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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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: Fismer, Chris
POM I'm talking with Chris Fismer. First of all could you give me your overview of this election? Do you think the National Party is going to do better than expected, worse than expected, or what do you think the outcome will be in terms of the strength of the Conservative Party and the Democratic Party?
CF To make a prediction whether we are going to have results better than expected or not depends on who is casting the expectations. Our own expectation is that we will win the election and we will not only gain the most seats but we will also gain the majority of the seats in the House of Assembly. That's our expectation. I know there are some people who say there might be a hung parliament where we don't have an absolute majority in the House of Assembly, we don't expect that. According to my figures and also in this constituency I don't expect that. I'm not saying that it might be that we will not lose some of the seats that we have at the moment. And if we had to make a prediction on that it might be that we will lose more seats to the right, to the Conservative Party than what we will lose to the Democratic Party.
POM I've gone through the campaign literature that the National Party has put out and two things stood out for me. One was that it pledged an end to all discriminatory laws. What precisely is meant by that? Does it mean for example that the Group Areas Act will be repealed?
CF Well, maybe from your point of view the thing that South Africa is mostly described by is the word apartheid and what is apartheid? What is apartheid? Apartheid if you really define it or try to define it, and there are many definitions, everyone attempts with a different definition, apart from apartheid being an approach where one group regards himself as better than another group and has more rights than another group in a particular country I think apartheid can also be described as a set of laws where there have been hundreds of them which in one or other way discriminated against a particular group and in the favour in this instance of the white group. And as far as apartheid can be defined as those sets of laws which favoured one group against others, we want to get rid of those laws. And it must be replaced in our view with a system or with laws, if it has to be replaced by a particular law to control a particular situation, if that situation has to be controlled at all by law, it might be that it doesn't need it at all. But if it has to be replaced by something else that something else must be an agreement and a negotiated agreement amongst the majority of the people of this country, and then you can un-turn any law.
POM I suppose to many Americans at least the Group Areas Act would still be regarded as the centrepiece of apartheid. I'm still not clear whether the National Party would repeal that law.
CF Well there are other laws that can also be regarded as the so called pillars of apartheid. There is also the Population and Registration Act, the law of separate amenities, the Separate Amenities Act, in our instance they must definitely go and be replaced by a negotiated agreement on what it is being replaced. As far as the Group Areas Act is concerned, we have already introduced through parliament a new act on free settlement areas and on granting local authority powers in the free settlement areas where we accept the fact that that there are people in South Africa, it is not clear at this stage for anybody how many people it would be, but there are people in this country in this country who do not like to live amongst a particular group and do not want to enjoy any form of protection for a particular group. They don't want to be anything else than only South Africans and no other sub classification and they also want to live in their particular ways in such areas, And therefore regarding that, those people are definitely substantially numbered, whether it is one percent of the population or ten percent or fifty percent, we don't know, but we have introduced an act on the free settlement areas where it would be possible for anybody to go and live in that particular area.
POM What's the official title of the Act. The Act of Free Settlements?
CF Yes, the Act of Free Settlement Areas. There are two acts, It's the Act of Free Settlement Areas and then the Act on Local Authority Powers Increase Settlement Areas.
POM So a local authority could decide that some areas of the city could be set aside as areas in which any one could settle from a particular group?
CF Yes, it's not the local authority that has the final option, it's the whole procedure described in the Act on how it has been decided, who can apply and then the investigation that has to be conducted which includes that the views of people in an area on the matter must also be taken into consideration. It is not the ultimate because you may find that a few people are very much against it but if it is in the broader interest of that particular area then you will overrule the wishes of a number of people who might be against it. So we are not absolute on the fact that people of that particular area, that their vote should be final whether it must be open or not because there might be other factor to take into consideration.
In the beginning we would like, before the end of the year, that free settlement areas must be introduced and then it depends on the demand for that. We foresee that it might be the exception on the rule for maybe two or three years to come and on the experience that the whole population then will have of those areas. For instance that there is peace and stability there, that there is law and order in those areas and that people lose their preconceived ideas that they have to live on their own, that they lose nothing by living in those areas. It might be that in a future South Africa free settlement areas will become the rule not the exception but that will be a evolutionary process in our view.
POM Do you think, or does the National Party think that South Africa now is in a post apartheid era?
CF No not yet, the post-apartheid era still has to come and according to our five year action plan we believe that we can arrive, if the National Party is given a chance to push through our initiatives, we believe that we can get within five years to a substantial point where South Africa will look so different as to what it is today that we call it a new South Africa. So we think of a time span of more or less five years but one cannot say at this point we are in a post-apartheid era although we have had a tremendous lot of reforms in different fields of South Africa, like labour relations, on the political fields, local authority, many, many other things. But they are still things that can be described as apartheid.
POM If you had to take the time from the beginning of the emergency in 1985 through this election date, as a party what would you be most proud of in terms of dismantling the apartheid structure? Just the major ones that come to your mind very quickly.
CF The expansion and the more constructive introduction of local authority powers for everybody in South Africa, combined with Regional Services Councils, which is a multiracial body on a regional basis to look after regional affairs in every area. That has been a very important development I think where everybody is represented and where everybody has an authority and has a say in decision making on local authority matters. The creation of the Act of what has been called for as a National Forum but at this moment it's, I can't remember the correct name of the Act but where we have created through a bill in parliament a forum for constructive negotiations where everybody in the country can be represented, I think where most interest groups can be represented and if fact it can get off the ground, can start to function. The Act is already through parliament, but if that can start to function I think it can be a very constructive point of departure for constructive negotiations. I also think that the overall climate in the country has improved, especially in the last six months where there is much more of an atmosphere according to our experience, an atmosphere of negotiation, an atmosphere of bringing peace to the region, an atmosphere of really getting together on a give and take basis to come to some form of solution. Now how do you measure that atmosphere there? There is not a thermometer or something to measure it but with a lot of things that people say and particular organisations say I think the situation has improved greatly in the last six months.
POM With regard to the homelands, is the homelands policy still the official policy of the National Party?
CF Well it has for a long time not been the absolute policy where we thought that is the absolute answer for South Africa and answer for the whole problem. There was a time in the history of the National Party with the previous generation who thought that homelands is the absolute answer for everything in South Africa that will solve all the problems. For long since we have departed from that point and where it has been regarded as that it might be a solution for a particular number of people who wish to live in that sort of situation and exercise their political rights through that formula, that it might be a solution for them, but that for the majority of people outside those homelands, or for everybody virtually outside those homelands, which count as a majority of the black people, that they have not regarded homelands as their solution and we have accepted that that it is not the solution for them and I think today we see it that, OK, there were a few of these areas who chose to take up independence. That's four of the ten of those areas,the other six refused to do so and we regarded that, that is also their view that they should be part of a future constitution in South Africa and that they should also have the right to participate in the formulation of that constitution. If at a later stage they still would like to become independent we'll keep that option open for them and if some of the areas who took up independence, if they wish to get back into a South African constitution, to take part in that, we are also prepared to consider that. Those areas and the people who represent them, their leaders, we still believe that they make up legitimate leadership of the people whom they represent. I must put that very clearly, I don't think they are the legitimate leaders of the blacks in this country and we don't regard them as such but they are legitimate leaders of a particular number of people and in that regard they have to be taken into consideration in a negotiated settlement with all other leaders that represent other black people.
POM One phrase struck in the campaign literature because it is a phrase that has been used a lot in Northern Ireland in terms of people trying to find a solution; that is the term 'power sharing'. What does the National Party mean by power sharing?
CF Well the first thing that we mean by that is to move away from a situation that is the normal Westminster type British sort of system, sort of democracy, where you have an election and the winner takes all on the 50% plus one basis and then you govern the country. We don't think that that is the only definition for democracy and especially for the sort of circumstances that we have in South Africa. We think that is a very bad definition of democracy in this country if you have that sort of situation. Therefore we believe that in South Africa we must have a system where all the interest groups must have a say in government and must have a protected say in government and that protection must be on an individual basis through a bill of rights and protection in a constitution that will guarantee them their participation in a system and then we say that no one of these interest groups should become in a position where they can dominate another group. That in a sense is the definition of power sharing. At the moment we have domination by the whites over the people. We want to stop that as soon as possible, and if I say as soon as possible I believe it will happen within this five years.
POM Does the five year plan call for a bill of rights, a bill of individual rights?
CF Yes, if that is the result agreed upon at the negotiations. So it's our view, we'll put it on the table. I suppose that other interest groups will also put it on the table. I believe that what we get from informal discussions and talks that we'll really have a lot of about informal negotiations, that one can more or less say with a lot of confidence that it will be a part of the future of South Africa. But just to be on the safe side it still has to be agree upon but we will live with that.
POM We've talked to a number of people about sanctions and it's been interesting to get people's perceptions of the impact of sanctions. Do you think the sanctions have hurt the South African economy?
CF Yes without doubt, especially sanctions in the financial sphere, the availability of capital. Well I must say every form of sanction that has been introduced since the arms embargo that for a duration of time, for a particular time span after the introduction of that particular sanction, it definitely hurt us in a negative sense. But as we have restructured the situation, after the time span of five or six or seven years, we sort of turned around the situation and in many instances came out stronger and to a position of greater independence than we had before.
POM That would refer to trade sanctions?
CF Yes, I would start, for instance, with the arms embargo. Immediately after that we were in trouble, we couldn't issue the army with what they need. But slowly we created our own arms industry which today if we look we wouldn't have done that without the stimulation of sanctions and we are in a much better off position than we were before. That is one example. Trade sanctions, all the trade that we have lost with particular countries affected us negatively immediately after that for a duration of time but we found new markets. We had a stimulation to find new markets which we wouldn't have done, wouldn't have gone through the trouble, without the incentive of sanctions. And today we realise that, well, thanks for driving us to get those new markets.
At the moment the financial part of sanctions, the availability of capital has a negative on effect on us. If I say on us I don't mean National Party, I mean South Africa,the economy. There are signs of greater unemployed, there's a rise in unemployment which can also be ascribed to this outflow of capital and those people are mostly, if you look at numbers, are mostly black people affected by that. The whole economy has to grow on a lower scale which affects the availability of money on every individual and, for instance, where white people employed people to work in your garden, it's not possible to afford that any more so all those people are also on the streets. It can also be related back to a form of influence of sanctions but we will get out of that one.
POM A few people have talked to us about the informal sector. What proportion of the total income do you think the informal sector accounts for?
CF Part of the informal sector, of the whole definition, is that it is people who don't work really through the system of getting licenses for what they do and pay their taxes and so on. So part of talking about the informal sector is that you have this lack of clarity on what numbers you talk about, how many people are involved with that. If somebody has in his back yard a business, or sells on the corner of the street, you don't have financial records of his turnover and his profits. But as far as we can measure it's guesstimate.
POM A rough estimate would be fine.
CF I don't have a rough estimates out of my mind and what I have read so far from universities or institutes who try to determine it, it differs significantly. They say it might be in the region of 20% of the GDP. So say 5%, some say even 50%. You know it differs very much but it's a growing sector of the economy which we are very glad about its development and we try our utmost to influence it in a positive direction by ways of deregulating where they have been unlawful for instance to do particular things, to sell products on the street or something, we try to call all those regulations that control that situation so that it will be easier for people to do that.
POM From people we've talked to there seems to be a common perception that Nelson Mandela will be released shortly. Do you think this is a common perception throughout South Africa, that people more or less take this for granted?
CF Yes, I do think so. Although they believe that he will be released it does not say that everybody is in favour of that. To the left of the National Party they are most definitely in favour of it. We ourselves, and I'm talking of white politics now, we ourselves believe that he should be released. But to the right of us, although they believe that we will release him, they are very much against it. And blacks that want his release I don't know if they really trust us that we will release him.
POM On the question of race relations, how do you define the major differences between yourself and the democrats?
CF I think what happened is that there was a real need for white politics in this country to move to the left. We realised that need. If I say move to the left, I mean that there were particular things that we have to do to sort of unstrangle the system. There was a real need for that. We realised that need but other people also realised that need. They created a new party to move into that vacuum. At the same stage when we, through our own belief that that had to be done, we also moved into that vacuum. That means that there are actually two parties now that are, if you really look at the fine print of the polices, in many instances that are very close to each other, particularly at election time no-one will accept that because they will never say OK, sorry there is no reason for our existence any more and we sort of liquidate this show and stop. They say no, no you can't trust us with that sort of reform, no, they are the real ones who will pull it through. And we say we will do it better than they will do it. But there are differences. There are particular policy differences. I think the sort of system they propose on a geographic federalism where in our instance I would say that we attach more value that it might be a federal sort of system but that the building blocks of this should be interest groups of one or other kind as agreed upon in the constitution, how they should be structured.
POM So their policies don't embody the concept of group rights only individual rights?
CF Well there are some things that we regard as groupor which we see as group rights which they believe can be protected in a bill of rights and which we agree upon with them. For instance, freedom of religion, language rights and so on, we believe that can embodied in a bill of rights.
POM Could you give one right, an example of one right where there would be a difference between the two parties?
CF Well yes, we believe that the participation of a particular group, and then I don't mean race groups, I mean agreed upon formula of what can be a particular group, it might be language groups, it might be a political interest group or whatever, but the participation of that group, whatever definition you want to give to it, must be secured in the constitution. They say that is not necessary; if you protect the participation of particular geographical areas, that's enough.
POM I know you are very busy and running some place. Could we get a copy of the five year plan? Is there a copy available?
CF Yes. That's not a good copy that's only a very short formulation. Here. Usually in South African politics, due to the complexity of our racial issues and future constitutional issues, we had the situation where the white people who function in a democratic way, I say that because we don't have a democracy in South Africa at the moment, but the whites, the way they elect their leaders is a democracy, and in that democracy we had the exception of being different like other people who are having election that the economy was up to now a very low profile issue. In places like Great Britain or even in the United States, you could get a new president just on economic issues. That was also a very low key thing because I would say the racial policies or the constitutional policies were also, well absolutely dominating the whole election issue. But now for the first time we really experience the economy as a factor in the election and because the people at the moment, white people, suffer and, not suffer, relatively, please don't see it towards what other people suffer in this country, relatively to what they experienced before, they have to live with less money than they lived five years ago or ten years ago and that makes them look out for change. That might be an effect of sanctions.
Unfortunately then, if you see what form of change the majority of them is looking for is change to the right, to the Conservative Party. My experience in this constituency is very much a good profile of the white community in South Africa, all the sort incomes you get here and so on. The middle and lower income group, when they suffer economically they tend to go to the right and they are by far the majority amongst white people. The more richer people who experience economic difficulties, they seem to move to the left. Everyone has their own definition of what caused the trouble. The people in the right wing say well ten years ago we had absolute apartheid, we had no reform, we had whites in control of everything, we had the black man under the trunk and we lived very well. Now with this government who is bringing in all these reform measures we suffer economically so that's absolutely stupid, we must move back to classical apartheid. And that seems how, if they move away from the National Party, the majority of them will move to the right. That's my experience here.
PAT And your point is that the economic policies and the racial policies are mixed, they're not separate, but that a move to the right could be misread as a preference for more stringent racial policies when it is more of a pocket book economic issue?
CF Yes, well we wouldn't, if we get into control again we wouldn't interpret it in that way. We wouldn't move to the right. I'm talking about individuals.
PAT No, I know, but if for example the conservatives pick up seats, the conservatives will say that this is an endorsement for our larger racial policy. And what you are saying is the real explanation of that is that it's pocket book issues that will open the door in the lower class that way as opposed to some real major ideological commitment?
CF Yes, they will definitely tell the people of the world that this is a sign that they have to turn the clock back again. But I'm quite sure, or quite confident that with this election that they would not get into power.
PAT High expectations.
POM Thank you very much.