This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
11 Aug 1992: De Klerk, Willem
POM. We've been here for just over a month in fact.
WDK. And how's it going with the book?
POM. It's going well. It's becoming massive. This is my third round of interviews, about a hundred people, ten families. I think I've got every member of the government and the ANC except Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela whom I haven't asked for interviews yet and I'm building up an incredible catalogue of material. The major problem is becoming managing it more than anything else, which I will keep doing until there is a new government under a new constitution.
WDK. Well that will be, the transitional government I think that will be in place let's say February next year.
POM. I'll follow through then until the constitution is drawn up and an election held.
WDK. It's very interesting working with it.
POM. It's very frustrating. Per day I get about two or three cancellations or people aren't there and you go back and sometimes I find I'm rescheduling them for the fifth time and it all backs up into the last two weeks.
WDK. That's always the problem.
POM. However, thank you for seeing me and I got your transcript back and I'll have the corrections made.
WDK. Did I post it back to you because I've looked into my files yesterday to find the transcript and I couldn't find it?
POM. Yes it's there with the corrections made on it and I had those made and sent back to you, but I have it. To start first with going back to almost this time last year when the National Peace Accord was being put together, it was signed in September of last year with great fanfare and yet this has been the single bloodiest year in South African history. What happened to the Peace Accord? Did it just prove to be ineffective? Were it's structures inadequate? Did it not take hold at the grass roots level?
WDK. Well, I would say, and that's of course my own opinion, I'm not that informed but that's my perception, I really think that the Peace Accord is still a very, very important happening in our society and an important structure. But unfortunately the follow up of the Peace Accord from the different factions wasn't that successful. I would say that all of a sudden the eruption of violence between Inkatha and the ANC, the so-called third force, the collapse of the personal chemistry between Mandela and de Klerk, the perception from their side that he was turning a blind eye to the violence, that that was part of his strategy because he all of a sudden with elections in the air he changed gears not being any more the overseer and the statesman but the political leader and he focused on the ANC as his main target, his main opponent and so it was furthering his case to let the violence go on. That was their perception and that's why everything, all of a sudden the Peace Accord wasn't able to do its work.
. That's on the one hand, I think that's the reason but still the Peace Accord as a structure is held in high regard by the different players and there was a newspaper story in Sunday's Rapport, an interview with the Secretary of the Peace Accord, and it was a very formidable interview and according to the interview they were very, very active during the last year. On grassroots level more or less 2000 people were working to help find peace in conflict situations, but those were small happenings that weren't big enough to reach the newspapers. So I would say there is also really success from the point of view of the Peace Accord but the collapse is due to this whole question of distrust between the main players.
POM. Let me take you up on what happened to the relationship that had existed between Mandela and de Klerk. Now it always struck me that de Klerk has been a very astute politician and when I look at the violence of the last year, or the last two years, a couple of things stand out. One is that sufficient allegations were made against the police on sufficient occasions by a sufficient number of credible people, that you would suspect something might be going on there. Second would be that when the ANC said that if white people were being killed in this number the government's response would certainly be different. I would have expected Mr de Klerk to make a response. These incidences happened in sufficient number that an astute politician would say: I will be seen to be doing something. I will take some visible action. I will suspend some police commanders who appear to have been in compromising situations. I will institute a board of enquiry into the whole operation of the police. I will be seen to respond in some visible way rather than saying there's no direct evidence.
WDK. Yes, I will answer you on that. I think that's the perception of the ANC that there was no response at all from his side, that he ignored the whole thing, that he turned a blind eye to it and that it was in his interests to let things carry on. That's their perception. I would say, I'm going to give you two answers on this. Yes, I don't think it was deliberately done. I think that that was really, I'm very worried about that, that he didn't come to the fore, tackle the whole thing and be seen to do something. I think history will show that that was his error or fault. But I don't think that was deliberately done. I think it is incompetence, administrative, it is the incompetence within the police force. I think that he responded every time in public, in the newspapers and appointing committees, as for instance the Goldstone Committee, and other committees of investigation. It wasn't that these committees didn't work very efficiently and I think it's an administrative problem and not really a question of intention. But that was really - I've criticised him on that and a lot of people in his inner circle criticised him.
POM. A question I ask people is, is he in full command of the security forces? By that I mean is he in a position to take sweeping action against senior staff of the SADF and the SAP or does the level of dissatisfaction, morale or questioning among elements in the security forces in the structures they have built up over the years of which he may know nothing about, preclude him from taking such sweeping action?
WDK. I would say that he's very cautious to do that. I don't think that there's this so-called third force organised within the security forces and that they're a threat for a coup or something like that. But yes, I think he must be a little bit cautious because there is a culture within pockets of the security forces that are very much still focused on the so-called total onslaught and that kind of thing. Yes, the first answer is I think he must be a little bit cautious. The second answer is, how can anybody command this huge organisation with all its aligned functions? He can give a command to his minister and his minister back to the Chief of the army and the Chief of the army back to the Colonels and the Colonels down, etc., etc. And during this whole procedure there are always possibilities that there's a dragging of feet, there's not enough initiative taken and so on. I don't think that FW is really not in command. I'm not expecting that there is a brooding clash between the security forces and the government. I think they are behind the government, behind the initiative of the government, behind the so-called new South Africa. That on the one hand. On the other hand I think there are pockets within the security forces that are unwilling to do this thing and it's very problematic to identify them and that would be my answer.
POM. Would I be correct in summarising what you're saying by saying he has full control but he has to exercise caution and there are some constraints in his capacity to take sweeping action?
WDK. I would say that. Yes. And I know, just to complete that question, but there is a lot of re-education or persuasion going on in the security forces by very reliable people to (I don't want to use the word 'brainwash') but just to cut it short, to brainwash certain elements in the forces to adapt to the new situation. So within the police force there is also a very strong programme running to help certain elements to grow into the new philosophy. And it was also announced during the weekend that the police force will have an absolute, non-police unit to investigate in future. It was simultaneously announced with the UN Report and with Goldstone's reaction, an absolute non-police investigation unit to investigate all the problems regarding the police force.
POM. To stick with the referendum last March for a moment. When whites voted in overwhelming numbers in support of that referendum, what do you think they were voting for? What were they voting against?
WDK. They definitely voted for negotiations in the first place. They definitely voted for a settlement with the ANC. They definitely accepted in their vote that the ANC is the major player for the political settlement in the future. But I think they voted also for a certain degree of maintaining minority rights and be it via a kind of a federal system, be it via checks and balances, because that was presented by the National Party as part of their programme that the minorities will be still having a say, the whole issue of power sharing that was their presentation to the voters and not the concept of majority rule. That was under-played but it was there in certain speeches and so on, but it was a pure concept of power sharing with minority groupings, let's say the whites, the Coloureds and the Indians, with a full partnership of more or less 50% in future government. So they voted for that and gradually during the negotiations, it was clear to me from the beginning and I think for everybody politics is politics, it became clear that the future of South Africa won't be a 50/50 partnership. It will be an ANC government with proportional representation of the other parties with certain articles in the constitution and structures for, not a veto, but something of a co-responsibility, co-decision.
POM. Do you still see an Executive emerging that would be a power sharing Executive in perhaps in its simplest form, say in proportional terms?
WDK. Yes I still see, I believe the ANC they are very honest in that and they are in desperate need for the partnership of the minorities. I see, and that's already agreed upon, that the transitional phase will be a complete phase of power sharing. I won't say fifty/fifty but it will be more or less an equal power sharing situation. And then the Constituent Assembly or the interim parliament will finalise the constitution and then there will again be an election and this election will I think more or less, to put it roughly, a 60% ANC orientated alliance and a 40% National Party model alliance, not necessarily the National Party. And that this 40% minority, make it 38%, make it 30%, will have a meaningful say in government via proportional representation.
POM. My crucial question here is, will that latter arrangement be a voluntary arrangement or will it be an arrangement that will be mandated in the constitution? In other words if there is to be future power sharing do you think it is going to be entrenched in a constitution?
WDK. No. The National Party tried that. That was their Plan A and from their point of view it would be a wonderful thing to have a forced coalition entrenched in a constitution. But I think they're busy dropping that concept. They're busy dropping that concept and they're focusing more now on the powers of regional government and that the regions within the Western Cape and Natal and certain parts of the Free State there will be, not a majority of the minorities, but a very, very good balance of power. They are focusing on, at this moment in time the National Party are not on entrenching this forced coalition in the constitution but via proportional representation and via regionalism to give minorities a substantial say in future decision making.
POM. They will see the powers of the regions entrenched in the constitution?
WDK. I would say that, but they are also willing and I know, I was in contact with Thabo Mbeki on this and I carried a message through to government, that initially they wanted to entrench this whole question of regionalism in the constitution for the interim phase and the ANC rejected that. They said the interim constitution, the interim arrangements can give the Constituent Assembly certain guidelines regarding regionalism but not the final regional arrangements. And the National Party is also willing to compromise on that. I think the deal that's emerging between the National Party and the ANC now is that they will give the ANC the green light for all its perspectives on the Constituent Assembly and its function, etc., etc. and that the ANC then will compromise more than in the past on the question of regionalism. I think that's the kind of contract that's being discussed now behind closed doors.
POM. When the ANC offered 70% veto threshold for items to be included in a constitution and 75% for items to be included in a Bill of Rights, frankly I was surprised at what seemed to be real generosity given that most polling shows that the government and its allies could cobble together anywhere from between 25% and 30%, it gave the government a very good chance of actually exercising a veto and yet the government turned it down. And many people I've talked to say that the government turned down the best offer it'll ever get.
WDK. Yes of course and that's one of the criticisms against the government also from it's own power base, that that was really - I was very angry about that because it was in an atmosphere of euphoria and after the election and the government negotiators pushed it too far and we will never get that kind of deal again. So that was definitely one of the mistakes.
POM. Well, what happened? The government negotiators are top class people, the President is a top class person.
WDK. Do you think the government's negotiators are top class? I'm a bit worried about them. All of a sudden the two main negotiators, Tertius Delport and Roelf Meyer, I don't want to say anything, they capable and so on but I don't think that they are really top class. Gerrit Viljoen collapsed unfortunately. He's gaining strength again. I think that was an oversight. I think that was typical of political play trying to, the feedback to FW was not correct on this specific issue. I think the feedback was, let's push them a little bit harder, we're on the verge of a breakthrough, we can reach an agreement on the 75%, the percentage. And then the whole thing collapsed and there's a hell of a lot criticism focused on Tertius Delport.
POM. How then do you read the events where it went from deadlock or impasse to collapse? You had both Mandela and de Klerk saying, yes we are at a deadlock but the problems aren't insuperable, we can work them out. And then less than a month later you had the ANC walking out of the talks, listing fifteen demands which would have to be met before they would go back to the negotiating table, mass action being taken from the back burner and being put on the front burner and Mandela's very strident attacks on FW himself. Within the ANC, what do you read, or what happened there?
WDK. I would say it's a mixture of a lot of things. I don't put them necessarily in order of importance, but number one it was the strategy of the ANC to get back to their grassroots. It was their strategy to accommodate their left and right wing. It was real anger. It was a kind of showing muscle, being strong for the next round of negotiations. I think the left wing within the ANC won that argument. I'm informed of that not via the National Party but directly via my good friends in the ANC that there was a let's put the right wing and the left wing just to ... But the right wing people were dead against this whole mass action thing. I don't think they will be very open to say this in public but the right wing tried to stop this but in any case to play it down a bit, but they lost the argument. So that was real anger, real demonstration, real protestation against the National Party playing around with them at CODESA. But that's only one part of the story.
POM. Many people have told us, including some members of the ANC, that had the government accepted that deal, with the 70% and 75% thresholds, that the ANC itself might have had a real problem selling it to its own grassroots. Is that the feedback you get?
WDK. Yes, from the ANC too, that there was a real kind of euphoria within certain ANC ranks when this thing happened because they also in the heat of the negotiations, Ramaphosa was willing to make a compromise on these percentages and there was fear that that would be rejected by their, I won't say grassroots as such, but lower management levels. So they rejoice in the fact that they had a point then to withdraw. That was published in our papers. [As far as I know it was never really, the ANC didn't reject his kind of ...]
POM. So in a peculiar way the government let the ANC off the hook?
WDK. Yes that's exactly it, that was really a mistake from the government's point of view.
POM. Just turning for a moment to mass action (because I know that you've got to go in a couple of minutes), one, it has again been suggested to us that when de Klerk had his referendum that the ANC was understanding of his need to deal with his right so even though they never wanted another whites' only election they made their ritual objections and then kept a low profile and in fact in the end came out and urged whites to vote 'Yes'. But they were understanding of the dilemma he was in and of his need to deal with this right element. Comparably you could look at Mandela and take the demands from the left within his organisation for mass action which had its day as being, observing a need for him to rein that in, so to speak, by giving it some expression so that the mass action was necessary to pull the movement together in some kind of cohesiveness, but that there was an absence of sympathy on the government's side for the dilemma that he faces with his constituency.
WDK. Yes, the government was pushed very hard by the business sector, this kind of aggressive rejection of Mandela's mass action, the economy and the fact that mass action, worry that the mass action will lead to a further delay in investments in South Africa and so on. So they were pushed, let's say from an economic point of view, to hit very hard at this whole exercise. But then I don't want to project myself as being so informed but as from the beginning FW himself, that's off the record of course, told me he can see the dilemma of Mandela and we must go through this phase and he believes, he told me two weeks before the mass action, that in the end this mass action will be a productive thing for the future negotiations. And he's not on record, well of course being a politician, saying, I warn you this is wrecking the economy and yum, yum, yum and so on. But before the mass action he told me, "I'm really not a bit worried, I hope that there won't be incidents of eruption of violence. Of course there will be violence here and there but not an eruption of violence. If we can sit this through I am very sure that it will be a positive force to further the course of reconciliation."
POM. Do you think it was a successful mass action or do you believe that the government believes that, yes, maybe up to four million people stayed away but it was mostly the result of intimidation or coercion?
WDK. I don't think it was really that successful but I won't say that it was not a success. It was not that successful from the point of view of numbers attending the mass action and also from the work force. I spoke to a big shot from Toyota yesterday evening and he told me that his workers are willing, now they were absent from work for the two days, they're willing now to work through the whole Saturday and the whole Sunday on half pay because they are also very concerned about the interests of the company, Toyota. So even the stayaway of the workers, they feel kind of guilty towards their companies that there was a stayaway and there was a lot of intimidation. I would say, if I must give it a percentage, the mass action from the ANC's point of view was more or less 60% successful.
POM. So that didn't send a message to the government that there was this powerful mass force out there mobilised behind Mandela, so that we had better get quickly back to the negotiating table or, my God, they will unleash this ...
WDK. I would say the government were going with this awareness that we must be very cautious, there is a mass of people that can be mobilised within a week's time. We must always at the back of our heads remember that Mandela can organise and mobilise a mass of people that can disrupt the country. I would say that's the one message but I don't think that there's really the feeling that we're against the wall and we must respond immediately. I won't say that the mass action was really that persuasive for the government to make new compromises. They were willing to make these compromises before the mass action as part of the play of negotiations, putting Plan A on the table, but with Plan B in your pocket, willing to draw that card if you see you can't achieve your initial Plan A.
POM. Do you see the government going back to the table now in a weaker position than they were before CODESA 2 deadlocked?
WDK. No, no, I would say more or less a stronger position.
POM. They're in a stronger position?
WDK. I would say that because they've sat through it, I think there's sympathy from the international world, even from Africa that we can't find solutions via mass actions. There's a kind of irritation growing in the world against this kind of thing. Even the United Nations messages boil down to the fact that forget all this, go back to the table, negotiate. I don't think they are in a weaker position but they will take initiatives, that's my information, really to drop a lot of their previous points regarding a Senate for the Constituent Assembly. They are very much focused to find a compromise as soon as possible, even before the end of September. That's their motivation and they are willing to move more to the middle to accommodate the ANC but not because they fear a new mass action. I think the ANC is also now in a position to move a little bit more to the middle to accommodate certain points of the government.
POM. But would you think the ANC would be making a gross error in judgement if they somehow thought that the extent of the mass action had impressed the government to such a point that the government was now willing to consider concessions that it hadn't made before?
WDK. Well the ANC will use that because that's part of the political propaganda.
POM. If they really believe that would you find that ...?
WDK. I don't think they really, really believe in that. Some of them yes but it's also a question of face saving. Naidoo, it's also a question of power play within the ANC, the left and the right wing, but they will use that and the government must let them use that. That's part of the political strategy. They will use that and the government will deny that but I hope that they won't use that to that extent that they drive the government to deny totally. So let them use that and let the government be a bit relaxed about it, say, yes well, we became aware that the masses are pushing. Play it a little bit down from both sides, hopefully.
POM. Now you have to run.
WDK. I'm so sorry Mr O'Malley.
POM. Would it be possible to do something over the phone with you?
WDK. Yes that's fine.
POM. Can you give me your home number? With the time differences it's easier to do it when you won't be interrupted.
WDK. The time difference is 6 hours. The best time to reach me is more or less, in our time, between 6 and 8 p.m.
POM. OK that's fine. I'll ring you when I go back and we can set up a time.
WDK. Tuesday evenings are a little bit difficult for me because I've got every second Tuesday a lecture in the evening, but all the other evenings between 6 and 8.