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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Dec 1990: Schlemmer, Lawrence

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POM     Larry, your view of this process, on how it's unfolded from February through, say, the Pretoria Minute when a lot of hope emerged that the country was on the track to a firm, smooth transition, or it appeared like that at the time to today when there is a lot of doubt about how the process will develop in the future and elements of distrust between the two major players, the ANC and the government emerging, what would be your overview of the period since 2nd February, de Klerk's speech?

LS     I think that we hope the euphoria, if you like, was based on an assumption and that was that it was in a sense a kind of respect for the enormity of the potential compromises. In other words people perceived de Klerk's gesture and considered the fact that he was still the fully viable government of the country, looked at the enormous legitimacy and status of Mandela and the ANC, made the assumption that a heroic compromise was more or less inevitable. In other words the whole thing was perceived by people as being in a framework of almost transcendent diplomacy. People in the beginning didn't realise just how many organisational problems would exist for both parties. It was almost an anticipation of the outcome which led to this was projected onto the situation and produced euphoria. The statesman de Klerk, the statesman Mandela, the grand compromise, the meeting of minds. It was a romantic view. It was a view which got its resonance from an understanding that really big compromises would be required and really great statesmanship.

LS     Since then of course this process has disentangled, it's unravelled, the ANC has run into organisational difficulties, the government has had to start looking to the reassurance of whites and I think that we should have started off where we are now. We should have started off with a feeling that it was going to be an enormously difficult, untidy, messy and protracted business which would require enormous dedication and a whole lot of detailed addressing of problems, and a detailed, shall we say, a great concern about process. Whereas in the beginning the view was romantic, heroic, now people are realising that it's all process and detail, hard work and that there's in fact very little that's romantic any more.

POM     Do you think the government made the assumption when they released Mandela that Mandela could deliver the black community, that he could draw it with him in terms of making a compromise?

LS     Yes. I think they made that assumption in part because of their own contact with Mandela, in part because a whole lot of top level South Africans, captains of industry, academics, myself included, had been meeting with the ANC and we came back carrying messages to the effect that pacts, compromises, working alliances were all possible. In other words we created a political culture composed of all sorts of assumptions about the infinite reasonableness and rational progression of the process. People were not saying to each other that it's going to be messy and that it's going to be the politics of ambiguity all down the line. In other words I think the government did expect that Mandela would deliver and a lot of well meaning but rather uncritical academics and businessmen and professionals who with great naïveté but with considerable good intentions came back to the government and told them the same thing.

POM     So in a way the situation that was envisaged was one in which the ANC and the government acting co-operatively would develop a solution between them and impose it.

LS     Well not impose it.

POM     From the top down, the process would be from the top down?

LS     Top down, yes.

POM     Not from the bottom up.

LS     This was essentially the sort of [Arent Leipard(?)] grand coalition, elite cartel type of motion although it was never called.

POM     To look at the whole question of violence, I have a number of questions. One is, in your view is the violence becoming mainly ethnic, Xhosa versus Zulu, or is it still mainly political? Two, what has it done to the negotiating process? And three, the ANC and the government and Inkatha have entered into this kind of ritual when violence breaks out the ANC calls on the government to intervene and stop it, accuses elements of the security forces and Inkatha of operating together, Inkatha says it's the ANC and there's never been a government response to all the accusations by the ANC that the government is involved in violence despite the video tapes, despite affidavits, despite the lot. What's going on there?

LS     Well once violence has started one can always find videotape material, affidavits to support any side you wish. In any situation of violence in the world it depends on the degree to which an organisation or political party is organised as to whether they effectively are going to get the video tapes or affidavits. The government's view of the violence, and I've spoken to people in government, is that it is complex. I think the Cabinet probably accepts the Police are not completely neutral but they're working on it. They cannot be too categorical because the Police are a very problematic area for the government in the sense that they've been a force long neglected and the government must be careful as to how it brings them into line. It cannot be too abrupt with them because quite frankly they are one of the most underpaid and over-stressed Police forces in the world. There's an organisational problem with the government. But government has responded in each case through the Minister of Police or the Minister of Defence. We've had innumerable responses by these two Ministers rejecting these claims. Because de Klerk has not responded it has been seen as a lack of response by the government but in fact de Klerk has decided, as far as I can judge, to stay out of these things. He is concerned with preserving the climate and he has deliberately left it to Vlok and to Magnus Malan, so I think the government has responded in full measure. It's just responded at a level which hasn't been noticed as much as it would have been had de Klerk responded.

     Just on the violence, I would say that it's about one third each, one third ethnic, one third political and one third social. We've got really a combination of factors here as most violence probably is. I mean violence is never simple. But I would like to start with the social because I think it's quite often overlooked. The labour force in our cities is composed of migrant workers or newly urbanised workers who lay great emphasis on age categories because this is traditionally very relevant and one of the things which some of the conservative groups, whether they be Inkatha or vigilante, have said to me and others say that they find it deeply offensive that the ANC deploys youngsters, youth and children to do the work of pressurising, mobilising and, let's assume that there's a measure of intimidation in the townships, migrant workers have said, "How can young boys tell grown men whether they should pay their rents? How can young boys tell councillors, even if these councillors are our enemies, how can young boys tell them to resign? This is not right, we are men." More important than politics is that men should be men and boys should be boys. There's an age problem, there's a generation problem which is very significant. That's the one social thing. It's got more ramifications than that. The young boys are also seen as morally deviant, their lifestyle is not very appealing to the migrant workers. It's a fairly typical thing throughout the world.

     The other social thing is that there's tremendous competition for jobs and people in particular sending areas of the country, labour sending areas whether it be Transkei, Zululand, Mozambique, Lesotho, etc., etc., are very concerned to preserve their access to the kinds of employment they are in. I have made a study of violence on the mines over years and over the years we've had terrific faction fights on the mines because the moment management starts altering, even if it's the slightest nuance in their recruitment strategy, the men almost subliminally, unconsciously begin to feel very threatened because this access to jobs, and access of economic employment, economic opportunity between the industrial and the mining areas in these far-flung sending areas is so ... Now we are in a recession, jobs are short, people are being retrenched on the mines. People are feeling very brittle, very uncertain about job security. At a time like this when there are calls for stayaways, when there are calls anything which disrupts life is perceived as a threat to the stability of that employment connection in addition to which there's always been competition between the Xhosa sending areas and the Sotho and Zulu sending areas for jobs on the mines. That has been the most marked competition. In a sense the Mozambican and Malawian and Zimbabwean sending areas realise that they're in second position, they don't have that primary access but the people close in like the Xhosas, and the Basothos have a sense of almost ownership of mining employment and migrant work employment so they are very aware of competition, material and job competition. Now given this it's easy for them to start feeling besieged.

     Now those are the social factors, the socio-economic factors. One of the things which the ANC manifestly has is a predominance of Xhosa speaking people in its top leadership. The fact that Mr Chris Hani has spent so much time in the Transkei is not missed by most, particularly migrant workers who are very concerned about homeland areas, sending areas, traditional areas, exclusion into marginality. Now you get Bantu Holomisa and Chris Hani looking as if they're getting together. In the coal mines shortly after Mandela was released there was a soccer match, these are the coal miners in the Eastern Transvaal, Northern Natal and there was a big soccer match and at the soccer match there were cat calls between the Zulus and the Xhosas and one of the Xhosa cat calls was jocular, now that Mandela is released Buthelezi will become the tea-boy and the Zulu king will become the gardener. Now this kind of cat calling continued, it's a naturally competitive spirit that you get in the mines and it's not necessarily directly tribal, it's because the people just come from different areas so there is a kind of solidarity which would be there even if they were not Zulus, they would be simply, there would be a kind of local ...

     So ever since Mandela was released tensions have been mounting and it is emerging, it's taking shape as a fairly ethnic feeling. If you add that to the social and socio-economic factors you've got sufficient then one must add political competition, the fact that Inkatha and the ANC are seen to be in competition in some parts of the country. But I think the most important political factor is the mass mobilisation campaign of the ANC because the mass mobilisation campaign of the ANC has been to establish certain kind of formations like youth committees, street and area committees as controllers of areas. In order to mobilise you have to control an area and this makes the people who are marginal to that political formation feel very threatened. I don't believe that mass mobilisation is compatible with peaceful democracy anywhere in the world.

POM     So you would see the mass mobilisation that has been undertaken in recent weeks as being contrary to the letter of the Pretoria Minute?

LS     No, it's contrary to the spirit of it, not necessarily to the letter but to the spirit because quite frankly I cannot see, it's been pointed out so often to the ANC that mass mobilisation does create a climate of violence simply because it imposes territorial domination. The PAC have complained about it, this has been an ongoing complaint from the PAC and from Inkatha since 1985. In 1985 the PAC was almost driven out of the townships in the Eastern Cape by UDF mass mobilisation. I can understand why the ANC needs mass mobilisation and I am not saying that I would recommend to them that they would change their strategies but what they can't do is claim to be innocents in this matter. I think that everybody is to blame for the violence.

POM     Just two further questions on the ethnic part. One is, is there a situation developing that the violence reaches a critical mass where there would be a natural tendency for it to become more ethnic oriented?

LS     Yes. I think violence always polarises and it's going to polarise in terms of socially visible indicators and it will become ethnic.

POM     The second one is one about the decision making committee, the elites. Is there a tendency not to talk about the ethnic component of the violence because to do so would appear to validate the government somehow in its separate development theory? That you're kind of saying by figuring it as an ethnic factor you're becoming an apologist in a way, you're seen as an apologist for the regime or you're seen as not being for a unitary democratic SA.

LS     Yes there's that but there's also just sheer social form, if you like. In SA the most ethnically orientated people are the working class and the peasants whether it be among Afrikaners or Zulus and Xhosas or whatever and for the elites it is just distinctly unfashionable to be you are downmarket. We don't have a tradition of refined laundering of ethnic sentiments in South Africa. Our ethnic sentiments are associated with Boer issues in both the black and white. Nats that's the main reason. They're far too concerned, too concerned with image and status to be ethnic.

POM     If you were an intellectual and you were advancing the ethnic component of the violence, say, at a cocktail party among your peers would you be regarded as ...?

LS     Definitely, yes. Very poor taste.

POM     How does that add to the difficulty of moving in the direction of solutions if in some way there is mis-characterisation of the problem itself?

LS     It makes it very difficult because if the ANC is going to become the government, and certainly it's bound to become part of a new government, we do run the very great risk of having a situation akin to that of Zimbabwe after majority where there will be defection from the new broad consensus by (a) the Zulus and possibly by people in the Northern Transvaal and Eastern Transvaal and as long as the ANC pretends that ethnicity doesn't exist it won't be able to address the problem which means that you've got to have a sort of an informal consociation, you've got to acknowledge it and bring people from your regions in. The ANC has got one senior leader that is Zulu and I am not sure that they have one senior leader who is a Shangaan for example which is a very important power group in the Eastern Transvaal, far Eastern Transvaal.

     So in order to address these problems you've got to acknowledge them and it is more difficult, definitely more difficult for the ANC to do it given the long history of living within an explanatory paradigm which was class based, which was international revolutionary theory and in which ethnicity counted for nothing except Lenin's theory of nationhood. That is the closest they've ever come to it but of course Lenin was a very bad example of how to deal with it because he just tried to manipulate it out of existence.

PAT     Is that what is happening here as well?

LS     Yes.

PAT     Is this the sort of heritage of Marxism/Leninism in the ANC ?

LS     It's not a self-consciousness thing. It is in the SA Communist Party. Joe Slovo and a couple of others pay a lot of attention to Lenin's theory of nationalities. It's really neo-Marxism which has come to dominate the intellectual categories of the ANC and that is that ethnicity is false consciousness and it's the very, I suppose, rudimentary version of the false consciousness theory which keeps ethnicity in the background.

POM     Now with the developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union it makes it a bit more difficult to sustain an argument like that.

PAT     The emergence of ...

LS     Sure.

POM     One more question on the ANC and that would be on the conference this weekend. What's your reading of what happened and what do you think the consequences of it are?

LS     Well I think what happened is fairly predictable. It's once again the politics of ambiguity. Tambo gives a speech saying sanctions have to be reconsidered. He then moves the resolution calling for tighter sanctions. In other words it's the politics of being all things to all people, of trying with the best of intentions to plug all the holes and to fill all the or to address all the particular rhetorical and political demands on them. It's understandable. Politicians always try this until they realise they have to prioritise. What I see it as mainly an illustration of, is not so much a lack of good faith or bona fides or anything but a failure to prioritise. There's just too many elements in it for it to be a coherent brief for how to respond from now on.

POM     How would you define the factions that exist within the ANC in terms of the externals, the internals, the prisoners, the exiles, the union people, the Communist Party?

LS     That's quite complicated because I think there are many more factions than people realise. There's an old guard established faction which is a combination of the imprisoned people and the senior external leadership who have taken their cue from third world political leadership and that is distinctly elitist. It's fairly status conscious, it's the politics of being a big man to the best of your abilities all the time and using populism as your strategy. It's the politics of promises and being a big man, charisma, presence and that is fairly typical in third world countries. I see it every time I go anywhere in Africa, it's very much the same. That's one group and I think they're under pressure because the younger people in exile see them as being fat cats, fairly complacent, so there is an irritation at lack of effort within the organisation. That's the impression I've got from younger exiles.

LS     Then you've got within South Africa the UDF people that actually do have some organisational base. Now some of them are quite moderate, some of them are militant. Generally speaking between the militants and the SA Communist Party there is some sort of rapprochement. Then I think that among the Communist Party you get moderates and militants. Then cutting right across this, among all people whether moderate or militant, you've got people who place more emphasis on national liberation and blackness and African-ness and people who place more emphasis on the class struggle and the material dimension.

LS     So what you've got in fact is a party which I would say has got at least six major nuances of political identity and political sub-ideologies. At the moment they're held together by the charisma of a couple of people and by the charisma of the movement and they're held together by the South African media because the media give the ANC a great deal of attention which may be a good thing or a bad thing, but I certainly think that they give the movement the impression and image of impetus which it doesn't necessarily have, with headlines and a lot of attention and a lot of younger journalists take the ANC as their special brief. But certainly they are, let me say, it may sound as if I'm saying that they may have much less substance than they deserve, I think they are the biggest single black formation, there's no doubt about that. I don't deny that they are the main black player if I sounded as if I was saying that.

POM     How do you see this process unfolding? On the one hand you have the ANC again saying there must be an election for a Constituent Assembly and the government continuing to insist that they will not have a Constituent Assembly under any circumstances. How do you see the conference table developing? What happens at the conference table as it moves from talks about getting around the table to getting around the table to developing a process?

LS     I think that the government is going to have to work on some sort of compromise on the Constituent Assembly thing. In other words they're going to have to somehow constitute a process in which additional people are brought in to remove this impression that they are both participating and sitting in judgement on the process. In other words at a certain stage we will see councils of experts, commissions and various things being introduced which will make it a rather more comfortable process for the ANC because the ANC has got a problem. It is difficult to negotiate with an established government in office. It can say, well we don't like what's happened so we'll just stop it and they have the power to do it. I think the government will come up with something and of course the ANC will then probably accept it because they've got no alternative but to negotiate, they can't go back to the armed struggle because they will then simply be prolonging the struggle for another 20 years.

POM     Was not the armed struggle pretty mythical?

LS     Yes it was mythical, totally mythical. It's most effective component was sanctions and they could get back to that but after having tried negotiating and failing the white South Africans would probably then tolerate sanctions and be prepared to live in a siege state for as long as it's necessary. So I think that both sides realise that they have to keep on trying to negotiate. Now one of the things that isn't realised sufficiently is that de Klerk actually has no mandate to create a Constituent Assembly. He has a mandate to negotiate. The only reason why he is there is that he was voted in and was voted in to look after the interests of a particular constituency however unfortunate a composition that constituency was and it is unfortunate and it should never have been that way but the fact is it is there and he is the only, in the whole line-up of people negotiating, he's the only person who can really claim to have a solid proven mandate from a constituency. That constituency has said to him, "Get in there and negotiate for us", but he's got no constituency to capitulate and to hand over to a Constituent Assembly. In other words if he were to do that the Conservative Party would prevail on the civil service as a collective of white corporate interests to overturn the apple cart, they'd take over, they'd do something, precipitate something one way or another. De Klerk has got to be tough on the issue of a Constituent Assembly not because I think it's morally correct but he just has no alternative.

POM     The impression that we get from talking to some government ministers and members of the NP is that what they see coming out of this whole process ultimately at the end of it is a power sharing government of some description where there would be executive power sharing where in fact the NP would continue to play a role in government itself. Is that a fair assessment or what do you think their bottom line is in terms of how far they will go?

LS     The bottom line is precisely that, and they've moved fairly swiftly to a position where now I think they are prepared to be an influential junior partner in executive government, in a structured coalition, but they want to be influential and in fact they have to control certain portfolios, one of them being defence, and it's in the interests of the ANC that they control defence.

POM     Why?

LS     Can you imagine Chris Hani arriving at Voortrekkerhoogte, which is our military headquarters, and saying, "Hi guys, I'm your new Minister of Defence". It's absurd, it won't happen, it's impossible. You've got to have at least a transition period in which there is a Minister of Defence from the existing political establishment that negotiates the relationship between the army and the new government. We mustn't forget this is the tenth most powerful army in the world, it's not to be taken as something which you can simply they're relatively apolitical at the moment, surprisingly so, but I think that if their organisation is tampered with they will become very mean very quickly and for the army their organisation is absolutely prime, the professionalism. Now you do need a transition period when there's a white minister to handle that.

     The other thing is the economy and I think that for stability in the economy in the period of transition you also need at least you need an independent Reserve Bank. I think the ANC will recognise that, but I think you also need an establishment Minister of Finance. Thereafter you can say, "Right, take the others", and I think they will. Perhaps they will add the Deputy Minister too to this bottom line. That's the bottom line.

PAT     When you talk about de Klerk's mandate and what you could see in this conference this past weekend, do you think that Mandela has a mandate that he could actually bring something like this back to his people?

LS     No he doesn't. That is not his fault. He would like to have a mandate, he's wanted to, it is his intention to try and get one, this whole Constituent Assembly would give him one, but he doesn't. Basically the ANC doesn't know what is expected of it, this is its problem. I don't blame them.

POM     Sorry, he doesn't know what is expected of?

LS     Of them. We've got a very interesting and very varied situation on the ground. Most surveys show that about 30% of black are very militant, very aware of inequality, very concerned about redistribution and retribution and things like that. But about two thirds of blacks are relatively moderate, believe in power sharing, in compromise and I don't think the ANC knows where it is quite between these kinds of political cultures. If I could give advice to the ANC I would say to Mandela, go for the middle ground, it is the larger in number, it will give you less organisational problems, it's easier to satisfy, you can do your deals with de Klerk and take these people along with you. But that would mean he would have to jettison his activists who stand in between him and the mass and that is very difficult for any organisation to do. I'm not criticising him, I just think that he's got an enormous problem.

POM     Just finally, two quick assessments of the performance of Mandela since his release and the performance of de Klerk.

LS     I think that I've got to give de Klerk better marks than Mandela. I think what we've noticed with de Klerk is that he has held back, if he's erred he's erred on the side of making rather too few public appearances at a time of great anxiety. In other words he hasn't gone in for Reagan's fireside chat type of communication, which is very effective. I think it is a strategy he might well have considered. He doesn't push himself forward, he allows his ministers to make a lot of statements with the result that if, as tonight (apparently he's going to make a keynote statement) I am sure most South Africans will actually look at it because it is unusual and great importance will be placed on what he says.

     Mandela has allowed himself to be pushed into a whole lot of roles which have made his job difficult. I think he's made too many speeches. There have been times when he's had to pull out of engagements because of sheer exhaustion, particularly on overseas trips. I think they misread the sanctions dynamic and they've played too hard, they could have played a much more strategic game on sanctions and retained much more credibility on that issue abroad. Mandela hasn't prepared himself for his speeches as well as de Klerk has. He tends to read his speeches too much. It's only in recent weeks that he's stopped appearing in a suit and he's taken to wearing informal clothes. He's got a West African shirt which is a bit crazy because I don't know what the symbolism is. In other words I don't think that Mandela has husbanded his resources as he should have. I think that the Winnie episode has been a bit of a problem for him.

POM     Will that become more of a problem when her trial starts?

LS     Yes it will.

POM     I'll leave it at that because Patricia wants to talk to you.

PAT     I've got a question on something which I think relates to a former point you were making. The ANC conference, is it too westernised to look at that group of people and say what you have there for a first conference with people on the militant end who know how to organise and get themselves elected to that kind of position, the sort of militant end of the UDF who were very good organisers, the trade union movement, so they represent that section of the ANC constituency? Or was it a part of everything that is in the ANC there?

LS     No, I think the more structured action in it was in fact the better organised activist constituencies. It wasn't the part, it wasn't a truly representative people's convention actually.

POM     It would be more to the left of the rank and file of the ANC?

LS     Yes. You didn't have people from the regions coming in and doing their traditional dances and things. One would expect all this of a truly representative kind of populism. It's somewhat more intellectually orientated, it's got more jargon in it and it is to the left. It's activist.

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.