About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Sep 1991: Desai, Barney

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Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Mr Desai? I'm sorry for being late calling. I had difficulty getting through to your number

BD     I was wondering what happened to you.

POM     I had just called your home a moment ago to check on whether I had the right number or not but I got cut off for some reason and decided to try this number again. You know what I'm going to do? Let me start off first by asking you a question I have asked of many of the people I've interviewed and get a slightly different response to on every occasion and that is: how do you define the problem the negotiators face when they sit down at the negotiating table? Some people have said the problem is one of the racial domination of the majority by the minority, some say it's competition between broad forms of white nationalism and black nationalisms, some say yes it's about race but that within each racial category you have significant ethnic cleavages, some say it's about the mal-distribution of resources. How would you define it?

BD     Well I think it's a question of the transfer of power and I think that the obstacle that we face here is that obviously the regime is in control, full control, and is trying to bring about changes from above and the liberation movement players are the weaker presently, but not objectively, the weaker parties in the same negotiating process. And because of that kind of situation it is quite clear that the regime here wishes to maintain control of the process of change to suit its own agenda. Mr de Klerk made this quite clear in the Financial Times in May of this year when he clearly said that it is the intention of his party that they would have a hand on the tiller of government for a very long time to come. We've seen with the unveiling of their proposals now that he talks about 50 years.

POM     He talks about 50 years?

BD     50 years and that these proposals are designed to safeguard the future in so far as they are concerned for 50 years. Of course the question is what future is he talking about and what are we talking about? The liberation movement is talking about the democratisation of the country. He talks about the democratisation of the country but now we see what his democratisation means. It means that the democracy is being redefined by him and his government in terms of emasculating the right of self-determination of the majority of the people by a minority of something like between 10 and 15% of the population who would paralyse government on his present proposals. So the struggle really is about how much give there's going to be on their side, on the regime's side, in respect of our demands. Presently it looks as if we are heading for, on their proposals, a government of paralysis. And if you consider that there are very urgent social questions to be settled in this country then it will mean that even if you gain a majority you would be paralysed from doing anything about it because the minority won't allow it. That's if we have to accept his constitution. And that's what the struggle has become about now. We are not certainly going to be heading for acceptance of that kind of constitution.

POM     Last year you have said that before the PAC could participate in negotiations there would have to be an undertaking regarding a Constituent Assembly and also an undertaking regarding the distribution of resources.

BD     Yes. That is precisely why - we had in mind of course that his agenda was to maintain the privileged position of a minority in this country and we wanted to open the question of a new constitution to the broader democratic will of the people and that's why we suggested a Constituent Assembly because we knew what was on his agenda and we felt that if there is and when there is a one person one vote election for a Constituent Assembly to make a constitution then at least that constitution will approximate the demands of the majority of the people of this country.

POM     Does that still remain a non-negotiable demand?

BD     Both the PAC and the ANC and AZAPO are well settled now on that demand, that we want a Constituent Assembly.

POM     And this is not something that there will be any give on?

BD     This is why we're calling the Patriotic Front.

POM     Yes I was going to ask you about that.

BD     The Patriotic Front, the baseline for participation in the Patriotic Front is the acceptance of a Constituent Assembly as the modus operandi for transferring power to the people.

POM     Is that the single requirement for participating?

BD     That is the single requirement for participating. Those who of course, amongst our people, who have operated apartheid structures, must also finally declare that they are putting their backs up against that kind of past participation and collaboration with this regime and they now accept that the Constituent Assembly is the way forward.

POM     Say, for example, in the case of people - ?

BD     You see we have been approaching homeland leaders and we've said, you can come into this Patriotic Front Conference if you accept a Constituent Assembly and you're prepared to disown the structures that you've been operating on behalf of the government.

POM     Disowning meaning which?

BD     It means rejecting them for a new dispensation.

POM     Say, for example, in the case of someone like General Holomisa?

BD     You take Holomisa for example in the Transkei, they're talking about re-incorporation which means the concept of Bantustan must go. So have Ciskei also talked about re-incorporation. What Bophuthatswana is going to finally do I do not know as yet but it seems that they may be coming close to the idea as well. Our proposal for a Constituent Assembly is that it should be in a unified state which obviously means that we reject the Bantustan structures. Now if these chaps want to come in to the Patriotic Front Conference they must do likewise and reject the structures which they have been operating under.

POM     I want to go for a minute to the violence which has been almost endemic since the time I interviewed you last year. I interviewed you I think on the 9th of August just at the time when there had been an outbreak of violence in Port Elizabeth but hadn't yet spread to the Transvaal. Increasingly in the West this violence has been portrayed as tribal violence, as being Xhosa versus Zulu to the extent that The Economist, I think about 6 weeks ago, ran an editorial in which it said that the violence between Xhosa and Zulu was in its essence no different than the violence between Serbs and Croatians, i.e. that the underpinning of it was ethnic. Do you think that is an accurate characterisation of the violence?

BD     I would reject that characterisation of the violence in this country as being absolutely wrong. We hold the view, together with the ANC and AZAPO, that the violence, the major part of it has been orchestrated by the state. There is clear evidence that this is so. The killings for example on the trains, where people have been indiscriminately killed by gunmen who don't utter a word of the local language at all, presumably because they can't speak the language, that they are mercenaries and fire at people at will in a train in Soweto, a number of trains in Soweto, or at Jeppe Station, killing people at random without even ascertaining whether they are Zulu speaking or Xhosa speaking, to me is not an indication of ethnic violence but a very dark plot to destabilise the liberation movement and to make the people fight amongst themselves. It is contrived. Much of it is contrived.

     At the same time I do not say that the element of hegemonistic claims by different organisations have not contributed in fact to it as well. But as the situation stands now only last week, one week prior to the calling of the Peace Accord, we had the opening of gunfire on Inkatha supporters at Thokoza. Nobody knows who these people are, no arrests have been made, the ANC disclaims that they are responsible and it would not be in their interest in fact to do so. And then from that particular township the violence erupts in Alexandra, bombs go off in Soweto, more people are shot at another railway station. No, this is quite clearly orchestrated, quite clearly designed to derail the process of democratisation in this country. So when elements within security services which are hell bent on doing so, we have seen in the Inquest of the Chief in Natal, in KwaZulu, who was assassinated, that the assassination and the assassins came directly from the local police station. That evidence has been given at the Inquest. Therefore, I would reject the bald assertion that this is part of the ethnic violence on the scale that it is occurring in this country and any comparisons with Yugoslavia to me is really way out.

POM     Mr Mandela for the better part of this year has been accusing the government of having a double agenda. That is on the one hand trying to undermine in particular his organisation in the townships and on the other kind of holding out the olive branch of negotiations. Do you believe that this government is pursuing a double agenda of that nature?

BD     I would go along with Mr Mandela's assessment. I ask myself who benefits from this kind of violence? Surely it's the regime that benefits from it. They show blacks as having a propensity to kill each other at random and in the process project themselves as enlightened, stable, and the only ones capable of running the country. The liberation movement are the forces of darkness because they can't even get their act together, they're fighting amongst each other. So the regime is the recipient of glad tidings in this kind of situation. I'm not quite sure whether one can say that Mr de Klerk and his Cabinet are sitting down in a Machiavellian way directing these operations. There is a case to be made for saying that there are very powerful elements within the security services and within the right wing who are responsible for this kind of violence.

POM     I'm asking you who's responsible for the violence in the context of a statement that you made to me last year, and by the way did you receive a copy of your transcript?

BD     Yes I did.

POM     OK, good. You said "The ANC has been operating on the principle that the PAC doesn't exist and the ANC tries to denigrate every form of opposition to them as being insignificant to them, of no consequence. Wherever the PAC has made its presence felt there have been clashes with the ANC. The ANC have done it to AZAPO, to BCM, to PAC, to Inkatha, I must say I have great reservations about the commitment of the ANC to democracy." Do you still think that the ANC is trying to stifle other liberation movements?

BD     No, I think our interview occurred before August.

POM     That's right it was August 9th.

BD     That was just before the terrible eruptions occurred on the Witwatersrand. I think since then we have a far more subdued ANC who recognise that these hegemonistic plans cannot succeed in this country and that that is not the way forward. Since then, since our last interview they in fact have sued for some kind of united front and as a result of what we are now engaged in the violence between us has subsided considerably. So there has been a change of heart, a change of thinking on the part of the leadership and it has filtered down to the grassroots now so that we are not experiencing this kind of violence on the ground. There are still isolated pockets of such inter-party rivalry in the country.

POM     In a similar vein you had talked about the ANC last year as being exclusive of trying to turn the process into a two way one between itself and the government. Do you think they have now also given up on that approach and have adopted a more inclusive, multi-party approach to negotiations?

BD     Yes I think they have. I think quite clearly now it does appear from all the commentaries that I have read, the assertion we were making last year about an NP/ANC alliance was something that was very really thought about by both parties. But then I think the regime had different ideas on this matter and probably decided in its own wisdom that to conduct the negotiating process only between itself and the ANC would be to exclude other parties and create instability in this country and they decided on something else. They decided on the process to weaken the ANC, which they have. The ANC is a much subdued party now. It's not the ANC of last year. You know only last year they were calling us phantoms and this year we are a principal party in the Patriotic Front.

POM     What do you think of accounts for it? What do you think accounts for their change in attitude? What do you think accounts for the ANC's change in attitude over the year?

BD     Well I think that when the Inkatha/ANC trouble erupted in the Transvaal they must have recognised that they are not as powerful as they thought they were, because all hell broke loose there and if they were to pursue a policy of confrontation, which we advised them against - you recall I spoke to you about our advice against them having a stayaway aimed at Inkatha - and we proved correct because only 4 weeks later this thing occurred. We offered to be facilitators in that particular matter but our facilitation was not looked kindly upon and I think that the violence disrupted the ANC's own programme of establishing its structures in the country and this has brought about a revision of their attitudes on whether they can really go it alone.

POM     And it's your feeling that at this point they have concluded that they can't go it alone?

BD     I think they've now come to the conclusion that they do need a broader formation in order to achieve the process of democratisation.

POM     I asked you this question last year, and I'm asking again because the answer wasn't quite clear to me: you have Inkatha saying time and again that the ANC is out to create a one-party state and wants to destroy the major opposition to it, i.e. the Zulu nation. Do you think the ANC wants to establish a one-party state or that it is committed to multi-party democracy?

BD     I think there's been rapid movement on the question of the ANC considering itself the alternative government, because implicit in that was the one-party state if they think of themselves exclusively as the alternative government. They don't think that way any more. They're increasingly committing themselves to a multi-party democracy. And I think that there's quite clearly been changes in attitudes, as I said changes in attitude which means that they do now realise that they can't go it alone and have committed themselves to a broader front.

POM     The Patriotic Front seems to be the major initiative of the PAC in the last year, would that be correct?

BD     I would say it's a joint initiative.

POM     It's a joint initiative with?

BD     With the ANC.

POM     With the ANC. The purpose here is that you bring all organisations who are committed to a Constituent Assembly together.

BD     And we would then engage government on this demand.

POM     And that this becomes a united front that spearheads ?

BD     Something like that. A united front specifically for the purpose of achieving those goals.

POM     This is a question that refers to the evolution of democracy in Africa and if you go back to 1967, I think with one small exception, there has been no freely elected transfer of power from one freely elected government to another freely elected government. Either the countries have become one-party states or one party enjoyed such an overwhelming advantage that it made elections routine. What do you think might make South Africa different?

BD     The difference between South Africa and the countries that you refer to in Africa is that there is no overwhelming party that is able to swallow up the rest, that there is no one party in this country that is able to dictate absolutely the terms of the transfer of power. In the rest of Africa that has not been the position, there have been major parties who have swallowed up the others when it came to transfer of power. The difference here is that we have no major political grouping in the country that can do that. It's probably also got something to do with the ethnic diversity of this country and the fact that the ethnic divide is quite large, viz. Africans (black), whites, 'coloureds', Indians, etc.

POM     I want you to talk a bit about that for a moment and let me give you a little bit of background to my question. There has been a book come out recently by a man named Donald Horowitz who is a very well regarded expert on divided societies, has done a lot of work in Asia and in Africa and he argues that South Africa is a deeply divided society in the classical sense of the term and that you must develop governmental structures that take into account this division if you are to preclude the possibility of violence in the future. Now when I talk to, say, liberal whites and ask them about ethnic differences they will say, yes there is an ethnic factor but not it's not brought up in conversation usually because you stand to put yourself in a position where you might be accused of being an apologist for the government or as being a racist kind of thing, the government was right they just got the answer wrong. So as I say the issue is not really talked about, not brought to the fore and given the attention it should be given. In your view how significant is the ethnic factor and must it be accommodated in a constitution, again in a way that tries to forestall the possibility of violent eruptions in the future?

BD     No, well our policy is quite clear on that. We have from our very foundation put as our policy objectives the creation of an African nation. The PAC believes that the ethnic divide has to be dealt with in a very radical way.

POM     The ethnic divide?

BD     The ethnic divide has to be dealt with in a radical way, a radical departure from what we have experienced here over many hundreds of years now. We want to build an African nation. We want to get away from group exclusiveness, that's why we are against minority rights, entrenchment of minority rights as a foundation. We feel that the only way we can achieve that is to devise a constitutional settlement in this country that recognises the rights of human beings, that is to say a Bill of Rights which guarantees human rights rather than ethnic rights or race rights or whatever you call it, because we feel that to do so would stultify, would break our aspirations to build this African nation in this country. I can't particularly see why there is any objection to constitutional arrangements being made to guarantee human rights as such, race rights or minority rights. That's how I view it.

POM     I think what I'm getting at is in other countries that a Bill of Rights has been in itself insufficient to deal with the question of ethnicity. I think my broader question is, is ethnicity a creation of whites? Is it an issue they throw in there to distort reality or to try to use it as a means of protecting their own privilege.

BD     Well that's how we see them. I think that's how I explained it to you that the process of change which they want to keep within their hands is solely designed to maintain their privileged position, to maintain the status quo. They want to maintain the status quo by giving us the idea of a figment of democracy occurring, but they still want to keep their situation entrenched, really, and practically speaking because they have so much economic power vested exclusively in the hands of this particular group of people, effectively they will be quite powerful without having to entrench their ethnic rights in a constitution. Economically speaking they will be calling the shots for a long time to come and that will of necessity demand that all groups really get together on a sensible basis as one nation. I know that in some cases one is looking at a situation exclusively in South African terms and that there are examples internationally where things haven't worked out but we have such a bad history of entrenched racialism that we can't go into a constitutional dispensation that even pays lip service to that kind of government.

POM     Do you think the National Party has at this point a clearly set out objective in terms of what it wants to get out of negotiations and a clearly defined strategy for getting there?

BD     Patrick, I didn't hear that - I've just got something in my throat. Can you repeat that again?

POM     Yes. Do you think the National Party has a clearly set out objective in terms of what it wants to achieve at negotiations and a clearly set out strategy for getting there?

BD     Yes. They've quite clearly spelled this out with their proposals last week, or ten days ago, which was unveiled at their congress. But they are intent on doing what I've just been speaking to you about, attempting to maintain the status quo with the mirage of democracy being there, offered to us.

POM     And if that is their objective, what is their strategy for achieving it?

BD     That is their objective, but finally the objective reality of our situation won't permit that to occur because the changes occurring from top downwards and dictated by virtue of the crisis that we're going through and they want to somehow try and reach a settlement which partly addresses the crisis, not fully, and we will continue to be in a crisis situation if we don't make a radical break with the past. They want to stick to too much of the past and these proposals that they put forward, constitutionalising a coalition, is unheard of in this world. A coalition is a coming together of parties because they don't have sufficient majority, or they have common interests. They can't come about as a result of a constitutional law which says there must be coalition.

POM     So do I hear you saying that you are not necessarily against coalitions as long as they emerge out of a voluntary process but that you would oppose them if they are mandated in any way?

BD     That's right, yes.

POM     Do you think the National Party has yet accepted the inevitability of black majority? I don't mean a black government there, I mean a non-racial majority rule where the majority of the people in the government would reflect the population, i.e. be black?

BD     At the moment what they have done is they've accepted the idea of majority rule with the majority being ineffective to carry out its mandate. They want a democracy where you can't say to the bad guys, your time's up. They want a permanence of their own position.

POM     I'm struck by one thing there, the National Party or the government always talk about the sharing of power, whereas you and people in the ANC talk about a transfer of power. There doesn't appear to me to be a common understanding yet as to what this process is about. There are two very different concepts.

BD     Yes obviously there are. There obviously are. The Nationalist Party's democratic credentials is really much at issue. The very fact that they don't want to accept a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution shows that they're not keen on the concept of democracy.

POM     But they're also mistaken in believing - in your mind there's no doubt that what we have here is a transfer of power?

BD     That is so. That is our objective. I mean that is the issue, the transfer of power. How that power is exercised is a subsidiary question. How it deals with the question of human rights is a major question. Power can be transferred and it can still not be inimical to human rights. This is our problem.

POM     You're still the voice of opposition to the idea of an interim government?

BD     Well what we're doing at the moment is we have the idea of a transitional authority of a limited duration that will look after the conduct the Constituent Assembly elections on a fair and free basis. We do not envisage running the country or anything like that. That's where we differ with the ANC. I must say at this moment we are work-shopping our different proposals on interim government on the APC, Multi-party Conference, and we hopefully hope to present to the PF Conference when it meets next month a unified approach to the question.

POM     I want to go back to this thing of consensus politics. Last year you said that if the ANC gives up its stand on a Constituent Assembly it is going into consensus politics and once you have done this you have emasculated your ability to articulate the feelings of your own people. A number of surveys would suggest that a majority of people across racial lines would find an ANC/National Party government, or a government with those two as being the main partners, as an acceptable outcome. Would that be an acceptable outcome to the PAC?

BD     First of all the premise that these surveys are in any way accurate is a matter in question. These surveys have been conducted by telephone. In a country where you have 21 million people who don't even have electricity one wonders how accurate that survey can be of telephoning people to find out what their views are on this whole question. No, I think the surveys are very much in doubt, but even if one was to take these doubtful surveys as some kind of indication I would like to pose a rhetorical question to you - how is it that a survey a month ago, a month or more, found that 41% of the black population had a very warm feeling towards the PAC and might even vote for it?

POM     This Markinor?

BD     Yes. You see I don't think we can go on those. I don't think those approximate anything near the accuracy that they do in established democracies. After all we have nine million people living in shacks, sixteen million people living below the breadline. between seven to eight million people unemployed, three million children not at school. How are you going to make an accurate survey of how those people feel and whether you have the basis even on a negotiated basis of a stable democracy emerging from that? With the best of will, even if we had the proper democratic processes taking shape in this country, we are still nevertheless going to have a situation where the incoming government is going to be faced with enormous problems. That's where I see possibly a coalition government coming into being.

POM     Would this be more of a national government of reconciliation?

BD     It would be a national government to deal with economic questions. This word 'reconciliation' has been bandied around such a lot particularly by people who still want to be top dogs but want to 'reconcile'.

POM     I was going to ask you just as a side question but it has gone up in asking more frequently, I'm struck by the fact that the whites almost to a person say, let's get on with the future, let's all be reconciled, let's build a new South Africa and there's no acknowledgement of the past, there's no acknowledgement of the wrong that was done and certainly no apology. Do you think that before reconciliation, in the real sense of the term, can begin that there must be this acknowledgement by the white community of the wrong done to blacks?

BD     Or a commitment to undo the wrong, to bring about some justice, a reconciliation, peace without justice is unenduring. It cannot last, it's mere verbiage, it's words. It might soothe the liberal conscience but it does nothing for the man who's living in grinding poverty and in abominable conditions. It must have some meaning. That's why we coupled our Constituent Assembly demand with the question of redistribution. You see these problems have to be addressed here.

POM     In your view this is the basic question, that political power without fundamental changes and the economic structure is almost meaningless?

BD     Yes. Living in a fool's paradise. It can't last. Whoever signs any accords or negotiations on the future of this country on those conditions that nothing's going to be done and everything's going to be left to the free market and we're all now going to be reconciled and gung-ho, we'll go ahead and so on, it's really pretty childish.

POM     If you were to look at both the ANC and the PAC over the last year from this perspective, or I mean from over here, it would appear that the ANC has followed a very zigzag course, that it didn't either appear to have a coherent strategy other than a set of demands and it's course was uncertain and somewhat confused. One, would you agree with that assessment and, two, how would you compare and contrast the evolution of the PAC with the ANC over the last year?

BD     Well I agree with what you say about the ANC. I think in addition you could say that in many respects they were out-manoeuvred by the regime in all the agreements that they have made. I mean you take for example the question of release of prisoners. Having agreed and having worked out elaborate indemnity things, documents and so forth and so on, their own prisoners still had to go on hunger strike in order to get their release despite this agreement, whereas the PAC said we will not sign any indemnity forms, nor will our exiles return under any special dispensation by the government. We've had our prisoners being released without signing any form and now the UNHR is coming and there's a pseudo amnesty operating whereby you don't have to declare that you've committed any crimes or whatever and you're allowed to return. So in terms of policy we've certainly proved to be consistent and to be in many ways correct in our approach. The PAC's evolution of course will continue, perhaps now that the ANC is in some unity with us it might find itself less rigid about approaching the transfer of power and the changing of this country fundamentally to make it democratic. It might well co-operate with the ANC to an extent that it might not have done had it been on its own. I see there is some evolution taking place on our side as well in concert with the rest, in concert with the general population as a whole. Whereas the ANC were doing things all on their own, not consulting anybody, with the arrogance that they returned home and the international prestige that they had and still probably in some quarters do have, they thought it was just a question of a one-off situation between them and the government and the realities have now dawned on them. There is greater consultation among our people, there is greater feeling of a need to discuss which direction we are taking. In the course of that the PAC can't be impervious to what the majority feel. If the majority, if the views aren't heard, what we're trying to do in the Patriotic Front Conference is to get the general viewpoint and if it's necessary the PAC will have to take cognisance of what the general viewpoint is and not specifically what a player's viewpoint was who had the pretensions of being the alternative government.

POM     I sense in you a much more benign attitude. I don't know how to pronounce that word! But a better attitude towards the ANC than last year.

BD     Last year things were rather tight here. They were rather acrimonious. We were making criticisms because we had grounds for doing so. We accused them of operating on the basis of an NP/ANC alliance. We were right. They were trying to do that. We accused them of not consulting with the people. We were right. They did not consult with the people. Now it's not a question of being more benign, but being happy that they have changed course and they are in greater consultation with the people and they're more realistic about the shape of a future government. So we are happy that developments have taken place, perhaps to no large extent because of the criticism of the PAC. Many of our criticisms of their actions were voiced at their Consultative Conference last December.

POM     Do you think that some of the evolution in the ANC's less dogmatic positions is a result of the internals, the people who were at the forefront of the UDF over the years gaining more significant places in the organisation, making their voice felt?

BD     No I think that's only very marginal.

POM     You do? So you think

BD     I think that the other factors, the Inkatha/ANC clashes, the inept way the negotiations have been conducted with the government, the falling off of support for the ANC, the fumbling that you were talking about, created some sort of a credibility gap and from a high point their appeal to the general populace has gone down very considerably and that has brought about a greater, a more realistic approach.

POM     What about Inkathagate? It kind of blew in like a whirlwind and you could either believe it was one of the most significant events to take place in terms of the movement towards democracy or you could believe that it was an over-hyped media event. Do you think it was a small turning point, that it has had a significant impact the way things would be done?

BD     It certainly has had an impact. It certainly has caused the Inkatha Freedom Party great damage. But it is not something that most people are surprised at because Inkatha and Chief Buthelezi were operating after all in the KwaZulu Authority which is a quasi-government authority. So the fact that they were giving some money to any particular trade union or party was just something that many people expected was occurring in any event. But it did give the ANC a new moral high ground again and that's why it came out even more vigorously on the question of interim government.

POM     Do you think this has done lasting damage to Buthelezi or do you think that in a national context or even within KwaZulu itself?

BD     I think in the national and regional context. The consequences must be felt nationally and regionally. Even on a national basis, on this dubious poll, the following that Inkatha commands is very small.

POM     Yet over the weekend here the signing of the Peace Accord was

BD     Well I was there. I was there, Patrick. I mean you had 7000 fellows with sticks and so on. So what? I mean it's just an obscene display, nothing to do with reality. The ANC could have got 100 000 people there I'm sure.

POM     But it was presented as an occasion in which the three major players, Buthelezi, Mandela and de Klerk were signing this Accord.

BD     It was quite unnecessary. It was a bit of theatre. That's all I see.

POM     What I suppose I'm getting at is that many people have said who benefits from the violence? Well Inkatha benefits from the violence in terms of it made Mandela go and talk to them. It puts Buthelezi in the centre along with de Klerk and Mandela and in that sense he's saying, hey, I'm the third player here. If you think that his image has been hurt badly by Inkathagate does it not make him more desperate?

BD     Well I don't know about that. No that would be pure speculation. I wouldn't want to indulge in that kind of discussion, particularly in view of the fact that we don't want to appear antagonistic to Inkatha just because they are Inkatha, because they might have received some financial aid. There is a constituency that Mr Buthelezi represents. We in the PAC must recognise that our prime duty is to unite the oppressed and we mustn't be seen to be either rejecting or embracing him. That has been our position with Inkatha. We haven't rejected them or embraced them. Our lines of communication are still open to them.

POM     Yet they have chosen not to attend -

BD     I think we ought to keep it that way.

POM     Have they chosen not to attend the Patriotic Conference?

BD     They have chosen not to attend the Patriotic Front Conference, but we had discussions with them and we were going to have further discussions until they announced that they were not attending the Patriotic Front Conference. Those discussions are not as immediate as we would like to have had. We have put our discussions on ice for the moment but this does not preclude the PAC and the Inkatha Freedom Party again, at some future stage, discussing the future.

POM     Can I turn to the right wing. I've only got three or four more questions, and thank you for the time, three or four more questions. One is the right. Now I want to talk about it in terms of, one, the Conservative Party and two, the militant right. Last year there was a lot of concern that the Conservative Party was rapidly gaining support and that if there was a whites only election that it could possibly get more than 50% of the vote. One doesn't hear that this year. On the other hand the AWB got catapulted into the limelight in a far more striking fashion. I've got three questions: one is your assessment of the CP and whether or not it's beginning to marginalise itself by staying outside the process altogether, or does it pose a long term threat? Two, is right wing violence from organisations like the AWB likely to be an irritant, a major irritant perhaps bringing about the loss of life but not capable of reversing this process? And third, do you think Ventersdorp was used by de Klerk, since it came so quickly after Inkathagate, as a means of regaining the moral high ground, of showing that he would be as tough on right wingers as he was on anybody else?

BD     Well let's answer this question in a composite way. I don't want to go into the details of policy. There are groupings of them with varying commitments and so on, some of them go on hunger strike and con the world that they are on hunger strike when they're eating. But, yes, the Conservative Party must not be written off. It is a factor. It represents a large group of people in this country who have economic and other influence. It's potential for creating trouble in the country is always very great, very real. One must accept that. One must only hope that they can evolve towards accepting the new dispensation in time to come. As far as the other right wing groups are concerned, they always have the potential of going out in actions against blacks and I dare say they will continue to do so as they become more and more desperate.

POM     Ventersdorp?

BM     Yes. De Klerk regained the moral high ground there. This is the first time since 1922 that any white man has been shot by security police.

POM     The SACP/ANC alliance, you had a lot of hard words for that last year in terms of who is the driver and who is in the driving seat. When I was there, just before I left, some issue was being made of the fact that the ANC had not responded at all to the coup in the USSR and the rationale being that it didn't want to offend the SACP or they weren't quite clear where the SACP were on the issue so they just kept their mouths shut. Do you think that the ANC as one of the major political entities in the country should be required to make its positions on such things as that coup public? That a major political party can't simply get away when it comes to a major issue of international affairs by saying we're not going to comment. Do you think people have a right to know where they stand?

BD     Yes, yes I think so. I think one does.

POM     Do you think that the criticism of them for failing to make any statement really on the coup was a legitimate criticism?

BD     Yes I think so. The PAC made a statement. The PAC said we are committed to democracy, we've always been committed to democracy since our inception, we've been against totalitarian rule, we disapprove of a military coup taking place against the democratic will of the people of the Soviet Union. I think your attitudes to other countries is reflective of your attitudes to your own country. I think you can't isolate the two. More particularly in our case, more particularly since we've gone to the world and asked them not to support something that was obnoxious and abominable in our country. We've got world support like probably no other movement in the world has. Ought we then not to be cognisant of other people's problems? Ought we not to be cognisant of juntas frustrating the democratic will of people in other countries? So I say, yes they ought to have made a statement.

POM     Is this question of the alliance between the two becoming more of an issue?

BD     Well it seems to be, yes. Many people are quite anxious that there be a clear delineation between the two. How far they can really split because they are so intertwined it's difficult to see.

POM     If there were an election for a Constituent Assembly should the ANC at that point be required to sever itself from the SACP and for members to have to choose which party they wish to belong to?

BD     It's not for me to answer that question. That is a matter for the ANC entirely and it's appeal or otherwise will be reflected by who works for it, or the approval or disapproval will come from the persons who cast their ballot. I know some people think that the SACP is a millstone around the ANC's neck. I don't know, it's a matter for the ANC how they conduct themselves.

POM     I want to go back to the negotiations for a moment. One thing struck me this summer and that was the adamance with which the view was held that the government was behind the violence in the townships, either as the primary agent or as being involved in the perpetration of it themselves. One no longer hears about de Klerk being a man of integrity, the bloom is off the rose. Can you conduct successful negotiations in a situation where one party absolutely distrusts the other party?

BD     Well we never thought that Mr de Klerk was a man of integrity. As far as the PAC is concerned that is why we said we will not negotiate with an illegitimate regime. We want a Constituent Assembly. Our position has been quite clear on this question. It is now for the ANC to answer the question that you pose to me.

POM     Yes. These last questions, Mr Desai, are just some quotes that you gave last year that I'd like you just to expand on a little. Here you say "We don't mind the PAC being marginalised. We don't mind sticking to our guns. We don't mind sticking to our principles. We are not in this game for power. We are in this game for principle." That's an extraordinary statement coming from a political party.

BD     From a liberation movement, I beg your pardon.

POM     OK. So do you not see yourself yet constituted as a political party?

BD     No. We are a liberation movement. We are fostering the aspirations of an entire oppressed people and that's why I said to you what I did.

POM     Now, you say that many professional politicians would find it very -

BD     Well now look Patrick, I've been in this movement for 42 years. I didn't start off, maybe I started off as an idealistic young man, but it's been 40 years now.

POM     So you're still an idealistic person.

BD     It's a question of a commitment against grave injustice against your people. It's a national struggle and if your national aims are going to be terribly compromised by the things you might do with the opposition or with your oppressor then surely I'm entitled to have that view.

POM     Well it's an extraordinary view to hold after 40 years of being involved in what must have been a very difficult struggle. I mean there's no deviation from what you would have said when you were 18.

BD     Well maybe I meant what I said when I was 18. Somebody told me last night that if you meant what you did when you were younger, perhaps you would do even more when you're older.

POM     Two more. One you said "In spite of the fact that we are victims of colonial oppression we have not said let's drive the white people into the sea" and yet one slogan which is like a millstone around the PAC's neck is this slogan of "One settler one bullet". How would you explain that?

BD     Well you may have encountered the "One settler one bullet" thing last year quite a lot but I don't know whether you found that there was less reference to it this time round.

POM     To tell you the truth I didn't hear it from anybody this year.

BD     Well there you are. Now, people are getting to know our policies a bit clearer. They've seen us intermittently on television. I do quite a bit of writing to the newspapers. We issue quite a few statements. We've been getting our propaganda and our policy documents out and there's a new perception of what the PAC is.

POM     And lastly we were talking about expectations in the black community. You said "Africans are expecting the world, they are expecting the moon, the stars in the sky. They see a profusion of opulence because of conspicuous consumption on the part of their fellow citizens and they see themselves denied opportunities to get near that." Are expectations that high still or have they been tempered somewhat as people begin to realise the process will be slower and more difficult perhaps than initially envisaged?

BD     I think expectations are still probably unacceptably high. It's going to be a difficult job to even get near to fulfilling them. But those expectations will remain on that scale of things because of the abject poverty which they've experienced and again unusually so, the opulence that they see around them.

POM     Perhaps you can help me with this and this is a question that I only began to ask at the very end. I am struck by two things, one is in areas like Natal where this terrible violence is going on for four or five years and many very impartial observers and academics will say a good part of that violence is retributive violence, it's revenge, that very often it takes generations for this kind of murder to work itself out. Now putting that on the one hand, on the other hand I'm looking at the extraordinary lack of malice or anger towards whites exhibited by black people. I mean the most Christian-like, 'We forgive.' I find it hard to equate the two being so vengeful in the one situation against one's fellow of black brothers and sisters and be forgiving towards the oppressor.

BD     Vengeance I can understand. But I think you would be skating on thin ice if you thought that the mass of the people, as opposed to the sophisticated elite, that the mass of the people don't harbour great feelings of hatred for what has been done to them.

POM     Now the hatred of what was done to them, or hatred of the people who did it to them?

BD     And of the people who did it to them. It's unnatural to expect otherwise.

POM     Sure. I mean that's what I found unnatural.

BD     What I'm saying is this, you come to this country and you see very sophisticated people who put arguments that they have to put in order to make some kind of sense of it, but it would be incorrect then to assume that they are the tribunes of the people on the question of what emotions these people feel towards those who have perpetrated the system that has been absolutely devastating in their lives.

POM     Well, perhaps when I go back the next time you could put me in touch with some of those people.

BD     I'll have to take you to very, very ordinary people. I wonder if they are really prepared to say it to you as a white person, how much really we hate what you've done to us. But we know, we know how they feel.

POM     Last question. Is the process yet irreversible?

BD     The process is only irreversible when we see a Constituent Assembly busy drawing up a new constitution. Until then I don't know, but I can see that the irreversibility of the process is really tied up with the crisis that the country's going through, irreversible because something has to be done to change the course this country has been on, especially in the past few decades.

POM     Are you more hopeful this year than last year?

BD     Yes. Was I not very hopeful last year?

POM     Well I didn't ask you.

BD     Patrick, I very often say to people who interview me, if I wasn't entirely hopeful about this situation I wouldn't have come back six days after Mr de Klerk's speech.

POM     Sure. The last 40 years. Mr Desai, thank you ever so much for the time. I'll have a copy of this made in due course and sent out to you and I hope I see you in person the next time I go there.

BD     Yes, well I may be coming to Notre Dame.

POM     Oh you may? So would you be going through Washington?

BD     I'm not sure what the programme is like but there's a meeting there from the 6th to the 8th at the University there.

POM     At Notre Dame?

BD     Yes. With some of the big corporations. Perhaps you could make some of your own independent enquiries.

POM     Yes. I will do that. All right. Nice talking to you, thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.