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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
25 Jul 1990: Lekota, Patrick
POM I'm talking with Patrick Lekota on the 25th of July in Durban. Patrick when we were here last year, Patricia and I, we talked to a lot of people including members of the ANC, right across the political spectrum and nobody was even close in anticipating the degree of change that would occur in a year. One, are you surprised yourself by de Klerk's initiatives on the 2nd of February? What do you think motivated him to pick this point in time to initiate this process?
PL Quite similarly many of us were surprised, pleasantly surprised at some of the announcements that were made on the second of February. And that is meaning in particular the unbanning of the African National Congress. It was a very, very pleasant surprise for us. But we understand also the historical conditions which now exist and which made it imperative to take that line of action. I come to that a bit later. We thought that a development along these lines should really have taken place around 1985 when the Rubicon speech failed, around that time or 1986 at least. That something of this legislation should have taken place by then. Now that was a time, in our judgement, when this kind of development should really have come forth. It didn't of course happen that way.
As to why President de Klerk has done what he did, I think it is important to look at our history and understand its flow. When State President PW Botha was unseated last year and retired and the present head of state took over, it was really the break between the early leaders of the National Party, the ones who had come in 1948. De Klerk is the first one of the leaders of the National Party who were not part of the National Party that took power in 1948. And his team essentially consists of the leadership which is entirely developed in the post-world war periods. Many of these people in the National Party now are men who are educated not only in South Africa but even in universities abroad, including State President de Klerk himself. Their view is certainly different from the parochial one of some members of the National Party who believed and saw South Africa as an island unto itself and did not lay much store in its interaction with other nations of the world.
And I think having been born in the period, and here they have been born and developed in that period, having experienced the world differently than the senior oppressors, it is only to get factored that they would show some measure of difference and sensitivity which the others did not show, other factor which perhaps people don't all the time come to terms with is the fact that these developments take place against the background of a new and dynamic international atmosphere. Perestroika, glasnost, the idea of seeking political solutions to problems by political means as opposed to ours. The initiatives of the Soviet Union and their responses in the nation to [up register] the settlement of Angola and Namibia therefore. The peace initiatives of Central America, you know, President Arias, Nicaragua, El Salvador and so on, all of that kind of atmosphere in the international community also had a very important and significant impact we believe on the rulers of our country to keep pace with international development.
And then of course there are various pressures which have come to bear on our side, the government and the economy. For instance, sanctions, the embargoes, the isolation of South Africa from the United Nation Organisation. [the ever-increasing strength of movements such as the light movement(?) and so on.] It is I think a combination of all of those centres, but above all, and which I think is the primary reason really, the level of resistance of our people inside the country, their tenacious clinging to the ideals set out in the Freedom Charter. And there were calls for the release of the leaders, for the unbanning of the movement, for the return of exiles, and for the need to search for a political settlement by negotiating with the majority. I think above all it was that. And the increasing realisation that blacks from the population would never rest unless a settlement of a non-racial nature was found for the problems of the country.
POM This morning, I know when you mentioned the word the release of the prisoners and the return of the exiles Murphy(?) this morning, reporting on the press conference yesterday, unless I'm mistaken, added another condition, that was there has to be repeal of repressive legislation.
PL Yes, that is also part of it.
POM Does that mean the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, the Land Act?
PL Refers more to the Internal Security Act, detention without trial.
PK Is that a new condition that has been put on?
PL It has always been there. It's there in the Harare Declaration. It is there in the Declaration of South Africa by the United Nation. So it is not a new condition.
PK So it means the repeal of the Internal Security Act which is related to the return of the exiles. Is that right?
POM It doesn't allow detention without trial.
PL It is more related to repressive legislation which makes it impossible for people to freely participate in the political process. You have the threat of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act. You have such pieces of legislation as the state of emergency for instance, which will now make it difficult for you, it's a threat to you if you are going to do anything and the police can take you, lock you up. And there is a whole range of them. The banning, the publications bared at censorship and all other kinds of stuff.
POM Where do you see Mr. de Klerk coming from? Mandela has referred to him as a man of integrity and in his election manifesto last August he talked about a universal franchise but within the context of the maintenance of group rights, do you think he has moved to a position where he now accepts the principle of majority rule?
PL It depends on what one means by majority rule. White politicians seem to understand by majority rule a government set up by black South Africans and therefore looking after the interests of blacks. They seem to understand majority rule in that sense. When we talk about majority rule we don't mean majority exclusive of white. We are a non-racial organisation. When we talk about majority rule we are talking about the majority of the people of South Africa, across the board, jointly supporting a particular position. A government that therefore will be accountable to blacks and whites South Africans and which will be guiding the interests of black and white South Africans. I don't think that the National Party accepts or understands the meaning of majority rule in that sense.
POM Do you think de Klerk has accepted in principle that, say, the ANC is the largest political party in the country, when you become a political party, representing your constituency, it will become the ruling party?
PL It seems to me quite obvious that if the ANC came to power it is clear what its kind of government is going is going to be like. So I think he has come to terms with the fact that that is an unavoidable outcome.
POM Now, you know, there are distinctions made, like in Britain for example, there is simple majority rule, first past the post is the winner so that Margaret Thatcher's government consistently gets that because there are three parties involved in the election now consistently well less than 50% of the vote yet has a huge lead in the House of Commons. Do you think that de Klerk, again, and the government accepts the principle of Westminster type majority rule?
PL From what one has understood from their side it seems that they would be at home in that kind of situation. Or at least that it would be some measure of consolation for them. They would accept that kind of arrangement. I'm not saying that authoritatively that that is their position but from what one can glean and from what we understand of their position, they would accept that kind of approach.
POM Generally, at least three scenarios that we have heard on the way forward. One is the route of their being an election for a Constituent Assembly. The second is one in which the table is broadened and you have representation from all the political parties and a deal is reached around the table and put to the people, and the third would involve something between the two where you would have a commission like an eminent persons commission, maybe along the line of the Indaba. wrestling with the constitutional problem and you would have an interim government composed of National Party and the ANC and move to the new set of constitution arrangements. In your view which is the more likely one forward, particularly given the government's, what seems at this point, very strong opposition to the idea of a Constituent Assembly?
PL It is not very clear really, certainly it is not very clear to me precisely what direction our country will take. I think that South Africa has got such a dynamic, and unique situation that chances are that something must, as well as something that has never happened in other countries, may well happen in this country. And one thing you have the situation, we have this tri-cameral parliament at the moment and what is its future going to be like. Is it possible to have that? We might, even if we move along the Westminster, that maybe in order to accommodate some of this concerns about group rights and so on. Might it not be that we might, say for a Senate, instead of leaving a Senate in the classical sense as the British has evolved it, we then have a Senate house which will be group based, if I may use that, group based in the sense that there you would have in the Senate representatives of the white sections, representatives of the Coloured sections, representatives of the Indian section and so on. And then your lower house is just elected on a basis of one-person one-vote and that is it. So it is not impossible. We need, as the Deputy President was saying yesterday, one never goes into negotiations without accepting that at some level there must be some kind of compromise that has to be made. And we are determined that a political settlement must be found. And so we have to look at situations in such a way that we gear our own orientation to possibilities of compromises, which, whilst advancing the situation should not at the same time undermine the confidence of others in the process, in the solution that is put forward.
POM Will the ANC have a task on its hands, say in the townships, where young people have such high expectations of what the change is to be and might regard compromise as selling out, to do a lot of education, to teach its community, to educate its community as to the type of change that can be expected?
PL Well I think in each situation, society, in which a country is going through a transition, I think it is a matter that some people may find it difficult to adjust to the compromises made by any political organisation or their leaders. I think that it is possible that we may have some problems in terms of that but I don't think it is probable, that it will be such a difficult task for the movement not to be able to get over it. I think the rating of the confidence of the ANC that it enjoys with the masses of the people inside the country is so high that it shouldn't be impossible or very difficult for the leadership of movement to convince its followers of the correctness of whatever compromises it might try.
POM But do you see a Constituent Assembly as taking place at some time point, an election for an assembly along the lines of a constituent assembly in Namibia?
PL At the moment that is our, in that terms, at the moment that is our general idea. We do realise that of course that the whole thing may be amended somewhat in relation to South Africa because of the situation here. But generally that's our orientation.
POM When you talk to?
PL The difference, I'm sorry, the major difference I think between Namibia and our situation is that up to this point in time it doesn't appear that our white compatriots would accept the international participation of external bodies like the United Nations, the movement or something like that. It looks like we may, up to this point in time it looks like we may actually be the midwives of the process ourselves.
POM Would you envisage again an interim government emerging at some level before there is a total transfer over.
PL It is not impossible. It is not impossible and given also the limitation of time I think, and given also the threat of the right wingers and things like that, it may become imperative that the negotiating partners, those who are determined to see a political solution, as try some kind of agreement, if only to make sure that the process remains on course and that it is not derailed by irresponsible elements. It may well be very possible.
POM Just on that, there are again two scenarios painted, one is that you move forward as quickly as you can, the government and the ANC reach an agreement, they say this is it and implement it and people adjust to it. The other is where it is a much slower process, where you move one stage at a time and the government kind of educates its community as to the nature of the changes and assuages their fears and the ANC goes about the task of telling, of educating the black community that expectations can't get out of hand, that everything is not going to change overnight, so it is a slower process. Which one do you think is the, would be the better one?
PL It seems to me that, and I think we will hold the view that we have the most unique opportunity in the history of our country. You know we have been struggling to get white South Africans to negotiate with us since before 1910. For the first time in the history of the country we have got this opportunity and the probability of the settlement is certainly there in the outlines of the horizons of our country. One of our obligations is to make sure that that opportunity does not slip through fingers. An obligation both for the liberation movement and for the government. So that we have a duty to a certain that the process is placed on an irreversible course, it must reach an irreversible point before one can even talk about let's for a general elections. Because what we have to see a general elections before we reach an irreversible point. And then the Conservative Party won majority white support. Can you imagine what a reversal that would be for the entire country. It is something that we know is concerning the National Party. We are even more concerned about it because it would mean an extension of the suffering of our people who are already suffering any way.
POM De Klerk gave this promise, or the National Party did or de Klerk himself did in fact ,that any proposed new constitutional dispensation would be put before the white electorate for their approval. That is not really a promise he can keep it is it?
PL Look, I think it is only fair that you should perhaps, that question should be raised with him. In our view he was given the mandate last year to negotiate with us. One doesn't usually go and talk to the other side and then say now we are going to do that but wait and see if my constituency accepts this or not. We expect that he will reach a settlement inside the mandate he received last year with us. And that inside that mandate, a solution inside that mandate must become a solution for the country so that even on our part, we will go in there with a mandate from our constituency and we will negotiate and make compromises there inside that marriage as we have understood it from our constituents. And we tell them to the nationals, but no, no, no, you can't implement that settlement because you know we must still get it passed there and so on. A settlement is a settlement. He will of course then, he can go back to his constituency and say now this is what we have produced for you. But the fact of the matter is that once a settlement is found between the two sides, that settlement in our judgement becomes, must now be put to test. [The times(?) a product of that scene, on that negotiation, unless you are negotiating half heartedly.] We need confidence in the process of negotiation. For us if there is not confidence in the process of negotiations they will do the kind of thing of saying look now, we must go and find out and then of course you know we can't take this because it is not acceptable. But their mandate was given to them by their constituency because their constituency had confidence in them. And they have to negotiate on that basis.
POM How seriously do you take the threat of the right wing? Do you believe that if there were an election held today that the Conservative Party, a white election held today, that the Conservative Party would win a majority of the seats?
PL No we don't think so. We don't think they would get a majority of the seats. Nevertheless they may well increase the numbers toward themselves. And that could easily weaken his position where he may be uneasy and not so confident as to continue the process of negotiation. But we don't think that the Conservative Party at this stage really, we don't think they have got the capacity to defeat them.
POM The right wing in general?
PL We think that the right wingers don't have the capacity to stop the process of negotiation. Certainly they may engage in deceptive action which might disturb the equilibrium and what not. But certainly no capacity to stop.
POM But you never envisage a white backlash that takes the form of militancy combined with mobilisation, you know, or a coup or things like that?
PL No, it doesn't seem to us that they can be that position. Well who would have the capacity to do that? The National Party leadership at the moment I think is very united. There are not obvious tensions in the ranks of those chaps. And I may say to you that there is more support and willingness to move faster into the future inside the National Party than even Mr. de Klerk himself. A lot of the men that are behind him are much more impatient in this process than would become immediately obvious. Within the army, the police, and I think again, there is little to really worry so much about because Magnus Malan although somewhat out of step with the general of the National Party at the moment, has himself repeatedly committed himself very publicly to the correctness of the position of de Klerk. And he has not displayed any unwillingness to come out and be forthright on his support in the position of the National Party.
POM Just to finish on that, just to finish on the white community and your perceptions of it, what are the main obstacles that lie in the way of de Klerk as he manages his constituency, the white constituency towards this process of irreversible change? What could derail him?
PL I think there, if there was an rash of violent resistance inside the white society and if key figures in the civil service [became from that could have been lately hampering the] hampered it he could be derailed. [tape interrupted] I think that also if the other black groups like for instance the PAC and so on mounted heavy guerrilla activity, which they have not up to at this point in time, they have never been capable of really, that is very remote. I could see that that could happen. The problems would of course be diverged if any of the key figures in the National Party or the ANC were for instance assassinated, assuming a black was assassinated and the impact of that action would be devastating. And the one major problem for him would have been if we said that we were not going to go on to participate in the process, I think would be a major problem for him. But that is out of the question.
POM Two things for you to react to in relationship to that. Again some people have suggested to us that the violence in Natal and the spread of it, the intensity of it, the flashes of violence in other places around the country, that if that is to continue and can't be brought under control it could endanger the whole process itself.
PL That we hold the view that in the beginning of this the government had the advantage. The growth and development of the movement, the UDF was engaged with Inkatha you see, and it was not really developing itself on the ground among the people. At this stage the process of negotiation is in their interest.
POM In whose interest?
PL Is in the interest of the National Party themselves. And they have the capacity to stop the violence if they want to. They can do that. This violence here in Natal is much, much weaker here in Natal. If the government really took it seriously that they wanted to stop it they could stop it.
POM Do you think they are using it still as a means of allowing Inkatha to wipe out UDF/ANC.
PL The question again?
POM Do you think that the government are allowing it to continue because that allows the ANC and the UDF to be kind of wiped out or weakened by Inkatha? Why are they letting it go on?
PL Well we think to some extent they are using Buthelezi as a countervailing factor against the ANC. That as long as Buthelezi is there it does not give us a clear sweep of the bars(?), it keeps us under. It slows down our performance and that is an advantage for the government. Imagine if the government had to contend with a black population that was completely united behind ANC. They'd have a very difficult problem. The lesson of divided rule has never disappeared from the minds of those who are in power. They are not innocent when it comes to that.
POM The other thing we have heard, statements like that by Hani the of arms caches and all this get intensified, a right wing reaction and to slow down de Klerk. Why would statements like what Chris Hani said be made?
PL One of the many reasons for that is that I think we have observed a laxness on the part of the government to take action against the violence of the right wingers. And those instances on the face of it work to the advantage of the government. Now you see, and the question even as you pose it to me is interesting. You are not saying, isn't it possible that the violence, the violence of the right wingers has pressured Hani into making the statements which he has made? You have said to me, in the press the statement that Hani is making will provoke white violence. But what came first, before, after the police killed many we saw an escalation of violence on the right wingers and it was only after a period of time, after that violence of the right wingers had come out and the government's laxness to deal with it that we now found that the ANC was further into commenting on these issue. The statement which Comrade Hani made came some time after the escalation of the violence of the right wingers. It was therefore unfair to say that his statement provoked the violence of white community. It is a particular orientation, I think, because of the events, the historical events that have been in front of us and that they happened should guide our thinking.
POM It has also been suggested, well not suggested, other movements we have talked to people in, in AZAPO and the PAC, they both express resentment of the ANC saying what the ANC should have done at the beginning was to bring all elements of the liberation movement into process and say we negotiate on behalf of everybody not just ourselves alone. They feel left out. Must a way be found to bring them in and how should they be brought in?
PL My friend, we're saying some of these complaints from these organisations are not honest as complaints. Our position has always been that the moment that the government expresses itself ready to negotiate the ANC will meet them and talk to them, to the government. The armed struggle was not a principle, it was not an end in itself, it was a tactic that we used imposed on us by historical circumstances to pressure the government to go to the conference table. What is the position of the PAC? They said quite clearly that they are not prepared to negotiate with the government. Now our orientation is different. We want to negotiate if negotiation is possible. They are not interested in negotiation whether it is possible or not. They are saying that they are not interested in that. How can they then come around and say we did not consult with them? Because the moment we come to them and say let's go and negotiate, they say you know our position, we don't negotiate with these chaps. When we move to the Harare Declaration at the beginning of the OAU meeting, their declaration, they were the only ones who opposed the Harare Declaration, they were there. What do we do after that? We can't now say to them come on the basis of the Harare Declaration, we want to go and talk to the government, come with us or something. They have said right in the beginning we don't approve of your package and your approach as in the Harare Declaration. They said that. Now in all fairness to us now, what is expected of us, what should we do? Because we want to find a political solution if it is possible.
POM Do you think that Buthelezi should be given a seat at the table?
PL The current, I mean there are two areas that we are dealing with. At the moment we are busy preparing the atmosphere for negotiation. We are not in negotiation. In terms of that the question of the atmosphere for negotiation was put forward by us on our own conditions. We have no evidence anywhere whether Buthelezi or anyone else supports that position that we have put out in the Harare Declaration. But once the atmosphere for negotiation is created and we are in there, we realise that the solution, anybody who is interested to negotiate can then come in. We are at the moment busy with talks about talks. We have not as yet begun negotiation itself. But once negotiation itself gets underway or at least is ready for it, we would be willing for everybody, including Buthelezi if he has a constituency to represent and he has proved that on as an objective basis as ourselves, then he should sit and participate in the negotiation process.
POM What are the major obstacles that lie in the path of Mandela as he steers the entire black community through this process of negotiation and compromise?
PL You mean the obstacles remaining?
POM Yes, what obstacles, what developments in the black community could derail him, could throw a spanner in the works, could stall things, slow them down?
PL Well as a whole we would have to revise our position if, as I said, the majority - we sense that the majority of the people on the ground were drifting away from the liberation movement, I think that is one thing that factors. The other, and that is quite a removed one, but the one most probably is if the government was found to be, if we come to the conclusion that the government was less serious and earnest, I think that would be the most dangerous thing.
PK Do you see any indication of that in terms of their current policy of detainment?
PL Well we are concerned about that but before we reach a conclusion that that is so, we need more facts and information than we have at the moment. Because we have to establish as it is for ourselves, conclusively, what is taking place now is a that they have taken or whether in fact there is any substance to the claims which they are making at the moment. We don't think there is any substance but still we would like to test the situation much more.
POM Do you think that just the security forces, or the government is testing how far they can go again in terms of detention and ...?
PL I really think more that one of the reasons for these detentions is that we have been saying that the government is not taking clear steps to create the atmosphere that it is ready for negotiating. It may be their way, it may be that in their judgement they must not give that we are not the only guilty party. Look at what these chaps are doing. [This is more than what we've.] In order to defend their sluggishness we are going to then say, 'Now look, we are trying to complain of something', politicians do these kind of things you know.
POM The economy, what do you think whites most fear? What do you think de Klerk and the government will do, or try to do, to elevate those fears in negotiation?
PL I think one of the major fears of white Africans is that because they have ill-treated blacks for so long they imagine that the first thing we will do on the day we are sent to power will to do the same things to themselves. I think that is the major fear in white society. They are afraid of a phantom. They are afraid of an idea that they imagine will eventuate. In relation to the, the other thing which white South Africans have is that they have unfairly amassed wealth to themselves over these years, obviously blacks sharing the economic cake of the country. They have a fear again that when we talk about, for instance, state control of some sectors of the economy of the country that that means that we are going to go and take their houses from them and take their land from them without any compensation and what not. That is of course unfounded. It is not our idea of freedom even if we are given the question of state control. Where we will need to obtain land for black use we will have to do that and compensate those who own that piece of land. I mean whites have got these fears. They've got fears, some of them have got fears that we will, and, for instance, Afrikaans, those who speak Afrikaans have got these fear. These are all imagined fears, it has nothing to do with the reality of what the policies of the movement are. And then of course there are the smaller fears of their own.
POM Do you think de Klerk and the government will try to negotiate guarantees of the economic status of the white community into a constitution? For example that they might have white provisions as a constitution that would minimise the degree of the nationalisation or have in the constitution ground rules about the redistribution of the land the way in which it is compensated for?
PL I'm almost sure that they will try something like that.
POM You think they will.
PL They will try something like that naturally. It seems only that they will do that kind of thing. But I think we will entertain their fears, even their suggestions will have to be looked at. One thing is that, in terms of policies, we have to correct the mistakes which have been committed in the past. And we cannot allow a situation, a continuation of things as they appeared without any addressing of the disparities of which the apartheid .
POM Do you see any time that the white community at some point will 'Way we are sorry', that before real national healing can begin there must be an admission of wrong doing?
PL Well that process has already been in motion inside. Because I think the churches, for instance, they were pressured to say that it was always wrong for the church to support apartheid. He said things like that. A number of policies of the government have themselves from time to time commented about how just unfair and evil apartheid was. They have said so. That is not so important. I think the most important thing, the most effective gesture of reconciliation that can come from white South Africa is to help uplift black communities. In other words they are aware of things so they must actually become a practical action of correcting the mistakes of apartheid and healing the wounds which are there.
POM Last question, which is a speculative one, this time next year, at what stage of the process do you think things will be?
PL Well we politicians are not prophets.
POM Where do you think realistically do you think they might be?
PL No I wouldn't venture an opinion on that. It is strictly in the process. We've never promised ourselves that we will be there when this time comes and so on, and I mean it quite earnestly and we have learned from mistakes which have been committed along this line and we don't to, we never, never want to fall into that trap. You know it is like when the PAC was formed, one of their major criticisms was that the ANC had been formed in 1912 and it had never brought our people freedom. And so the PAC said 'Look forget about the ANC, we will give you freedom by 1963.' You see. And those who went into the ranks of the PAC went with the belief that the PAC had at last arrived and the ANC had failed and this was it. This is 1990 and we have seen what happened to the PAC subsequently. You make a promise, or you make a prediction, you commit yourself, tomorrow if I'm going to say , you lied to them, and we cannot forget.
POM Thank you.