About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Aug 1992: Kathrada, Ahmed

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POM     Let me take you back first to around this time last year when the National Peace Accord was being put in place and there were a lot of negotiations that went on and it was signed with great fanfare in September and yet the year since it's signing has been the single bloodiest year in South Africa's history. What has happened to the Peace Accord?

AK     Well I take it much more in the broader context than the Peace Accord itself. Before the signing of the Peace Accord and even after I questioned the commitment of the government to the Peace Accord and to the question of peace generally, obviously to get an agreement like the Peace Accord into place, to get it to work one needs the commitment of all the major parties and in my view, and I am sure this is the view of many of our colleagues, it is the government's failure to keep to its agreement that has led us to the position where the Peace Accord in many instances has just not been workable.

POM     What would you point to specifically as being indications or examples of the government's failure to meet its commitments?

AK     I haven't got the documents before me now but we have said when we withdrew from CODESA that it is acts of omission and commission on the part of the government and the security forces that have been responsible for us having continued violence. Boipatong was one example. I mean there's evidence being given right at present by various witnesses who have indicated that the police were warned beforehand and they failed to take action. As I say I haven't got the documents before me but we have got sufficient evidence or quite considerable evidence of similar failure to act on the part of the police and also evidence where police have been present and not only refused or failed to act but in some instances witnesses have said that they actually assisted the attackers.

POM     To try to get more clear on this relationship between government action or lack of action and violence, do you see it as cases where police at the local level failed to take action either because they still see the ANC as the enemy or they are right wing or they are aligned in some way with Inkatha, or do you see it as being part of planned government policy, that this is policy if not articulated on a piece of paper is nevertheless government policy, that their lack of action is a clear indication of their willingness to allow this to happen because it's serving a specific purpose?

AK     Originally many of us had thought that it's the inability of the government to handle this but more and more of us have now come to the conclusion that it is the unwillingness of the government. Now I'm not suggesting that President de Klerk sits in his office and gives out orders or condones these actions but the very fact that 11,000 people have been killed since 1984, some figures are less than 11,000, others are more, some put it at 50,000, but the very fact that so many thousands of people have been killed and the government just has not done sufficient to stop it. We cannot believe for one moment that it's the inefficiency of the police. The South African Police have been very, very efficient in arresting our combatants who infiltrated into the country. They did not have a long spell of life, sometimes a few weeks and a few months. Very few of them had a few years of illegal activity and they were caught, sentenced and were killed of course in detention. Others died in skirmishes with the police. So they were so efficient in tracking down and arresting combatants whose acts of violence were nothing compared to what was happening here. We had the case of KwaMadala Hostel in Alexandra Township where the police said they were afraid to go in. Now that is unheard of that the police would be afraid with all the necessary arms and ammunition at their command and all their other resources. We refuse to believe that they are afraid to go in to raid when there was so much evidence applied to them that there were large quantities of arms in this hostel, that the attacks were emanating from this hostel and yet we had this very weak excuse from the police that they wouldn't risk their lives. Similarly on the trains there have been massacres after massacres on the trains and the police have done hardly anything to stop them.

POM     So what would you like the government to do in the case of police at the local level who fail to act?

AK     Well we have demanded that there should be this thorough investigation and police who have deliberately failed to act or instances where they have been party to these assaults, they should be brought to book. That is the very least that should happen. The same thing applies to other wings of the security forces.

POM     It strikes me that de Klerk is a fairly astute politician and always likes to make at least the grand gesture and here would be a case where he could make the grand gesture by firing some senior police officers, by suspending some others, by establishing an independent Board of Enquiry or something, but he's done nothing except say to you "Bring me direct evidence and when we have the evidence I will act on it." Do you think that his failure to take decisive action, across the board action, or to bring about the reorganisation of the police that you would like to see is due to the fact that he is not in full control of elements in his own security forces, that he is constrained by their ability to move against him, perhaps even to oust him? Or do you think it's again because it suits some larger political purpose?

AK     I think it's a combination of both. I think to some extent he has lost control of the security forces, but the more important reason to my mind is political. I have said before and I repeat, they have seen that the continuous violence is to the detriment of the ANC, to the disadvantage of the ANC because assisted by the media, especially the television and the radio and the print media for that matter, there is this perception which has been perpetuated that all violence emanates from the ANC and they are hoping to have a weakened ANC at the negotiating table in which case they would find it easier to impose whatever arrangements they may have in mind at CODESA at the negotiating table. It's possible that they have overplayed their hand, it's quite likely but I don't know.

POM     Do you see the suggestion by the Secretary General of the United Nations to buttress the Goldstone Commission and the National Peace Accord with a number of UN observers and for there to be a thorough investigation into the activities of the SADF, the SAP and uMkhonto as being a step in the right direction?

AK     Unfortunately I was out of town when the UN report came out. I haven't really studied it but from the little that I have heard of it we would welcome greater intervention on the part of the United Nations. I don't know what numbers they have in mind because it would require quite a sizeable UN presence here. I don't know why the UN chose to also include investigations into uMkhonto and liberation organisations. The violence that is going on in South Africa has nothing to do with uMkhonto. uMkhonto has suspended the armed struggle. Whatever investigations they may want to carry out about alleged violence and so forth is not relevant to the violence today. There is absolutely no evidence that after the suspension of the armed struggle on August 6th 1990 that uMkhonto has carried on with armed activity. There are rogue elements of course in the uMkhonto who have committed acts of violence but as an organisation uMkhonto has not, there has been no systematic infiltration into the country by uMkhonto cadres. There are uMkhonto cadres in the country, they have not been found guilty of acting in an organised way to carry on violence. So I don't know what their reasoning was to include uMkhonto in this particular investigation.

POM     I think it would be to show a degree of impartiality that all armies, whether private armies or public armies, should be looked at even-handedly and those that are guilty of wrongdoing should be exposed for being guilty of wrongdoing and those that are not guilty would have exposure as being not guilty.

AK     But you see how far does one go? Do we go back to the atrocities of 1976 when they mowed down literally hundreds and hundreds of school kids? Do we go back to that, or do we go back to 1980 to expose the complicity of the government in the elections? How far does one go? I say that the investigation into uMkhonto's activities abroad in its camps is quite separate. I'm not for a moment denying that there were irregularities but I just don't see the reason for linking this up. I think they are bending over backwards to placate the South African authorities. Here they are the guilty party. Although the UN resolution was a bit more carefully worded but they have placed considerable responsibility on the South African government to intervene on the question of the violence and that is what we are really interested in. There has been violence from the other side but it's not uMkhonto that has been carrying out the counter-violence, if you may call it that. However, I must emphasise that I have not really studied the report of the United Nations and these are just my personal reactions.

POM     To go back to last March with the whites' only referendum, when whites were voting yes in that referendum, what do you think they were voting for and what were they not voting for?

AK     That's a difficult question for me to answer.

POM     Let me give you context to it. Since this process began de Klerk has always talked about it as being a process that will lead to the sharing of power between blacks and whites and that entire referendum was conducted in terms of it being a process about the sharing of power between blacks and whites that would bring about equality among all the people of South Africa. My question is, when people voted yes were they voting yes to a process that would lead to a sharing of power or were they voting yes to a process that would result in South Africa becoming a multi-party democracy along the line of multi-party democracies in the rest of the world?

AK     From my knowledge, my own experience with white South Africans I would say that they were voting for what de Klerk and the Nationalist Party chooses to call sharing of power which is quite different from majority rule. I don't think the whites were voting for majority rule. By voting for sharing of power, as they call it, taken together with Nationalist proposals at CODESA, I would say that they would be voting for a system, for a dispensation where there will be white veto, in more sophisticated terms of course. The de Klerk regime does not use the crude language of the previous regimes, neither are they very crude in suggestions that they make but hidden behind their proposals so far is the concept of white veto and I would say that the whites were voting for that really.

POM     My question would be, since this was a public debate carried in all the media this year extensively and indeed in the media abroad, and reports abroad always reported it in terms of it being a referendum about the sharing of power. Why didn't the ANC stand up and say, "Hey, de Klerk's not telling you what this process is about? This is not a process that's going to lead to the sharing of power. This is a process that's going to lead to majority rule"? Did you find it expedient to allow him to characterise it that way in order that he would get the yes vote and thereby reduce the threat of the right wing?

AK     Here again I wouldn't be able to speak on behalf of the ANC but first of all we criticised and condemned the referendum as an all-white referendum. Right from the beginning we had rejected the whole idea of any ethnic referendum. De Klerk of course went ahead and had this all-white referendum. I'd say that we were placed in this position where we had to choose the lesser of the two evils. I don't think anybody until then would have been able to categorically state or make a categorical assessment of the danger of the right wing until the referendum. My mind goes back to Nazi Germany, 1933, where the forces of the left failed to appreciate the dangers of nazism and were disunited and allowed Hitler to come into power in an election. Now I would use that analogy for what happened here in March of this year. Then of course the ANC went further and the ANC officials did call upon the whites to vote for de Klerk. I'd say it was because he is the lesser of the two evils.

POM     What I am saying is that in a way the ANC were urging whites to vote for de Klerk, i.e. to vote for a process which he was characterising as being about the sharing of power when in the ANC's view it wasn't about that, it was about majority rule. Do you see what I'm saying?

AK     Yes. Now here again I must repeat I'm not trying to elaborate on what was going on in the minds of the leadership but I would say that the ANC did not want to confuse the white voter at that time by bringing in the views that I am now expressing. It would have caused considerable confusion among the white voters. As I say, nobody at that stage was able to gauge the strength of the right and it must have gone through many minds even in the ANC.

POM     How do you think de Klerk interpreted his mandate?

AK     Well I think he has misinterpreted the mandate to some extent, interpreted it in a way - what he really set out to achieve when he called for a referendum because it was significant that certain agreements had already been made in the working groups of CODESA relating to the Constituent Assembly, relating to interim government. After the referendum was over we found them reverting to proposals which had already been rejected. We found a new arrogance on the part of the negotiators, Nationalist/government negotiators. I assume of course you will be seeing other of my colleagues who are more directly involved in CODESA, I am not in any of the working groups, but they would be able to be much more helpful in giving you much more detailed information about how the government backtracked on agreements that they had already reached and which eventually led to the breakdown of CODESA 2.

POM     What was de Klerk's purpose here?

AK     Well, again, I still don't believe that they are seriously committed to democracy, to a democratic process as we understand it, and they had hoped to use the massive yes vote they got to get the ANC to accept the position that we had already rejected and come to some agreements about. They brought in once again the question of the minority veto.

POM     One suggestion that I've heard from a number of people is that in the first year after the unbanning of the ANC is that the government recognised that in an election the ANC would be the probable winner and their strategy was focused in terms of building an alliance or coalition between the ANC and the National Party but that after the whites' only election the government began to think that they could put together an alliance with Inkatha and, say, other homeland parties or whatever and with their making inroads into the Indian community and the Coloured community and starting to reach out for the "moderate" black vote they began to think in terms of - we can win this all. So there was a shift in what their overall strategic purpose was.

AK     Well there again it would have been a very important factor, that type of thinking. On the other hand their very insistence on a 75% majority at CODESA, at the Constituent Assembly, indicated that with all those things in mind they were not yet confident that they would get more than 25% of the vote. It's quite likely that after the referendum they may have thought that they could do without the alliance with discredited people, the so-called Coloureds and Indians that they have got into the Nationalist Party are the most discredited elements, so the inroads that they will make will not be very significant among the Indians and Coloureds. It's possible that they had that in mind when they insisted on this 75% that they would be able to muster sufficient votes to block majority decisions. Demanding a 75% majority they would need 26% to veto and I think they were quite confident that maybe they would get that with the white vote and just a few others, maybe Inkatha.

POM     I must say I was surprised when I heard that the ANC had offered 70%.

AK     We had offered 70% on condition of course, on certain conditions that they drop their demands for a bicameral Constituent Assembly, that they drop their demands for CODESA to decide on the demarcation of regions. We had gone there with the original proposals, fifty plus one. They came into power in 1948 with not even fifty. They came into power with a minority vote in fact but because of the electoral system. Everything they have done thereafter, the 1961 decision to have a Republic, in 1983 amendments to the constitution which provided for the tricameral, those were all on the basis of fifty plus one. We had gone originally with that. There was a lot of haggling there. We then said sixty six and two thirds percent. They insisted on 75% right from the beginning and when we went to 70% they still insisted on 75%, but we went to 70% under these conditions which they rejected. They insisted on 75% and there again we said that's an indication of their lack of commitment to the democratic process.

POM     Were the ANC negotiators authorised by the NEC at any point to offer 70%? Had this been discussed beforehand?

AK     In fact the day before CODESA 2 there was a meeting of the Patriotic Front, I think there were over 80 organisations present, which mandated the ANC negotiators to go for sixty six and two thirds percent. But in the spirit of compromise our delegation in consultation with the ANC leadership at that stage went for 70% and got subsequent endorsement and yet we found the intransigence of the Nats.

POM     When you say 'subsequent endorsement'?

AK     By the ANC structures and by allied organisations.

POM     But then when you went to the Policy Conference?

AK     But now we have gone back to 66%.

POM     I suppose what I'm not getting here is that, again many people have said to us and in lots of the media accounts of the goings on at that time, a lot of them by journalists who would be very sympathetic to the ANC, talked in terms of had the government accepted that offer that there would have been maybe widespread rebellion almost at the grassroots, that the ANC would have had a very hard time selling that package with those veto thresholds of 70% for the constitution and 75% for a Bill of Rights and it is suggested that the elite negotiators were out of touch, so to speak, with the grassroots of the organisation.

AK     I would say that we would have experienced some difficulty among our people and among our supporters but what the media did not publicise are the conditions on which we went to 70% because those are major conditions. I'd agree that there would have been some difficulty but I don't think they would have been insurmountable. There would have been criticism from certain quarters but they would not have led to any split or major break in confidence in the ANC.

POM     Now one of the things I understand from one of the people in fact who is sitting on the Working Committee on the constitution from the Democratic Party is that the ANC agreed to a federal structure, i.e. that they agreed for a clause to be inserted in the Charter of Principles that would allow for regional government powers to be entrenched in the constitution.

AK     Here I must plead ignorance because I haven't read the documents lately again.

POM     Does that surprise you?

AK     No, I wouldn't agree that the ANC agreed to a federal government. What the ANC I think could have agreed to is more powers to the region. Now one gets bogged down with definitions of what a federal or a unitary state is. In South Africa it is a unitary state, we had the provinces which had certain federal elements in them. I think that what the ANC agreed to is some devolution of power without conceding to a federal system which would provide for autonomy for the constituents.

POM     I suppose what I'm getting at again is that the Policy Conference talked about devolution but talked about it in terms of devolution from parliament to the regions, i.e. that parliament would decide what powers would be devolved, which is very different from the Constituent Assembly deciding what powers, or whatever the constitution making body is deciding what powers would be given to the regions and those powers to be at that point entrenched in the constitution.

AK     I'm afraid it's an aspect I wouldn't be able to go into. I was not even able to be at the Policy Conference, I was out of the country and I really have not got back with these details.

POM     To go to the more general picture, the general picture that we've got, things going on around that period, is of the ANC under a level of disaffection at the grassroots because of the ongoing violence and the feeling that they were not being protected by the ANC, in fact that the ANC were negotiating with the very people who were responsible for the violence. Then a level of anger over the CODESA process itself which was to them an elite process, they didn't know very much about what was going on and then what they did about what was going on suggested more of a sell-out than a movement towards majority rule and that in this sense Boipatong happened at the right time for the ANC, it allowed it to pull back its constituency together, to retain its cohesiveness and to use it as an occasion to embark on a more hard-line course of action.

AK     I wouldn't say that there was major dissatisfaction. Naturally from time to time people have expressed their impatience but never have we had any substantial attitudes from our regions, our constituencies, which demanded an end to the negotiation process. Everything we have done, even the mass action of last week, we had the concurring support of our constituency which demanded that when we go back to the negotiating table then we go back after firm commitments from the government to agree to our demands. But we have had no substantial demands that we pull out of negotiations altogether. Naturally these things have moved so fast that there are times when we have not been able to consult with our constituencies as closely or as regularly as one would have liked, but we have held a number of meetings with our regions, with our allied organisations and tried to keep them informed and to try to get their mandate. But there is absolutely no evidence anywhere that there is a move away from the ANC's stance on negotiations. We are still carrying our people with us on the necessity to have a peaceful negotiated settlement. What the mass action has shown and what Boipatong has shown is that if and when we do get back to the negotiating table we go there only after we are satisfied that there is a firm commitment on the part of the regime to the major demands that we are making, namely the Constituent Assembly, the interim government and violence.

POM     So you've narrowed the parameters of the negotiating?

AK     Not really. For instance if you look at the 14 demands that we have made, unfortunately I haven't got them before me, a number of them were related to violence, for instance the hostel issue, the bringing to book of security forces who were involved, the disbanding of Koevoet - these were all related to violence. The only demand that we have not restated which is in the 14, is the release of political prisoners I think and that has already been the subject of negotiations after the visit of Cyrus Vance. And from what I gather there seems to be quite a bit of agreement there although there again I think the dispute is going to be on the question of amnesty for the security force people who were involved in assassinations and so forth. But other than that, when our President stated the three main demands I think they by and large covered the 14 demands that we have made when we broke off the negotiations.

POM     Yet CODESA seemed to have served two very different purposes, or was it that there were two very different purposes for the ANC and for the government? That the government wanted to use it as a vehicle to write a constitution and to get as much as possible agreed to beforehand and the ANC wanted to use it as a vehicle to draw up the general principles that should chart the course of the constitution. Now these two things are very difficult to reconcile.

AK     Yes and that was one of the reasons also why negotiations broke down. The government's insistence on, although they do not say the whole constitution should be drawn up, but in effect what would happen is that CODESA would, if one agrees to the government's proposals, CODESA would in fact adopt a constitution which would have to be rubber stamped by a Constituent Assembly. Their insistence, for instance, on the question of the regions. We are saying that that whole question should be done by a Constituent Assembly. We are saying that the government, I mean CODESA itself is not a democratic forum, that a new constitution with all the major components can only be drawn up at a Constituent Assembly. We, of course, agreed to the broad principles being agreed to at CODESA. That was our position right at the beginning and if I remember correctly that was also the provision of the Harare Declaration, but I'm not too sure about that now. But we agree on the principles.

POM     What happened, what are the internal dynamics in this organisation, what were the internal dynamics at work that moved the organisation from a deadlock at CODESA where you did offer 70% veto threshold, rejected by the government, then within a month you had moved to walking out of the talks, putting 14 more demands on the table that must be met before talks can be resumed, put mass mobilisation on the front burner, gone back on 70%, now it's gone back to sixty six and two thirds percent and Mr Mandela engaging in very harsh attacks on Mr de Klerk? It looked to an outsider to be a movement from, broadly speaking, accommodation to militancy.

AK     Well I wouldn't say that. You see the media does not always carry the goings on in the working groups, so that this break was coming. It wasn't as sudden as all that. What eventually precipitated it, of course, was Boipatong but the regime's attitude in the working groups already, again we insist that the percentage was a symptom of deeper disagreements, the question of the percentages. The real disagreement was on the lack of commitment on the part of the government to the democratic process. Their whole proposals on the Constituent Assembly and so forth which we said were not consistent with the democratic process. So it wasn't as sudden as all that. Of course to the outside public at large it may have come as sudden. Naturally had Boipatong not happened and if the government remained intransigent on these issues there was going to be a break. We would have been obliged to walk out of CODESA. Boipatong of course was the final straw because violence has always been on the agenda as well and their failure to do anything to curb the violence.

POM     Why would Boipatong have been in the government's interest? The government was accused afterwards of having been involved in it.

AK     What has happened, of course, is that we have laid at the doors of the government so many of the massacres. Apart from some editorials in the media and some noises from the international community nobody has taken this seriously and the government has just carried on and on and on ignoring this violence, ignoring the marches and whatever else we have indulged in to focus attention on the seriousness of the violence. They just carried on as if nothing is happening. Their stock reply is, "Give us the evidence." That has been their stock reply and in spite of the fact that we have provided considerable evidence they were never satisfied, they appoint police to investigate the police. Cases that have gone to the Supreme Court in the end the judges had to say that the state did not provide the evidence, which we think is deliberate. The state prosecutors are white, the judges are white and we think that they had all the opportunity to provide evidence, particularly in the two massacres at Jeppe Station and in Sebokeng and the other three massacres where there was sufficient evidence if they were serious about prosecuting these people. They arrest Inkatha people, in some cases they let them out on R200-00 bail, in some cases R1000-00 bail and eventually they either withdraw the bulk of them or the courts discharge them because of lack of evidence. Boipatong happened and again we had warned them beforehand and we must say that the anger of the people at Boipatong and surrounding areas in other townships has reached a pitch which we hadn't seen in recent months. That was the occasion when we just could not go on any longer.

POM     So was this a case of responding to the anger in your community?

AK     Well not in isolation. It has to be taken in the context of the failure on the part of the government to commit itself.

POM     Is it your belief that the government wanted the talks to fail or that they had really no real commitment to them?

AK     No, with the help of the media, which they control, they wanted to perpetuate the idea even among our people that it is the ANC that is intransigent, the ANC that's refusing to commit itself to progress at CODESA. That is what they hoped to do and they did to some extent succeed in creating confusion even among some of our people by this.

POM     Again it has been suggested that the government wants this process to delay as long as possible because the longer the process delays the more it weakens the ANC as the violence continues, the more inroads perhaps it can make among centrist voters and the better its chances of putting together an alliance that will really do well in an election. How do you interpret the strategic intent?

AK     As I have said earlier, their idea was to weaken the ANC so that at the negotiating table they would hope to get the ANC to tone down its demands or rather accept the proposals made by the regime. A weakened ANC, they had hoped, would be forced into that position. So they were delaying things and they were hoping that in this process they would weaken the ANC and get their proposals accepted, the government's proposals. I think that that was the strategic thinking in their minds.

POM     Now on the ANC side what was the strategic thinking behind rolling mass action?

AK     Well again we have made it clear right from the time that we decided on mass action we had said this mass action is aimed at getting the government back at the negotiating table but with a firm commitment to build the democratic process which includes the interim government, the Constituent Assembly and very importantly, a firm commitment to end the violence. That is the thinking behind mass action. We have said so right through. And also to indicate to the government that we have the masses of South Africa supporting us. I think they may have been at some stage misled by their own opinion polls and by their own advisers about the extent to which they are acceptable by the oppressed people. They have been misled by them, they have miscalculated as I know they are miscalculating on the support they are reportedly claiming that they have amongst Indians and Coloureds. I think it's a gross miscalculation on their part.

POM     Would you find it personally surprising if significant numbers of Indians and Coloureds and a smaller but still significant number of African voters actually voted for a party that had oppressed them for 40 years, first under apartheid, and for 300 years just under white domination?

AK     I would find it very surprising if they got substantial support. They are not going to get it apart from the discredited individuals who joined the House of Delegates and the House of Representatives. They are not going to get them. The response of the Indian and the Coloured communities to the stayaway has been very significant. The most significant perhaps has been Natal. Now in Natal the Indian community always lives in fear of Inkatha. Chief Buthelezi, although lately he has not said so, but over the years he has found it necessary every now and then to remind the Indian community of 1949. Now if you will remember 1949 was the year of the riots in which hundreds of Indians were killed by the Zulus and there has been fear among the Indians of Inkatha. But last week's mass action changed the picture altogether. The response of the Indian community was tremendous to the ANC call. They have no fears from the ANC. ANC has never threatened them and yet in the face of Inkatha threats they responded to the call and that applies to others. I was in the Eastern Cape over the weekend, the same thing. They had a massive response from the Indian community and the Coloureds. I have no fear that these communities will support the Nats.

POM     So you would look at the stayaway and the rolling mass action and see it as an unqualified success?

AK     Oh yes. In fact beyond - here again I personally was a bit sceptical not because I had any doubt about the support we enjoyed. I was sceptical about conflicting signals, about the length, duration of the stayaway and so forth. If you had read the media there were at some stage talks of an indefinite stayaway and then it came to 7 days and then the SACOLA one day thing. So I was a bit sceptical that this confusion may have disadvantages in fact. But just a few days before the stayaway I had changed my mind after we started getting reports from our regions and other areas about the tremendous response. I had changed my mind by then.

POM     Do you think the government has heard that message?

AK     I think they have.

POM     Do you think the government looked at what happened and said, "My God, people have turned up in numbers we didn't expect and people have turned up in the marches and rallies in more numbers than we thought possible"?

AK     I think they were very surprised. They prevailed upon business to withdraw from that one day SACOLA agreement. It was government pressure that made them withdraw. They were fairly certain that this response to our call for mass action is not going to be receiving the support that it did and that was one of the reasons why they also said they are going to allow this thing to carry on and then they would come back with their replies to our demands. If you read the media beforehand and statements made by them right from the start, their focus was on intimidation and violence. There again they miscalculated and the violence that did take place, if you analyse the figures, I haven't got them, but just taking the first deaths, the victims were ANC people. The very first deaths in Dobsonville were the three people who were killed by the police. The people who were killed in Alexandra were our people who were killed. The people who were killed in Natal, the 10 or 11, were killed in an ANC stronghold. So they miscalculated there as well.

POM     Their propaganda machine has to go into overdrive and attribute the success of the stayaway to intimidation and coercion. Do you think in the coldness of the Cabinet room they put that aside and analyse the numbers and realise what has happened and are prepared to make decisions on that basis? Or do you think they end up believing their own propaganda?

AK     I think they would have been forced by now to see the realities. President de Klerk at Union Buildings acknowledged the success of the stayaway, acknowledged that the ANC has managed to have a peaceful stayaway. The only Cabinet Minister who spoke differently was this Deputy Minister Schutte who accused the ANC of having broken arrangements. The media is almost unanimous. How does one go about intimidating four million people?

POM     So you believe they have now been sufficiently, I won't say shaken, but they are now sufficiently convinced of the need to address your demands to get back to the table really under the conditions that you are laying down at this point?

AK     Naturally they have to save face as well so they may not put it that way but I am confident that they are going to go quite far towards meeting our demands.

POM     In that sense how do you see the process unfolding in the next several months.

AK     Again expressing a personal view I think we will be getting back to the table in the next few months. At least I think so.

POM     Will that result in a date being set for establishing an interim government, a date being set for holding a Constituent Assembly?

AK     Well you see President de Klerk the other day in commenting on the stayaway did also indicate that the session of parliament in October is going to go ahead and that session of parliament is going to be called to make amendments to the constitution. So I think that it's not unlikely that we will be able to be in a position to set some dates.

POM     If someone had said to you, I asked this question of Joe Slovo when I interviewed him in April, and the question was, if somebody had told you in February 1990 that a little over two years down the line that all the apartheid laws would have been scrapped and that you and the government would be sitting across the table negotiating with each other and that you had reached consensus on a large number of matters, even though there were some very important matters still outstanding, would you have been surprised or not surprised? And he said he would have been surprised. How about yourself, would you?

AK     I would agree with that. I, myself, was in Botswana on 2nd February 1990 when he made his major announcements. I was surprised. I expected him to end the emergency at some stage.

POM     I'm talking about the period since then.

AK     But I think that things have gone with much greater speed than I personally expected. For instance, I didn't expect him to unban the Communist Party at the same time as he unbanned the ANC. I was surprised at that. I was surprised at the short period after the release of Mandela that we went to Groote Schuur. So things have moved fast, beyond my own expectations. The abolition of the Suppression of Communism Act itself I think was quite a major action on their part which took me by surprise. As for the abolition of the rest, of some of the apartheid legislation, the Land Act for instance, Group Areas Act, it has not been very meaningful when one looks at the practicalities, the practical effects of that, and I think they realise that. People were flouting the Group Areas Act in a big way already so they really legalised the de facto position. Getting rid of the Land Act means nothing at all. Whites still own 87% of the land. They will not sell and even if they do agree to sell there are no blacks who have the financial means to purchase. So those are not very meaningful. But I would say the Suppression of Communism Act abolition was quite a meaningful thing. The abolition of the Race Classification Act or Population Registration Act as they call it, I think was fairly meaningful as well and other actions that they have taken. The very fact that within a short period of Mandela's release they sat down at the negotiating table with us was meaningful. The release of political prisoners was meaningful. Those were meaningful things but I think, to put it crudely, they stole a march on us on 2nd February. We were unbanned on the 2nd February. It meant logistical problems in getting the machinery again set up in South Africa. We were in Lusaka and a lot of work had to be done to bring us back. So there I say I agree with Joe Slovo that on 2nd February 1990 I would not have been able to envisage the developments that have taken place in this short period of time.

POM     2½ years since. Taking the ANC and the government as the two main partners in this process, it seems to me they are maybe doing things, carrying out two roles one of which undermines the other. On the one hand you're both sitting at the negotiating table and on the other hand you are both engaging in electioneering. You are both fighting for votes. Part of what the National Party does is that it's trying to reach out for again what I call the black moderate, centre or whatever but in order to do that it has to portray the ANC as a radical organisation, still communist dominated that wants to overthrow the government and do all sorts of unsavoury things, so it's undermining the ANC so that it makes it look as though the ANC is an unsavoury party to negotiate with. It makes it more difficult to negotiate with it because you are not building up trust with the party you're negotiating with and in fact you're painting it as an organisation that is not to be trusted by the majority of people. By the same token when Mandela portrays de Klerk and the National Party as really being a duplicitous party that is out to murder people and undermine the ANC it makes it more difficult for him to negotiate with de Klerk.

AK     The very nature of the negotiation process is to look at Vietnam. While they were fighting a very bloody war and the Americans were throwing bombs, much more serious than anything we have seen, and hundreds of Americans were being killed, they were negotiating in Paris.

POM     Does it not, though, confuse your respective constituencies? On the one hand if Mandela is portraying de Klerk as this duplicitous person who is not to be trusted, surely it makes it more difficult to negotiate with de Klerk and by the same token if de Klerk is trying to portray the ANC as a radical communist dominated organisation it makes it more difficult for him to negotiate with the ANC. It makes your respective constituencies confused as to what is really going on.

AK     Well not really. They haven't experienced that. Let me put it this way, let us for a moment separate the personality of Mr Mandela from the rest of the movement. Mr Mandela has got a very generous personality and every now and then he will be very generous in his appraisal of de Klerk. Again I think this morning I heard a report. But that is just because it's his personality. But we have never gone to our people, and we have been to literally hundreds and hundreds of meetings. Right from the start we have said, I personally have said that I don't know how many meetings, it's not the first time in history that you are negotiating with your enemy. We have made it very clear that we are talking to our enemy, we have got our aims, they have got their aims but once you have gone to the negotiating table it's a question of give and take because we know that sooner or later at the end of the armed struggle and at the end of our mass action and so forth we have to get back to the negotiating table. There are very few struggles in the world which ended in a complete victory for the liberation forces. I suppose Cuba was one and possibly one or two others, but every other struggle has ended and we have made that clear to our people. They have accepted that. What we have not achieved, I should say failed to achieve, what we have not yet achieved through the armed struggle we hope to achieve at the negotiating table. That's what we set out to do.

POM     When you look at the whole list of your negotiating positions and your various demands, if you had to pick one thing that is close to being non-negotiable, where there is a bottom line below which you will not go, what particular issue might that be?

AK     Well I would say the Constituent Assembly. Of course they can call it something else. They can call it a constitution making body or whatever but the bottom line for us would be a forum, call it Constituent Assembly, we call it that, where all the people of South Africa will have the democratic right to vote for any organisation which they wish to vote for. That would be the bottom line. Anything short of that to draw up the constitution we would not accept that.

POM     Is the organisation committed now to a sixty six and two thirds percent threshold or can the National Executive overrule the decision taken at the Policy Council?

AK     Well we are very firm on the 66%. We thought we had gone far enough on the 70%. As I said we acted not only on the mandate of the ANC National Executive but also on the Patriotic Front organisations, which is a very broad spectrum of organisations, not just the Patriotic Front organisations that are at CODESA. I'm not talking of the Patriotic Front organisations which met in Durban. We are acting on their part, on that mandate, to press for the sixty six and two thirds percent. If we have to move from that, which I don't see, but they would only move on very, very strict conditions.

POM     The other point I would raise is that when you withdrew from the talks you said that all deals that had been made up to that point were now off the table.

AK     Oh I don't remember that.

PAT     I think Cyril Ramaphosa said that.

POM     OK well then I will leave it. The relationship between the violence and elections. Many people say you can't have free and fair elections now because of the level of violence, the level of intimidation. On the other hand the lack of an election itself is a cause of the violence. When in your view, or to what extent must the violence be reduced so that you can have a free and fair election or must you have an election notwithstanding the fact that it may be accompanied by a fair amount of violence?

AK     The emphasis would be on a free and fair election. There are still parts of the country, especially in Natal, which are no-go areas for the ANC. Now as long as such a situation prevails we cannot have a free and fair election. Naturally I think it would be idealistic to hope for a position where there will be a complete stop to violence. It's difficult now to quantify how much you would accept, but the level of violence at the moment in fact would preclude any major steps forward because we just cannot have a free and fair election in this situation. And that's where perhaps the United Nations presence, a stronger United Nations presence may be of great help to us.

POM     Do you think that that's been one of the significant developments in recent months that South Africa, the problem has now become internationalised to the extent that the UN is playing a role and they may play a larger role, a role certainly that the South African government would not have agreed to a couple of years ago?

AK     I think it's a very significant development. Once the United Nations observers were present it did help in minimising violence. Even where there were confrontational situations the presence of the United Nations did help but these were very small groups of United Nations and I wouldn't say that the absence of violence was entirely due to their presence here, but it would help. In future with a greater United Nations presence I think it will help a great deal to prevent violence.

POM     Lastly you mentioned Natal. The Buthelezi factor. He sits out there nursing his grievances, talking about how he won't be a party to any agreement affecting the Zulu people and involving the Zulu King, to which the Zulu nation is not a part. Does he have the potential to be a real spoiler, i.e. does he have the capacity to maintain a situation of endemic violence in Natal or is this largely a bluff?

AK     The Buthelezi factor is only important for the Inkatha factor because they have the support, covert and overt support of the government itself. This whole farce of cultural weapons is a case in point. I mean the government is just not serious about prohibiting cultural weapons. If the government was serious about it and really acted against Inkatha as they should that factor would be minimal. I really don't think, judging from the responses now, last week Inkatha had that counter-march against mass action. Only a few hundred people turned up and that has been happening with Inkatha over the last couple of years, their responses to their calls have been getting smaller and smaller and that is why I think that Chief Buthelezi finds it necessary to bring in the Zulu King because the King has got respect, widespread respect among these rural people and recently he has seen to it that there are less Inkatha rallies but more gatherings which are royal, called by the King and once the King calls people together, even proponents of Inkatha find it necessary to attend, to respond to those gatherings. This is not to say of course that he cannot cause some mischief. I think much less mischief than the AWB would be able to cause, but I don't think that it would be a factor which could put a stop to the whole process. He does not command his support of the Zulus any longer, Inkatha does not enjoy the support any longer and that is one of the reasons why there is so much violence. The prime responsibility is that the South African government are refusing to act decisively against Inkatha.

POM     So do you believe that if the parties at CODESA had to reconvene CODESA, reach an agreement and start moving forward and that even if Buthelezi were to say KwaZulu or the Zulu people or the Zulu nation would not be a part of this agreement that by the government withdrawing financial support from him and cracking down harder on Inkatha it can by and large neutralise him, make him ineffective?

AK     Oh yes. Chief Buthelezi and the Chiefs who support him are depending entirely on financial support from this dispensation that they have. I don't believe that there is a single entity in South Africa, including Mangope and the Ciskei, which are on their own capable of blocking the process. It's the failure of the South African government to act decisively on these questions that can cause the delay.

POM     So just finally to end on what I think will be an optimistic note, do you think now that in the wake of the mass action that the government realises the time has come to sit down at the table and to seriously get ahead with putting the governance arrangements for a transition in place and making the arrangements for a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution?

AK     I think that we have not yet, as far as I know, received an official response to our demands, but if one were to read between the lines in leaks that one sees in the press, I am quite optimistic that we will be getting back to the negotiating table with substantial concessions or retreat on the part of the government which may be able to satisfy us. But it's a matter of speculation, of course, and it's a personal opinion. We have to wait until we get the responses which should be coming any day I hope.

PAT     I just have one question to follow up on the point that you made a few minutes ago which had to do with the significance of the UN presence. What is the reason for the confidence in the UN and the significance of its role and how can that be sustained? The UN we all know in many ways failed SWAPO in Namibia, the reports of its effectiveness in Angola are very mixed and the important thing is the process is going forward but no-one gives the UN much credit for that. Many would say that it has failed in its mission in Bosnia and yet everyone we talk to seems to embrace the UN and wants it to come here and holds so much hope for its ability to stabilise the violence. Where does this come from?

AK     You see we don't think that just the presence of the UN on its own would solve everything for us. Although there have been great shortcomings in their presence in Namibia and so forth, but there again I think their very presence did contribute a great deal towards bringing about the situation that we have eventually reached there. If you take the example of these few people who were present last week, Krugersdorp for instance, the UN presence stopped the AWB from going ahead and shooting as they might have done. So the presence would help both practically and psychologically but I must emphasise eventually it's going to be the responsibility of the South Africans themselves to find a peaceful solution. We would, of course, also in addition to the UN presence want the presence of the Organisation of African Unity to be in this country. We have not called for a military presence, but the presence of a monitoring role at this stage would be very, very useful to us and I notice this morning, I heard over the radio that the Commonwealth is sending a mission out very soon again. I think that the greater the involvement of the international community the better for us in a monitoring capacity.

POM     You mentioned the AWB, I did forget to ask you, do you think the threat of the right, the armed right that was talked about so much two years ago, is now largely a threat that's over or is it still there in some incipient form?

AK     Well the right at the moment is in disarray, but one can't minimise the disruption that they can cause. Every white person is armed in this country, armed to the teeth. We have got in the AWB elements that are very irresponsible and they have got the capacity, the training to cause disruption, to plant bombs, to shoot people and so forth. But in the end I don't think they have the capacity to stop the process. As you see the pending splits in the Conservative Party indicate that the thinking right is coming more and more to the viewpoint that they will just have to negotiate.

POM     Some people would say, to use the phrase "the thinking right" is a contradiction in terms. OK, thanks very much.

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.