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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
10 Oct 1997: Felgate, Walter
POM. Mr Felgate, let me get into the questions before I get into my pocket. This has been a fairly traumatic period for you. Could you maybe do a little bit of background for me first on saying why you decided to resign from the IFP and what were the series of events that led you to make that decision after such a long association with the IFP and being such a key figure in it?
WF. There is an obvious mixture of hard political circumstantial and personal factors which go into the mix of things which finally culminated in the decision that I did make, the kind of decision I made. On the political side it became very clear to me in the World Trade Centre that Buthelezi's assumption that the World Trade Centre could not go on without him and they could not have a constitution if he did not participate proved false. It also proved false that he could not stop the 1994 elections and he assumed that if he held out the 1994 election just could not take place and even if it could take place in the rest of South Africa it could not take place in KwaZulu/Natal. Very clearly once the initial hurdle had been jumped by other parties going on at the World Trade Centre without him it was easier for them to jump the next hurdle of having an election without him and having a future without him. So by the end of the CODESA period I had learnt these lessons and by the time we got to 1994 it was clear that the liberation struggle phase of the country dramatically changed into an electoral parliamentary phase and that in the parliamentary struggle there was no room for the kind of tactics and strategies that we had adopted during the World Trade Centre. Confrontationalism as far as what my position was of being recalcitrant and not moving from there was not the kind of tactics and strategy one should employ in parliament.
POM. But one would say that you were one of the authors of confrontationalism in terms of the constitutional negotiations.
WF. Be that as it may, I'm talking about hindsight wisdom and I think we must leave that as a separate conversation, a conversation on whether I was doing what I was doing because I was serving Buthelezi and wanted to do what I was doing and I was being true to my charge, or the extent to which I influenced him to be doing what he was doing and then I did what he told me to do. That's a topic that's very irritating to me, the assumption that I could lead Buthelezi, the assumption that I could author 20 years of Buthelezi's political experience and IFP experience is totally unjustified in anybody's book. So we will leave that one aside for a moment. We can come back to it if there is time.
. Hindsight, IFP hindsight is what I'm talking about relative to parliament in 1994 and we then had to face whether we continued in the constitution making process to draw up a final constitution. I said yes. At the beginning of 1995 I was unfortunately off with a by-pass operation and was out of commission for some time. The special general conference which was held to decide whether or not to continue in the constitution making process in Cape Town took place. I was phoned from the conference and I said very clearly we should and we have to participate in the constitution making process. The decision was to leave the constitution making process. I opposed that. When it came to the finalisation of the constitution I fought for the return of the IFP to participate in its finalisation after the Constitutional Court had made its findings known. I headed a negotiation team ostensibly authorised to explore whether or not it was worth our while to return to the constitutional finalisation process. That team I headed was a heavyweight team of IFP people. I had on that team Ben Ngubane, Sipho Mzimela, Lionel Mtshali, Peter Smith, and one or two others. You couldn't have got a much more heavyweight team than I took to Cape Town for the finalisation of the constitution.
. We got there and found that the ANC had strategised so that each party would have the opportunity of addressing one or two major issues it was concerned about in the finalisation to meet the requirements of the Constitutional Court. There was very clearly no prospect of raising fundamental issues and going back to square one which technically and politically and constitutionally one could have done. I reported accordingly and I suggested to Buthelezi that the issue that we should concentrate on was the issue of local government in rural KwaZulu tribal areas. That was the issue which was confounding everyone. He agreed and the team then went on ahead and ended up with detailed negotiations with a top ANC team that consisted of people like Valli Moosa, Johnny de Lange, Fink Haysom, a very top constitutional team. After a lot of hard work and working right through the nights we ended up with a compromise proposal which was neither authorised by the principals of the ANC nor the IFP. We both decided to take the compromise back to our principals. We finished there on the Thursday, on the Sunday there was a special meeting of the IFP National Council and Buthelezi rejected the compromise outright. Not one single member of the team that produced the compromise stood up to defend it so I was left isolated defending the constitutional compromise which would have put the IFP in a very much more powerful position than it's now in. That was one stark experience.
POM. Now this stark experience of the exercise of one man's power, absolute veto - ?
WF. What actually took place is, and I've got the document here, a year earlier it had become very clear to me that I could no longer work with Mario Ambrosini because I was working for a parliamentary democracy, I was working for the IFP's role in a parliamentary democracy and he was bent on producing as much confrontation as he could. So I cut him out of the constitutional work I was doing. He wrote to Buthelezi panning the nature of the compromise and Buthelezi adopted his view and rejected it.
POM. That was on local government?
WF. On local government in rural areas. Now the previous year, the latter part of 1995 after I had recovered from the heart transplant, I was recalled to the National Council which I hadn't attended for some months and I was told by Buthelezi that I had to take charge of the provincial constitution making process because it was going off track and we were losing the initiatives. So I returned from Cape Town, absented myself from duties there, and took over the chairmanship of the IFP constitutional team in the province to thrash out a provincial constitutional compromise. I first had to clear all the ground which I did, I wiped the slate clean of all the negotiations that had taken place. That raised a great deal of animosity but it had to be done and I started off with a clean slate and worked at the production of a constitutional proposal which everybody would accept. I first had very long tedious negotiations with the National Party because they were the third strongest party after the IFP and the ANC and we needed their votes if we were going to get a two thirds majority. I then worked hard on the DP and step by step we got to the position where it was touch and go whether the IFP could get a provincial constitution despite anything that the ANC could have wanted to do. The Asian vote that would have made the difference between a two thirds majority or not was the Rajbansi vote and it was quite clear that we would never get his vote.
POM. Whose vote?
WF. Rajbansi. Asian, minority vote, he only had one seat in the parliament but you needed that one vote. If you've only got a majority of one and needed a two thirds majority for anything you had to get his vote. When the ANC realised the extent to which getting a provincial constitution was possibly in sight, achievable without them, we started negotiating a compromise with the ANC. A compromise was eventually reached on all matters, or most matters except a very few, and one of them was the question of local government in tribal areas. The compromise we reached was an agreement between us that this matter would not be finalised in the drafting of this provincial constitution, it would be left as an outstanding matter and we would establish a Constitutional Commission which would then pursue further negotiations on that front. I had a deadline to meet eventually and Buthelezi said if we do not get a constitution by X date I must scrap the whole process because to get a provincial constitution we had to finalise it while the interim South African constitution was in operation. Once a new constitution had been adopted your latitude of drawing up a provincial constitution was severely limited, or would be severely limited. So I had applied a deadline, on Thursday night I reached a compromise, we came to agreement. I called the provincial caucus together at 11 o'clock that night, something like 33 people I think attended out of the caucus. There were three abstentions and one vote against. We went back to the ANC and said that that I had got the backing of my caucus, we can finalise, and we spent the rest of the night finalising. At five o'clock in the morning I reconvened the caucus and said we finalised the constitution, this is the proposal. I put it to them and it was accepted by the same majority.
. Again on the Sunday we had a meeting of the National Council and the National Council rejected the constitution outright. Again on the initiative of Buthelezi, again at the draft of a comment by Mario Ambrosini, and again I was left. I think on that occasion there were two people who supported me on the National Council and the rest voted against. So on the Thursday twice the IFP caucus voted for a position and they saw Buthelezi's stand on Sunday and the very same people voted against it. It became clear to me that there is no way in which I could have swung those constitutional issues. It might have been because I was ineffective, I was stupid, I didn't do my job properly and I just didn't have the capacity to do it. I don't think anybody could have done it.
POM. Well this comes maybe because - you got the last transcript of our conversation did you not?
POM. And I hope that you can go through it and refine it because some bits are a little bit unclear as to which constitution we are talking about between interim constitutions, final constitutions and provincial constitutions. You were a close confidant of a man for 15 years, or you were called a close confidant, and you decide not just to leave the party but to leave with a bang.
WF. Yes, it's become clear to me those two events were of primary importance. I tried to speak with Buthelezi obviously on these very matters in personal conversation and it became clear to me that there was no talking to the man. I then resorted to writing to him. I drafted, personally from me to him, memos on the need to bring about a change in strategy of the IFP and to enter the parliamentary democratic mode and move on to the question of winning voters because you're not going to win voters by confrontation. People don't want that kind of party and the IFP election polls are showing that. His written responses to me were abysmally bad, a personal attack, irrational and as a result of that I said that for me the IFP is a dead end.
POM. When did that realisation first hit you with a certain degree of definiteness?
WF. Oh, July this year after the annual general meeting had taken place and there was no sign in that AGM of Buthelezi moving the IFP in the direction of parliamentary democracy. Now when one reaches that kind of situation, that nasty thing called hindsight wisdom starts playing on your mind and you look back, you look back and you see how many times it has actually happened. And it's become clear to me that the issue of local government and with Buthelezi's interest in gaining the perpetuation of a tribal system of governance in rural areas in 1999 he is going to become a nobody in the rest of South Africa. His minority of 6% that he has in the Gauteng is going to dwindle to probably something like 2%. People are just not voting for Buthelezi. In the Western Cape he won't even get 1% vote. In Mpumalanga he won't get 1%, in the rest of the country he'll get nothing. KwaZulu/Natal I think he's going to possibly do better than the ANC, it will be a close fight. If he wins the KwaZulu/Natal election, comes back to this province, because he can't stay in Cape Town as an ordinary member of parliament and there will be no cabinet post, no status, he will come back and will become the premier of this province committed to fight for the retention of the tribal system of governance. He knows that he may well not win that one. Between now and 1999 he will have to build up resistance amongst rank and file IFP members, particularly amongst the Amakosi, to resist the holding of elections in rural tribal areas for elected local government.
POM. Resistance is increasing among the Amakosi?
WF. He will have to increase that resistance otherwise elections will be held and he will be out. So the only threat he's now got is elections won't take place. He hasn't said so, I'm not quoting him, I'm not saying that's what he said. I'm predicting that that's the position he's been driven to. He can't say to the Amakosi, "Sorry guys, I've been wrong." He's got too much invested in saying, "I'm right." He will fight for them and he told me in writing that he will die rather than capitulate on this one. When I remind him that the only struggle left for the IFP is a parliamentary struggle his words were, and I quote him, "What then, Sinn Fein?"
POM. Sinn Fein? I deal with them all the time. It kind of makes it personal. The Sinn Fein/IRA option.
WF. And he's saying that the IRA fought for principle without caring two hoots whether they got in or could get in to 10 Downing Street, so why should he care whether he gets into parliament. He's got a fight on his hands, he's talking that kind of language. In this province that means we're gravitating towards a war of attrition. It can't happen. He cannot win the 1999 election, he must be stopped because if he is the opposition party in 1999 and the Amakosi see that he's failed, he's not even controlling the province any more, then it will be easier to tackle the question. If he wins the 1999 election he is premier of a province and he still promises the Amakosi that he will get them their tribal authority perpetuated, they will follow him. There will be no breaking those ranks. So to me it has become clear that he just must be stopped.
POM. If he loses the election he goes into the hinterland and does he actually lead an opposition from there?
WF. I don't know what his options will then be, he talks of an IRA option but I don't know what he has in mind.
POM. Did he put this in writing to you?
POM. About following an IRA/Sinn Fein option?
POM. They would not be thrilled to hear that. I don't think exactly Chief Buthelezi is one of the people they identify with in terms of -
WF. I've got it in black and white, in his own handwriting. So having decided that I had played my role in the IFP, I couldn't achieve anything, and I had to do what I could, I thought, to stop the process going that far. The extent to which I was responsible for the development of IFP hard-line thinking, to that extent I owe it to South Africa to undo that which should not have been done in the way it was done, with hindsight wisdom. And the only way for me to do it is to join the ANC. There I've got a platform, I can make an effective contribution towards an IFP defeat in the 1999 elections.
POM. If you were to characterise your relationship with Chief Buthelezi over the years, would it have been close, friendly, confidant, professional, adviser?
WF. All of those, all of those. I always experienced him as a personal friend. We shared a great many very personal things together. I was always a confidant. He always discussed major issues with me. Right from the early days I was probably the only one in the IFP who could have actually flaming rows with him because he was my friend, he wasn't just some idolised leader out there, and people know that is the case and he knows it's the case. I have always been able to speak straight because there was friendship added to the professional side of our relationship. So it's with a great deal of sadness, but Buthelezi's thinking just has deteriorated.
POM. What happened? I'll put this in a context. I've talked to a number of prominent people in the IFP in the last couple of weeks and I've talked to Chief Buthelezi himself, but the people I have talked to have said we're getting out, we're getting scared. The kind of manner in which he's behaving leaves some of us in fear of our lives and it's simply not - you know.
WF. That's one of the other reasons.
POM. Has there been a change in personality over the years that has been related to his fortune in political events?
WF. One really doesn't want to ascribe a man's political behaviour and his irrationality to personality factors. That's foul-mouthing somebody. I don't want to do that. All I know is that he has ceased to have the capacity to hear what's said, he only wants to hear what he wants to hear and everything must be done to his dictates. Over the years, in the 1983, 1984 period he was the main man, newsmaker of the year, he was getting honorary doctorates across the world, he was acclaimed, people giving him peace awards. By 1986, 1987 the polar cap started moving down and relationships started icing. And of course in 1986, 1987 the South African government had started negotiating with Mandela in jail, businessmen had started meeting the ANC in Lusaka, churchmen had done so, Afrikaners were doing so. The whole gravitation was the recognition that you had to deal with the ANC, it was very, very important. He reconceived himself as the natural first statesman of the year, of the new South Africa, he became the Premier or the State President. To find himself only a 10% party with diminishing support, I think hit him very deeply and he can't recover from it.
POM. So is there a peculiar irony here that he campaigned in a sense for the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC as long as he thought they were things that were never going to happen?
WF. No, no. Also be careful, the campaigning for the release of Mandela amounts to possibly ten demands to the South African government to release Mandela otherwise I won't talk about constitutionalism. There was no campaigning in terms of generating public opinion and building up pressure. It was purely a statement, "I will not enter the constitutional negotiations with your government unless you release Mandela." He was fairly convinced that the sanctions that the ANC supported, the armed struggle they supported were wrong.
POM. You were saying that he was?
WF. He believed that ordinary South Africans did not want the armed struggle, they did not want sanctions, they blamed the ANC for their joblessness and that when the first election came he would be in a much stronger position than the ANC. Also he never could have predicted, none of us predicted as late as 1989, 1990 what the ANC would do when they returned home. The fact that the ANC came back and has adopted a totally pragmatic approach to government and to issues and not being ideologically driven into making absurd decisions for the country, nobody could have foreseen the rationality of the ANC government that would come to power. So not only was there an electoral backlash against what he himself did and in support of what the ANC did, there is also a continuing electoral backlash against what he's done since. So this has made him bitter, angry and I think politically irrational. There is no way anybody with Buthelezi's innate searing intelligence, and he's frightfully intelligent, could possibly assume that you can win the constitutional issue on local government. To get what he wants you would have to scrap the first chapter on the principles of the constitution, just scrap it. Secondly, you would have to scrap many of the Bill of Rights clauses. You would also have to go the route of 'deemed to be', you would have to deem a traditional rural council to be elected if so-and-so. Now none of those can possibly take place. It's inconceivable that you can have a negotiating position at that cost to the other side. The ANC just cannot capitulate to that extent. So he can't win.
POM. But the Constitutional Court would have to adjudge these issues, not the ANC?
WF. Yes. So it's a total no-win situation he's moved himself in to. He's got his back to the wall and it's totally irrational. It can't take place politically, it can't take place on the ground. Life will go on without him and there will be elected councils in tribal areas. That's going to take place. There can't be anything else in all reality. And you can't get that through to him. He can't see it. He still believes in the ideal of having traditional tribal councils or hereditary chiefs being given the full powers of all local government bodies or municipalities. That's what he wants, powers without elections. That can't take place.
POM. Just again to get a background, you obviously began from a position of admiring, of having admired the man for many reasons and that, over a period of time, has changed. What would you point to, like I dealing with you one on one when I begin to realise either you're not the person you were or you don't listen or you have become dictatorial or authoritarian, when you said in your speech (which I didn't get a copy of yet) to the SAIRR where speeches are written in advance of the National Council's meetings, where resolutions were drafted in advance and that you drafted the resolutions yourself and then they were really rubber-stamped so that when he says, "I do everything only because it's after a consultation process with the structures of my party", you're really talking about a charade. But then you were participating in that charade too. So what was the nature of your complicated relationship that led you down one path and then made you move very much in a different direction? And again I must say that, as I go back to our last interview, your statements that the IFP is the only party that can stop the ANC, they don't understand the strength of the IFP in the rural areas, the Amakosi will be unrelentingly always behind Buthelezi. That's 1996.
WF. Look, I speak to you as an IFP leader doing what I was doing. How else could I put the situation to you? I had to do it as persuasively as I could. There's a very important element in the politics of liberation struggles, revolutionism, the extent to which leaders can consult are minimal and the extent to which they do consult is minimal. The ANC in 20 years of exile had two consultations. They made decisions and Oliver Tambo had to make decisions. There is that whole aura of charismatic leadership, Kaunda, Nyerere or whoever you are. That's the way politics run, that's the way liberation movements work, that's the way political organisations go. You believe that your leader is some kind of personification of the people he leads, you believe he knows he's in touch, he's got a gut feeling and he's the right man and he's prophetic and if you just follow him it will be all right. It's there in the very nature of politics. Now to analysts looking on from outside they haven't experienced that, perhaps haven't even thought about it overly much, it was a strange kind of thing to experience.
. So one's belief in Buthelezi and eventually being proved right is not because he's got democracy behind him. There was no democracy in the ANC, there was no democracy in the PAC, there was no democracy in the IFP prior to 1990. But when we adopted the first 1990 IFP constitution to turn the party into a political party, that's when my fight started. In the very year, 1990, in which we adopted the constitution I pleaded for and demanded for my portfolios a position inside the National Council that we cannot hold an annual general meeting until we've had elections. We had never had an election, the National Council is totally unelected, it is appointed by Buthelezi. The 1990 constitution and the subsequent 1995 constitutional amendments to it called for the establishment of an executive. There has never been an executive, there is not now an executive. There has never been an elected executive. The Youth Brigade leaders were appointed by Buthelezi and rubber stamped by congresses. This year for the first time there was a bit of a rumble in the Youth Brigade. I don't know what's going to happen in the Women's Brigade. But that was the nature of the man, that was the nature of the organisation and in the 1970s, 1980s, who was there that could fight apartheid other than Buthelezi and the ANC? You had to choose between the one and the other.
. I had no choice left because when in the early 1970s I joined the Christian Institute (Beyers Naudé) I had never met Buthelezi. I was then African Affairs Adviser to Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation and my charge was to remedy the Phalaborwa Mining Company situation. I went there and I established a panel to review labour policies and social responsibility policies. Beyers Naudé, Buthelezi, Bennie Gwaba, myself and so on. That's how I began working with Buthelezi. That's where I met Beyers Naudé. Beyers Naudé and Buthelezi were close, they were friends. They decided that they must do whatever they can do to eliminate the 1970s black on black confrontationalism and violence, so I was drawn into that. I shuttlecocked between Beyers Naudé, Buthelezi and Oliver Tambo in exile. I was the messenger between Beyers and Oliver Tambo and Buthelezi and Oliver Tambo on how we were going to go together, where we're going to put things together and how we were going to work together. That was from an ANC ticket, I wasn't IFP then. 1976 came, the ANC adopted a totally different approach, they could see that the 1960s attitude of saying that any involvement in internal democratic developments of South Africa would only detract from the armed struggle and therefore they could not do it. They saw 1976 and they saw the rise of Black Consciousness, the rise of youth power and they recognised that they just had to become involved and they did become involved and they established a union, COSATU. But during that period of 1976 - 1978 there were intense discussions between the IFP and the ANC.
POM. This is 1976 - 1978?
WF. 1976 - 1978. In 1978 I set up a top leaders' meeting between the IFP and ANC in Stockholm. Everything was agreed. Oliver Tambo would bring his National Executive guys and Buthelezi would bring his top lieutenants.
POM. This is in Stockholm in 1978?
WF. Yes. Oliver Tambo withdrew from the meeting because he was under pressure not to give Buthelezi the recognition of meeting him on a one-to-one basis as though they were equals, and left Buthelezi to deal with his lieutenants. Buthelezi withdrew, the rest of us had already arrived and were waiting for them to arrive and they didn't arrive so we aborted the meeting and that meeting was then again worked for and was scheduled and took place in 1979.
POM. Was this the meeting in London?
WF. That meeting then took place and that was the final rift between Buthelezi and Tambo, the IFP and the ANC, and Oliver Tambo told me very clearly and very simply that I must continue doing what I'm doing but I must use my position to undermine the IFP and Buthelezi.
POM. Is this the source of the story in the Mail & Guardian that you belonged to the ANC?
POM. Did you belong? I thought whites couldn't join the ANC until 1985.
WF. No, I was a member of - as soon as possible I became a member of Okhela, Breytenbach's outfit which was developing as white revolutionary subsidiary of the ANC.
POM. When did you become a member of that?
WF. 1977 I think it was.
POM. So here's the contradiction. Oliver Tambo gave you an instruction to undermine the IFP in some way and you come back and become one of the leading lights and close confidant of Chief Buthelezi, you are one of the authors of confrontational politics, you go on record again and again saying that the objective of the ANC is to destroy the IFP and establish a one-party state. How do all these contradictions come together?
WF. They don't come together, they're not contradictions. They don't come together, you can't rationalise your life with a nice woven cloth. You stop, you hit stone walls, you reassess, you start looking back, you've got hindsight wisdom which you didn't have in those years and you make up your mind and you make moves.
POM. But Oliver Tambo said to you, took you aside and said, "Walter" -
WF. I was fighting with Beyers and Buthelezi and Tambo and Steve Biko to bring about reconciled black politics. I believed Buthelezi had a role to play. That was why I was doing it. So when Oliver Tambo said destroy Buthelezi, I believed Buthelezi had a positive role to play, so it wasn't as though Buthelezi was a nothing in my mind, Buthelezi was a vital figure and I think he would have been an essential complimentary force to Oliver Tambo's forces. I think that would have been ideal for South Africa.
POM. Were Biko and Buthelezi close?
WF. No. Biko had told Buthelezi that if he, Buthelezi, resigned as a homeland leader, kept Inkatha, he, Biko, would follow Buthelezi and he would bring the rest of South Africa behind him. But while he was a homeland leader Biko totally rejected him. But I couldn't reconcile my own principles and morality of working with Beyers and Gatsha and Biko and Tambo to bring about reconciliation. I took a hell of a lot of risks in doing that. I crossed borders on my feet at night when nobody was looking. I got foreign passports, travelled round the world doing this shuttlecocking, ducking and hiding. You don't take those kind of risks because you're doing something lightly. You're doing something because you've got a fundamental belief in what you're doing. Then to be told that no I must continue doing it, pose as I am posing, destroy Buthelezi, I couldn't do it rightly or wrongly. And I believed Buthelezi had a role to play. I was thrust into the Buthelezi camp in one real sense.
POM. You still were involved in all this? Peace in terms of - Tambo was portrayed as being a man of peace who abhorred violence and was only reluctantly ever brought on to the armed struggle. Buthelezi was opposed to the armed struggle yet accusations were made about paramilitary units attached to him, which you won't talk about because that's for you with the Truth Commission. Were people playing for power rather than for principle?
WF. I'm grappling with this at the moment and I shouldn't even be talking about this because I'm still grappling with this.
POM. Well nothing will be published until the 2000 and we may all be dead and gone and as the Irish would say, 'with O'Leary in the grave'. You will get a copy back from me.
WF. It's very, very easy to do what Buthelezi did and stand on the principle of non-violence because he opposed the armed struggle, because he believed the people of this country didn't want the armed struggle and they were sick and tired of disinvestment and you had to come to some kind of settlement with the South African government. So you stand on principle. There's a principle you stand on because it's a principle but also because you believe it's going to pay dividends once the elections come and once there's voting. You will be their hero because you didn't do those things that people didn't want you to do. But when that's threatened and you get closer and closer to having to say the means justify the end, principle becomes another thing. So the will to win is not hunger for power, it's a commitment to win.
POM. That prospectus is not very different than the analogy he makes with the IRA and Sinn Fein, their commitment is unrelenting, principle is everything. But I don't see that in his tactics, maybe they're learning now. But it's like Britain must get out of Ireland, there's only one way to do it and that is through armed struggle relentlessly going on, Ireland and Britain, and politics are secondary to the armed struggle. Is Buthelezi moving in that direction of saying that?
WF. It's very early.
POM. What did he mean by, when he made the analogy with the IRA and Sinn Fein, what was the context of it? That you have it both ways? You can fight elections and you can have a paramilitary arm?
WF. No, I was arguing in my correspondence with him that the days of confrontationism are gone.
POM. This is in 1996?
WF. 1996. Last year. The days of confrontationism are gone. Parliamentary democracy is the only struggle we've got left. We must change IFP tactics. Shell House marches, I said, are no good any more. That does the IFP damage. I said it's a myth that we've got IFP voters and ANC voters. There are voters in a pond and the ANC fish in that pond and the IFP fish in that pond. That's the image I used. And you've got to catch those fish and you won't catch those fish if you don't have a strategy that the people adopt. People don't want your strategy of confrontation. And I pointed out to him that there was no future for a future based on the Amakosi winning through and that he would have to make concessions on those. And it's in response to those kind of pressures that he was saying that he doesn't care if he loses elections and the IRA didn't care, they fought on principle regardless of the fact that they would never get into 10 Downing Street. That was his response, in that context.
POM. So is the danger of the man that he believes relentlessly in his concept of principle?
WF. The danger of the man is that he abandons principle whenever it needs to be done. In the 1994 election he put his face against the election until April of that year. I was running a training camp to sabotage elections, there was media pressure, and he capitulated, he just capitulated. There is no other reason for it. He just capitulated. He abandoned what he was doing, I had to go and disband what he was doing and tell the guys, "I've been all wrong for the last six months, go home now because there are going to be elections." The principle didn't change but he just realised that he could not service that principle, that principle would not service him. He couldn't stop the election, if he did try to stop the election we would end up in a situation in which he would be much worse off. So he abandoned it. No consultation, there wasn't IFP pressure and lots of debate. It was a Buthelezi decision. Now in that sense his political vagrancy, if you would like to use the word rather than abandoning principle, talk about reneging on principle, he will do the unexpected if there's a power advantage in it for himself. And that's the bottom line.
POM. One of the things I'm interested in, and I hope we can continue this conversation at another time - I know you're going to write your own book but mine will be part of a much larger and comprehensive study and there are so many issues to explore with you that can't be explored within an hour or an hour and a half. I am fascinated by the, at least perception that you were somehow working on behalf of the ANC, that when you left the IFP that you were returning home. I think that was the banner that was flown.
WF. Well I felt very much that I was returning home. Ever since I was 20 and I became involved in Liberal Party politics, the Liberal Party was formed in my late twenties, I was Regional Secretary of the Liberal Party in my early thirties, the Liberal Party packed up and that was the move into the alliance politics period and my real political grounding was in alliance politics. When the Liberal Party was faced with the Improper Interference Act it had to decide what to do. It was outlawed by law because it was a mixed colour party and it decided in its wisdom to disband. There was a whole strong group of us who said no, we should go underground, we should not lie down in front of this law, we should fight it.
. I then went to Albert Luthuli and said I can't go on like this, the Liberal Party is disbanding, I can't agree with that so I'd like to join the ANC. And he said, "No, we won't have you." His words were actually that, "If you joined the ANC because you've got a car and a telephone and you've got a post box and you can move where you like, you've got mobility, within a month you'd become a chairman of that ANC and the ANC would then be led by the nose by people like you." He said, "No, you join alliance politics, that's where whites should belong." And he sent me to join the Congress of Democrats which I did, Rowley Arenstein. There were two branches of the SACP in the country. There was Bram Fischer and Rowley Arenstein and Rowley Arenstein ran the group called the Congress of Democrats which produced people like Ronnie Kasrils and so on. I joined Congress of Democrats but remained with an internal commitment to ANC.
. Throughout university I helped ANC wherever I could. I went to university late so I was at university 28 - 33 years of age period. And that's where I met and got to know the ANC and I picked up with those guys. It was rather interesting, when in 1971/72 there was this talk between Beyers and Buthelezi about meeting ANC no-one knew how to contact ANC. I was the only one who could get off and go and find the ANC and speak to Joe Slovo and Oliver Tambo because of the people I had known through university, Charlie Makathini and those guys who were all in the NEC at the time. I did my research work in Southern Mozambique University of what was then Loureno Marques under the auspices of the University of Lisbon because I was kicked out of all black areas by the South African government in this country. I was persona non grata in South Africa. I could go to no black areas. As a social anthropologist I was doing PhD research and I was prevented from going into any black township, any black tribal area. It was there I met Frelimo and the first Minister of Justice was my personal friend and a lawyer.