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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Aug 1990: Potgieter, Flip

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POM     I think it was David Fanning who passed on a description of you as being 'a liberal Afrikaner'.

FP     Yes, I suppose I do fall into that category.

POM     In view of the changes that were announced by De Klerk on 2nd February, despite the fact that you will probably think many of them are long overdue, did the extent of his proposed changes and the breadth of them surprise you and what do you think motivated De Klerk to move so broadly and so rapidly?

FP     Well you ask two questions: the first one is whether I was surprised. I was actually sitting in my office at the university and when he said the ANC was unbanned I was not surprised because having met with the ANC in Lusaka I basically knew that they had no option. I was surprised at the fact that they actually unbanned them. I thought there might be some interim processes. What did surprise me though was the fact that they unbanned the SACP, the Communist Party, but I knew that they were forced because of the fact that SA could make no progress

     The second question was?

POM     What do you think motivated De Klerk to act so broadly and so rapidly?

FP     I think, as I said, they were forced because economically we were right on the skids. As a matter of fact, what happened was everybody in SA was talking negotiations but people didn't quite know when and how it will happen but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall he saw it as a sign that, because the thing is most people in SA all have the wrong perception of Russia and we all were scared, including myself to a degree, if you have seen what Russia was capable of in Eastern Europe you were scared, it was obvious that SA was quite a lucrative target so the threat of communism waned a bit. All that was left was the racial fear and the fear of domination and I think he's an astute politician, he realised that they could possibly handle it.

POM     Do you think that De Klerk has now conceded on the issue of majority rule?

FP     I'm not 100% sure. I think De Klerk himself knows that the ANC and the other parties will not settle for anything less than that but I think they're hoping to bring in some sort of a guarantee with minority rights and that, but I'm not sure that they've tackled it, and I'm absolutely 100% sure that the majority of the NP members have not fully accepted it. As a matter of fact I'm in a City Council here and we were the first city in SA to vote to have a single municipality and the people who motivated it are still under the impression that it's not going to be majority rule. They think that it will be not a qualified franchise but you will have wards which will be divided into rateable value, etc., etc. In other words your black townships will not be able to dominate the traditional white areas although, as you know, Group Areas will be no longer with us, thank God on that point.  But I'm not sure if the run-of-the-mill Nationalist has accepted that fact. I think De Klerk has grudgingly accepted it.

POM     He wouldn't be conceding his hand. Is this the reason why he would be so opposed to a Constituent Assembly as a step in the process?

FP     Yes I think a Constituent Assembly could show the real strength of the Nats which in negotiations, if the real strength of the NP is shown, they will become a minor player and at the moment the government is a major player in the game even though they may have only 7% or 8% of the total support. One is very unsure of what support they have, there are so many rumours around.

POM     In your own personal assessment do you think that there has been a movement to the right that would be sufficient to get the Conservative Party a majority in parliament?

FP     In parliament, possibly yes. I think what will happen is obviously the Democratic Party will side with the Nats and they will still have a majority.

POM     Do you see the CP now as the voice of Afrikaners, the party that most represents most Afrikaners?

FP     I have a different definition of Afrikaner. I consider anybody who is Afrikaans speaking as an Afrikaner, as an Afrikaans speaking South African. As such 80% of the so-called coloured or mixed breed, or whatever you call them, are Afrikaans speaking. But if you talk of white Afrikaans people then, no, they represent about 50% of white Afrikaners. Afrikaners have also been in the forefront of the so-called liberation movement, Beyers Naude, Van Zyl Slabbert (he's a good friend of mine), Bram Fischer, they have been very, very strong in the liberal movement and, of course, the Afrikaner businessmen, you must never trust a businessman, he goes wherever

POM     Do you take the threat of the right seriously or do you think it's a passing phase?

FP     No, I don't take it seriously as such. What I do take seriously is their influence in the defence force and the police. I think that's a generally held view that because of the influence in the police and the defence force that they can make things very, very difficult for whatever government there is, but as such I don't take them all that seriously although I do suppose that you will have ugly situations as we had in the south in America. People are very capable of very bad violence. But if the police and the defence force were totally objective that could be controlled but unfortunately they're not.

POM     Let me make a comparison, I don't know whether it's a totally valid one, but in Northern Ireland the Protestant community has never been able to generate a kind of large paramilitary following, the paramilitary organisations are not really supported by many of the people compared to, say, the Catholic community, in part because Protestants for the most part occupy the security forces, the police are all Protestant and whatever, but also because they see themselves as a law and order people who obey the law and mostly because it's been their law and because it's been a learned habit; people who step outside the law to promote their cause by violence tend to get shunned. Do you think in the Afrikaner community there is an attitude towards law and order that acts of violence would get very quickly condemned by the community?

FP     I think there is an abhorrence, there's probably a similarity, there is an abhorrence of violence in the Afrikaner community.

POM     But is there respect for law?

FP     There is a respect for law, there's a respect for order and the CP itself is very grudgingly moving into an extra-parliamentary role, very much the role previously played by the old Progressive Federal Party which I've been involved with for many years, and now the Democratic Party. But I think the violence caused by apartheid, you must have heard this plenty of times, it was a violent policy, it moved people, it took away their self-respect and self-esteem and it was like generating violence. Over the last 15 20 years people in SA unfortunately have got used to violence so we've got a violent society. I'm old enough to remember the South African society as a very non-violent society, it abhorred violence. I think the English influence was very strong even on the Afrikaner. In the 2nd World War more than half the soldiers that fought for the SA forces were Afrikaans speaking and they had this English fair play system, system of fair play. The Afrikaner inherited it. But because of the fact that they fought for what they thought was survival in the last 15 years, they perceived a total onslaught by the so-called communist forces, the African forces. They thought that use of violence was excusable under those circumstances, they were entitled to counteract violence with violence. When you tell them that the ANC only became violent, they actually only attacked things other than military, soft targets for instance in1981 and 1982. Most people are very surprised because they feel that they were so threatened for so long that they were entitled to do this. Unfortunately we've developed a violent society and that's going to be one of our biggest problems to turn that around. I don't think we will ever become a Scandinavian society or a Swiss society.

POM     Will this be, or is it and will it be, a particular problem in the townships where you have a generation of youth who are for the most part uneducated, unemployed, perhaps unemployable, and who have learnt only one thing and that is to protest?

FP     Yes, that I think is going to be one of our very, very biggest problems. It turned virtually a generation of, whatever they call them, twilight people around. At the end of the day you must remember that SA will have to enter the world as a player in five or ten years time and we have to compete with Germany, Japan, whatever Asia can offer and those people, in a society having people like that, will find it very difficult to compete.

POM     Looking at the white community for a minute. We were being taken around yesterday by Judy Chalmers.

FP     Yes I know Judy very well.

POM     I asked her what her friends think of what is going on and she said they were for the most part white liberals and she said she was surprised by the level of anxiety being expressed by many of them, by the fact that a number were making plans to leave the country and there being a certain irony in the fact that those who had been opposed to apartheid might now, once it's going to be dismantled, leave the country and go where those who were for it were left behind. There's also a lot of guilt about feeling anxious.

FP     Yes I think there is, you're completely right, especially where I live in Walmer. It's quite a liberal suburb and a lot of people who were actually, I think, more anti-government than they were non-racial and although they were protesting vehemently at the government's racial policies they were very comfortable with it. Now that there's a definite chance of a black government they're decidedly uncomfortable and a lot of them are emigrating. I think something like 150,000 South Africans have already emigrated, we've had an incredible brain drain of some of our top medical people, legal people. I think at Wits University nearly 50% of the medical people leave within the first three years which is terribly sad seeing as we have to rebuild. I mean we have to rebuild our country in a fashion similar to what happened in Europe after the 2nd World War and we badly need those people but a lot of them have left. Now it could be possible that you could persuade them to come back but I think a lot of liberals are more anti-government. I think they abhorred the unfairness of the laws but at the same time they feared black domination, whereas the Afrikaner in a way is part of this country. It's difficult to imagine an Afrikaner as a settler, you must have heard of Settlers here, because they for 300 years have been battling it out here, their hearts are South African, they're used to it.

POM     How do you think the process will unfold? One scenario is that more people will be brought to the negotiating table, it will be a broader negotiating table and essentially a Constituent Assembly. Another is a very broad negotiating table where every political constituency is represented and a consensus developed on the way forward. The third would be a combination of the first and second, of an interim government of some description, perhaps with the ANC and the government and a commission of eminent persons representing all political views who would put together a constitution.

FP     I'm not an expert on the political scene. I've been forced into politics in many ways because of my views but I don't think we'll have a Constituent Assembly because I think the government simply can't afford it, but I do think your third option, and that has been expressed to me as well by prominent members of the ANC on the National Executive. I think there's a definite chance of an interim government. It hasn't worked very well in Zimbabwe mainly because the people involved there were not acceptable but I think there's a definite chance for an interim government because the ANC, by their own admission, cannot run the country, they have not got the expertise in certain fields, or the depth of expertise. They have people, incredibly talented people, but to run an education department you need more than three, ten highly qualified people. Yes, I see that. I think the Nationalists would also welcome that to a degree. It will still give them some say. The Nats have been expert at staying in power, they have been doing it for 40 years, albeit with a white minority. They are actually incredible experts because they only trust themselves, they don't trust anybody else and this way is their last sort of chance to have some influence on the process.

     I do think your second one, I think a lot of people when negotiations do take place they will invite any person that can show some kind of support but I do not think there will be a Constituent Assembly.

POM     And the main reason you think there will not be a Constituent Assembly is because the government, the NP itself would do so poorly? Or because they would be conceding?

FP     Yes, they would do so poorly, although it seems now that they have a lot of support from the so-called coloured people. I only call them 'coloured' because their home language is either English or Afrikaans and not one of the African languages. They also have the support of the Indian community, which is a small one. Even some of the African community, they support the government because they are quite a conservative, especially in the rural areas. But I cannot see the government in any way mustering more than 20% of the support and then obviously they would have to be a minor player whereas at the moment they control the whole process and are in charge of government and all the civil servants and everything that goes with it, the education system, poor and terrible as it may be, but they are still in control.

POM     Would you see a period, just talking of an interim government, of a government that might last four or five years, that would be a power sharing government more than even an interim government?

FP     Yes, yes. In some ways it's going to be a very uncomfortable partnership but the thing that surprises you is although they have been at each other's throats for the last forty or fifty years the perceptions that the ANC and the government have are in many, many ways incredibly the same. I think we suffer from one of the worst cases of media manipulation that the world has ever seen because the government controls the media, or the radio and television, even the press. If they hadn't done that they would have been very surprised to find similarities in outlook.

POM     Two scenarios often come up in regard to the speed with which things should occur. One suggests that the best way forward is for negotiations that are as rapid as possible and to arrive at a settlement and say this is it, this is what we've agreed to, and let people react to it and adjust to it. The other is to go more slowly and for the government to bring its white constituency with it, to educate it, and for the ANC to do something similar with the black community, bring it along and have the two temper their expectations of what will come out of the whole thing. Which do you think would be the better way forward, the better way?

FP     It will have to be the slow way. You're already seeing the problems that the government is experiencing with their right wing because these people have been brought up to believe that the ANC is evil and the cause of all the problems, etc., etc. The big reason I think, because a lot of the government support is from the so-called poorer whites and that was the policy forty years ago, ironically it's something the ANC are trying to do now, to assist the poorer whites. ESCOM and ISCOR was created to employ those people and they became very comfortable because of their privileged position and a lot of them actually upgraded themselves, their children, their education, etc. Now you find that that the ANC have a similar problem. They have a lot of poorer black people, uneducated, and now they will also have to create some sort of a government structure to bring them up. But again that's as far as the whites are concerned. As far as the blacks are concerned there already are doubts amongst the black people about Mandela and especially about the more militant young people who actually idolised and hero-worshiped him whilst he was in jail and now there are doubts because of the fact that he's talking to his jailers and he's friendly with them, he's very kind to Mr De Klerk. A lot of the black youth, according to my information, are turning more towards the PAC. As a matter of fact there have been incidents where they chanted, "One settler one bullet", at Mandela. And that's also why Chris Hani has to be seen to make a couple of arrogant remarks because they do not want to lose their constituency.

POM     There was a pretty widespread belief and it was said on Monday that when the government and the ANC meet and they spell out their agreement on the release of political prisoners that the suspension of the armed struggle will be announced.

FP     I'm expecting it as well. As a matter of fact that sort of speculation is in the inner circles of the ANC and I believe that they will suspend it although the problem will be, as I have already indicated, the younger people who see them to be collaborating with the government.

POM     Where does that leave the Chris Hani's?

FP     Yes.

POM     Does he have to go and look temporarily for another job?

FP     They'll find some position for him. He's an intelligent man Chris Hani. They guy that I've got a lot of time for is Thabo Mbeki but I suppose all whites

POM     Everybody has time for him, yes.

FP     Ironically enough, and when I did say this in the white community that sanctions were far preferable to the violence, of course everybody told me I'm an academic and I'm not in business and I don't know what I'm talking about. I do not think they will suspend sanctions because the government has got so much power, the ANC must keep some.

POM     When the ANC gets to the bargaining table what leverage does it have, what cards does it have if it renounces the armed struggle, suspends it? What cards does it have left to play in the event of an impasse? If the government says absolutely no way are we going to have a Constituent Assembly, does the ANC have to accept that or do they have some leverage that they can use to make the government at least reconsider that position?

FP     I think they have pretty much the same leverage they've had before which led to Mr De Klerk's announcement on 2nd February and that is that they control labour and of course sanctions and more important reinvestment, disinvestment/reinvestment. I think disinvestment is even more important than sanctions because one can always get by sanctions although it costs a lot of money. I think the most important leverage they will have is the labour situation because COSATU controls labour and that's it. And then, of course, South Africans, the white people, want peace because we believe we have this incredible future in this country if we can have a settlement.  Can you imagine how many tourists we'll have here? People are sick and tired of going to the Mediterranean and the Asian countries, they want to go somewhere different. It's a bit of a bargain here and we need it very badly. Lots of reasons, we need a settlement very, very badly.

POM     If I were Mr De Klerk and you were Nelson Mandela and I came to you and said, "Listen, I can't make changes at the pace you want me to because if I move any more rapidly than I'm moving my MPs are going to defect to the Conservative Party and I could lose my position as State President or head of the National Party and there's a backlash of immense proportions waiting." What would you say in response?

FP     That's a very, very difficult question. I think the only difference is Mr Mandela has not been in government so he could be a bit more patient, but he had the same problems with his radical elements, if you want to call them that, the far left. In many ways we call them in SA the far left but I think by international standards they're really not left, in many ways they're rightist, some of the black people. It's so confusing in this country when you talk of left and right. It's a very difficult question to answer. I think Mr Mandela can sell it to his people for a while, he would be prepared to sell it for a short while but I think his people will also let him know. Whereas De Klerk's people will be leaving him in parliament, COSATU and the trade unions will make it very, very difficult. Mandela, through that way, they will absolutely be forced to come to some conclusion.

POM     When you look at Mandela, what are the obstacles or stumbling blocks that lie in his path? What must he do to maintain the cohesiveness of his support?

FP     The first thing that I think the ANC will have to do, and they are apparently planning to do it, is to have proper elections, internal elections amongst themselves to create a proper party structure. I think that will be the most important thing that they have to do. There I think the white people are very unfair when it comes to the ANC, they expected them working, three months or four months after that speech, to convert themselves into a political organisation and what happened is through the very policies of the Nationalist government a lot of top leadership were in jail, a lot of the top leadership were in exile and a lot of top leadership were also underground, operating underground. Well it's very simply put, but to get those three movements together as a cohesive force I think that is going to be a problem because only when you have cohesive leadership, a group of 30 or 40 people at the top, will he be able to get his followers to know exactly where they are going because at the moment the ANC is sending out very confusing signals. As far as the white electorate is concerned they are used to government not only in SA but world-wide because we know what's happening in the rest of the world. That is also confusing, that is because you've got these basically three diverse groups.

POM     The three diverse groups being?

FP     The exiles, the people who were in jail and the underground. Then the ANC also have a communist, or people with communist sympathies rather, and socialist, and the more market capitalistic orientated. So they have a very diverse group of people. COSATU, for example, is always seen to be one of the problems in SA but now it seems that that COSATU is siding more with the market forces, the capitalist forces. So the ANC, it's very, very difficult because the one thing that unified them was the anti-apartheid stance and now to some degree that's been taken away and they've actually got to show the world what they are, not what they're against, what they're for and it is very difficult for them to do it and I think it's very unfair because the government were in actual fact the people who partly caused the divisions amongst the black people, apart from the natural divisions, tribalism, etc., etc.

POM     Could you define what is a South African communist?

FP     I think they're trying to define it themselves. I met Mr Joe Slovo last year in Lusaka, he's a delightful man. I was under the impression that they were Stalinist and Mr Slovo vehemently denied that. He said he didn't think anybody in the world wants to be Stalinist. Look what happened in Romania, it was mummified over the last 40 years. Anybody who has seen what's happening in Eastern Europe must realise you can't be controlled by an 1850 ideology, much less a 1930 ideology. But I think Mr Slovo's got problems redefining the role of the Communist Party. But in SA, in all fairness, there are no ways a totally capitalist system could work in the interim period because you will have to have a very strong socialistic element. If you look at the townships and everything, you have to virtually rebuild it, you've got to rebuild South African cities, you've got to redesign them unless you want to fall into a developmental mess like in India.

POM     Where are the resources going to come from?

FP     To have that kind of money and to re-educate people, or to educate people and to carry on with some sort of a welfare system, obviously the welfare system has to change, we have to have a very, very vibrant private sector. You will have to have a growth rate, I'm not an economist, but a growth rate approximating 8% - 10% which is miraculous. For that we will need outside help, we will need internal stability and we will need a very productive workforce. Now those things are going to be what the government and the ANC will have to get the people to do and then only will you by the normal methods be able to generate people that can build up the country, reconstruct it virtually. If you just look at housing it's very difficult, again I'm no expert, I've only been on the Town Council for two years, but you've got to the stage now where the middle class black housing, etc., that's being addressed to a degree. Where your problem lies is with the very poor, the shack dwellers, and I must say that the shack dwellers are building brilliant homes. They're the best home builders in SA because they build the most houses. It's very difficult to get private enterprise involved there because there's hardly a profit to be made. You've got to build a house for R5000 and that will have to be done in some way by the public sector, some kind of a public sector, I suppose along the lines similar to what Roosevelt did in America in the 1930s.

POM     Do you see the government trying to get provisions that guarantee certain economic structures inserted into the constitution, that they will look for provisions that will limit the degree of nationalisation, that will safeguard property rights?

FP     I'm quite sure that that will be very high on the agenda of the government. When you talk property rights, you're now talking about the nitty-gritty and I don't think anybody really knows what the outcome will be because of the fact that simply black people were not allowed to own property. So there will be some kind of a retribution. How they're going to put that right I don't know but, yes, there will have to be safeguards as far as property is concerned and I think they will insist on a certain limiting of the control of government in business. In other words, you can already see how Anglo-American have Ogilvie-Thompson announced the other day that they're not against a partnership with government. That is different from what he said a year ago. Did you see the ANC saying that they don't want to nationalise?  I think we're already starting to see a movement towards a situation like they have in Namibia with some government ownership and some privately owned. I think the other thing that will happen, but that's not answering your question, they will not allow the big cartels. The big cartels will have to be broken up to a degree. But I think, yes, there will be in the negotiations, I don't know whether you can write it into the constitution -

POM     Natal, what is the reading in the white community, the community that you know, as to what's going on there? What do they think can be done about it and do you think there can be meaningful negotiations on a national level going on as long as the violence in Natal remains as broad as it is?

FP     You know, we down in the Eastern Cape, again as I said earlier, it's gripping the people in the country but it hasn't caught world attention yet. Down in the Eastern Province we may be surrounded by the Xhosa speaking African and traditionally they haven't got on too well with the Zulu speaking African, so there isn't a concern in the Port Elizabeth area to what is happening but I think the situation has gone so deep in Natal it's gone way beyond just a conflict between people of different political persuasions. It's probably like it is in Northern Ireland to a degree, it's not Catholic versus Protestant in the church sense of the word or church grouping sense of it, but it's gone so deep and the resentment is so deep, families against families, etc., it's going to be very, very difficult to stop that violence. I don't think it could stop the negotiation process. I think in some ways it could even hasten it because Natal is in actual fact showing to us that the policies of the government over the last 20/30 years, which has been a policy of divide and rule, confuse the black people, get in there, play off the Zulus versus the Xhosas, make something of tribalism, whereas ANC policy is the opposite, it's to get beyond tribalism. I think that the negotiation process will continue and make people more aware of the fact that they have to have a solution at the top to solve this problem in Natal. Now it's still being used by the government to show people the divisions that are existing in black ranks but those divisions in many cases some of it came naturally, but in many cases it was caused by the divide and rule policy.

POM     Do you find that it reaffirms whites in their belief that this will be a harbinger of how things might be in a new SA, that inter-tribal violence - ?

FP     I think for a lot of white people, because we've been brought up to believe in tribal violence.

POM     You see it happening?

FP     It is happening and they say, "I told you so." They don't realise that in many ways it mustn't be blamed only on tribalism but on the very policies of the government. You see people now have the perception that since 2nd February the Nationalists have become saints and you forget that when it comes down to the very roots of ordinary people I am sure there are people in KwaZulu who haven't heard of the 2nd February speech, they're still into the mess that the whole apartheid policy got people in. I think we're very conveniently forgetting about the horrible evils of the policy because we're so keen on finding a negotiated settlement. Now in America they're only now making movies on Vietnam and on the south, now you can sit and have perspective over those things. It'll happen here too. One day we will see the full evil of this policy. It's probably one of the most horrific policies ever created in the world. Anyway, that's not what you asked me.

POM     Two last things. One is, among people you know, whites, again, that you know, what has been their assessment of Mandela since he came out of prison? What has he done that has exceeded their expectations? In what areas has he lived up to their expectations and how has he disappointed them, if he has?

FP     Well in liberal groupings they were very excited when he came out and I think the liberal people were very disappointed when he made utterances about nationalisation and especially when he started talking about the PLO and Gaddafi. On the conservative side I think they're actually surprised at his lack of he's not looking for retribution, he's not blaming the government at all. You never hear him talking about having spent 27 years in jail. They're very surprised at the mildness of his manner and I think even his own people, the black people, are surprised by that. But the so-called liberals, I think in a way are very worried about his utterances in terms of the economic policy, etc. But he's also sending out very confusing signals because I think his own electorate, or his own power base, is in a very confused state. He doesn't quite know which one to address. It must be very difficult after 27 years in jail to suddenly be thrust right into the centre. Can you imagine after living that sort of rigid life that he's thrown right into the centre stage of world attention? I don't think any of us can conceive what it means. Again, he hasn't got the back-up that any normal leader has. If Bush goes to Europe he's got speech writers and he's got an army of people with faxes and telexes and whatever with him. Mandela spends half his life writing out his own speeches. I think it's unbelievable what this man is capable of, although he has got some very capable support in Thabo Mbeki.

POM     Lastly, where will things be this time next year? How far advanced will things be, do you think?

FP     You know I'm not an expert. I think that most of the stumbling blocks towards negotiations would have been removed and I think they will be defining which groups will be attending the negotiation table and I think a timetable for the start of negotiations, a date would have been set. What are we talking about? August? I think the real negotiations could start in 1992 as long as there is no external factor such as violence albeit from the right or from the left.

POM     Do you think the process must be completed by the time the term of this current government runs out?

FP     I think it could be completed by then.

POM     Does it have to be? Do you think that it has to be? Will there be another white election?

FP     No. Unless the ANC wins the day and gets the government to accept that which, of course, will be in the ANC's interest because that will weaken the government and make them a strong opponent.

POM     OK.

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.