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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
30 Aug 1991: Meiring, Kobus
POM Mr Meiring, when we talked last time you gave me a word - you had been at a dinner at which Thabo Mbeki was at and you said, "I said to Thabo Mbeki the other night, you know it's all a matter of believing people. In Afrikaans we use the word 'geloofwaardigheid' (what is the English for that?) to be able to believe in people, to trust people, trust willingness." And you went to some, really lengths I suppose, to stress how important trust was to this whole process. One of the things I've been struck about this time around is the absolute conviction in ANC circles that the government is pursuing, in fact, a double agenda, that it has the olive branch of negotiations on the one hand and is either orchestrating or participating or has a hand in some way in the violence in the townships in order to undermine them. And whether the belief is right or wrong it's almost irrelevant, they believe it very intensely. What do you think this does to the whole process of transition if that element of trust is absent?
KM OK. I thought about that word too when I re-read our discussion of last year and I just thought the right word probably is trustworthiness or something like that. I think there must be a better word. I'm sad to hear that that was the case, that you heard that and I suppose the Inkathagate probably played a role in that.
POM Very much so, yes.
KM Padraig, I have no doubt about it that the only way that we will be able to get rid of that perception, and I know that that perception is well and alive, but the only way that we are going to get rid of that is if we can really start negotiating. As long as people don't sit around a table and look each other in the eye you will always have that sort of mistrust. I think I told you last time of my efforts on the District Six situation here and I find that if there is a perception of mistrust then you can really get the people to sit around the table and tell them the exact situation, the problems, for instance, that we are encountering, then they understand that we are really to be trusted but that there are other factors which play a role and which makes it impossible to have solutions immediately. So I am using that as an example to say to you, yes I think there is that perception, that there is a double agenda. I am totally sure, having attended some more Cabinet bush conferences since we last spoke, I am totally sure that there is no double agenda, that the government is absolutely sincere.
POM Do you think that the government has to undertake some confidence building measures to repair the damage?
KM Yes, Padraig, that would be a good idea but the best way to do that is really to start negotiating. I really think that. How else, I mean you can appoint a public relations company and spend a hell of a lot of money on that, but it is still not eyeball to eyeball because really I think that's the only way to do it.
POM If you had to look at the last year, since we last talked, which was on the 9th August, that would be I think the day after the Pretoria Minute was signed, you in fact said how you had seen Mr de Klerk the previous day and how optimistic he was about the whole thing. Is that optimism still there? If you were to review the last year, what would you point to as a signs of progress and what would you point to as signs of strain?
KM OK. Signs of strain, definitely Inkathagate, and I don't want to talk the Inkathagate situation down. It was a problem but as far as I'm concerned it was something that happened a year and a half ago. Since then a lot of things have changed, people have changed their attitudes, changed their minds, changed their policies even. So I, as you know Padraig, I am in this position a little bit out of the mainstream so perhaps you have the advantage of looking a little bit more objectively at the situation. I got the impression that certain people over-reacted to the Inkathagate story and that other people whom I would have expected to react very fiercely to that did not. For instance, the ANC: I thought the ANC's reaction to the whole Inkathagate situation, except for one or two remarks by Mr Mandela, but in general I thought the ANC's reaction to the Inkathagate thing was rather moderate. My feeling was that they realised that if you go into their cupboard of a year and a half or two ago they would certainly also have their skeletons. So it suited them to a certain extent that this happened to Mr de Klerk, but on the other hand they realised that they shouldn't boast too much about it because they could fall in the same problem. So that was certainly a negative thing that happened over the past year. But on the other hand there were so many positive things. For instance, the efforts to have this Peace Conference, the one that was arranged by Mr de Klerk himself, but then also and perhaps more especially the couple of conferences arranged by outside people, by the Church people. That was certainly a very positive thing. A very positive thing over the past year naturally, Padraig, was the scrapping of the last vestiges of discrimination. I think that was a very positive thing if ever there was one to prove that the government wants to get away from institutionalised discrimination.
POM In your meetings around the Cape, meetings with people, talking with them, public officials, talking to ordinary people, how have people's responses changed in the last year? Are people more fearful that the violence will last and just see them more uncertain, or are people more, particularly white people, those last year who would have been maybe upset at the changes, becoming more reconciled to the changes? Just what is the underlying attitude from people that you mix with?
KM Yes. OK Padraig, I get the impression from people in the Cape Province, white and coloured and black that the process is irreversible. They accept that. They realise that it is in our own hands now to make the best of it. The international reaction was very positive and that gave them hope for the future and they feel that we must get rid of violence. But I must immediately say that fortunately, Padraig, in the Cape Province the standard of violence was much lower, the level of violence was much lower than in the Transvaal and I suppose there is a lesson to be learnt from that, and that lesson is that the violence, and we all know that, is not black on white or white on black it's black on black. And in the Cape, in the Northern Cape you have the Tswanas and in the Eastern Cape you have the Xhosas and in the Western Cape you have the Xhosas. In the Cape Province as a matter of reality you haven't got much of a mixture of ethnic groups, and the last thing that I would want to sound is to be racist, but that is an interesting fact that violence in the Cape has been much lower.
There are other things that I think we must just touch on when we talk about the difference between last time and now. Apart from the scrapping of the laws there has been a very interesting movement in coloured politics from the Labour Party to the National Party. That was a very interesting development over the past year. I also would like to tell you, just a personal anecdote if I may, Padraig? I had a very interesting talk to Mrs Thatcher during her visit. I sat next to her at the private luncheon hosted by Dr Rupert and she was very interested in Africa and she knew that I was involved with Africa previously and she said, "You know, you have a vast challenge in South Africa." She said, "If we look north of us in almost every case it was a transfer of power and it simply didn't work." And that's history, when the colonial powers left it was a transfer of power. She said, "It's not even working very well in Zimbabwe but you will have to find something unique and that is a sharing of power." And I thought that that is, coming from her now, I thought that is the best proof of what we're all trying to do.
I get the impression when I speak to a man like Mbeki and to some of the other ANC people here in the Western Cape, that they, of course there will be difference of opinion within their own ranks, but that they are not really after transfer of power. They also understand that the only way they're going to find a solution for South Africa is in the sharing. It's just a question of how do you do it. So as I see it, the middle ground which wants to share power is growing, but on the far right, of course, they want to know nothing about that.
POM I'll come to that in a moment. I want to go back to the question of ethnicity, but before that I want to step back and ask a more fundamental question and it might sound like a simple question but I ask it because of the variety of responses that I have received to it. And that is, how would you define the problem that the negotiators must try to mediate when they sit around the negotiating table. Some people would say the problem is racial domination of the black majority by the white minority. Some would say the problem is one of two competing nationalisms, white nationalism, black nationalism. Some would say, yes there are racial disparities but that within each racial group you have severe ethnic differences that must be acknowledged and taken into account for if they are not they will pose a potential for conflict in the future. Some say it's about access to resources, the privileged versus the disadvantaged. In your view what is the nature of the problem? Not the steps that must be taken to resolve it, but the nature of the problem itself.
KM I know it's the easy way out, I think it's to a certain extent the combination of just about all those factors that you mention. But for me the biggest problem is probably the fact that South Africa consists of ten minorities. I know in the past people made the mistake of thinking of the 30 million blacks as a unit and as the majority. We tried for a long time to get the world to understand that it is not so simple, it is really a matter of ten minorities. So if you have in a country like Namibia, for instance, Ovambos who are 50% plus of the population, then you can in fact say that they are the majority. But in South Africa, and I think this was just realistic, people are still Zulus and they are still Xhosas; there are the exceptions, naturally. And I think, I think I told you previously, that we are in a process of change and in 50 years time that might be gone. I don't know. In Europe, Padraig, in the old days, when we talk about a thousand years ago, if you think of Germany, it would have been impossible to put that country together a thousand years ago. And I'm not so sure that we don't have to go through that history too, but we'll have to go through it in a different way. So I think that is the major problem that you will have to take into consideration.
POM So when you look at the violence that has been going on in the Transvaal for most of the past year would you see that as primarily ethnic violence between Xhosas and Zulus?
KM Yes coupled with ANC connotation and Inkatha connotation. There are certainly many Zulus who are ANC and there are also Xhosas, I suppose, who belong to Inkatha. So I'm not quite sure whether it's Zulu/Xhosa or ANC/Inkatha. It could be both. It could be a combination of the two.
POM I know Mr de Klerk said on one occasion that one could draw a broadly based comparison between the collapse of totalitarian communism in Eastern Europe and the dismantling of apartheid here and his point being that for 40 or 50 years ethnic nationalisms in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were suppressed by communism and as communism collapsed these ethnic differences began to bubble to the surface again. That similarly differences in black minority nationalisms, or ethnicity, were suppressed by apartheid and as you lift apartheid the differences begin to bubble to the surface. Do you think that's a correct comparison? Would you agree with that comparison, not of communism and apartheid, but of the different nationalities?
KM But what happens when you lift it? The far right people think that there is that analogy between what's happening to the Baltic states now, for instance, and some of our cases.
POM They use it to justify their right to self-determination?
KM That's right. There could be some similarity but the solution in South Africa is certainly not the same solution as in the case of the Baltic states. But can I just on that score say to you, I think I said to you last time, that although the two really have nothing to do with each other, communism and apartheid, certainly the crumbling of communism has made it possible for FW to do what he's doing now. I think it is fantastic what's happening. It made it possible for Mr de Klerk to do certain things and the simple reason why I'm saying that, Padraig, I think most white South Africans, and I've said this to you before, deep in their minds, thought well one day there will be a government in this country which will be black, whether it's a majority government or a shared government or whatever, and in terms of the African experience it will be a communist government. People thought that; that was the perception. I think so. They thought, well, if a black government in Mozambique and in Angola and in many other countries north of us are Marxist or Socialist, then how can you avoid that happening in South Africa? And when that 'ism' started crumbling, people all of a sudden had a totally new vision of the possibilities. So that perhaps is one of the most important things too that happened since we last saw each other, affecting South Africa.
POM Putting South Africa in the broader context of Africa, in Africa as a whole, with I think one or two exceptions, there has been no transfer of power from one freely elected government to another freely elected government. Either the countries have become one-party states or one party has been so dominant that elections are not really an exercise in democracy they just return the same government over and over again. What do you think will prevent South Africa from following a similar course and what precautions must be taken to ensure that won't happen?
KM OK, I've thought about that very often, especially after I spoke to Maggie Thatcher, if that happened all around us how are we going to stop it? How are we going to avoid going that same way? Well, Padraig, I personally think that one of the main reasons why that happened in the rest of Africa was because that, call it First World segment, that colonial segment just left. I mean it handed everything on a plate to the rest and the rest was not prepared for self-government. It wasn't self-sufficient. The economy of those countries went to pieces when that First World section left. So, in South Africa, depending on what happens, but even if things go the worst scenario, I can't see that, certainly there will be segments or elements of the First World that will leave, but most will stay because they have nowhere else to go. The Portuguese could go back to Portugal, the Spanish of Equatorial Guinea could go back to Spain, the British went back, well they came to South Africa, but they could go back to Britain, but most South Africans are South Africans. Most white South Africans are South Africans. They have nowhere to go so they will stay.
So what I really want to say is that the influence, the influence that will remain, will be much, much stronger than the influence that remained in most of the countries north of us. And that is what I base my hope on. That instead of a transfer you'll have a sharing. Basically, Padraig, I always, in my Foreign Affairs days, tried to convince my audiences that the five million white people are not the only people in this country and they are not the only people who have the right to be here. There are 30 million, 40 million people. At the same time when I had the opportunity of speaking to blacks I said to them, "We are brothers. If your brother leaves then you are going to have a tough time like some of your brothers north of us." And they understand that and that is really what I want to build my future on.
POM In your talks or meetings with members of the ANC, whether formal or informal, do you get a sense that they appreciate the necessity of being able to draw on white experience and expertise if the economy is to get jump started and progress is to be made and maintained?
KM Without doubt, Padraig, that is my impression. You will find the exception where a man would say, look you whites have mistreated us and badly managed the country so now we must have a chance. But that is the exception. The people that I speak to say forget the past and we will have to go together into a new future.
POM One thing that struck me and that is the almost total lack of bitterness among blacks about the past. Does that surprise you or not surprise you?
KM To a certain extent it surprises me and I am extremely grateful for that. On my own Executive Committee here, my own little Cabinet, I have as many whites as non-whites and I had a chat this morning to my black colleague, Tembanyati, and he tends to forget the past and say the attitude of my Administrator is such and the attitude of the Cabinet is such that I trust you and that we must build together a new future. You see, Padraig, we have one big advantage and that is that we bought time and in this time things happened in Africa which certainly opened the eyes of people, but also of the world, and certainly America and Britain and Germany wouldn't like the mistakes of Africa to be made again in South Africa. But the people themselves, Thabo Mbeki said to me, "I saw what happened in Lusaka over the past two decades and we don't want that to happen to South Africa." So all these things really make me very optimistic that people understand that bitterness must be replaced, and it is being replaced, by optimism.
POM On the other hand, I think with the exception of Leon Wessels, there has been no acknowledgement by the government of a great injustice done to blacks, no acknowledgement of wrongdoing and no apology. Do you find that strange?
KM In the first instance I agree one hundred percent with Leon Wessels. I think it was the right thing to do at the right time. I've often said that. I've often said that, but perhaps not in a position where it drew international recognition. I've been in many cases where ministers said that, but as far as I'm concerned it is much more important, Padraig - it's one thing to say I'm sorry and we did the wrong thing and then do nothing about it than rather to tackle the problem and try and find a solution. That's really how I see it, a combination of the two is the best.
POM I want to go back to Inkathagate for a moment. Some people have said to me that what shocked them more than the government funding of Inkatha was the government funding of the opposition parties in Namibia after it had signed a declaration in New York saying it would be an impartial administrator of the election, and that that makes the case that the ANC make, that the government can't be trusted. You can't be player and referee at the one time and hence it increases support in some quarters for the idea of an interim government. Now the ANC have come out very strongly for the kind of interim government they want. The government resigns, an all-party government is formed. But for the government to resign is to cede its sovereignty and are there any circumstances in which Mr de Klerk would pursue such a course, or would the backlash within its Cabinet and within the white community be so immediate and so overwhelming that it's simply not on?
KM I think it's simply not on. We talked last time about the fact that he promised that he would go back to the white electorate and I said to you last time that I thought the obvious thing to do for him was to go back to the people who are in parliament now, that is the whites, coloureds and Indians, and in fact at a recent bush conference I vented that idea. But he said, "No I have to go back to the whites. I said that and I will go back to the whites." So he's very definite about that one. And the point is that sort of thing would never be accepted by the whites. The situation is just different in South Africa from what it was in Namibia. As you know we have a legal government. In their case it was an area governed by mandate so there was no government, so you had to form a new government. That's the reason why the government feels strongly about the fact that there you could have a Constituent Assembly but in this case it will have to grow from the present government.
Can I just say on the funding of the DTA, also there it was amazing how moderate the ANC's reaction was, simply because if you were to go through the records and see the amounts of money that they are getting, were getting and are still getting from governments all over the world, then you can say it's not the same thing but in principle to a certain extent it is the same thing. So the mere fact, Padraig, that the reaction was rather played down proves to me that although certain international bodies used that as a stick to hit Mr de Klerk with, the ANC was rather moderate about the whole thing.
POM How would you see this problem of interim measures or interim arrangements or interim anything, how do you see it being resolved so that it creates a level playing field?
KM I'm very involved in the local situation and in the regional situation and on the regional situation I've been a member now for the past year of a special sub-committee of Dr Gerrit Viljoen and they will probably announce quite a number of those things next week at the Federal Congress but I told you last time how I see it; we have to find a compromise between the present fragmented system and on the other hand a totally centralised system. In a big country like South Africa a centralised system can't work, apart from the fact that that was typical Marxist. So our idea is to go for this regional system and the beauty for me of the regional system is while at the same time you can go that way for better administration, you will at the same time, to a certain extent in a very normal way, take care of the realities of South Africa as far as groupings are concerned.
When we talk about the Cape Province, in a regional system you would have three regions. As I said, the northern one would be an area in which the Tswanas would be the majority and in that area then, in governing that area, the Tswanas would be the dominant factor. And if you compare that to the Swiss example, or even the American example, then the Tswana influence would be dominant in schooling, in culture, in things like that. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa factor would be dominant and in that region, now these are the announcements that will probably be made next week - I know a lot about it but not everything so we'll have to wait until then. But that is the beauty of a regional system working basically on the American system.
On a local basis, there I have very definite views that the time is definitely past for fragmented local government where you have white municipalities and coloured management areas and black local councils. In a geographical area of, for instance, my old town, Paarl, you can put a couple of towns together and put all these councils together and they could be - Group Areas has now been scrapped so anybody can live anywhere, but you will have to divide then that Local Authority area into wards and the people representing the ward will then form together a council. And on those councils certainly the non-whites will be the majority.
The question is then, can't you or shouldn't you apply the principle that we apply at the moment in the Regional Services Councils. You know that there is this in between level of government at the moment, that is between the province and the local councils, we have in the Province 21 Regional Services Councils. In their representation on the Regional Services Councils if people have to vote, and fortunately they never vote, because we say to them please try and get consensus, but if they have to vote there is built into the system a voting power according to consumption because it's a services council, it delivers services such as electricity and water and refuse removal and other things so you can put a value on it. So you would in fact be able to say that ward consumes that much services and you can build in - but that could easily be seen again as a form of discrimination, so that could create a problem. But the fact of the matter, what I want to say to you Padraig, is that on local level I think we have advanced quite a distance in putting together something. Now the government accepted this Interim Measures law which has been criticised a lot. I received a letter yesterday from Cape Town Municipality saying that ...
POM The Interim Measures Law applies to local government?
KM The Cape Town Municipality said that they want to know nothing about it. And I've been saying to them and to many other local councils that I've visited and addressed it and as far as I'm concerned you see the Act totally wrongly. I'm not going to use that Act to force anything on to any community. Perhaps it can be read as such but I give my word of honour that that is certainly not what I'm going to do. But if in a town like Riversdale, for instance, the population groups can really get together and say to each other, let us show the world how we can do it, and they can say let's scrap the City Council, let's scrap the management committee and let's form a new council for this town. And if they can then prove to me that they are really including everybody, except the lunatic, then that law, that Act gives me the power to put my seal on to it, that I can then say, "OK, we now issue an ordinance to scrap the City Council, scrap the other councils, and replace it by this new council."
So as far as I'm concerned that law is certainly not the ideal thing, but it's a interim thing and if a community proves - Please come in. This is Padraig O'Malley, Herbert Beukes and please, Herbert, you can help me because Padraig is the fourth time I think that we have an interview. We first met at White Plains in New York in 1987 and he is a very regular visitor to South Africa now and I can see that eventually when there is a new South Africa he will be able to put together a book that will be most interesting.
POM What I've been doing is trying to track the process of the transition by interviewing at least once a year, and sometimes twice, a range of the major players on every side.
HB Is this only a question of doing research at the moment or are you also writing articles?
POM No, I'm not writing articles for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm conducting the interviews on the basis that I will publish nothing beyond the book and so people can be a little bit more free to say things and it won't appear in an article tomorrow morning or something.
HB I see, I see. And are things beginning to make sense for you and this year's tracks set a pattern?
POM What I see this year is in a way contradictory, there are two things coming through; one, in the ANC there is an awful lot of distrust and a firm conviction across the board that the government had a hand in the violence in the townships. Nothing can budge them from that belief. And on the other hand there appears to be a widespread willingness to compromise. When you talk of perhaps a coalition government between the ANC and the National Party for a period of time after a new constitution is drawn up, there is very little resistance.
HB Instead of one during the transition period? Because there, of course, is a strong appeal at the moment for a representative form of government during transition. But you're saying after the constitution?
POM Following the transition and perhaps for a period of time there would be a coalition government of some description, even if one party had a majority and what there would be disagreement about would be whether such a form of power sharing should be written in the final settlement or whether it should be a voluntary act.
HB But you're articulating now some of the views within the ANC. That's very interesting. Because that very idea is embodied in the latest ideas of the government.
POM What they probably would see, it would not be written into a settlement but if the ANC had a majority it might easily turn around and say for a first government ...
HB No party. I mean I don't expect the National Party, the government, to be so credulous to accept that in advance. This is giving a guy a blank cheque. They should know, whoever suggested that ...
POM But there's no, very little anyway of, "No we could never consider that." One man one vote.
HB Yes. So you talk about flexibility? Yes.
POM Trying to find the parameter.
HB Yes. That's very important because also as far as the interim government measures, or transitional government, whatever you may want to call it, the concept is concerned, has been flexibility. And they haven't been doctrinairing, insisting on the interim government being put together in the way that they would like it to reflect their majority party. They see the need for an interim government that will be representative of the community at large, of course, as an interim measure. As you may recall the two issues that they were very strong on and that were also taken up in the original Harare Declaration was the question of a Constituent Assembly and then of course an interim government.
Now the Constituent Assembly idea has been pushed aside somewhat now, but the interim government idea has evolved in a manner that suggests there is a compromise at hand. The government, you will have seen, has been talking about interim measures, interim arrangements, whereas the ANC has talked about the interim government, but the ANC is also now agreeing that the idea should simply be to have a government that will not enable the governing party to be a participant in the process while it is governing the country completely. So it has moved, although by degrees, away from that concept of the interim government replacing a constitutional government. This is the whole idea, whether it should be an abolition of power by the current government so that you can then form an interim government or whether it can be a power sharing arrangement.
POM OK, that's, I must say, a different perception than the one I have. The feeling that I've got from a wide cross-section of the members of the Working Group is that the government must resign. They would seem to be putting a marker down.
HB They will have to stand an awful long time at that marker. I've seen some comments by British politicians recently, Americans and I've seen by Helen Suzman the other day suggesting that that is just something unacceptable. It should be unacceptable. You're not going to get a constitutionally elected government, although the legitimacy might be in question at the moment in view of the representativeness, but you're not going to get that government to abolish itself to just disappear and then go to an unelected, unrepresentative - I mean who's going to put it together, what kind of constitutional authority would the interim government have? To whom would it be accountable? So I mean that idea is stillborn.
KM But on the other hand I get the impression that co-option is not the solution either.
HB No, no, sure.
POM This is of course the challenge. Where do you find a ...?
HB I think it's negotiation and agreeing to a representative government that will reflect the various political programmes, political parties, political affiliations in the country. It's as simple as that.
KM You see Padraig, that idea of co-option, I even find it here in trying to put together now various councils, councils for hospitals or councils for cultural organisations, when you speak to them and say give me a couple of names to appoint on this board, then they just say, "We're not interested." But I don't see that as the alternative to total transfer. In between, as I tried to explain to you on this other issue, in between there must be something else and you will only get that if you can really negotiate. You see, Padraig, to summarise the two issues which we agree on, and that is that on the one hand the ANC still thinks there is a double agenda, and of course Inkathagate played a role in that. And my reply to that is the only way we're going to get rid of that is the day we sit around a table. But on the other hand it came out very clearly that there is no bitterness really, that these people are prepared to try and find something new. That they are to a certain extent prepared to forget about the past and look positively at the future.
POM The other thing that struck me this time round, it was there last year but it's reinforced this year, is the absolute paucity of leadership in the Conservative Party. I mean there's no thinking going on in the party, certainly not at the leadership level.
KM Koos van der Merwe tried to think but they shut him down.
POM Yes. I talked to Koos the other day.
KM Did you?
HB I think it's brewing, this whole thing. They will have to move. There's no question about it, they will. It's a question of time. Dr Treurnicht, according to reports, told Senators Robb and Simon that they were not against the idea of a negotiated settlement. It is the environment in which parameters will have to be set. Now they have their objectives, of course, but the environment can be graded to bring them in because that is absolute necessity. You're not going to get a solution that will be sustained if those guys are out, if they were excluded from negotiations, so you will have to bring them in.
Let me just quickly come back to that interim government thing again because that's one of the most crucial aspects now in the immediate future, as one of the interim steps. As I understand it the ANC is not really interested so much in how the water distribution should be handled and the water rights down in the Olifants River. There are two issues they are concerned with and that is security matters and, number two, the question of distribution of moneys and revenue, etc., so as to be able to have an input in the say in helping the quality of life of their supporters. And on those two issues they will not find the government obstinate or opposing them. This will form part of that broad arrangement that the government is referring to as interim measures and interim arrangements and I've seen some references recently from unknown ANC sources suggesting that those are the two things, that if there could be some kind of agreement or compromise on that, that'll be acceptable to them.
KM And, Padraig, especially on the second one, on the bridging of the gap between the haves and the have-nots. I always say to so many farmers that you speak to that our economy is, on its own, just not strong enough and that is the reason why we have been saying all along that sanctions hurt the people that we really want to help most. And I think there is also a change, don't you think there is a change on those views? The ANC's formal point of view is still for sanctions but I mean that is definitely crumbling.
HB The thing is beginning to drop, namely that they realise the damage that can be done or is being done to the economy and they know that whatever arrangement is being established in this country, if it's being done peacefully and it's being done constitutionally, that the ANC will play a major role in whatever form. But it will be a major role. And it is going to be detrimental to them who will be then a major player in decision making in the country if they were not to have the means, of course, to satisfy all the needs and the desires and expectations of their supporters. So they're realising, individuals will be saying, and I suspect that you will have heard that. You had Archbishop Hurley the other day now in Australia saying the same thing, saying that the economy is being irreparably harmed at the moment and there should be a lifting or a removal of restrictions now.
POM I'd like to go back to the right wing again for the moment. Last year you thought they were a serious threat and do you still think that threat exists? It seems you're fairly firm in your conviction that they have to be brought into the process.
HB They have to be because they have that capacity for causing enormous harm.
KM Well the point is they represent today what, 35%? 40%? of the white electorate.
KM No, no, 35%. I would put it at that but I can assure you it could be higher. There are very few, I'm not talking about the Cape Province, Cape Province has fortunately always been the more liberal province. But in the Free State the NP can't win any country seats. The same in the Transvaal. In the Cape Province we've lost two years ago a couple of seats and, when was the last election? 1989?
KM We lost Uitenhage, but that was a special case.
HB But they have certainly not represented, you have large pockets of Conservative Party supporters in the province but not so large they can perhaps take a constituency, but they are growing and in any doubtful, uncertain climate like a transitional period you will find that their extremist positions are benefiting. There is no question about it because they are certain of what they want and what they don't want but the broad middle group of people aren't certain because you think, and by thinking you realise that you can't take those compositions now. The end result should be one of either a compromise one, one that should be negotiated, but for the extremist positions they know exactly what they want.
KM In a time of flux the status quo is always the easiest to explain and it's perhaps a dangerous thing to say but I think if you really analyse the intelligence of the normal, the average, CP voter, then it is nowhere on the scale because he doesn't, as Herbert says, he doesn't really think.
POM Are there specific reasons why support towards the Conservative Party will have grown in the last year?
KM Uncertainty and violence.
HB And the government's programme hasn't brought them any reassurance or any benefits. Now the problems that we are experiencing are not directly attributed to the government policies. The economy is being affected by matters sort of extraneous. We're talking about weather conditions, we're talking about - those are the areas, of course, that will be the rural areas where the CP traditionally has had stronger support and the Eastern Cape is in the grip of terrible drought at the moment; Northern Transvaal was in a terrible drought. The violence, as Kobus was saying, has ravaged Natal and the East Rand. Those are things that are speaking directly to the emotions of the people and their baser instincts are being affected and they can see only one home, for instance, and that is to maintain that status quo. This is why they are getting the support that they do.
POM Let me ask you a different sort of question. Do you think the ANC has a clearly defined idea of what it wants and a clearly defined strategy how to get there?
HB Not clearly defined; they will tell you that they have defined objectives, not perhaps a blueprint, but they will refer to their constitutional guidelines, of course, and those guidelines are touching on the democratic concepts. And there's a remarkable degree of coincidence or agreement between the government's view and the ANC's on certain basic constitutional principles, democratic principles. But then, of course, there are very large shades of grey area and those are the things, the fine print is what is going to be the final persuader in the country and this we don't know. When I say 'we' I mean the body politic in the country. They're vague about it and certainly there's one crucial thing, and that is going to become more crucial, and that is that symbiotic relationship that you have between, parasitic on the one hand, between the ANC and the SACP. I mean this is something that they are not going to, that's not going to go away really. There's no question about it. The other big problem is the inability, inherent inability of the ANC to grow out of liberation mould into a political party and they may have their reasons for doing so but I think the time is fast approaching where the line will be drawn for them. You can't work both sides of the street. You can't continue to do so and they are inherently unable to distance themselves from the SACP and the SACP is now all of a sudden, except for South Africa, the whole thing has become extinct of course. Even the Soviet Union I heard last night is downright abolishing it, suspending it, totally so. They are telling us that they want to be democratic. Now it's ridiculous and as long as the ANC is sticking to that, so long will they cause problems for the NP then and for a democratic party so to mobilise the, say, white support for a moderate solution in this country.
KM But at the same time I always think that South Africa, as a result of all the poverty that we have and the big third world section, was a very fertile ground for any ism and although communism may be crumbling now, as I said to you, we will have to find a solution for that poverty and that is our biggest task.
POM In one sense it may be just withering on the vine that something like 12,000 paid up members ...
HB The leadership positions, you see it's the degree of influence that the ANC has.
POM The more important in the ANC are communists themselves?
HB We don't know. It's the secrecy about it. You know that they haven't been prepared until now to disclose who are communist members. One of the things that Ramaphosa did was soon after his election was he issued a decree, or guidelines if you want to call it that, to rank and file and to people in leadership not to disclose their association or affiliations. Now people are asking why. And we know, and that is just from experience again whether it's a perception or not, the point is it's a real concern that you have to deal with, that the feeling is that you can't trust those buggers, the communists. It's as simple as that.
POM Is there parallel thinking in the sense that the ANC thinks the government has a double agenda?
HB That is what they say.
POM Do you think on the other hand that the ANC has a double agenda as well?
HB Which proves one thing, there's still an awful lot of distrust between the two.
POM So the government see the ANC's double agenda as being ...?
HB Not knowing what it is.
POM But that there is one there.
HB That there is one there, yes. The ANC will probably not be able to tell you either what they think the other agenda of the government is other than what is being put on the table and that can only be resolved as - it's as good as saying when you sit around a table and you put on a table what you propose. But how will the SACP be represented at the negotiating table? Will it be represented as the SACP or will it be part of the ANC? If it's part of the ANC alliance then we know that you're not dealing with the party now who's striving for democracy. That's going to cause a lot of constraint. It's like as if the government were to take on board a wing of the Conservative Party or the HNP saying we will include you in a broad alliance here. That's a problem and they will have to address it but, again, I suspect that there are individual members who understand this.
POM Are you running out of time?
KM I'm afraid so, Padraig, I'm just worried about you.
POM Oh don't worry about me. Well thank you. Maybe we'll have an opportunity when I come back.
KM You must now include Herbert in your interviews.
POM Put you into my list.
HB I'll sit in with Mr Meiring and we'll talk. It's very interesting.
POM Last year I did altogether 160 interviews. This year I've now pulled to about 100 but the quality is better. I've done Ramaphosa and Chris Hani and Mbeki and Viljoen and Roelf Meyer.
KM You were supposed to see on Monday some of the ministers who have now been removed.
POM Well I lost four appointments on Monday. Initially the set up was on Monday that I would see Malan, Vlok, Meyer and Wessels. Two went up and two went down. So all four, it was their first day in the new job so Roelf Meyer very nicely had said he'd fit me in some time on Monday and the others have all consented to do phone interviews from Boston. I can ring them from Boston and record the interview on the phone and then transcribe and print it up. So we'll see.