This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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: Henning, Joseph
POM. Perhaps Dr Henning, you came with your general assessment of the political situation in South Africa since De Klerk announced his initiatives on the 2nd February 1990.
JH. Yes, thank you Patrick. Well the point is since then, or even before that, the whole direction in which the country was moving was becoming clear, namely that we are heading, due to pressures from the outside world but also from inside pressures, economic pressures, to head towards a unitary state, a unitary state in the sense of one man one vote, one universal franchise with the, what we call the neglect of the rights of minorities. Now I, as an Afrikaner, believe that we don't have a future if our self-determination is not guaranteed, so from the start it was clear that self-determination of the Afrikaner people has to be guaranteed. That implies then that a geographic basis must be given to this. This geographic basis will then cause a partitioning of the country and the rest of the country, which will be the bigger part, the larger part, Mr de Klerk's philosophy and the philosophy of the ANC and the philosophy of, let's say for example, the Dutch government, just to quote one example, is the same. That is a unitary state in the sense in which we all know it and that is not acceptable to them because - well I don't think I have to explain that.
POM. The obvious question is, you've embarked on the beginnings of a homeland in Orania and what leads you to believe that you can attract the capital investment and the people to go there in large numbers to make this a successful development?
JH. Well you just do it. You just do it and hope it will go right. You have no choice. There is no other choice so one certainly has the hope that more and more people will start living there and see this as an alternative to the situation that will develop in South Africa because we do know that South Africa is heading for a third world status due to the population explosion of the larger part of the people. That will cause a third world situation with accompanying problems of poverty and neglect of health standards. It is just a fact that under these conditions some people are willing to live, others are not willing to live, and that gives me the hope that more and more people will see the logic in this and start considering a homeland as an alternative and that is the only basis I have. There is no other deep philosophy of big money pouring millions of rand into a thing like that. It's just a basic guideline that people have to live decently will lead them there. That's all I can say.
POM. Well would you see it as an autonomous homeland within the South African state or as an independent state?
JH. Well one has to - there can be various forms of the administration of a place like this. It can be a part of a federal state. It can be a completely autonomous state. I think to be practical one has to think in terms of South Africa probably as a federal state with this one part in a federal state with a certain sort of autonomy as a beginning. But the ultimate aim will be an autonomous state. That is the way to look at this. But it's a process. One has to walk before you can run.
POM. How is the town administered at the present moment?
JH. Well it has a Town Council.
POM. An elected Town Council?
POM. How many residents are there?
JH. About 200.
POM. 200 people comprising how many families?
JH. Oh I would say about 50 families.
POM. 50 families round about?
JH. Yes, the point with Orania is you must start somewhere. You can't start - it's a modest beginning but you must begin somewhere. The idea is much righter than we think and the practical implementation of the idea. The idea is growing but this is a practical starting point. So the town is small but it stands for an idea and this thing is growing. The town is growing and the idea is growing. Of course in the future, I mean nobody can exist in isolation, the smaller you are the more dependent you are on others. So we do foresee a close co-operation with others, with other peoples, with the rest of South Africa. I always call RSA not the Republic of South Africa but the Rest of South Africa.
POM. In terms of construction and activities like that, will that all be carried out by white labour?
JH. Afrikaners, yes. Well I've started in Pretoria already. If you look at the house next door you'll see two white painters painting a roof and that is extremely exceptional. You won't see that in the rest of South Africa. So wherever we can we start implementing white labour as far as possible, Afrikaner labour. We're not racists, we prefer not to talk of white labour but of Afrikaner labour. The connotation of colour, we try to avoid that.
POM. Where would you place coloureds in the scheme?
JH. The coloureds? The coloureds, the question should be reversed. Where do they place themselves? In the past I thought of them as a nation but now lately I've heard rumours from their leaders that they don't consider themselves as a nation so they stay a problem. It's an Afrikaner people, there I agree. They speak Afrikaans, they have an Afrikaner culture but they are not part of the Afrikaner people and, this is a sociological thing, they don't have a common history, don't have common battles. The coloureds are a group of people and they don't consider themselves a nation. I always thought of them as a nation but they are not Afrikaners, no.
POM. How did the people in the community at the moment, how did they subsist? How did they earn their living? How did they generate - ?
JH. At the moment I think most of the money that is available there comes from outside. It's brought there by people that go there. They build houses from money which they have earned in South Africa. They probably will retire there on money which they have earned in South Africa. They'll send their children to school there with money that they've earned in the 'Rest of South Africa'. So it's mostly money that's earned in the RSA that's spent there and for the future for a long time it'll be so.
POM. But this is a question more regarding my ignorance even though I've been from Kimberley out there, are there enough communities adjacent to Orania where a substantial number of residents of Orania could go to work?
JH. I don't know. What I would say, if the homeland develops in the way we see it, then more jobs will be created, have to be created, and mostly in the beginning it will be farming jobs, it will be a farming community in principle. And we know from that grows a secondary industry serving the farming community. At the moment there are no jobs available in that part of the country. I mean they are all filled. But as more people move there jobs will be created there. It's a new life that has started.
POM. What has been the - ? The community opened its doors first in?
JH. April 1991.
POM. April 1991. So you will be coming up on its first anniversary in April.
JH. Yes in April, end of March.
POM. How has the growth pattern been over the year?
JH. From zero to 200.
POM. That's what's just been completed. Houses, the school?
JH. The school is functioning. There's a medical doctor, there's a dentist.
POM. Within the community itself?
JH. They already have infrastructure there. They can pull your teeth, they can give you a very good dental service. There's a medical man there. School.
POM. Have you found the Conservative Party to be receptive to your idea of a homeland?
JH. As a political party they're normally very careful about these things. They'll support you but they say we won't necessarily support exact boundaries which you envisage because they fear, they are afraid they might tread on certain toes. Some people may live outside this area and they are very staunch supporters of the CP. So I have understanding for their attitude, to be very careful. But broadly the idea of partition is very, very strongly part of the CP philosophy. They won't tie themselves to that area, the north western part of the Cape Province. No, they won't do that. But the idea of partition is very strongly supported by the CP. It's like the Zionists you know, when the Zionists started at the end of last century who was their leader? I mean you had a Zionist movement but some of them were afraid to fix the boundary of Israel. Some of them even talked of Africa or some of America as a possible homeland but they were all Zionists. It just happens in history that you support a principle but you are vague about the boundaries of the principle. That's exactly the situation with the CP in South Africa at the moment. Herzl was the name of the Jewish leader, Theodor Herzl. That should be very well known to people interested in homelands because he started the idea of Israel as a homeland.
POM. That's maybe a good starting point. What historical parallels do you look to?
JH. No, none. Well a homeland is a thing that's created. It rarely is attached to a certain area but historic claims are not very strong claims. You say, well my grandfather is buried here, that's why I have a claim to this part. That is not a very good starting point because people can be driven out of a country, like the Germans were driven out of Poland and probably will never return there. The Polish were driven out of Russia but they would never return to Russia. So to say that my great-grandfather was born and bred and died in the Free State, now I want the Free State as a homeland, that is a thing which internationally is not acceptable. But to go and live in a part, to settle, that is a strong arguing point to create a state and to get international recognition for that state. So I would say from my point of view, from our point of view, we must be practical and say that historical claims to an area are not of importance to us. We must claim areas that we can run well, that we can govern well and run well and get a majority of the population there within a recent time. I mean it is no use claiming Zululand because there are so many Zulus in Zululand they have a stronger claim that we have although we have bought certain parts from them. [... and he even died, he was killed for that] Our blood is in the earth of Zululand but that gives us no real claim to Zululand because the practical situation is just so that the majority of Zulus live there. We have no claim, those claims, historic claims are not very strong claims.
POM. When you look at the last two years what is your assessment of what has happened and what's going to happen?
JH. Well South Africa in two years time I would say all the expectations of the third world component of our country will not have been satisfied. There will be unrest due to that, a bit of instability, the country will still be unstable due to the fact that the country is just not in a position to fulfil all the needs and claims of the poorer part of our country. So I would say a lesser amount of stability in two years time. I would say a lowering of standards. We're spending less and less on capital investment in this country. The roads will degenerate even more than they are at the moment. You will see more and more old cars on the roads, pollution will be bigger than it is at the moment. The nature conservation will play a lesser and a lesser role, I think possibly due to the fact that money is just not available for, well to combat pollution. I would say there would be more people, more people without jobs in two years time. So it's actually very negative but I do see a greater awareness among the Afrikaners for the homeland, a greater awareness of the value of that for their future.
POM. Is it your belief that if an election were held today that the CP would win a majority of the votes?
JH. Well if an election were held, an election, not a referendum, there's a big difference between the two, due to the geographic distribution of people if an election were held there's a very good chance that a normal election would be lost by the government if it's held in the normal way among white people, the traditional white people. But I want to point out that even if it were held and we lost it, our case would go on. It will never be stopped. I mean the government will avoid an election by all means. They'll go for the referendum and that we can lose, I think we can lose that. But that can never stop our determination to work for our homeland. It transgresses, this will continue, that's the only thing that will continue in this country, this striving for the Afrikaner's independence.
POM. Why do you think that the government would win a referendum?
JH. Well Patrick, the point is this, you can switch off there, I don't want to waste your - you can put this off. [Tape recorder switched off]
POM. I suppose you find constituencies.
JH. I don't want to waste your time on this. Suppose you have six - suppose the black pro-government is here, suppose this is pro-government and a small component of conservatives. This is pro-government, a small component. This will be the result in one constituency, say 80% - 20% vote. Same here. Here it will be, the conservatives will be more, here they will be more, here they will be more and here they can even be equal, I don't mind. Now you can see the distribution of constituencies through the country.
POM. Oh sorry, taking a referendum, why do you think government would, not an election, but why the government would win a straight referendum?
JH. I can explain it here. A referendum will give you all these black areas, pro-government.
POM. Meaning among the white electorate?
JH. Yes. With the black, I mean just the colour black. This is just a pro-government vote and that is an anti-government vote among the white people. Now if you could, this may be a Durban/Johannesburg constituency, this may be a Pretoria/Bloemfontein constituency, the density of people distributed through the country is such that there can be a majority of pro-government people but they can have a smaller number of - look, this is a conservative constituency, that's conservative, that's conservative. Leave this one out. So there are three conservative constituencies and two government constituencies. That says the government loses this election. But the referendum, they could get these votes individually and they can still have a majority. That's the one thing.
POM. I see.
JH. The other thing is the distribution of people in this country is just such that the result of a referendum and the result of a normal election is not necessarily the same. And moreover these people can lose their constituencies if they voted ... there will be massive losses among the government. Then these people are lost to the government and they won't ever try to avoid their own people losing their constituencies. A referendum doesn't hold this danger in it. There are other reasons. In a referendum you can vote anywhere, I mean you can live in Pretoria although you are actually registered in Cape Town. Now in a normal election you must go and vote in Cape Town or you must go here specially to a certain magistrate and cast a postal vote for Cape Town, for example. In a referendum it's just first come first served. Anybody can vote anywhere. So the number of people that vote in a referendum is more than normal. So all people, any irresponsible little guy that never registered himself he can vote. I mean the responsible part of your people, the people that think, they register themselves, they see they are on the voter's roll.
POM. So you have to be registered to vote if you vote in an election for a government, but you don't have to be registered to vote if you have a referendum?
JH. In a referendum you can vote, look you have to be registered in a certain constituency to be able to vote in that constituency but in a referendum you can vote anywhere. It's just a yes/no question, there is no constituency tied to it. And of course then a referendum is a very difficult thing. They can phrase the question in such a way, a nice sugared little thing, 'Are you for peace and stability - yes or no?' And then, maybe that's an extreme example, but the way you phrase questions in a referendum is very, very important. I mean the government will be in a position to phrase the question. What do you vote about? If they really put it this way, 'Are you for the self-determination of the white people?' then people will vote yes but they won't phrase it in that way. Do you think they will be that stupid? They'll never be. Self-determination, that's a very basic right to all people as you know, but in South Africa, the government said this at CODESA, you know these CODESA talks? They undertook to put the question of self-determination on the agenda of that thing on behalf of the right wing people that are not present. So they definitely are against self-determination. They will put it on the agenda. They won't support it, they will just put it on the agenda because the right wing are not present at these talks. So they stated bluntly that they are against self-determination and the people don't like that.
POM. The issue of self-determination is on the agenda?
JH. No, they undertook to put it on the agenda on behalf of all those who are not there to put it, but on their own they won't support it. So what do they say, this example, I'm just saying that if a referendum is phrased in such a way and people have to choose for or against self-determination, the rights can win even a referendum but they won't phrase it in that way. That's why I say a referendum is very touchy. It's a very difficult thing but an election they can definitely lose and that's why they will avoid it. The NP will avoid holding an election. OK, any other questions?
POM. So since I arrived here last week there has been increasing talk of the threat of right wing violence. Do you think this is something that will just be sporadic or something that will in fact become - ?
JH. Yes, it'll be sporadic. But of course if it really comes to people's lifestyle being threatened, people being killed, like the people in the Free State at the moment, every two weeks you read that a couple has been murdered on some farm in the free State and these things continue, you don't know what the end of that will be. But normally I would say it's completely sporadic. I believe it's sporadic but I think the government should take cognisance of this. It can possibly grow into things less sporadic and more systematic in the future. At the moment I believe it's more sporadic.
POM. One thing we've never discussed here and that is what might be the impact of AIDS on the population, how that might alter the position.
JH. Patrick, I don't know. That's not my field. I just read about Africa having AIDS. It's not part of my calculations.
POM. But in other countries, like in Kenya or Ethiopia there is a lot more awareness in terms of public advertisements or documents issued by the government, but here there appears -
JH. The government continually talks about AIDS here. In fact I've seen advertisements here very frequently, even over television I've seen it against AIDS and I've seen telephone numbers and you can call medical clinics, you can call and ask advice. So I think the government is trying to attack AIDS in this country. May I ask you a question? Have you got the perception from your talks with blacks that the government is trying to suppress the battle against AIDS? Is there such a perception in this country?
POM. There is, a light one. I wouldn't call it at all deeply ingrained, it's far more on the radical left than anywhere else.
JH. So they are saying the government deliberately doesn't want to do something about AIDS so that the blacks can be decimated. I would be very surprised if a perception like this exists because I think the government is really doing a lot against the dangers of AIDS. But in this country anything can happen. I think people will use this as a propaganda against the Afrikaners or against the government. Interesting what you're saying here. You've discovered this?
POM. It's not a very deeply ingrained or widespread perception but it's there.
JH. On the radical left I would say it can be very - I would say this, we must all exist together in South Africa. Nobody can exist here in isolation. But you can't burn your bridges. You must really calculate for the day when the financial resources of this country cannot carry the burden, the real burden of this country. Now that's one of the reasons for the homeland.
POM. Do you have any real problem with the demand of blacks for universal franchise?
JH. No, I'm not talking about that. I understand it. I would do the same. In fact they deserve it. I think a universal franchise is the right system for this country. I do believe it.
POM. Do you think that they have a case when they say that per capita expenditure on, say, white education or white health services is nine, ten, eleven or twelve times higher and that it is unfair?
JH. I think that they've a point, yes of course. Yes, they have a point there. Their criticism is valid. But of course the resources of the country are such that they cannot just spend the same on everybody without lowering the standards very much and that is a reason I don't want to live in this country. But they have a point.
POM. So am I correct in surmising that you want to carve out a white homeland with a boundary unfixed, there's a starting point, a community that will build on itself and that the rest of Africa can do what it wants? If they want to form a unitary state in South Africa that's fine.
JH. You can't avoid it. To be honest and realistic, the 'Rest of South Africa' must be a unitary state. Maybe the Zulus also want their own homeland, then I would cut these two out. Maybe the Indians want their homeland, you must cut a third part out. But you'll end up in a part where you'll have universal franchise. That is right. I think it's morally defensible in the same way as a homeland is morally defensible. For those people that do not feel very strongly about a homeland give them a chance to live in a unitary state. I understand that that's where it's going. The only exception may be the Zulus. Maybe they say, look we want Natal and we must get the rest of Natal. They haven't stated this very clearly. They talk of a federation. The Zulu leader always talks of a federal state. He wants very strongly federal characteristics in this state.
POM. Well the government's own proposals would lean in that direction.
JH. I'm not very clear on what the government wants, at least it's very vague also. Really, Patrick, I just stick my hands into the tradition of self-reliance, self-determination, do your own work, be independent of foreign peoples, to live in peace with the rest of the world, and that's my whole philosophy. I don't want to make war with any black men, no. But I cannot depend on them for the rest of my life because later on they will ask me to pay for that. That's exactly what they are doing now. We've made ourselves dependent on the blacks in this country and we're paying dearly for that at the moment and will pay more so in the future.
POM. Do you think that in the process of making yourselves dependent on blacks that you also exploited them?
JH. Yes, yes, we did, the blacks were exploited in the sense that they were paid very little by certain people. I think they were exploited to some extent, yes.
POM. Do you think apartheid is wrong?
JH. Apartheid is morally wrong, yes. Look, apartheid is wrong. You can't expect a man to work for you and later on to refuse him in a restaurant. That is morally wrong, that sort of apartheid is wrong, is morally wrong. There are certain things in apartheid, look, apartheid in its structure always had the vision to the future. Say the Population Registration Act the people are classified in their Books of Life according to Zulus or Afrikaners. That classification, that's a pillar-stone of apartheid. There's nothing wrong with that. There are things in apartheid, the structure of apartheid is such that the view is independence of these peoples to avoid exploitation. If the view of apartheid measure is, say, to create homelands, I mean you need classification to create a homeland. A man has to know whether he's a Zulu or a Xhosa if you want to create a Zulu homeland. So this classification of peoples, there's nothing wrong with that.
POM. What if the classification is really done against the wishes of those people? Where it's one group who are saying that we are going to classify you but all the other groups are saying we don't want to be classified.
JH. Oh well, I don't think you hurt anybody by classifying anybody. Morally I don't think it's - of course if people refuse to be classified I would even say that's acceptable but I want to be classified and why not classify me? I want to be classified as an Afrikaner, not a super race but just as an Afrikaner. So to answer your question, yes, if people do not want to be classified, well don't classify them then. Just say 'South Africans'. But we need, and those that want to be classified, I mean a Zulu wants to be classified as a Zulu, I want to be classified as an Afrikaner and I'm sure that many people in this country want to be classified. Why not?
POM. Are you making a distinction between being classified by an ethnic identity and being classified by colour?
JH. Well it's very related you know. I mean a Zulu is a Zulu. You don't get white Zulus. Maybe one or two, but those are the exceptions.
POM. When I go to Orania in the summer what do you suggest is the best approach to examining the community? Who should I be in touch with beforehand?
JH. There's a Mr Steyn there, ask for Mr Renus Steyn. I think he's number 11, Orania number 11.
POM. Now how do I ring Orania?
JH. Just dial 0020. That's all, just phone 0020. Same from abroad.
POM. So I'd dial 27-020.