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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

06 Jan 1992: Cleary, Sean

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POM     Sean, to start with could you just identify yourself for the purposes of the tape in terms of your own background and the role you have been playing in this whole process of things in South Africa?

SC     For years between 1970 and 1985 I was a South African diplomat. I left government in September 1985, after a particular turning point in the Namibian debate; I was very much a part of that for three years in Namibia and for several years after that. Set up in South Africa, Namibia and also Zimbabwe small companies which focused chiefly on a range of issues from risk analysis, environmental scanning and scenario development and analysis of processes of political and socio-economic change in the region for the purpose of trying to get a clearer focus both in South Africa, particularly among the business community and in Europe and the United States on issues that we thought were of particular importance.

     Those issues have taken us in a variety of different directions. I have been involved to a certain degree in the transitional process in Namibia, to some degree in the achievement of peace accord in Angola and the negotiation of the transition there, and to some degree in the peace process in particular in South Africa.

     In general terms we stay away from any party political questions and try to look at broader questions of structural analysis and try as far as possible to provide common frameworks of reference that a variety of political actors or persons with differing social or economic agendas can find common grounds in, thereby avoiding polarisation where it is possible.

POM     Leaping right into the SA situation, if you had to very quickly recount events since the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, what would you characterise first as the major turning points, and second, what do you see as being the position being adopted by each party at this point in time, and third, why are they adopting these different positions which may not be their final positions? What are the forces that act as constraints in allowing a party to move forward with developing this common agenda?

SC     That is the proverbial 'nasty' but, I think in order to try to put it in context one has to look wider than SA itself, because the changes that occurred in SA at the beginning of 1990 were obviously changes that had a regional and an international context. That is of particular importance firstly because of the fact that the SA government had, from the mid 1970s, adopted a policy which was based on the assumption that there was a total onslaught against SA, which onslaught had different foci and different manifestations, but was perhaps predominantly focused by an attempt by the Soviet Union to gain control, through an expansionist policy, of southern and South Africa.

     The fact that that policy was perceived as the definitive threat perception by the SA government, led inevitably to a strategy which was geared to dealing with that problem, and much of what was happening in government policy in its entirety in SA was subsumed in the rubric of total strategy to deal with this total onslaught. Almost everything, therefore, from a governmental perspective, was measured against the extent to which it either promoted or undermined the purposes of the total strategy to oppose Soviet expansionism in Southern Africa and this led obviously to the emergency of institutions like the National Security Council and others, controlling the regional policy in general, the domestic policy in general and even parts of the foreign policy again there extending beyond the region.

     Between 1985 and 1989 however, as a result of a variety of shifts on the international stage, and then subsequently in the wake of Gorbachev's definition of perestroika in particular, and developments in the regional environments, this changed the government's 'threat perception' and changed its grasp of the range or flexibility that it enjoyed in the regional and the domestic environment. I think the signing of the Nkomati Accord in 1984 was a turning point, because the Nkomati Accord had been signed based on the premise that if the ANC were denied external bases in the region, the ANC's capacity to promote its agenda in SA itself would be totally undermined.

     When that proved to be false and when it became clear that the ANC's capacity to advance its agenda was a function of its domestic support base and not its regional base capacity, the government was forced to rethink about the basic premises of political policies in SA itself. So you had two things happening, broadly speaking, at the same time: you had a fundamental reassessment about the nature of the struggle in SA, its origins and the capacity of the ANC in particular to pursue that struggle successfully, and at the same time you had as a result of a shift in Soviet policy and the sharp decline of Soviet capacity to support institutions and organisations in the region, you had a perception on the part of the government that there was an expanded capacity, an expanded range of flexibility that it could develop in respect of its own regional policy. That encouraged government to do things that would have been unthinkable from the perspective of government policy ten years earlier. The first of these were, of course, the negotiations that led eventually to the Namibian independence, and the second series of such developments were the understanding that the underlying social dynamic in SA was not actually materially different to the underlying social dynamics in Namibia, something which government had always denied in the course of the past twenty odd years.

     Implementation, therefore, the UN settlement plan for Namibia led, in a certain sense, inextricably towards reconsideration of what certain policies in SA would have to be. The fact that the external threat was perceived as being less compelling at the time that this new understanding emerged, made it possible to give substance to the understanding that a new approach was required, that is from the government's perspective. he government, in summary then, recognised the inability to continue sustaining its prior policies, concluded at least in some sections, that its planning process for those policies were no longer appropriate, given a change in the regional and international environment, recognised increasingly that it could not sustain its present position without incurring an ever deepening crisis of legitimacy at very high external as well as domestic moral cost and felt that because of the changes in the external environment, alternative approaches were feasible without abandoning all of its objectives.

     The ANC, it seems to me, came to the issue from, in a certain sense, the mirror image perspective, the mirror image of the government's perspective. They had discovered that their capacity to organise domestically was more impressive than I think many of them had originally thought. They had perhaps underestimated the extent to which that was due to efficient political organisation, predominantly through the trade union movement, but also through, in essence, what we now call the Civics, although they weren't called that at that stage, the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and the like. But in any event they perceived that they had a range of options opening up to them in respect of political organisation inside the country which did not require that the armed struggle should carry on to have to position of primacy, which it had assumed after the Kabwe conference.

     So their range of flexible response to the new situation also increased for different reasons and at the same time the constraints operating on them in respect of maintaining the primacy of the armed struggle were defined very largely by the changes in the international environment; the fact that the Soviet Union was no longer in a position to provide the same sort of support, nor were they willing to. As early as 1988 that was made very clear in Lusaka. So the ANC, likewise, was constrained in terms of continuing its present policies and perceived that it had new organisational capabilities which gave it a range of flexibility.

     I don't think there were other primary actors at that point. The PAC had fallen essentially into organisational disrepair. They had no real capacity to mount any particular operation, their leadership was pretty inefficient; they had a lot of disagreements and factional disputes within the leadership and there was no clear definition of what direction policy ought to take.

     AZAPO as the descendent, as it were, of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in the 1970s, had become largely marginalised as an elitist institution, although it contained some degree of support in the Eastern Cape, but it too, as elitist institutions tend to do, became fairly far removed from the immediate day to day concerns of the masses in a sense.

     The Conservatives and the white spectrum were not really doing more other than behaving conservatively, they were simply seeking to maintain the traditional policy of the National Party (NP), that had been defined in the 1940s and maintain the various sorts of tactical and later strategic adaptations up to the mid-1980s.

     The business community found itself completely caught by surprise, on the wrong foot as it were. Being used to finding itself, in general terms, more liberal than government, calling for reform and calling for change, suddenly finding the government, as it were, on 2nd February 1990 leapfrogged it and left it with quite a lot of rather awkward catching up to do.

     Inkatha is something of a special case in this environment precisely because it was, until the middle of 1990, not a political party but rather a cultural movement which Buthelezi had sought to accommodate within a political spectrum on the one hand, but within the broader cultural ambit of the Zulu nation on the other hand. The unbanning of the ANC, the emergence of the ANC and other parties as legitimate political players, put Inkatha in a position where it had to jump one way or the other, it could no longer, as it were, have the benefit of existing in both worlds simultaneously. It chose to formalise itself as a political institution/party, to undertake some form of membership drive to expand its support base among persons who were not of Zulu speaking origin. It succeeded I think, in attracting a lot of Natal whites and some few in the business community who had traditionally admired Buthelezi's stance against sanctions. But I don't think it made any further penetrating development, and it put its traditional constituency under some strain because of the difference between the two agendas that it now had more actively to pursue. So Inkatha, in a certain sense, has found itself caught between two stools since the unbanning of the ANC and has had great difficulty defining for itself any rational position in the ongoing political debate. It was determined to continue to play a role to maintain a place at the table, but it has not managed to define a constructive way of doing that in policy terms.

     The ANC and the government, at leadership level, at elite level, have grown significantly closer to one another and have identified a whole range of common interests and common perspectives around which a significant degree of operational unity has been defined.

POM     Some of these would be?

SC     The initial committees that were set up to negotiate the release of political prisoners, the committees that were set up to handle the question of violence before the peace process on a national scale came into existence, committees that were set up to discuss the nature of the transition, a variety of working groups and narrower and wider groups around the working groups, each with specific agendas. I think there has been a conscious effort on the part of government to co-opt, if you will, ANC elites into this particular process and to define the process in such a way that that co-option was organically inevitable; and I think that there has been an attempt by the ANC to dominate the process intellectually, thereby as it were, intellectually colonising those in government, including civil servants, through their own way of thinking. I think both sides have been quite successful. It is inconceivable in one sense that the code of conduct with which the parties and organisations defined the Peace Accord could have been endorsed by government three years ago. It is likewise, in a certain sense, inconceivable that several parties in the political spectrum could, in 1986 let us say, have reached agreements on the range of matters on which there was already agreement with respect to the Bill of Rights.

     So, it is clear that there has been a narrowing of the philosophical gap and it is clear that the ANC has been drawn into a range of processes inside the country, the existence of which is more closely related to the government's agenda than to the preferred agenda of the ANC. So, on the operational levels, as I say, I think both sides have succeeded, perhaps beyond their own expectations. But I think that process is now running to an end because it is becoming increasingly difficult for either side to objectively satisfy the needs of its constituencies, whilst proceeding further down that particular path; that problem is already extreme in the case of the PAC, the CP (Conservative Party) and Inkatha, and is I think becoming more difficult as far as the government/NP and the ANC are concerned.

POM     So you would see that the range of options open to the ANC are constrained by the presence of the PAC to its left and that the range of options open to the government/NP is constrained by the Conservative Party (CP) and the threat of right-wing violence to its right?

SC     Whenever we try to analyse social situations, which are by definition complex and multi-dimensional, we have to do violence to the complexity of the situation in offering any model or structure of analysis; that is a given. I am uncomfortable with two-dimensional analysis of the political situation precisely because it is so obviously multi-dimensional. The way I would put it, I think in respect to the ANC first, is that the ANC faces the fundamental challenge of translating a significantly high degree - polling would tend suggest something between 57% and 65% - of what one might describe as passive support, identification, if you will, with that which the ANC is perceived to stand for, into voting behaviour that will cause the ANC to develop and efficient and organised constituency. Precisely because of that, it has to articulate perspectives which are capable of being accepted by the diverse constituency behind it. That is an extremely difficult task given the degree of fragmentation that one encounters in SA today, regarding anything other than rudimentary principles. That is the chief reason why the ANC is resisting the pressure to become a political party and why it has elected to remain a liberation movement; its legitimacy is functionally tied up to its identify as a liberation movement and it would certainly sacrifice a significant percentage of its potential support if it were in fact to translate itself into a conventional political party with a defined political agenda.

     At the same time however, a large percentage, in numerical terms perhaps four to five million people, urban dwellers, young (on average between 14-26 years) poorly educated, unskilled, inadequately trained in respect to employment, radicalised and brutalised by the experience of the past decade, and in some cases longer, and largely nihilistic to armististic(?); that is a part of the constituency that the ANC has to try to bring with it in this particular process. Its leadership is clearly determined not to be constrained in a definitional sense by the lowest commonest denominated demands of that particular segment of the constituency but it at the same time quite obviously has no wish to abandon them to the PAC or anybody else for that matter, and therefore one sees a significant amount of stop/start movement of having to look over one's shoulder and make sure that one is not abandoning that section of the constituency entirely. A certain amount of multiple track tactic, if you will, of something that drums from time to time in order to make it clear that one hasn't abandoned the principles that give one support in that constituency, while at the same time cutting extremely pragmatic and rather sophisticated deals in terms of moving the process forward.

     I don't think it is fair of the PAC, particularly, I don't think the PAC per se is perceived by most analytically oriented ANC leadership as represented an extraordinary threat, but they are concerned about losing the rump of the constituency. They patently obviously don't want to create opportunities for anyone else to do that, hence the Patriotic Front, hence the need to make concessions to certain other parties, not only for historical and emotional reasons but also for tactical organisational reasons, and hence an inability to move forward as rapidly as many of the elites in the ANC would hope with the transitional process.

     The government, simply because the central gravity of government decision making, has changed so much, the people who call the shots in government thinking today are significantly beyond turfs. I mean Roelf Meyer's position as one of the initiators and driving forces of government thinking within the whole process today is quite extraordinary, and the role that people like Gerrit Viljoen and Pik Botha play is also quite extraordinary. Pik Botha, I think, is largely driven by emotional considerations rather than analytical ones, Gerrit Viljoen is certainly driven by analytical considerations rather than emotional ones. But the combination of the young Turks, as it were, who came to prominence, particularly with F W de Klerk's presidency, although several of them have been in the wings as Deputy Ministers during the last years of PW, but the emergence of the young Turks as the driving forces and the combination of Gerrit Viljoen and Pik Botha for different reasons, towards the front of the spear so to say, has simply changed the certain of gravity of government thinking about its own constituency. Whereas previously it would have been massively concerned about a loss of support to the right, and particularly in respect of the conservative Afrikaans communities, it is today far less concerned about that. It is operationally concerned about the threat of right-wing violence and it is seriously concerned about losing control of its security forces. But it is not, I think, philosophically concerned today about the diminishing support in rural and working class white communities.

POM     Could you just elaborate on those two points; (1) where it fears the loss of control of the security forces and, (2) why it doesn't fear the loss of support in the white communities, particularly in rural and working class white communities?

SC     I think that one, you have two sets of analytical perspectives to come to grips with this. Whilst the nature of the social dynamics in SA are changing, the revolution in SA over the past decade is a very conventional revolution, it is an industrial revolution; it is the same sort of revolution in a very profound sense that Europe experienced in the 19th century, it is the product of urbanisation, industrialisation, expansion of generic education and the abandonment of cultural group membership, ethnic groups' membership as the primary determinant of social organisation. It is the emergence of class and common class interests and the predominant base of political organisation, although evidently it must still continue to play a role in the broader cultural industry, religion, etc.

     So the speed at which the process of urbanisation in SA has occurred has had a number of interesting consequences: in the first place we have today roughly 90% of all whites urbanised; we have roughly 92% of all Indians and Asians urbanised; we have roughly 82% of all coloureds urbanised and we have roughly 65% to 70% of all blacks urbanised. The simple fact is that urban communities are more class conscious, they are less culturally conscious in the sense of ethnicity. The ordinary form of social organisation in rural traditional society is planned, tried, etc. The ordinary form of social organisation in urban-industrial communities tends to be class and professional association.     As a consequence of that, the entire political spectrum in SA has been significantly redefined over the course of the past decade, away from a predominant emphasis on ethnic grouping toward a predominant emphasis on class grouping. There is lots and lots of analysis out there. If you are interested in pursuing it I will give you some of it myself.

POM     I am.

SC     What happened in practice is simply that the NP, for example, which was in 1948 elected as the party of essentially rural, relatively poor, traditionally minded Afrikaners, had by 1987 become the party of the white middle-class.

POM     Forgive me, I sometimes find it easier to try and sketch things.

SC     If you recognise that the nature of the transition itself is essentially one from a rural traditional society in which outside it narrows down to elites, tribal groups' membership of one sort or another, Afrikaner tribe or any other tribe, was the predominant basis of social organisation for a long period; to a society which was classically urban and modernist, in which class membership is the predominant form of social organisation. Then one has to say that South Africa today is in a transitional phase between the two in which, if you like, three dimensions play a role; one is that ethnicity still has some say in this thing, if it weren't for that fact the Conservative Party wouldn't be there and Inkatha wouldn't be there for example; two, plus it is acquiring new parties, and the ANC by that definition is a classic class-based party and the NP is trying to create a sort of a Christian Democrat-style middle-class alliance, To understand in broad terms what is happening within the society you need two other continui, especially continui running from rural to urban and the other continui from traditional to modernists. You can then draw a (line) from those two axes to those two and then you start to look at what is happening in society.

     What is happening first is urbanisation, and then modernisation. So society is moving aggressively into that point. The great majority of the population in SA are now located there. That reduces the political saliency by definition of its constituency, whether it be white rural traditional constituency, or for that matter the black rural traditional constituency, simply because the value systems that drive this constituency and the value systems that drive that constituency are somewhat different.

     So government, recognising in practical terms, that only 10% of the white population, and an ever decreasing percentage of other populations, fall into that segment of the population at large is patently obviously adapting its policy in response to its constituency inputs. If you took the position between the 1940s and the 1970s, Afrikaners doubled in respect of the number who had higher education, the per capita incomes in real terms more than doubled. Verwoedburg, which is outside of Pretoria, replaced Sandton as the wealthiest municipality on a per capita basis.

     One can say in summary that the patronage structures, made available through the civil service and the parastatal organisations, were immensely successful in upgrading the socio-economic status of the whole class. When that happens and when, as in the 1980s sense, it is disclosed, but 84% of Afrikaans at home are already urbanised, if that doesn't send political signals regarding the nature of the dominant philosophy that ought to be applied within the framework of a party seeking to maintain support in that particular group, then nothing will. So what happened is that simply because the political environment shifted so dramatically, one uses that same model and looks at whites in the 1987 elections, for example, and what you got is something like this - let's put in a language line, Afrikaans-English, in terms of that whole thing, and let's put in some rough class lines. Now politically what happened in practical terms was that the PFP got marginalised, it was seen as the last of upper-class urban liberals, Rockefeller Republicans. The independents, which they then were, were trying to extend the reach of the PFP out that way. The NP emerged fundamentally as the party of the middle class, they had roughly 50% of Afrikaner traditional support and significantly less in terms of having English support. Behind their rump, there emerged the Conservative Party, who pushed through two primary categories, the rural traditional Afrikaans culturally oriented whites and the lower middle-class in the urban areas of the PWV, the blue collar workers of the PWV, part of the natural constituency of the Democratic Party in the US. However as they were threatened in this particular environment, because their privileged position is fundamentally at risk as a result of political change, by definition they tend to be conservative rather than in any sense forward-looking and liberal. The people who are forward-looking and liberal are the people who can afford it, the people who do not find themselves threatened by playing to the environment, who believe their skills, their income, etc., is good enough to enable them to protect themselves in whatever sort of new environment which is likely to emerge. Those who feel most threatened lie there.

     Now, that is with the CP. If the CP woke up and understood that its most successful organisational platform among whites was actually as a latter day white labour party [like Tommy Bordell's(?) party], they might organise far more effectively, because in a certain sense they are still sending out conflicting messages, they are sending out messages that relate to the maintenance of Afrikaner cultural values, which don't actually play very well with the Portuguese and Greek and Rhodesian immigrants, living in not particularly happy circumstances in the country, but they at the same time play scare stories that play very well in respect of those particular urban communities and among other people in Hillbrow and the like, but which don't play particularly well on the other side of the because they are developed. So, until they manage to find themselves - remember Will Rogers who said, "I don't belong to any organised political party, I am a Democrat", that is what is happening to the CP in a very profound way as well, and of course to the ANC, as of course to the NP, it is happening to everyone. But that is the chief reason why government, in the circumstances, does not need to fear the loss of support of rural traditional whites. They are diminishing at such a rate that they simply don't pose any meaningful electoral threat. But, if you bear in mind that the security forces were precisely that segment of society, particularly the police, drawn from the lower middle-class segments, not particularly very well educated, the great majority of even senior policemen did their degrees through correspondence, many of them entered without 12 years at school and then did examinations while in the force. Their whole organisational and ideological frame of reference is therefore very largely defined by the cultural organisation and environment in which they spent their entire adult lives.

     They are not people who are skilled and trained to move out from their present positions and take alternative positions in the broader SA economy, and in functional terms, they have been persuaded consistently over the course of the past fifteen years, that they were in fact the bastion of resistance against the total onslaught; to require them at the snap of a political finger, to change their entire mind frame in contravention of what maybe their objective economic interest in the short-term is asking for a lot. In functional terms therefore, they are perhaps, with the exception of that young radicalised, brutalised group of urban black youth which we spoke of earlier, they are perhaps the most explosive segment in South African society at large, and extremely careful management of their commitment and loyalty is required to take SA through this transition.

     If CP principles, if the right-wing organisational type of principles were to gain organisational ground, as opposed maybe to passive preference among a wider segment of the security forces, the security situation in SA would be extremely difficult to control.

POM     On the side of the ANC, in terms of its evolution and its constituency, and the polls that are on, one the one hand I hear you saying that the elite in the ANC and the government are moving rather rapidly to finding common ground and that the ANC is a movement and not a political party. Are there real risks that the ANC itself could split into a centrist wing and a left wing?

SC     I think the ANC is functionally many things at the moment, and I think it has been since this process began. I have lived too long frankly, with everyone's curious analytical distinctions of different factions and different movements everywhere in the world to feel comfortable with flying any particular categories myself. You once had five factions within the MPLA and I know for that there were four factions within UNITA and it didn't really make much difference at the end of the day. So you can waste a lot of time in the certain sense, getting into the semantic pursuits about what constitutes a faction. I think the important thing is simply that the ANC is an entity which wishes to continue representing the broader mass or predominantly blacks, but, because it is not a racially constituted organisation, South Africans in general. That is its goal, that is its objective, it doesn't wish to shake off any part of its constituency that it doesn't have to shake off, but it does wish to secure an effective transition and its leadership does wish to take power at the end of that particular transition. I'm not entirely convinced at this stage that that will possible through the polls, and that is quite clearly the preference at this point.

     But in the process of getting there, it is trying to do, in a certain sense, the impossible. It is trying to balance too many interests at the same time. There are very few institutions in the history of political change that have been unchanged by the process of transition. The process of transition endemically changes organisational structure; it endemically causes people to redefine where they stand in the overall pattern of ideological and economical loyalties and it endemically causes people to reconsider their positions, some people drop out, some people find it impossible with the cause any longer, some people think the cause has betrayed them, the leadership has betrayed the cause. This is all endemic, it is not something to be regretted or something to be welcomed, it is just happening, it is inevitable. The same thing is happening to the NP, the same thing is happening to smaller parties, including Inkatha.

     So, yes, of course it is going to change the nature of the ANC and I very much doubt, personally, that the present structures of the ANC will survive the present leadership. I think if Mr. Mandela were no longer to be there, I think that depending on the particular constellation of leaders that emerged in key positions after his retirement or death, I think you would see the ANC move in different directions, he represents in a very real sense at the moment a point of balance. For example after the congress last year when he made a series of organisational decisions flowing from the congress, and then went off on a trip, the cabal reorganised all sorts of things after he left and he came back and he was very upset when he found what the cabal had done and he then tried to reorganise them again. I think it is endemic and I think that as long as he maintains his particular position within that organisation I think he can manage to balance things broadly, but I think it would be extraordinary to postulate that exactly the same constellation would be maintained when he is no longer there.

     In a certain sense, if one is either for the struggle or against it or in the middle of this particular struggle, then it is appropriate to make emotional and moral and even functional judgements about this, but it seems to me that if one looks at it structurally, it is completely inevitable. The ANC, just like NATO, just like the Warsaw Pact, just like anything, is something that took on a particular form in a particular set of historical circumstances, when those historical circumstances change, it will change, it is quite inevitable.

POM     I would like you to address three things: (1) the violence in the townships and its causes and the continuing insistence by the ANC that the government has a hand in it one way or another; (2) the Peace Accord and process itself, how it worked, how people came to agreement. I talked to both Sydney Mufamadi and to Roelf Meyer and my question to Sydney was, "when you got down there, sitting with the government, did you lay out to them that the ANC held the government to be responsible for the violence." And he said, "No, that question of who is to blame for the violence never came up because we decided that if we got into that kind of discussion we would never get anywhere, so we avoided it, we decided on objectives rather than seeking to point fingers", which impressed me a lot; (3) how important the question of ethnicity is, and then finally, as we look forward at the process, where it is now, what should one be looking for, turning points or important reference points?

SC     You ask very large questions. Part of the violence is endemic, part of the violence is organised, part of the violence has been used for instrumental purposes by a variety of actors. Part of the violence is endemic because of the fact that when you move people out of one environment into another environment, and you are leaving aside all of the violence of apartheid, which is sufficiently well documented not to need repeating, purely structurally once again if you take people out of a variety of different cultural, linguistic backgrounds, with different cultural cues, where the way you greet somebody is a functional degree of respect which you are showing or not showing for them and everything else that we know from the rudimentary section of human sociology, and you suddenly amass all of these people with very little personal space, in pretty crumby conditions on the outskirts of urban areas, you get violence. You got it in Victorian England, you got it in Berlin in the 1880s so now you are going to get it in SA for the next thirty years. That is the endemic part of it. It is a function of survival, it is a function of antagonism, it is a function of cultural misunderstanding, it is function of everything under the sun.

     The structures by which society is organised in a tribal environment are well defined: there is pecking order, there is an established set of relationships, these things are maintained effectively by way of initiation writs, puberty writs and all sorts of other things, and people assume their places in the community in accordance with a set of rules. None of that applies in the townships, and at the same time comparatively few new social structures appropriate to the new environment have grown out yet of the total social experience. One of the reasons I think why Afrikanerdom's transition from rural to urban institutions was comparatively successful within the framework of Western success criteria is because they actually took institutions that were part of their historical environment and transplanted them into the urban environment and then used them as cultural reference points back into the mythology that defined Afrikanerdom, the Voortrekkers, all sorts of things.

     That hasn't yet been possible, or hasn't been committed in respect of much of the transition of black South Africans from rural to urban environment. One could argue that the Zion Christian Church, the ZCC and similar black so-called 'black independent' churches have played some role in that regard. They mix Christianity and animism, they mix elements of tradition, elements of spiritism with modern social organisation, and it is interesting that better educated persons with ten or more years of urban dwelling are the people who tend to move away from these types of churches, either into mainstream Christianity or into some form of secular agnostics.

POM     Would you reject any, not literal comparison, but analogy between the violence, that is the ethnic violence taking place in Eastern Europe and in parts of what used to be Soviet Union, with some of the violence that is taking place in the townships between supporters of Inkatha and township dwellers.

SC     There are certain areas where the parallels are valid, you get it in mine violence for example: faction fighting between hostel dwellers of a Xhosa speaking hostel and a Zulu hostel or a Sotho speaking hostel and a Zulu speaking hostel, that has been there for forty years, it will be there as long as that form of separated residential accommodation is maintained. It is easy to mobilise people if they have a relatively high degree of ethnic and cultural consciousness. However, the natural process of urbanisation and industrialisation tends, not entirely, but it tends to undermine the hold of such ethnic consciousness and what we are describing now doesn't hold for violence in Natal, and yet violence was, until last year, by far, the most prevalent and dramatic manifestation of black-on-black, if you will, violence in SA. So, like everything else, one mustn't try to squeeze reality into a neat conceptual category.

POM     What do you think would account for the explosiveness and intensity of the violence that broke out in the townships in 1990 and has really continued right through the present, despite the Peace Accord?

SC     I think you have to go back to what was happening between 1985 and 1990 in order to understand that. I think the first thing that one has to understand is that there was a conscious decision by the ANC and by the Civic groups, if you will, pre-ANC unbanning, in Natal to actually meaningfully penetrate Buthelezi's political support base. That was one element. The second element of it was that Natal, and particularly in the coastal corridor, has been one of the rapidly urbanising parts of the country at large, so, as a consequence of this and also as a consequence of comparatively low rates of economic growth in that area, you found enormous numbers of young people leaving tribal areas, moving into the coastal corridor, urbanising rapidly and starting to think of themselves in a completely different way to the way in which they are defined in traditional Zulu society. What I am about it say now is one of those happy generalisations which doesn't mean very much, but it is worth vaguely bearing in mind that adulthood in Zulu society is a function of having an achieved an age like 30 and having established yourself as a responsible member of the community; it is a bit like getting your MA at Oxford, you've got to stay out of trouble for five years after completion of your exams and paid your five quid, or whatever you pay nowadays. But the basic point that I am making therefore is that there is an endemic element built into the generational urbanising features of the Natal environment and there is an organisational element historically built into the fact that it is there that the ANC supporting groups, including the unions, decided to all organise because these were the people who were accessible. It was very difficult to go out into the Valley of a Thousand Hills, as it were, and start organising on a significant scale there, but it was jolly easy in the coastal corridor.

     This led to a significant amount of tension, a political overlay, if you will, on top of historical violence in Natal. It also led to a growing perception among Inkatha leaders, Buthelezi to some measurable degree, but a whole variety of other people as well, that their power base, not in political terms, their social power base, their community power base was been fatally undermined by what was happening; and quite frankly we are not talking about educated, skilled, sophisticated people, we are talking about rural chieftains. So what did they do? They called out the impis, they armed themselves with assegais and they went and they beat the hell out of the kids. That was the only way that they knew how to deal with that particular situation, what did the 'kids' do? They were killing cattle, they were the stealing the Chief's son's bicycle, they were beating the Chief's son up, they were doing the provocative things that were, in a certain sense, natural in that particular environment and being stimulated in that particular environment, and the older, less sophisticated generation was responding to this threat to their authority in a social environment by dealing with it in the way that they understood how to deal with it.

     That set a particular cycle of violence in operation; I am doing enormous violence to the complexity of that situation because there were incidents of faction fighting, incidents of competitive chieftainship, there were incidents of parallel membership of different organisations, there were instances where two Chiefs were in the same area but only one of them could get a seat in the Legislative Assembly, there were all sorts of individual cases. One of the things that I said when we first got involved in the whole issue of Natal violence in the middle of last year, was that one of the things that we probably need to say right at the beginning is that there is no Natal conflict, there are many Natal conflicts, and if you don't use that as a point of departure, then you end up trying to solve all of the problems with the same recipe and it doesn't work.

     But, out of all that, out of that whole experience, out of that whole sense of threat, if you will, in that environment, plus the allegation launched against Inkatha, that it was purely a Zulu organisation with its support base limited to Natal, came, I think, a determination on the part of certain Inkatha people to prove that they had power in the PWV as well. I think a significant degree of what we saw in that sudden initial surge of violence in the PWV on the back of Natal violence at roughly the time that the Natal violence was being brought under control, inter alia after the January 29 meeting between Mandela and Buthelezi, that surge of violence that one suddenly saw in the PWV, I think, because to prove this or to get data to establish this is almost impossible, but I think it was meaningfully related to an effort by Inkatha to show strength in non-Natal areas.

     However, one also has to recognise that at the same time, the ANC was involved in a very major organisational effort and was in clash with the PAC and with Inkatha at roughly the same time in different areas, so whichever group, as it were, was the next most power with the ANC in those particular areas, tended to be the group in the first eight months of 1990, which was in conflict in those particular areas. I don't think there is any further doubt that there has been an historical propensity. First of all I think there was an organised historical association between police elements, I don't think personally that it was there in terms of the SADF elements, I am not talking now about the question of whether or not there was training of Inkatha people at base camps in Namibia, there was, what purpose they were being trained for I don't know the answer to that, but I don't think that the SADF deployment in township areas was associated with counter-insurgency tactics involving the utilisation of Inkatha inputs, I don't think so, I haven't found any evidence of this. In terms of the police there is evidence and there is quite a lot of evidence.

     I think that what one has to see in that overall context is, if you like, again the well springs of a total onslaught strategy. What was happening in practical terms was that these young ANC-related, as it were, groupings were perceived as the sharp edge of the communist inspired revolution, etc., etc., etc., and as part of the total strategy that the police were deploying in these particular areas, they were utilising people from the community, who were interested in fact in knocking these kids on the head and getting them into a 'disciplined' state. In the mid-1970s as well you had exactly the same thing; at that stage they were called the witdoeke, because they wore white cloths around their heads, now they apparently wear red bands around their heads, I suppose it depends on what cloth is available at that particular moment, but in practical terms you were certainly looking at that stage at something where I think there was an emotional attraction in the first place between the Afrikaans speaking policemen and the strong up-standing Zulu man and an emotional antipathy to this cheeky young tsotsi, who was, on top of it, probably a communist. So therefore in a certain sense the manifestation of that particular alliance in that context is nothing to be surprised at.

     Now how much of that continued after the point at which political instructions had been given to cease any form of association and support in that particular regard, how much of that in the large continued, that I think is the fundamental element of dispute. I don't think that there is any real dispute at leadership level frankly about whether or not it used to happen, I think the dispute is whether it is happening today as a consequence of rogue elements that were previously part of the structures, but are no longer part of the structures and are maintaining this particular activity independent of their authorised structures, or whether it is in fact still being connived at, tolerated and encouraged by persons lower down in the structures themselves. I don't think the ANC seriously believes that, I haven't come across anyone in the ANC who does, De Klerk is actually masterminding this strategy.

     It has taken a very long time to answer that question. The peace process itself, mostly what I want to say about it is actually there anyway, in summary what happened is that the churches have made an effort to try to bring the parties together, they haven't succeeded because of suspicion of the SACC's (South African Council of Churches) role in support of the liberation movements in the past. The government made an effort to try to bring everyone together, that was boycotted by the liberation movement across the board.

     As a consequence of that, there was an attempt which had probably four or five different wellsprings of thought. One of it certainly was the appointment of Lou Oberholzer as a 'facilitator' at the State President's conference, another was a series of discussions that had been held between church, business and political parties, another was what we were doing in Natal in respect of having the ANC, the business community and Inkatha around the table every fortnight, trying to deal with problems as they arose in a practical way, and one or two other smaller ones as well. But out of this came a group of business and church people who said, "Damn it, if nobody else is going to do it, let's play it as low key as we can and see if it is going to be feasible to do anything in this respect." I think their original number was eleven.

     In essence the process was very simple. We took the argument quite simply that you couldn't solve the problem by looking to the lowest common denominator negotiated solution. In other words, if you were going to put two parties on either side of the table or three parties at different points of a square table, or whatever else, and you were going to try to get them each to advance their positions and try to reach agreement between them you would never succeed. So we did the classic conflict resolution approach. We said we are not going to get into the whole question of who is to blame, we are simply going to look at two things: (1) causes of the violence, and; (2) steps to be taken and in looking at causes of violence, we are going to be as non-descriptive as we can; we are going to try to encourage people to say what is causing violence. What is causing violence is bad police/community relations; what is causing violence is rotten socio-economic conditions; what is causing violence is intimidation; what is causing violence is whatever; and we literally went through that process with flipcharts and press-stick and everyone got five minutes to have their say and that was stuck up on the wall and eventually during the break, then we sat down and we consolidated what had been written up on the wall and bunched it into five categories and gave it back to and asked, "Is that what you said?" And they all said yes, that is roughly what we said, and then we said, fine now what is going to be done about it? Then we went through the same exercise, everyone got five minutes once again to say what had to be done about it and then we bunched all that together into five categories and we put five working groups together. The five working groups consisted of one of the business types, one of the church types, and then one of the representatives of the different parties who had been at the first meeting in June. Then we brought the products of the working groups back in a document back to the big meeting, and the big meeting said yes, OK, that looks right.

POM     Who were the important political people who facilitated movement forward? Among whom are the important relationships formed that would be important for the future?

SC     In that process, you have five working groups. One of the reasons why in principle that the Peace Accord is actually quite important is simply because it didn't actually rely too much on personalities, it relied very much on process and as a consequence of that, out of the process came, what one would have to call the highest common factor agreements which would probably not have been capable of being achieved had they been negotiated between elites in the first instance and then had to be sold to constituencies. But because there were enough people involved in the five working groups and then all the hangers on and the preparatory committee that kept on going at every meeting, this was institutionalised as a process over several months in such a way that every single document was going back to constituencies to extensive discussions in each constituency. Every constituency was operating on the basis of saying, for God's sake let's not rock the boat too much, if we get too finicky about that then we are going to reopen this, and if this gets reopened that is going to slide, and so on and so forth, and that is what Sydney was saying in respect of that process.

     Having said that one has to say that the people who probably, in political terms, played the most important roles in this process were Thabo and Roelf Meyer. Absent those two and it would have been very difficult.

PAT     People put you in the same parallel, not as a politician but as a business person, do you find evidence that people like yourself who maybe don't have the profile of Thabo Mbeki or Roelf Meyer, that they could at least have played a critical role?

SC     It is important to say additionally that without Mdlalose in Inkatha we couldn't have done it either, and Felgate (Walter Felgate) who represented, in a certain sense, the more conservative wing, the more Buthelezi oriented wing of Inkatha. He was also critically important because Mdlalose could not have gone back and sold in Inkatha circles what needed to be sold, if you understand, so Mdlalose as the conciliator on the Inkatha side, and Felgate as the often difficult, prickly fellow who however represented a very real and probably the dominant constituency in Inkatha, were also critical to that process.

     On the facilitation front, the people I would have thought who were most important, but this is ambiguous because everyone was very important, everyone was there precisely because they had something to contribute, that is how that group was put together, if one had a certain degree of credibility somewhere. But looked at from a perspective of professional facilitation, if I may put it that way, the people who were most useful were Frank Chikane and Des Tutu. With Chikane out in front of Des, who didn't turn up to that many meetings, but when he was there, he was very good. Others, John Hall and Jabu Mabuza; John particularly and that is respective to the fact that he was asked to continue as Chairman of the Peace Committee, precisely because John went into this whole process almost utterly non-political, he had absolutely no agenda. I mean, everybody who has been around a few odd years has got something that you think is important, he really didn't seem to have. He was absolutely the right chairman, he tolerated more or less anything, he had a marvellous self deprecatory sense of humour, which he brought out at all the right moments, described himself as the resident heathen, kept on forgetting to ask people to open meetings with prayer and closing with prayer, at the same wouldn't serve any liquor until the ANC and the SACP insisted that liquor had to be served after meetings were over. Then he did and he used to invite people to come into his office and get drunk until one o'clock in the morning. He was enormously non-threatening, engaging.

     Jabu Mabuza of FABCOS, the two big black organisations are NAFCOC and FABCOS. Jabu has also been significantly involved with SABTA, the Taxi Association, but he developed enormously. He came in looking very young and very inexperienced in respect of all this and then he grew very substantially in the course of it.

POM     We are looking to the future with the CODESA process on the way.

SC     And in fairness, and Bobby Godsell, Bobby Godsell of Anglo. Bobby's role was a little bit like mine in the sense of having the technical experience. I was really looking for people who contributed something in a more emotional or spiritual sense, but he did mighty well in terms of structuring the organisation. [of particularly the chapter 3 - 5 sides.]

POM     Looking at the process now underway, who do you think are the key people to look out for?

SC     Do you mean CODESA?

POM     Yes CODESA.

SC     On government side, Viljoen, Meyer, maybe Barend du Plessis, perhaps at critically emotional moments, but not in terms of making a contribution. On the ANC side, I am leaving aside obviously Mandela and de Klerk; Ramaphosa, Mbeki, Zuma, and then all sorts of other people.

     But for the very strong COSATU bias, ANC's strength in these things is its wealth of talent in COSATU, its strength in the Peace Accord is its strength in CODESA.

PAT     When you look at the structure in terms of the process at CODESA do you think it will work?

SC     I have got a problem with this whole thing because - let me say two things: (1) is that every one of us obviously who has been involved in any part of this process has certain preferences and prejudices about what works and what doesn't work, and I have those; (2) anybody who thinks that they have the monopoly of wisdom as to what ought to be done in this process in SA today is nuts, and therefore it forces one to be excessively modest about your prejudices and preferences and I therefore tend, to a significant degree, sit back and say, if it is working, great, and I am certainly not going to interfere or get involved in any fashion. In fact I have made it pretty clear to everybody that I don't want to be involved unless there are problems. If there are problems, and somebody thinks that I can be helping in solving some of the problems then I would be happy to get involved. But for the rest of it, I think the ownership of the process is now in the hands of the politicians and broadly, although not entirely, I believe in the very important role of a civil society, and I think the civil society is vastly underdeveloped in SA at present and needs massively to be developed further, but that is probably not the immediate priority in this process right now, and any attempt by anyone, with particular prejudices and preferences who tries to drive this process directly or indirectly I believe will be very counter-productive at the moment. So that is where I am coming from broadly.

     So what I am about to say in answer to that question should not be misinterpreted as believing that the process is not going to work, I hope to hell it does. I think personally that when you are trying to get agreement in conflict situations you have to look to one or two things: you have to look, and self-evidently these two are continuing, and what you usually end up looking for is an appropriate mix of the two, but on the one extreme you have common values, on the other extreme you have common process, and you can get agreements over time out of a lot of mixes between the two. Why? In order to make it work, you need to have an expanding quantum of common values, as the process moves forward, which means that your process has to be directed towards building values, even as it is directed towards managing the present.

     Very quickly: in Namibia the secret of success at the end of the day, despite the fact that a lot of people didn't want it, was in fact the 1982 constitutional principles. If it hadn't been for that particular reference point in the entire process, we never would have got it. When Theo Ben stood up in the Constituent Assembly and proposed adoption of the 1982 principles as a point of departure in this process, the game was over, the deal was cut. So there was a lot of common values built into that process, irrespective of how deeply some of the players involved in the process may have felt about those values, the reference points were central, and those common reference points, that standard of superior morality to which people refer as just education for advancing certain preferences or certain instruments and as a means of criticising alternative suggestions emanating from their opponents, that is critically important in a process like that. I've argued that Bills of Rights often serve that purpose in society at large.

     In Angola for example, there was no common value system, absolutely none whatsoever, you had two sides that had everything nasty that was possible to do to one another, for a period of sixteen years, and they had engaged in fairly substantial propaganda on both sides, indoctrinated their own populations, if you like, to an enormous degree about the demonology associated with the other side. You had almost nothing by way of common values. Therefore, to secure success in Angola it was essential to load the process, to create as many interstices of action as were possible in that whole process in order to keep it going, hence JPMC, and JVC and joint monitoring groups and God knows what else, and please make them work as often as possible and make them meeting each other as regularly as possible, because only through that process can you possibly begin to build common values. So the investment in the Angolan situation has to be in making those common process institutions work in order to build the common value systems which were not there on the 31st of May 1991.

     The SA situation falls somewhere between these experiences. The question of what the appropriate mix, therefore, between the alliance on pre-existing common values and what degree of common process is actually essential to success is the toughest call of the whole game. My own preference would be to build more common values than I see coming out of this process at the moment. I see too much instrumental assertion of particular value systems and not enough adoption of those value systems. I see too much emphasis on the process, even in the Peace Accord, but also in CODESA I see far too much attention being given to who is represented on what body for what purpose, and far too little reference back to the basic principles. The reason they need a code of conduct for political parties and organisations is to set value systems, to set a standard, to set a reference point, to say, hey this is alright and that is not alright, and you can do this and you can't do that. It was precisely to define the acceptable limits of political competition, to make it clear that those limits did not extend as far as violent conflict, it was precisely for that purpose. That is getting lost in the peace process at the moment, completely, because what on earth is everyone worried about? They are worried about how many people they have got on what local, regional Peace Committee. Now OK, that is fine, that is patronage, that is God knows what else, that is jockeying for power and that is a happy thing, but it is undermining, I think, the central philosophical basis on which the Accord depends for its success. I am concerned that what is happening in CODESA mirrors the organisational approach adopted in the Peace Accords, rather than the philosophical approach, which I believe is very essential to moving it forward.

POM     Looking for sticky points as this process unfolds, which would be the points that are likely to bring the process to a halt?

SC     The process won't come to a halt. The process will move forward in fits and starts and there will be conflicts and people will go back to the table and so on. There is no way of turning back in this process. Nobody is prepared for any fallback positions. There is absolutely no way in which the ANC can start up the armed struggle again, and there is absolutely no way in which the government can re-impose apartheid, so in practical terms obviously something is going to happen in the process, the only question is are you going to sink down to the lowest common denominator level based on power bargaining, or are you in fact going to define a new vision of the future and drive the process towards the achievement of that new vision? I think if you emphasise the philosophical, you achieve the vision, if you emphasise the procedure, the risk is that you can fall down into the quagmire of ...

POM     To put the question in its most simple terms, again not the best terms but in more simple terms; is this a process that will eventually lead to a sharing of power or to a process which really involves the taking over of power?

SC     I think it is in the nature of successful political process that it is inclusive. I don't know of any society that can claim to function efficiently which excludes significant percentages of its population from the political process on a continuing basis. So, therefore, in the sense that what would be broadly desirable would be a pluralistic approach, [not in the sense that used to use the phrase] in the classic sense in which it is applied in the US, I think that can be the only definition of success at the end of the day.

     I used to argue years ago in Namibia that the key to success was to ensure that all significant political interest groups had a stake in the system; and what is a significant political interest group? It is an interest group which is capable of sabotaging the system. If you don't achieve that you won't have a successful society. You might have a society that meets certain ideological criteria, but you will not have a society that is working in a functional way.

     The only question, it seems to me, is whether or not that can be done within a single majoritarian party. The ANC potentially is capable of doing that. It is possible that the political system, potentially, can be structured in such a way that constitutionally it embodies all of the important values that SA society will stand for and that the alternative approaches advocated by different political parties within the constitutional framework at large, will simply be disagreements about the strategy to achieve agreed goals. In other words, the whole issue seems to be on the extreme trickle down versus egalitarians. In principle the idea is to make everyone welcome, in principle the idea is to advance social welfare, in principle the objective is to achieve a happy equilibrium in society. The question is how. The how can still be subject to major political disputes, but broadly speaking the value system within which you are operating is a coherent value system. I think that is possible, but I think it is going to have to be worked at damn hard. I think we have got that quantum of common values in place at the moment, I don't think we have the intellectual instruments, the emotional instruments, or the organisational instruments in place at the moment to establish that value system. And I don't think that the content of that value system is adequately defined although I think its parameters have nominally been agreed. I argued in this favour, and I do it just to be provocative quite frankly, and not for any other reason, but I argued that the constitutional debate with regard to the political culture for a future SA was over. The code of conduct for political parties and organisation had resolved this. All that was now left was to give it substance and content, but the parameters were defined.

     Now, I argued, unfortunately I can't give you footnotes and references in order to sustain this, but I argued that the critical variable when one is looking at different constitutional formula running from a classic unitary state, that is what we call them in SA, to partition on the other extreme, and you can run roughly partition, confederation and there are various forms of federations that are incorporated here, graphical and then some form of but where you come down on that particular spectrum is largely to be a function of the extent of common values present in the society. The higher the degree of common political culture, the greater the tendency towards democratic centrist. The more fragmented the political value system and culture in the society at large, the more likely it is that you are not going to find common ground within a single political system. So you can produce, if you will, on a two axis graph, a particular curve, if you like drawing curves, and you could produce ratios in that regard.

     Now leaving aside any attempt at quantitative analysis, because it will be totally irrelevant in the present circumstances, but leaving that aside entirely, if you want an inclusive, successful, democratically pluralistic society in SA, you have got to work at creating the common values. So a major plus of what needs to be done in SA today is not merely to deal with the status quo, and then see what comes out of this particular process, but invest as much as possible in the creation of the sort of environment that can sustain a democratic culture effectively on the society at large and it will therefore allow for a more inclusive successful political system, which is actually energised by a common vision of the future. As yet we are not there. I could sit down with anybody and argue this is it and everyone says, yes, that is a valid point but meanwhile we have got to get power. So we will do that after the count. And that, of course, is putting the cart before the horse, because that is exactly the reverse of what you need to be doing.

     So it seems to me that the most important thing in the short term, and that is certainly where I want us to be, CODESA must get off the power bargaining part of it, [we call our approach to these things ] we are, if you like, the darker conscience inside SA, and that is where I think it needs to go. I think it is critically important to try to build the largest possible quantum of common values that will achieve two things: (1) will produce a society which is organised according to the cannons of democracy and; (2) that it produces a society that is capable of producing enough economically, such that the society is capable of remaining a democratic society. In other words, if the cost of democratisation is universal for polarisation, then obviously it is not going to remain. You have to achieve a balance between those two and one of the more difficult problems on the conceptual level is to try to establish the degree of compatibility between the values that actually make this a success and the values that make it ...

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.