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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
02 Sep 1991: Meyer, Roelf
POM We're talking to Roelf Meyer, Minister of Defence, on the 2nd of September. Minister, I want to begin with a question related to the proposals that have been put out by the National Party. We were talking with Tertius Delport this morning, and from what he said and from articles in the Sunday Times this weekend, it seems there is a proposal for a local government that would involve two voter registers. A voter roll of adults and a roll of ratepayers. So, there'd be a qualified property right vote. And I must say, I was amazed. We were amazed that a proposal would be put out to qualify the vote in such a way. For many reasons, including the fact that in Northern Ireland in 1968 it was precisely an issue of qualified local government representation that sparked a lot of the trouble. What's the rationale? In terms of politics, it looks like awfully bad politics. It invites one to say, there's the National Party again. They said one man one vote. And what do they do? They come on with a proposal that brings it in at the local government level. And through the voting structures it gets reflected in the regional level, too.
RM First of all, I think it's important to emphasise that this is merely a proposal for in-depth conversation and consultation within the party and so forth. What struck me when I read yesterday what was said about it, what struck me was the fact that the papers in their analysis of the proposals picked on this point. Which, to a certain extent, also one can read as saying that they were sort of happy with what was said, with what the proposals are about at the central level as well as the regional level. And to my mind, first of all, that is very important. It's important to take note of the fact that they have apparently gone through it with a very in-depth analysis approach. And by saying nothing about it, I accept that they are quite happy that the proposals on the other two levels of government are satisfying democratic demands. I think that is important. Especially taking into account what, again, Ken Owen said in the leading article. He was taking a really strong position on the basis of what is tolerable as far as democracy is concerned. As far as the local level of government is concerned, I want to emphasise again that that particular part is a proposal. Like the rest. And obviously, that can change as well. We didn't work on it on the Constitutional Development side. That particular proposal came from our colleagues at the Department of Provincial Affairs. And one of its authors was Tertius Delport. They drafted that part of the proposal. So at Constitutional Development, we didn't involve ourselves by contacts on that subject. And I'm not trying to stand away from that, but what I'm saying is, I can't stand in to the extent that however I tried to work myself into that subject.
RM The way in which they explained it when there were discussions on it was to emphasise the point that in a situation like ours, there are obviously a number of ways to look at how one can find a balance of interests at the local level of government. And although it might seem to be a very extraordinary - at the appearance of it, if you look at the substance of the argument, e.g., what might have been the argument - and on the one side they argued, well, it could be a straight one man, one vote solution. Or, on the other side, you could put all the emphasis on the question of valued interests or whatever you may call it. They tried to find a combination of the two. In other words, to ensure that there is a form of power-sharing. The argument, obviously, could be that otherwise, squatters can control.
POM That's ...
RM The outcome.
POM Of one man, one vote?
RM - as a solution or the outcome but I think that the problem that it raises was this one.
POM But the politics of it seem to be - it would appear to be very, very bad politics because it says that the privileged, i.e., property owners, are more ...
RM Yes, but it has got to be introduced in such a way that it's not going to prejudice certain communities. Obviously one can't tolerate that. That's obvious. And then we will have to find a way out on that particular subject. But on the other hand, I would also say that I think one must ensure that the balance of interests has been maintained. And if this is not the right formula, then one must certainly find another formula. That would be the way we are looking at it. Interestingly, but I think Tertius told you that, they have a similar type of government system at the moment in Cape Province.
POM Yes. He had mentioned that.
RM Whereas in the Transvaal that sounds like that would work only with Cape Province.
RM Well, I don't think any document or any agreement can move violence to stop. There are also people there who can do that. And surely the emphasis or the aim of the Peace Accord is not to stop violence. Or, it doesn't mean that the acceptance of it is that we are going to stop the violence immediately through the Peace Accord. I think all parties concerned so far have a realistic approach about what can and cannot work. But if you look at the mechanisms introduced in Chapter 63 of the Peace Accord, I think a worthwhile exercise was put in that to try and achieve what is hopefully possible, namely, a commission of inquiry, a judicial commission of inquiry, with the emphasis that the composition must ensure credibility through the appointments that are made to it. Secondly, through the Peace Secretariat, that is also a body of statutory proportion. And thirdly, through the Peace Committee that means continuing involvement by the parties concerned in the Peace Accord. And through those mechanisms, I think, one has the best possible chance. Because what is underlying the violence, what is at the root of it, is politics. There are many other factors, also, but basically it boils down to politics. And that means that to our minds, it's absolutely necessary to start off and to continue with the political party involvement in the whole process and how to deal with it. And for that reason, I would argue that I think the Peace Accord has provided the best possible chance to find ways to stop violence.
POM Two questions on the violence itself. Increasingly in the West, or at least in the United States, the violence of the past year has been characterised as being ethnic violence, violence between Xhosa and Zulu. And to the extent that The Economist about five weeks ago said the violence between Xhosa and Zulu was in nature no different than the violence between Serb and Croatian in the sense that both were ethnically based. Is that a characterisation you would agree with? Or an assessment that you would agree with?
RM It's not only ethnic.
RM It's not only ethnic.
POM It's not only ethnic.
RM No. I don't think one can say that at all. But, one thing is sure. What became clear over the last year is that unless we have a constitutional solution to which people feel accommodated, especially the Zulus in this case, you're not going to find an answer. We won't have a solution. So whether it's based on, let's say, simple ethnicity or whether it's based on political drive as far as a particular grouping or political party is concerned, it's probably a mix of a number of things. But the end result is that we will have to try and accommodate the various communities. Otherwise we are not going to find peace.
POM Well, I want you to relate that answer to another part of it. And that is the pervasive belief that we found talking to members of the ANC, and we must have talked to about 15 members of the National Executive and about 10 members of the Working Group, and there was a pervasive, total belief that the government itself was behind the violence, that it orchestrated it and that it participated in it. And that it had, in fact, this double agenda of negotiations on the one hand and a campaign to undermine the ANC on the other. And what I'm interested in is how that view got expressed in the peace negotiations, where the ANC (I did not talk to Thabo Mbeki, so that's the only one I didn't talk to) but how that view got expressed when that is what the ANC believes is behind the violence. That it isn't so much the Inkatha and the ANC struggle, or is the government helping Inkatha or whatever. And you would have the Inkatha saying is the ANC out to create a one-party state and get rid of all political opposition. With such diverse views and almost irreconcilable views of what the root cause of the violence is, how did you proceed? In terms of process, how did you get past that hump?
RM It wasn't expressed.
POM It wasn't faced?
RM No. It wasn't expressed in the working groups by the ANC.
POM OK, then, how was it expressed?
RM No, it was not expressed at all. But what we did in the working groups was to attend to or to address the requirements that one would look at to assure the democratic society. Like, for instance, a code of political conduct applicable to all political groups.
POM So your approach was more or less to set a list of objectives of what you wanted to achieve.
RM It was a realistic approach.
POM Um-hmm. OK.
RM But what I'm saying is, that the ANC didn't raise this in the working groups, for one or other reason.
POM Well, I'm sure the government is, but let me ask the question anyway, I mean, is there an acute awareness in the government of the depth of ANC feeling on this matter, that it is the government that is behind the violence and that it's this that sparks this violence?
RM I really must say, it is our perception that this is well-organised propaganda. And everybody knows it's not the government. That there might be individuals somewhere around, be it in the security forces or outside the security forces. It's a possibility. And that we'll never deny. And for that reason, we have also instituted this judicial commission of inquiry through an act of Parliament to provide for proper investigations into this. And we have invited people to bring forward the information, the evidence so that this can be investigated. And the ANC has now decided to co-operate with us. Whereas three months ago, two months ago, they were still advocating in favour of a so-called independent international commission of inquiry, they have now, also, promoted themselves to this judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the violence and intimidation. In other words, what I'm saying is, I think this is an acceptance of the structures that have been created, have also been created by the Peace Accord, on how allegations of violence should be dealt with. And that is the only thing that is possible, for it to be investigated. But everybody knows that there is no involvement by government.
POM By the government? Sorry, yes.
RM In the question of violence at all. Individuals may be.
POM So, will they ...?
RM We certainly would like to sort that out, like anybody else in the country. But to make a simple allegation that the government is behind the violence, because it has a double agenda, is simply nonsense. The trouble is, it's taken that seriously.
POM Yes it's a belief. Do you think it's uttered on their part as propaganda to somebody like Patricia and me but that they don't really believe it? Or whether it's propaganda or not, it's the belief that's held? And it is one of their operating assumptions, for example, in their drive for an interim government. I mean, essentially, if I understand their argument now, is that there's only one obstacle to negotiations, and that's the government. And therefore, the government has to go.
RM Well, that's a clear political propaganda you see, in view of that argument in favour of an interim government. Absolutely. I mean, again, wherever there are factual, material available accounts of possible involvement, then we have to ensure that it's been eliminated, the problem has been eliminated altogether. And that commitment we have given.
POM That, sorry, will ...?
RM That commitment we have given. We've invited all South Africans from all spectrums to come forward providing information, so that we could follow this up, so that we could have a proper investigation by this statutory body. And that body is not going to consist of government people, it's going to be a judicial inquiry body, a commission of enquiry.
POM Now, the Department of Defence has always been a special target of all kinds of allegations over the last number of years. Are you considering taking what I might call affirmative action, taking the lead in conducting a look into the operations of the Defence Department to ensure that there are no units that might be operating illegally outside the terms of reference of government or whatever, so that you can allay these fears? As I say, whether they're real, true, or not true is in one sense irrelevant as they're very deeply rooted.
RM I think it's in the interest of the Defence Force as well as in the interests of the political situation to ensure that. It's in the interest of the Defence Force in the first instance itself. The Defence Force wants, as far as I know, wants to be a proud body which all South Africans accept and respect. And it can only fulfil that role if it has a clear image of itself, by its own members and a clear image in terms of the population at large. So, what I'm saying is, that is absolutely important in the first place, as far as I'm concerned.
POM But it would be a case of you taking the initiative. I suppose that's what I mean, this is something you will take the initiative on.
POM Yes. Back to a couple of things more basic and less controversial. This question may sound naive but I ask it continually because I'm always surprised by the variety of answers I get to it. And that is that when the negotiators for all the parties finally do get around a negotiating table, how would you define the problem they will be there to negotiate? Now, for example, you've those who say the problem is one of racial domination of the black majority by the white minority. Those who say it's two competing nationalisms, black and white. Those who will say, yes, there are racial differences but that within each racial group you have significant ethnic differences which if not attended to will lead to conflict in the future. You have those who say it's about distribution of resources, privileged versus non-privileged and the advantaged versus the disadvantaged. If you were to define for me the essence of it, not what must be done to alleviate it but what the problem itself it is?
RM I would say the problem is defined by all that can ensure democracy and the resolution to the conflict or the potential for conflict in the country, be that conflict political, ethnic, or whatever.
POM Well, to what ...?
RM I think there's a simple definition of the problem. And it's that we have to go and sit down to find a constitutional model that can achieve those two goals.
POM I'm asking the question partly because in a book that was published recently by a man named Donald Horowitz, and I don't know whether you're aware of it, yes? He argued forcibly that South Africa was a divided society in the classical usage of the term. And that therefore only certain forms of government would mean stability and order and fairness in the future. And when we talk to people about ethnicity, we found among progressive whites who would say, yes, it is a problem but, no, it wasn't talked about because you're accused of being a racist or as being an apologist for the government if you did. In your own view, how have you found among your colleagues and your acquaintances, how have you found the question of ethnicity to be addressed or acknowledged?
RM I think it becomes clear if you look at our model or our proposal that we have on the table. You will recognise that we are not addressing ethnicity in a structural way. And that is the approach. And that to my mind is the correct approach. If ethnicity, if people preferred to play a role on an ethnic basis, then the avenues must be open to do that on a free and voluntary basis, on the basis of free association and not on the basis of structures, as it were, in the box. And that is the basic difference between the past and the new, what we are working on. The National Party is the best example of it. I mean, it opened its ranks for membership among all South Africans. It finally said, good-bye to white political representation structures. And equally so for all other groups in the country. In other words, we are not looking any longer at representing the so-called white minority in parliament. We're looking at representing particular values and principles in parliament through which we might have the support of more blacks than whites as a party. So the party becomes the vehicle for people who would like to associate in terms of a voluntary basis with those values and not on an ethnic note. And nowhere in the model will you find any direct link between ethnicity as such and the structural provision for an ethnic representation. That is why in the first chamber we are talking about direct representation and in the second chamber about regional representation. And even if minority units want to have participation or representation there, then they can do it out of their own will through political parties as instruments to do so.
POM The question of an interim government, again, the ANC sees their case as being immensely bolstered by the fact that the South African government provided assistance to the opposition parties in Namibia, despite having signed a UN declaration to be impartial electoral administrators. Do you think that the National Peace Commission might find that the procedures that you used to arrive at consensus on this agreement might be procedures that could be used in a transitional arrangement?
RM You mean the procedure as such?
RM Well, what we're looking at is to address the subject of transitional arrangements at the multi-party conference stage. And we've boiled down to more or less the same procedure, although the composition will be different and so forth. In essence, the point must be addressed through negotiations. And I can almost say that anything is also possible for negotiations as far as the outcome is concerned, in terms of agreement on such transitional arrangements.
POM Except that this government would never - it's a question of what the ANC's looking for, for the government to resign and become part of an all-party government is simply a non-starter, I would assume.
RM Well, I think we're talking about possibilities in between the two parameters or unacceptables, at a number of possibilities in between. On the one side, an interim government based on the idea that the existing governmental structures be abolished, that the existing constitution be abolished. That is unacceptable to us. On the other side, near co-option is totally unacceptable to the ANC, of course. So, somewhere in between, I think the answer lies. And if the parties are willing, then no doubt they can find an answer. There are a number of options.
POM One last quick question. Over the last couple of years, we've noticed a great emphasis on let's get on with the future, let's build a new South Africa. But there seems to be no acknowledgment of the great injustice of the wrong which apartheid was. No sense of the white community acknowledging that wrong and apologising for it. It was just like you or your colleagues. Do you think this is unusual or that, you know, whites just are unable to face up to it yet or that they think that, well, they made a mistake but they didn't do anything wrong? Or do you think people believe they did wrong but can't acknowledge it?
RM I think one must try and distinguish. I've worked this through in my own mind on a number of times. And it seems to me that one must try and distinguish between two facets of the thing. On the one side, the so-called grand apartheid concept which basically boiled down to a constitutional solution. A proposed constitutional solution, namely, the homeland policy. In grand apartheid, to my mind, the basic intent, I think the driving motivation behind it was inherently to find a constitutional solution. I mean, long before some African states became independent, one can argue for that reason that the subject of political rights for blacks was addressed in South Africa, long before most African countries became independent. That was the case for it, through the homelands idea. So, I would say, taking that into the context of the African situation of the fifties, that was probably not such a way-behind idea but a proactive one. The model didn't work for a number of reasons, basically economic reasons but also others. The whole concept of over-emphasising ethnicity in that model was another problem, and so forth. But I would say the heart of the idea was not to discriminate or ensure long-term deprivation of blacks but to ensure or to seek a solution to the constitutional problem. That is the one. The other is, of course, petty apartheid, which was based on racism and discrimination. It might not have been seen so at the time it was introduced but it eventually developed into that. And for that part, one must say there were a number of negative things, a number of wrongs. And surely we will have to address those and I'm sure that we will rectify them, through proper reconstruction programmes especially in the socio-economic area, like education, health, housing, whatever. And I would argue that we are doing that already, in other words, admitting that those were total wrongs, and doing what's necessary as soon as possible to create a more balanced situation.
POM OK. I could go on, but I won't even try! Thank you very much for the time. I'll be back around in January. Maybe I'll bug you again when we might have a little more time.
RM As I said last time, we'll work on it.
POM But I really appreciate you taking the time today.
RM It's important.