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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Aug 1989: Evans, Gavin

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GE     So that's the one aspect. Then the other kind of bridge building thing is much more low key where we're just trying to get normal white people and black people to meet. I think it's particularly beneficial, obviously for the white people, so that we have things where we take people into Soweto, Alexandra and they just meet not only with activists, there are people who are organisationally involved, people who've recently come out of detention who are restricted and it exposes them to a different world in a relatively unthreatening way which we think is important, it's in the breaking down of racism really. So that's the one kind of thing.

     Then we have been involved in a Jo'burg One City campaign where it's been quite good in that you've had an Indian group [like ACSTOF(?)] and you've had the Democratic Party working together and we've helped to bring the two together, also got our members involved. So I don't know, you might have read in the press about people, we organised for a whole range of people to go and stay in the city centre with black people living there to find out about the conditions. Then there was a resistance around the public swimming pool in Hillbrow, which is a white's only swimming pool, where people went and swam and defied that.

     Some of our members are involved with this current defiance campaign but we try to be careful that we're not seen as the end organisation, we're not seen as DP because it makes it transitionally more difficult and although a lot of our members would be DP and other members would be MDM people we've had to try and keep a kind of balance. So, for example, we were pushed into taking a position around these elections and what we should do. It's obviously very difficult to try to span those two because of the climate and in the end the position we came out with, we tried not to be too high profile about the press, they were just pushing us and to call on whites to vote for the DP, to support the vote for the Coloured and Indian areas. We think it's the correct one, we do actually think that support of whites, we'd rather see more people in the DP, people elected.

POM     If you look at the situation today and the situation at the start of the emergency, what things have gotten better and what things have gotten worse?

GE     In terms of the things that are worse, at the start of the emergency, this is from a perspective of opposition to apartheid, at the start of the emergency organisations in the townships were quite strong, there were street committees operating in most townships. Areas like the Eastern Cape in particular there were a lot of things happening. At the same time there were negotiations going on between and there was a growing maturity in organisations, negotiations going on between township organisations which were affiliates to ... and local authorities and really the white local governments and with business leaders at a whole range of levels. At the educational level it was happening as well where you had, for example, Soweto Parents Crisis Committee and later the NECC negotiating with Sam de Beer. So I think that kind of development was very important.

     The organisation in many areas was very strong and the street committees were a kind of a very grassroots form in an embryonic way of people asserting their power where that really hadn't happened before. I think what then happened was the emergency was declared, people went into hiding, the key leadership were detained, 30,000 people over the next two years, and that broke down quite quickly.

POM     It broke down the network of?

GE     It broke down those organisational networks, yes. And all those negotiations stopped. There were directives from the securocrats in government for those who were more aligned towards some situation of negotiations, the Sam de Beers, the people in the Constitutional Affairs Department, people in Foreign Affairs to a certain extent, were sidelined and the hawks took over, the securocrats, the people in the Law & Order Department, in Defence, in the police dominated decision making. The State Security Council became increasingly the government over the Cabinet which became really a rubber stamp for the SSC.

     Then there were the death squads which sprung up in a lot of townships, vigilante groups which were clearly sponsored by the state, a lot of people killed. I think that with that kind of breakdown of those networks, of the leadership, you had things like the necklacing and that kind of thing. I'm not saying that there weren't elements of that kind of behaviour before but it was much more controlled and when the emergency happened the leadership who had been controlling that kind of thing I think increasingly that kind of, that expression of militance was being brought under control. When the emergency happened that kind of practice became much more prevalent. If you look at even the government statistics over that period, I don't have them at the moment, but the practice of necklacing really came to an end early to mid 1987 and it was most prevalent in the year before then which was the period of the emergency and really the emergency started in 1985, July 1985, and there was a brief respite in which some organisations re-established and then it was just simply ...

POM     At what point did the comrades come into existence? What is their history?

GE     Well their history is very long and I think the recent history really you could go back to the late seventies. I think that the struggle in SA regarding those and the way I see it is those waves, the waves would become bigger and the space between them was being smaller. If you go back to the fifties there was the whole defiance campaign and the build up until things were crushed decisively in the early sixties. Then there was a long period of lull and a gradual build up in the early seventies leading to an explosion around 1976 and that was then crushed. I think since then there has been a gradual build up of a different kind of organisation. Whereas the period around 1976 was dominated by Black Consciousness thinking and there was an emphasis which I think was very important and it was a positive development largely on asserting and reasserting black pride, I suppose, would be the equivalent, and the importance of that. Because of that nature, because it was an ideological thing, it was dominated by students, school and university college students.

     The period after that there was more of an attempt to start, for that kind of thinking and later a different kind of thinking to start penetrating at a grassroots level. So there was the growth of the trade union movement which really took off. Although it started in the early seventies it only really took off in the late seventies and I think it happened for various reasons. It was pressure to liberalise labour laws which assisted that process. So there were very different community organisations, some strong, some very weak, a wide range of community newspapers some of which were one day wonders and others which like Grassroots in Cape Town which has lasted it's now in its eleventh year. But there was an emergence of grassroots, or a range of grassroots organisations, women's organisations, civic and youth organisations and so on involving the ordinary people in the townships, not certainly the majority of ordinary people at least in the early stages and there was that gradual build up. There were brief explosions, there was the 1980 schools boycott which contributed in some sense to the growth of COSAS which was then banned five years later.

     What happened then was that a key moment came in 1983, August 1983 when the UDF was formed, which basically pulled together all those loose strands. It was quite amorphous. I mean people had the idea that the UDF was a tight and high directed thing. In fact it wasn't, that was part of its strength, it was also part of its weakness that it didn't have that vertical structure, command structure. That meant that things went in different ways often but it was an important development I think in terms of resistance and it was pulling together a whole lot of strands. Then through that being under one umbrella it was able then to co-ordinate setting up other things in different areas. So you'd start in a place like the Free State, start it getting activated. So I think that was the key organisational moment.

     From the state side the key moment was in 1984 the elections for the coloured and Indian parliament and those came at the same time as the black local authority, the first black local authority elections for the town councils and there was massive resistance to both of those, a very strong boycott with very low polls. The official poll in the coloured areas was 30%, and 21% I think in the Indian areas but that was a poll of the number of registered voters. It was actually considerably lower than that and that kind of resistance led that initial explosion at the end of 1984 in the townships.

POM     Just to back up a bit, I suppose what I'm trying to get at is in a lot of the literature, and we saw a play the other night, My Children My Africa, and there's reference there to the comrades where it seems to be an informal structure of street kids who exercise the power in the townships, that in a way power has devolved down to younger and younger people and their parents or the community in general allows them to exercise that power.

GE     Well basically that's what I was coming on to. There were then very rapidly street committees, people's courts and various structures which were set up in the townships throughout the country and initially the leadership of those or it didn't take long before the leadership of those was the restricted leadership in the community. But in the period around first 1985 I think, about 8000 people were detained in the 1985 emergency and then again in 1986 where a much larger number of people were detained. You had your sort of top and your second and your third layer of leadership removed and that's what happened was that the children then moved into positions of leadership without having the basics organisationally, politically, educationally or whatever else to be able to play that kind of role. The term comrades has been used for much longer than that.

POM     Is that still a situation today that these youngsters still retain their power?

GE     No, I think the emergency broke that. It also broke the structures of organisations. First it broke the top levels of leadership and then you had the children moving into the leadership and finally it broke that as well, but not entirely. There were still residues of organisations taking place. Some areas like the Eastern Cape were quite seriously affected, Alexandra Township here was another example, Bonteheuwel in the Western Cape, things were quite badly crushed.

     What we found is that in a lull period, in a period where the state had to back off because of international pressure, as they are at the moment, and those things are being quickly re-established in different forms. People have learnt the lesson. The practice of necklacing, I haven't seen any examples of it for two years now, partly I think because of the ANC made quite a decisive intervention into stopping that and probably it was softer at the public level than perhaps it was informally. But I think nevertheless there has been a kind of learning experience from that, from the emergency.

     To come back to your original question, in a sense that's one of the positive things, there's a much greater realism. In the period 1984/85, early 1986, people really thought that the comrades in the townships really thought that liberation was around the corner and just required one more push. I think there's a greater understanding of the kind of state they're dealing with. It's uneven. The idea of negotiations, for example, although it's been on the ANC's agenda for a while, that doesn't necessarily filter back in an uncomplicated form to the townships, to the trade unions but people are beginning to see that, realise that that's on the agenda, they've got to start talking about it, they have different ideas about it and you have different proposals coming out of it. You have COSATU saying the truce must be confined to the ... of the ANC saying the truce must be removed from the townships which is a kind of a lesser demand.

POM     Two questions on that, one, a couple of people have said to us that the ANC, particularly the leadership outside of the country, it's been outside for a number of years in exile, is in many respects out of touch with the grassroots in the townships and that sometimes they make policy or policy decisions in a void. What's your analysis of that?

GE     Not coming from the grassroots in the townships I would have to be cautious in answering that but my impression is that they were very in touch generally politically and they knew that very up to date information on a whole range of things wasn't reported in the press, which to me indicated that they must have some structures that are reporting to them. They also now have these delegations whether like our ... delegation or whether it's UDF delegations going. There have been delegations from here, so there are 75 in the last few years that have gone. So it's another level at which they're getting constant information and it's not I mean it's UDF and COSATU as well as white delegations. I got the impression that they were in touch with the developments on the ground in the country. There were sometimes details of certain individual things that they didn't have, or some among them didn't have, but that generally they were in touch. It's hard to say. Maybe one could come up with examples of particular townships where there hasn't been that level of contact, maybe the odd structures that are linked in some way and that can happen.

POM     You mentioned the word 'negotiations'. Somebody said to us that if you get ten rand for every time you heard the word negotiations you'd be a rich man by now.

GE     Was that Herman Cohen?

PAT     He said it when he left. He said, If I had $10 for every time somebody mentioned it I would have come home a wealthy man.

POM     This is a change obviously from four or five years ago. Would you care to place it in the proper context of what you think may happen in the next four to five years?

GE     Yes. It's difficult to say what may happen without saying what I think has happened up until now which I think is that firstly in many respect the government and the NP are in a weaker position than they've been before. For one thing, the thing that's often under-emphasised is that they haven't succeeded completely in crushing the democratic movement. What they succeeded in doing was breaking some structures but they didn't succeed in breaking the embryo of those structures and they didn't succeed in breaking the spirit. They didn't win people over. In fact more the opposite happened, that the UDF related organisations in that period of the emergency even though they were very weak in some areas were able to broaden their field and maybe because they had to, with the shebeen owners and the taxi drivers and small traders and people like that, NAFCOC, all had to come in much closer under the banner of the Mass Democratic Movement or at least closely aligned and much more closely aligned to it. The NSL Soccer League, those organisations which weren't part of the political arena really before and they have been drawn in. So they haven't succeeded in even drawing over the middle ground.

     I did an interview a couple of weeks ago with General Charles Lloyd(?), the Secretary of the State Security Council and he said their main aim is they believed 70% - 80% of the people were in the middle. You had sort of 15% who were radicals on the one side and then there was the government and if you could remove the radicals then you will be able to win over that middle ground as long as you can provide them with the things they want. I asked him what are the things they want? And he said they want houses and they want soccer fields and they want food and they want roads. And I said, And political power? He said, No, they don't want that.

     Now that's the kind of view of the hawks of the securocrats, that really political power at local level that's all they need, and that we can deal with the national level and that democracy is a pretty dangerous thing. Now I think that's failed. They haven't won over people. There are always enough people to go into the police and army who don't have jobs and enough people who will be induced to go into the local government structures but they don't carry a mass base with them. Inkatha does but that's a bit different, it's a much more complex dynamic there.

     So I think that's the one thing. The second thing is the situation in Angola and Namibia's independence. My view of it is that the securocrats didn't want Namibia to be independent. In fact what they were looking towards was to move from Cuito Cuanavale right through and to install a Unita government and they weren't able to do that. The cost would have been too high and they might not even have succeeded at that. That meant that without Angola they had to sue for peace in Namibia sooner rather than later, sooner meant that it's closer to their terms. Certainly I think the process hasn't been unambiguously against their terms but it wasn't something they were looking towards prior to that. I think they've managed to salvage something out of it for themselves. That weakened them because it means that the defence component of things was much less the hawks. The politics of peace became much more prominent and they had to stop support for destabilisation, for example in Mozambique and so on and that reduced the extent to which the SADF was dominant in thinking because it meant that other people with different concerns, the foreign policy, the finance people moved more to the fore.

POM     But at the same time you're saying that the NP or the government were in a weaker state. That's a contradiction if in fact the securocrats' power was being lessened within the political power of the government.

GE     Well the securocrats were part of government. They were basically the people who were dominating the State Security Council which was effectively dominating the Cabinet. They met every day before the Cabinet meeting and it was really a rubber stamp process on the key political decisions. So the state as a whole, I think, was - in certain respects it's power was reduced and within that state the power of the securocrats, partly as a result of that process was reduced and the power of, I wouldn't call them doves at all, but of the other group was strengthened, of which De Klerk is a part and it doesn't mean he's any more verlig, liberal, than PW Botha. In some ways he's more conservative but he is a party man, he believes in the processes of the NP, he believes that the NP must decide things, not security officials, which is an important difference.

     I think the third and maybe the most important thing is the international situation, particularly the pressure around the debts. They know there's a Commonwealth meeting in October, they know that in 1992 there's a European Parliament that's going to be a Margaret Thatcher ... she mightn't even be there any longer, that the Bush administration, whatever one says about it, is more inclined to pressurising the SA government, is more concerned about a bipartisan consensus than the Reagan administration, that they've got rid of the right wing extremists, the far rightists who were South Africa's allies within the Reagan administration. So they've got a different scenario there, pulls under a lot of pressure in all sorts of ways which has reduced his hand.

     So that's the kind of international scenario that's moved against them in a way that makes it difficult for them and so there are carrots and sticks operating which I think have influenced the process towards negotiations. I don't think that despite all that that at the moment the dominant thinking in the NP is interested in negotiations at all. They're interested in playing a line, in using the term 'negotiations', but they're not interested in negotiating with the ANC until they they've beaten the ANC and they're not interested, and certainly FW de Klerk is not, in a situation that leads to negotiations which remove the power of the NP and which move beyond the group framework, racial group framework.

     That's at the moment though, but I think that what one's likely to see is that FW is not going to be able to move fast enough for those pressures and various things are going to give along the way. Eventually FW himself, I don't think that he is South Africa's Gorbachev as some people have put it.

POM     Has the NP ever spelt out in more detail what they mean by sharing power?

GE     Well they've got this current five year plan, constitutional plan, which is just a whole lot of gobbledegook. If you look at it it's hard to make sense of it but basically what it boils down to is, I think, some idea of a fourth chamber for blacks but they want a situation where no group dominates another group, which is interesting because then each group has a veto over the other group to prevent group domination which is the official way of explaining it. But the ones who have an interest in putting through legislation are the ones who want to end the Group Area Act and the Population Registration Act and the whites who have power to veto, all that.

     It's such a nonsense concept because it has had no support. Even Buthelezi, even the kind of people that they would be looking towards playing ball with have not accepted it all.

POM     It doesn't seem very different from the Indaba in Natal?

GE     I see a lot of problems in the Indaba but it's a regional solution.

POM     But it had this kind of veto. It had a second chamber where each group had a veto over the other.

GE     Yes possibly it does, possibly there are similarities there. I think the Indaba people at least they would see what they're doing as evolving to a different point, not being ultimately a group as in the sense of racial group. I mean they're not going to find any buyers for this five year plan of theirs, they're really not. It's doomed to failure and I think the more farsighted among them know it. But they've got to win elections and they're finding a few problems there.

PAT     Can you talk a little bit about that? They look a little schizophrenic. They're talking to the frontline states, started playing the Mozambique card and then moving back here where the five year plan doesn't really break any real new ground. What are they trying to do? Are they moving right to the Conservative Party or trying to go to the Democratic Party, fighting constituencies with the DP? What's the strategy?

GE     As you say they're saying different things to different people and they have to say that. They have to be telling the world that they're serious about negotiations and trying to be as vague as they can on the details. They're seeing that it's harder to break the CP than the DP because of the kind of direction they've been forced to move in and so their main thrust of the election campaign is aimed at the DP around security which is a bit of a mess for them because they're attacking the DP on meeting with the ANC but in fact there have been a whole lot of clandestine meetings between government people and the ANC which we know about. In fact Mark Philips wrote an article in today's Weekly Mail which is quite interesting. That's really just the tip of the iceberg.

     But the Mandela meeting really blew it for them because here's the government meeting with the ANC and yet they're attacking the DP on that. But that's been their main election thrust. So they've attacked the CP for what happened in Boksburg and Carltonville, they're attacking the DP for meeting with the ANC, but they're not coming up with anything very coherent.

     The election campaign has been very weak from a party who's had a history of running a fantastically well oiled election machine, they just have looked so unimpressive. I don't know if you've watched them on TV in these debates but most of them have come across really weak. I don't think there's going to be a hung parliament this time. It's possible but I think it's unlikely. It's just the government controls government too much, it controls too many things at the moment for there not to be a swing again in the last month. But I think they're going to lose a good 30 seats. Certainly if there is another white election in five years time, if things carry on in the same way, there will definitely be a hung parliament and you may even get a CP majority although I think it's unlikely at the moment.

POM     So if the CP do better than expected and they've set exceptional levels for themselves, let's say they double their support in parliament, will that put pressure on the NP to become more conservative, to slow its process of 'reform'?

GE     My hope is that it would help split the NP. I'd like to see a hung parliament situation where there are 166 seats in the white house and let's say the DP optimistically win 35 seats and that the CP win 50 seats, which is conceivable, I think it's a little bit unlikely but it's certainly not impossible. Then the Nats have to decide which way they go. If they go towards the conservatives there can be an embargo in terms of sanctions which even Thatcher would find very difficult to ignore, if they go towards the democrats then you can set hard terms around negotiations and you'll lead to splitting and a fissure in the NP. That could be very good for the country. I don't think electoral mechanisms are ultimately going to decide the fate of this country but I think that they will reflect some of the kinds of pressures and kind of suspect process of breaking down the logjam that actually exists at the moment and it needs a weakening of the NP I think.

     And then I think a process of carrot and stick internationally, with a fair amount of stick there could push eventually, combined with a range of other pressures internally and it might not all be even or pushing in the same way at the same time but the government towards the negotiating table. Even if things work out in the most optimistic way within the next five years, I mean I must say I don't see people who are talking about negotiations in the next two years, I think to me it's unlikely. Certainly you have the pre-negotiation talks on talks and that kind of thing which is very important, but as we saw in Rhodesia that carried on for a very long time before Lancaster House and in Namibia it took ten years and in Vietnam it took even longer. So that is not the same as negotiations but that's at least a new stage. I think we're really beginning to enter that stage.

POM     Again, looking back a couple of years and taking the present, are there any commonly held perceptions today that didn't exist say five or even ten years ago? Is there, for example, a common perception now that Nelson Mandela will be released some time in the pretty near future?

GE     Oh yes. I think that's a given. If it doesn't happen it will be catastrophic for the NP internationally.

POM     Are there any other prominent perceptions like that that have emerged in the last three or four years that everyone takes it for granted, or most people?

GE     I think most people within the MDM and most people a significant number of people will, in the left of the NP and obviously the DP, accept that there are going to be some kind of negotiations in the future. That's a fairly it's becoming an increasingly common perception. What those negotiations entail, what the shape of the table is, under what conditions, who has to renounce violence and so on and so on, those are all going to be played out, those are things that are going to be fought out from now on. But I think that's becoming a common perception. I'm trying to think, it's hard to say.

PAT     There's something that we ran into in the last couple of days, the repeal of the Group Areas Act, it seems that the NP is backing very quickly away from it. Something might take its place like you said? It doesn't always seem to be important any more compared to when you talk about dismantling apartheid legislation and discriminatory legislation, they seem to be givens in a way and that's not what negotiations are about.

GE     I still think though that it's going to a while before we even see the repeal of the Group Areas Act. They will do it by stealth, this grey area is a stick. But FW is a man who from all accounts, from people who are close to him or people who have met him, is a person committed to this group identity thing. He really actually believes in it. It's not that one person makes the state's decision but he's reflecting a strong current of thinking within the NP which they are certainly a long way from abandoning. I don't see the repeal of the Group Areas Act as a short term possibility, I mean short term in the next two to three years. I think that various reforms people always say, they compare it to the pass laws. Pass laws have been rendered unworkable.

     The Group Area Act is becoming, beginning, it's very frayed at the edges and even beyond the edges, but it still serves a lot of people's interests who vote for the NP and the CP and will vote for the CP in the Group Area Act. Then once you're in the Groups Area Act it makes it so much more difficult if everybody is living in the same areas not by stealth, not by grey area choice but as a matter of policy, how do you have separate amenities; schools for example? To get the NP, to get white Afrikaners to accept that their schools are open is another matter and it's hard when people are all living in the same area and that they're allowed to live in the same area and they're not just grey areas, to have that.

     And then the Population Registration Act is the key thing. So I'm not sure that they're going to repeal the Group Areas Act till after an immense amount of pressure and they will do it in stages as well.

POM     If the table were being set today, the negotiating table, what are the main obstacles to the Nats getting their act together? What divisions among them would manifest themselves and make it difficult for them to present some kind of united front?

GE     I think the one thing is that the situation of oppression has meant that it's become that divisions, for example, between Inkatha and the UDF which were there already, would exacerbate it. But now there's a bit more openness, the government has been very opposed to the negotiations in Natal, they've been constantly detaining the UDF leaders. They wanted Inkatha with police support to wipe the UDF out because it's meant a recognition of the ANC's role and so on and so on. But I think that's one division that's going to be very important to sell. They're not going to be together, they're not going to stand for any election together, they're going to be competing parties but at least if they're competing on terms that are relatively peaceful that will be very important. I think it's very important that it's overcome and I think that the MDM has been pushed into making a lot of compromises in that regard. The ANC broke off relationships in 1979 with Inkatha and then when the impis were sent in to beat up the school students in 1980 matters just got worse and worse. Now they've had to recognise the situation of recognising each other's existence as legitimate and both have to make compromises. Inkatha certainly didn't want to do that either for a long time. I think that's the one thing.

     I think the second thing is that there will need to be a united position around negotiations, around what are the obstacles from the government side that have to be removed. I think one's moving towards that. I don't think those are huge problems. You're getting Inkatha, you're getting Tom Boya, you're getting the ANC, COSATU, even the other parties in the tricameral parliament say very similar things about the conditions that need to be met, the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of organisations and so on. So that will need to be united.

     I think that the most important thing will be that the democratic movement is able to establish structures, legal and presumably underground, that can assert and can have a discipline in a positive sense, a cohesion and that without those structures you're going to get confusion, you're going to get all sorts of negative things developing as happened in the emergency.

     In terms of other groups, other than Inkatha I don't think that any of the other so-called black leaders have very much support. Certainly in the Indian areas none of those people in the tricameral parliament have any support. The Labour Party has some but it hasn't got any real power in it's own sense, so that's not an issue I think. The Africanist and Black Consciousness groups, I've seen very little sight of them in the last two years. The PAC has pulled off no successful guerrilla attacks and they've had a lot of guerrillas caught recently which indicates a large level of infiltration of their ranks but they haven't pulled off any attacks. There's a residue of support in a couple of unions, in NACTU, for Africanism in quite a few of them, but NACTU is not a particularly powerful body and there are strong currents of thought within it that wants to align with COSATU. The BC movement has no international component really to speak off. The PAC, as I say, is nothing, it exists in name. AZAPO has done nothing really in the last two years, last year or two. I don't think they have very much support. They had support in the columns of The Sowetan and City Press perhaps on an intellectual level among some priests and so on but they don't have a mass base. I don't think that is really a very important issue. I don't think that's going to disrupt things, that one is going to get that as a major competitive force as was the case with ZANU and ZAPU for example. But Inkatha, I think, is a much more important question.

POM     You wouldn't have a situation of the ANC sitting down to negotiate with the government on behalf of blacks? There will be a much broader representation of players on the black side will there?

GE     Well it depends how the negotiations take place. If there's something along the Namibian lines then before any real negotiations there's the election of a Constituent Assembly and that then draws up the constitution. Negotiations have taken place through third parties but you still haven't had SWAPO, the SA government formally sitting down to negotiate in that kind of sense. Maybe that was because there's a UN plan which has been in place for a while and SA is a little bit different. It really depends on what the format is. I think it's unlikely that you're going to get a simple two-sided situation with the ANC on behalf of blacks and the SA government on behalf of whites. Whites won't accept it and there will probably be very many blacks who won't either. I think you'll probably get a series of talks about talks and a gradual agreement coming and then you will probably get the western powers coming with some kind of proposal and people being pushed, the Soviet Union pushing the ANC from one side and the government getting pushed a bit harder from the western countries from the other side and eventually everybody agreeing to that and then some kind of election with perhaps both sides having to make a whole range of compromises and a long process in between and possibly breaking down all over the place but eventually amounting to I mean it's very difficult to predict that kind of scenario, it's a guess.

POM     This is your perception of the economy. We've heard, again, two or three varying stories ranging from 'the economy is a basket case' and on the other side, 'we've withstood the most severe tests and the economy is on its way back and the stock exchange is booming and things are not terrific but they're definitely getting better than they were a couple of years ago.'

GE     Yes, I think the economy has some very major structural ... Firstly, I'm not an economist but firstly the gold price might be going up a little bit but basically gold is almost a third of what it was a few years ago and SA's foreign exchange reserves have ultimately come primarily, that's been it's main source of foreign exchange. That has contributed to a situation where SA had a balance of payments crisis. It's basically partly because of sanctions, partly because it's destabilised this whole region so much that it doesn't have much of a market for its exports beyond certain food and things like that. It's not a major exporting country and that's why it's making such a play for Africa because it's exports are not even competitive in the rest of the world aside from sanctions. It's totally reliant on imports as far as capital goods go, as far as machinery and factories. That's just something not produced.

GE     The rand is about 37 cents to the dollar and the dollar is not fantastically strong either compared with some of the other foreign currencies. So the rand is pretty low so that it means remember a few years ago the rand was worth more than a dollar so it means that basically when you're buying those machines to make your factory run or you're buying those armaments through Taiwan or Israel or whatever the other country is, American armaments, you have to pay three times more and then you probably have to pay another 10% or 15% more for sanctions busting.

     So the balance of payments is a real crisis. I think the loans then were the means, as most third world countries and as the US itself has found, to meet the requirements particularly in terms of foreign exchange but domestically as well you will have to borrow and that wasn't a real problem when you could simply roll over those loans but when you can't and if those loans are not rolled over or are rolled over under conditions that you find difficult to meet then you're in a real crisis situation because your economy is reliant on imports. Those imports require foreign exchange and foreign exchange requires foreign exchange reserves and if your exports are not more than your imports or at least balanced then you have to borrow that money or you have to take money from the taxpayer, which has happened as well. That's why we have toll roads for example. We've got a great thing of privatising as the government's claiming, that might be part of it and it's because all the money from the roads is being used to pay back the foreign debt. The best thing to do to pay for the roads is to privatise them.

     I think they're in a real crisis in that sense. It's such a vulnerable spot. If they can't get loans the economy won't grind to a halt but it reaches a situation of crisis proportions where the whole system becomes in danger, I think, of disintegrating. It's not a little island economy, it's not a food based economy basically reliant on agricultural goods like Zimbabwe which was much more like that. In some senses in that way Zimbabwe was less vulnerable but not entirely, it also required foreign exchange and ultimately SA pulled the plug on it. But I think that the SA economy is very vulnerable to trade sanctions in general and particularly to any threats to its foreign loans or anything related to its balance of payments. That's just part of it. Inflation is going up at the moment and inflation I think ultimately contributes to the state of the rand, it pushes the rand down in value I would think.

POM     Is there a third perception that sanctions have had a greater impact than most people would have believed when they first came in?

CE     Certain sanctions have definitely had an impact, the whole pressure around it, there was a time when SA 18 months ago you had Les Manley, our SA Ambassador to the UN saying to the world, Do your damndest. You don't find the SA government saying that any more and it's not because they've suddenly got nice. The primary pressure has been international and, sure, there's international diplomatic pressure but that's related to trade, it's not a separate thing. So I think, yes, it has been effective. I don't think the government puts as much money and effort as it does into sanctions busting into arguing against sanctions if they weren't afraid of them. I don't think they would be speaking so sweetly to people who are starting to put quite a bit of pressure on them if it wasn't for the fact that they realised that they had very little option.

POM     But you're still saying that despite that that the Group Areas Act will probably still be on the books three years from years from now even though pressure externally to do something in order to re-finance the loans will be increasing?

GE     Yes. Obviously that's not the only pressure they face. They face internal pressures, they face their own history. Their power base is reliant on white power in a sense and the country is reliant on white privilege and white privilege is protected by legislation. It might be starting to break down at points but there's still a lot of protecting to be done. It's obviously not the only pressure they face. Up until now the pressure internationally has been relatively mild.

     The SA government has been in a very fortunate position of having for eight years the most right wing and most favourable administration that they could possibly have had really, including Nixon and the Kissinger doctrine, they haven't had a friend like they had and even there by the end of it the Crocker policy was beginning to dominate over the Buchanans and the lunatics like that. They've had Thatcher who has drawn a line about sanctions and she's drawn a line about ANC violence and that's been even more favourable to SA because I think that the SA economy is more reliant on British investment than American investment. So a very favourable government in Germany. It's had a right wing government in Israel which has not really been very interested in pressures around it although even that has had to give to a certain extent.

     So it's been a very favourable situation internationally in many respects. I think that had there been a Democratic government in America, had there been a Labour government in Britain, things might have happened a bit quicker. There might have been much more kicking and resisting. The point that we're at now might have come three or four years earlier.

POM     Thank you very much.

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.