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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
24 Jan 1992: Wessels, Leon
POM An obvious point to start with, Minister, is Mr de Klerk's speech this morning and the outline that I read of it was in The Argus early edition this afternoon so my questions are predicated on what they put in or didn't put in, but as I understood them it was, one, there would be proposals to establish a transitional government, secondly there would be proposals to change the composition of parliament to include the total population in an equitable manner, three, that this package would be put before the electorate of the three existing Houses of Parliament and to the black population so you would have four voter rolls. And the quote from Mr de Klerk was, "I envisage a referendum in which every South African will be able to take part and which result may be determined globally as well as by parliamentary constituency". I assume parliamentary constituency means again voter roll? So is that a correct interpretation of what he had in mind.
LW I didn't quite follow exactly as you read it but the point simply means that we want to have electorate support for whatever we will be doing finally.
POM But what I'm getting at is that there are proposals to establish a transitional government.
LW Yes, but not as government by decree or something hanging in the air.
POM No, I'm just saying that's just one set of proposals. I don't know what the content will be. And there's a second set of proposals which is to broaden the parliament which would include blacks in the parliament. And these two proposals will be put to the electorate in a referendum? They would vote on that, then if they said yes then they would take it back to the parliament as presently constituted, it would pass the necessary constitutional amendments and then a transitional government would be established.
LW That is correct, yes.
POM So my question is, the broadening of parliament will not be done through elections?
LW Well I don't think one ought to speculate too much about what the proposals finally would look like. I think the basic theme of it would be that one would like to have a legitimate executive and legislative authority to deal with the whole transition period and I think that's the thrust of it all.
POM There are two obvious questions: one would be what if it gains acceptance in three constituencies and is voted down by the white constituency?
LW Well simply then you don't have a solution and then simply it will mean back to the drawing board, back to the negotiating table.
POM And similarly if it were accepted by the white community but rejected by the black community?
LW Absolutely. Absolutely. You won't have a winning recipe if it's only endorsed by the whites.
POM I suppose my larger question would be: I assume this is the government's opening position in some way because I assume it would be regarded by the ANC, I haven't heard their responses, but it's a kind of a form of co-option and they are still firmly at the point of demanding the resignation of the government, elections for an interim government and a Constituent Assembly.
LW No it shouldn't be co-option because the proposals will be negotiated, ought to be negotiated, and the legitimising of it ought to be through popular elections. So it's not co-option in the sense that you are looking for black faces just to have blacks represented. The key words are through negotiation and elections.
POM So the content of these proposals that would be put before the electorate would be contents that would be negotiated through CODESA?
LW Yes, most definitely. Because CODESA has two Working Groups more or less dealing with it. The one Working Group is charged with a responsibility to draft constitutional principles and the second one is charged with the responsibility to deal with interim arrangements, and this certainly is an interim arrangement and certainly CODESA and that Working Group is based on the principle of negotiation and reaching sufficient consensus.
POM This is a kind of technical question but would the transitional government, would it's length be co-terminus with the length of the existing government or would ...?
LW No, no, no, no. The thing is that what you would then have, you would have an interim government which is a legal interim government based on parliamentary democracy and the principle of consensus and that interim government will manage the whole process of transition and further constitutional development. We are being accused of being players as well as the referees and that is exactly a way to try and get around that accusation.
POM Have you heard the ANC's response to the proposals?
LW I haven't heard their public response to this.
POM Can you say whether there was a discussion in Cabinet or whatever about what the probable ANC response would be or personally what do you think their response will be?
LW Well, let's say what I think. I think that the ANC will certainly publicly say straight away, "This is not what we demanded." But we are engaged in negotiations, a wonderful situation in itself, which is, I believe, in many aspect unique. And the principle of negotiation certainly means a give and take one where we would be giving and taking and that goes for them as well. A principle which they also have acknowledged. So I believe we all come differently out of negotiations from what we entered. The ANC initially were not in favour of a multi-party conference, etc., etc. and we were not in favour of many things. I think it's possible. It's possible when people sit around the way we are sitting around at CODESA.
POM So in a sense this is the government's marker?
POM And the ANC's marker is their demand for a Constituent Assembly and the things to bargain, an arrangement between those two markers points?
LW Absolutely. Sure.
POM Last October I asked you whether you could or, because you had only taken over the post, come up with a viable housing programme that would meet the expectations of the black community. And you said, and I quote you, "I must say to you today, no I cannot and I cannot simply because I don't have the answers yet".
LW What is important is that in housing, meeting the demands of housing in this country, we from a government point of view and from monetary point of view, budget point of view, simply cannot come up with the solutions in isolation. We need the involvement of an acceptable participation of everybody. Everybody in this case means private sector, public sector as well as the communities at large. It's as simple as that. We're still dealing with the issue of sanctions albeit that sanctions are just simply kept alive as a bargaining chip by the ANC, but you cannot solve this in isolation and you need barricades such as sanctions to be broken down to the last brick. So, yes, there's progress, there's movement, there's understanding growing in that field but we cannot engage in handing out of houses. Our budget as we have it now is not sufficient and we cannot do it unilaterally.
POM Last week we were in Namibia and had the opportunity to talk with the Minister of Housing there and she said they were running into a problem on their housing programme. They had one in place but that when news that the government was building additional houses got out the inflow of people, the rate of urbanisation began to increase quicker than the rate at which they could build new houses so that in fact as they built more houses the backlog got greater, not less. Are there similar tendencies in that direction here?
LW The urbanisation, squatting problem has grown tremendously. One of the reasons why it has grown is because many of these people were living in the backyards and shacks in the urban areas for a long, long time. They are now moving out into open spaces because of the relaxation of certain measures and the repealing of certain measures and therefore they were never housed. Albeit that you didn't see them, it simply meant that they were never housed before and that is why the lack of housing is so visible at the moment. Not as if it is something that developed overnight. It was simply there but you didn't see it.
POM Do you see this as one of the, that the expectations in the black community are exceedingly high regarding the ability of a future government to deliver housing?
LW That has been one of the problems of Africa for a long, long time. It was that the socio-economic demands could not wait for the next election and that's why people took the shorter route of coup d'etats and the one-party military dictatorships. That is certainly a problem for a future government, that the expectations - any future government will not be able to produce the houses as quickly as people expect them to. And that is when that government's problems will start. It will depend on how we enshrine a culture of toleration, of human rights, of democracy in the greater population. And how clearly we spell out our vision for the future. And how do we market our vision so that people know that's where we want to be. There is progress. We cannot build the houses overnight but there is progress towards that vision.
POM Are there any programmes under way of civic education, of trying to demonstrate to the broad masses of people basic democratic principles?
LW Yes, there is. It's on a very small scale but there certainly is. I know people in various Human Rights Centres are doing that.
POM On housing programmes, do you consult with members of the ANC?
LW Yes. It's a matter of there is progress. We meet, we talk, we ask institutions to be involved. But the ANC has a policy not to advise but to be involved in decision making and I think that is why the speech the President made on the 20th December 1991 was so important because there he first said that we are in favour of a transitional government in order to deal with all these matters and these difficulties. What the ANC wants to achieve is they want to engage us in decision making forums and they just want the government then to act as the agent of implementing those decisions. And we said, "No, that's not the correct way to do it. Let's get our house in order. Let's have an interim government where you could participate and take the decisions with us and implement it through those channels." So we do meet. But the ANC is reluctant to sit on advisory bodies and to make themselves available to be consulted and so forth.
POM They will not make themselves available to be consulted?
LW They don't set themselves up as consultants. You can meet them informally and discuss all these issues with them, which we do, but for the ANC to come as a delegation from a particular - as so many other interest groups do - and come to a minister's office and say, "We advise you to do the following", or "We request you to do the following", the ANC is reluctant to do that.
POM The question I'm getting at is that ultimately there is going to be in the country a competition for political power and who gains power depends on many variables. And here you have a situation where the government is given a much higher profile to what it's trying to do in terms of providing social amenities in poor black areas and engage in a programme of house building and it's more visible to us even as we move around the country in different places, and that the ANC sees that as an attempt by the National Party to buy off part of its constituency, so to speak. Like you're trying to make inroads into its constituency. Do you think this explains part of their reluctance to advise?
LW Absolutely. It's much deeper than the way you've just said it, but it is part of the truth. The ANC realises that. But they have a whole strategy towards development in which they want to engage the state and actually have set the demands and get the state to implement their policies. They want all the juicy bits of the budget but they don't want the rough edges of the budget. In other words they want to sit with us when we're talking about the expenditure side of the budget. When that committee meets they want to be there but they don't want to be present when we are talking about the income side, the revenue side. In other words they want to advise us how to hand out the money but not really to be involved in how we tax the people to get hold of the money.
POM The complementary side of that is that if they have a list of demands that they want schools built, teachers provided, hospitals built, this, that and the other, do they really want to see you doing that now since that allows you to start making, as I said, inroads into their constituency? Where you start reaping the political benefits of it? What are the political dynamics of, say, this form of consultation?
LW It's amazing. I mean we are on a very friendly footing with each other, just about all the top echelons of the ANC, and we exchange ideas and we talk about these things, but as I said, informally. Of course they want us to build the schools but their demand is so great that we cannot build the schools overnight. So when we would ask them to advise us which schools should be built tomorrow and which schools should be built next year, they don't want to take that decision with us because there is an element of unpopularity hidden in that statement. So it simply boils back to my old argument: they want to be involved in the nicer part of running the country but not the more difficult.
POM The more taxing parts?
LW Not the more taxing parts of it. And we are simply saying, "Guys you don't run a country like that. Let's find a dispensation where all of us are involved in decision making, not with hidden agendas one way or the other and let's get on with the job."
POM Do you find, again in your discussions with them, that very often there is a divergence between what they would like to do in terms of, not incorporation, but in terms of programmes of policy, that they are constrained by their own grassroots?
LW Well there's no question about that. Letters have appeared in the press where people have said, "Mr Mandela, you've been out of jail or prison for 18 months now. I still haven't got my house." I believe it's grossly unfair and I'm not trying to score a political point in any way, but that is the kind of expectation people have, that many illiterate, poor, underprivileged people had when he came out that day and made his speech. People thought they would have their houses next week and the week after that. So these matters have a bearing on them as well and if you speak to the Namibian government, that was one of the striking features of discussions I've had with those members when we've talked off the record, individually in private, he's saying to me, "You know it's more difficult to run a government than it is to run a freedom struggle." And how easy it actually is to place obstacles in the road of the government, to highlight the difficulties a government has, to highlight its inefficiencies, etc., etc., but to actually deliver the goods which a government has to do is pretty difficult.
POM I often thought that the trick here is to lose the first election. The incoming government will be faced with such momentous problems.
LW That's a very interesting point. The only way a first government will successfully conduct itself is, and this is my view, if it's a government of national unity. In other words all of us have to be involved one way or the other in that government, so you will not leave a particular party with egg on its face. That's the only way because we all have constituencies and we all have to deliver our constituencies for this whole peace process.
POM That to me makes great political sense that no party is left out there being accused of being inefficient or not and losing its own constituency, become very disappointed. So you would envisage, just to follow that, would be a transitional government followed by elections followed by a government of national unity?
LW Not quite. I would envisage the transitional government as sort of government of national unity.
POM Would you envisage that government as having a stipulated time period when it is formed?
LW That is one of the issues. The ANC is arguing that it ought it have a time frame, limited period, and we are simply saying, "Well, let them decide. Let them decide how they manage the road forward." In other words, let's form it and let's form it roughly. I'm sure the time frame will have to be involved, but the way we've conducted ourselves in CODESA, when you spoke to me on the telephone and said to me, and you would then have posed the question to me, saying, "Is it possible that the first multi-party meeting would have the following kind of time scales which CODESA has set itself?" I would simply have said, "No ways. Forget about it. It's not possible." So it could be that the time frames, I sit on that Working Group that is dealing with the time frames. There's a Working Group and the spirit there makes anything possible.
POM It's remarkable at one level.
LW Maybe I'm drawing you on a sideline and this is not really what you wanted to know. But the first day, on the 9th January, the first day after the ANC had their 80th anniversary, that was the first time this government, the National Party and the ANC ever met to discuss matters of local government. And we were saying to each other there, we spent four hours in each other's company, they had a delegation of about fourteen people and we had about ten people from our side, saying how unthinkable this was twelve months, twenty four months back before the event. And albeit that we did not agree on a wide range of issues during that discussion, that none of us for one moment considered either going back to the armed struggle or going back to the old days of apartheid. And that's really what I'm trying to say to you. I don't want to mention their names, but just to stick to the concept, but people that were deeply involved in the armed struggle and deeply involved in serious conflict that we were engaged with, the way if you see us talking to one another now you simply would not believe it.
POM Talking about local government, there has been this move under way in many municipalities to integrate the white municipality with an adjoining black township under a, like the Charter Committee in Johannesburg and I think there was just a quote in The Argus yesterday saying that within a year Cape Town could have a "fully representative, non-racial local government in place within a year". These efforts to create new local government structures, can they take place outside of the new constitutional framework or must they wait until that new constitutional framework is in place?
LW No, they have to be dealt with simultaneously. We've resolved, the ANC and us, and said so publicly afterwards that the forum where future local government structures ought to be negotiated is CODESA. That's the platform. We encourage the negotiations that take place on the local level but it should not in any way derail the process that is on course on the national level. So people who negotiate on the local level should conduct themselves that it's in tandem with the events of CODESA.
POM So this would mean that people can negotiate at the local level, from a township and, say, a white municipality, but at some point the arrangements they're coming up with must be folded in to what's going on in CODESA.
LW I was told this morning that is also exactly what the ANC delegation did tell the Town Council of Cape Town yesterday. They said to them, "Well we don't have a mandate to discuss that with you now but broadly speaking yes and yes, but we have to toe the national line and we have to consult on a national level."
POM What about the right wing and the threat of right wing violence? When we met you first in July of 1990 people talked a lot about the threat of the right wing. By early last summer nobody talked about it at all, at least to us. Last winter I should say. And by late winter after Ventersdorp it came back in the news again and Dr Treurnicht began to make more extreme statements, almost acting in a way that you would regard the AWB and the Conservative Party as being, if not in collusion with each other, at least on a similar track. Is the threat of right wing violence serious? Not serious enough to derail the process but to ensure that the process remains incomplete.
LW Well it's serious enough to cause a lot of hardship and it's serious enough to take cognisance of and it's serious enough not to underestimate it, but it's not serious enough to believe that it could derail the process, as you said. And it's not serious enough to make us channel all our energies towards that. I mean it's serious, roughly speaking the right wing and the left wing violence of late is serious enough to place a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of those parties in favour of negotiation to ensure that we come up with a solution which is reasonable and fair to all South Africans. And I think many people are aware of that. When I say many people, I'm now talking in the ambit of the negotiating parties. When you speak to the ANC they don't reconsider their position with regards to any of their policy statements because there is such a threat from the left and the right, but they would say, "Well it's serious enough to demand that we also in the ANC and other negotiating parties, simply should give this negotiating process our best shot to keep those movement parties at bay."
POM But does it also mean, for example, that in its public rhetoric the ANC has to take a harder line, has almost to have a tough public line?
LW No it doesn't mean that. If I understood you correctly it doesn't mean that. Look at many things. Look at the Paul Simon thing. The ANC supported Paul Simon out of conviction. There was no comeback on the Paul Simon tour. That was their decision. That was why they supported it.
POM I'll tell you why I asked that question.
LW Not playing up to the left wing so to speak and therefore are pressing us harder. It's not like that.
POM OK. Maybe the context I made it in would be a different one and that is that over the last twelve months I have been struck by the Mr Mandela's increasing insistence that it is the government who is behind the violence and in the townships that we have visited it's a given. It's totally accepted. One can't have a conversation on it. It's like a one sentence conversation and the answer is, "Yes, the government is behind it." Is this a potentially explosive question especially with the allegations more recently being made in The Weekly Mail that in private, off the record, Mandela is as insistent that it's the government?
LW No, no. That point is a point with substance in the framework of the ANC. In other words they are not making that point to pacify their left wing critics. That's what I'm really trying to say. They have their line on Paul Simon because as I mentioned they have their line on government involvement in violence in the townships. It's an independent line of thinking. It's not because they are under pressure from the extreme party. As you said, for them it's a given.
POM I'd like to hear your thoughts on that because one part of me finds it very difficult to understand that you can have two parties in negotiations with one party insisting the other party is trying to wipe it out and at the same time they get along with concerns.
LW Well that is part of the suspicion that we haven't dealt with in this country, simply because we still suspect them of a hidden agenda on arms caches and the suspension of the armed struggle, etc., etc. That is a process, it's only a peace process that could allow those fears and suspicions. When we actually, and it's growing, not the suspicion but the process of understanding and coming to grips with it. As we move forward in discussions and negotiations I think we understand each other's position much better and the process also demands of us not to have hidden agendas. I think that's a long, long story and I'm not shocked because of us getting on as well as we do. For example when I would meet a person from uMkhonto I am still suspicious about his agenda and he most definitely is about mine. But as individuals we are not dangerous to each other and we would be talking and discussing all matters relating to the political climate, the stumbling blocks in the process of coming to a normal democratic process and that is exactly why we have that Working Group going in CODESA, the Working Group dealing with creating a positive climate for the political process. And that's where we are talking about these matters.
POM Let me relate that kind of conversation to something I brought up to you before but then lost on the tape recorder on last summer's interview, and that was this whole question of ethnicity. I think I told you then about this book by a man called Donald Horowitz who is a world class scholar who has written a book Ethnicity in South Africa arguing that it was a deeply divided society by all the classical criteria of what a deeply divided society is and he made the case that unless governance structures took account of these ethnic differences that there would be potential for real conflict in the future. We have found in our discussions with the ANC that they react to this book as though it were a kind of white propaganda because this is the kind of stuff you would expect whites to start propagating at this point in time, that all tribal or ethnic divisions were the result of apartheid and it did not precede apartheid. We talked to white liberals who would say, "Yes these are problems but white liberals don't talk about it because if you bring the question up somehow you're regarded as being an apologist for the regime." They're kind of saying, "Well apartheid was wrong but there are differences, the government just approached them and dealt with them in the wrong way." One, do you think that the question of ethnic differences are a real and important matter of concern? Two, do you find in your conversations with members of the ANC or whatever that they are willing to talk about this in a way that's not totally dismissive of the subject? Or does the matter come up at all?
LW Yes, well, Mr Mandela did mention that matter in public not so long ago. He said that was one of the lessons that we would have to learn. People have a need for their own culture, their own religion, etc., etc. and he did highlight the importance of the matter, albeit not as sharply as if it was a stumbling block but simply that that was one of the mistakes that African countries and Central European countries, Eastern European countries had made in the past by trying to ignore those difference, simply saying you cannot afford to repeat those differences, repeat those mistakes by ignoring those differences. But I believe that if you have a booming economy the whole question of ethnic differences does not play up as much as it will if there is poverty, unemployment and privileged groups. If the privileges rest in the hands of just a few people or a specific tribe or a specific ethnic group you have problems. In this country ethnicity is there, it's widespread and if you have favouritism you'll have problems.
POM And the parallel part of that, again going back to the violence, would it be your view or is it the government view that a lot of the violence is in fact motivated by ethnic differences between Xhosa and Zulu?
LW I'll answer you to the best of my ability, but I am watching the clock and I know you have a set of lectures. I believe that the violence initially was more than just ethnicity. The violence in Natal, for example, there was initially no Xhosa factor involved in that violence. It had to do with political persuasion. It had to do with urbanisation, it had to do with the pressure on resources, it had to do with the lack of understanding of the authority and traditions of the Chiefs, etc. But it did play up to being ethnic and that is what the ANC preferred to ignore. There were also flash points in Natal where it was as ethnic as anything. I was involved, I don't claim to be an expert on this field, but from what I learned and what I saw there is ample proof of the fact that it was ethnic in Natal and in the Transvaal. Agreed it was never ethnic before we had this levelling of the political field and the political competitions. I could give you examples but I'm refraining. I'm trying to make my point, would you like an example?
POM But, maybe do because it's something I play a lot of emphasis on because I think one of the lessons of Eastern Europe is that we also say ethnic differences exist but they're not that great. Certainly things explode and there it has to do with the ...
LW Let's stick to the examples. In Natal where there was no ethnicity there was a lack of land. The tradition demands that you report to the Chief, the Chief allocates the land. People said, "Forget about the Chief. We haven't got time. We need to settle." And therefore they ignored his authority. Many such instances in Natal where conflict started, and it just so happened that people who urbanised were UDF supporters ultimately and the Chiefs were Inkatha supporters. In Natal also as far as the mines were concerned, when Mr Mandela was released I'm told that the Xhosa workers at those mines were saying, "He's going to be the Head of State one day. Buthelezi's going to be his tea boy." Those were the words that they used. And the people on the mines were all members of COSATU. They were all members of COSATU and COSATU certainly was not friendly disposed towards Buthelezi. But when they made that statement they immediately brought ethnic sentiments to the fore and subsequently the Xhosas, lock stock and barrel, had to leave. Just to highlight my argument I give you those two examples.
POM Well again I'm saying it because it levels playing fields with the kind of lift of communism in, for instance, Yugoslavia, the playing field became more level for the different groups.
LW But there were also the Serbs and the Croatians. The Serbs need the wealth of the Croatians. The Croatians want to preserve their wealth, they are in favour of a separate entity. They go for a breakaway situation, etc. etc., which also has to do with wealth and privilege and other matters.
POM As you look to the future, do you think that in the 18 months since we first talked that things have progressed far more rapidly than you would have thought at the time?
LW Yes, yes, even more rapidly than I would have thought it could.
POM What kind of obstacles do you see lying now in Mr de Klerk's path and what kind of obstacles do you see lying in Mr Mandela's path as they both try to manage their respective constituencies?
LW Well Mr de Klerk's path simply is uncertainty is his biggest enemy. Uncertainty for the white community. What will the future entail? Will there be a carved out position for them? Not in terms of privileges but in terms of participation. Their uncertainty and their fears are the precedents of Africa. What happened to white communities, minority communities? In other words, how successful will he be at the negotiating table to allay those fears by coming up with a fair, equitable solution, but also addressing the fears of the white community? I think that's an important issue as far as he is concerned. Mr Mandela is twofold. His difficulties are twofold. How will he successfully negotiate a dispensation, democratic dispensation and at the same time also meeting Mr de Klerk half way without being projected as a sell-out or not meeting the central demands of universal suffrage and participation, free participation, equal participation? But, secondly, his second difficulty has to do with the socio-economic aspirations of is constituency. How will this process be able to live up to those aspirations and needs?
POM Looking at the white fears for a moment, could you distinguish between white fears which you think have a basis in reality and white fears that have the product of fantasy or propaganda or mythology?
LW Yes. Well the white fears with reality or with basis or substance, I would say simply is if you have the kind of Idi Amin result and I would say also the kind of Idi Amin one-track minded dictatorship, or you have the Mugabe sort of arrogance, you have a problem. I think that is a fear with substance. Fallacy simply is that blacks cannot rule, blacks are by nature not democrats. I mean that's absolute fallacy, that's absolute nonsense.
POM What kind of fears do you get being expressed by your own constituents?
LW I would say the fear they have is that this country will blow up, some of them, hat it will blow up. The people with fears, fears with substance I'm talking about, that this country will simply blow up and what you see on television screens over in Croatia and Serbia that that is waiting for us. But I don't think there are many people who firmly believe it will go that way.
POM Three or four rather short questions, I see you're getting a little bit on edge.
LW I am, I have some very important people waiting for me.
POM OK. The first is sometimes it seems to me that the government and the ANC are talking about two different things, that the ANC are talking about a process that will lead to a transfer of power while the government are talking about a process for the sharing of power. Do you find that dichotomy there?
LW Yes, yes, it's certainly there and it's certainly because of a lack of understanding from both sides. They believe what we are talking about when we're talking about the safeguards of minorities, we one way or another have apartheid in disguise in mind, and we somehow believe when they have the transfer of power in mind they simply have in mind a one person one vote, a la Westminster kind of style government. Those are issues that we have to talk about but it's there.
POM Does the National Party accept in some way the inevitability of black majority rule?
LW More black faces in important places?
POM No, let's say an ANC government that would contain some white faces but nevertheless it would be ...
LW It depends on what model we're talking about.
POM Not on the majoritarian one.
LW If it's a typical German model or Swiss model or American model or Australian model I think we would go along with that.
POM OK, I'll leave it at that, I know you're rushing.
LW I'm sorry. I was watching your watch and your watch seems to be a little faster than mine, but in any case thanks a lot.
POM Thank you.