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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
14 Aug 1989: Kearney, Paddy
POM I'm talking with Paddy Kearney on the 14th of August. Paddy it's just been four years since we were here. What in your view has accounted for what appears to be a fairly dramatic shift in opinion? That is four years ago the first emergency was just being declared, people seemed pessimistic about the prospect of change and today three weeks before a pivotal election all you hear is talk about a negotiated settlement. What's been happening?
PK Well many different things have been happening, but I suppose the single most significant event has been the military failure of South Africa in Angola which was a major set back. We haven't really heard the full story here. Whatever happened there it became very clear to the South African defence force that it couldn't keep that campaign going. It was becoming too expensive in terms of lives and also simply in terms of finances and it was failing and so they had to adopt a different strategy and they had to negotiate on that question. That of course has led to negotiations about Namibia. So I would think that is the single most significant thing that has happened.
I think on the international scene the developments in the USSR have been very significant. The whole new mood of perestroika and so on has led to a change in South Africa's attitude towards the USSR. And even the fact that South Africa has had to negotiate with them and with Cuba has been very significant. That has led to a new climate as to what was possible here. And I think that the USSR was able to put pressure on the ANC in a way which Pretoria probably sees as very hopeful and very productive. So I guess we're sharing in the general benefits of negotiations going on in many parts of the world and so people are able to see things rather differently here.
From a purely internal point of view I think what has happened is that the state of emergency has actually failed to suppress the Mass Democratic Movement. There's no doubt about that that the state pulled out just about all the stops it had in June 1986 and despite the fact that it was a major setback and led to the collapse of quite a number of organisations and certainly great difficulties for everyone involved in the struggle they haven't succeeded in crushing that resistance and that resistance in some ways has grown stronger, its grown more sophisticated, its had to take new forms, its had to go underground, people have had to draw up informal alliances like the very words Mass Democratic Movement aligning COSATU and UDF. It's kind of intangible. You can't get hold of the office bearers or the structures or know when it was set up or how it operates or anything. I mean it is a remarkable adaptation to conditions of repression. It's the sort of thing which the government actually doesn't know how to deal with, can't deal with by means of restrictions or any sort of repression. And in the same light I would say the action by detainees, going on a hunger strike and securing their release is very, very significant for the present climate of optimism that Pretoria was not absolutely iron and intransigent and that there were certainly things that people could do even non-violent things. That in turn has generated the whole defiance campaign which I think is giving people a great deal of optimism and hope that they can actually lift the restrictions themselves.
POM One person characterised the situation to us as being on the one hand the ANC realising that it would never win a national war of liberation and, on the other hand, the government realising that reform imposed from above at its own pace could never bring stability or solve this situation. Do you think that's an accurate characterisation of what's going on?
PK Yes, I mean I admittedly, the point about the ANC, I think that is a significant development. I think the discussions that have been held in Lusaka and, well chiefly in Lusaka but also in some other places also, have been very significant in helping the ANC to get more into the - I mean in a sense informal negotiations have begun, not with Pretoria of course but with Afrikaner academics and all sorts of other people as you know. And the ANC position has shifted in the process of those talks. I mean they have clearly shown a willingness to compromise on some things that might have appeared to be absolutely unchangeable.
PK Well even their constitutional guidelines, I mean as opposed to simply saying Freedom Charter, that's it, but they came out with constitutional guidelines which indicate a certain flexibility and willingness to look at some of the problems with the Freedom Charter, just as a bold statement. So that is very important I think, as you say. On the question of whether reform is failing, yes indeed. I mean I think perhaps the most significant thing there is that Pretoria has realised it's not going to get negotiations off the ground simply with stooges. I think it is very aware of that. Their whole position on Mandela has come home to them, I suppose especially through all that happened on Mandela's 70th birthday. If it hadn't come home to them before that, that must have clinched the deal. I mean that they really realised that there's no way that they could set up a National Consultant Committee, I don't know what the thing was meant to be called, statutory, some sort of statutory committee, in which some black leaders would be brought in. They couldn't have that if Mandela wasn't somehow or other drawn into the process. So I think they are just balking at how he is going to be brought into that process, but that he must be brought they seem to have accepted.
POM When you look at the white community in general, what, if any, have been significant changes in their attitudes, their general attitudes, towards majority rule or sharing of power or any of these things?
PK It is very difficult to see, you know at a sort of grassroots white community level, that there has been a substantial change on those issues. Now I think they will, they will respond to leadership in the white community. I mean if they see people like De Klerk meeting with (Herman) Cohen and they see what the consequences of that are, I think they will begin to soften up on that kind of question. I don't think there's going to be a kind of groundswell from the white community calling for negotiations. I don't really believe that. They're absolutely terrified of black majority rule and of the ANC. And so it is going to take some very dramatic moves, I would say especially from the Nationalist party. If there is going to be change in the white community of a really substantial kind that is where it is going to have to come from.
POM Do you think the National Party is being sincere when it says that if we elect it they will get negotiations underway with representatives of the black community?
PK Look I don't think they know the full implications of what they are saying. And I don't think they mean negotiations in quite the say way as you and I do. But I imagine there is a kind of momentum about it, that once it starts it's kind of unstoppable. I mean the mass of implications, for example, even of somebody like PW Botha having tea with Mandela in the Tuynhuys. He didn't realise what he was doing. The Nationalists don't realise the implications of that. But it builds a certain kind of momentum that, you know, as I say, is unstoppable at this point. And one step will lead to another. I mean the Kaunda meeting will lead to other things. As far as the Nats' motivation is concerned I would say it's probably to do the bare minimum to hold onto power. That's how they're seeing it. But every action that they undertake is going to generate other actions and they'll find themselves very far along the road I should think before they realise what they've actually begun.
POM Do you think that in the white community there has been a more psychological awareness even in their unconscious that the situation as it is, their position within cannot be indefinitely propped up, that great change must come, they may be postponing it but that it's out there.
PK Yes, I think so and they would like to contain it as far as they can; do the minimum on their side to make sure that the situation doesn't become explosive.
POM With regard to the election, let me give you three scenarios and tell me what you think might be the outcome of each. One, the National Party is re-elected with a majority although with a reduced majority. Second the National Party is re-elected with a slim majority where the bulk of the other vote has gone to the Conservative party and third, a hung parliament. Can you answer what you think would happen in either of those situations?
PK Not which one of those is likely?
PK Well I mean the first one is the one that I expect to happen. A reduced majority with some of the seats going to the Democratic Party and some of the seats going to the Conservative Party but a big enough majority to keep going with.
I've got one problem about it, the emergence of the black middle class. These guys they are promoting the intention, with the intention of driving a wedge, with the intention of creating this black middle class that will serve as a buffer zone between the oppressed and those who control the mineral production in this country.
PK If we look at the fact that the ANC today are having more diplomatic missions in the world than the SA government, that in itself is a credit to our people, that in itself is an indication that politically we have not only out-manoeuvred them inside the country but abroad we have also out-manoeuvred them. To be quite honest I am also seeing a situation whereby economically ... telling us that the rand is 24 cents and pretty strong, when one American dollar is four times the South African rand. Phew! Go for it. Economically these guys can only be able to sustain this position, only when the economy is strong. So if you've got all these bits and pieces and they are involved in a number of activities, they have got very ...
POM In terms of process what will that then mean?
PK I think that one will be the easiest one in a sense for negotiations to proceed because I think actually for negotiations to happen the Nationalist Party needs to be quite strong. The second one where its a very slim majority but they still can keep going, I think they would be looking over their shoulders so much at the Conservative Party that that will be a real drag on negotiations and any form of progress. The third one with a hung parliament, I really fear a kind of stalemate there. I think that one has the least hope in it really.
POM Well if the National Party decided to form a coalition with the Democratic Party, do you think it would result in a split in the National Party with one part moving to the Conservative Party?
PK Yes, I think there would be some going to the conservatives, but yes, maybe in a sense that one has some mileage in it but the Democratic Party is already such a coalition of interests that quite how it could take on a substantial slice of the Nationalists and remain a viable party or even a viable coalition I wonder. I mean it virtually comes unstuck all the time even at present. On the very key question of how to keep the Mass Democratic Movement apart from anything else I think it would become quite unmanageable. Already it's in a very, very tricky position in relation to the participation in the House of Delegates and the House of Representative, which is virtually alienated it from the Mass Democratic Movement already.
POM In that regard if there was a negotiated table, which side of it do you think the Democratic Party would be sitting? Would it be sitting alongside the National Party and the Conservative Party or would it be sitting with the Mass Democratic Movement?
PK I think the way things are going at the moment it would be seen as part of the white power block in the country and mainly sit with the Nats.
POM How would you distinguish between the Nats and themselves?
PK I think there's a much greater openness to negotiations. A much greater openness to consulting the Mass Democratic Movement. I mean a fairly substantial segment of the Democratic Party has quite good and regular contact with the Mass Democratic Movement. I think they're very much readier to repeal unjust laws which would pave the way to negotiations. Put it this way, I think they have a very much better understanding of what is required for genuine negotiations than the Nats have.
POM What about sanctions? Have sanctions been effective?
PK Yes. I mean I think that is another piece of the scenario which I could have mentioned right at the beginning that related to the difficulty of keeping going the military struggle in Angola and Namibia, was of course the fact that the whole financial situation is so much more difficult now than when they started those escapades. And so I think that is forcing them to the negotiation table. And if sanctions bite any deeper it's going to push them all the faster. I mean I would accept the argument that sanctions need to be intensified now in particular and be more co-ordinated and unified. Because if they drag on that's likely to have very difficult consequences in the long term for South Africa. But sanctions that come in a co-ordinated fashion and that are very severe in short spats of time I think will very quickly get them moving now.
Pat Who is in the position to do that co-ordinating?
PK I don't know. I thought you would have a better knowledge of that then I would. Is there anyone? I don't know.
Pat So far there hasn't been.
PK So far there hasn't been.
POM Has the average white person felt any perceptible impact from these sanctions?
PK Yes I think so, but I mean chiefly though increased cost of living and inflation. Whether they would connect those with sanctions I'm not sure. Also whether they would make the leap that if we change we wouldn't have to deal with problem, I'm not sure that they do that.
POM Looking at the African community what do you think have been the major changes within it?
PK The Afrikaans community?
POM No the African, black South African within the last four years?
PK First of all that's a bit of a difficult question to answer in Natal, or rather the answer I give would have to take into account of the particular events here in the last few years which have been obviously extremely divisive, paralysing, on the political front. I mean they have so absorbed people's attentions and energies that there really hasn't been much time to think about anything else. There are peace talks happening now and that gives some hope and I think those peace talks are proving to be more extensive and wide ranging in what they are covering than what was initially hoped for from the Mass Democratic Movement. Inkatha of course had a very broad agenda, but the UDF and COSATU were trying to keep it very much to just the issue of violence. I think they've been pushed much further than that and I heard, for example, the other day somebody saying, one of the key people in those talks, that when you begin talking to Inkatha about violence of course many, many other subjects come up and that these peace talks have the capacity to break the logjam in Natal politics that has been in existence for the last 15 years, which I thought was a very significant statement. And so that is on the Natal side. And there is also a question of how long it takes people to recover from the trauma of so much violence. And I would think in particular of the young people, whether there is some way in which they can be drawn into the process and some way in which they can express all the hostility and the trauma and the pain and so on that they have gone through and the hatred that obviously exists from the one side for the other side.
POM What was the source of the conflict between the UDF in the beginning and Inkatha and why did it escalate to such violent levels?
PK It's a very complicated thing and I see a whole lot of strands of causes. Some of them would be one group more traditionalist and the other more progressive politically speaking, the one more rural and the other more urbanised and sophisticated, the one above with predominantly support from the group above the age of 30 let's say and the other with the predominant support of below that age. I mean there are all sorts of factors like poverty involved and unemployment, not being the fundamental cause but exacerbating. Making sure that there is a big group of people who could easily be persuaded to be involved lets say as warlords and so on, private armies. The housing situation. Here in Durban for example the 1.7 million squatters out of a total population of 3.5 million means a very large unstable grouping and its interesting that the private armies have come very largely from squatter areas where people could be cajoled into joining up, could be recruited with the promise of stable land on which to settle, that kind of thing. And needing to repay warlords for the land that they have given them to build on. So all those kind of factors are involved. At another level, obviously the very sharp political divergence between the UDF and Inkatha on the method of bringing about change in South Africa; the UDF totally opposed to involvement in the homeland system and Inkatha playing along with that system and believing that they could use that system to bring about its own defeat. I'm not at all sure that that is possible. And of course the UDF was distinctly unsure about that.
POM UDF is just distinctly?
PK Unsure about, well I mean I don't know, I think the UDF was quite sure that you can't use apartheid to bring about its downfall. The state, of course, has been a key actor. And what if the state had to go in? Well I mean I think they would dearly like to see the separation of the Mass Democratic Movement and they saw an avenue to do that in Inkatha. They don't like Inkatha, they don't like Buthelezi, I wouldn't like to suggest for a moment that there is kind of an easy alliance there but I think they have been willing to use Inkatha to conquer a common enemy. I mean they have been able to go along to Inkatha and say to them, You know, we don't like the UDF and you don't like the UDF so how can we collaborate on the ground to do something about that? So I think the allegiance has been in particular between the security forces and Inkatha. I'm not so sure about what's been happening at the top level. But one has got to remember that the security force connection of course goes to the top in the sense that Buthelezi is in himself a minister of KwaZulu police and would therefore be a person who receives a great deal of security information from the South African police and that security information would have a great deal to say about what the UDF and COSATU are planning. And because he is such a paranoid person, I think that mischievous people within the SADF and SAP could feed him with information that would feed that paranoia and so that is how I see it in my mind.
POM How about the ANC's guerrilla war? If we're going to make an assessment of the effectiveness over the last five or six years what would it be?
PK Its been heavily targeted at Natal which I suppose has been to do something about Inkatha, I imagine to demonstrate to black people that here was a force to be reckoned with. Buthelezi of course pooh-poohed that and says that - I mean to be perfectly honest what has it actually achieved? So that is the line that he takes and Inkatha takes. But I think it has dramatically indicated to the black population of this region that there is another force out there, a force to be reckoned with even if its just in the matter of demoralising the white community, which I suppose has been one of the major effects of the ANC warfare in this region.
POM Have they been able to mount a sufficiently active campaign to actually demoralise the white community?
PK I'm not sure exactly what the effect has been on the white community but I mean there have been a lot of incidents of bombing in Natal since 1980 in particular. It's abated somewhat in the last two years or so. And some people say that whites have become more intransigent. They feel that they are more up against the wall so they're going into a laager about it. I'm inclined to think that it does whittle away at whites' confidence. I think it's mainly the Afrikaner grouping, obviously it has smaller groups like the Afrikaner-Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) and the Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging, I think those are groups which advocate military action to - that's a reaction to ANC violence. But I don't think those groups are so big. I mean I think those are in a fairly marginal grouping and I think a bigger group in the white community probably says, you know, we can't go on forever, we've actually got to do something about the conditions which are producing that kind of response. But to put up a thinking on that, you know to say such a such a perceived thinks this, I don't know that I've seen these figures that would indicate that group here.
Pat When you talk about the white community being afraid, what are they fearful of? Is there an element of being victims of military guerrilla urban activity or are they fearful of economic deterioration?
PK They're fearful of both of those and they're fearful of the future under black rule. What will their position be? Will there be vengeance taken against them? Will there be such a lowering of standards that life will become intolerable for them? The sort of horror stories that have been fed to them for years and years now from other parts of Africa, all democracies have failed in Africa and when the whites have gone or when blacks have taken over standards have dropped dramatically in hospitals and schools and public services. And that's the scenario they fear for here.
Pat The standard of living.
PK Yes. They fear the loss of income, they fear the loss of land and property, they fear that there is no real future for their children economically, that they'll be competing in a market where there will be so many black people who will have prior access to jobs that the future looks very bleak to them.
Pat So it's not an increase in violence that manifests itself in destruction of this building?
PK I suppose that's part of it.
Pat Do you see that type of thing happening here? You talk about the violence in Natal. It's black against black.
PK Look I think that violence has fed into that perception. I think that violence has had very negative effect on the white community. Because people have been able to say out loud or to themselves, look at how these blacks live amongst themselves. We want to have no analysis and no understanding of how the state has been involved there. The whole thing has been presented to them as black on black violence. So they say, look they're not even running this country yet and look here they are killing themselves. What is going to happen, what's it actually going to be like when they take over this country? I mean is that what life is going to be like in the whole society, the blacks just running about killing each other? So that is it actually, I think, in some ways it has increased the racism in this part of the world and increased racist fears of the future.
POM Looking at the two communities, black and white, what are the tensions or actual major sources of division within each community?
PK Are you saying in the black community?
POM In the black community and in the white community. What actual or potential sources of division are there that could prove to be, make negotiation more difficult or even impossible?
PK Well obviously the unsolved conflict between the UDF and Inkatha though the peace talks are going well, better than anyone expected. I mean there are huge problems to be overcome and huge divergence of opinions and whether Natal is going to have a different kind of government than the rest of the country, whether Natal is going to have something of the Indaba style of government. I hear some people saying that the ANC has more or less decided that Natal is going to be handed over to Inkatha as a kind of compromise option. That is going to be very problematic. Very, very problematic when people have struggled so hard to suddenly find they are now going to be dominated by Inkatha. I think will be very unacceptable if that's what the ANC has decided. I'm not sure that they have. So that would be the biggest future problem.
POM What about charterists and non-charterists?
PK That's not such a big issue here. I don't think that's such a big issue here. That's a bigger issue in the Transvaal. The BC grouping is small and relatively uninfluential in Natal. The big conflict is along the MDM versus the Inkatha lines.
POM And looking at the white community?
PK The white community, yes, there's quite a big conservative grouping here and the Nationalists did pretty well in the last elections, how well they'll do in this one I am not sure. But Natal has always been in some ways more conservative than other places because of the immediacy on the very large black population and that has added to the fears. When you say a place like Cape Town, I don't think people feel as overwhelmed about the black population as people do in Natal. The fact that the homelands are right here, I mean in Durban, Umlazi, KwaMashu, are townships of Durban but they are townships of KwaZulu. You step into a foreign country as it were just by going to the next township. I think that has got an impact on people here. I would see that to be the major split in the white community between say the Democratic Party thinking and Nationalists and Conservative Party, perhaps particularly Nationalists, with only a very small white grouping who would identify purely with the Mass Democratic Movement. I mean you met Mike this morning, he's the Chairman of the Durban Democratic Association, that grouping is very small. Significant, a significant force for change I would say, in some ways out of proportion to their numbers.
POM What is the position of the Indian community in the town?
PK That's another key factor. I mean I think the predominant support of the Indian community does go into the MDM but it's an anxious community I would say, anxious to know what their role and what their future is going to be. Quite nervous about how they are going to fare. I would say the pervasive members of that community are reluctant to say that very openly. I think they actually do fear what kind of scope they are going to have in the future. Whether they fear that more than whites I'm not sure. But I would say certainly as much as whites.
POM If you look at the next five years?
PK I'm sorry I haven't said a thing about the coloured community but it's relatively small.
POM If you look at the next five years what do you see on the horizon?
PK Well, I hear some people saying that there could be dramatic changes in the next year as a result of negotiations. You know, release of the political prisoners, the key ones at least, some form of national negotiations with the ANC. I myself am inclined to be a little more pessimistic about that. I think it's going to take longer than that. It depends of course on how much sanctions bite. I think that is going to be the key question. How severe the sanctions are, if they are severe, or the more severe they are the more rapidly that will take place. But I find it difficult to imagine it all happening in the space of twelve months as I hear some people say.
POM Do you see Nelson Mandela being released within the next year?
POM Is it a commonly held perception now do you think even among whites that he will be released?
PK Yes I think so.
POM Are there any other kind of commonly held perceptions?
PK Which I say in itself is quite a useful thing. Imagine that's the kind of best hope of the enlightened Nat, let's say that it will be so much in the news and so many people will be going to see him and maybe we'll even see a picture in the press and gradually people will become softened up for his release. That is all taking a great deal longer than anybody had expected. I mean we've so often been told he is going to be released, or we thought he was going to be released.
POM So would you be more hopeful about the future?
POM Not looking at it just as it is ...
PK Yes, certainly more hopeful now than 12 months ago. And one could say a kind of steady progression from 1986 which was like, no May 1985 when they bombed those five other countries and scuppered the EPG exercise. I think that was about the low point, followed pretty rapidly thereafter by the state of emergency and then the countrywide one in June of 1986 and all of the repression and 40,000 detentions.
POM You were detained weren't you?
PK I was detained in 1985. So between that EPG thing and the national state of emergency. That was a kind of low point there I think, the national state of emergency. But since then I think there has been increasing hope really. And this year in particular with the talks about Namibia and the process getting underway that really has changed things.
POM One last thing. There was this law commission that published a report calling for a bill of rights. How seriously is that taken?
PK By whom?
POM By the Nats in particular.
PK I really haven't studied that very carefully. I'm not sure I could give you a good answer on that one. I mean I think it would represent a kind of enlightened grouping, there would certainly be an enlightened grouping that would be in favour of that. I wouldn't say that the whole Nationalist Party is keen on that. Once again one comes back to the point where their motivation seems to be to do the minimum to hold onto white power in whatever way they can. And on that they are not substantially different than the Conservative Party. Just different ways of holding onto white power.