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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Aug 1992: Meyer, Roelf
POM Mr Meyer, in the whites' only referendum, which was overwhelmingly endorsed, what were whites voting for and what were they voting against?
RM I think one would have a variety of reasons why people voted yes and that would have ranged across the political spectrum from right wing orientated to very much liberal orientated people who voted yes. The DPs, for instance voted yes, but likewise there were many CP supporters who voted yes and obviously they would have had different reasons. I think the range for that reason would include, for instance, people who thought, well, there's no alternative, simply there's no alternative, we have to go with negotiations. And on the other side people would have voted yes for the purposes of ensuring that there will be real democracy in South Africa, full participation for all.
POM Most of the reports that I read coming out of South Africa at that time, and I subscribe to two different news clipping services, and all the reports of the foreign media always put it in terms of it being a process in which whites were prepared to share power with blacks. The inference was that this was a process about power sharing, not handing over power or majority rule or things like that. Do you think it was conducted within that context?
RM Well the emphasis that the government and the National Party put on its campaign to canvass for was exactly that, namely to say that this is a mandate to proceed with negotiations to achieve power sharing for a future constitutional model South Africa. Yes, there's no doubt about that and the fact is that that is how we interpret the mandate. So I would say that the vast majority of those who voted yes one could have put into that category.
POM Now the perception in ANC circles is that after Mr de Klerk got this overwhelming mandate, rather than using it as an opportunity to move the process forward more quickly and maybe be more accommodating, that in fact the government became far more hard-line, less flexible and seemed to move away from it's previous inclination to be more accommodating. Just your comment on that perception?
RM I know the perception but I don't think it's true. The point is on the 20th December at CODESA 1 the State President outlined the National Party's proposals of how we should proceed with the process and that would have included a process of transition that would provide for a transitional constitution, that would provide in itself for a transitional parliament, a transitional executive as well as the constitution-writing function, and those would all be covered within the framework of a transitional constitution. We started off our negotiations, our points of view, on that basis in CODESA itself. So I think what happened actually was, and it's quite significant to look back at it, was that at one or other stage through March/April in the CODESA process some part of the ANC alliance recognised that this is really what's happening and that they didn't like it very much and they started to put brakes on. Looking back at what even a person like Cyril Ramaphosa said afterwards, or that was reported afterwards at least, he said that it became clear to them that they had to force a deadlock at CODESA on account of this, which apparently happened at CODESA 2. A further point in this regard that was quite significant was that COSATU was never part of CODESA on the basis of the principle that only political parties and organisations are participating there and during the process, I believe during March or even April, suddenly they turned up at CODESA but under the flag of the Communist Party, as representatives from the Communist Party. And when I enquired, for instance, what one of them was doing there he said, "Well we have received instructions to participate in CODESA." Obviously they didn't come under their own banner.
POM But they couldn't come under their own banner could they since they didn't have representation there?
RM They didn't have direct representation there but they did so under the Communist Party, as representatives of the Communist Party.
POM So is it your belief, or is it the government's belief that essentially the ANC wanted out of CODESA at some point?
RM Well, looking back at it, I think it became clear that there were some elements in the ANC alliance who wanted to stop the process, as it were, developing and for that reason put a brake on at CODESA 2 and thereafter altogether as far as negotiations are concerned. So what I'm saying is that the perspective that the government turned its approach after the referendum which eventually led to the breakdown in CODESA 2 is incorrect and I would rather put, if necessary, the blame on the other side taking into account what Mr Ramaphosa himself said according to a report in The Sowetan, that he was forced to call for the deadlock in CODESA.
POM One aspect of these negotiations has intrigued me in particular and that is when I saw the offer that the ANC had made of 75% veto threshold for a Bill of Rights and a 70% threshold for the inclusion of items in a constitution, frankly I was surprised given that most survey information, at least that I saw published, has suggested that the government and its allies might get anywhere from between 25% and 30% of a vote in an election so it seemed as though they were offering or were close to or potentially close to a veto and yet the offer was turned down.
RM Looking back at how the negotiations developed there I think one must take the whole spectrum into account. We started off on the basis that there should be a two chamber parliament in the transitional phase, the National Assembly as well as the Senate and our original proposal was that both should have a role as far as constitution making decisions are concerned. So it was not only a Constituent Assembly or the National Assembly that would have the sole responsibility in that regard. That was our departure point. In the final stages of those negotiations we agreed to the fact that the National Assembly could play that role without the Senate coming into the picture as far as the constitution making side is concerned on the basis of a joint session or whatever and that we were also prepared to accept the 70% and 75%. That was the final proposal on our side as well.
POM You were prepared to accept it, 70%?
RM 70% for the constitution and 75% for the Bill of Rights. And when we came up with that concession the ANC turned around and they came up with a new demand and that was the one of the referendum to serve as a deadlock resolving mechanism to come into operation after six months which could mean then that a simple majority could decide then on a constitution. And we said that that was a totally new thing, that we couldn't decide at that stage. It was apparently a move by the ANC, we interpreted it, to try and force the deadlock, which I still think it was.
POM So in the negotiating process you had actually accepted the 70%?
RM Yes, yes.
POM And then they came back with a further rider attached to that concession, so it was on the rider really that the deadlock happened?
RM Our interpretation was then that they don't really want us to make a compromise because the rider was not in the picture at any earlier stage.
POM A lot of comment in the post-CODESA talks say that they had collapsed when everyone rationalises everything backwards, it is said that if you had accepted the offer, the 70% and whatever, and the thing had gone ahead, that in fact the ANC would have had great difficulty in selling this to their own constituency.
RM I think so and that is probably the reason why they forced the deadlock because they were aware of the fact that they would have problems.
POM Now were you aware while you were negotiating, from information you yourself were receiving or from conversations you were having with people that they were running into trouble?
RM I think it was not quite clear at that point. I think it came later in the weeks after CODESA 2. It became more clear on account of the fact that they also started with the mass action programme. One must remember also they have taken the decision that there will be mass action, also prior to CODESA 2, and the decision was that there will be mass action irrespective of the outcome of CODESA 2 and that I think, obviously, that also became known to us only afterwards. Putting that together with the other bits and pieces of information I think one can say it was clear then probably on the side of the ANC alliance that it would have difficulty to sell what was happening and what was going on and that mass action was brought into the picture with a purpose to try and build a support base, which I still think was primarily the aim of mass action.
POM To build their support, to pull their support base together?
RM It was a political move on their side to build their constituency.
POM I'll get back to that in a minute. Two things strike me about the CODESA process itself and one is that since I've been here over the last couple of years I've heard two different languages spoken. The government and the NP talk about power sharing. The ANC and its allies talk about the transfer of power and in a way these two different interpretations of what the process was about deadlocked as it were in CODESA. In your view is this still a process about the sharing of power rather than the transfer of power to a majority government?
RM Yes, absolutely.
POM And this still means that the things you talked about last year and the year before, such as proportional power sharing at an executive level, are still a basic part of the path fold you see?
RM Absolutely. But can I just make one correction in terms of that interpretation because it might be wrongly perceived if it's just being stated as power sharing versus transfer of power. Yes, in essence that is what it means but if we say power sharing we want power sharing as part of the future model. It doesn't mean that that would not be transfer of power from the existing position to a new model. In other words we don't want to maintain power for ourselves and just add other people on to it in the form of power sharing. What we want to achieve is a full democratic dispensation. In other words we want to scrap the existing dispensation. We want to remove ourselves from the scene. But at the same time we want to ensure that in the new system, be it in the transitional phase or thereafter, there will be power sharing as part of a model that will allow for all participants to have a fair part, a share in terms of ...
POM Let me give you a simple example. You're against straightforward majority rule that the majority exercises not unbridled authority. There might be checks and balances there but that if the ANC receives 52% of the vote even in a proportional system you don't think they should form the government on their own, saying we are the government, everyone else is the opposition?
RM We can't rule out the natural consequences of majority government. That we have stated all over. In other words we are not against the natural causes of democracy but what we're basically saying is democracy doesn't mean a 50% plus one outcome only.
POM Let me maybe state it better. You would like to see, say, an executive that would reflect in some proportion the strength of the relative parties in the voting population so that if the NP got 30% of the vote you would like a system that in some way at the executive level would reflect that 30%?
RM That would be our definite proposal as far as the transitional phase is concerned.
POM OK, and then as far as the final phase?
RM Well we would certainly like to have that also included in the final phase, but that is down the road. Negotiations in a constitution making body will have to develop whatever formula we're going to use. But essentially what we're talking about, and there seems to be agreement between us and the ANC, and that is that for the purposes of the transition there must be a transitional government of national unity. And what we're saying is the best would be to compose that government on the basis of the representation that each one would have in the transitional phase.
POM Again, you would see an election for this transitional government so you are still thinking in terms of two elections?
RM That's right.
POM An election for a transitional government which would then draw up the constitution and then an election then for the post, final constitution. And there still would be a difference on how long the transitional government should last or is that an item for negotiation?
RM Our proposal in that regard is that the period between the two elections should not be more than three years.
POM The other kind of thing I noticed, or that came to my attention about CODESA, is how it is perceived differently, that the ANC wanted to merely draw up some generalised principles that would guide a Constitutional Assembly whereas the government and its allies want to really put as much of the constitution together as possible and then it should only be subsequently amended by a Constituent Assembly, but that it's more than just the principles.
RM Our viewpoint in that regard is that in the transition we should also have a complete constitution providing for the essential areas that should be part of such a constitution. And we're also saying that we believe that the constitution should replace the existing constitution which would mean that the transitional constitution should not only be a complete constitution but provide also for those elements that we believe essentially should be part of the future constitution, inter alia, Bill of Rights. And then we say that that constitution can either be replaced or amended but it can be totally replaced but by the constitution making body with a view to the final phase.
POM Now one of the things you would like prior agreement on is on this whole idea of regionalism, of where the powers of the regions would be enshrined by the constitution. That was agreed to in ...
RM That was agreed to in Working Group 2.
POM And yet the ANC ...
RM I think they have reneged on that.
POM They have gone back on that. When they say, we have now withdrawn all deals, do you find that an acceptable state of affairs that all these things that had to be negotiated?
RM Well it's not quite clear on what they have done. In our discussions after CODESA 2, we had a number of bilateral meetings, and during those discussions they have not forfeited the agreements except for Working Group 2. But the other agreements that we have made they confirmed. So once we resume negotiations now we will have to find out exactly where we stand in that regard. Our departure point would still be that we should go for what has been agreed upon already and build on that as far as future solutions are concerned. On the subject of regionalism we feel strongly about that because we essentially believe that that should be part of the solution for the country, constitutionally speaking. And it boils down to the very heart of the constitutional differences in thinking between us and the ANC and that is namely their emphasis on a very strong centralistic approach and ours on a more devolved or decentralised approach. But we believe we will have to include regionalism already in the transitional phase because we have elements of regionalism that can't just be left out in the process and we believe, as far as the final situation is concerned, regionalism would be one of the important parts of the solution.
POM In the reports one picks up in newspapers now of the government reconvening parliament to consider amendments to the existing constitution.
RM Well that is not part of the current thinking. What we are trying to do from our side is to put up a number of varieties that we can discuss with a view to finding a solution for the future and our position would be that we should look at how we can find a combination of varieties, or alternatives, that could actually develop a scenario where we can have agreement. But we believe that can only be done through negotiations at the table and we should not try and discover these other possibilities in public.
POM I want you to tell me what was your analysis of what was going on within the ANC alliance from the period between when the talks deadlocked and when they walked out of the talks less than a month later. Of course you had Boipatong, but you had mass mobilisation being put on the front burner, you had a list of fifty more demands that had to be met, you had very personalised attacks by Mr Mandela on Mr de Klerk. There's a whole new tone of militancy. What was the government's analysis of what was actually going on in the ANC that led to them actually taking these courses of action?
RM Well I think it was a planned strategy by the radical elements in the alliance that caused this situation to develop both as far as the deadlock in CODESA is concerned as well as the plan of mass action is concerned. Our view is still that mass action was not necessary. But I think it was planned action on the side of the more radical elements in the alliance to come up with this idea, to try and put pressure on the government on the one side and, as I said, also to prop up its own constituency. And some developments occurred that, of course, made it easier for them, like Boipatong. But then there is also, at least on the side of Mr Mandela himself personally, a feeling of deep uncertainty, to put it mildly, on the whole subject of violence and that he himself thought that the government should do more about the question of violence which had no easy or obvious answers. So I would like to say I think there are two elements here. The one is a serious and justifiable concern on the side of Mr Mandela. I'm not saying correctly so, but in his own mind at least justifiable about what is happening as far as the subject of violence is concerned. And on the other side the mere political strategy of the alliance, particularly the more radical elements in the alliance, tried to force a situation through which they could put pressure on government as far as negotiations are concerned.
POM The analogy has sometimes been made to me that when Mr de Klerk had to have the white referendum that the ANC were understanding of the position he was in and knew he had to deal with the right once and for all and so kept a very low profile and muted their objections to another whites only election and in the end urged whites to come out and vote yes. So they were sympathetic to his dilemma. Others now suggest to me that when Mr Mandela had his so-called black referendum there wasn't the same sympathetic understanding from the government of his need to rein in his constituency from the left, to allow them to do their thing and then to say, OK now that you've got your thing done we can get back to the negotiating table. Do you think that's fair or do you think the government was understanding of his position?
RM There's a major difference between the two. I know this argument but there's a major difference between the two. In our referendum we never put up any demands against the ANC or any of the other negotiating parties. That was the strategy as far as the ANC was concerned in terms of their mass action and they put up fourteen demands which we are saying is not part of negotiations. Demand politics, ultimatum politics, is not part of negotiations and there is an obvious difference in other words of what they put up and what we have done in our referendum. Our referendum was not to try and score points against the ANC. Our referendum was to try and sort out things as far as white politics are concerned. And I think they had no reason to interfere at the time of our referendum. Equally so we stayed out, mostly, of the mass action programme. We have never denied the right of the ANC to have mass action because we have always said mass action is part of, public demonstration is part of normal democratic politics. So we have not ruled and we have never spoken out against the fact that they are going to have mass action. All that we said was, first of all demands are not part of negotiations, can't be part of the negotiation process. Secondly, that we believe mass action is unnecessary because we were on our way to move forward as far as negotiations were concerned in terms of resolving our problem. And thirdly, we will never give in to demands as part of the negotiating process.
POM Do you think it was a successful mass action?
RM The first part of it was definitely not successful but I think the latter part can be perceived by the ANC as probably successful and from that angle it's probably not a bad thing.
POM Well, when they say that they have sent the government a message and the government has heard the message of the mobilised people and seen what they can do in terms of bringing the country to a standstill and that this will make the government more willing to come back to the negotiation table and be heedful of the demands made and be more willing to speed up the negotiating process, does that exist in their mind?
RM There will always be differences of opinion on that, on how successful it was. But I think what is important, first of all we must get back to negotiations. We're not going to let ourselves be forced into any situation through the demands or the mass action. And thirdly, yes, we recognise the fact that the ANC is a major player. That we have recognised before and after mass action. So whether they have mobilised and proved their point or not, it is not a matter for the government of any difference because we have acknowledged and still acknowledge the ANC's prominent role as a key player in the South African political scene. It's for that reason that we started negotiations after all with them. So we're not going to let us be forced on account of mass action into making concessions of different ways. We believe negotiations in themselves will produce the best results in the way of compromises and mass action is not necessary for that.
POM Do you think CODESA as a forum has now served its purpose and that it must be broadened? I mean you have ongoing talks with the PAC.
RM I wouldn't say it has served its purpose but at the same time we are not rigid as far as the structure of CODESA is concerned. We believe, first of all, we should look at how we can proceed on a bilateral basis, between various parties, and if there is a possibility of achieving positive results and solutions to the differences then we certainly must go back to the multi-lateral level however that is going to be comprised. It could be consisting of CODESA again. We could go back to a CODESA 3 but it could also be in a different shape. That is not the point. What is essential is that we must find out whether we can resolve our differences and then find the right mechanism to endorse that.
POM Last question, the Buthelezi factor. I visited him two weeks ago in Ulundi and he sits there bitter, disillusioned and militant, saying that if the Zulu people are left out of this process he will not be a party to any arrangement made at a negotiating forum of which the Zulu people were not a part. Does he have the capacity to be a spoiler?
RM He must certainly be part of the solution. I think everybody in the political scene in South Africa would recognise the fact that Buthelezi and the Zulus must be part of the solution otherwise we're not going to resolve it whatever the level of support, or the amount of support.
POM Like when the ANC walked out of CODESA, it was said at that point sufficient consensus didn't exist and if the government walked out sufficient consensus wouldn't exist. If the IFP walked out would that be taken as sufficient consensus not existing or is it really the government and the ANC that count?
RM I would never take a position of short term analysis on such things, but I'm saying in the medium and the long term if the Zulus and Inkatha are not part of the solution then we will certainly not have a new constitutional dispensation that will work. That is I think what it means. In other words there could be hiccups in the meantime that we can overcome but in the long run we have to ensure that they are also a part of the solution. It's going to take a lot of hard work. I've no doubt about that.
POM Do you see the government going back to the negotiating table in a strong position as it was when these talks deadlocked?
RM Well we're not looking at that because we essentially believe that we should not try and look at how we can score points on each other. I think the situation has not much changed from where we were in May in terms of our different positions. The unfortunate thing, however, is that we had a period of delay in the process. We could have been in the process of the transitional set of structures already if it were not for the delay. We could have been a long way down the road already. It was really unnecessary.
POM So when the ANC say now the government are beginning to see the light, that this is a process where we will sit down to negotiate a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution that will lead to majority rule, in a sense they're still feeding their constituencies rhetoric rather than what will ultimately turn out to be a reality?
RM Yes I think so. I'm sorry ...
POM OK, I will leave you. You must concentrate your mind before you go.
RM I will walk out with you.
POM Just on another matter, do you think the ANC's continuous insistence that the government is to blame for all the violence hinders a way of dealing with the violence ultimately?
RM I don't think anybody believes that any longer.
POM OK, thank you.
RM I don't think anybody believes that any longer do you?
POM Well I'm a political commentator.
RM OK, all the best for you.