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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 Aug 1990: Molefe, Popo
POM I'm talking with Popo Molefe on the 28th of August. Popo would you cast you mind back to the second of February and Mr. De Klerk's speech on that occasion and did what he way surprise you? And what do you think motivated him to move so broadly and so sweepingly at the same time?
PM Well some of the things that he said did not surprise me but there are certainly others which surprised me. Key among them were the unbanning of the South African Communist Party and the unbanning of the ANC, but the announcement that Nelson Mandela would be released, that the state of emergency was to be partially lifted, that did not surprise me, we expected that to happen because at that point it was quite clear that the state of emergency had become ineffectual and the masses of our people in the country had begun to defy it. Thousands of people had begun to march in defiance of the state of emergency in all the major cities of the country. But quite apart from that the state of emergency had become quite costly to South Africa, or to the government, because it is a state of emergency that gave rise to the flight of international capital. Many companies divested and the sanctions intensified during the period of the state of emergency. You will recall that even the American Congress took a decision to impose limited sanctions during that period. So it was becoming quite costly to their regime. It was therefore necessary for them to make technical changes.
POM Do you think that de Klerk has a grand design that he has a plan where he wants to go or do you think the process is as much out of his control as anybody else's?
PM Well, listening from their speeches it is quite clear that they want to change but the sort of change that they want for South Africa is one which would enable the white people to remain in very influential positions, quite different from the current apartheid system. But they certainly want to hold influential positions, to hold a sway in the new South Africa. Thus, we hear them talking about the need to protect minority rights and the minorities that they are referring to are the minorities that are defined in terms of race or in terms of ethnicity. It is quite clear that they are not ready for a single non-racial government in a unitary state. But what is quite clear is that whilst they want to change, they too are not clear as to precisely what that new South Africa would look like. They would like it to be the South Africa where they would have a stake as whites. But one would not say that he's playing games. He does want change. But they have fears for a non-racial government in this country.
POM Do you think that de Klerk has conceded on the issue of majority rule?
PM No, he has not. I think he's still very much wedded to the concept of group rights, the concept of racial differentiation so that his conception of majority rule is essentially a black majority dominating a white minority. Now clearly that is the understanding that they have proffered all the time as the Nationalist Party government. And that is fundamentally different from our understanding of a majority rule. Our conception of majority rule is that which would be conceived and understood by the people in the United States, where you have the majority of the people, black and white, voting for particular policies. Not on the basis that they are black or white. But on the basis that those policies are correct. So that the kind of a majority that we are talking about is a non-racial majority.
POM Do you think that, you talked about the government or the white communities still wanting to hold on to positions of influence, we hear some talk in their circles about power sharing, what do you think they mean when they talk about power sharing?
PM That power sharing has never been explained by the Nationalist Party. But if one reads between the lines from the arguments that they have proffered, that they have put across so far, such as South Africa is a multi-national society, it is a plural society with a diversity of cultures which cannot be welded together into a common culture, it is quite clear that what they are saying is that the power sharing should occur along racial lines. Racial lines in the spectrum of whites but in the spectrum of the black people it should even extend to ethnic lines. Of course they seem to be thinking that in the new government the white people should have their leaders, their representatives and black people should have their representatives but not as a united block, as a unit, but as a group that has been divided into further ethnic groups. The Zulus must have their representatives who are Zulu. Other speaking people from Transkei and Ciskei must have their representatives who are Xhosa speaking. The same would hold for the Sotho speaking, Tswana, Venda and as well as the Swazi people based in South Africa. Now that is actually an extension or a perpetuation of a policy of differentiations, for purposes of domination. That is the problem we've got. We would like to challenge them to tell us precisely how they see this power sharing. It is not sufficient for the government to keep on saying we take nothing to the table. That we will discuss everything when we get to the table. That is not how politics work. People have got certain views that they formulate and they present these as proposals when they go to the negotiating table. They bargain on the basis of what they have already conceived.
POM De Klerk talks about taking whatever new dispensation that is arrived at back to the white electorate for their approval. It is a promise he gave during the election campaign and he reiterated it back last week, That's something that he can't do is it?
PM Well he can do it although he is a bit ambiguous on that because he says he will test the wishes of the white people either by means of a referendum or by means of an election. I think he must make a choice whether he wants an election or a referendum. It does seem like the likelihood is that he would probably go for an election, but if he goes for a referendum that would actually be confirming the argument that I've put across that the white people still want a dominant position in the new South Africa. Because what he is possibly telling us by saying that a constitution has got to be approved by the whites, is that in fact even if the majority of the people of this country can support a particular constitutional system, if the white people of this country do not support it or at least a certain percentage of the white, a majority percentage of the white people or Nationalist Party supporters do not support it then it means that we cannot go ahead and adopt that constitution for South Africa. So in other words he is suggesting that the white minority still has the veto right to determine whether a constitution is adopted or not. This is really unacceptable. I think the bottom line should be that the majority of the people, black and white, should go to that referendum, if it is a referendum or an election and the constitution adopted. But we argue that in fact the constitution should not be a matter of the Nationalist Party government. It should be drawn up by a Constituent Assembly that is elected on a non-racial basis. The same process that Namibia went through should be also applied in the case of transforming South Africa.
POM What about the threat of the right wing breaking it down into the Conservative Party on the one hand and the more extreme militants on the other. For example, do you think if there were an election today that the Conservative Party would command a majority in parliament?
PM No they certainly would not command a majority in parliament for the simple reason that the white people of this country are tired of the continuing violence and instability both political and economic. They certainly would like a situation to develop in the country where there could be peace and conditions maturing for economic progress and political stability. They would like to see capital coming back into the country. I think the majority of them would actually still vote for the parties on the left of the CP but the CP is certainly a problem and threat because it is causing serious divisions in the ranks of the whites and it would not be an easy task to build a new government with a significant section not supporting it. Also you see there are threats of violence, resorting to violence all the time. So I would see it as a threat to the peace process in the country.
POM How do you interpret, talking of the violence of the last couple of weeks? Who's behind it? What was it meant to do and what has it done?
PM Well as far as I'm concerned the violence, the police, the South African police are behind the violence of the last week, there's no question about it. I have been involved in the efforts to bring about peace. I have sat down with the police, I have pleaded with them to disarm groups of criminals who are being imported, brought, exported into urban areas to kill people. It is quite clear that the police don't want that violence to stop. They refuse to disarm those people. And some of them are using guns. We have spoken to them, they say to us that they are given guns by the police and they tell them to go and shoot in the townships, to go and shoot the Xhosas.
POM These are Zulus in the hostels that are telling you this.
PM Yes, Zulus in the hostels. These people who are being used to kill others are not necessarily members of Inkatha. Some of them are, the majority of them are Zulus, but they are not members of Inkatha. These are people who are unemployed, they are first from the rural areas, and brought into the urban areas looking for jobs. When they get here they are told, look let us prepare for war because we are going to be attacked. They are taken into the townships to kill people. They don't know why they are killing people. They are merely being told that you as Zulus have to defend yourself because you are under attack.
POM They are under attack from Xhosa or just under attack.
PM No, no that is why these people have been waking up in the morning like groups of criminals. Going to the railway stations shooting at any person who was getting into the railway train. Now how would they have known that these people were Xhosas? They would not have known. Johannesburg is a metropolitan city, it brings together a whole lot of ethnic groups. They couldn't have known that these are Xhosas. But we know now that the police are behind it. They have been transporting this group of Zulus to work and fetching them from work. Protecting them. When these people are shooting other people, they leave them. When the people retaliate the police shoot the people, the residents in the township.
POM Is this being done by the police at the highest level or is it elements within the police?
PM I am satisfied that it is being done by the police at the highest levels because if it was not done by the police at the highest levels the senior officers would have taken responsibility to ensure that the police end this violence, that the laws of the country which are applicable in respect of dangerous weapons would have been effectively used to stop this violence.[ But they are not claiming(?)] Now they are arguing that it is a violence between the Xhosa and the Zulu speaking. You know why they are doing it? Because they want to diminish Nelson Mandela's stature as a national and internationally acknowledged leader to become simply a leader of the Xhosa people because he is of Xhosa extraction. And they want to say now that Buthelezi is the leader of the Zulus, Mandela is the leader of the Xhosas. Their followers are fighting, therefore, we cannot have a government which is lead by Nelson Mandela because the Zulus would not accept it. The Afrikaners will not accept it. The English speaking people will not accept it. Now this is done in order to lay a basis for the argument that in South Africa we cannot have a non-racial democratic government. It is done in order that people like Margaret Thatcher and others must support the Nationalist Party argument for minority rights and so called power sharing. It is quite clear.
POM Where do you see De Klerk fitting in all of this?
PM Well my view is that he has a responsibility because as the President he's got the powers to demand from the most senior policemen and army commanders to end that violence.
POM Why would he not move quickly to end it since, if what you're saying is correct, the police are undermining him as much as they are trying to undermine Mandela?
PM Well since the ANC was unbanned, the popularity of that organisation and its leadership, such as Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, has become unquestionable. Now it is quite clear that if he were to go into any election at this point in time, the ANC would sweep the boards. Now this violence is perpetrated in order to create a situation of chaos in the country and to disorganise the ANC, to make it impossible to establish solid organisational structures on the ground. And to sow confusion among the people and to intimidate the masses of our people.
POM And what has been achieved? What has the violence achieved? What has it done already? Has it set the process back?
PM Well, it has not set the process back but I must say that it is certainly beginning to harden the attitudes. Especially amongst younger people and the majority of the people in the country. They are now beginning to question the honesty of the Nationalist Party to negotiate seriously a peaceful settlement in the country. One must also say that whilst it is hardening the attitude of the people it has also alienated many people from Chief Buthelezi and the police. And it has actually united these people around the African National Congress. Right now, from this funeral we see thousands and thousands of people standing along the streets, they are giving us water and all of them are saying "away with Inkatha, away with the South African police, forward to freedom viva African National Congress". It is quite clear that the violence has only increased the support for the ANC. It has not diminished it.
POM Do you think that Chief Buthelezi is orchestrating any of this violence?
PM Certainly he is orchestrating it. He is orchestrating it. He is involved in it. Previously we had been involved in a series of peace talks with him. At the point when he realised that we are about to achieve peace he sabotaged the talks on very flimsy grounds. The first point he said was that if a meeting of all parties to resolve the conflict was to be held he wanted equal representation with the ANC, COSATU and the UDF. We said, well, we were not interested in votes, we are not going to vote, there is no question, the question of equal representation is not an issue. We don't mind however, if you want to bring equal numbers of people, you can bring them. Then he changes, he says, 'No, the venue that you have chosen for the meeting is a stronghold of the ANC, I will not come there.' We said OK, let us choose a venue that suits you, a neutral place. And then he went on to say, 'No I will not go to that venue unless I am personally invited by Oliver Tambo the President of the African National Congress. I don't want a letter from the National Executive of the ANC, I want an invitation from Oliver Tambo.'
Now it is through all these flimsy excuses that he sabotaged the peace talks which occurred, which took place. It is quite clear that he doesn't want peace. Now today, you know, we talked to the supporters of Inkatha on the ground and their leadership. You know what they say? They say, no we can't talk peace, let our leaders speak. What matters is not whether Nelson Mandela meets with him, what matters is whether the people on the ground agree on establishing peace. But he does not want peace. He simply wants to be seen to be a leader of an equal status to Nelson Mandela. He wants publicity, he wants recognition, he wants attention. And what is quite clear is that he is saying that unless Nelson Mandela meets him he is going to continue killing people, leaving his people killing the ordinary residents in various parts of the country. He is not going to call on them to stop. We know for a fact that [he called Chief Zulundi(?) where] they were instructed to kill all the supporters of the ANC, COSATU and the UDF. If they saw anybody with a UDF T-shirt, those people must be killed. We know that that has happened. We have overwhelming evidence to prove this. But it is going on. Clearly the violence that is perpetrating against our people is the same as the violence that is perpetrated against the people of Mozambique by Renamo, the violence of Koevoet against SWAPO supporters in Namibia and the ordinary residents, villagers, it is a pattern that the Nationalist government has perfected and it using those of its agents who support their policies to perpetrate this violence.
POM Going back to the question of the impact on negotiations, surely this changes the climate for negotiations.
PM It certainly has not changed the ANC and its allies' commitment to a negotiated settlement. We remain committed to that because this process of negotiation, it must be understood, is not the initiative of the Nationalist Party government. It is the initiative of the people of South Africa under the leadership of the African National Congress. It is the initiative of the African National Congress. It is therefore in the best interests of the African National Congress that the negotiation progress must go ahead. It is precisely for that reason that when the ANC realised that there was going to be a deadlock, a logjam in the talks regarding the removal of obstacles to negotiations, the ANC has unilaterally decided to suspend the armed struggle despite the fact that it had earlier on said that the issue of the suspension of hostilities must be a mutual one. It must be mutually agreed upon by both parties. But the ANC has abandoned that. It has compromised on that. And it has gone ahead to suspend the armed struggle to indicate its commitment because the Nationalist Party was not prepared to move forward. It was using the armed struggle as an obstacle. Now the ANC has demonstrated, and it must be understood by the international community too, that the ANC is committed to peaceful change. Previously, the National Party leadership have said that they would not negotiate with the ANC because it was a terrorist organisation. Now the ANC has suspended the armed struggle. They are now fanning this violence in the townships to say that although they have suspended the armed struggle they are still instigating violence at a mass level. That is what they are trying to do.
POM You'd mentioned the youth earlier on, I've heard a lot of talk about this generation of young people who are uneducated, unemployed, perhaps even unemployable, and many of whom are disaffected or don't understand the ANC's decision on the cease-fire. The young people who are used to a culture of confrontation and protest. Can that bulk of youth pose a problem? Are they an explosive element in all of this?
PM No, no, not at all. The ANC has got a very powerful youth organisation that supports it, the South African Youth Congress. It is a youth congress that has branches which are well over 8500 country wide. All of them have committed themselves to supporting the ANC. They have received reports on a regular basis about the negotiations between the government and the ANC. There is no question of them turning against the ANC leadership. But certainly what I am saying is that if this violence perpetrated by the police is going to continue, the youth is going to reach a point of saturation and they are going to respond in kind. They are going to respond in the manner that is befitting to this violence. And that is natural with young people anywhere in the world. That is something that we cannot underestimate.
POM When you look at Mandela, what are the obstacles that lie in his path as he tries to guide the black community towards the fruitful conclusion to this process. Where are the stumbling blocks?
PM We mentioned the promise that the black people are not different from any other people anywhere in the world. That while we seek to unite, and under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the vast majority of the black and indeed all South Africans, we do not imagine that we will have black people hundred percent united. That would be inimical to the whole principle and understanding of a multi-party state and freedom of expression. We expect that many people, the majority, would follow Nelson Mandela but there would be other groupings which do not as suddenly support his policies. So that in so far as the black people are concerned, we don't see any obstacle.
POM Isn't it a factor?
PM That is not a factor. The PAC are not a factor. They are not a factor. We now have the support of all the Bantustans, the homelands, so called national state except Buthelezi and Mangope. They are the only ones. The majority of have declared their support for the African National Congress and many of them are card carrying members of the ANC, you see. That is the significance of the whole thing. The obstacle on the way, the obstacle to Nelson Mandela's realising his goals and the goals of the people of South Africa is the role of the police and the secret organisation within the South African defence force. The so-called Civil Co-operation Bureau, you know the CCB, which has been planning to assassinate the leaders engaging in all murderous activities. Nelson Mandela's got no difficulties. He will have problems only if the Nationalist Party makes it impossible for him to lead us to a new South Africa.
POM When you look at de Klerk, maybe the answer is the same, what problems does he have as he tries to guide his community through this process?
PM Well, he probably has problems with people like Magnus Malan who is the Minister of South African Defence Force. Then he has the problem of the right wing element. Now here is a serious problem in the sense that these are men who have trained, some of them who hold key positions in the South African police, who control the arsenals, arms and so on. If they don't agree with him it means they can still give arms to right wing elements who can go on a rampage and create chaos and a state of anarchy in the country. That is a problem he's got. But you see he will have that problem only to the extent that he is still wedded to racist notions or conceptions of a new South Africa. If he can begin to align himself with the majority view then we would be able to deal with the right wing element because there would just be a small grouping then. He can discipline them. It is true that initially it is going to cause a lot of violence, casualties and so forth. But at the end of the day we shall win. We shall remain victorious. The other difficulties he's got, he's got the institution of mass media, the South African TV and radio. That is being used to indoctrinate and manipulate the people of South Africa. It has not been used to allow for a free debate among all the people. Now he has been indoctrinating people here that black people can't be equals to whites.
POM That de Klerk has been doing that?
PM He did that. He is changing now towards the end of last year. You know de Klerk, where he comes from? This is the same man who said in 1983 that a black man has got no place in white parliament in this country. He is the same man who in 1986-87 threatened to close the universities because universities allowed political activities on the campuses. He threatened to withdraw the government subsidy and close some of the universities. It was de Klerk as Administrator of National Education. So he did all those things and he taught people these things. Now it is difficult for them to change on this positions.
POM On the economy, will structures of the economy play a big part in the negotiations? What I'm asking you is do you think that the white community might be willing to concede political power as long as it holds on to economic power?
PM Well naturally people who have wealth would never want to part with it. You see if you give a dog a bone it would never want to leave it. So we expect strong resistance from those people who have tasted the riches of this country. But I think at the end of the day what is going to determine what is going to happen is going to be the extent to which we manage to persuade key business people in this country to realise that in order that this country must be stable politically and otherwise, that the majority of the people who have built the wealth of this country for decades and centuries must have a benefit from their sweat and blood. They must benefit in a sense that, for instance, people must have a shelter, they must have houses, their children must have education. They must be able to live decent lives, they must have a living wage. If we are able to persuade them to do that and to address the inequalities which have been occasioned on our people by the racist Nationalist Party policies then we would be able to resolve the problem of the economic inequalities.
POM If tomorrow morning there were majority rule, what difference would it make to the person in a township or in squatter camp five years from now? What difference should people expect?
PM Well on the first point is that obviously the repression that has been the order of the day will come to an end. That we expect that with a majority rule government, that the sanctions would come to an end therefore there should be an inflow of capital thereby creating job opportunities for the majority of the people. We expect that schools would be opened to all the children. Right now in South Africa several schools in the white areas are closing down because they don't have enough children in those schools but they don't want to open the schools to black children who equally don't have accommodation in black schools in the townships because the schools are few. So there would actually be generally more schools, more children in schools. Education would be open to all. Qualified people, skilled people, who have left the country because of the policies of apartheid, those who refuse to be part of this repressive system will come back.
We also expect of course a process to be set in motion. It is not a process that people would immediately realise a date, a process whereby there would be provision of health care for the majority of the people who have been deprived of this. That conditions would begin to develop where people could now, you know on this problem of lack of housing, the land would now be available to people, black people could now be participating in the economic development in the country. So these are some of the things that we would like to see, that we imagine would happen immediately if majority rule takes place. But, the problems of this country, both in terms of education, in terms of unemployment, in terms of homelessness have reached such endemic proportions that they cannot be resolved within a short space of time. It will take about ten or well over ten years to resolve the problem of housing. We are talking today of at least 7.8 million squatters in South Africa. And we talk about 800,000 people who are homeless in Johannesburg alone, in the urban areas alone. Now that is not something that we can resolve overnight. It is going to take some time. That is why it is necessary that the government that comes to power has sufficient resources to provide, to carry out its social responsibilities.
POM Where will these resources come from?
PM Well it means there has to be a commitment from the side of the business sector. There has to be a commitment from the international community, foreign governments. They have to be prepared to assist this government. Well we are going to have a difficulty because South Africa is not regarded as a developing country.
POM We have to walk upstairs because we have a taxi coming. We could talk on the way up. Would you write down your home telephone number for me so that if we have to get in touch with you again.
PM Yes, at night.
POM There's no chance of you coming to Boston for the launch of the book is there?
PM If you invite me.
POM Let me talk to the women who is in charge there, Wendy Strausman.
PM I'm in Johannesburg, that is at night. And during the day you'll find me at ...