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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Aug 1992: Heyns, Johan

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POM     You were just about to make your assessment of the state of the white community.

JH     As far as the white population in our country is concerned I think there is still a very clear distinction or difference between the Nationalist Party and the Conservative Party, or the conservative feeling people. The Nationalist Party still clings to the idea of sharing power within a unitary state of course and the conservative thinking people are still thinking of dividing the land in order to maintain one's privileged position as whites in this country. But I think there is a shift amongst the conservative people which I think is being reflected presently in the position of the Conservative Party. It's not impossible that they could split into two. Or it could be a take-over by Beyers of the leadership of the Conservative Party. The shift there is the fact that Beyers and some of his followers are now willing to negotiate as far as their position is concerned which was not the situation, or which is not the situation for Treurnicht and Hartzenberg. They still think that they could achieve what they have in mind without negotiating. Of course that is an impossible position. Surely they wouldn't be able to achieve anything as far as I'm concerned.

POM     I remember you telling me the last time how you had talked to Dr Treurnicht, this was before the referendum, but how concerned you were about the element of mission that he felt about his position.

JH     I think that is still to change.

POM     Almost a religious element to it, the passion with which he held his position, or a fanatical element?

JH     To that extent, during one of our discussions he went so mad that he got up and left the room. I think that is still his position, but within his ranks, within the Conservative Party I think there is a very, very clear shift. I think that the indication of that is a narrowing of the gap between the Nationalist Party and that portion, the dissidents, of the Conservative Party although, as I said, there is still that difference today at this stage to not accept the principle of sharing power. But they would like to see a division of the country and yet they are willing to negotiate for that position and that is a change.

POM     Now when the campaign for the referendum was going on every report of it in the United States through the quality media, the network television, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and indeed in all the clippings that I got from two news services that I subscribe to here, all described it in terms of it being a process in which whites were being asked if they would vote yes to share power with blacks. It was talked of in terms of power sharing all the time. What do you think whites were voting for when they did vote yes?

JH     Well let me say surely the formulation of the question that was put to the electorate hasn't had that formulation in it, namely, "Are you in favour of sharing power?" - not that. But, "Are you in favour of the process of reform initiated by the State President on 2 February 1990?" Are you in favour of that, yes or no? So they indeed, as you know, voted about 70% (68%, 69%) in favour of the continuation of the negotiations and I think by that they said, look there is only one way of our solving our problem and that is a negotiated settlement, not violent, not any mass action, there is only one way and that is coming together at a negotiating table.

POM     But were they implicitly ruling out certain outcomes by saying yes negotiations and yes reform in order to bring an objective about, the objective being the sharing of power not the transfer of power? I suppose that's what I'm getting at.

JH     You see it's very difficult to answer that question precisely because it was an open position, are you in favour of the process of reform, without a formulation of the possible outcome. So I would say it was a vote for a process and not necessarily for a possible outcome of that process and yet, after having said that, I would like to add immediately, they exactly know what the government had in mind. So it wasn't as open as that, that irrespective of the outcome, no. So you could say that implicitly, although not explicitly, implicitly they voted in favour of the position that's been taken in by the government. And that is to say the sharing of power within a unitary state. Therefore, that was interpreted as a vote not only for de Klerk and his position but it was also interpreted as a vote against the Conservative Party's position. So in that sense I think you can say what you have in mind.

POM     I know that you are part of a delegation of church leaders that met with the government and with the ANC recently. Without divulging anything, and again nothing will be published for four or five years, I'd like from you three things. You have this deadlock at CODESA. I thought that the ANC made a remarkably generous offer in offering a threshold of 75% for items in a Bill of Rights and 70% for inclusion of items in a constitution, given that most opinion polls show that the government and its allies could probably put together between 25% and 33% of the vote at least, so that it was a potential veto. It seemed like that to me, outside of the country at the time. One, why did the government turn it down do you think? Did the government turn down the best offer that they would have gotten?

     The second is, the two parties came out of that CODESA saying, deadlock yes, impasse no. We have a problem but we've made a lot of progress. Things aren't insuperable. Less than a month later the ANC walks out of the talks, there's a whole list of new demands that must be met with talks with Viljoen. You had Mr Mandela mount very direct and personal attacks on Mr de Klerk. You had the whole programme for mass mobilisation pulled to the front. And in the middle of it you had Boipatong. What, in your understanding, led from that kind of deadlock to this dynamic shift to collapse and impasse? That's two.

     Three is, in your meeting with the government, what was their perception of where the ANC is at, what the ANC is about? In your meeting with the ANC what is their perception of what the government is at and what the government is trying to do?

JH     You're asking me political questions. I've told you I'm not a politician, I'm not a diplomat. I think all three of these questions can be reduced to what is my idea, my observations of the real difference between the two parties. I think that was concentrated on the concept of democracy. I think that is a very, very basic difference, even on principle, between the two parties. I think that the ANC understand democracy as a matter of winner takes all, even if it's only 51%, winner takes all. I believe that the government does not think that that sort of interpretation of democracy, (a) is the only legitimate interpretation of democracy, and (b) that interpretation could be a solution for the South African situation. They pointed out even in the discussions we had with the government that there are different possibilities of interpreting the idea of democracy because a position of sheer majority, winner takes all, would not take into consideration the composition of our society. That is to say that you have so many minorities within the South African situation. You do not have only a white minority, you have also a black minority in a sense that, for instance, if you compare the ANC and Inkatha then you could say Inkatha is a minority and so are other smaller groups within the South African community. So if you apply that particular interpretation of democracy on the South African situation you will extend the possibility of friction and violence and you continue that in the future.

POM     Did the church delegation come away from meeting the ANC with the impression that this is what the ANC means by democracy?

JH     Yes.

POM     Is that right? That surprises me frankly. It surprises me that on the one hand they would offer these veto thresholds which seem to argue against a simple majoritarian system. A simple majoritarian system has been so discredited, the only countries that have it now, even in England, in Britain, it's coming under fire because the last four Conservative governments were all elected with less than 50% of the vote and yet they got huge - in more than a two party system it means that a party with the polarity (?)...

JH     I think, now I'm guessing, the reason why they say that this perception of democracy in South Africa, winner takes all, is perhaps again - understand that a different interpretation of democracy could mean not only a veto position through minorities, but in that sense could mean an implied continuation of apartheid. They are trying to maintain the privileged position of the whites even in a future constitution.

POM     So under their definition of democracy, the American system wouldn't be a democratic system?

JH     No. They won't say it's not democratic but they would say that is not what we need in South Africa.

POM     When they say 'we need' do you think it's in terms of because if we are to bring about the economic change and the social change that is required, then there must be strong government?

JH     That could play a role, but my impression is that that is not a basic perception to that. But what is basic to them at the present moment is the fact that they are trying to eradicate every remnant of apartheid and they see in this interpretation of the government of democracy a sort of a built-in privileged position for the whites in South Africa and that is completely impossible for them to accept. That was my impression during our discussions with them and that is the first part I would like to mention, the differences as far a democracy is concerned. And the second one is, in spite of this difference on a more principle level, I would say a difference of perception. It was quite clear to us that the ANC has a certain perception of the whites, the government's language and the government has a certain perception of the ANC which is not always true to the objective position of the different parties. Why? Because of, I would say, a mistrust between the two parties to a very, very large extent. These two parties do not trust one another.

POM     So the government perception of the ANC would be?

JH     You've got a double agenda and the ANC thinks exactly the same of the government.

POM     So the government thinks the ANC's double agenda is?

JH     Well, agreeing with them to a certain extent and yet at the same time it plays another role. This whole mass action which is taking place in South Africa is, according to the government, completely unnecessary. Why? Because we were and are still willing to go back to negotiations. Why then this mass action? The ANC said this mass action is very important to us because (now my words) we see it as sort of a black referendum, you have had your white referendum, this is our black referendum in order to show you our muscle and to sort of tell you that we have a very, very broad basis in order to force you into certain positions. And yet at the same time Mandela told us after this mass action we're going back to the table. So what now is the reason, what is the sense of this mass action?

POM     Some people would say that when you had the white referendum that the ANC was sensitive to de Klerk's position, he knew that he had to get a grip on the right.

JH     He came very strong out of that referendum.

POM     And that they kept their mouths closed, didn't say we would never tolerate another white's only election. They actually encouraged people to vote yes. They gave him the latitude to deal with his right, they seemed to understand the political necessity of him having to do so at some point. From what you say it doesn't appear that the government is understanding of Mandela's need to keep his large and unwieldy constituency under control together and that he has to pull in his radicals and that to do this a form of mass action is necessary. My question is, do we not have here a power play from both sides? I mean the government has had theirs in the white referendum and now this mass action, isn't that a power play on the side of the ANC? Certainly there are innumerable interpretations again, perceptions are also so crucial.

JH     That is my perception. This is a power play.

POM     What happened to the relationship between Mandela and de Klerk? Two years ago everybody was saying that it was so central to the process, that the two of them could in a sense elevate themselves above their constituencies and the special chemistry would keep the process moving along, and now it's at a point where Mr Mandela at least seems thoroughly disillusioned, at least in the context of the very direct attacks he's made on Mr de Klerk as being responsible for the violence.

JH     I'm going to give you my personal opinion, observation.

POM     That's exactly what I'm looking for.

JH     I'm telling you that because I do not know how many people would agree with me, therefore I tell you that it's my personal observation. It is true that Mandela said that de Klerk is a man of integrity. Lately he has changed, that is true. Why? I'm not quite sure if that is his own personal view about Mr de Klerk but I personally think that he has said that under very severe pressure from within. My feeling is that Mr Mandela was under very, very severe pressure from his left side who thought that he was initially too positive regarding Mr de Klerk's position. And I think that he is coming back on that, trying to win over to his own side the left, PAC, COSATU, those who now are organising the mass action. I think that is a possible solution. That is his own personal position. I might be wrong.

POM     But the violence seems to have eroded the basis of trust.

JH     Or vice versa, the violence is a consequence of the lack of trust. That's also possible. You know we have so many different groups with different views and, once again I'm back on this idea of different perceptions of one another, and that you have to understand against the background of our history. We've had three and a half centuries of exclusive white domination and in order to continue that position, the privileged position of the whites, they introduced the policy of apartheid for 30/40 years. The consequence of that was that we've ended up on different islands, ecclesiastic islands as well, not only ethnic islands. But nevertheless on islands. And now that we are busy trying to build bridges from one island to the other island there is still a very great amount of mistrust. Are you really serious, the blacks are asking regarding the position of the whites? Are you really serious with this idea of sharing power? The whites are asking the question, are you really serious to come in into this process on a basis of accepting us as your partners for a future salvation? This thing of trust is a very deep psychological emotion.

     As a matter of fact I think that is still one of the very fundamental differences in our country, we do not trust one another. We have not reached that point where we are willing to accept one another as partners. We've had three centuries of guardianship. We whites have accepted ourselves or seen ourselves to be the guardians of these people. Now we're coming to them and saying, look we're not going to be any longer your guardians, we now would like to accept you as our partners. Are you really serious in doing that, the blacks ask. We have to accept one another still as human beings and especially as far as the whites regarding the blacks are concerned that they are human beings created in the image of God with certain basic human rights. Are you really serious as accepting us as your partners? And the whites, they rationally know that we have to accept the blacks as our partners because we are in the transitional position from guardianship to partnership. Can we really trust you as our future partners? This position in South Africa would be a very interesting field of investigation for a psychologist and a sociologist I would think.

POM     I think you have identified the key issue and let me say if I were advancing the position of the ANC, they are saying, what I hear them saying is, "Why is Mr Mandela accusing Mr de Klerk of being directly involved in the violence? What does he mean by that?" It comes down in a way to what he said on television on Sunday night in an interview on Agenda, that Mr de Klerk unbanned two years ago weapons that are used to kill people and this has increased greatly the violence. I went to him and asked him why had he done it and he couldn't give me a reason and I said, "Ban those weapons." That seems to be a good question of why that happened. It also seems to be fair comment when they say that if it were whites who were being killed at this rate the State President would have been a lot quicker to respond, there would have been Commissions of Enquiry and somebody would have been held accountable for what was happening and to find out what was happening. So it surprises me that why Mr de Klerk, as an astute politician as he is, has never made a political response to the violence in terms of appointing a commission to look at the police or having police officers suspended where there appears to be probable cause or even involvement by omission or commission in certain actions. Yet to the outside world it appears nothing happened.

JH     Mr de Klerk would need direct evidence. Mr de Klerk would say we are in the process of investigating that issue. Once again that's my perception anyway. Keep in mind, that became very, very clear to me especially in the last two or three weeks when we had these discussions, it is also a matter of difference between the way of thinking, the mentality of the first world people and the third world. Please do not accuse me of racism.

POM     Oh no, no, no.

JH     It's a statement about an objective situation. The fact is that there are differences between the way of thinking of the white man and the way of thinking of the black man. The one is much more inclined to theoretical analysis of the situation which could involve a long process of pros and cons, weighting pros and cons and eventually having to take a decision over against a more pragmatic approach and attitude from the side of the blacks, people of the third world.

POM     Being pragmatic in?

JH     We want to see deeds. You are so concerned about a theoretical analysis of the situation which really doesn't appeal to us. Give us the result of your analysis not the process. We are not interested in the process of theoretical analysis of the situation. We are interested primarily in the outcome of your theoretical thinking. We simply have to accept these differences.

POM     How do you bridge differences like that?

JH     I wish I could answer you that. I don't know. There is only one way to solve this, an ongoing dialogue, trying to understand what are you saying and what are you doing on the South African whites and on the South African blacks. Keep in mind at CODESA all the parties, mainly all the parties, conversed with one another not in their mother tongue but in a foreign language. That contributes also to a lack of really understanding one another. People from the third world have to communicate in a different language than people from the first world here in South Africa. Afrikaans speaking people had to communicate in a different language. That adds to this very, very difficult process of really to understand completely one another.

POM     Do you think that CODESA, I spent this morning with the PAC and I listened to Ben Alexander and I am saying this is the most rational man that I have talked to in this country.

JH     Most?

POM     Rational. Yes. He's saying that we said that CODESA couldn't work. Why did we say it couldn't work? He said it couldn't work because you couldn't be player and referee, you'd have to have a neutral convenor. We also said that parties are going into this process with absolutely different aspirations, aspirations that couldn't possibly be met so that deadlocks were inevitable and that what you had to do was to set in place the mechanisms to deal with the possibility of deadlock as part of setting up the structure, the negotiating structure. They had agreed upon those mechanisms and they had to be in place so you could resolve impasses when you come to them. And I'm saying that makes sense. Of course we were waiting all along for the inevitable clash of basic aspirations to happen and it had to reach an impasse because there's no mechanism in place to resolve.

JH     Well did you know, that is precisely one of the reasons why Beyers of the Conservative Party and some of these other folks are saying that it is evident that even from the side the black people this whole concept of dividing the land is not completely impossible. It could be a real solution for this country because of the fact that there are so many different groups with so many different aspirations in this country. So according to this understanding of our situation he feels that there is a very, very real possibility of entering into negotiations with black people because they also see the possibility of this policy of the conservative thinking, dividing the land.

POM     But I think Alexander's criticism of CODESA is well placed.

JH     Of course, yes. Add to that in fact that about 850,000 who voted no in the referendum and that very large section of the at least Afrikaans population is now not represented at CODESA. You tell me how can you negotiate the future constitution of this country if that large proportion of the Afrikaans speaking white community is not represented there?

POM     So do you think, again in terms of the role the church played in trying to hear both sides and I hope convey the perceptions of one to the other so they might understand each other a little better, is there any understanding of the need perhaps that CODESA in the form it's in has gone as far as it can go and one must have a broader more representative negotiating structure or is it the intention of the parties ...?

JH     Our intention was not to try to stop the mass action. it was quite clear to us that it was not possible to do that, so we really did not negotiate in trying to materialise that idea. But what we did was to try and let the different parties understand the necessity of going back to the negotiation table. We did not express ourselves, not in one instance, in favour of the present set up of CODESA. But firmly we said there's only one way for a solution of the problem in this country and that is for you people to come together in whatever form, we are not capable as churchmen to express ourselves on that subject. And yet at the same time we showed them that 850,000 Afrikaners are not represented there. Therefore, by implication, we said that you should also once again look at the very composition of CODESA, but of course we are not competent to give any evaluation or any indication of future structures as far as CODESA is concerned.

POM     The odd thing is that the government had said yes to 70%, if they had split the difference between 70% and 75% or whatever, then maybe they would all have walked out there with an interim government and everyone would have said what a wonderful thing CODESA was and how it had breached all these differences, but since that didn't happen, because after the event you have all this post-analysis as to why CODESA was the wrong forum and why it had to fail and everything has to be rationalised in retrospect. One thing I've heard from a number of people is that the ANC is not a political party, it's a movement whose power depends on the involvement of the masses. It derives its legitimacy from the masses, it's not elected. I suppose it's by representing the masses that it has it's power, therefore it's elite can't go off into a little corner and conduct negotiations with the elites of the government or whatever and deliver without consulting the grassroots. Do you think there's any merit in that?

JH     Yes, I think in fact you are correct, the ANC is not a political party. It is as a matter of fact a revolutionary movement to a very large extent. In practice it is still a revolutionary movement. In theory, I mean mentally, they are still thinking in terms of revolutionary processes. Perhaps the idea of the government, once again it's my interpretation, perhaps the idea of the government was trying to educate it towards becoming a real political party and trying to get them away from being a revolutionary movement towards the construction of a political party and therefore towards and acting like politicians. Perhaps it was done deliberately by the government, I wouldn't be in a position to tell you that exactly. But I think that could be a possibility.

POM     If they get back to the table now the same elements of distrust are going to exist that have existed before, perhaps they would even be at some level deeper, if the government still doesn't understand why the ANC had to engage in the mass actions as they have been willing to go back to the table all the time and the ANC will still see the government as pursuing this double agenda of negotiations and destabilisation as they would call it. So do they have to make an act of faith in each other or are politicians forbidden to make acts of faith?

JH     Well I'm not a politician, I can't answer you that. Yet I think the fact that there is a common conviction of the road that is that of negotiations. [I think that would not been necessary for us to ...] They can simply rely on the fact that you believe and I believe that we'll simply have to come to terms in order to hammer out jointly a constitution in this country and from there on we can simply proceed. But I don't think that sort of thing, subjective analysis, is something that a politician would do. I don't think so, or that a party would do. I don't think so. There was a collapse at CODESA, we had the mass action. Let's get over it and let's go on.

POM     That was the sense you got from?

JH     From the parties. Surely it won't help them now to accuse one another, going back on what has happened. I don't think that will bring them any further. I think now the parties would be concerned about the future of the country.

POM     The impasse to me would be, and this is the question I asked last summer, this time last year I asked everybody, and that was whether this was a process about the sharing of power or a process about the transfer of power and there were two divides. The white divide said to a person almost, that the process is about the sharing of power. The black divide said it was a process about the transfer of power, with the exception of Buthelezi.

JH     I'm not quite sure whether that would be the position of the ANC, the whole ANC. I think that certain elements within the ANC, and certain groupings like the PAC, I think they would go for the transfer of power. But surely the ANC as such would agree to the sharing of power. Naturally the whites, the National Party would not take it as the transfer. It has been said very, very often by different leaders in the Nationalist Party that we are not going to transfer power, we're going to share power. Because transferring power would implicate the exclusion of the whites and the exclusion of all minorities.

POM     But 51% winner take all is transfer of power?

JH     That's the reason why the Nationalist Party has a different interpretation of democracy.

POM     I guess I missed that. You said that the ANC would not ...?

JH     I don't think that the ANC as such would back up the idea of a transferring of power. That I don't think, according to my understanding of Mandela, because he has also said that we must take into consideration the positions of the whites and the minorities in this country. Therefore, I don't think that Mandela himself would favour the idea of the demand of transferring power from the whites to the blacks.

POM     OK, so when they talk about 51% winner take all, how is that squared with sharing power or with minorities?

JH     I said I think that is not Mandela's position, but it could be the position of other groupings within the ANC. As a matter of fact I have said it many, many times and I'm still convinced of the correctness of my position about the following statement and that is sometimes I have the impression that Mandela is not the leader of the ANC, but more or less a sort of a spokesman to verbalise the differences of opinions within his organisation and not to give very strong leads as one would expect from a leader. I doubt whether Mandela is in that sense the leader of the ANC. He is to a certain extent a captive of the variety of ideas within his own party.

POM     As that kind of captive, is he also the glue that holds these disparate factions together?

JH     Naturally if you want to be, not a leader, but at the head of a party so divided, then surely you would try to satisfy all the different nuances within your party. But I'm not a leader, but I would suspect that would be the approach of a political leader, as I think is the position, presently, of Andries Treurnicht, trying to keep the whole bundle of conservative politicians together. He would be willing to make certain concessions in theory. I don't know whether he would be willing to do it in practice.

POM     The one big difference I've noticed since last Christmas is the emergence of COSATU, kind of being the driving force in the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance.

JH     They seem to be a very strong force.

POM     Does that again signal, in your reading of it, everything is political to an extent but my reading of it would be that at least temporarily has shifted to the left within the ANC and maybe this is why they had to have their week of mass mobilisation and so those who oppose it can say, "You've had it, what's to show for it? Not very much. Our only option is to go back to the negotiating table."

JH     I think that could be it but I'm not in a position to give you an exact response to that.

POM     So when you look down the road do you feel reasonably hopeful?

JH     Oh I'm very optimistic, yes, quite sincerely. I'm very optimistic provided that we are willing to cope with, for instance, this whole phenomenon of mass action. That should not add to a hardening of our hearts and attitudes. It's quite possible.

POM     Do you think that is possible?

JH     Oh yes, very much so.

POM     Would it have to go on?

JH     No, not go on but see it as part of, I won't say culture because that is also quite a new phenomenon in our society in South Africa, but part of their reaction towards a situation in which they were excluded from any political rights for three centuries. Now what could you expect of people, from 30, 35 million of blacks excluded from the normal political processes and now see in this process the promise of the sharing of power and an eagerness to reach that point as soon as possible? And yet it is still a process and that process they would like to see being accelerated and in a moment of desperation saying, OK, let's try to force it, let's have this mass action. I'm saying that unless we as whites are willing to accommodate this phenomenon I am very, very optimistic. I only hope that we do not get hardened by phenomena like this.

POM     Do you think that if this were to continue?

JH     Yes, but it all depends on how they are going to react to the outcome of this mass action. They could of course be very optimistic about the future, they're trying to repeat what has been done or they would ask the question, "Now what have we reached?" After all you're going back to the negotiation table and there you are going to resume where you've left off, so what was the reason, what was the sense of all this? [Killing the ...] Now is it worth paying this price? Mandela told us, if that is the price we have to pay we are willing to do it in order to show our muscle. Now I think that we as whites should accept it as an approach, an attitude from people who, as I said, were excluded for that very long time in our history. Despite what's happening today in our country I am very optimistic.

POM     OK, that's a good note to end on. So am I. What concerns me most is I suppose the violence. You had Chris Hani saying there are local defence units that are out of control, that the spiral of violence on the ground, and this whole consequence of ungovernability is beginning to feed on itself. The first time I talked to you we talked about the youth and the problem of the two generations of youth who were unemployed, unemployable and with no future.

JH     You see that kind of violence would be very localised. It would completely wrong for you to think that the whole of South Africa is in violent eruption. We've had violence, locally concentrated, especially in Natal. But it is surely not the whole of South Africa.

POM     OK, thank you.

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