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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

22 Jul 1990: Meer, Fatima

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     I'm talking with Fatima Meer on the 22nd of July. Professor, when we were here last year, Patricia and I, we talked to about 50 people, or 55, from right across the entire political spectrum and not a single person was even close to anticipating what would happen. Everyone agreed that Nelson Mandela would probably be released but beyond that no one had any foreknowledge or anticipatory sense of the breadth and scope of what de Klerk would do.

FM     When was this?

POM     This was August last year, August. Just before the election. One, has the change surprised you? Two, if so, why?

FM     But I think in May I had written an article where I had already said that there were certain processes that we were unaware of, and that flowed from my meeting with Nelson Mandela in prison. I saw him in May in prison and I was absolutely flabbergasted by the manner in which he had been imprisoned and I realised then, it became quite clear to me in May, that the Nats, whom we had thought were totally unchangeable and unmovable, were in fact changeable and moveable. I wrote an article stating that fact. And this flowed from the manner in which they had set up Mandela at that point. And it became very apparent to me that they saw him as a crucial factor in the future of South Africa. Putting him up in the way that they had put him up was a reflection of that.

POM     What do you think motivated de Klerk to move so rapidly and so broadly?

FM     It wasn't just de Klerk. De Klerk was at the receiving end of a great deal of pressure that had been mounting since 1984 and it was the business community and the industrialists, they were pressurising the Nationalist Party. And they had then begun seeing Mandela, they had begun to realise that there had to be some kind of change, and they began this long process of talking to Mandela in prison. We were totally unaware of this. We didn't know what was going on in prison. We didn't know in what sort of situation Mandela was being kept. And in May when I saw him, then I realised that there were certain very dramatic movements towards change.

POM     We've, again, talked to a number of people right across the political spectrum, or at least the Democratic Party, the Nationalist Party, the Conservative Party, and from many of them we get conflicting interpretations of whether or not de Klerk has conceded on the issue of majority rule or whether he is still adhering in some manner, shape or form to a governance arrangement in which there would be some in-built mechanism to protect group rights. What is your understanding of where he stands on it?

FM     Look, I cannot conceive of de Klerk not protecting group rights. [What other word...] What we are really looking at are semantics more than anything else and the Nationalists are masters of changing the semantics to suit you. I think what is really going to happen on that negotiations table is that the semantics will be changed. But it is inconceivable that the Nationalists will go to the negotiation table and not insist on some kind of group rights or some kind of built-in safety for the minority.

POM     You see this as part of a negotiating tactic like something they might bargain away for a bill of individual rights, for example, or do you think it will be part of the final package that is actually put together?

FM     Look, they are going to negotiate, they're going to talk and the whole exercise, the whole problem, is one of coming to some kind of a resolution about sharing of power. Sharing of power does not imply giving power. Now, I don't think that even the ANC understands that the Nationalists are now ready to hand over power. The emphasis is on sharing power. So they are going to work out some kind of way in which this power will be shared. What word you call it, I don't think that is important at this point. The wording, the semantics of minority rights and the semantics of group rights have already become emotion-laden. So, obviously you've got to look for other words. But you are talking about sharing power. You are not talking about giving over power.

POM     Let me give you a comparison and tell me how you react to it. In Northern Ireland, where the Catholic population comprise 40% of the population and the Protestant population comprise 60%, where people always vote strictly along Catholics for Catholics and Protestants for Protestants, the British government have insisted that in any future internal governance structure there would have to be power-sharing. That in a democratic route, majority rule is not democratic rule and that, proportionately, Catholics will have to share executive power in government with Protestants. Would you see a governance arrangement in which the Nats or the white population actually share in executive power, i.e., that the government is split between members who are black and members who are white?

FM     Well, we are following the British system, which means that we want a democracy in which we have the party that wins the majority votes forms a government. So it's a question of the extent to which that party is multiracial and the extent to which the ANC projects a multiracial image. It almost seems certain that the ANC would be the party that would form a future government. Five years is about the time, that's because elections are going to happen in the next, I suppose now we can now say, four years. In the next elections, we expect the ANC to have the highest number of votes. The ANC will constitute a government. Who the ANC puts into its executive depends entirely on how multiracial an image it wants to project.

POM     It would seem to me that in that scenario, you are not talking about power-sharing as such, you're talking about first past the post.

FM     Yes, but you see, power-sharing is where [you sort of have a real] you restrict or you restrain majority power or ANC power by putting in certain safeguards or securities and this is where your bill of rights comes in and this is where also the whole concept of minority rights and things like that come in. So that means it's the way in which you fashion your constituency. Now, right at the moment, the Coloureds and the Indians also constitute minority groups. Scratch a Coloured and scratch an Indian and he wants his rights protected. He is probably as much afraid of government that is predominated by Africans as are the whites, perhaps a little bit less so, but I think there are these fears, these fears are shared.

POM     So, you would not yet think that the principle of majority rule has been conceded by the government?

FM     I think the government has conceded the principle of majority rule. I think the government does concede that in the next elections you'll go to the polls as parties and the party that gains the largest number of votes will form a government. I think really there's no compromising that point of view. We are just doing a survey and we haven't looked at all the results, we've done a national survey, our results should be out in about two weeks time, but we are finding it very, very interesting the extent to which, even among Africans, there is support for de Klerk. And if the Nationalist Party decided to go multiracial, then you've got a very interesting scenario on the horizon because it might end up collecting a lot of votes. I think the survival of the Nationalist Party today depends on going multiracial, no longer depending on whites to support it. De Klerk's strength also lies in going now to the black electorate, that is, Indian, Coloured and African and he's going to find that he will have a lot of support among Indians and Coloureds. My prediction is he's going to have a lot of support among Indians and Coloureds. Sizeable support. And he will also have some support among Africans, you see? And that will be a very interesting scenario if the Nationalists now go multiracial, or non-racial or whatever word you would call it.

POM     This is hypothetical, but I just want to get your reaction to it. If, say, in a national election the Nats, with some support in the black community and the Indian and Coloured community, and Inkatha as a separate political party, between them cornered a majority of the vote so they were in a position to form a coalition, do you think that outcome would be acceptable to the ANC, where they would, in fact, be in opposition, not exercising power?

FM     How can it not be acceptable to them if the democratic process has been put into operation, if this is what the electorate wants? By what classification would the ANC now say, we don't want this?

POM     But how would that result go down in the townships?

FM     Well, the townships would have co-operated in that kind of scenario.

POM     But you don't think it would ...?

FM     There is no way that you are going to get any kind of sizeable, a coalition government, without the townships co-operating with it. How else are you going to do it? So, it means that the townships have co-operated with it as well.

POM     De Klerk gave a promise that he would put any new political constitutional dispensation before the white electorate for approval. Can he do that?

FM     This, you see, is going to be very problematic. I mean, he can't go on saying that he is going to derive his legitimacy from a restricted white constituency, that he doesn't move to change without getting the OK from a white constituency. I mean, that defeats the whole purpose. It doesn't really matter what the white constituency says now. I think that the international community would support us on this as well. That once you have decided that you are now going to share power, have majority rule, whatever, once the main components on the negotiation table have arrived at a certain solution, I'm talking about political solution, well, then, you're going to abide by that. That is why the Constituent Assembly becomes so very vital and important.

POM     Yes, I was going to ask you about that. I mean,[this appears to be] there are three scenarios, at least, that we've run across in the last couple of weeks.

FM     Yes. What are these?

POM     One would be where the negotiating table would be expanded to include all groups which have a political constituency of one kind or another, and that a consensus would be reached on a constitutional settlement, a constitution drawn up and a government would emerge from that.

FM     It would be sort of representative?

POM     Yes. And the second would be one in which, it's a variation of the first, in which there would be an interim government, maybe ANC/National Party government of some description, and, again, kind of a commission representative of all the political groupings from the country, wise men or whatever and women, drawing up the constitution. And the third is the Constitutional Assembly route.

FM     Well, the second is totally unacceptable. You can't have that.

POM     That's the interim government.

FM     Yes, you can't have an interim government. I can't see by what legitimation would the ANC constitute an interim government? And why on earth would the Nationalists hand over this interim governmentship to the ANC? That makes no sense whatsoever. And that would defeat the whole purpose of democracy. I don't think that would be acceptable to anybody. I don't think PAC would accept that and I don't think AZAPO would accept that. Inkatha has already said that it would reject that. I can't see the Nats saying, OK, ANC, form an interim government. What does that mean?

PK     It would be more than that. It would be the Nats and the ANC putting together a coalition government for an interim transition process.

FM     Yes, well, I think that's going to cause a lot of problems in the black communities itself and the blacks will feel that the process of democracy has not been allowed to get off the ground. Because in a way, one would have said, Well, OK, the Nats, they won the elections fair and square in a white election and so they constitute the government. But even though all the indications are that the ANC would be the most, is the most popular party, would have the most votes, the exercise must take place. Otherwise, blacks will feel that they have been defeated of the democratic right to democratically elect their party to constitute a government. That is how I would think it would be seen.

POM     Other African groups we've talked to like the PAC and AZAPO, just to mention two, have indicated, I won't say "resentment" is the word I'm looking for, have indicated that they think the process is beginning the wrong way, that rather than the ANC and the government sitting down together, the ANC should have consulted with all other black constituencies, Coloured constituencies, African constituencies, and out of that a common agenda on the way forward developed. And that would be the agenda presented to the government in negotiations. Do you think that's a legitimate complaint?

FM     I think that is a very legitimate complaint. I think that the ANC has gone around doing it the wrong way. What really happens right now, you see, you've got the ANC in exile, how big it is, I don't know, but we have had a protracted and consistent struggle that has gone on in this country for years now. Now, we have had the ANC in exile, we have had Mandela and that grouping of prisoners in prison, and what is really now happening is this, that it is the exiles and the important, the VIP prisoners who are constituting the political elite, and they haven't gone around taking sufficient cognisance of all the political formations that have developed over the years and that have actively become involved in the whole liberation process. So from that point of view, I think the criticisms are valid. It is I who myself would say that the political elite that has suddenly cropped up has not cropped up through some sort of a democratic process.

PK     How much of that is a result of the government sort of saying, 'Come talk to us now?'

FM     No, the ANC has kept its own time. The ANC hasn't responded to the government's time frame. It hasn't. It has withdrawn, for instance, when it has wanted to, and said, we won't, even though a negotiation date was first set. It said, no, it won't. And it said for this reason and for that reason. Even now you would say it's keeping its own time frame, could have gone on talking, had another meeting soon thereafter the first meeting. It's keeping its own time frame. And it had enough time to consult with. But it hasn't done it that way. It has done it the other way around.

POM     Keeping on the questions of the ANC, it struck me, anyway, as kind of peculiar that there was no person from COSATU or the labour unions included in the ANC team, given the very strong stand of the unions on workers' rights, on the need for a new model of the economy for redistribution of wealth and land, and signals one gets out of the ANC regarding mixed economy, more tolerance toward ...

FM     Well, I would say it's not only COSATU we should worry about. We should worry about all the historical groupings that were disregarded and COSATU was one of them. It's an important grouping, but you know, I mean, we are criticising that kind of - if you look at the negotiation team that they put up together, it is basically a team of the prisoners, the VIP prisoners, and the ANC in exile. There are very few people from inside the country that got involved on that negotiation team.

POM     I feel, in a peculiar way, they've excluded the people inside the country who have gained experience in negotiations, like members of the trade union movement and others who have actually sat down and negotiated.

FM     Well, the trade union movement, they don't need any more experience. They've been negotiating all the time.

POM     That's what I mean. You would have thought some of those would have been included on the ANC team because the people have skills at negotiating.

FM     Let's put it this way, that any criticism which says that at the moment the ANC is playing things close to the chest would in my mind be an accurate criticism.

POM     How high are expectations that not only is there going to be new dispensation shortly but that things are going to dramatically change?

FM     Yes, these are the sort of questions we have asked in this massive survey that we have just done, so we will know how high, we will really have a yardstick to speak more definitely about what we think. But I would think this way, that people are by and large realistic, that having been used to so little, it is not really much more that they are wanting. And the struggle has been most sharp on the issues of education and rent. And this government, the Nats, are already beginning to address these two problems. I'm not saying that they are anywhere near solving these problems. I think it is going to be very difficult for even the ANC to solve these problems. Housing and education, and land, of course, is tied to housing, these are our key problems and this is where expectations lie. And you are now looking at people who for generations have lived in very depleted homelands, and people who have lived in the townships. Now, their expectations are not that high. They are moderated expectations. And I don't think it is so difficult to satisfy the level of expectation. It's not so difficult to reach out to that level.

POM     Well, but let's say a family in, let's just say in Soweto, to the average family there what would a majority rule black government mean in a real tangible way? In terms of the quality of their life, their economic circumstances.

FM     Well, that wages should go up. The prices of primary commodities should go down. You know, food, electricity, water. Right now, it's not the rents that are killing the people in the townships, it's the service charges for electricity and water. These escalate all the time. And it is that which is really making life unaffordable. Now, they would expect those service charges to go down. And they would expect a wage packet which makes it possible for them not to starve. You know, that's what I'm saying, the expectations are low, they are not very high. They only want to live like the Tambos, they don't want to live like the Jones.

POM     Go back to the negotiating table for a minute. What do you think will unfold in the next year in terms of obstacles to be met and negotiations getting under way?

FM     In the next year?

POM     Just in the next year. What do you think are the necessary next steps in order to maintain public good will?

FM     Well, I think that it is absolutely necessary within the next year to come out with your new draft constitution so people know now exactly what it is that is going to happen, what kind of change they can expect. You know, if you do so many things so fast, one on top of the other, that can create false expectations and it is very important that you begin to bring about a realism, Look, this is what you can expect to happen. This is how we will move. And then you can start moving in that direction. So, I think that in the next year, you've got to put in more people. You can't leave it to ANC and the government.

POM     ANC and the government. So, that's what I am asking you first. Who else gets to sit at the table and do they sit on opposite sides of the table or do they all sit around the table?

FM     They sit around the concept of opposite sides. They clearly sit on opposite sides. That means you have already identified your factions and your coalitions. So, you've got to start sitting around, I would expect. That is why, you see, a Constituent Assembly is very important.

POM     But who, at this stage, who do you think would be represented at the table?

FM     Well, let me put it to you this way, that what we can say is, at this stage, who appear to us to be the possible groupings that could go out and canvass votes? That's what you are asking me?

POM     That's right.

FM     Well, the traditional political parties are PAC, AZAPO, ANC, Inkatha, maybe the Labour Party, the Coloured Labour Party. If you didn't have a vote at all, if you didn't have a Constituent Assembly, then I would say that these would be parties which are important. But now you are looking only at political groups.

POM     So it should be extended beyond that?

FM     Probably needs to be extended beyond that but then how do you extend it beyond that? You see, this becomes the big problem. And that is why it is best to have a Constituent Assembly where you are giving everybody a choice of forming their groupings, whether it is from the church or labour union or wherever, forming their unions and putting their pressure groups into the arena.

POM     So, in a sense you are saying that the best step forward for the government and the ANC to agree on would be to draw up the ground rules for an election to a Constituent Assembly?

FM     I would say that.

POM     But do you think the government would ever accede to that, since if they do, they're already conceding not only the concept of majority rule but first past the post winner, since a Constituent Assembly would be very weighted towards the party that did best? If the ANC got a majority of the vote, they would write the constitution.

FM     Well, you could work out some kind of ground rules acceptable to, you know again, safeguard your so-called minority rights or group rights. You could do that even in ...

POM     Do you think the government will agree to a Constituent Assembly?

FM     I think the government must. And I think that the international community must be alerted to the fact that this needs to happen because, let's face it, black people have never been allowed to vote, a democratic process just hasn't operated in black lives. And it is very, very unfair to them to say, well, in terms of the historical parties that have been operating or, because now the government had set up these tricameral parliaments and there are the Indian parliaments and they've got their little wishy-washy political parties that have been contesting for seats in the Indian Parliament or the Coloured Parliament, that in itself gives them a certain legitimacy to sit on that table. How are you going to push those people out? How are you going to say, you don't represent anybody, you shouldn't be sitting on that table at all? How do you do this? How, then, do you also, how does COSATU then come into the picture? Or NACTU come into the picture? To say, well, we may not have been political parties but we are this, that, and the other and we have a representation? Or, for that matter, a religious grouping might want to do it. In our country, black sports have been highly politicised. And one doesn't know whether they were sportsmen or they were politicians. So, they may have to, may wish to now go and canvass support. I think that the black people need to go into the arena. Most of us have adopted the attitude that we will boycott the whole electoral process up to now. So we've never gone into that arena. We've kept out of it. It becomes very imperative, therefore, that when we are now negotiating about real power, that we should, that one should unchain, or one should allow a democratic process to proceed.

POM     If the government were to adamantly refuse the route of a Constituent Assembly, what leverage does the ANC have to put pressure on the government?

FM     The ANC's leverage is dependent entirely, as far I see it, on the leverage which the international community has allowed it. It's business that is doing all the talking. The ANC can talk about, Hani can talk about going in and taking it over, you know, taking over the government by arms, but the ANC hasn't got the capacity. [Tape off, then on] That's why you see it has been so important for Mr. Mandela to almost destroy his health and go on this huge trip. Because that's where the power lies. You see, we all understand that. And if the international community understands that the Constituent Assembly is an important component of reaching a representative solution, then it will lean on de Klerk to that end.

POM     What would you identify as the major possible sources of disruption with regard to the black community that may derail the negotiation process? What types of divisions or?

FM     The black community?

POM     In the black community first, and then the white community. What obstacles does Mandela face in trying to maintain the cohesion of the black community?

FM     Quite frankly, I don't think that AZAPO and PAC constitute serious threats. I don't think so. I think that maybe a more serious threat may come from within the ANC itself, where you may have forces that feel and believe that a compromising situation is being reached with the Nats because, you see, the wealth of the country, the capital and the conglomerates, I don't think that they are going to be displaced. Although we are going to have a transfer of political power, we are not going to have a transfer of economic power.

POM     OK, that's very important.

FM     And I think that from within the ANC, there might be certain forces that might, again, feel dissatisfied and feel that the people have really been compromised.

POM     So, the trade union movement, for example, would feel very let down.

FM     Well, why should the trade union movement feel very let down? I mean, the trade union movement has been negotiating for their little checks all along the line. They haven't taken a radical position in the whole situation, they haven't said that we want nationalisation of all industries. Are they saying that?

POM     Well, they talk about redistribution of wealth.

FM     Yes, there we're agreeing.

POM     COSATU certainly has talked about nationalisation.

FM     To any greater extent than the ANC? I mean, we've got a high level of nationalisation already in the country, as it stands. They are now talking about privatisation because now they know that the nationalised capital is no longer going to be in the hands of the Nationalist Party. For what is it that COSATU is saying? I have not heard workers talking about it.

POM     It's from the literature that I've accumulated over the years. They talk, NACTU, for example, just the other day talked about very definite plans that they would have for the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy. Anyway, I don't want to get tied up in that.

FM     Which key sectors, gold?

POM     Gold, for example. But for whites, what do you think are the greatest fears of whites?

FM     Whites have enormous fears. They fear that they will no longer be in control. Nationalisation is something that they fear enormously. They feel that blacks will never be able to run commerce or industry, that the whole economy will go to the dogs. Apart from fearing that they are going to lose their position of dominance, they also fear, and this is where the fear of industry and commerce comes in, industry and commerce has been very supportive on the transfer of political power. But, of course, industry and commerce are hoping, and this is the reason why they have been supportive of the transfer of political power, they are hoping to retain economic power, you see, and thereby what they consider to be ongoing economic stability. Stability for them means no change in the distribution, no real change in the distribution of wealth. I think they'll be prepared to handle a little bit more in the form of increase in the tax slice to the government, I think they'll be prepared to do that. I think they'll also be prepared, you know, they set up this Urban Foundation, they'll be prepared to increase the amount of money that they pump into organisations like Urban Foundation for education and health and so on and so forth, you see. That they will be prepared to do. But that keeps them in total control of the economy and the purse strings. So, there is that fear, with nationalisation they will be no longer in control of purse strings. That's their main concern.

POM     Do you think this is, because I think you had made the very important distinction between political democratisation and economic democratisation, do you think that the government as negotiator will attempt to have a constitution that gives certain guarantees regarding economic structures?

FM     How do you mean?

POM     Say, with regard to nationalisation.

FM     They would concede to nationalisation?

POM     No, no, no. That the constitution will rule out certain forms of economic organisation or economic structures, or limit them in some fashion, so that they can say to their own constituencies, again there would be only a minimum transfer of economic power, your standard of living will be protected.

FM     Oh, yes, they're definitely going to do that.

PK     In the constitution?

FM     Oh, absolutely. And I think that the ANC is going to concede to that. I think this is where the compromise is going to come between the government and the ANC. It's going to be on the economic sector. And I think it is partly going to come because I don't think the ANC feels very confident about running great big industries.

POM     So you would see a compromise between the ANC and the present government that would really envisage a new South Africa that in terms of its economic structures would not be very different from the old South Africa?

FM     I think so.

POM     In that situation, just how can the welfare of squatters, average black families in the townships improve?

FM     Well, we'll have more squatters, obviously. Under apartheid, we are actually containing squatters. But now you can't have influx control under ANC. You know, I mean, this is what happens in the Asian economies. Democracy means, for one thing, the right to go and pitch your tent right outside, in the street, anywhere. You know, in all these places, the differences between South African cities and Indian cities are very startling. When you go into an Indian city, the first thing you hit are the squatters. And so everybody says, oh, what a terrible country. Not that India, of course, is a democracy in that context. Anybody has the right to squat, anybody will have the right to squat here, too. I mean, the squatters are going to be with us for a long time because I don't think we are going to, we are not going to be able to build the houses that we need. And we are not going to be able to say to the people, now you stay in the rural areas. I can see people streaming into the cities.

POM     So the appearance of things will get worse?

FM     Well, you can call it worse. I'm not saying it will get worse. I think that from the rural areas, the people are going to come into the cities and want to share the amenities. They will exercise that right. There is nothing in the rural areas. The reason why the rural folk come into the town is because the amenities are there.

POM     But if the economic structures of the country are more or less going to be the same, which would imply that, for one thing, there would be limited redistribution of land and other resources, what mechanisms would an ANC government have that would allow it to redress imbalances, particularly given the narrow base of the tax system?

FM     Oh, that's a big problem.

POM     I'm looking for wisdom here. You'll have to give me more than that.

FM     No, well, all I have to say to you is that the ANC or any government, it doesn't matter whether it's a communist government or not, has got this enormous problem. It is not going to be able to make very significant differences in the lifestyle of the people. You have impoverished them now for centuries and you are not going to overnight change that situation. Your people will remain under-educated, largely under-educated, largely illiterate, this is the problem. You will have a civil service which will not be African because you haven't got enough Africans trained to put into that civil service. And you've got civil service that's going to continue to run, it will continue to look non-African for some time, and all of this is going to allow AZAPO, PAC to object.

POM     If you had say, an ANC government, and that AZAPO and PAC had really withdrawn from the process, still stayed on the sidelines, saying, They're compromising, they're giving everything away, could you ...?

FM     They will do that.

POM     Could you see a situation where, after four or five years, the economic problems are really just as severe as they were and people are becoming disillusioned after getting used to personal liberties rather quickly?

FM     They going to get disillusioned, sure.

POM     Could you see a sizeable defection of support from the ANC, particularly among the young people?

FM     Oh, yes, the euphoria of the ANC is going to die down. There is no doubt about it. The ANC has been a militant resistance movement. The ANC is not a government. The ANC will only now begin to be a government, with very limited resources, and very much dependent on a lot of support from overseas capital. It recognises that it will need that capital. Already it is recognising that. And I think the amount of support that's going to come in is going to decline. It is not going to be in the measure that it would have been, for instance, if the Eastern Bloc had continued to remain terribly hostile to the Western Bloc. You haven't got that Cold War situation, now, there is a big difference, too.

POM     There is more competition for scarce capital.

FM     Yes, yes, so we've got an enormous problem ahead of us. I mean, it's not just - at the moment it's the euphoria of taking power, the euphoria of majority rule. But once you get into the business of government, it is going to be a very serious affair.

POM     So, even though you say that, at the moment, neither the PAC or AZAPO are critical players, the fact is that over four or five years they could become very critical.

FM     Oh, absolutely, yes.

POM     So, their threat is a very real threat.

FM     A potential threat rather than an immediate threat.

POM     To look at the threat from the other side, the right wing. Do you think the, in what appears to be increasing support, do you think if an election were held today, that the Conservative Party would win a majority of the white vote?

FM     No, I don't think they would win the majority of the white vote but I think they would increase their votes.

POM     Significantly?

FM     I don't know how significantly, but they certainly would increase their votes. I think they would increase their votes.

POM     Do you see the right wing as a threat to de Klerk or as something that will be there but will dissipate with time?

FM     I don't think the right wing is going to dissipate with time. No, I don't think so. I think that as black majority rule becomes a reality you are going to get that fascist element organising and growing stronger. And the extent to which whites will support it will depend on the extent to which it appears to successful. You know, that's the way the game is always played, something looks as if it is really getting strong and more people get on to it. But there are a lot of people, the right wing is the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of people who have voted Nat. [Tape off, then on]

POM     Sorry, you were saying that the right wing is only the tip of the iceberg.

FM     Yes, there are far more people who feel like the right wingers than are at the present moment expressing themselves. In the last elections, they felt, well, it would be safer to go with de Klerk. After all, the Nationalist Party has been so successful over so many generations. But now the Nationalist Party is changing, and you might get more, you know, I think that you would get a swing in that direction.

POM     Do you think this is a potential threat for destabilisation or that it will be there but it will be controllable by the government?

FM     I think it is controllable. The government can control the right wingers, if that's what you're asking.

POM     Yes.

FM     The government has the capacity, it has the power to control the right wingers.

POM     Do you think that the Conservative Party now is the voice of Afrikaners?

FM     The Conservative Party?

POM     Yes. Is it now the political party of the Afrikaners, that a majority of the Afrikaans population vote for it?

FM     I cannot say that the majority of the Afrikaner population will vote for it. I think that may be a reduced majority. Maybe de Klerk's following will be a reduced Afrikaner majority, but I think the majority would still vote for de Klerk.

POM     What would you say to the argument ...?

FM     You see, you really are looking at the Afrikaner working class here. And the Afrikaner working class has been shrinking. It does not constitute the majority of the Nationalist Party. The Afrikaner working class, which in 1948 constituted the vast majority of the Afrikaner constituency, has now shrunk. So that is why they cannot, I don't think that they constitute, even now, the majority of Afrikaner voters.

POM     What do you say to the argument, then, that strong elements - well, the Conservative Party advances, which is that the Afrikaners are separate people and they have a nationalism, and all over Europe and the Soviet Union you now have the outbreak of nationalism?

FM     That's just rhetoric. I don't think there is any reality to it. And I don't think that the Afrikaners themselves believe in it.

POM     You don't think they see themselves as a separate nationality?

FM     They do see themselves as a distinct and separate people, but in the same way as Indians see themselves as a separate and different people. The rest has been all pumped into them, you know, that they are a super people. They don't simply see themselves as a distinct people, but they have been brought up to believe, or it has been suggested to them, that they are a super people. Which they don't believe. Which they know very well that they are not. Because they are pretty common people, you know. Especially the Afrikaner working class is a very common lot. Now, how can they really believe that they are a super people? But they've been told they are a super people.

POM     But my question is, say, the Palestinians say they are a people, they have a right to a homeland. The Ukrainians say they want self-determination because they are a separate nationalism that has been suppressed within the Soviet system.

FM     Don't confuse the Palestinian issue.

POM     I'm not confusing them.

FM     I mean, these are people who lived in Palestine and they were ousted from their home and they are saying, we want our home, we want our land. They've got no land under their feet. I mean, that's different. The Palestinians never ever said that we are a super people, and no other people have any right to live next door to us. In fact, they were very welcoming of the Jews and allowed the Jews to do what had happened there, so I think that is a wrong parallel altogether.

POM     I think you are misunderstanding my question. This would be in the context of them saying, we want an area of land where we would go.

FM     We want our own Afrikaner ...

POM     Yes, it could be in the North West, say.

FM     I don't think they are going to ask for anything stupid like that.

POM     Yes, well, what I'm saying is, conceptually, is there anything wrong with them saying, we are a people and we would like the right to self-determination? Now, if that means that we have to go and live in a desert in the north, the eastern part of Cape, so be it, we will do that. I mean, do you think in terms ...?

FM     They are going to make another trek? I don't think they are going to do it.

POM     Yes, but I'm thinking conceptually, or ethically.

FM     If they wanted to do that should they be allowed to do it?

POM     That's right. I mean, that they would say, that's valid, and if you want to do so, here is your patch of land, go and trek.

FM     [You see, now, for that's a ???,] We can't allow that to happen. Now, I'm just thinking, nobody has every put such an absurd question!

POM     Thank you.

PK     It comes out of people, ordinary, decent people.

POM     Yes, well, we - I mean, these are ...

PK     Ordinary, decent people, saying, I'm willing to give up my house and my garden and trek.

FM     That's their emotions speaking, but when it comes to the cut, they don't want to really go and live out in some cruel region. They don't want to do that. They want to be where the action is. And that's where they are always going to be. But from our point of view, having opposed this kind of segregation of people, we have built into our own ethos a kind of principled stand about it, so how can we now say it's OK for people to say that they want to live in isolation from other people? I think ethically it would be wrong for the ANC to say, all right, you are at liberty to practice your kind of racism or groupism in some little desert or whatever.

POM     OK, good answer. Last, Mandela, how would you assess his performance since he was released?

FM     I would say brilliant. I think that he has won over the electorate. He has gone very carefully. He came out shouting that I'm not a leader, I'm a follower, and I'm a loyal member of the ANC. This had been a problem with many people. The government had played on it. It had tried to create the impression that Mandela was one person, the ANC was another person. Now, in coming out of that prison shouting that I am a loyal member of the ANC, he consolidated that ANC. He consolidated any fears that had been emerging outside of the country, where the ANC was, in fact, established. He allayed those fears. He did not come out as a kind of a competitive demigod who was going to take over the process. Secondly, he went straight to Lusaka, he discussed the matter with those people, he got himself elected as the Deputy Chairman when he could have been the President but there was the deference to Tambo. That was also brilliant on his part. Then, thirdly, he has got very strong ideas about with whom he wants alliances. When he was in prison he talked openly. He did not want to go on fighting with Inkatha, he did not want to go on fighting with PAC, he didn't want to go on fighting with AZAPO. He wanted to bring them all together. But he comes out, he is a politician, he is not a Gandhi. Gandhi's attitude was, he isolated himself from the Congress, Nehru can get on with it, that was a different kind of a player on the world scene. Mandela entered it as a politician, and as a politician he entered it as a party man, and he has emerged as a very strong party man. And that has consolidated. [Tape off, then on] If he hasn't unified the discordant black political groupings, he has gone a long way in unifying the main forces within the ANC.

POM     One thing, and this is, we have less than five minutes left, what we have found in our brief travels is that de Klerk's support in the black community is much higher than Mandela's support in the white community. Does that surprise you?

FM     No, it doesn't surprise me at all. After all is said and done, Mandela offers very little to the whites. Whereas de Klerk - which blacks are you looking at? Are you saying that in the African community, de Klerk's support is higher than Mandela's?

POM     He's a higher standing than Mandela, say, that maybe 40% of the black community might, say, approve of de Klerk, whereas only 20% of the white community will support Mandela.

FM     Well, yes, well, that's understandable, very understandable. Mandela hasn't offered anything to the whites. Whites have only seen Mandela in very hostile and negative terms. Mandela has just stepped out of prison. The fact that there is any support at all for Mandela among whites is remarkable, because he has been branded in white minds as a communist, as a terrorist. As far as de Klerk is concerned, blacks have seen, and the media has played this out,- blacks have seen a white man change. You know, it's the prodigal son or something. And you always - Tutu's immediate reaction, it takes my breath away, you know, at what the people generally were feeling, to see a man change. They've never really hated white people. Black people in this country have never really hated white people. And to see a white man change, it exhilarates them. So they are now saying, yes, you are doing the right things, and we are with you when you are doing the right things.

POM     Final. Where must things be this time next year for the process to be on track?

FM     Oh, I hope they get this, the broad outlines of the new constitution. I hope that's what comes out.

POM     So, will you expect an election for a Constituent Assembly to have taken place?

FM     No, I would have expected the guidelines for the setting up of the Constituent Assembly.

POM     To have been set.

FM     Yes. Of course, the other is, the other alternative, you get the first model that you talked about, that is another way of doing things. [The third one, I think, is the ???.] But I was speaking to Mandela, he phoned this morning, and he was telling me about going and getting this car and he was obviously very pleased at the fact, he said that they usually take 11 days to build this car, they took four days to build this car for him, and that the right wing, Afrikaner workers pitched in with the black workers to build this car. He was very pleased about this.

POM     That's wonderful.

FM     He is so pleased when he finds a little, any white sort of response, positively, he draws almost child-like pleasure from it.

POM     Thank you very much for taking the time.

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.