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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Aug 1990: Meiring, Kobus

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POM     I'm talking with Mr. Kobus Meiring, the Administrator of the Cape, on the 9th of August.  Since we were here last year there has been a sea change in South Africa.  One, were members of the government surprised by the rapidity and the broadness of Mr de Klerk's initiative?  And what do you think motivated him to move so quickly, so fast?  I recall that at the time he became party leader and State President the media had already commented that he was conservative, far more conservative than Mr du Plessis, and yet he made all these changes.

KM     It is a mouthful.  Can I start by saying that when Mr de Klerk was elected as the leader of the party on the 2nd of February 1989, I was still in the caucus as a  deputy minister. And I must say, yes, I was surprised at that stage, not that he was elected, I think we all expected him to be elected, but I think we were all surprised at the strength of Barend du Plessis' support.  I have no doubt that that certainly did play a role in his outlook after that.  That is my personal opinion.  Certainly he must have realised that half the caucus has voted for the other man, not perhaps for the man himself, also for the man himself but especially for what he stood for. For some years before that, there was some feeling in the caucus that we must get going, really, that we must get going, it was no use talking about before, we must really get going.  And I think that the fact that Barend du Plessis got 61 votes against 69 triggered off that feeling.  And I think personally that the State President realised that, well, if half my caucus feels like that, then it gives me really a foundation to work on.  That is the first point I would like to make.

     The second point, when I came into this position on 1st July, I immediately said to myself, now I can do certain things that I think are right, and that is we must get away from discrimination, statutory discrimination. There will always be discrimination, there is discrimination right through the world, but we must really try and get away from it on the ground level.  And it's amazing how it works.  The day I was sworn in, I said I'll work for the abolition of beach apartheid and it worked.  I mean, three months later the State President announced that and I, in many speeches, I said, look, there is no justification for this, we must get away from it.  And I stuck my neck out a little and that is what, as far as I'm concerned, is wonderful about the present situation.  You can create a plan, and most of the time it works if you are sincere, if you really mean what you do and if you can justify it.  OK, so we did that and I was very happy when the State President announced that.  I was not surprised, it was on the cards, in any case.

     But I must admit that his announcement on the 2nd February on the ANC and so on and so on, that did surprise me, pleasantly surprise me, I was very happy about that. Oh, I was so happy when I got the speech half an hour before he delivered it and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that. You have got to keep the initiative. You've got to portray a picture of justice. And I have no doubt that FW de Klerk, with that announcement and I must say everything he did after that, really managed to act just at the right time in the right way.

POM     One question we have asked a large cross-section of people, both within government and not in government, and get varying responses to is whether or not the government has conceded on the issue of majority rule.  In your opinion, do you think De Klerk has done so or not?

KM     There is a very fine balance.  Can I give you the example of a new form of government level that has been introduced over the past year and with which I had, in this position, a lot to do, and that is the Regional Services Councils.  I think the Regional Services Councils at the moment are working very well.  That is a level of government just above municipalities and below provincial government.  And the whole idea of that Regional Services Council is to get a group of towns together so that they can try and work together in a practical way and save money and so on.  We have twenty-one of those councils in the Cape province.  I have been to most of them and every time that I visit one of these councils, I, in fact, count the heads.  And invariably you will find that there are more non-whites than whites.  They work on a certain principle.  And that is, they vote on a percentage vote and that percentage is determined on services rendered.  So, if they buy two million rands' worth of electricity and the brown township only buys R500,000, then you work out the percentage.  So, strictly speaking, if you count heads you will find that there are more nonwhites than whites.  If you really vote on that percentage basis, then the whites will still be in the majority because they are the biggest consumers but they never vote and that is the point I want to make.  If you look at that situation, you really have majority government but you work on a consensus basis.  And for me, there is a lot to be said in that.  And, Padraig, I've always said that I'm all for sharing the wealth and the power and the opportunities and everything in this country.  I want to share it, but I do want to retain order and stability if I can and I do want to retain decent civilised Christian norms and standards.  So, there is a difference between a majority government which you have seen in Africa where you just grab the ballot and run away with it, or a sharing of power, where, given if you count heads, the majority will be non-white but it is difficult, if you understand what I mean.

POM     You are reaching decisions on a consensual basis rather than a majority vote.

KM     That's right.  And people very often talk about the situation and as a result of my experience in Africa, I've always said we must just please not go the way of so many countries in Africa.  If you look at Maputo today, Mozambique, hell, we can't allow this country to go that way, it is chaotic, it is absolutely chaotic. I've been to many other African countries where the same thing happened and the reason for that is the first world segment left. When colonialism ended the first world segment just left and the gap between the first world and the third world narrowed, but it narrowed down less.  As far as I'm concerned I say, in sharing the wealth, in sharing the power, we must narrow that gap but we must narrow it upwards.  And then people usually say to me, OK, that is a wonderful ideal but how on earth are you going to do it?  How on earth are you going to manage to salvage South Africa from the African pattern?  And, really, my reply to that is, that is perhaps the benefit of the last forty years in which you had white rule, in which you managed to strengthen the infrastructure.  And there was a lot of unfairness involved but on the other hand, it probably bought us very valuable time in the sense that you built up your infrastructure to be the strongest in Africa.  You proved to the world that we cannot go the African way, that there must be an alternative, and as far as that is concerned, I'm optimistic that given all these factors we will be able to go a slightly different way from the African pattern.

POM     Mr de Klerk gave a promise, both during the election last year and subsequently, that any proposed new constitutional dispensation would be taken back to the white electorate.  Do you think that is a promise that he can keep?

KM     That is a very interesting question.  I'm in the fortunate position that I see him at least once a week.  Last week we had this bush Indaba together, the four Administrators are also invited to that.  In fact at the beginning of this year the four Administrators paid their usual pre-session call on the President as happens every year. On the general, I said to him, "I want to ask you something. As Deputy Minister I was part of those Indabas and I was promoted to this position, but now I am not in those Indabas. Don't you think that the four Administrators should also be invited?" And he immediately said, "Yes, I'm going to from now on."  So that was wonderful.  Now, my view on that is that if you have to go to the electorate and you lose, what then?  But I visualise that it will be a repetition of the 1983 situation.  In 1983, the people who were in parliament were the whites.  At that stage, the government came up with its trilateral proposals, or tricameral proposals, and it went to the whites with a referendum.  My personal view would be that if now you were to broaden the democracy to include the blacks, then the people who have, in fact, to change the constitution, who are the whites and the coloureds and the Indians, must then vote.  And as far as I'm concerned, I would think that the obvious way to handle that, my personal opinion, is to get the whites and the Indians and the coloureds to have a referendum.  And I think that we can easily win.

POM     The right, and the Conservative Party, how serious is the threat from the Conservative Party and is it something that could pose problems for the government or is it something that is natural but passing?

KM     Yes, I would really think that it is a natural reaction and I really don't regard it as so serious.  I would never think that the Ireland situation could happen as far as the far right wing is concerned.  OK, there will certainly be exceptional cases.  A madman, for instance, that goes mad and kill ten blacks, that sort of thing.  I have never had personally any qualms about the direction in which we are going but I can understand that there are many white people who are scared.

POM     When you talk to people who were your former constituents or people in your neighbourhood, what kind of feedback are you getting from them?

KM     They are fully behind FW de Klerk on the one hand.  On the other hand they get very fed up with certain situations.  For instance, in my position I have a lot to do with squatters, with the development of black urbanisation, etc., etc., and people really get fed up when you read, when you hear that these people don't pay their services.  And we all get really fed up and yesterday I had to issue quite a stern statement in this regard.  But on the other hand, I am realistic enough to understand that these people are under terrible intimidation.  The person wants to pay for his electricity but he is told that if you pay it, your house will be burned.  And, of course, there is the other side, too.  If I am intimidated not to go to school when I am a young boy, or if I am intimidated not to pay my bills and I can save money by doing that, then it is not too difficult to be intimidated, either.  So it is a catch-22 situation.  But we have to try and get these people to stand up against their intimidators.

POM     Do you find, again, among your neighbours an anxiety about the future, that they don't quite yet know where things are going so that even though they support the State President, it is with a good degree of apprehension?

KM     I would certainly say that.  Many people have doubts and you can't blame them for having those doubts.  But they, I can't quite think what the English word is, although they have doubts, they are not as, they all realise that we are going through a period of flux.  On the other hand, I can tell you that I was with the State President on Tuesday, I think, and we had this tree planting ceremony, and I am with him again tomorrow in Pretoria.  He is very optimistic, he says nothing has happened so far that he didn't expect and that they didn't think of before.  That is a very positive thing to convey to the man in the street, that, don't worry, things are perhaps as you hope they would be but

POM     What are the most common kinds of anxieties that are expressed to you?

KM     Well, people are naturally scared of the lowering of standards.  They are scared of their own safety.  They are scared of their possessions.  They are scared to lose their way of life.  I think they all understand that things will have to change and that standards of living will have to change.  I also think they understand that education is going to change.  It is going to change in the sense that either they have to pay more if they want to retain certain standards, or they have to simply put up with the fact that their children will sit in the same school as non-whites.  And I would say that the majority of whites, Afrikaner and English, are prepared to accept that.  But for a certain percentage, and it is quite a big percentage, it is totally unacceptable at this stage.

POM     Do you think there is no need for the government to be looking over its shoulder at what appears to be increased support for the Conservative Party?

KM     No, I am very happy when I think that the government has finally taken that decision.  We are going through the Rubicon and the rest must just follow, because there is no alternative, there is no alternative.  And that was, I think, the problem with, perhaps, Mr Botha.  He was the architect.  It is such a pity that he couldn't see his way through.  And it wasn't necessary for him to see his way through.  He could just - he had the best excuse in the world of illness, he must have followed up his first letter a week later with another letter to say, look, okay, you've elected your man now, I'm retiring gracefully.  I think he could have been the architect of the change and he would have been honoured for that.  It is really a pity that that didn't happen.

POM     Something was suggested to us that one of the factors that was responsible for the government doing so well in the last election was when Mr de Klerk more or less stood up to the State President, took a firm stand in August when the leadership crisis happened, and showed the mettle of his leadership and made a clean break with the past.

KM     Yes.  Naturally, I can assure you that if he didn't do that the results would have been much worse.  There is no doubt about that.

POM     When you look at the next couple of years, how do you see the process of negotiations unfolding?  We've been given three general scenarios.  One is the route of a Constituent Assembly, along the Namibia-type lines.  The second is one where the negotiating table is broadened and other political constituencies are brought in and some kind of consensus on the way forward is developed.  And the third is kind of an amalgam of the first and second.  It is where you have an interim government, a government in which power is being shared and concomitant with that you have an assembly, perhaps, of eminent people, an eminent persons group reflecting the

KM     It worries me.

POM     - reflecting the political spectrum that will draw up a constitution.  Which of these, or will any of those be the way forward?

KM     Well, that is extremely difficult to give you a precise answer.  I can assure you that all those possibilities are being discussed at the highest level.  Personally, I would think that it would be wrong to come up with one specific recommendation.  Can I just take you away from that point for a moment?  On my level, we are making inputs on the second level and on the third level, and my personal recommendation has all along been that we must have a sort of a menu with which the State President can go to the negotiating table.  He must be able to say, look, on the first level we can, for instance, think of an interim government in terms of which the present parliament can be the one house, that's with coloureds, the whites and the Indians, and the second house could be people elected now in the interim by the blacks.  I mean, that is a possibility.  Another possibility could be any of those that you have mentioned.

     On the second level you could come up with also a variety and you could say, look, we must have a second level somewhere. The ANC says centralisation of government, we say, no, we must decentralise, we must have almost a type of federal system.  And we have at the moment four provinces, we have three chambers in parliament, we have six dependent states, we have four independent states.  That is a total of 17, which is far too much.  But shouldn't we seriously look at using the present economic regions, there are nine economic regions in South Africa, shouldn't we use that as a new second level government because economics is going to be so important in the future?

     And then on the third level, you can have a variety of systems, but every time it must be multiracial.  I personally feel that we must on the local level think of scrapping the Regional Services Councils.  It may sound strange to you because I have just praised those Councils, but I would like to use that method on local government.  I would suggest, for instance, my town of Paarl, which has a magisterial district which includes Paarl and Franschhoek - you've been the Franschhoek, I think - and I would then suggest that your third level of government should be the magisterial districts of this country which would then include in Paarl the white town, the coloured town, the black town, the Franschhoek town, and the rural area, all included in one town which you will share and which will only have one small administration for that territory.  But in answer to you, I would suggest, personally

POM     Would that be a system in which the voting structure in the local government council would be weighted according to people's consumption of electricity?

KM     That is also, again, a possibility. You could have a ward system and it could be based on consumption as one of the possibilities.  But you must get people to understand that from now on we are not going to vote, we must talk things out and eventually on a consensus basis to try and get decisions taken.

POM     Again, from people that we have spoken to, it appears that the government would have problems with a Constituent Assembly.

KM     You mean on a basis like Namibia, for instance?

POM     Yes.

KM     The background is so different.  In Namibia you had to create something to create something.  In South Africa you have a Constituent Assembly at the moment, so with that background it is perhaps necessary to look at it a little differently.  But I would personally feel, as I always go into negotiations, you must always almost go into it blank.  As far as I'm concerned, you must.  I have recently had very interesting discussions with the ANC and the UDF on District Six, for instance, and I think it is wrong to go into negotiations with hard and fast rules.  You must first try and build a relationship with these people.

POM     As you look, taking Mr de Klerk first, as you look at his position, what do you think are the main obstacles or stumbling blocks in his path as he tries to manage this process through to a conclusion?

KM     Well, I would think that violence is a serious problem.

POM     Violence, period or violence from a particular source?

KM     Well, I would think violence amongst the blacks at the moment.  It is one thing to sit around the table with Mandela, with Mbeki and these people, and they can't control it.  Secondly, an important factor, and I spent last week, one evening, with Mbeki.  He was to have been at White Plains and when our Cabinet learned that he was there, they said, "Well, then, I can't go."  So we informed, what was the name of that professor?

POM     No, I know the man you mean but I can't remember his name.  (Sethi)

KM     He's an Indian, Asian.

POM     Indian.

KM     In any case, when we informed him, that looking at your list we see Thabo Mbeki there, then he said, "No, but you must come and then we will tell Mbeki not to come."  So the other night we had quite a joke about that.  I said, " I was instructed not to go if you were there", and he said, "Then I was instructed not to go because they wanted you there."  In any case I said to Thabo Mbeki the other night, "You know, it is all a matter of believing people."  In Afrikaans we use the word 'geloofwaardigheid', what is the English for that (reliability)?  To be able to believe in people, to trust people, trust willingness.

POM     How is the spelling of that word?  I'm kind of picking up Afrikaans.

KM     Patricia, can you take that word down?  'Geloofwaardigheid'.  Because I said to him, "You see, I think that you people are saying we like FW de Klerk and we like what he is saying but can we really believe what he is saying, can we really trust him?"  And I said to him, "Look, I really want to say to you, having spent some time with FW within the inner circle, I have no doubt whatsoever you can believe him one-hundred percent.  There is no doubt about that.  But I am not quite so sure that we can believe you. Are you sincere?" You see? So it is a matter of sincerity, of can you really believe each other? Is there any way to do that? So, as far as I'm concerned, the only way that people will really be able to get to know each other and to trust each other, to believe in each other, is if they can get together.

POM     When you say that you are not quite sure whether the ANC can control the violence, what do you think were the assumptions when Mr de Klerk announced this initiative?  Did he assume that the ANC, along with kind of inspiring the masses, could also control what was going on in the townships?  That once they were legalised and they said you must throw away your spears, you must go back to schools, that people in the townships would, in fact, follow Mr Mandela's instructions?

KM     I think to a certain extent the government would have hoped for that.  Nobody could have guaranteed that.  They most certainly hoped to achieve that.  But on the other hand, look, I don't think we have ever had any doubt about the fact, I don't have to tell you about the complexity of the South African situation, and the fact that this country has been riddled by tribal wars for centuries, and it, I would like to hear your views later, but I've been to many countries, there is just not a more complex country from a population point of view, as South Africa.  And what is happening in Natal today is a black on black situation.  It is not a white on black situation.  And many people say today, why do the police ever interfere, why don't we just allow these people to fight, to kill each other?  It is all a political struggle of course.

POM     When you talk about trust again, what would your understanding be of the Tongaat affair, the Red plot?  Is there any doubt in your mind that, in fact, there was a serious effort underway to lay the basis for an operation to overthrow the state or do you believe that the police may have gone a little too far in interpreting the evidence or the documents they uncovered?

KM     I must really admit that I haven't got any inside knowledge on that.  I get the impression just on reading the papers at this stage that it was an effort, perhaps on a lower level, to try and do certain things.  But that's some time ago, and events have changed.  I have no doubt that the evidence that was picked up was solid evidence, perhaps there could have been misunderstanding on the identities, as I notice from the papers.  But I think it is natural that on certain levels on the left and on the right there will people who say, to hell with this, we will arm ourselves and

POM     If you had to distinguish between a member of the ANC and a member of the South African Communist Party, what's the differentiating factor?

KM     Yes, well I can just tell you, I asked Thabo Mbeki the other night when we were having a drink after this meeting about their association with the SACP and they said, look, there is no doubt whatsoever, and he was for thirty-three years in Lusaka, that the ANC is not a communist party, they have no communist ideals, and they will not be based on communism.  But the SACP was their ally for all these years and they are not going to abandon them but they themselves are totally anti-communist. It's an anachronism that it seems as if the SACP is growing, while just across the border, my experience, and I think I told you last time, those senior ministers in Mozambique told me every time that I met them, "That we've been trying to follow a communist social doctrine for 15 years since we became independent in 1974 and look at my country, it is chaos. And two million of my people have walked barefoot through the Kruger Park to a land of milk and honey, and that is South Africa."  And the almost unthinkable has happened and that is that the country on the other side of the world that exported communism to Africa is now experiencing that it is not working.

     Can I say something very personal? I have always said to myself that South Africa is a country of challenge but it is a country with very, very tough problems.  Humanly speaking, there really are no solutions for South Africa, humanly speaking.  On constitutional field just mention any issue, and unless something happens from above, it is going to be really tough to find solutions.  And that has happened now, as far as I'm concerned, over the past year.  The tumbling of the Berlin Wall, what is happening in Hungary, in Poland, on the Red Plain itself.  Those things have had a remarkable influence on South Africa.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.  And we have to use that opportunity.

PK     There is something I don't understand, just to follow up on Padraig's question about discussions with Mbeki on an issue related to what you were saying earlier.  If he expects that you are to trust them and then he makes the statement to you saying, "We are opposed to communism", that doesn't seem to be reflected in their organisation when half of their Executive Committee are now acknowledged to be members of the South African Communist Party.  It is not being opposed to communism of as before, it is sort of how do you distinguish the two organisations?  It seems that they are the same, no matter what Mandela or Mbeki says.  Maybe Mandela and Mbeki are not personally communist, but there aren't any other political parties reflected in this liberation movement, I don't think, that have come to light.  Do you kind of look at him and say, OK, if that's what you want to tell me, fine, you know we won't discuss this any more because you know and I know that half the people are communist.  Where does the trust factor exist, then, if he is able to say those things to you?

KM     You know, I'm afraid that is one of the uncertainties that will have to sort itself out over the months to come.  I think FW is in fact trying to prove to himself and to Mandela and to Mbeki and to the South African constituency that I think you people must be mad to carry on with communism here while all over the world it is crumbling.  You see, can I just say this?  When these things were still banned, the ANC and especially the SACP, there were many South Africans and especially whites who said to themselves, what is going to happen in this country?  We are heading for a black government.  And what is a black government?  A black government is equal to communism.  And that is, as far as I'm concerned, the big change that has taken place.  People can now say to themselves, communism is on its way out, in any case.  It may still have its last increasing graph in South Africa, but in the medium-term, long-term in any case, it is on its way out.  So, black government in future will not be equal to communism.  But I'm talking about black government.  I think our task is to get Mandela and Mbeki and these people to understand that if they really want to have a future in South Africa, then they must go out of their way to accommodate the whites.  And that is why we would rather talk about a shared government than a black government or a white minority government.  That is how I personally see it at this stage.

POM     One last question, because I know you have to go.  From other things you have said, it seems that the economy will be a very important part, economic structures will be a very important part of these negotiations.  Do you think that the government will want to have guarantees or provisions put in the constitution that would put limitations on certain kind of things, like nationalisation, like the redistribution of property, like anti-monopoly legislation, or things like that?

KM     I think it will have been marvellous if you could do that.  They will certainly try to do that as far as I'm concerned.  But on the other hand I feel so strongly about this that your constitution can be as strong as you can make it and it can be written in the best legal terms and nothing will stop people breaking it if they don't trust each other.  So, as far as I'm concerned, you need a Bill of Rights.  You need to write into your constitution certain value systems, but that is not good enough unless you can combine it with absolute confidence and trust between people.  And that is why I started by saying that we must trust each other.  That we must work very hard on doing exactly that.

POM     OK.  Thank you very much.

KM     Thank you.

POM     I hope that when I come back next year that as much progress will have happened in a year as happened in the last year.

KM     That would be difficult to repeat that.

POM     Well, the way things are going, you never know.

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.