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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Aug 1990: Heyns, Johan

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     I'm talking with Johan Heyns, of the President's Council, on August 10th in Cape Town. Mr. Heyns there's been, what some people would say, a huge change in this country in the last 12 months and particularly since the speech of President de Klerk the 2nd of February, did his action on that date come as a surprise to you? And what do you think motivated him to move so broadly and so rapidly at this time?

JH     First thing I would say is that the new initiative which you are seeing today actually started on the 2nd February with the President's speech in parliament. That was the great divide between past and present. If you ask me what, why, then I would possibly say that I think everything that happened up to 2nd February was most probably motivated, or was a culmination of what was and what couldn't be. I think everybody was accepting in this country for quite some time, some people more and some less, the fact that there had to be change. I think the present State President just summed up the total acceptance and possibly put a new system into being. If you ask me whether I agree with the pace that he is taking - I think that was the last part of your question?

POM     What motivated him to move so broadly and so rapidly?

JH     I think everybody, including the National Party, accepted the fact that the cosmetic changes which most probably were done in the past was not enough and couldn't last. Consequently something basically had to be done if change were to be meaningful. And I think apart from that, the present State President with his Cabinet and the National Party also accepted the fact that if you start with change you must carry it through in total. And also, not in total only, but efficiently and as fast as you possibly can on the one condition that that must only be subject to two basic issues: law and order, and economic. Because those two factors I think are not prohibiting factors but let's say change is subject, successful change is subject to those two.

POM     On the issue of majority rule. Would it be your understanding that the State President has conceded on the issue of majority rule?

JH     The State President has expressed himself and so has the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Dr. Gerrit Viljoen, that the question of one man one vote is an accepted maximum. So universal suffrage is accepted by the State President and his government at this time. Consequently majority rule is accepted. I don't think there is any argument as far as that is concerned. I think the problem, which in fact goes hand in hand or parallel or alongside to that, is the question of protection of minorities which is not an isolated problem as far as South Africa is concerned and which in fact, I think, has become more and more important on the international scene. But as far as majority rule is concerned, yes, no problem.

POM     Does that mean that he has conceded on the issue of black majority rule?

JH     The question of black majority rule is not an issue any more. I think the moment you accept universal suffrage, or you accept a one man one vote system you automatically accept majority rule. When I say that, I don't want to qualify it, but I think factors like the winner takes all system in the Westminster system, or a proportional system, or bicameralism and that type of thing, those are factors that will still have to be ironed out around the negotiating table. But the basic factor of majority rule I think has been an accepted issue.

POM     What do you see emerging out of the process of negotiation?

JH     I don't know what you mean by that.

POM     Let me give you an example. Would you see something perhaps like a Cabinet line up in which a number of important Cabinet posts would still be held by the National Party although the majority of the Cabinet posts would be held by, let's say just for illustration, by the ANC.

JH     You mean under the new constitution?

POM     Yes

JH     Well under the new constitution anything can happen. I would be most happy and on the other hand most perturbed if black majority rule would mean that only blacks would be in the Cabinet. The simple reason for saying that is, not that I would have any objection to competent rule by blacks, but I think for a kick off and possibly for the next decade any black majority government could make use of the experience which the existing government, or if you want to call it whites, has had as far as administration is concerned, as far as ordinary government is concerned. But there is another reason that I think it would be foolish to waste all that talent and not make use of that. In fact I would go one further, I would be hoping to see a system of constitution whereby it would not be merely a winner takes all system as the Westminster system is. In a country like ours I think that it would be advisable to try and blend the different sections, the different capabilities, and make use of them as the best that you have. And thereby I also mean that I think it would be essential for success, or for a successful new government, to have black ministers. In fact I would go one further, it wouldn't surprise me, even before the new constitution comes into operation, that there may be black ministers, which I think would be very good for them to get experience.

POM     So might you envisage a system in which, and I'm using the ANC as a catch-all not as I'm referring only to the ANC as it were, some members of the ANC might be eased into ministerial posts now, and there would be an election at some point, and that a new government might emerge which would be perhaps dominated by the ANC but of which the National Party would still participate?

JH     I think I would like to qualify that statement you made. If you mean that the ANC would have ministers, or could have ministers, in the existing government, yes, I don't see any problem with that. If you mean you would have a transitional government the answer would be no. The State President has said that he doesn't see and is not prepared for a transitional government but that he has got an open mind as to the appointment of black ministers. In fact if you look at the existing legislation there is provision for such appointment.

POM     I meant more in terms of a new constitution would be drawn up and there would be an election for a new government in which presumably the ANC would gain the majority of seats. Do you then envisage a new government coming together which would be comprised of both the ANC and the National Party in which the National Party would continue to participate by holding a number of governmental posts? So they are sharing power between them.

JH     That would be sharing power but you see I can't foresee any guarantee letting the new government ... there will have to be a National Party member, or a National Party Cabinet minister. I hope that the blend - let me first of all make this statement, if you look at the Pretoria Minute you will see that both the ANC and the existing government have made the statement to say that they don't think they are the only parties. In fact if I quote paragraph 8, "in this we do not pretend to be the only parties involved in the process of shaping the new South Africa. We know there are other parties committed to peaceful progress" etc. Meaning by that, I don't think that the ANC and the National Party are going to be the only two parties in shaping a new constitution. I think there are others, for instance, to refer back to Prime Minister Buthelezi who is a man in his own right, politician in his own right, and who has a possible constituency of the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Agreed, the ANC has members and influence across the board. But you cannot merely discount a man like that. You cannot discount people like General Holomisa who are politicians in their own right. I think you might possibly, even probably, see as things develop more interested parties coming to the fore like Mr. Buthelezi, like General Holomisa and others. And on the existing scene I don't think the National Party is on its own. The Conservative Party would be an essential element to come in.

POM     Two things. One, de Klerk gave a promise to the white electorate that he would take any proposed new dispensation back to them for their approval. Do you think that is a promise he can keep?

JH     Yes, he promised at least a referendum. If he were to put a new constitution, if he were to put an acceptable new constitution, and first let me say that by acceptable I mean acceptable to him, the Cabinet and the Party, I think that should carry enough to carry a majority referendum amongst the whites.

POM     So you would say that if the constitution was drawn up which really provides for black majority rule, where Cabinet level positions would be held by whites only if they were chosen by blacks, it could be put before a white electorate and carried?

JH     As long as there would be protection for minorities.

POM     Could you give me an example of what kind of protection?

JH     I think if you look at, for instance, a proposal made before the United Nations in 1958 by the Soviets which said there should be protection for minorities as far as culture, religion, language, (and what was the fourth one?) is concerned, it should be acceptable to all the whites in South Africa. There will be concern if the Conservative Party discerns a large percentage of antagonism and objection towards that constitution, but I think that a majority will carry the day if, as it seems at the moment, the National Party, cum Democratic Party, will support such a referendum, which seems to be in the cards at the present moment. And it is of interest that that particular proposal was eventually not accepted. But lately, you would know better than I, it seems that the protection for minorities has been on the increase and accepted more and more on the international scene. And consequently when I talk about the protection of minorities, I don't mean just whites. I think the other minority groups are becoming more and more absolutely aware of the dangers of a black majority rule. I think the mistake which is made is that by talking about black majority rule, people are only thinking of an ANC majority rule and do not take into consideration that there may be variations. There may be combinations. The National Party cum ANC, National Party cum Mangosuthu Buthelezi or other variations. You are aware of the fact that Mr. Mangope has voiced his objection against coming into it, what's his name again - I think even General Holomisa who wants to come back but also wants to retain certain powers and certain identities for themselves may bring along that you could have certain variations and affiliations. I think that the scene is open to quite some possible development.

POM     Would you see a kind of federal structure emerging from all of this?

JH     Let's be quite honest, there is the work that I have been doing since last year, information which has been gathered over the last four or five years by my predecessors as well as ourselves, since I came here. My personal views are of course, as I see it in this country, a sort of a federal system, an adapted federal system could I think be the possible answer to some or most of our problems. There I mean something which has to be adapted to local circumstances and not something which is used in your country or in the German system for instance. But I think we can possibly borrow from all those and that is what we are in fact - that is the study and the exercises which I and my committee are doing at the moment. To try and investigate, to try and see. We have come across very interesting things which you people, as students of this, I think are much more aware of than I myself will ever be. But if you go to the Indian constitution I think there are things we can take from that. For instance, I am quite interested in the Nigerian system. I would love to go there and have a closer look at that. Senegal, Gambia, I think we can learn something from. So yes, my personal views are that a federally adapted system, suiting local systems, for instance, I think could go quite a long way.

PK     Would you ever see a situation like that in which there might be some local, provincial, state, whatever you call them, areas where whites would be in a majority?

JH     No. Yes and no. Yes, depending on the size that you cut them. If you look at the proposal for instance made by Leon Louw and Frances Campbell in their book "Let the People Govern", they promote, for instance, 300, approximately 300, identities. If you do that, yes, I think that equates with the existing number of municipalities. On the other hand, if we go away from that, and it may be a little impractical to have those small little pieces which are not viable economic entities because I think, as I said right in the beginning, the economic viability is a precondition for me, then I will accept, and I think everybody accepts, that the existing provincial boundaries which we have are not accepted and would not be acceptable in a system like that. We would have to look at new boundaries of which there are various possibilities economically. There are for instance the 8 or 9 regions which have already been cut, economic boundaries. The answer is yes, in that case there would be. If they are small there could be a possible white majority. The bigger you go the less the chance of that. The only possibility is, I think, if you cut the western coast according to certain lines drawn, you may have a majority of whites and Coloureds.

PK     So non-blacks?

JH     Yes. But apart from that - you see I am not so taken up with a white majority anyway. I would rather like to forge affiliations, or dependency in the different geographical areas where whites and blacks would be forced to co-operate, giving the best of everyone. Let's say that the black majority population would, for instance, have to make use, as perhaps in Natal, of the white economic acumen or development which exists. Where you would force a combination of that. Where you would have a majority of population combine it with certain white existing initiatives. Where you would have an interdependence. Where I couldn't go it alone neither could the black man next to me go alone. That I think would be the ultimate for me. Where you would force that type of interdependence. And that I think is possible.

POM     When you look at the next couple of years how do you see this process unfolding? You now have the obstacles to talks out of the way. We've been kind of presented with three general scenarios. One envisages a Constituent Assembly being elected, favoured by the ANC and opposed by the government. Another is the broadening of the negotiating table with more parties being brought in representative of the whole country and that body drawing up a constitution or drawing up constitutional principles. The third is kind of a combination of the two. You have, say, a transitional government, but a government that you envisage where there are blacks or members of the ANC brought into ministerial posts and others together with some kind of a special commission of eminent people who again are representative of every political viewpoint who draw up a new constitution. How do you see it?

JH     The way I see is I think firstly to refer you again to the Pretoria Minute which was published yesterday in which both the government and the ANC admit the fact that they don't see themselves as the only two parties or pretend to be the only parties involved in the process of shaping a new South Africa. Secondly, in the same Minute you will see that there are or have been certain work groups instituted to formulate certain new initiatives as to developments which must take place in the intermediate crises. If I take that as the basis which both these two instances has accepted then I think I must accept that within the foreseeable future the people around the table will be extended to incorporate not only the government and the ANC but other parties. Because these two instances have already accepted the fact that there must be more people, interested parties, which will have to come and sit around the table. I think it is an accepted fact that in the meanwhile the development of government itself cannot go unchanged until such time. If you expect that this period of time might last from say two to five years, then I think it follows to reason that in the meanwhile there will have to be more meaningful participation but not only participation but acceptance of responsibility by blacks for government in this country. So that you cannot only take the good but you will also have to take the responsibility for what goes on and what is there.

POM     In the absence of any kind of electoral procedure, how do you determine what qualifies for a party to sit at the table? I mean there are any number of political organisations that might claim a place at the table, how do you a) chose them and b) how do you give different weights? For example, it is obvious, at least at this point, that the ANC would command a much larger constituency than AZAPO. So how do you weight their opinions?

JH     I think, I don't see a weighing of input at this stage. The simple reason for that is, and you will remember that I made that point in Williamsburg when I said how are we going to vote, if we are going to vote around the negotiations table I think we are doomed. Because the moment you start voting I think you are going to estrange, and even more so you are going to drive certain elements of people away from you. In fact that was, since 2nd February, one of the problem areas which some people were afraid of in that the acceptance of the ANC as the only party amongst blacks to participate was thought by some people that it could have that effect on PAC and AZAPO on the black side and similarly we have the problem of the Conservative Party moving away from the negotiation table in total. Some people even went so far as to say that if that is not attended to the problem may be that the closer the ANC comes to the negotiation table they accept maybe that the other elements not given recognition may go and take their whole show back to where we started 30 years ago. Therefore it would be difficult and I think it would be looking for trouble if you would now evaluate and say alright the ANC carried about 55 - 45 or whatever percent, that is the evaluation of their constituencies, Dr. Buthelezi has 15%, PAC has got 13% and that type of thing. If you cannot reach a broad consensus without that I think it could lead to difficulties. Because I don't think the ANC can at this stage lay claim to an exact evaluation, neither can the other party.

POM     But if you say it must reach consensus on everything?

JH     I said broad consensus.

POM     Does that mean, well broad consensus would mean like, say for example, just say hypothetically that you have the National Party, AZAPO and the PAC all agree to something and the ANC opposing it, in terms of votes that's three against one. In terms of maybe representation among the people, it could be 47% for AZAPO, the government and the PAC and 53% for the ANC. There has to be some procedure.

JH     Yes but you are putting in percentages. As either preliminary or as the final countdown on what will be accepted and what will not, I don't see it that way. I accept in the first instance that apart from certain basic elements a constitution can only be put together which will evolve. So I think all parties will have to give and take. No constitution in this country could be formulated that will satisfy everybody totally. Any constitutions in a heterogeneous population like ours could only be agreed to on a give and take basis. And therefore I want to evade the question of putting it to the voters. The moment you put it to the vote then you tie yourself to a unitary decision where as you will remember that we started off by saying, or I started off by saying, that I foresee general voting to each and everybody whether on a proportional or evaluated system combined with certain combinations of protection for minorities which would possibly mean a second house with a federal system. The moment you accept that and you come back and we say no we'll vote on this one and if it's 51% that goes, then you describe that system which you are proposing, which I oppose, as a prerequisite to provision for the difference. And that is why I want to get away from voting around the negotiating table. We had some experience since '83, in Groote Schuur, that you give and take, you trade horses to get rabbits, it's the only type of thing which I think could possibly succeed at the moment. Otherwise you will go back to the white system, to the system in Zimbabwe, winner takes all and I don't think that's the solution for this country.

POM     When you say that any new dispensation ...?

JH     I believe that's a word we don't use any more.

POM     Constitution. Would be subject to certain conditions being met with regard to law and order and the economy. Let's deal with the economy first. What do you mean with respect to that?

JH     Let me give you the experience that we've had in the last two years. Last year the [African-Sahanos(?)] institute which is the equivalent of the business chamber sent a delegation to Europe to express the South African views of the business people of the Institute to their counterparts and they came back and the message was sorry we don't invest in South Africa because your politics is unacceptable. This year they send a similar delegation a year later in June and they came back and said, yes, you are very popular, you have made the right decisions politically but I'm terribly sorry we are not investing in your country because you are too high a risk. We don't know what is going to happen. That has been happening all over Africa and in other countries but I would like to confine my opinion to as far as Africa is concerned because that is where I have available information. But according to my information international investment in Africa wasn't very successful after majority black rule and that is the experience we've just had in the last two years, although we are very popular now. Simultaneously with that you have the utterances by Mr. Mandela and other ANC members about nationalisation, redistribution of wealth, contrary to creation of wealth and that sort of thing. Which I think going to the core of the situation, what are big companies internationally going to do, are they going to invest regardless of the situation or experience or what happens in Africa. Is this going to be something, a new magic formula, contrary to what transpired in Africa, or are Mr. Mandela and the ANC going to realise before that that a prerequisite for any constitution or country to be successfully democratised is a planned economic policy, economic development. If the black majority as we foresee appreciates and are prepared to take that as a basic maxim, in that a free enterprise system will be a cornerstone, then I can foresee that we have got positive propositions in this country.

POM     So you see agreement on economic structures as being a prerequisite to the negotiation of a new constitution.

JH     Yes.

POM     And that means basically agreement by the ANC to the acceptance of a free enterprise system and no nationalisation, no redistribution of income either through the paid appropriation of land or any other mechanism?

JH     I haven't got a total aversion to nationalisation. In fact, if you look at the 1948 election pamphlets of the National Party, the existing governing National Party, it might interest you to see that the then opposition, now governing party, made the same noises at that stage. In fact it is quite interesting to see what economic policies were advocated at that stage. When they came to power it was quite interesting to see how their attitudes changed. I think it is an essential political argument at the moment for the blacks to say if we come to power we will take this and that and that, nationalise this, governmentalise this, use this, basically to create jobs, basically to be able to promise to the masses this is going to be the difference. Once again if you look at Africa the success of that, or the result of that wasn't much successful. I therefore accept that the attitudes will change. Basically I accept it at the moment as a political strategy which is economically unacceptable. If it is not accepted by the blacks, that economics is a prerequisite, we are in for trouble regardless of whatever political system we are going to use.

POM     Do you see these economic guarantees as having to be written in the constitution?

JH     I foresee that certain basic elements should be written in a constitution which is basic to the whole issue. For instance, free enterprise, language, religion, yes.

POM     Would the economic guarantees cover such things as the constraints on levels of nationalization?

JH     No, I think you must accept the system but not details. I don't think the nationalisation of the ANC is going to be the same kind of talk afterwards as it is now. If you look at Namibia you will also see that Mr. ? [Medermit] has changed his views slightly too. In fact I think that Namibia will be quite a good example for Mr. Mandela and those people as to what can happen if you take that type of talk too far. Or on the other hand if you appreciate the importance of economy in the political sphere.

PK     Do you think so far Namibia has been positive experiment?

JH     I don't think Namibia has changed negatively up to this stage in that they have respected the question of private ownership, private enterprise. They have had problems in that the same thing as I said earlier, the mere idea of a black majority government has affected their tourism negatively, not by South Africans but by Europeans. And that I think was a lesson in itself to them. I think they are already experiencing a shortage of capital, whether it is worse or not to what it was before I cannot say, but I think they have come to grips with that type of problem. And they may be a good example to us.

POM     Finally, the threat of the Conservative Party, is this a real threat or just a passing phase?

JH     It is a real threat until people see that what the National Party is advocating can and is working. The basic thing evolves around the protection of minorities and when we looked at the Indian constitution where certain basics were guaranteed for forty years and that type of thing, I think the moment people see that the basic human rights are written into the constitution, are written into the human rights bill and that type of thing, I think it will become more acceptable than it is at the moment because the CP is taking the emotional side and blowing it out of proportion.

POM     Do you think if the election were held today that the government would still command a majority?

JH     That's a good question.

POM     What kind of fears do your constituents express to you?

JH     Protection. Protection.

POM     When somebody talks about protection what are they talking about?

JH     The basic fear in South Africa is the fear to be swamped by a vast black majority. Just appreciate the experience, the stories, the vibes, the ... force which filters down through to here. The existing experience of, let's call it black reaction, let's call it whatever you want. Let's take an example that somebody mentioned today at lunch. Because of a certain political decision, violence erupted in Uitenhage. That's a reaction of a certain portion of the population when they don't like a political decision. That is the type of thing which whites are not accustomed to. They will use or have been taught to use the vote, the ballot box. Here you have population areas which react in violence which if they don't like, if you have an accident on the road, it will be a violent reaction. That is the type of thing which worries people. People have been, well whites have been having a damn good time in South Africa. Pampered, over-protected, the best of everything vis-à-vis the black, and now for a possibly natural reaction, people are scared like hell. That's basically what it is.

POM     These things all going to be taken away from them?

JH     Yes. People fear for their existence. You must remember 80% of the population in South Africa hasn't got an alternative, hasn't got someplace to go to. There are apparently 600 thousand eligible British subjects in this country. So many Portuguese, say 800 thousand. But there are still 3 to 4 million people that haven't got anywhere to go. Everything they have is tied up here. They are scared like hell. People have lost quite a lot of private property in Mozambique. People have lost quite a lot of property in Zimbabwe. People are told stories about that. People are scared of stories of Namibia. People are scared of a lot of things which are tangible and not tangible. Things which are true, things which are not true and which can never happen. But it is a scenario.

POM     Thanks

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.