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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
27 Jul 1991: Lekota, Patrick - Continuation of interview
POM We had finished the other day talking about how the ANC, the course it had pursued in the last year and I'd like your comments on what impact if any the conviction of Winnie Mandela had on the movement and on black politics.
PL It is not clear to me. I think it is not quite clear to many of us what the impact of the outcome of that trial was. I think in a very real sense the issues involved were not the issues of the ANC. It was more like a matter of an individual person and I think it's done more harm to Comrade Winnie Mandela herself than to the ANC's organisation. There is nothing in the proceedings that suggested that the ANC had participated as an organisation. Of course in so far as she's a member of the ANC one can take it that it's gone some way in terms of ending the ANC here and there but I mean not in any significant way certainly. But for herself I think it has been a very bad blow. I think it did go some way in terms of influencing her capacity to win elections, for instance, that I think was affected, but otherwise I don't think the case as such has been a matter that was seen by the rank and file population of the country as an ANC trial.
POM As you look at the ANC over the last year, how would you assess it, it's performance, for example, at the national conference the question of the rather low representation of Indians and Coloureds and whites came up and the fact that you're having limited success in attracting blacks from rural areas. Is it that in a way the ANC could become an urban African political movement?
PL No. As in most cases I think it is wrong to say that the ANC is only urban represented. Even in Natal where Inkatha is reputed to be strong the ANC's position is much better than that of Inkatha, for instance, in the rural areas itself. Now the first point about the representation at that conference, it was a highly representative conference. We had no less than 2244 delegates in the end and each one of those delegates was representing no less than 100 people, so what actually we did do was to say that for every branch, and to set up a branch of the ANC there must be a minimum of 100 persons. That is a far cry from what the position is with Inkatha. I think with Inkatha only 25 people are enough to constitute a branch. And within that is the fact that the main trade union body in this country is at the same time part of the African National Congress as a movement. And people don't quite realise the fact that we are so strong in the unions, in the compounds, in the hostels, immediately gives us huge impact in the rural areas. The main impact in the mines here were members of COSATU, in these other unions who are at the same time members of the African National Congress are heads of families out in the rural areas, because they are migrant labourers. They are not an urban population, they are really a rural population that has been based and when you look at the situation you will find that our influence stretches far out. If the numbers at the conference, in terms of delegates, do not impress you as having been big all we can say is ...
POM Oh, I'm not talking about that. I'm just talking about the thing that came up at your own conference, that there was an under-representation, that you hadn't been as successful among Indians, Coloureds and whites at recruiting, in fact you were in danger of becoming perceived as an African party rather than as a non-racial party.
PL OK. I think the first point to make in relation to that is that it's important to keep in mind that the ANC is busy setting up branches, yet many of the people who support the movement are demanding that we should be setting up offices in the various towns. So it's not that we don't have support, it's that we're trying to catch up with the support that we have, bring it into formal organisation. In relation to the position of the Coloured, Indian communities and whites of course, it is true that there progress has been slow. In the case of the Indian community I think one of the problems that we were confronted with has been the fact that the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian Congress and therefore the Indian Congresses especially in these two provinces, remained contentious issues. The debate there has been a raging debate in the ranks of the movement whether in fact we should get rid of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Natal Indian Congress, should we organise people directly into the African National Congress or should we organise them into these formations? Now because of this transition period we end up in a position in which people who have always supported the Transvaal Indian Congress or the Natal Indian Congress must now be educated into realising why, into realising that supporting the Transvaal Indian Congress or holding membership of the Transvaal Indian Congress does not differ in any respect from holding membership in the African National Congress. I think it's a kind of a transition period even for these communities. Similarly the Coloured communities. I mean the Coloured communities, with the Coloured communities and of course also the Indian communities, but mainly the Coloured communities, affiliation was ... Now what has been happening is that we've been saying in terms of getting rid of the United Democratic Front so that we leave only one structure on the national level, it's not been a very quick and spontaneous process for people just to abandon the United Democratic Front and move into the ANC so there is some transition period there in which understandably people are cautious, they have to find out in joining the African National Congress in what way is it different from the United Democratic Front, in what respect do I take upon myself new responsibilities or obligations which I didn't have until now? So I think there's a bit of that kind of decision and so on and we have ourselves said at conference that the whole thing is not a problem or so much of a problem as we have allowed it to be. It's felt that we haven't until now devoted sufficient attention to addressing these matters and so what we are going to be doing in fact is going to be going out in full force to talk directly to these people and generally to open up on that aspect. Only two days ago we had a big meeting at Nigel, a Coloured community meeting in Nigel and the response was incredibly good. I think that's going to be the pattern even with whites. In view of, for instance, this conference we shall be now exposed and we are going to find more and more that the ANC is the better option for them.
POM Do you have to then assess the performance of the ANC since about this time last year both in terms of its strategic objectives and its tactical success, like on a scale of 10 for each, how would you rank the ANC? Like 7 out of 10 for strategy, 4 out of 10 for tactics, or, do you understand the question?
PL I think in terms of strategy I would really say that we rate quite high. Our strategy has been quiet. At a tactical level I think there were some gaps but it was largely in the field of countering the tactics of the opposition that we suffered some serious setbacks. The violence for instance, the whole question of the violence. We just weren't able to find a very effective counter to it because by its very nature in a way, and given the hostility of the government and its refusal to use the security forces to stamp out the violence, we had only one option if we were going to counter that violence, it was going to be to adopt violence ourselves. And we could not do that. So all we were left with was to pray that the government - largely we considered that most activities would have the necessary impact. Now that didn't quite come across, didn't quite happen that way so that as things stand we found ourselves bogged down in the violence. If we had taken up mass activities, protest marches, mass meetings, exposing our people to the violence of Inkatha - so I think we have suffered some setbacks in that area although at the level of articulating and reading the meaning of things I think we remained on top. There is no doubt about the bona fides of the African National Congress, in particular it's commitment to the negotiation process.
POM I wonder if what you're reading now of the government policy or the National Party policy with regard to new government arrangements, some people have talked to us in terms of what they want is power sharing which would mean executive power sharing, that is that you would have whites from the National Party actually having government posts. [and that this would be some kind of ... the majority of them,] they would have representation at Cabinet level and in parliamentary committees. One group of people say they see that it is part of the final settlement, that power sharing in that way is part of the final settlement. Others say that, no, they see there would be power sharing in a transitional phase but that would be one step on the way to majority rule, non-racial majority rule, i.e. a Cabinet perhaps of the ANC with some whites in the Cabinet and Coloureds and Indians and perhaps a probable majority of Africans, more or less reflecting the composition of your National Executive.
PL Yes, I think that is the correct thing.
POM Do you think the government believes that or, what I'm getting you to react to is how do you assess the government's position?
PL The government would like to have a government in which there is racial representation.
POM By party?
PL By parties yes. Like for instance the National Party should have a certain number of seats because it's representing the white section.
POM They would have seats in the Cabinet as well?
PL I'm sure they would want to be there. I'm sure they would want to be there so when they talk about power sharing, in our understanding they are talking about racial power sharing or the sharing of power on the basis of race.
POM What if they said on the basis of parties? The National Party is now a non-racial party, it's opened its doors to people of all colours so that in the strict way of looking at it a racial group the National Party as a political party is no longer a racial party.
PL It is no longer a racial party in so far as it changed some of the things, etc., etc. But what they want to do is to represent white interests there, this whole question of power sharing boils down to that. The National Party essentially is a white party and what they want to do is to represent white interests in there. Our opposition is that there shouldn't be any seats reserved for some racial group or the other. What we are saying is that people must stand for election and must be elected there on the basis that their constituents want them there because they believe these are the people who are capable of addressing their interests, not because they are white or they are black or something like that. So there's going to be a point of difference there. If, however, the government was talking about that kind of power sharing in the interim period, in the interim government, that would be different. That would be different because we all agree that that's just an interim phase to get things under way.
POM Do you think and, what I hope you react to, there being three phases. Phase 1 is the interim government which would operate while a Constituent Assembly or some other body must draw up a new constitution. Phase 2 would be after the first general election when you might have a government of national reconciliation for 4 or 5 years which really would be a coalition government. And then phase 3 would be the final transition to a democratic non-racial democracy.
PL I think the first step for us is an All-Party Conference which must then agree on a common path towards the ultimate negotiation of the democratic constitution. Now the view of the African National Congress is that from the All-Party conference we must be able to agree on the constitution of an interim government and how to go about doing so. And then of course putting that interim government in place. When that is so done we then go on to the election to a Constituent Assembly and when the Constituent Assembly is finished it then presents the constitution to the interim government which must then, guided by that constitution, supervise the first non-racial democratic elections in the country. That would be the vision of the African National Congress but we appreciate the fact that at the level where we meet the other parties we may have to make compromises that may come of their own which might make it necessary for us to reconsider our position and compromise on some of the aspects of this kind of thing.
POM So you wouldn't rule out there being a first government after a transitional government that might in fact be a coalition where in fact you would have the representation of a number of parties in the government itself.
PL After the first democratic election?
POM You'd have, the interim government is there, it's gone, now you have your first democratic election, the first government more or less as one of national reconciliation. We will make this representation from all parties or a number of parties in the government and then the election after that will be the transition to majority rule.
PL I'm sorry, but just say that again for me. I'm getting tired now.
POM The government which would follow the interim government would be elected on ...
PL Yes, on a one person ...
POM Well let's say the ANC won the election. Rather than the ANC saying we're going to appoint a party, a government, from among members of our own party, and some of them will be white, and instead of doing that what we will do for this first government is that we will include the National Party where members of the National Party can hold one or two whatever Cabinet positions.
PL I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a coalition government. Whether it's specifically with the National Party or not I think will depend very much on the circumstances that will then be existing. We may as well form a coalition, for instance, with the PAC or somebody else, but the whole question of the government I think, of the National Party itself, will not be as easy as all that.
POM You mention the PAC, where do you fit the PAC now in the state of play? I mean they're still refusing to become part of the official negotiating process.
PL I think they will end up in the process of negotiations. I believe so.
POM How would you reckon their influence in the last year, are they increasing?
PL They've got very little influence, very little influence and following. Certainly not what one would call a big force. So they are not significant. I mean they're noticeable but they don't really have all that much strength.
PAT Can I ask a question about the interim government before you go on? What is the constitutional basis and framework for the interim government?
PL We have not put forward concrete steps that we propose as constitutional framework. It's one of the things that's got to be set up. What we are suggesting is that there must be an All-Party conference at which all of these parties first of all must agree on the principle of setting up an interim government, and then secondly of course discuss, if they so agree or if the majority so feels, they should then be looking at the implementation of that decision, agreeing on how in fact to get to interim government. It will have to be negotiated.
PAT Now if the National Party agree in concept but say we have to take this back to our voters because this is a change in our constitution, would you accede to another white election?
PL You mean?
PAT If the National Party said this means a change in our current constitution under which we formed this government, if it's OK to participate in this interim government and we have to take that back to the white voters.
PL No. You see we have already said that we want a Constituent Assembly that is sovereign. And this question of sovereignty is important because when we negotiate an issue and we agree on it there should definitely not be any racial group that's got the veto power of that decision. The danger of that kind of thing is that if the National Party says it's not going to, it's going to first get the feelings of its supporters, if they say no, then we've got the complication of we have to scrub this thing because our supporters don't agree with it. But tomorrow when we do something else then maybe the DP says no, we've got to go and find out whether our members support this thing otherwise if they don't we're going to veto it. So we must begin from the premise that those leaders who all come from various parties must sitting council, should have sovereignty to decide finally.
POM When they talk about the mechanism that will be used to draw up a new constitution, are other parties like yourself or most black parties irrevocably committed to there being a form of Constituent Assembly whether elected by majority vote or proportional representation or isn't it an option?
POM When you talk about an All-Party conference, Multi-Party conference being used to draw up the mechanism which will be used to write a new constitution, is everyone, at least on the black side, more or less irrevocably committed to this being some form of a Constituent Assembly, either an elected Constituent Assembly either by PR or some other means or will they consider alternative non-electoral ways?
PL I think the PAC, Pan African Congress, have been saying simply that they prefer a direct way to a democratic constitution. It is not clear exactly what they mean by 'direct way'. But at the same time they seem to suggest that rather than setting up an interim government they would prefer an interim authority formed by the international community. They seem to be suggesting that line. But in the debate that I had earlier on this week with Musa Myeni of Inkatha he was putting forward the position on behalf of Inkatha that when we go to the All-Party conference they would accept any position either taken or supported by the majority. If that is the position it would mean that Inkatha would be open to debating the question and following the majority decision at the All-Party conference. So if that is the position, if that is the position that is adopted by the majority of the parties, what we do at the All-Party conference is to work out this thing and on the basis of a simple majority agree on the setting up of the Constituent Assembly. We are hoping to be able to persuade everybody to accept that line.
POM So if 51% voted for a Constituent Assembly you'd have a Constituent Assembly?
PL Something of that nature. But I think we are going to have a bit more, bigger support for any step we take because 51% to 49% is not very much of a majority to talk about.
POM I have only a few further questions. The right wing and the Conservative Party: has the day of the Conservative Party come and gone or is support for it still increasing within the white population?
PL The Conservative Party? It is not clear, I haven't seen any indication in recent times of the flow. But I would say that I think the right wing has not become more strong. They are not becoming stronger. But I think what is happening is that they are organising themselves increasingly better with their small numbers, small in relation to the government. I think they are busy organising themselves and the impact of that organisation, more organised than they were before, is to make them more dangerous.
POM I don't know if I asked you this yesterday, it's been a difficult year despite all the acrimony and the accusations and counter-accusations but the process has held on track. Why do you think that is so?
PL Well first of all one of the key players in this situation, one of the main players is the African National Congress. We've campaigned for peace in this country ever since the ANC was formed. I think it's because the ANC has remained steadfast in spite of disappointments from the side of the government that the negotiation process must stay on course and that's gone a long way towards keeping this process alive. There have been a number of problematic steps by the government, for instance the release of political prisoners, dragging their feet on the return of the exiles. And of course you can see evidence of these moneys which they've been giving to Inkatha, moneys which could add very much to the violence, the climate of violence which we have been experiencing in the country. We have not been part of that. The ANC has been very faithful to the trying towards a peaceful settlement and I think it's gone a long way towards helping to keep the process alive.
POM Do you think the process has now reached a point of irreversibility?
PL No. Certainly not. It hasn't. You know for us these negotiations can be divided into two portions. There is a process of the negotiation itself proper and there is a process of preparation which prepares for the actual negotiations. And at the moment we are still busy with preparing for the negotiations. We're still debating the issue of the releasing political prisoners, letting exiles come back. That's with the government at the moment. Until, I mean we're arguing a lot with them about the number of our comrades who remain in jail, so we're still dealing with that. To talk about irreversibility at this stage, therefore, can only be to build words because we haven't given money to get the prisoners out of the jails, they're still sitting there. And we have said that we would be willing to join the government and negotiate as soon as our comrades in jail are released unconditionally.
POM Final question. Since 1967, with the exception of one case, power has not passed from one elected government to another elected government in Africa, the countries have become one-party states or the one party's been so dominant that power simply never changed hands. What do you think in South Africa will be different?
PL I missed that question. I'm unbelievably tired, just say it again.
POM In Africa in the last, since 1967, 25 years, power has never passed from one elected government to another. Either the government in power has established a one-party state or there have been coups or the ruling party's been so strong that it made no different whether there were elections or not, they were certain to be re-elected.
PL I think it is going to be different in South Africa.
POM Why do you think that would be so?
PL First of all I think the ANC will probably stay in power for a while after it comes there.
POM When you say 'in power' are you talking about ...?
PL Maybe more than one term.
POM More than one term?
PL I think the ANC will probably be able to win elections and then win them again and then again for a while. But I can't see that it can stay that way for a very long, long time because I think what's going to happen is that there's going to be a realignment of forces within our political stage and I think that's going to affect things. If you take South Africa's history you can already see the role of development in this country is quite different from the development in other countries and the sophistication of the South African political scene is much higher than that of those countries, most of the countries north of here. And I think that the history of our own country already indicates that, even among the Afrikaners. The first party to come in after 1910 was the South African Party, then it was unseated by a combination of the National Party and the Labour Party, and then it was unseated by the PACT government and so on. I think the tradition is going to be very much along those lines with this country because I think there will be realignments. I think some of the people who are in the ANC will not be said to go with the Communist Party, the Communist Party will take it's part. It will probably strike an alliance with other parties and so on. I think we're living also in a period quite different from the period when these other African countries got independence and there have been lots of lessons from there. The ANC itself has committed itself to multi-party democracy which was not always the case with the parties in the other countries. In very many of these countries that gained independence before us there's actually legislation or at least deliberate commitment to a one-party state, and that is not the intention of the African National Congress. And we'll allow the other parties to come and challenge us. And I can't find that in my mind that we might not fall foul of the electorate at some stage or the other as well.
POM OK. Thanks ever so much for taking the time.