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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Aug 1989: Giliomee, Hermann

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POM     You had just begun to say that one of the things you found interesting in Northern Ireland was this notion two traditions.

HG     Yes. The only road to a settlement lay in both sides acknowledging that there are two traditions, that one should build a possible compromise solution on the basis of these two traditions. Of course not completely institutionalise the two traditions, accept them as a reality but in time build some kind of transcendent sense of nationhood over these two traditions, but certainly start off with the idea that there are two traditions but also at the same time work towards some kind of common political identity. It seems to me Ireland has got to the point where they certainly say that there are two traditions although it seems to me that the debate about common symbols, common nationhood and things like that are still in the very, very early stages and some people even despair of the possibility of building one common nation in Northern Ireland.

     In SA for so long the whites have dominated the political scene, dominated the debate about nationhood and defined nationhood in completely exclusive terms. I think it's extremely difficult now to reopen the debate for nationhood. My own feeling, as we say there towards the end of the book, is that we should start with the conception that we are a dual nation, that there is one nation which is facing towards its historical background in Europe, who subscribe to western values, which feels that the state should protect certain basic western values like the rule of law and things like that. Now the African side of course would say that they look to their background in Africa, that they look to the articulation of certain specifically anti-colonial attitudes in a new state and I think there is a tendency on the African side to deny any worthwhile dimensions in the white tradition in SA because it is so associated with greed, with exclusivism and so on.

     We in SA now will first of all have to come to some kind of understanding whether there are in fact legitimately two traditions in SA and if so how one could build a common nation on the basis of these traditions.

POM     One thing I found interesting was that the British government have made it a matter of policy that if ever there is to be a return of internal government in Northern Ireland it must be on the basis of power sharing so that the minority will have a say in the executive of the country. They make the point that majority rule is not democratic rule when the majority is permanently in government. Yet people who would regard themselves as being liberal democrats here reject the notion of power sharing out of hand as just being a mechanism to somehow preserve white privilege.

HG     Yes, I think it's also because the government has so abused the term 'power sharing', but I think, as you also make the point in your book, there is in fact no majority in Northern Ireland. Similarly there's no majority in SA. The only way in which you will be able to fabricate a minority is through Jacobin methods, a very strong central estate which wipes out ethnic exclusivity, racial exclusivity, even regional exclusivity. Now in the ANC guidelines it is specifically stated that they will not tolerate ethnic or regional exclusivity. So you can produce a majority through extreme Jacobin methods but that will certainly also mean the ultimate ruin of the country. So I don't believe in SA, I think this is where I strongly disagree with friends of mine on the liberal democratic side, that you can build up a majority on the basis of classical western individualism and that you could get people to vote and that you could through the espousal of liberal democratic ideals get people to forget about groups, get people to forget about ethnic exclusivity and all that.

     My road is that if at all the time the state should temper ethnicity as a political expression, it should try and moderate it, it should try and construct a kind of constitutional system whereby there would be incentives for groups to work together but you will, as far as I can understand my society, you will never be able to exterminate group feelings without very, very draconian methods.

POM     Why do you think then that so many people who associate themselves with the Mass Democratic Movement believe that the only democratic rule is in fact rule by the majority?

HG     Donald Horowitz, the person who wrote Ethnic Groups and Conflict, he was here two weeks ago and he said he's never seen a society with so many heads in the sand.

POM     So many heads in the sand?

HG     Yes. That goes for whites and blacks of course. But there is just a weird notion because of this understandable hatred of apartheid and apartheid insistence on groups, a feeling that the only legitimate alternative is one which does completely away with groups and which insists on the will of the majority prevailing. Then it is very much a kind of a sense, in the Westminster sense of the world, that the biggest one, that the winner takes all and that there's a complete unwillingness to entertain the idea that in SA it's much more worthwhile to explore ways and means whereby you don't have an ultimate majority but more a coalition of groups forming the ruling group and that it should be a shifting majority, that those who are currently excluded should have a real chance to get into power again.

POM     One of the things that has struck me, and I will be interested to see how the general election turns out, is that in Northern Ireland in the mid-1960s after the Unionist Party as a monolith had ruled the state for 45 years you got a reformist Prime Minister, Terence O'Neil, who attempted to bring Catholics into the system and you had a situation that whenever he made a concession to the minority it became irrelevant, just the springboard for further demand while on the right wing you had the rise of Paisley and ultimately the whole Unionist Party became fragmented. Do you see possibly a situation developing here, a situation in which there could come about the fragmentation of the Nationalist Party, some of it?

HG     The NP is an amazing party in the way in which it succeeds in holding itself together, in preventing its fragmentation and shedding only the absolutely necessary ballast. If a NP government were to move too fast the same thing will happen that happened to O'Neil. Therefore it's always very cautious, look at a thing, increasingly becoming sophisticated in reading the exact kind of score as far as popular feelings are concerned and then moving ahead.

     But for the SA government the main crisis would be if it is seen to succumb to foreign pressure, then certainly, especially now exactly what the sanctions and disinvestment people are proposing - if they seem to succumb to foreign pressure then I think it may easily completely fragment and be destroyed.

POM     If I gave you three election scenarios, what kind of policies do you think might emerge from each? One would be a situation in which the NP was re-elected with a comfortable majority about as large as it has now. The second one in which the NP would be re-elected with a slim majority, is where the bulk of its support has gone to the Conservative Party. The third one being a hung parliament.

HG     I think the first one is more likely. I think it will lose probably twenty seats or so but it will still come back with hundreds and the CP about forty, Democratic Party about twenty-five. In which case it's very much as we were before. I don't see a hung parliament although when I started I wrote a monthly column, about two or three months ago or rather when the campaign started at the beginning of June I thought that a hung parliament was the real prospect. I don't see that any more.

POM     But if it were to happen what do you think would be the consequences?

HG     The hung parliament? I think the NP will have no option but to work with the DP. Then there is a possibility that as the NP work with the DP you will get a further groundswell to the CP.

POM     And in a situation where the CP would be breathing down the neck of the NP?

HG     I seem to think that the government would rather suspend the constitution not to have elections if the CP would in the next election have a real chance of winning the election.

POM     Someone here described the situation to us as one of being where on the one hand you had the ANC recognising that it couldn't win a national war of liberation and on the other hand the government realising that reform imposed from above could never succeed so that this kind of stalemate has created the space for negotiations to take place.

HG     I think in such negotiation and such circumstances the negotiations may take place. On the other hand I always think of a comment I once heard of an American Senator or someone who would say that certain policies would be the ruin of a certain country and he would say, Well there's a lot of ruin in the country. Governments like the SA one, even there if is stalemate they could continue to function, they could do certain things and could perpetuate its rule, although the country's economy may be ruined as a result of that.

     In general I would feel that negotiations between SA and the ANC, the government and the ANC, are still quite a distance off. I think the pre-negotiations have just started. Obviously I can only see successful negotiations if one or both of the two parties were to split further, if the ANC for instance were to shed part of its wing, the so-called radicals, whatever, or say Mandela would start an internal ANC and there could be some movement there, or if the SA government itself would split on certain issues.

POM     One thing that has, and I am able to get a good answer to, is this: Patricia does a lot of work in Northern Ireland with the National Democratic Institute and when one looks at the IRA here it has successfully sustained itself over twenty years, the British government recognises it can never defeat it militarily, it can operate a campaign that it targets once a week, once every two weeks, military installations, policemen, army. And then one turns to the ANC's armed struggle and as far as we can see, we are diligently following the news, a military campaign doesn't exist, the armed struggle is more a figment of the imagination than reality. Is that true?

HG     The ANC could easily step it up if it wishes to do so. You have bombs in Wimpy Bars, we had it a year ago, and then the ANC for good diplomatic reasons decided that that is not in its own interest. I think certainly the kind of random terror can easily be stepped up in this whole South African state. It's so open to that kind of warfare because, you probably notice that security measures are almost non-existent in certain parts of the country. Certainly it will not really shake the state, or I suppose like the British state is not really shaken in Northern Ireland by whatever the IRA is doing. Certainly militarily it doesn't seem to be anything remotely comparable to Northern Ireland or Nicaragua or these places that have occurred as yet.

POM     Do you think there's something in the culture of blacks that is non-violent?

HG     ... very, very dangerous.

POM     In Ireland, Northern Ireland you get kids on the street and you get soldiers and policemen and they pick up the stones and create an incident.

HG     In 1984/86 ... becomes destabilised and then you get a lot of activism and some confrontations with the police. I think the ANC, as far as I can judge, is conducting a fairly responsible struggle. It probably realises that the idea is not to win militarily, I don't think they've got the remotest hope of that, but only simply to constantly send signals to the black population that it is still fighting, it is there. There have been some spectacular strikes like the one where they bombed Sasol, the oil from coal installation, another one where they bombed, had an explosion in the nuclear power station. That is symbolically an enormous gain for them.

     But as Buthelezi has said, no single bridge has been destroyed, no railway has been out of action for more than half a day. There's nothing really that has impeded the functioning of the state. Therefore, I think some people within the ANC quite rightly argue that they should rather go for industrial action where the state is weakest. At the moment they are taking a non-military stance but for their trouble they have been expelled from the ANC. A friend of mine, someone who wrote in a book that I edited, he was expelled, he was attacking them from the far left.

PAT     Where do you make the comparison between the ANC, Sinn Fein and the PLO?

HG     There will be a paper at the conference on the comparisons between ANC and Sinn Fein and PLO, the kind of nationalism that they represent. The British Ambassador in SA, Robin Fenwick, is a very shrewd person. He says that in any liberation or terror organisation there's always a proportion of thugs and a proportion of idealists. His impression compared to the IRA is there are so many more thugs in the IRA than in the ANC and that the ANC thugs are still fairly under control.

POM     It would also be that the ANC appears in fact to speak for the majority of blacks at least.

HG     The ANC speaks for the majority of blacks.

POM     The IRA does not.

HG     It doesn't even pretend to do that. The ANC also pretends to speak in terms of the Congress position not only for blacks but also whites and coloureds and Indians who are progressive.

POM     Is black on black violence a factor on this?

HG     I think it's the ultimate weapon of the SA state.

POM     You think it's fomented by the state?

HG     Some of it is fomented by the state, it's fairly easily fomented. It is not purely a machination or a fabrication. The point is that the ANC tries to think that any expressions of black on black violence are due to machinations by the state. I think it's in fact, especially the longer the struggle continues, you get different political formations, they fear each other and they start you only need a few agents provocateurs to send into these organisations and to start trouble.

POM     If you had to look at the black community over the last four years, say from the beginning of the first emergency in 1985 to the eve of this election, what do you think have been the most significant developments in the black community and what do you think are the actual or potential sources of major division?

HG     I think that's a difficult question. I would imagine that you see 1984/86 were such heavy days, all of a sudden it almost looked as if the state was on the point of being overthrown. Now comes a period of really more painful reassessment. I think in terms of mass mobilisation, in terms of getting the community out in terms of politicising people even in the most rural regions, that they've achieved much more than they ever thought was possible in 1984. Now this is now really the kind of mass mobilisation, demonstrations, street marches, town hall rallies, that type of thing. They have shown that they really can get the people out in the streets.

     Secondly, I think you've also got now the beginning of an alternative press supported by foreign money, like New Nation in Johannesburg, South here in the Cape. Thirdly, you've got people within the white community increasingly prepared to align themselves with the struggle although they are still a fairly small proportion, probably about 10% of a liberal university like UCT could be seen as sympathetic towards the struggle but at least it's 10% and ten years before it wasn't more than 1% or 2%.

     What you have in SA is of course on the one hand you've got two different ideological streams. You've got this one of black exclusivism versus the congress traditions of inclusivism. But you've also got a class division within black society between your so-called middle class or rather your white collar workers and your recently arrived migrants in town. Like in Khayelitsha the state found I think here it was basically an attempt by the state to use the migrants against your better educated activists which led to a mass expulsion in the township of KTC were really put to fire, 65,000 people had to leave their homes.

     The state can also use class cleavages within black society. Very often in order to impose discipline upon a township some of the activists use fairly tough methods. Like if you want to enforce a consumer boycott you have to punish those who do go out and buy in white shops or if you want to enforce a stayaway then you must prevent people from using buses to go and work. This kind of disciplining of course creates resentment and especially of some of the more older and more 'law abiding' blacks feel terribly insulted by youth telling them that they can't go and work.

     So you can also use the generational difference, you can use the class difference and you can use ideological differences, try and work on those cleavages in order to bring about divisions within the black society.

POM     Now if you looked at the white community in turn, what there do you think are the most significant changes in attitudes or developments in the last four years and also what are the actual or potential sources of major division?

HG     The major one was the ideological acceptance that we are one country, one citizenship and all that. The government accepted that on a formal level but the suddenness with which people, except the far right, to say OK, SA is now only going to be one undivided country with one citizenship and we're going to build one nation, that I think is the major difference. How people give expression to that is still terribly naïve and so on but there's certainly an understanding that they have to share symbols, that you must start with a set of tools and you will find completely new symbols because the symbols of the flag and the anthem are so closely associated with Afrikaners, the realisation that these are sectional symbols, you must either find new symbols or you must have symbols which represent the African stream or the African tradition.

     There has been a little bit more disaffection on the part of the white youth. I've got a friend who was doing a very interesting study for this conference, it was based on polls of all the dominantly white universities, of student attitudes. He finds that about 3% of the Afrikaner students would be basically in favour of the changeover to an ANC type of government but 50% to 60% will actively fight it. In the case of the English speaking students about 10% will actively support it and welcome it. Much more a percentage that will actively fight it. I think the English speaking students in general feel that as long as there is a stable government they don't care whether it's an African or a white government.

     As I said before this is perhaps slightly more than previous years although these similar polls weren't done ten years ago. So I think white society is a bit more open, a bit more aware of the very, very deep resentment of blacks. It's trying to change, trying to change, very slowly.

POM     Has the emergence of the black middle class been a factor? In Northern Ireland one would have said that the emergence of a Catholic middle class, educated middle class in the early 1960s who began to look for their full rights as members of the United Kingdom, not as Irish nationalists, that was the spark that led to the civil rights movement. Does the emergence of a black middle class here play any role or do their interests lie more with the state than with the mass movement?

HG     They are very much torn. I think they feel under great pressure to be with the mass movements although their class has relations with ... They feel more aligned to the capitalist system, to the kind of consumer needs of any middle class society. No, I think it's much better for you to talk to them themselves. Certainly white society is aware of it, you can look at the advertising especially on TV, the kind of integrated, multi-racial advertisements, and that is one increasingly acceptance over the last couple of years. I saw some figures that fewer and fewer whites object to these integrated advertisements, commercials on TV. So that is perhaps one aspect of the wide recognition of the coming middle class.

     There's a great attempt by whites to draw these people into committees, state councils and things, what is called co-optation. But for blacks it is really a very difficult issue whether they should in fact do that and enter into committees even if it's committees formed by the private sector or committees formed by universities. They prefer to stay off these committees.

POM     Just two final things. One, do you think that the white community here has sub-consciously accepted the inevitability of black rule but are denying it in a sense of being slow to adapt to it? That the white community would feel sub-consciously that black rule is inevitable but they are postponing the day of reckoning as far as possible in the same way as you might find many Unionists believe subconsciously that a united Ireland is inevitable but that doesn't mean they're going to do anything to make it happen? They're going to throw as many obstacles as they can.

HG     I think that saying of Lord [Kanes?] is applicable that in the long run we're all dead and I think people realise, certainly if you talk about 30, 40 years time, some projections point to 100 million Africans in the population. I think most whites feel that there's also another possibility that you will have a steady blackening of government but not necessarily black rule, that the Cabinet will, for instance, looking at the Cabinet of 20 odd members you would have a steady increase in the number of blacks without a distinctive transfer of power to black rule ever occurring. So it will be a continuous process and also when you talk about black rule it is also a question of which blacks. To some extent the SA state is still in a position to choose its successors; will it be your internal blacks, will it be your Buthelezi type of politicians or will it be the ANC type of politicians?

     Most whites, obviously, realise that the days of white exclusive rule are over. That doesn't mean that they feel that black rule, some transfer of power to black rule within the next 20 years is inevitable.

POM     I'll leave it at that. I know you're busy. It's good to meet you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.