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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Aug 1989: Van Der Merwe, Koos

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POM     Koos, what are the major differences between the National Party and the Conservative Party in terms of this election?

KM     The important difference between us and the National Party is that we stick to the original policy of the National Party, from which they have diverted in 1982, which is a policy of self-determination, When the National Party, in fact, changed their fundamental philosophy in 1982, this split occurred. We pursued this policy of self-determination whilst the National Party now follows a policy of political power-sharing in one undivided state, That's the basic issue.

POM     What do you expect to happen in that election?

KM     I expect a hung parliament. I do not expect one party, whether it be us or the National Party, to win the election outright. I don't think anybody thinks that the Democratic Party will win the election, The only question is whether they can improve their present position from about 20 seats up to 30, maybe 35, I personally feel they would get around 28 to 30. They are no threat to anybody to become government, The question is who of the National Party and the Conservative Party will do best? I'm not sure which of us. I'm sure that the National Party will not score enough to be the government again. They will have to look at a coalition.

POM     You say that with conviction.

KM     Oh, yes. And, we base that not only on our canvassing results, but also on the strength of the special votes that have been cast for the last week or past ten days.

POM     If there were a coalition government, is it more likely that the National Party would form a coalition with the Democrats rather than the Conservative Party?

KM     I feel that the leader of the National Party, Mr. De Klerk, is so bent on becoming State President, it's such a personal ambition for him, that he would form a coalition with any party as long as he becomes State President. He would, therefore, I think, try to form a coalition with the left. He will be asked to pay a price for that. The price that he will have to pay is to abandon the Group Areas Act and various other separation measures that are still on the statute book. My feeling is, further, that once he does that there will be enough members of the National Party who still have some conservatism left in them who would then feel that they have arrived at a Rubicon which they are not prepared to cross. They will then come to us. My own estimate is, therefore, that the Conservative Party stands an excellent chance to form a coalition government on 6 September, that we will, in fact become the government.

POM     Because there would be, in fact, defections from the National Party to you?

KM     Yes.

POM     Let me take three scenarios; I'll get your opinion on them. Say the first scenario is that the National Party forms a coalition with the Democrats and there are enough, or sufficient, defections so that you do not become the government and that you have, therefore, a more liberal government more committed to the elimination of the Group Areas Act and power-sharing, in a way by you doing well you have helped the agenda rather than hindered it. What happens?

KM     What happens is far as we are concerned, we reject violence, any form of violence. We will in a democratic manner continue to struggle to become the government. We will obviously be much stronger than we are today. We will go back with at least three times the number we have at the moment. So we will be a very strong and extremely effective opposition against a weakened government, weakened in itself, weakened because it is a coalition, and weakened because the majority of people outside will, in fact, be against that coalition. So it will be a very strong and effective opposition against a weak government. We will force them into an election soon afterwards and then we will take enough seats to win them at that stage, at the next election.

POM     Take the second scenario where the Conservative Party does well, perhaps even doubles the number of seats it has, but that the National Party are returned to power with a simple majority?

KM     Same thing. Struggle continues, no violence, democratic means, spreading our aims, trying to recruit more supporters, fight more strongly; fight and win the government at the next election.

POM     Many people in the States would say that you are being unusual in the sense that most political parties there always keep expectations low so if they beat their level of expectation they appear to have done better than people have expected them to do. You are actually setting expectations at an extraordinarily high level.

KM     No, we are putting out our expectations at the level of our canvassing results. For instance, in my constituency the canvassing results showed that I will get about 60% of the votes and my opponent 40%, The prior votes which are being cast at the moment, shows that its about 61-62% against 39-38% so our predictions are based on canvassing results as supported by those votes now being cast. So I think it is a very realistic prophecy that we make.

POM     Third scenario. You become the government. What happens then?

KM     We just govern the country and we implement the mandate which we have democratically obtained from the electorate.

POM     This mandate would essentially call for partition?

KM     Partition is not really our policy. Our policy is self-determination which is obtained through partition. We believe that the whites in this country are entitled to a homeland, their own state which is part of South Africa. We will have to negotiate the exact boundaries of that state and we will then simply govern ourselves in that state. What the black people and the coloureds and the Indians and those whites who do not agree with us, what they do outside the white South African state is irrelevant to us and we will not prescribe to them and they can do what they want to do.

POM     One, I think there would be overwhelming disagreement, not just disagreement, overwhelming opposition from the 13 million odd blacks to any attempt to do this. Two, that that will result in a higher level of violence and unrest and, third, that there will be incredible pressure from the international community.

KM     We are a pariah state, Professor Thomas Mulmar(?) told me last year that he does not believe that there is such a thing as a super pariah, much more than what the outside world is now doing to South Africa they can't really do because what keeps them from doing their damndest against South Africa is the fact that they know that they are hurting the people they want to help. I cannot see the outside world doing much more to us than what they are doing at the moment. As far as the blacks in the country are concerned, before this new policy was implemented, we had a quiet, peaceful South Africa compared to the situation today. When our self-determination policy through partition was still implemented, it was good in South Africa, there was law and order. The problem started in the last few years when the government started to implement the power-sharing policy. So even if there is violence, then the final question I have to ask myself is, am I prepared to surrender to the threats? To surrender my sovereignty? To surrender my right to self-determination? In other words, to capitulate, to become dissolved in this black sea. We are five million people, we are remaining five, we have become saturated. The blacks are now, together with the coloureds and Indians, about 25 million. At the turn of the century there will be 40 million and by the year 2020, there will be 80 million. The five million of us will be taken up in that black sea, we will disappear in a bottomless well of multi-racialism. We will lose our identity.

POM     So, you believe the culture of the Afrikaner would be destroyed?

KM     Yes.

POM     So. do you see the issue here as being political issues or cultural issues?

KM     Oh, it is the same thing basically. You can't survive as a nation, as a people, you can't nurture your cultural heritage. You can't survive without having the political power over yourself. There is no such thing, it's nonsense to say you have self-determination when you share a country with other people. When other people govern over you then you have no self-determination.

POM     When you said earlier that before the present policies of the government were implemented there was law and order and peace in South Africa, many people characterise that as a white perception of the problem, that meantime you had a black community that was totally oppressed and discriminated against in many, many ways, that in fact you had a very unjust society.

KM     Yes, I know the arguments. They are well known. We reject that of course. You simply have to look at the historic situation in South Africa and you will see that the black people moved southwards in Great Treks. They came to settle in certain parts of Southern Africa. Those areas where they originally settled, we say that is legally theirs. The Indian people came to South Africa around the year 1860, they came to sell their labour in the sugar plantations from the eastern parts of their country. They were supposed to go back. They've overstayed their welcome and, despite various attempts to repatriate them, we have eventually in 1961 accepted their permanence on condition that they don't share power with whites. The Indian population is concentrated in the triangle between Stanger, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg where more than 70% of them live, The coloured people were so-called locally manufactured. They are the offspring of black slaves and Hottentots and also white people adding a little. They have legally two million hectares of land in South Africa which is theirs. Now the whites also came here in 1652. They went into the country, we stole no land, we robbed no land. The land which we claim today is ours, is historically ours, is legally ours and we are simply not prepared to give it to the blacks, They have their parts of the country. The Indians and the coloureds have their parts and if they want to take ours we will fight for it.

POM     Would you see in any interim period while you were trying to implement the Conservative Party's policies, a return to such things as the passbook, the enforcement of the Group Areas Act, forced re-locations?

KM     Not forced relocations, but the thing is ...

POM     Isn't there a settlement in the north that you, that the party thought you ...?

KM     Yes, I know where this is, We have to basically save our country from being swamped by the blacks. That's what it boils down to.

POM     OK. Which is more important to you, to be a South African first or an Afrikaner?

KM     Oh, an Afrikaner, of course. It's like European. First of all, a Frenchman and secondly a European. And, maybe one should compare Europe with South Africa, it's very interesting. In Europe, they all belong to one race but they are not one undivided country. You have Portugal and Spain and France and Italy. You have more than a dozen different countries. Each one of them governs itself, but in other spheres of life, they are very interdependent economically, the European Common Market, etc. But, they have been clever enough to discover the crucial issue and that was the political power struggle. They have solved the political power struggle through a process of partition. They have made different countries. Each country governs itself in its own country and the moment you've reached that stage, then you've solved the political power struggle. Then the fight is over, the conflict is over, you now co-operate, you now share a lot of things, but not your political 'say' and sovereignty over your own people. We are looking at exactly that.

     If we take your country, the United States, you also find that that great country is not one undivided country. You have Canada there, you have the United States, you have Mexico. The same question could be, over all these centuries why isn't it one country? Why isn't South America one country? Why isn't Africa one undivided country? You have more than fifty different states in Africa. We want to be the same as the whole world, namely to govern ourselves, to be partitioned off and it's just funny that everybody practices partition all over the world but they deny us that opportunity. I ask for that opportunity.

POM     Back up for a moment. Would your government reinstate the passbooks?

KM     We think that we must try to be modern. We would look at work opportunities to be accompanied, or let me put it this way, if a person wants to be in the urban areas then he will have to have proof that he can work here. Otherwise, if he doesn't have proof that he has a job in Johannesburg and a house, then what is he doing here? Then he is adding to the problem, he's squatting, he's causing problems and we say he is not welcome here. Instead of having a passbook, he should have some sort of proof that he is welcome here. Otherwise, he only increases the problems, the social economic problems, and therefore we say certainly a form of influx control would very decidedly be re-introduced. We can't allow urbanisation at this alarming rate causing the deterioration of the standards in the cities.

POM     Effectively, the Group Areas Act?

KM     Yes, very decidedly. The only way that we can continue to live like whites according to our value system is to protect ourselves against being outnumbered.

POM     When you talk about negotiating an Afrikaner state within South Africa, who do you think would be at the table?

KM     All of those who are democratically elected leaders are welcome to negotiate with us if they wish to negotiate. I am fighting an election at the moment, I'm bone tired, I'm fighting to become a democratically elected leader. And, once I've done all this and I am elected, then I think I am welcome to sit a negotiation table. But, I'm simply not prepared to talk to Tutu. I'm prepared to talk to Buthelezi and others because they fought elections. We are not prepared to talk to the Boesaks and the Tutus, number one and number two, not to the African National Congress. What will be on the negotiating table? We will put on the agenda basically one thing and that is non-negotiable, that being our self-determination. We will talk about a number of things.

POM     But, you are laying down the pre-conditions?

KM     Just that one.

POM     Well, I mean true talks would involve no conditions.

KM     Oh no. No. we reject this. I mean, OK, what blacks do you think would be representative other than Buthelezi? Of all the homeland leaders, last year we had a tremendously successful municipal election for blacks. Whereas five years ago, only about twenty municipalities participated. Last year the blacks actually went in to participate in the black elections and 229 councils were elected, maybe two or three thousand councillors. Those we will talk to, they have fought elections. They can look me in the eye and talk to me because they also have fought an election. We are certain that they will come forth to talk, but we are not going to talk to these self-appointees. Who is Tutu? Who is Boesak? And those in Soweto Motlana, who is Motlana? He has never fought an election. He is Mr. Nobody. Who does he represent? Who does he represent? I can tell you that I represent people, so far eleven hundred people have voted for me. I have a programme that I have advanced and put on the table and they vote for that. And these are the tested principles. As a political scientist you will know that these are the tested principles. You can't come in with these fly-by-nights coming in, Tutu, and wanting to negotiate.

POM     But surely if the talks under those conditions almost set in a pre-determined way the boundaries of partition?

KM     No. We're not saying that, all we're saying is that the leader of a homeland is coming in as a representative of an independent state, whatever he comes in as. You see, Swaziland can also come in and Lesotho and Botswana. They are so-called independent states but if you look closely at them you will see that the Transkei will put one event and the others are far more advanced than those states. Yet the one is acknowledged by the world and the other one not. We are prepared to talk to them, All that we put on the agenda is our right to self-determination. We are not prepared to discuss it but the boundaries, interdependence, what they want to do, what is to happen to Soweto, that we can discuss.

POM     So you are assuming that in any settlement, Johannesburg will be part of?

KM     No. not necessarily, the boundaries can be discussed. We can talk about the gold mines. We can talk about the harvest. We can talk about the number of facilities, but the idea, the fundamental principle of white self-determination, we are not prepared to share power. This is why we split from the National Party. But let's take Soweto, I think one of the mistakes that the old National Party made, of which I was still a member, one of the mistakes we made at the time was that we were prescriptive, we told the blacks that each one of them should also have a homeland. That was prescription. Today we are looking towards a future where we will only claim self-determination for us. Hold up that good example to the others. They don't want it, they don't need it. So, let's assume. to oversimplify. that this tape-recorder, this piece in this area, this is white South Africa and, we are not going to tell the Zulus that you must have KwaZulu, you must have Swaziland and so on. If outside us they want to become what is now commonly referred to as a non-racial South Africa, a non-racial democracy, let them do it!

POM     Well, at this point in time, what parts of South Africa do you think should be part of an Afrikaner state?

KM     That which belongs to us and that is, when you have made provision for the coloureds' area which I've told you has two million morgen of land, when you've made provision for that triangle of Indian land, the triangle between Stanger, Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and the black states as they are clearly depicted on the map of South Africa, the rest is our land. You can now tell me, "Yes, it's 87% of the country." The answer is we are prepared to abandon that and just take five percent of the land provided we can select that five percent.

POM     If you had to pick the five percent?

KM     Oh, then we'd take the harvest and the gold mines, and we'd take the roads and the hospitals, and the schools, and so on, which is ridiculous. The point that I'm trying to make is that the percentages are very distorted. I can also tell you that I would much rather take 10,000 hectares of land in the Transkei before I take half a million in the Karoo. So the percentages are very distorted, Another argument is that in 1910 when the British started to partition South Africa, of the total package they then handed to Botswana a part, Lesotho a part, and Swaziland. If you go back to that period you will see that the blacks in fact now, taking that into consideration, have 50% of the land and we have fifty. There is another principle and that is nobody comes to you and says, "I don't have enough land. I want some of your land." It is ours, it is legally ours, it is historically ours.

     But I do concede that we have problems with large metropolises such as Soweto. You there have the demographic factor. Although it is historically white and legally white and economically white and we maintain it, the blacks have lived there for fifty years or so and it has become demographically black. So we say OK, let's talk about that. I would want Soweto to come forth with suggestions. I don't want to be prescriptive. Let Soweto hold a referendum. Let them really come up with some sort of democratic suggestion. And we will tell them we want to negotiate with you, suggest what you want to do but there is only one option we deny you, you can't share power with us whereby you will eventually dominate us, take over our country, destroy our identity. That's the only thing which is just unreasonable; that we will hold from you this power-sharing. Apart from that, you can become an independent city-state. You can either couple yourself or parts of yourself with some of the other independent states or you can become a confederation or a federation or whatever you want to do. We only deny you the possibility of dominating us.

POM     It seems to me that you said two things. One, that if you were to engage in talks, that you would do the (choosing) of the people who you would in fact talk with, so you set down one condition.

KM     Just the one condition.

POM     Well, then the second, if not condition, is almost one where you are saying you want to negotiate and partition a South Africa in a way that land owned by whites remains in white hands, i.e. 80% of the total land and that everybody else split up what's left.

KM     Yes. That's right, Because it is ours, it's our land, it belongs to us, we bought it. We took it when it belonged to nobody else, it's ours! I mean if you have ten million dollars, I can't come to you and say, "I only have a million. I want some of it. I've worked for you all my life. Come on give me half of your money." You'll tell me to go to (hell).

POM     When you travel abroad, where do you find your policies being accepted?

KM     I travel a lot, extensively, I find that when I talk to people at first they simply are 100% against me and I find that as the discussion progresses they start to get some understanding. They understand that the whites of South Africa are first world people. We are the products of western civilisation like yourself. Once they've spent time here, they start to find out that our black brothers have a different civilisation, they are third world people. Then people start to understand the differences between the first world people and the third world people are too great to be accommodated in one system because if they are accommodated in one system it is inevitable that the first world people will slowly but surely die, disappear and they will be dissolved into the third world people. And, then they understand that we are looking for models which will protect us against death. And, then they also look together with us at various models and then they see that Mr. Dirk Mudge of South West Africa says after twenty-eight years involved in this type of politics in South West Africa, there is no way that you can protect our white minority. There is no way, it is a fool's dream. So, having looked at all these measures to protect ourselves, we are entitled to protection, we know that partition is like a divorce, it is drastic but there is no other way. If you have another way in which we can protect our cultural heritage, our civilisation in these present circumstances, if you have a better way than partition, tell me. We might accept it.

POM     Look at some of the practical difficulties. How do you force, for example, people in large townships that are not in the homelands, who are in other white areas?

KM     No, we are not going to do that. We are not interested in forced removals. What we say is if you do some very careful physical planning, then, for instance, if you look at Secunda, Secunda is a big place where we make coal. This town was started just a few years ago. If the South Africans had placed that 50 kilometres more north than where it is today, then they need not have created another big black metropolis inside white South Africa. If it had been 50 kilometres further north then the blacks could have slept in their own countries, Lebowa and Kwandabele. They could have slept in Kwandabele, lived in Kwandabele and just commuted and go and work at Secunda. So bad planning, a cause for a few hundred thousand blacks to live in our part of the country instead of in theirs. So the idea is you decentralise and you make your factories here. This is the black country; this is the white country. They come and work here and they go back at night. We come and work, we go back at night. We are very interdependent economically. We help each other in many fields, but they have their own community life here, we have our own there, we live according to our own value systems. But we need it on the labour market.

POM     When you talk about protecting the Afrikaner identity, would the Anglo white have the same right?

KM     Oh, yes.

POM     Could they have a part of the territory? Would there be any carving up of 87% of the land?

KM     No. because it so appears that - when I talk of Afrikaner, it is the nucleus, it is the heartbeat of the white population, and there are a number of whites, thousands of them who do not share our ideals, If they do not want to live with us, then they can live in the other part of South Africa. We do not prescribe to them but we are very certain that by and far the larger part of the whites associate themselves with the ideals of the Afrikaner and we are a bilingual country. We treasure the English heritage.

POM     Surely, they should have the same right.

KM     Yes, if they want to, they can.

POM     How would that work?

KM     I don't know. It's for them to come up with it, We don't prescribe, Suppose the English say, "No, no, we would like to have a little England here", we will come forth and talk. I don't think they would because the differences between us are too small. On the other hand if you look at Austria and Germany I don't know what the differences between them are. They are all Germans yet they are two independent states. I don't know what the differences are between Peru and Chile yet they are two different states. But people are entitled to do what they want to do, if they want to do that let them do that. We have the problem, how are we going to protect ourselves against extinction in all these odd numbers?

POM     What if in this election you didn't do so well?

KM     The struggle continues.

PAT     The way I read it, the AWB have become much more politicised.

KM     The NWB is gone.

PAT     It's gone?

KM     It's gone. It's leader who was caught with a woman, etc. It's finished.

PAT     Really?

KM     It's finished. It was a charismatic movement built upon the image of one man. And, a woman striding.

PAT     What about the - it was all him. What about the voters that he appealed to?

KM     Yes, oh, yes.

POM     Your perspective on the current economic situation on the country?

KM     I think that there are two big problems, The first is that the ideology is unattainable. If you declare South Africa an undivided country then you have no right to give the whites more than the blacks. So you will have now to take away from the haves and give to the have-nots. So the whites will definitely become impoverished and our standards will go down because there is no way you can give a better hospital bed to a white man than to a black in the same country. That's a problem. So, logically, they are in trouble. We say, if we have a white South Africa, what we do to our people that is none of any other's people's business. Secondly, poor handling of the economy is to be blamed also for the trouble we are in. The government has overspent consistently for the last eight years. In terms of our money the government has overspent 42 billion rand in eight years over the budget. We are not able to pay our commitments and our house is not in order. The country is unstable. There is no stability really. There is a state of emergency and there is no clear vision or plan for the future, There is uncertainty and confusion. If I am an overseas investor and I look at South Africa, it's overspending, it doesn't pay its debts, it doesn't have it's house in order, it has no clear vision of the future, I will also be really hesitant to invest.

POM     Do you believe that sanctions have had an impact on the economy?

KM     Oh yes.

POM     And, these loans that are scheduled for repayment next month may only get rolled over provided certain conditions are met?

KM     Possibly, international pressure.

POM     What makes you believe that in your partition of South Africa, the pursuit of policies to pertain in South Africa ...?

KM     They will have made the outside deal.

POM     (inaudible)

KM     It can't lead to an intensification because the sufferers will be the blacks. The outside world has reached a stage where they've cut to the bone. They are now cutting right into the black man's stomach. So I can't see if the outside world has anything good left over for the blacks. How can they increase the sanctions? Because then they are really going to hurt these little blacks running around here. Us? They can never get down to our knees. I would rather ride a bicycle, plant vegetables in my back yard and live at that level but be myself rather than to be rich and to be governed by blacks and become a black-orientated different animal than what I am. I wasn't made that way.

     Finally, I am very hopeful of the future, I think we must never say do your damndest, I don't think we must ever threaten, we must never say that we want to use violence and so on. We must keep talking if we really have a good case. We must keep on putting it to people, putting it across, build bridges to people trying to improve relationships. I'm sure people will understand. And, in this way I'm positive that in the long run we will survive as a people. It's easy to surrender that. We can stop that pleasure today provided we surrender and we take Mandela, the communist, as a president. Mandela and the ones that they are talking to now, said clearly, "I have not deviated from my stance of 28 years ago." He said this two weeks ago. And, 28 years ago he was convicted as a bloody terrorist who fabricated more than 200,000 hand grenades, 48,000 land mines, 50 tons of explosives, etc. And, he wrote a booklet called, 'How to be a Good Communist'. So, Mandela is a good communist, he's a bloody terrorist and he says., "I have not changed," You think I want him as my president?

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.