POM. Do you think it has something to do with unrealistic policies like partitioning?

OD. Yes I think that has a lot to do with it. I mean people weigh policies and possible options. They realise that they will be punishing South Africa, they also realise that we have already had the last white election. We are not going to have another one. They realise that policies that are likely to generate conflict in future are not worth supporting because the name of the game in future will be reconciliation and a shared vision of the future and a common nationhood. People are begin to direct their emotions towards that goal.

POM. Two last questions. Has there been any evolution in the government's thinking of what it means by democratic structures in the new South Africa over the last 18 months?

OD. Yes, I think that there has been some evolution away from ethnic structures certainly towards a situation where the government believes that an open political process might see the NP together with its allies seriously challenging the ANC in a free and fair election. So I think they are working towards that. They realise that they are unlikely to get allies if they are still going to retain an image of the NP of the past, the party of apartheid, wedded to ethnic structures. So they are opening up and they hope, they say so, they say that they expect that they will pose a very strong challenge to the ANC and its allies in an open election.

POM. Do they still talk about 'power sharing'? Do you think by 'power sharing' they mean that they will exercise some executive authority in a future government? That they would be in a strong opposition position?

OD. I think that could be their wish but I think that some of them would realise that that is not possible. You cannot have a constitution that delivers such an arrangement unless you are talking about a government of national unity and all parties that would have a significant say in terms of the support they would have achieved. The government will have to have a say there.

POM. The government talks about there being a sharing of power and the ANC and its allies talks about a transfer of power. Which is nearer to the truth?

OD. I think there will certainly be a shift, not a transfer, a shift of power to the majority of the people. This might not necessarily be a total transfer as such. It might even be a fair distribution of political power, which would be more in line with the population make up in the country.

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.