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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
09 Aug 1989: Klaaste, Aggrey
POM It's Aggrey Klaaste, is that the right pronunciation?
AK Aggrey Klaaste. Aggrey is a Nigerian name, Klaaste is a Afrikaans name, which is a bit of an unfortunate mixture.
POM How do you see the situation today, 1989, before these elections as different from the situation that existed at the time of the uprising in 1976?
AK Superficially, obviously the unrest is kind of scaled down, it's a dangerous kind of perception that because quite dramatically the unrest is exploding in some very terrible fashion in Pietermaritzburg which is part of the whole problem in this country; that what happens there are cycles of unrest which are in a way just kind of spontaneous actions from the people really, not really controlled political movements although the politicians would like to make believe its a controlled thing by them. But it's just explosions from people who are getting tired of oppression. And it happened from 1960, the same thing happened when that they had the thing in Sharpeville. And in 1976 the same thing happened, this time it was a bit much more severe because children were involved. And in the 1980s all these things were kind of building up in the consciousness of the black people. I mean both political consciousness and a sense of being done down by the government or whoever and so that in 1984 you know the situation was really bad because it happened all over the show. The most unheard of places got affected. And then during these cycles, of course, the government is strong enough in its security operations that they can take care of it. Part of the problem, I think what has happened after 1960, there are mistakes of course but after 1976 they got some of the more sadistically sophisticated because they let the unrest continue, that is the police and security forces. So that people were self-destructing and it was allowed to go on for some time which in my view has led to the total breakdown in the structures in the black community. I mean the whole fabric of the damn thing is gone as is shown in Pietermaritzburg. So the situation in Maritzburg is not only a political question, now it is a question of institutions and economics and structures gone.
POM Was there any element that if the violence could be contained to the townships then essentially it was members of the black community trashing on other members of the black community?
AK Well, it was just basically that. You know, as would happen in a situation like this, the black community were more than whites, right, and we feel that we are oppressed and of course you fight. And because they are able to contain the situation to blacks its almost like rats in a cage. People start fighting amongst each other and the divisions from 1960 on up, there are many among black people. There are too many divisions and you can't start any damn thing these days without having to get some kind of OK from some organisation or the other. And apartheid had been, rather I mean this governments policy has been very successful in doing that, very, very successful in keeping us contained and divided. So it is very easy to exploit that kind of weakness, all our weaknesses.
Now like I say the fabric, the social fabric, is all in tatters, I mean what has happened after 1976 is that the children caught the flak and they got some power and they turn abusive out there, doing it right now. So they, after that they thought to themselves they were in a position to buck the system in the schools they could do that and we cannot shed them although we are not very happy about them getting killed and so forth. But we felt it was striking some kind of a blow for us. It was a very shameful thing, we felt very ashamed about it naturally. And then of course they then thought that they could buck the system in the house. The family situation in the country was also disappearing and the kids are bucking the system in the family, they are bucking the system in the school, they are bucking the system all over the show, including the government itself and now it's pretty dangerous simply because we haven't got the kind of structures or institutions in the black community which can deal with these things properly except for political organisations who have their own problems. They've got their own problems. They're fighting ideological wars among other things and most of the time, just yesterday we had a problem in Soweto at some school which has been closed now and as the normal thing happens the parents and the teachers fault the newspaper editors. There's a problem what can we do? And we repeat, all of us come with the same kind of response. Let's look for the leaders, right. And the leaders happen to be the political leaders in our view, and in everybody's view. So we fool around looking for the political leaders, they're not just there. They're either out of the country or in jail or on the run or whatever nonsense. Then the programme is ditched because black people like me and other black guys who are adults or women are not perceived to be leaders capable of dealing with the problem, which I think is a lot of nonsense.
So as far as my view of dealing with this problem is concerned, because I have spoken a lot about nation-building and this is the nation-building initiative means that we must try and rebuild the fabric, the institutions in the black community which can deal with these little problems like that because they are getting from bad to worse. I mean the kids in most townships have just not been going to school since 1984. There's been very little schooling because they are bucking the system. I mean they go there and there are more of the children there. You see in my day the people who want to buck the system, the gangster element and so forth were in the minority. But they become rather more of these kids. Either some of them are dropouts, some of them are political kind of radical and some of them are just simply afraid and then there's this radical momentum to say let's have the liberation before the education. I mean it comes from that kind of situation and it's not only for education it's in any damn thing we do as black people. You cannot do anything until you get this liberation thing first. Which in my view is pretty dumb.
POM So there's almost a catch-22 in this because it means that there's a generation of young blacks who are coming of age who are semiliterate or illiterate because they haven't gone to school?
AK Absolutely and they are half educated and they have picked up little ideas about liberation, socialism and they don't know what they are saying. The unfortunate thing about them is not those kids, because it's probably in any free country having such children is quite normal and useful, I mean its growth. But here it is dangerous because the political organisations seem to in a way not conforming, agree with that kind of destabilisation because it is rocking the apartheid boat, so to speak. But it is doing more than that you know, it's rocking the black boat. And I mean I'm particularly worried about what is likely to happen after the revolution. Because then the problem is going to start. Because we are going inherit this mess. It doesn't matter who it is, who's in government. So I'm very desperately saying that as black people we should get our act together and actually do the things that Steve Biko was saying and get our dignity back, get our self-reliance back, build black structures. But I don't want to do it like Steve Biko because he created a fad for himself by saying black power. You don't have to do that these days because the world is so intertwined or interdependent. So you have to get other people to help you, so you have to see white people. Black guys must come and dirty their hands and start rebuilding. And get whites, coloureds or Indians to help us in this so it's not a black power threat coming up all of a sudden.
POM You mentioned the cycles of violence and unrest. How is what is happening now in 1989 different from what happened in1976 or 1984 or 1960?
AK Well the only difference now is that there isn't a total - I mean the violence has subsided, which doesn't mean it's gone.
POM But do you think this has any impact on the - well let me shift the question, How has the state moved from 1984 to 1989?
AK Well I think the state was forced to, was pressurised into moving somewhat. They have moved, for instance we have trade unions which can operate now legally. They have moved things like influx control and they have taken away the pass system, but as you know these so-called reform actions are just asking for more, people just ask for more.
POM Once reform is granted it's irrelevant?
AK Yes it's irrelevant. And then you just kind of shift the goal post.
POM You said these changes have come about as a result of pressure. Where have the pressures come from? Have they been internal or external?
AK Both. I mean intended pressures, of course, are obviously when there is unrest and so forth and the pressure gets severe because the country suffers economically. And the world outside picks up all this and then there's all this movement attacking South African white people which is a very unhappy situation for them to be in you see. And it affects them in various ways, it affects them on the sports field. Nobody likes to be called polecat of the world. I mean they don't like it. They don't like it when it hits their banned books, when the sanctions thing hurts, because it does hurt, and various forms of other pressures both psychological and practical from outside of the country have impacted on moving the government.
POM Do you see any psychological shift in the attitude of whites? A movement from perhaps ten years ago saying, no, we will never yield, we will never surrender any of our privilege and position, to a situation where they know they have to? They haven't quite figured out how but they know they have to change.
AK You're dead right. I mean of course there is a fringe group who say, no, we should go back to the old thing. These are the rightwing guys but most white South Africans quite naturally perceive that something has got to give, they've got to change. They don't exactly know how to do it or they aren't prepared to share power just like that as more and more people I think would do. They would rather to hold on to some bit of power but they know change has got to come. And that's the major problem that they seem to have.
POM In the forthcoming elections do you see the National Party easily maintaining its position or losing some to the Conservative Party?
AK Well, I don't think it will easily be maintained. I mean this whole, as you well know, this reform thing was started by them. A reform process for the government such as this is a very difficult thing. Because you lose to the left and to the right. You lose people who say, no, you're not moving fast enough and some of them saying you are moving too fast. And this is exactly where the Nats are now. You know they are losing both the right and the left. They probably might win I think but it is going to be a very narrow kind of win.
POM So do you think that puts them under more pressure to maintain a fairly hard-line position if they have the Conservative Party right on their shoulders, that a very narrow win in this election could mean a loss in the next election?
AK You mean for the Nats?
AK Well I mean one doesn't want to prophesise, we don't know, the left wing situation could show considerable movement. I mean the Democratic Party situation, they are making a lot of noise now, they haven't been tested yet as to how strong they are. There is a feeling that the rightwing has reached a ceiling which is their peak, which is probably true in a way. But I mean that peak is a very dangerous peak because the things they say are in a way liked by many white South Africans simply because they are in a position of privilege. I mean the white South Africans wouldn't exactly like to go back to the days of Verwoerd but they would still like to hold on to some of their privileges so they might just vote for these guys. But I think most sensible people would see that going to those rightwing days would mean total chaos because it just won't work.
POM On the economy you have a situation where I think 3.1 billion dollars in short term loans that have to be renegotiated next March. Do you think the international community will use that opportunity to put very severe pressure on the regime?
AK Well that is what they are saying, isn't it? They probably would do that.
POM Do you think among those conditions would be the release of Nelson Mandela?
AK Yes, they're the same old things. I mean I'm personally, I shouldn't say I'm against all this, it's probably the right thing, inevitable thing to happen but what worries me is that the pressure is going to be put on and government may be forced to make a deal. And if it makes a deal what then happens? The majority of us are still going to be oppressed. I mean underprivileged because we haven't got anything going in the black community. We must be worried more about us getting to a position of equality so we can negotiate from a position of strength with this government.
POM When you say they would make a deal, who would they make a deal with?
AK Well I don't know. They could probably make a deal with the ANC for all I know if the pressure gets severe. If Mandela is released anything could happen. I personally think Mandela will be kind of a stabilising factor but he's in a very difficult position himself because he is not alone. I mean it's him and it's the ANC.
POM You say destabilising or stabilising?
AK Stabilising. He will probably try to work the situation as to getting blacks united again and then fighting the white situation as a united force other than what we are doing right now.
POM What do you see as being the major divisions between blacks at the moment?
AK Ideological divisions. Very silly in nature too. Does the UDF, ANC, it stems from the PAC/ANC thing from the 1960s still happening right now. And it has been compounded nowadays by all this homelands, by Inkatha, for instance, by everybody else, I mean it's a whole mess of divisions. If all of these actors could be given a free chance to negotiate it will need some very super thinkers to do that, to make that kind of thing work.
POM Very often abroad the impression is conveyed that there is a monolithic black community.
AK Oh no there isn't, there isn't. The movements like the Mass Democratic Movement or the UDF they get a lot of publicity and it's oxygen for their movement in the newspapers but on the ground there are a whole lot of divisions. There are people who don't even care for the MDM, who are good, people, like Joe (Tholole) and them. There are lots of these guys who have got their own ideological roots and inclinations, it's just a total mess. Total mess.
POM Do you think it is commonly accepted now both in the black and white communities that Nelson Mandela will be released? It's only a matter of when.
AK Yes it is. But also people are frightened about that possibility for various reasons.
POM Blacks or whites?
AK Blacks and whites. There are blacks who are afraid, who may not be the ANC people, who are afraid the ANC people will take over and be the boss. There are blacks who may not be ANC who may be something else who wouldn't like that. There are even people in the ANC who might have a problem with Mandela being the only guy coming out to be the boss. Among the whites there are also fears.
POM I've read somewhere on more than one occasion that one of the factors restricting the effectiveness of the ANC is that the leadership abroad is isolated from what is going on at the grassroots.
AK Yes it's quite true, they are operating in a very difficult kind of situation because they've got to pick up most of the stuff, like all of you, from abroad. It is not exactly the total picture. And they would, for instance this last week people abroad would imagine the Mass Democratic Movement is a big revolutionary thing happening and it is not true. It's a few very good guys in terms of the publicity situation in the Mass Democratic Movement who can make the noise. But on the cold face it is not entirely true and they'll get an awful lot of people surprised the day the ANC or whoever comes to talking about power that the ANC might not be as strong as we believe it really is.
PAT What happens in the development of these new sanctions strategies? Because certainly the sanctions strategy is being engineered internally as opposed to externally. In the US Congress for example, the black caucus was proceeding with comprehensive sanctions and it wasn't until Tutu and Boesak and these people came just recently and announced that the course was different. And today, I mean, last week we had discussions with leaders in the black caucus who were still preceding with comprehensive sanctions because it hadn't really filtered through to them. It was only in the last two weeks that there's been a major change in that strategy because people weren't sure what they were hearing any more. So the targeted economic sanctions is quite a new phenomena to people in the States anyway and it's coming from inside.
AK I quite don't know what the heck is happening. I mean it has seemed that when the Archbishop, well the Archbishop's position has been rather interesting if you ever look at it, because his position has been if not sanctions, what? And he kind of painted himself into that kind of position. It is difficult to move from it. And then there was all sorts of talk from people like me and others that rather than just destroying the country's economy let's try to look for the ... to help Tutu. And then there was talk of black economic empowerment and development and so forth. And then some people don't like that kind of thing because it means keeping the establishment going and it's not revolutionary enough to do that. But there is definitely a large swing of people, including me, who believe that what should really be done in this country is not just punish the country through apartheid but help black people to help the country to survive in end. So all of a sudden these guys are coming out with a new thing which has caught many people short.
POM Is it your impression that sanctions have hurt black workers or that black workers have lost their jobs as result?
AK Well they have but I mean it's not such a serious thing, black workers have been losing their jobs and suffering in various ways. That is not exactly the right argument to use about sanctions. The right argument is that it's probably destroying the country's economy. That's a major problem for even the most pro-sanctions people. I mean, what the heck are we going to inherit if this thing gets particularly vicious and because coming to try to rebuild after that is going to be some business and to get all that business back is going to be some business. It's not going to be easy and that is a problem. Sanctions do hurt, they do hurt the system. We know that but they seem to be a kind of a double edged sword. That is why the Tutus and the Boesaks had to move a kind of careful route in saying, OK, the hurt needs to be there in a way, the pressure needs to be there on the apartheid government but something else has got to happen too at the same time for the future.
PAT But what they are advocating is not a five year renewal but a two year. Sort of more short term than the five years that were done in 1985 so that there's a short ...
AK Those things are very much above my head. Because I'm just worried about what really should be done is to develop black people because it's a terrible mess. Not only the apartheid. It's a terrible mess for the future of this country that black people haven't got necessary clout economically, academically, spiritually, in all ways to be able to run the show even if we get our freedom. That's my problem.
POM As you looking at the future, are you optimistic to see a satisfactory negotiated settlement?
AK Yes, well I'm sure it will probably happen. It's going to be a very kind of clumsy, ramshackle operation really. I mean Mandela could be released and something could go wrong. And it will be a little bit more movement and something might go wrong or right. So you can't just prophesise as a package that this is going to happen, after three, four years its going to be this. I mean it's just going to be a long haul, hopefully profiting in the end because most South Africans are desperate to get this unease out of their lives. I mean we've been a very unhappy people for too long I think.
POM When Mandela was in court being sentenced in 1963 he made a speech in the course of which he said white people could learn to trust us. Give us 40 seats in parliament and see what we do and five years later give us 60 seats and five years after that give us 70 seats and we would be prepared to make that kind of gesture of getting power on a piecemeal basis. Do you think any kind of scenario like that could work today?
AK It might be very difficult to do so. I think what might make it happen is simply the objective reality of the situation because, like I said, the white society is particularly powerful in this country. I mean you can get rough up to a certain point but they are in a position, that is their strength but also their weakness because the pressures are coming from all over and they will have to move in the reform way as they are trying to do. They'll have to let the same thing as Mandela is saying - they'll have to give up a little bit. And that, unfortunately, doesn't satisfy lots of radical thinkers who want the whole thing right now. Many, many young people want to run the show. Although I must say these days even if they speak like that the reality is that most black South Africans would be prepared to work with white people because it just makes common sense. We won't be able to run this place alone without help from whites.
PAT Why would the government, the state, this is a little bit of a different question but it gets back to the ANC point, why would the state not ban SWAPO in South West Africa; in other words let it legally function all through that liberation struggle and yet ban the ANC?
AK Was SWAPO working legally?
PAT Yes, they were legal. I mean there were leaders who left because of detention, that were in self-imposed exile, but SWAPO had an organisational structure a function.
AK Well I don't know, it was probably just an historical factor because in 1960 the government just banned the ANC and the PAC and that was it you see and I don't think they thought it out as clearly as they would have in Namibia. Normally it was very clear too because they had this long war in Namibia because of SWAPO despite the fact that as you say it wasn't legally banned.
POM Some people have said to us that the ANC have come to realise that they can't win through a revolutionary war and the state has come to realise that it can't prevail through a process of reform imposed from above. Do you think that's an accurate statement?
AK Yes, there's probably a great deal of truth in that because I think the ANC, as everybody else must be aware of right now, is that a revolution which will have all black people en masse going out there revolting is not going to happen, not only because we are not together but there is just no serious revolutionary thinking in this country even amongst our leaders. So I mean people have been saying quite evidently now the ANC might just make a deal of sorts. And it was coming towards that and, as I say, these things are always kind of clumsy. The government has been speaking to Nelson Mandela and so on and they have been talking to him for years I'm sure and they have also been talking to the ANC of course. The trouble is the papers pick it up and then people then play political points with the whole thing and the government retreats quickly. Eventually I'm optimistic that there will be some kind of a settlement.
POM Do you think the ANC, that their armed campaign has been a necessary component of this transformation process?
AK Yes, I'm sure it has been, not only the ANC, all the other people that have been involved in the armed struggle I think. I don't necessarily believe in this kind off violent thing but I'm told it's important historically for revolutions to have armed revolutionaries.
POM Do you think it has had an impact on the white community to such an extent that it puts them in a more willing negotiating posture?
AK Well, it has frightened the hell out of them. It has frightened them. I mean whites are dead scared of the ANC. Not because they fear they might be cutting their throats tomorrow, but because they are seen out there to be the people who plant bombs and are in uMkhonto we Sizwe and that's why the fear about Mandela. They believe the country will just go up in smoke if he comes out because they think he'll come out to be a Marxists of the worst stripe and in the end it is not even the reality because the man might just come out and be pretty pragmatic.
POM In the short run do you think the political factors or economic factors will have more say in what develops?
AK Well I think they both work together. The country is going through rather severe economic strains right now and this creates lots of other problems, social and political problems. You have to get the economy thing right if you are going to build a proper climate for political solutions, I think so too.
POM One last question. Do you think there will be any difference between a PW Botha administration and a De Klerk administration?
AK Well not much. De Klerk is unfortunately put in the position that Botha was probably put in before his first Rubicon speech. The whole world is waiting for him to do something. He is in a very critical situation. The whole world - I mean his instincts would tell him not because he is an old Nat and is an old Afrikaner and he would rather move slowly. But I'm sure as a new person he would probably do a number of things, like releasing Mandela, not spectacular things but he would do a couple of things to try and move. And what the people should be doing about the sanctions thing I think, what also came from the States is to make some kind of a thing, if you don't release Mandela we will do this in terms of economic sanctions; if you don't make that kind of deal work, he'll probably buy that. And it has been interesting to see how his, it is not even his government already, but I mean the way the Minister of Police, they have a kind of sophistication that they never used to have before. I mean in the past if people had been murdered, if there was a defiance campaign the cops would have gone out, cracked a lot of heads and locked the whole lot of them up. But this time Volk and his guys were rather careful and actually took the wind out of the sails of the MDM by not doing anything to them. And then apologising and then reneging on the apology afterward. But I mean they are getting to be rather clever.
POM Thank you.