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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Dec 1993: Desai, Barney
POM. Barney you have just been through a very arduous time, a long process over the last several months while the negotiations have lasted and run into the wee hours of the night and sometimes around the clock. What's your personal assessment of what went on at Kempton Park and how pleased or displeased you are with the end result?
BD. You will recall our previous conversations when you pressed me rather vigorously about non-participation in the negotiations. Do you also recall that at that time I made it quite clear to you that the PAC would possibly have to make uncomfortable compromises in that process because it was a non-mandated body and its main purpose as far as the regime was concerned was to share power. What has now come to pass in spite of our exit and our re-entry into the process we have found ourselves to be a lone voice propounding the good democratic cause. What has happened so far is that concession had to be made to a Constituent Assembly, elected Constituent Assembly making the constitution, an interim constitution, that a Constituent Assembly might want to do.
. We don't mind the general democratic principles and guidelines that we have to follow but we do object to enforced power sharing and by that I mean any party with 80 seats or more will have representation in the Cabinet. The Cabinet will take decisions by consensus which will mean that if the right wing were to, and it's not inconceivable, were to obtain a substantial number of seats they would sit in the Cabinet and between the centre and the right there might be conflicts that are not resolvable and therefore you would have a situation not of a government of national unity but of a government of national paralysis. You could also have a situation where apartheid City Councils at local government level have been entrenched racially, something that even I couldn't concede that the ANC could agree to. And then last night, no just before, it has unfolded whereby consensus agreement is necessary, whereby even if a completely new constitution in four or five months be put on ice for five years and the electorate will have to wait until then before they can have a proper change. So all in all we have not achieved anything near to what we want. We found one glaring omission of the TEC, and that's why we're not participating in it at the moment, is a lack of control over the security forces.
POM. There's no sub committee that deals with the security forces?
BD. There is a sub committee that deals with defence and security but the powers of control are very limited. We want more powers of control as our price for entering the TEC. At the present moment the only powers of control that we do have are on deployment or redeployment but no joint command structure.
POM. We've just been talking about the security forces.
BD. As I say we are negotiating this. Next week members of the SADF high command will go to Harare to talk to APLA, work out details of what we really want. We really do insist on joint command because we do not feel that we can accept responsibility without power and the Umtata raid convinced us that it is necessary to keep these people in check. So that's where we are at the moment. Last night, unfortunately, the Council passed a resolution which does not spell out proper details of a further amnesty. In my view in extending the date from 1990 to December 6th 1993, that's yesterday, is opening the doors on even more killers. The present method of amnesty as adopted by the Presidential Council couldn't even get through parliament. Amnesty is given, the crime is not disclosed, the person is not charged and he's forgiven for everything. Last night we fought a vigorous battle over this and we lost, facing the DP and the traditional leaders, we were the only ones to oppose this move. We think that what happened last night is tragic because it opens the way for Clive Derby-Lewis and Janus Waluz, the killers of Chris Hani, the possibility of a pardon, of amnesty.
POM. Why did the ANC not oppose this?
BD. Well I'm quite surprised, I'm quite shocked actually, I didn't sleep last night. I can't believe this. I'm not bloodthirsty Padraig, I do believe if you're going to give people amnesty you should know what you're giving them amnesty for. This is closing the door perhaps for many people who had claims and actions against the operatives of the CCB and this might bring an end to that. We, for example, have been negotiating for compensation for the killing of those youths in Umtata and they have been stalling us and they have been stalling us precisely because of this kind of deal. I am truly dismayed at the ANC agreeing to this. I think it cannot endure, not so much that people are bloodthirsty or that they try for vengeance and retribution but because it's just done in a very shabby way.
POM. I remember when I was interviewing Cyril Ramaphosa some months ago and he said that joint control over the security forces will be the key to a successful transition. I think those were almost his exact words. What you're saying is that joint control does not exist?
BD. No it doesn't.
POM. So again, it's a puzzle as to why the ANC, on what would appear to be a very important issue, simply let it go.
BD. Well they must answer for themselves. One day they will have to answer to the nation why they did what they did. I can only speculate that their quest for power is a driving force and the longer the situation continues unresolved the more the National Party and the ANC will have to answer for.
POM. Two things have been unclear to me in that six-pack deal that came out and unclear to a lot of people that I've spoken to including some of the people who supposedly negotiated that deal. One is how decisions will be made in Cabinet.
BD. By consensus.
POM. That means the NP has a veto power?
BD. Naturally. It amounts to that. They have done the same thing at local government where they guaranteed racial seats, racial minorities, 30% of the seats, and then they insist that any budget must be passed by 25% of the votes. By sleight of hand.
POM. Isn't it 75% of the votes?
BD. 75% yes. You can see there is a built-in veto there. We contended in the Negotiating Council that this was against the fundamental Bill of Rights that was just adopted so again by sleight of hand they said, well the fundamental Bill of Rights doesn't include this. So it means that that fundamental Bill of Rights can be torn up as convenience suits the two players, NP and ANC.
POM. But is that not paving the way for a government of paralysis? Even if the ANC is by far the dominant partner it simply may not find itself in a position to be able to implement its policies?
BD. This is my fear and we know that we have these enormous problems and if the government can't deal with them with some sense of urgency and if they are postponed because of this paralysis then they will only exacerbate the condition of our people and I therefore feel that the constitution, this interim constitution and this package, deal, whatever has been made, is extremely fragile and probably won't last more than two years. It's interesting also to note that whilst the ANC stood for a unitary state and caved in on regions it nevertheless stuck to one ballot and made a mockery of the whole question of regional representation. Because it is a truism of politics throughout the world that people might have a preference locally and have another preference nationally. We think that the excuse put forward by the ANC is patently false, that people don't know how to vote, very patronising. [The fact of the matter is, according to the Sunday Times and other papers, they fear that the oppressed blacks might well want to cast their votes both liberation and that would put them at a disadvantage and the calculation is 31%.] Our intelligence shows that, and this intelligence comes from their voter education programme, that there has been considerable shift towards us from their own supporters. Of course it makes a mockery of free choice.
POM. Sure, that's the biggest ...
BD. It's not democratic.
POM. I thought it would be reversed.
BD. We had no support for that. We fought and we fought very hard and so did the DP and the DP caved in you see. They thought they had got something on the Constitutional Court and after caving in and the thing went back to one ballot we couldn't shift the thing again. They had second thoughts but it was too late. There has been a lot of arm twisting behind doors.
POM. When you say arm twisting?
BD. Horse trading.
POM. So it's about power more than about democratic structures.
BD. I've learnt a lot about power.
POM. I interviewed Derek Keys yesterday and there has been much speculation that in an interim government that he might be the Finance Minister because he has done such a marvellous job for the last two years, but he said that he had convened, and the issues of GATT and the IMF and the World Bank came up, that he had convened a working group from ANC, PAC, NP, CP and that there was consensus on what the approach to these bodies would be. As I read that consensus it says that since these organisations all lay down fairly stiff conditions under which you can get loans, (i) there will be no over spending on social programmes as affirmed by the IMF; (ii) that sound fiscal policies will be pursued; (iii) that government expenditure will be kept within certain limits, and in effect he was saying all the political parties now agree on what approach must be taken towards the economy. They accept the constraints that are imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Is that true?
BD. Well let me put it to you this way, I spoke about economic policy before and without us being in touch with the World Bank we understood the realities of our own country. For example, we are near to 60% of the outer limit that the World Bank or bankers of the world would consider a good mark for lending. We're near to 60% of our GDP that we have borrowed already. Now I don't see where this money is really going to come from. I think the World Bank is playing it very cautiously, they are giving a lot of advice at the moment and some of the advice has been taken, mainly by the ANC, but with the present state of violence and our own excess borrowing I think we're chasing after shadows if we think we are going to get massive aid here from the World Bank, from industrialists. We think at the moment that unless violence is brought under control we will not attract foreign investment, private investment.
POM. Keys also said that one can develop a plan maybe over a fifteen year period or a ten year period, they already have the makings of one there before the National Economic Forum where backlogs can be progressively worked off but he says that in relation to employment that the probability of reducing unemployment is pretty low, that if it goes down by 1% a year over the next ten years that will be a miracle. He is essentially saying over 45% of the people are unemployed and that situation is going to continue even if the economy grows and even if we take care of our social backlogs because very few countries in the world today are in a position to create jobs. Europe hasn't created a new job in twenty years. Now from everything I hear what the people want most of all are jobs and you have Mr Mandela out there promising jobs.
BD. 86% of the population according to a recent survey are concerned with jobs. 86% of blacks. And one can understand that situation when you point out it's not getting better, it's getting worse. It's a catch-22 situation. If we want to be prosperous then we have to export. If we have to rely on exports to create wealth and possibly jobs then we would have to restructure industry and in the process of restructuring a lot of jobs would be shed because our productivity is just not good enough for international competition.
POM. So what yardsticks must the government of national unity give itself? The people are out there and their major expectation is in relation to jobs and this is where no party, no-one can deliver. Won't the people be not very understanding if after four or five years they look around and find about the same number unemployed or remain unemployed or becoming more like a typical third world country with one sector of the haves and one sector of the have-nots and the gap between them increases rather than diminishes over time?
BD. It's precisely what will happen. That's why I say the government of national unity has not clearly marked out what it wants. It's got this macro-economic unit allied to it while basically propounding Keynesian economics and they hope that by social spending they can create jobs, by building houses, getting American guarantees for these houses, and so forth, that in that way the social spending, improving the infrastructure, they will be able to create jobs. But that's creating jobs, not creating wealth. This is the problem. I don't envy anybody who gets into government. I think I've said this to you before, the problems would probably require a coalition of all forces in this country, all parties because the problems are so enormous and particularly since the economy is entirely in the hands of a white minority their role is very, very important and you cannot do without it. We would have preferred to see an organic political coalition rather than an enforced one because we don't know of any place in the world where this has worked. In fact where they have had enforced coalitions - Nicaragua it fell apart, Yugoslavia it fell apart. So at least two examples.
POM. Will the PAC take part in the election?
BD. At the moment we're poised to take part in the election but we would consider ourselves as the opposition.
POM. So you wouldn't join a government of national unity?
POM. OK. I want to go back to the negotiations again. When you look at the negotiations over the last three years what would you see as the major concessions and compromises made by government, by ANC and by yourselves?
BD. We have made no concessions. We have stuck to our guns. The ANC has made enormous concessions but then they haven't made a revolution. We as a liberation movement haven't made a revolution and we can understand some concessions that they are making but I think they have gone over the top.
POM. What would you list them as?
BD. Concessions on power sharing, on the sunset clause, on five years enforced coalition, in postponing elections for five years, on segregated municipalities, on one ballot for both the regions and the national elections. Those would be some of them, and on consensus decision making in Cabinet. I think what the ANC, I've said this last week, I think what the ANC have in mind is to play rugby, which is the white man's game and by sleight of hand hope to change it to soccer which is the black man's game. I predict that they will become professional rugby players.
POM. Looking at the government, do you see the government as having conceded much?
BD. Not much. The government has remained firmly a major partner out of all proportion to their support. They have been losing a lot of votes to the CP and the Volksfront.
POM. If they contested the elections, as you mentioned earlier, there is a very real possibility of their combined front gathering more votes than the National Party and ending up in second place in a position of where the Deputy President must come from their party?
BD. Yes, the other fact is that the new President would be obliged to consult his Deputy Presidents. Now I don't know what legal interpretation is going to be put on that and on consensus I can see these chaps falling out every now and then and rushing to the Constitutional Court and then we will have not a democracy but a jurisdocracy, the courts will run the country and that's unsatisfactory.
POM. My understanding from talking to members of the ANC in the negotiating team is that they will consult but after they consult if they have a majority they will simply, this is the difference between the consultations would leave it as the policy as what they want, they will simply say we have a majority, this is consensus and here we go.
BD. They will consult but what prevents a Deputy President from going to the Constitutional Court and saying, "Yes, he consulted me but he didn't listen to me"? And this provision is not merely as a matter of courtesy, it is a matter of government of national unity and if the government of national unity has any meaning then our views must not be taken too frivolously. And then where does the President end up? This is a real danger, this paralysis is a real danger. I've no doubt about that.
POM. So if you, and I've asked this of everybody since the interim constitution went through, if you had to say on a scale of one to ten where one represents great dissatisfaction with the new package of arrangements and ten would represent great satisfaction with what came out of Kempton Park, where would you lie?
BD. I would go for about two because we did tackle some human rights issues, we did tackle the question of discrimination, we did tackle the question of gender equality, we did tackle the question of religious equality, we did tackle the question, albeit unsatisfactorily, of the language problem. So there are some plusses. But why I go for such a low figure as two is because I'm concerned with government and government functioning. It's all very well to have a constitution that makes space for the exercise of human rights, fundamental human rights, but if those fundamental human rights can be interfered with then I'm afraid that even that gain would be less.
POM. Which the constitution provides for, that the rights can be limited?
BD. Yes it's got a limitation clause. And then of course another point of satisfaction would be the fact that we scrapped a lot of repressive laws. We scrapped detention without trial but the negative side of it is that the regime and the ANC agreed to introduce emergency legislation which will suspend many clauses of the Bill of Rights.
POM. Does this emergency legislation allow for detention without trial?
POM. It does? So in a sense it allows everything that was there before. Let me turn for a second to Buthelezi and the Freedom Alliance. Do you think Buthelezi has the capacity to act as a real spoiler in that if he does not contest the elections that there is no possibility of having free and fair elections in Natal, that there will be an ongoing war between the ANC or a new army of the new South Africa and elements of the KwaZulu Police and the warlords, or do you think by opting not to contest he is marginalising himself?
BD. Yes but that question of contesting or not contesting is very much of an issue still. So he hasn't ruled that out completely. I mean the Inkatha party hasn't ruled it out. In fact they said last week that they would contest. If they do contest that would be a welcome move. If they don't contest then we can expect destruction. But even if they do contest I think the warring factions, that's Inkatha and the ANC, will be at each other's throats. We have already, unfortunately, experienced indications that this intolerance and intimidation is starting again. This comes from the ANC side where in a couple of cases in the Eastern Cape some of our people have been killed.
POM. There used to be at one point great antagonism between ANC supporters and PAC supporters in the Eastern Cape.
BD. A member of the civics in the Eastern Cape was recently necklaced and before he died he named the people who were responsible. He had crossed the floor to the PAC from the ANC. Very soon thereafter a senior member of our executive, the oldest man of our executive, his son was killed the following week. Then there was a hand grenade attack on our supporters near Fort Hare. So the moment we gather any kind of strength the intolerance rears its head, people have territorial claims.
POM. Some people have said to me that it's more important to have an election on the 27th April even if it takes place in the face of high levels of intimidation and violence, that as long as the result confers a sufficient degree of legitimacy on an incoming government it's more important than waiting for an ideal time when you might have free and fair elections in the sense that international observers use the phrase because that time is simply never going to come.
BD. Which brings me back to another point. The plusses are also in keeping with the PAC's initial policy which I explained to you almost four years ago. We've got an Independent Electoral Commission, Independent Media Commission, Independent Broadcasting Authority, those are advances that we recognise as being positive. Dealing with the question of even if there is intimidation and a low turn out there will be some form of legitimacy, that is an open question because the elections have to be certified as being fair and free and if that Electoral Commission does not certify it as fair and free then we have a crisis situation on our hands, we have to go to the polls again.
POM. So you would see more of an emphasis being put on legitimacy as distinct from fair and free?
BD. Throughout our deliberations we've used not the word legitimacy but we've used the words fair and free elections.
POM. Has the Negotiating Council defined what free and fair elections are?
BD. It's the Electoral Act that does that. It rules out fraud, intimidation, violence, etc., so there's a great danger that there might not be a certification. I guess I sound very pessimistic.
POM. Yes, but where does all this leave the country? If you're in parliament today, accolades about this historic day and sharing of power and the transition is really under way, yet you sit here and paint a picture of a constitution that's deeply flawed and can give rise to endless arguments before the Constitutional Court, of a government structure that's flawed because it doesn't spell out how decisions are made or the way decisions are made can be contested by anyone in the coalition before the court. You will have, possibly if Buthelezi stays outside, violence from his end.
BD. Violence from the right wing.
POM. Violence from the right wing. Which is the greater threat?
BD. The right wing.
POM. A number of people have used the IRA analogy, the IRA have no more than about fifty active operatives yet they tie down 30,000 troops and are responsible for draconian laws of detention and of terrorism being imposed on the community. Could you see a similar situation arise here? It doesn't take too many of them if they have the skill or the training ...
BD. Which they have.
POM. - to plant bombs and disrupt.
BD. There are many of them and they have the skills and the training and they have the weaponry and their potential for creating disruption is enormous. If anybody thinks they can deal with the right wing in this country through a state of emergency that's also a sad miscalculation.
POM. If a state of emergency were declared they would go for the people who are the victims of the state of emergency. So I would say, whither South Africa?
BD. The government of national paralysis collapses, we have fresh elections and people have fresh insights into the whole question of proper government and they elect a party on a new constitution that is less hamstrung to the wheeling and dealing that has occurred in the making of this constitution.
POM. When you say wheeling and dealing, has that surprised you? Could you give me an example of the kind of wheeling and dealing?
BD. For example the two ballot one. The regime supported two ballots but then they had to get this five year thing, package, from the ANC, they had to get consensus from the ANC in Cabinet so they dropped the two ballots.
POM. Who are the people there who impressed you in terms of their negotiating skills or their management of the process?
BD. I think Pravin Gordhan comes out as a very skilful manager of the floor. He's a member of the Congress Alliance and he's always chaired the Council in a way that can only benefit the Congress Alliance. I think the Minister of Home Affairs is quite an able negotiator, Danie Schutte, so is Cyril Ramaphosa. I think that Eglin and Andrew of the DP also have a lot of merit on their side and then of course I must say that the PAC gave it a certain tone of what they call purists.
POM. You were operating as the conscience of the Council.
BD. So we had to make people think all the time about what they were doing and I think we did succeed but there are so many vested interests that we couldn't ...
POM. With regard to the renunciation of the armed struggle which has been an ongoing issue between the PAC and the government, at what point in those negotiations do things stand?
BD. We meet them next week in Harare to work out, to see whether we can work out some more palatable form of joint control. If we can work that one out then perhaps we can get into the TEC. The only reason we want to get into the TEC is to have some control over the process as a whole.
POM. So if you've got joint control over the security forces that would be sufficient for ...
BD. That would make things palatable.
POM. - APLA to say.
BD. Yes, cessation of hostilities. We'll have to work that one out.
POM. I'll ask you one more question because it created quite a furore in the United States or among United States officials and that was over the death of Amy Biehl which a lot of people were surprised that the PAC didn't come out and condemn the killing.
BD. We did.
POM. You did?
BD. Our officials here in the Western Cape did. This was not a planned thing. We had no idea that Amy Biehl was coming through at a particular time. These were youngsters. Many of them who were not our members wore our T-shirts or shouted slogans. It's not part of our policy to indulge in the murder of civilians. In fact if you look at the case carefully you will find that Amy Biehl was robbed, her watch was taken from her, other things were taken from her. No, we would not countenance this kind of activity. We attacked the Eikenhof murders which were put at our doorstep and it turned out that MK were arrested for it. But we are demonised, the ANC is not. That's most unfair.
POM. What accounts for that? What accounts for the ANC ...?
BD. The perception here amongst media generally, amongst white reporters in particular, is that we are racists.
POM. That you are racists? Here is a question that I asked first of Clarence Makwetu. At the United Nations he said, "There is genocide of the African people in South Africa. The attempt to reduce the African population takes place against a massive recruitment of white emigrants from Eastern Europe. This must be stopped." What would you point to as evidence of that taking place?
BD. 8000 blacks have died since 1990. I am saying, I don't necessarily agree that this is a deliberate policy of genocide, that is an interpretation that is open to our members to give. It is a democratic organisation. We don't all share the same analysis of what is happening here but I would say with 8000 people killed in a matter of four years that must raise eyebrows as to what is the reason for this.
POM. If you enter into a situation where you have total control over the security forces and you come into the TEC, do you think that will result in the violence being significantly reduced or is that violence going to continue one way or another, it will have a dynamic of its own?
BD. I want to say one thing, we are minimally involved in the violence in this country and that is common cause. If you interviewed the Minister of Police he will tell you that.
POM. Do you see it as being primarily political rivalry between ANC and IFP?
BD. A lot of it is state inspired and some of it is political rivalry and the rest of it ordinary criminal activity masquerading as political.
POM. The ANC is very successful in selling the line that the government or its agents either individually or collectively under some plan have been responsible for almost all of the violence. Do you think it has acknowledged its own role in the violence?
BD. It has.
POM. It has acknowledged its own role? Sufficiently?
BD. Not sufficiently but it has. Chris Hani said before he died, "Our self defence units are running wild and they are robbing, they are raping, they are killing, this is unacceptable to us."
POM. What impact did his death have on the political process here?
BD. It hardened black attitudes considerably and I don't think they are going to be very pleased when they consider the full implications of what happened last night, that Derby-Lewis and the Pole might get away with it. I don't think it's going to do them any good despite Joe Slovo's protestations that they would never be released. How he can say that I don't know because a bill would then need an exclusive clause that this applies to everybody but Clive Derby-Lewis and Waluz, and they said it was unthinkable. Last week on Monday they said it was unthinkable and tonight they do it.
POM. Could you go back on certain sets of criteria which the government had to meet before you would participate in elections. Have most of those criteria been fulfilled at this point?
BD. I wouldn't say that. We have had many meetings outside the country, that was one of the things we wanted.
POM. That happened.
BD. Then we participated in negotiations here. We have achieved the IBA, there's been a Media Commission, there's been an Electoral Commission. That is something that was on our list of our demands. We have not achieved joint control of the security forces and that is what we are presently in negotiations about.
POM. If it were a situation of you not getting joint control of the security forces you will not participate in the TEC but you would participate in the elections?
BD. I think fairly well. I think the country is in for somewhat of a surprise.
POM. On the issue of federalism where does the party stand on that?
BD. We are for a unitary state because we feel that we need a strong central government to really take charge of the economy of this country without unduly being blocked at a lower level. I personally feel that this period should not last for longer than it takes us to get on to our feet, maybe five years, and then we should seriously consider proper devolution of power through the provinces. We are not against bringing democracy to the people.
POM. What has been agreed to at the moment, which the Freedom Alliance rejects, is not federalism at all actually. The government and the ANC say its federalism. Where would you classify it, as a kind of weak compromise in between or essentially a unitary state being the major thing?
BD. As it stands at the moment it's essentially a unitary state. And there they've caved in again. They've got concurrent powers in many respects for both provinces and central government and there again I see conflict arising. Wherever power is not clearly defined as to whose province it comes into then you are bound to have conflict of interests and you are bound to have, again, an enormous amount of litigation.
POM. I guess the judges are going to be pretty busy.
BD. I said to you this is not a democracy we are building here, it's a jurisdocracy, everybody will be very busy who belongs to the legal profession, probably including me. Padraig, I have to leave.
POM. I was just going to ask you about the Constitutional Court. Why would the government, given present survey results, it seems at this point that the ANC is going to get a majority and the next State President will be Nelson Mandela, why would the NP agree to leaving the power to appoint most members of the Constitutional Court to the State President?
BD. Well they hope that the State President would be obliged to follow the recommendations of the Judicial Commission. This was the compromise that the DP settled on. The Judicial Commission would make the recommendations and I think they hope that the Judicial Committee will be favourably disposed towards them. Then they will say to the State President, but the constitution says that you can make recommendations that are different to what these people recommend. So they think that they have got that sewn up.
POM. My last question would be one that I asked some years back. This was a dual process. One was about political empowerment and the other was about economic empowerment. It would seem to me that the government has won the battle on the economic side, that most of the economics would be the way that it could access the conditions of the international community and the World Bank and the IMF and that the more radical economic policies, whether it's nationalisation or redistribution of land or whatever which were being talked about three or four years ago are not about to happen. In that regard the government has preserved its economic power and privilege of its community. Would that be correct?
POM. So the question is which is more important, political enfranchisement or holding on to economic power? Whites are holding on to economic power so to that extent they ...
BD. Old politics is economics.