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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

25 Jul 1991: Lekota, Patrick

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POM     We're talking with Patrick Lekota on 25th July. Patrick could you just identify yourself for the tape so that I get your full title.

PL     I'm a member of the National Working Committee of the African National Congress which is a body that runs the ANC on a day to day basis. The National Working Committee is elected from among the 90 National Executive Committee members which are elected at the conference. So I am a member of the National Executive of the ANC, National Working Committee and I am also ANC Press Liaison Officer.

POM     I want to go back a bit and have you address the question of what you at the ANC see as the problem that has to be negotiated. Some would say that South Africa is what they call a divided society, much like Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland or Cyprus or Malaysia or whatever, and that what you have is a situation of competing ethnic groups. What you need to devise is a set of arrangements to satisfy the competing claims of the ethnic groups or is it a matter of this being a problem of black or white domination of blacks which now must be rectified?

PL     We in the African National Congress start from the premise that all the people of this country, around this country, are entitled to equal rights as a collective body of people. There is no question, in our judgement, of some sections having some special rights which others do not have. So the issue there is not negotiating group rights, it is not negotiating tribal rights or the regional divisions of the country. It is the question of a democratic constitution. We must negotiate the establishment of a democratic constitution. The history of our country is such that in 1910 when South Africa became the Union, because until 1910 South Africa was four different provinces. I mean they were colonies; you had the Cape Colony, you had Natal as a colony, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In 1910 it became a Union. Now in negotiating the Union constitution white South Africans did so to the exclusion of blacks. What we are saying today is that the general principle of uniting South Africa and making it one entity is acceptable to all of us. We must just negotiate the quality of participation.

POM     The Economist last week made a comparison between the violence that's going on in the townships, it said it's no different than the situation in Yugoslavia where you have Serbs and Croatians fighting each other. Do you reject that?

PL     The dynamic here is completely different. There is no struggle here for - there's no secessionist movement in this country. All of us, everybody agrees and everybody is committed to the unification of our country. The only question that remains is how to negotiate a democratic constitution, a constitution in which no section of the population will suffer discrimination of any type. The phenomenon of the violence which we are seeing at the moment is not the violence of, for instance, a group wanting to break away from the country, it is more the violence born of those who have supported apartheid until now against those who have been opposing apartheid. So that a proper understanding of the situation in our country would be that some of the parties which have been supporting apartheid in view of the fact that they have been losing support have attempted to use violence in order to retain support which they have lost to make it impossible for the ANC to organise even more effectively.

POM     So would you reject any suggestion that the violence in the townships between supporters of the ANC and supporters of Inkatha has any tribal element to it, for instance, Xhosa versus Zulu?

PL     No , you see this whole interpretation of Xhosa versus Zulu is absolutely without substance. We have in this country no less than nine tribal units and very big units. Some of the Xhosas are a big grouping. Basutos are even bigger, then you have the Zulu section, then you have Tswana and the Venda and there are many of these separate groups in the country. And if you could go into Soweto today you will find that the proportion of those people who are not Xhosa speaking is far in excess of anything else. The people who have been killed in the trains and who are dying in the townships, very few, I think there might be 2% Xhosa, the rest of the people who are being killed in the townships are Sotho, Tswana, Zulu and so on. So it is not a tribal war. It is a violence which is initiated by those who have been under the control or who have been co-operating with the government over the years. Secondly, it is the violence that is fanned by the government itself. The revelations of the past week in which it is clear the government has been feeding money into Inkatha so that Inkatha should weaken the ANC, the revelations by Sergeant Ndmene, who has been part of Recce, which is a unit of the South African Defence Force, that has been used to kill people so as to precipitate tensions between the various factions are clear evidence of the fact that this violence has nothing to do with tribal units. It has to do with the programme of apartheid in which it attempts to defend itself and to remain alive.

POM     So again, and I'm asking this because other people make the comparison, some people say that Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, that kind of totalitarian communism suppressed all nationalisms for a period of 50 years, but when you took away the yoke of communism or totalitarian communism that these nationalisms which were there came to the fore, and they suggest that in South Africa apartheid has held the black population under oppression but as you take away the oppression of apartheid that ethnic differences among the black population will start coming to the fore.

PL     That has nothing to do with the reality in South Africa, quite different from the situation of those countries you are quoting. In South Africa in particular it is a programme of the government to encourage these ethnic and tribal nationalisms and the struggle here has been against tribal divisions. It has been a struggle towards a common South Africa. So at the end of the day the African National Congress has come out on top precisely because of the majority support of the people of our country. So there's no comparison, the trends are different.

POM     Why I'm suggesting them to you is because many of the people of the Nationalist Party, for example, and the government think along these lines. The question is, if they conceive the problem one way and you conceive of it in an entirely different way, how do you get negotiations going when you both can't agree on what the nature of the problem is?

PL     No, that will be solved quite easily because representation of the population, representatives of the population, people who have won the mandate of the people, will be saying what the people are saying should happen and agreement has to be found there. That's why there is no problem actually. The government in any event, all the members of the National Party in the government, they have all been brought up with the idea of tribalising and dividing the people of this country and therefore they can't think, they find it very difficult to think of a South Africa in which there is common citizenship, common nationalism, common flag and national identity. They find it very difficult. Our struggle all along has always been to re-orient them, to show them that in fact the future for our country does not lie in the divisions of the population but it lay instead in cementing these original tribal and colour differences into one united nation and the struggle of the African National Congress and the other liberation organisations is in that direction.

POM     Just one other question about that. In my research I've noted white academics, very often liberal white academics, who will bring up the ethnic differences involved in their research. I can find very few if any cases of where a black academic would find such evidence. Does this surprise you that it's like that?

PL     We understand that phenomenon. Most of white South Africa is distant from black communities, essentially lives in a different world from that in which we live. They tend to learn attitudes from the government, for instance the statements of the government referring to all the government officials are taken as authentic. So generally their orientation comes from there although over the years the government has always been interpreting things for them. So the general state of mind tends to be like that but within black communities the thinking is again quite different. And that's why we have said from time to time it doesn't matter what the government says about the African National Congress speaking particularly on political development and what is written in the newspapers. The people in the townships, most of them, are even illiterate. They don't know what the newspapers are saying. But we live with them, we come from them, we are their blood and flesh, we understand and know what's going on amongst them because we've been there. We generally don't emphasise that because we know that it is not of significance within black communities. That is why Buthelezi and a number of these other homeland leaders who used to be rabid about tribalism are looked upon now with contempt.

POM     Used to be?

PL     They used to be very enthusiastic about tribalism and so on.

POM     Yes, yes.

PL     No support. I mean Inkatha's always been seen as a tribal organisation and it could never win support, whereas it was formed before the United Democratic Front. It couldn't win national support. The United Democratic Front was formed in 1983 and came onto the political scene on a non-racial platform. Overnight it just won sweeping support across the country within black communities. Those are trends which tell you what South Africa is about.

POM     You mentioned a couple of minutes ago the revelations about the government security forces having hit squads and sending out people to encourage or to incite conflict in the townships or commit violence and now the revelation about the funding of Inkatha. Two questions: one is, how can you negotiate with a government you believe is following this dual strategy of trying to destabilise you on the one hand and negotiate with you on the other?

PL     Well, that is why we have been calling for an interim government for some time already because our experience, the Namibian experience for instance, has shown us that the government would use any means once it enjoys control to influence the political process. But also there have been revelations earlier on which have indicated to us that the government regarded Namibia as a test case in these dirty tricks, so that when they come home to South Africa from the negotiation process they would have preferred that their tricks were seen in terms of political trends. We then said, no, the process of negotiation cannot advance without an interim government because the government would then use its political power to influence the political process, rig elections, give more time for instance on radio and TV to those it favours and give less to the ones it doesn't favour. And we think now that with these revelations that case has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt. Of course, you see, you ask an important question, how can you negotiate with a government that you cannot trust? The ANC's approach throughout its history has always been that every effort should be made to ... of our country by peaceful means and when we went to negotiate with the government it was not because we were saying we have full confidence in the government. The approach which we took was that it was not for the ANC to pass judgement on the government. It was for the ANC to test the government when the government said it was ready to negotiate. As to whether the government is genuine or not, judgement would be left to the people of our country and to the international community.

POM     Just two separate questions, my understanding from Mandela's interview in The Star about two weeks ago was that agreement on an interim government would not preclude negotiations starting, that you didn't have to have an interim government before negotiations started.

PL     Well I think it's necessary that that statement be properly understood. What the President was not saying, or rather what the President was saying, was this; that in the view of the African National Congress the path forward must involve the setting up of an interim government but assuming the majority of the parties did not agree with the African National Congress on the question of an interim government and offered a more viable alternative, the ANC would be open to persuasion, it would be willing to compromise on the question. What he was not saying was that the ANC has now decided that it would abandon the interim government as its own suggestion.

POM     He did suggest that negotiations could start and then that an interim government could follow the start of negotiations. My question is: what has the government got to do in terms of stopping this violence so that you can say, OK now I'm ready to negotiate? I mean what are the minimum pre-conditions that must be met with regard to the violence being stopped?

PL     The first point, I think, is the original conditions set out in the United Nations Declaration on South Africa, the declaration must be made. We then said, of course, that the question of intimidation, the question of violence has to go. Now the government ...

POM     You had called for the resignation of Vlok and Malan.

PL     Magnus Malan and so on, yes.

POM     Can you let that go by?

PL     No we have renewed. We have never abandoned that and we have repeated that. It's always been part of our demand. The other things that, of course, we have said is that the government has to ban the weapons carried around in public, especially by Inkatha.

POM     Is that the traditional weapons?

PL     The so-called, not only traditional weapons. Any weapon that takes lives because in fact we have researched and it has been proved that some of the people have been killed by Inkatha using the so-called traditional weapons, some of the people have been killed using AK47 rifles and so on and so on, by Inkatha. Not by the ANC, by Inkatha. So what we are saying is that any weapon of death must be banned from being publicly carried and displayed. There is the question of the danger of a person going around parading his weapon and so on. So these are the issues which we have raised. That the government has to meet this kind of demand and then of course with these new revelations what we are saying is that there must be opened up public accounts, the accounts which are there must be opened so that we can scrutinise how much money has been given whom, how much has been used against the movement and so on and so on. But we are also saying that the ANC were announcing that the ANC is willing to grant general amnesty to all those people who are involved in the government's underground operations, undercover operations, the CCB's, the hit squads and so on, if they come forward and confess what they did. But tied to that offer of the African National Congress is the demand that the government itself must guarantee their safety and immunity from prosecution so as to encourage them to come clean with the public. If the government is really not interested in prolonging the violence let them make this undertaking.

POM     Just two clarifications. So a pre-condition for the start of negotiations is still that Vlok and Malan must go. You will not sit at a negotiating table until that is done?

PL     Then they must know this time they must go. This time, there is no way, they have to go.

POM     And this secret funding of Inkatha, who are the political winners and who are the political losers and what will be the political fallout?

PL     If, and in relation to?

POM     In relation to the secret funding of Inkatha by the government. The revelations of the past couple of days.

PL     Well naturally the winners will be the people of South Africa. The stopping of the financing of Inkatha and the stopping of the violence must result in an atmosphere in which the people of our country will have an atmosphere in which they can participate in the process, elect their leaders, really have a choice of who they want without fear of any reprisals against themselves.

POM     What about Buthelezi? Where does he come out of this?

PL     No, no, let the people of our country pass judgement because this whole thing has damaged him. It is for the people of our country to decide whether, knowing what Buthelezi has been up to, they still feel they can trust him with the responsibility to lead them.

POM     What is your personal opinion?

PL     My personal opinion and the opinion of the African National Congress is that Buthelezi has never enjoyed the support of the majority of our people, nor has he ever qualified really to lead them.

POM     Mandela used to refer to de Klerk as a man of integrity. In the last number of months his statements have been conspicuously without that reference. Does the ANC still regard de Klerk as a man of integrity?

PL     No, I think actually that statement, that has never been the statement of the ANC. There's always a point of view expressed by the Deputy President and I think he had specific concrete reasons why he said so. For instance whilst Comrade Mandela was in jail, de Klerk did say to him that he was ready to release the leaders to begin the process of negotiation, to release him himself. And in terms of those undertakings which he made he did neither. I think the President was making the statement in relation to those kind of developments and some of the other related issues. But it was more to say, he was not saying, what he was not saying I'm sure, was that he would be willing to entrust the country to de Klerk, to the leadership of de Klerk. What he was really saying was that on a point on which we have convinced him, on which he was satisfied that de Klerk had complied with his undertakings, he would do that. But it is quite clear to us that on some of the questions he has not been convinced that apartheid has to be abandoned and therefore he remains committed to some of the strategies.

POM     Can you give me an example of something where he's not convinced?

PL     For instance the retention of the hit squads. We said time and time again to him that the reason why he had to dismiss Magnus Malan and Vlok was because these were the men who had been at the head of the undercover operations under PW, and that these undercover operations were continuing even under his presidency and that was because these men remained in place.

POM     Does the ANC believe that these activities are carried out without the knowledge of de Klerk or that he in fact is complicit in what in fact goes on?

PL     At this stage we are not prepared to, as far as to say that he knows about it, except that if President de Klerk does not know what is taking place or what his men are doing then it means he is not fit enough to lead the country. And if on the other hand he is unable to control his men so that they do what he wants them to do, once more he is unfit to lead. So the question now has to be answered, it has to be answered by the National Party itself and himself, does he know what is taking place? And if he does not know will he concede that he is not fit to manage this transition period? I think he is the first person to answer this question and we wouldn't want to speculate on it, but we have those questions for him.

POM     And if you look at the performance of the ANC over the last year, at least from abroad in terms of the reports one gets, it seems that they have followed a very zigzag course like calling for the resignation of Vlok and Malan and then seeming to let that go and setting the April 30th deadline for the release of all political prisoners and the return of all exiles and then letting that go, that from abroad it seems the government always has the initiative and that the ANC is either playing 'catch up' or is following an uncertain direction.

PL     No I don't think so. I think a study of the development, even of our pronouncements, will show that we have been consistent. We demanded the release of political prisoners and things like that. We'll never let go of that. We signed an agreement with the government setting the deadline for the end of April this year and when the government didn't do that we set out a number of conditions, but if you look at those conditions they are not new conditions at all. They were reiteration in different ways of the same demands we have made earlier on. Vlok to go, Malan to go, political prisoners had to be released, intimidation and violence had to stop. Now the question of violence, if you look at the agreement between us and the Government, goes right back to Groote Schuur last year in May. When we signed Groote Schuur it was agreed that the government, the ANC would do everything to eliminate intimidation and violence from any quarter. So when in April we demanded that question, we were repeating exactly what we had said so many times before already and there is no demand which we have put forward which we have changed. The question of the demand for an interim government is a question which we put up last year and we have continued to persistently stay on it. The question of the Constituent Assembly, same thing. We have been consistent. Perhaps what one can say is that we have sometimes emphasised this demand or that demand and at other times emphasised another one and highlighted it and so on. But generally there's been a consistent set of demands that we have put across.

POM     OK, you have to go?

PL     Yes I have to.

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.