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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Jul 1990: De Swardt, Salie

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POM     To start with something that you said the last time we talked a year ago, you had said at that point that whites would not turn over power to blacks if they believed that that would run down the country to where the rest of Africa is.

SDS     I still think that could be the case. I think the whole process of negotiation would be aimed to find some solution that in the view of the whites would benefit the country against that sort of thing that has been happening in the rest of Africa. It's quite amazing since our discussion last time how the world has changed and also Africa of course. There's a new wind of change in Africa concerning multi-party states, for instance, as you know all the uprisings from Kenya to Zambia to Nigeria and what have you and even pressure in Zimbabwe. So I suppose those were the things that I had in mind, that if one would have to be confronted with a choice between the whites staying the sole government or a government which had certain facets such as a single party state and some very strong communistic influence I think most whites would surely regard that as being not worth it and they would try to stop that. So as far as I'm concerned that would still be the case but that is what the whole negotiating process will be about and I suppose the people will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum and to speak their minds about how they regard it and if it is a sort of a solution that they regard as being as dangerous, as I said, then I don't think they would accept that.

POM     When you say the people would get a chance to vote in a referendum, do you mean white people?

SDS     Well there was a promise made in the previous election campaign that they will have the opportunity to vote so at least that is standing, that's a concrete thing. To what extent it would be a referendum for whites only, whether it will be a referendum for all, everybody and the votes being counted differently from each group, that is part of the guessing game that has been going on now.

POM     Do you think the government is still as firm on the issue of group rights, no domination of one group by another group?

SDS     I think it is a matter of definition. What we have realised, for instance, is when President de Klerk made his views known on what he called simplistic majority rule, that he was against it, there was quite a fuss in the United States in the media whilst in a newspaper such as the Globe & Mail in Toronto there was quite a lot of understanding for that because they had the knowledge of what was going on in Quebec. So they realised in Canada, it seemed to us they understood what he was trying to say better. In Western Europe where the Belgium and the Swiss and all those constituencies have over the years enforced minority rights in their constitutions it seems as if there is better understanding for that too.

     So it's a matter of what do you mean by simplistic majority rule but I think what is really going from the white community is, the important thing is, that they have accepted majority rule as such in a lower house, for instance, but with a structure in some ways comparable to the American constitution that you have a Senate or a higher house with some safeguards in it, as you have in your constitution in the Senate where you have two representatives for every state.

POM     Would this be along the lines of the Indaba?

SDS     It could be. That is I heard from within the National Party, I've heard different views on that. Some people regard the cultural group idea of the Indaba as a viable one, other people tend to think that it would have to end up somewhere or other as a geographic system on geographic lines, that you would have representatives from the different areas and to what extent that would be representing the different groups by doing it the geographic way I'm not sure. But that is so interesting of the present state that there are so many ideas floating around but the realisation too is important, that you can't give a certain group veto rights that could cripple the administration and the management of the country. So if there are any thoughts of veto rights it will have to be very carefully defined what would be those things.

POM     When you say that De Klerk or the government would not accept simplistic majority rule, are you talking about the Westminster system, first past the post?

SDS     Yes, well, what I would regard as simplistic majority rule is if you have, for instance, a House of Commons with a winner takes all situation, that I would guess would be just about the most simplistic way. Then if you build into that proportional representation that is already some qualification preventing almost the simplicity of the thing. If you add to that a higher house then there are some more checks and balances into the system and then of course if you get a bill of rights and you ensure the rule of law and you perhaps even get a Constitutional Court, then of course those are all sort of defining things that prevent the simplicity or the tyranny of the majority.

POM     Change has been very rapid since we last talked to you. What do you think has accounted for the rapidity of change? Why did De Klerk move so quickly and so drastically way beyond the expectations of most people who described him as intelligent but conservative, would be slow to change?

SDS     Well the simplistic view according to a report today, sent out by the ANC last night, was that it was sanctions, thanks to sanctions. I think that is completely wrong. I think it is a complex sort of an answer to that. Firstly I think that you've got to understand that the Afrikaners have always been democratic and that they, even within the apartheid system, they were hoping that through partition it would be a real democracy that we would be creating, one man one vote in his own area. The realisation that that doesn't work brought about the acknowledgement that you will have to find another system but it will have to be a real democracy. So inherently there was always a realisation that you will have to have real democracy and if the old partition along geographic lines didn't work you will have to do something quite extraordinary. That is the first thing.

     The second thing is that it has always been interesting for me to see that people don't trust what was happening in Afrikaner minds. They didn't realise to what extent he was juggling with this that I was talking about, how to create a real democracy in SA but not according to the apartheid lines. And there was much more willingness to jump than there was generally realised. So that's a second factor, the willingness was stronger than generally realised.

     Another factor is the realisation that the apartheid system was a total failure. It was failing politically, as I said, because everybody knew this is no real democracy and if you are believing in what your forefathers have been believing in for centuries then you realise you've got to do something and economically it was a failure because we have one of the strongest urbanisation processes in the world and apartheid was supposed to prevent that. We were handling the situation, for instance, as far as blacks are concerned that they were not supposed to be in the cities and they were here and we weren't managing that properly, we weren't creating townships for them, a proper infrastructure and so forth and it was a social failure in that sense that millions of people were streaming in and it was badly managed. I think in other ways too sanctions did play a contributing role in weakening the economy but the whole economic thing made an important difference.

     Militarily of course the old system was no failure whatsoever. It was a success but at a price. The armaments industry was flourishing in the sense that they were exporting, creating jobs, erecting factories, they were winning the war as far as I am concerned in Angola and Namibia. The ANC never had any, to this day they have had no real military success. They've had a few big bombs in certain areas but that's all. So militarily that wasn't a factor but I think the social, economic and the political failures of the old system and the realisation that we were against the war, there was no way for advancing, but then still even taking into account all of that the jump that he made was faster and further than most people expected. What was really interesting was when we had the first reports in our newspapers the reaction wasn't so much about the lifting of the ban on the ANC as it was reaction to the SACP, SA Communist Party, people were much more shocked about that than they were about the ANC as such. So even in that sense he probably gave people within his own power ...

POM     But with communism falling into such disarray all over the world?

SDS     Yes, I'm sorry, that's probably the most important thing that I have missed out on. That of course gave us a window of opportunity that we couldn't have dreamt of because that undermines the whole philosophical basis of the ANC and the SACP and that was another gap that he took. I think those things that I mentioned were much more important in the thinking of the government than sanctions as such because trade sanctions haven't really affected us. It has affected the economy surely but not to the extent that people think the capital sanctions are a real problem. I'm still strongly against sanctions because it doesn't make sense and in any organisation the people on top are not affected if the company has a problem. It's the boys and the car drivers down there who are first in trouble and it's the same in a national economy.

POM     How do you see the process unfolding? Do you think there will be a negotiated settlement and out of that negotiated settlement the parties will draw up the constitution or do you think there will be an election for a Constituent Assembly which will be given the task of drawing up a constitution?

SDS     You see I'm worried about that because that is probably one of the most important stumbling blocks at this stage because some people seem to think, and I know - I think it's unavoidable that we will have a Constituent Assembly being chosen ...

POM     Along the Namibian lines?

SDS     Yes, and some people think it won't happen. Now my impression from the government at this stage is that they're not very willing to allow that because they say it would simply be a hand-over of power to majority rule without making sure that minority protection would be brought into the new system.

POM     In fact if they did that they would be conceding the issue of majority rule right from the start.

SDS     Yes, or simplistic majority rule. On the other hand as you know the ANC says, but how can you get people round a table if you don't know who they represent and to what extent they are representing people? So it's a very difficult debate. My own feeling about it is that because we are a bit in fairyland in a political sense, because how can the ANC say the people want to choose their representatives? Because the ANC have no real political ground to say that, they haven't been involved in an election to be able to say that. So you end up with these endless sort of, how can you say that, how do you know that? I think what should be done is that people accepted as leaders in the communities should get around and should get something on the table and then the people can speak their minds.

POM     Who would you include in that process? Who do you think should be at the table?

SDS     Definitely the main players in the white politics of course in the present parliamentary system, and then I would think people such as the ANC, the PAC and Inkatha. To what extent one should also include COSATU and AZAPO and all that is a matter of debate I guess depending on, say for instance, the players who have participated, whether the ANC want COSATU to be on board or not. But I think it's quite different from the Namibian situation, that we are an autonomous country on our own and we've got to try and at least recognise the past and the position of the whites in the country. Whatever their historic allegiance the fact of the matter is that the ANC has an interest, a vested interest almost, in the whites staying here and carrying on too. They should do that because what Africa teaches them is that you can't get rid of them overnight without paying a big cost economically. And I think whites will be rather shocked if you disregard the whole history of the country and simply say, all right, tomorrow you'll have an election, you'll probably have a simplistic majority situation and that majority will decide how the future of the country will be. I think it's not on for me and it will be interesting to see if I think differently later on, but at this stage it's hard to see it. It seems to be a terrible stumbling block and maybe there are ways of finding a compromise on this by getting people involved in common things, joint committees and things like that.

POM     How about where the white community is at? We've read some statements to the effect that if there were an election today the Conservative Party would win a majority of the seats in parliament. Do you think that's true or has there been a significant shift of white support to the CP? Is the conservative backlash, white backlash a real possibility and what form do you think it might take?

SDS     Well if you talk about now it's like talking about Maggie Thatcher's position two months ago, it was extremely bad. It's changed somewhat now and in two years time it might be quite different. If you talk about it right now it is true that we are in an extremely difficult phase of the whole process and there is a lot of uncertainty amongst the whites and there is definitely a drift towards the right. I don't think one could disregard, for instance, the by-election in Umlazi recently. I don't know if you are aware of that, where the Conservative Party gained a lot?

     So I wouldn't disregard a white backlash completely especially at this stage but what I do believe is once one gets concrete things on the table and people can really make up their minds and see what it's all about it will probably change for the better for the reformists in the white community. At present it's just about the most favourable conditions possible for a white opposition on the right to exploit the present uncertainty and there is a lot of turmoil in the country and instability and because of the economic position it is one of the reasons for the theft and burglary and because of that the whites are also very uncertain, very unhappy. There are a lot of murders, theft is rampant and so forth.

POM     In terms of a time scale what do you see as the various stages? When will serious negotiations start? When will more parties be invited to the table?

SDS     Well you see it's an extremely interesting thing to talk about because the government has been saying all the time that they're in a hurry and they've got good reason for that because they've got to face the public in an election in 1994 and they don't have much time if you take that into account. So I think that there's no way that one can interpret Mr de Klerk's views and what he did in the past few months other than that he is in a hurry, but it takes two to tango and the ANC is the partner, and I don't mean it in a derogatory sense, but in Africa African time is somewhat different sometimes than western time and that's one thing that we've always wondered about. People having stayed in Lusaka for years and years, how prepared are they? What would be the pace of doing things? Would they be able to do things fast? In the rest of Africa that doesn't really happen. What we've been wondering is whether the ANC would be able to keep up the pace that the government would like to keep up. The government has said that the ANC mustn't keep dragging their feet. Dr Gerrit Viljoen recently said that, that they're dragging their feet. The ANC say that's wrong, they don't believe in that, they don't do that but there are certain problems with it, the Groote Schuur Minute.

     So they are discussing and debating this but from outside it's difficult to say because at the beginning of this year we expected things to go slow this year and we were completely, utterly wrong. So I myself must be a bit careful about what I say about the pace now but I would guess that things would start developing towards the end of the year to quite an extent but if I say that I'm talking about negotiations. I'm not sure, maybe you would know better having had recent talks perhaps with the ANC, to what extent they are really waiting for 16th December for their congress and give Mr Mandela perhaps even more time to consolidate his power within the movement before doing something.

     On the other hand if I say that I am really referring to real negotiations, sitting around the table, if you talk of perhaps a sort of a movement towards, shall we call it power sharing in a sense that they would create even more committees such as the Security Committee that was created and to work on certain things such as, say for instance, the education crisis, there could be a slow involvement of other partners within the governing process perhaps. But with the best will in the world I can't see how one can get to a real constitution on the table, sort of thing, a blueprint for a constitution within the next year and a half, 18 months. Sorry, it will probably take longer.

POM     What if you had a situation where no settlement had been reached by the time the elections of 1994 came about? Could this pose a very real difficulty for the government?

SDS     I think it would, yes, because that would mean a failure of their policy and that is another reason why the ANC should try and keep up the pace because if they have to be confronted by a rightwing white party in government, this government would lose the election in 1994, then it could be a real disaster. If the CP really applies the things that they're supposed to stand for it could create chaos so it's in the country's interest that the ANC moves as fast as they can.

POM     Do people take seriously the CP's policy that they want partition, self-determination and partition or is this seen as a kind of policy that had to be formed in order to preclude change?

SDS     I can't talk on behalf of CP supporters because I'm not one and I have never believed in that.

POM     But as a realist.

SDS     No it's completely unrealistic, there's no way that it could ever work because economically it's completely impossible to unscramble this egg again because there are so many blacks within the so-called white areas. What has a stronger ring of truth to it is the idea of a white country, that Professor Carel Boshoff - I don't know if you know about him?

POM     Sorry, Professor?

SDS     Carel Boshoff. He has been propagating an area in the North Western Cape that would be given to whites, especially Afrikaners. He's given it the name of Orania. But there is more a ring of truth in it. Even political scientists in the country, I wouldn't want to be quoted on that, but the people said, no, I think one can Professor Lawrence Schlemmer of Wits has written an article in which he said this isn't such a bad idea.

POM     Having a white country as distinct from partition?

SDS     Yes, but a small, which is now a very poor area, but if it's so important for the people to go there, to do their own thing, create almost a white Israel, an insurance policy for the whites if things go wrong within the present country that there is that area to go to. Personally, and I think many other people too, even Mr Gavin Relly the previous Chairman of Anglo American, have made noises that sounded as if he thought that that wouldn't be all that bad if it is of course practical. But that is much more of an idea that could be looked at as far as I am concerned than partition in the sense that the CP is talking of partition.

POM     That would be different areas?

SDS     Yes, well one single area in the north western part of the Cape Province which is an arid, poor area now but there is the Orange River and they seem to think that if that can be negotiated that they have their own area then perhaps it could be something one could look at. But partition in the sense that the CP is propagating isn't possible and one of the most interesting things about the CP is that it has slowly started moving towards a white homeland from the partition concept.

POM     What are the major obstacles in the path of the government and what do you see as the major obstacles in the path of the ANC?

SDS     Well I think the first obstacle is this idea of who will be involved in the negotiating process and the idea of a Constituent Assembly that has to be chosen by the majority in the country according to the ANC and the PAC against the whites' idea of present leaders being involved. That is the first big stumbling block.

     The second, I would guess, is the matter of to what extent a unitary system, as the President has called it, simplistic majority rule, and to what extent built-in minority rights. Mr Mandela has been saying things that don't seem to it seems to be clashing. For instance, in Canada he said that he's against the federal state. In the United States when he made speeches there he said things that seemed to indicate that there would be acknowledgement of the diversity of the community even in the new political system. I think those things will have to be talked about. In other words the whole idea of simplistic majority rule or not.

     The third important stumbling block I think would be once the negotiating process is going on and if they get more down to detail perhaps, the whole idea of an economic system and to what extent would it be allowed to confiscate people's property and to what extent would private property be allowed to exist. I think that is one of the major problems.

POM     Do you see any differences between where the ANC might stand in terms of an economic ideology and where COSATU might stand?

SDS     Yes I think that is probably what I hope, at least hope for, that you will in your study find that there are changes as far as they're concerned too because it seems from our point of view that there have been changes, definitely since we've had our discussion last year.

POM     Changes in?

SDS     In the ANC and COSATU's point of view, especially the ANC's point of view on economic policies. I think the whole Eastern European experience and recent history has really been sort of a body blow for the ANC on economic issues.

POM     Is COSATU still much more ...?

SDS     COSATU regards the SACP as its strongest ally. We only published a report earlier this week about a spokesperson for them saying that the SACP is the workers' party and should represent the workers of the country. I think that the COSATU point of view, the impression that I have, is that there is more flexibility within the ANC as such than within COSATU.

POM     The obstacles in the way of the ANC that you would think?

SDS     Well of course it is in a sense the same. They would see things from the other side, they would probably be emphasising the Constituent Assembly, they would emphasise the question of redistribution of wealth. I think there is consensus about redistribution of opportunities, a real redistribution of wealth, that would be the stumbling block, and the idea of cultural or minority or group rights or however you define it. That would be a stumbling block from their point of view it seems but I don't think the gap is so wide that there can't be some agreement on it.

POM     Do you see Mandela as being under any threat from the left wing in the ANC, from more revolutionary types?

SDS     My impression is that he has consolidated to a certain extent, the day when he came out of jail he was more influenced, almost in the hands of the COSATU people than he is at this stage, that he has succeeded in becoming more of his own man. Any political movement, as you know, has its right wing and its left wing and the left wing is stronger than the right wing now at this moment I don't know but my impression is that if anything happened the influence of the left has perhaps become a little less than it was.

POM     If you were to take the pulse of the Afrikaner community, would the majority of Afrikaners now support, as distinct from white people, the majority of Afrikaners now support the CP and when you look at an Afrikaner, when Afrikaners look at themselves do they see themselves as Afrikaners first and then South African or South Africans who happen to be Afrikaners?

SDS     Firstly as far as the majority of Afrikaners are concerned I think it's touch and go whether the majority of Afrikaners are supporting the CP. But if they say the majority of the Afrikaners do, I wouldn't say they're completely wrong. It's difficult to tell what the situation is. What is definitely the case is that in certain areas there are big differences and I am, for instance in my own experience, I am a bit isolated from those sort of people. I don't seem to come across them, I don't know them and I see less of them than I actually should I suppose. So it's hard to tell but from the reactions one reads about and sees in school elections and all that our impression is that as far as the CP is concerned that they have grown to their ceiling in the Transvaal, their strongest area, and that there is some change now because certain municipalities that used to be in the hands of the CP have come back, even in the Northern Transvaal towns such a Pietersburg and Warmbaths have come to the NP but the virus is getting into the Cape Province now. It's extremely difficult to say whether they would have the majority of the Afrikaners.

POM     But on the question of identity?

SDS     I think it's been for years now that Afrikaner nationalism was based on being South Africans, not Afrikaners, first but at the same time being rather proud of their heritage as Afrikaners and especially extremely sensitive in their language. They are proud to be South African and not as much an Afrikaner in the sense of patriotism and what has happened, of course, is that, as was pointed out by Mr Pik Botha in a speech in parliament earlier this year, because we're getting rid of this albatross around our necks of apartheid we're getting more proud to walk in the United States and say I'm a South African. When I was there I wasn't always sure whether I should say that. Now we're freed of some of the things that were hanging around our necks and in that sense nationalism as South Africans if anything has improved, we're more proud people, less shameful people than we used to be. But that's not about Afrikaners, well we're glad the Afrikaners are doing the things they are, such as President de Klerk is doing, because that is basically they've done all the wrong things in the past and they're doing all the right things now.

POM     Finally, the violence in Natal, how is that interpreted in the white community? What do they feel it's being about and does it send a message to them or does it not?

SDS     Yes I think it has of course different dimensions. Firstly I don't think there's much of a doubting in, I would say, NP people, the people's minds, that it is a power struggle between the UDF/ANC and Inkatha of course but based to a large extent on an ethnic basis in the sense that it is the Zulus as the majority of Inkatha being threatened by other people. Who are the wrong ones and who's doing it ...

POM     Who are the other people?

SDS     The other people are ANC/UDF.

POM     Would they not also be Zulus?

SDS     It would be Zulus but the impression is that the ANC and the UDF, especially the ANC, is a Xhosa orientated organisation because if you go through the ranks of the ANC most of them in the most important positions are Xhosas. So that is a complicating feature in the Natal situation that some of the Zulus at least would regard ANC as a Xhosa movement. Then of course there are other people involved too. Except for the Zulus of the ANC and UDF in Natal there is the Indian influence which one can take notice of which is everywhere in the SACP and COSATU, you name it, and you will find an Indian person there which could also be a factor. So that is one of the things and the other thing is what we're really worried about is that we're trying to create democracy, trying to do this according to the democratic rules of the game as you know it in western democracies. But that doesn't allow intimidation and it pre-supposes that the voter will have the intelligence and the literacy to make choices and that will be one of the most difficult things to create a democracy in SA because we have enormous intimidation and victimisation and we have a lot of literacy and ignorance and people being influenced easily by things such as 'support nationalisation, we will take it from the whites and you will be rich tomorrow', which won't go down in a typical western democracy and that will be an enormous stumbling block from a philosophical point of view to create a democracy. That is to a large extent being proven in Natal again because the point of view of many whites is that because Inkatha is a viable political organisation and that it has strong support, Buthelezi has strong support and the ANC doesn't like it they are simply going for it and that's not good for democracy. I mean 'going for it' not in the political sense but in a more physical sense.

POM     Both Wynand Malan, and Chris Botha in the CP in talks at one time or another referred to the difficulty of developing democratic structures where tribal societies, tribal values were pervasive. Do you think the Inkatha/ANC struggle is a reflection of that?

SDS     Yes I am sure it is to some extent, yes. There are more political philosophical differences too of course because Inkatha is supposed to be supporting a free market system for a long time and that is why Buthelezi has a lot of sympathy from the whites too. Going back a few years ago the ANC wasn't propagating the idea of a mixed economy as it is now. So there are differences surely but also the ethnic thing is surely ...

POM     Is Buthelezi an 'acceptable' black to whites?

SDS     Yes I think so, I think he's acceptable. Mr Mandela is acceptable to many whites and Mr Mandela would be acceptable if he really propagates the values that have been making the difference between east and western Europe, in other words propagating the real democratic values that whites want. I think whites have moved a lot in the past six to nine months in their minds and what they're really striving for now is a real democracy which has some sort of built-in protections. What they are looking for in values, it's not whether the man is black or white and if Mr Mandela would make the right noises and really support a system that would be comparable to western democracies, I don't think people will have all that much of a problem with him and I think he seems to be coming over perhaps in some ways as even more acceptable than Mr Buthelezi.

POM     That's a good point to stop. Thanks 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.