About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

21 Aug 1989: Vosloo, Ton

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Ton, I was first here on the eve of the emergency, 1985 and am back again two weeks before an election. How would you compare and contrast the situation as it existed in 1985 and the situation as it exists today?

TV     Well, I'll be talking in general terms. But, if you look back to 1985 and what transpired then. The EPG group was here. There were a lot of great expectations. I would say if one can generalise again on the side of the ANC and the EEC, and PW Botha made his infamous Rubicon speech which then had cast its influence on the South African economy, the rug was pulled from under us, as it was termed. International banks, etc. and then the country had a lot of unrest and, in that climate, commonly it came to be known that South Africa was on the brink of a revolution. We are really going, one more push and the walls will tumble. That was the common perception in ANC circles and even among people like Boesak and Tutu. They made a big fuss. And, then obviously they mis-reckoned, they badly miscalculated. If you knew South Africa and the strength of the security forces, the security operators and so on, it was not on. The country took a body blow in terms of its economic performance and so on.

     And then, as part of the clampdown we had the emergency. And then we had the emergency number two and, in that atmosphere we had an election which was a law and order election in 1987. It went down well with the electorate, i.e. the whites. And, as we now know the government weren't very convincing. Since that time, we've had the maintenance of the state of emergency. It's never been dropped, it's never been done away with and it's become, more or less, a permanent part of the furniture.

     We've had our political ups and downs in the sense of the government, it's lost its way, the State President became ill, he lost his group of people, became disenchanted with the government, especially our economic policy. But, things are never static and in the background we've had very important developments in Southern Africa of which I need not fill you in too much, but you very well know what happened in Angola. For our way of thinking, one of the most important things happening in the world is the Russian experience which has added tremendous influence on the ANC's position. In that sense the sponsors of the ANC have said, Enough. So, there is a new ball game in Southern Africa. The sponsors are running away, i.e. the Russians and the Cubans. The Americans have had a success through Angola and Namibia. So there is a lot of uncertainty now in the ranks of the people opposing the South African government. The South African government have been fairly smart in adapting to the Namibian situation, to the role in Angola and now their constructive role in Mozambique, but overtures now coming from Zambia. I think something will happen vis-à-vis Zimbabwe in the not too distant future. So all this has now created a climate for, as we all know what the journalistic slogan is instead of a pre-revolutionary phase that they talked about in 1985 now, they are now talking about a pre-negotiating phase.

POM     So when did the word 'negotiations' begin to seep into the culture?

TV     I think there is a linkage between the Russian experience and South Africa persistently thumped the ANC about the over-border policy and all the rage, remember? They called it the darkest days from 1983 to 1986 at that time. But, it has paid off. You may call it destabilisation but in a sense that has paid off. So, if you take into your calculations, the Russian experience and the fact that Cuba and Angola, those talks came off, that was at that time when people on both sides of the Zambezi suddenly realised that we had to do with a new ball game and that's when they started talking about the pre-negotiating phase, they dropped the old revolutionary approach.

POM     Somebody characterised the situation to me as being one in which on the one hand you had the recognition by the ANC that it couldn't win in a national war of liberation and, on the other hand, you had a recognition by the government that reform imposed from above would never succeed. Do you think that is an accurate characterisation of the situation today? 100%?

TV     Well, yes, partly true, I would say that the ANC has probably got more problems than the government has. The government, in its way, does a lot to keep the ANC alive and well in the public perception as the bogey man because it's useful. But I think the government realises the old adage which a lot of people have been saying and that is that real progress and real reform can only come about through talking with your own blacks and they tried the policy of imposing it from the top down, co-opting people. And, I think it's still part of the strategy, but never dropped them. But, I think the penny also dropped that the ANC must be brought in as one of the actors.

TV     We'll never have real, lasting peace or fruitful negotiations unless they also participate and because the ANC and Afrikaner know, I've been writing about this, they will come and the Afrikaner government will talk to the ANC about it. You heard all sorts of caveats under what circumstances but you realise that the ANC presents the streak of black nationalism just as much as the National Party represents the Afrikaner nationalists. The government realises or accepts by talking to Mandela, PW invited him over to have a chat. Why did they do that? They've changed the ball game now and, in the sense that they have recognised that the ANC is one of the participants, a very important actor that will have to be brought to the negotiating table. I think the only hold-out at the moment is the government says they won't be the only actor on the table. We are going to have a few other people around as well.

POM     You said the ANC has its own set of problems? I'd like you to talk about that a little and, secondly, with regard to the ANC, let me phrase this in terms of an analogy with Northern Ireland. The IRA have been able to mount a fairly successful guerrilla operation against the British security forces in the last twenty years. When one compares their 'performance' with the ANC, the ANC's military operations seem to be largely a matter of myth rather than reality. Do you think that? And why, if you agree that is so, why do you think it happens so? Why do they find it so difficult to run on something that almost doesn't exist in the first place?

TV     The violence?

POM     Yes.

TV     Well, if I say the ANC has problems, I think you've got to go into the psyche of black nationalism. I think it constantly surprises people who come to South Africa when at surface level they meet with blacks they find a remarkable lack of bitterness. They normally perceive things to be better on the surface than they thought it would be. So, the level of real bitterness against whites is not so deeply ingrained in the body politic. There is a lot of frustration, but there has always been a sense around that. If the actors can only get together then they can solve the problem because both sides accept, in a sense, a solution not based on one man, one vote. I'll qualify that a bit later on but the point is the ANC itself withdrew from the scene voluntarily. They went into exile and they started their exile business. They have had a lot of diplomatic success, but we're not going to the ground level activism, they ran into a brick wall and so South Africa made things very unpleasant for neighbouring countries who hosted the ANC and the destabilisation. Now we have a position where the ANC itself is split down the middle. They've lost their sponsors in a way. They lost their ideological basis because the whole world is questioning Poland, God knows who, the whole economic and theoretical basis of Marxism, it's in disarray so the ANC have got that problem to face. Their hosts are very unkind to them. They are themselves split down the middle, there is the Mbeki faction and the Hani faction, the hardliners and the accommodating ones.

     So South Africa can exploit all over and that is why the ANC do have their problems and what has been the sum total of this incident up to now? They've had a few bomb incidents, they've driven up the temperature in South Africa. It's very uncomfortable for us to be the pariah of the world, it's not really nice to live like that so they've worked a bit on the psychological thing of South Africans not being welcome to conferences and boycotts, cultural boycotts and sports boycotts and so on. But, we can live with that. If that's all we have to pay it's not going to really drag them down.

     So that's one half of the ANC's problems and if I said there is not all that much bitterness at ground level inside South Africa and if this government can get the trick right to have economic advancement as you go along, they can win over a lot of people. So, this compounds the ANC's problem. They're not going to overtake from outside. And, they're not going to make the walls of Jericho tumble. Not by a long shot. I don't necessarily see a wall. The wall is not apparent in the west to make South Africa go under. That has also changed. The perceptions in the western countries, Britain will stand out, has changed a lot and provided South Africa behaves itself decently and doesn't shoot a hundred guys on sight, we can maintain the status quo for a long time. There is that realisation from the black side. It could be useful to get down to formal discussions.

     Now you'll remember that Mandela, in his thesis, said that he opted out of the system because he never got a response out of the government. And, that's why they opted for violence. He said it in his famous speech from the dock. Now he's willing to talk and he has a receptive government who's willing to talk, i.e. the President met him and there has been a lot of contact. And I don't think all the internal people of the ANC like that too much. I think they are a bit over-worried that the struggle has been for nothing. Now, we've got a new generation of leadership coming up. If only De Klerk wins the election its a new generation. I think it's a question of time before Mandela is unlocked finally. I think they have an understanding, hopefully they will have one, and part of the understanding will be that there will be a place for the ANC in the body politic. In other words, they'll have to be unbanned to be able to participate in the process. So, if you add up the wing of the National Party that is forward looking with the DP element, you could say that 65% of the white body politic is prepared to move things forward. The others, the 30-odd percent vote for the CP (are not). So, the white body politic is ready to talk. A large component of the black people, the Mandela wing is ready to talk and now it's a question of getting their act together. I think that is the next phase. I think this country is going to be a fascinating place to be around in the next phase.

POM     If you looked at the white community where it was in 1985, and you look at it again in 1989, what do you think have been the most significant developments in that community and what do you think are the actual or potential sources of most divisions?

TV     The whites have had, by their own standards, a tough time economically. The price of maintaining the system has become expensive. I said earlier that the things that have been done to South Africa are not enough to make you capitulate, i.e. the withholding of passports or not being able to visit other countries or cultural boycotts. But, let's face it, the standard of living has dropped for the whites, the cost of the inflation rate has gone up, the weak rand is making things more expensive and I do think that whites in general may have accepted now that a political solution is possible in this country.

POM     Do they tie their economic decline directly to the political situation?

TV     I think so, yes. It's fairly apparent.

POM     So in that regard sanctions have been helpful? What role do you think sanctions have played in that situation?

TV     I would say that sanctions - obviously one is against sanctions for whatever perspective you look at it, and that sanctions have in fact contributed to the white community asking themselves: is it really worthwhile to continue with a policy where one excludes the black component, i.e. isn't there a better solution around the corner and one of grabbing the nettle and sitting down with the ANC and seeing if we can't reach an accommodation? So, yes, sanctions are the carrot and stick approach, they've had their uses. I don't think its been the real reason why the government is now talking with Mandela or are prepared not to commit cross-border raids and so on. But, I think they do realise there is a new ball game afoot in international circles that we can use to our advantage. If we adopt a different tactic, in other words the tactic of the old military establishment thumping and then seeing if they don't want to talk afterwards. The element in Foreign Affairs may have gotten the upper hand which says let's see if we can't gain more points by negotiating and talking. That is a change. It's not the old PW Botha approach; I would go so far as to say it's a new dispensation. If only De Klerk wins we would have a new style of government in which the accent would be put more on constructive engagement, to use one of your phrases, with our own people, with our own black people, hopefully working from the inside outwards.

POM     What are the major sources of actual or potential division within the white community?

TV     Well, if it doesn't pay off, if the benefits aren't apparent, then there could be a backlash and the backlash is pretty strong at the moment. Let's face it, the government is not very popular with a lot of white people. You've seen that the Democratic Party - well, they're speaking more softly right now. It's a question of our own parliament, it's not on the surface as it was three weeks ago. But the CP is going to do well in the election. The government has got to be very careful how they play the game.

POM     If I give you three possible scenarios, I'd like you to speculate on what might happen in terms of policy from each scenario: one would be a situation in which the NP is re-elected with a comfortable majority, not as large as they have now, but comfortable. The second one is the one in which they are re-elected with a slim majority where the bulk of the majority is shifted to the CP, and the third one being a hung parliament.

TV     I discard the hung parliament thesis. I don't think it's on. The CP and the DP will do a little bit better than one would have given them but not to the extent that it's going to be a hung parliament. My guesstimate is that of - you said your first scenario - a fairly comfortable victory, i.e. 98 -105 seats thereabouts with the biggest swing to the right wing. In other words, you'll have a lot of seats where there is a slim majority. If they barely govern with a strong bias to the right wing, then they'll have to, for the sake of this country, move to the middle or left or centre and play that game. In other words, with a negotiating frame of mind because there is no real future in the siege mentality although extremist politics have been tried by the Nat government. They've tried it over thirty years and they've given up on it in terms of influx control and modernisation and urbanisation. That sort of thing is the name of the game.

POM     Do you think there is any possibility in that situation of the National Party fragmenting, the more conservative elements resigning to join the Conservative Party and some elements in the Democratic Party aligning themselves with the National Party?

TV     I think it could quite well happen that way. If it's a very tight situation you'll get a defection of certain Nats to the Conservative Party and our politics in historical terms, white politics, have always moved to the right in the past with one exception when they had a coalition in the thirties under the shadow of the second World War. But, then again, everything that people believe in, whether Afrikaner or like De Klerk, he's an ideologue. All the think tanks of the Afrikaner, those institutions are in favour of accommodation and change, moving away from the right to the middle, to the left, and we've got a hell of a problem if we had a situation where people made choices and they moved to the right and, in other words, if the Conservative Party had to take over or if the Nat majority were so slim and they get defectors to the right, it could have very important consequences on the alliance between the National Party and, say, the Democratic Party alliance.

POM     Do you think the white community subconsciously has accepted the inevitability of black majority rule but has put as many obstacles as they can in the way of it actually happening?

TV     No, I don't think they are ready for that. They won't accept the feasibility of majority rule.

POM     You say they're not ready for it. But do you think that deep down they know the inevitability of it?

TV     I'm not so sure because I think they still think there is a way out. You may have more blacks in bodies but it need not necessarily mean what it means, say, in Zambia or Zimbabwe or Namibia. Namibia is an interesting example where we see what the voting pattern becomes, where you have, say, 75,000 whites and they are so ingrained in the system and they are well educated and they make things run and I think people will look at that and see it can produce a fairly workable system. My point of reference is when people start talking about Zimbabwe. Even in our terms we have, say, five million whites. Zimbabwe was small, less than 220,000 white people; they made the system work for a hell of a long time. But, in South Africa unfortunately, the minority is pushed to one side. The country is fragmented, make no mistake about that, so you can only get people ruling the country in the future who will form alliances. The system won't work if it's a unitary system, i.e. black majority rule. You'll have to have a system where alliances are formed between various components of checks and balances and its going to be dastardly difficult but I think that whites believe that under such a system they'll go along with it and it can work and it can be a model for others.

POM     What about black-on-black violence?

TV     Suppose the white outlook on things, whites say why do you have the black-on-black violence? It's not instigated by whites. It is the distress between the Zulus and the other black components. There are a lot of people saying that the ANC is basically Xhosa and that the ANC is basically a Xhosa creation lined up versus the Zulus and that's why you have the fearful tension between the UDF and the Zulu Inkatha in Natal. It's actually - don't cut it down to basics, it's an ethnic thing between the Xhosas and the Zulus and the whites are necessary as a balancing factor between the two warring factions. So our solution will in time rest on the checks and balances between these various components.

POM     Does black-on-black violence feed the perception of the white community that this would be a harbinger of things to come if you did have black majority rule?

TV     I'm sure it does, yes and that is the feeding stock of the Conservative Party. And, the Nats are between these two forces and they've got to show that there is an alternative way and you know from the Northern Ireland experience how difficult it is, it's not a colour difference. Now, in this country there is engrained colour, economic unevenness, ethnic differences. And yet that could be, if you're an optimist, the saving grace.

POM     What do you think the NP means by power sharing?

TV     I think what they mean by power sharing is a federal structure for South Africa where you could have, say, sixteen coloured states in American provincial provinces where all have a one-man-one-vote situation where they will have people representing them at the top and where you will have a second chamber elected on universal franchise. That sort of arrangement is what the Nats mean by power sharing.

TV     They just don't want the situation where you vote straight one-on-one country-wide, the winner grabs all?

POM     What they don't want is the British system.

TV     No. That's what we voted against in 1983.

POM     Then you would be closer to the American system where each state has two senators regardless of state size?

TV     You see, there are various models that you can try out. The Belgians have a fascinating one at the moment based on culture as well as the language differential and there are the Walloons, the Flemish, and the Brussels region and so on where you have Own Affairs and General Affairs. There are few models that one could play around with but in Afrikaner think tanks I think the perception has finally dawned that you can't keep people out of the system on account of their colour. The longer you delay it the more problems you have. But, you can't sell the blacks a pup either. It's got to be something tangible that they can go back to their own people and say, This is a good deal, for all of us. So it means at the end of the day, yes, the white man sitting in parliament will be out-voted but he will depend on certain alliances and there will be things in the constitution which are over-riding like the American model, like the independence of the courts. The Nats who have raped the constitution how many times, may now find at the end of the day it their best guarantee. It could well be an independent judiciary and that is why you probably picked up in your visit here the Law Commission and, by and large, the government has got no quarrel over that.

POM     That which enshrines the principal of one-man-one vote?

TV     That's right. But, you see you could have a basic vote for all, voting for certain things and then you could reserve certain things for another layer of voting like the American system.

POM     What do you think are the essential differences between the NP and the DP?

TV     I think it's maybe a question of style and temper, maybe one of temper, not one of principle as such. The government, unfortunately from their perspective, are always on the defensive and they had a leader who had his own outlook on things on how to deal with things. PW Botha was a thumper and I would say that De Klerk's style of government would make him much closer to the DP than his predecessor but the main difference officially is the government adheres to a philosophy of group definition which is enshrined in law, but honestly, I look down the road a year or two from now. The government will look at the group and try and draw the teeth from them and try and have a different system.

POM     I've read the campaign literature and they state that they will end discriminatory measures and yet, you look at what happened on Strand Beach on Saturday and you wonder why such a massive, almost military operation was mounted which by the way, I talked to somebody in Boston this morning, got massive coverage in the States. Why do you think it took place?

TV     I think it upset a lot of people who look at themselves as middle-of-the-road Nats. They say, why the show of force? Only one answer; it's politicking two weeks before an election. In 1987 it was the same sort of thing, it was a law and order election and that goes down well with the people. They show that they're tough but honestly if you have to call out several guards every time people go for a swim, what future is there? So, it's over-reaction but it's part of the law and order psychosis that comes two weeks before an election.

POM     If you turn your attention now for a moment to the black community, what do you think have been the most significant developments that have taken place within it for the last four years and what do you think are the greatest either actual or potential sources of division?

TV     I don't know if I'm qualified to speak for blacks.

POM     What is your perception?

TV     The perception is, I think, for all the reasons that I stipulated earlier on, they've also found out that they've also lost, in a sense, their sponsors, they're on their own. They have to negotiate the future with the white man in South Africa. It's no pushover and they'll have to work out a new strategy of how to find peace in South Africa.

POM     Do you think the emergence of COSATU has been a significant development?

TV     It has been very important because it makes a lot of whites uneasy but, up to now, the unions have used it politically but also fairly responsibly and for four years now they have negotiated wage agreements which, by and large have put to the forefront a lot of the workers, in material terms not so much as in political terms, and it's given them a lot of confidence. I think the black community as such has gained a lot of confidence. They really need not do too much. They could just sit back because the world is on their side and economically, this country knows, if we want to advance we've got to invest in black education. We've got to get the whole economic apparatus on the road and keep it there. And with that will come the political rights that they want. It' inevitable.

POM     A lot of that investment would have to be an inflow of foreign capital and it's not coming. So do you think that the restrictions on capital have been more damaging than the implementation of trade sanctions?

TV     Isn't it a bit of both?

POM     Like 3.1 billion rands due in March of 1990. Are we expecting international banking communities through their countries to attach some conditions to repayment or would the South African government say, well, in that event we default?

TV     I think if it comes down to that we'll default, but the track record in repaying has been fairly exemplary and they've won a few points from certain governments and the climate at the moment is that the loans will be rolled over. The ANC type of people have been saying that the government must attach new conditions, make it more difficult, but I think South Africa, as long as this government is with De Klerk, if they keep talking and if they make the right noises, I think the western community will be fairly accommodating. That's one side of it. The other side of it is the investment, we need the investment. But sanctions are not going to work. It doesn't seem to us as if the world is really there to apply it and South Africa has done rather well with its exports despite sanctions.

POM     What role do you think the emergence of the black middle classes played in the development of black attitudes?

TV     Well, you should answer that because you have come and you have an objective appraisal. I find that if you look at it, by and large, there is an undeniable fact that there is an emerging black middle class. There have higher jobs than ever before. Kids get a better education than ever before. They have more money to spend than ever before. The standard of housing has gone up. All these things show that there is a reward at the end of the day, that South Africa can give them a fairly good lifestyle compared to other third world countries. And, that, yes, it is to their advantage to participate in the building up of a sound economy.

POM     Finally, what do you yourself think is going to happen? If we had this conversation five years from now, would we be discussing the same things now or would we have a whole new menu?

TV     I've always been an optimist because it's two immutable objects and if you think of Northern Ireland and the will of the people there to resist, we've always been talking sanctions are not going to work. It doesn't seem to us as if the world is really there to apply it and South Africa has done rather well with its exports despite sanctions.

POM     What role do you think the emergence of the black middle classes played in the development of black attitudes?

TV     Well, you should answer that because you have come and you have an objective appraisal. I find that if you look at it, by and large there is an undeniable fact that there is an emerging black middle class. They have higher jobs than ever before, kids get a better education than ever before, they have more money to spend than ever before, the standard of housing has gone up. All these things show that there is a reward at the end of the day, that South Africa can give them a fairly good lifestyle compared to other third world countries. And, that, yes, it is to their advantage to participate in the building up of a sound economy.

POM     Finally, what do you yourself think is going to happen? If we had this conversation five years from now, would we be discussing the same things now or would we have a whole new menu?

TV     I've always been an optimist because- it's two immutable objects and if you think of Northern Ireland and the will of the people there to resist, we've always been talking one-sided of the i.e. the blacks that they have to get their due, but I'll also say you must never underestimate the will of the white man to stick around and become obstructionists and its never been called forth yet, but no system in this country is going to be viable if the white man doesn't want it to be viable. You break down all the power stations if necessary. So, the black man needs you for a solution, just as much as the white man needs the black man and five years from now we are going to talk and you're going to see more black people around in our offices, in higher jobs, we're going to be friendly with our neighbours, we'll make a deal with Zimbabwe, and you'll see blacks have fallen on a form acceptable, not the final solution for them, it won't be perfect but it will be an improvement to the present-day situation.

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.