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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Aug 1992: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     In an address to the Grahamstown Arts Festival you identified violence as the major problem facing the country and proposed a CODESA on violence, in fact a CODESA on violence that should take precedence over a CODESA on negotiations. Would you just elaborate a little bit on that?

VZS     Yes I think the fundamental problem is that one of the legacies of the past that the only attempt at bargaining or sharing responsibility for administering transition is a fiercely partisan and controversial security structure, the defence force and the police and the fact that negotiation is the mode which the major political actors have chosen to drive transition means that you have to depend on your security forces to maintain the stability under which negotiation has to take place. But if the manner in which stability is being maintained is itself a matter of controversy and is itself seen to be a source of the conflict then you can't negotiate. So I'm saying it seems to be to put the cart before the horse to argue that you can negotiate before you've resolved the problem of stability, or the negative side of stability is the problem of violence. And that's why you almost have to address the issue of violence separately in a sense to be able to get agreement on the relative degree of impartiality with which the security forces are going to maintain so-called law and order.

POM     Could you just refer this to the security forces or would it be more embracive of violence between the ANC and Inkatha?

VZS     Oh no, I'd make it as all inclusive as possible. In other words I am suggesting that you must look at formal structures of violence, like defence forces and police forces, and keep in mind we have five defence forces in the country and we have a number of different police forces and their chains of command do not necessarily correspond or are in touch with one another. Therefore, you have to address that from a formal point of view, but obviously from an unofficial point of view too where you have unofficial militia like uMkhonto weSizwe, APLA, AQUILA and so on and then you have warlords, Witdoeke, all of that. I can't see how you can begin to address the problem of crime, for example, if you haven't first defined the role of the police and the military as well as your own official militia to the satisfaction of the participating parties.

POM     Now the ANC has insisted since August two years ago when the violence first broke out on the Reef that the government was behind the violence, the government pursuing it's double campaign of the olive branch of negotiations on the one hand and destabilising it in the townships on the other. The Goldstone Commission, while not laying the blame on anybody's door directly, did say that political competition between Inkatha and the ANC was a significant factor in the violence. This is never admitted by the ANC in any kind of formal way. Do you think they have to reach a point before you can resolve the problem of the violence that there must be some common acknowledgement of its causes rather than simply trying to put structures into place that would say, OK, how do we stop it, we don't mind how it started?

VZS     No I absolutely agree with that. I must say I think Hani has come a bit closer, Chris Hani has said that our self defence units in certain townships are out of control or are problematic and so on. Buthelezi has already said, yes, you know, we have a problem with violence and he accepted the Goldstone Commission's finding on that. The government itself ...

POM     The ANC did not.

VZS     The ANC did not, no. But I think this is a very important problem. For me it would appear that there are uncontrollable elements amongst all the different participants. The government has uncontrolled, the ANC has and so does Inkatha. But I think there has been significant improvement in dealing with this problem ever since Vance's visit (you know - the Security Council's Envoy). That has certainly made things easier. Vance highlighted this issue. The Security Council Resolution itself did not try and, as it were, absolve any of the parties but in fact pointed out that they are all involved in the problem and that they therefore have to find a common solution. Goldstone to a large extent did.

     I think this whole debate around amnesty is a very, very healthy and important one. At the moment some of the parties tend to confuse amnesty with some process of moral absolution. It's got nothing to do with it quite frankly. I don't think that the moral culpability of parties who constitute an interim government is any more or less than if they stand separately and have to be judged in terms of the alleged crimes that they have committed. But amnesty under these circumstances is a political device to put the problem of violence in proper perspective and saying there it is, now let's move on. But I think that highlights this whole question of amnesty and the role of the United Nations in it. It highlights the fact that there is a growing awareness that this is an issue that has to be dealt with separately. You can't put all your negotiation eggs into the CODESA basket which is what we've done in the past. But you've got to acknowledge the validity of different problems that have to be resolved in order to make any progress. I would say that you have to resolve the stability problem before you can look at the question of political negotiation.

POM     Would you be in favour of a general, across the board amnesty that simply wipes the slate?

VZS     Yes I would certainly be in favour of that. That doesn't mean that you don't have to have disclosure, that you don't have to have some kind of absolution, forgiveness, forgive and forget kind of thing. That depends entirely on how the different parties deal with it. But you have to, as Vance would say, you've got to wipe the slate clean somehow. You've got to reach a situation where the different parties accept the role of a new security set up in trying to maintain a relative degree of impartial stability. You have to. We haven't, as I've always pointed out in previous discussions, we haven't got some kind of international midwife to perform this role. We haven't got an UNTAG that can come in here and keep the warring parties at bay while it maintains a kind of umbrella of stability under which people can begin to either elect a Constituent Assembly or bargain.

POM     Just before I interviewed you I interviewed Hernus Kriel and he said very clearly and categorically that unless there was an amnesty that a future government, be it interim or majority rule or whatever, would never be able to establish political control over the security forces.

VZS     I agree with it for the simple reason that there is no alternative civil service, in the broader sense of the word, in waiting. There isn't. The dilemma that confronts any government, whether it be ANC or a coalition or whatever is that you're going to have to deal with an existing administration that painfully and slowly will have to be made serviceable to a presumed democratic outcome. You have to. And I think both the ANC and the government totally underestimated the significance of this problem. The civil service that we've inherited was geared to perform an administrative role in pursuit of separate development and apartheid otherwise there's no way in which you can explain eighteen departments of health or fourteen departments of education or things like that. And you're saddled with this monster that now has to be rationalised and made useful for now, suddenly, a commonly agreed democratic outcome. It's just not on. And at the pit face of that dilemma are the security forces and the security forces played a critical role in the decade of the eighties in pursuing the so-called total strategy to meet the total onslaught and it's common knowledge that total onslaught as perceived by the State was led by the ANC and supported by Moscow. You know that old thing. So how can you now suddenly expect a young constable coming from the far northern Transvaal who has been told that his promotion depends on killing Chris Hani on sight, that he's now got to sit on his hands and try and try and be even-handed about this whole problem in Boipatong or wherever. I can't see how.

     So Hernus Kriel, it's not often I agree with him, but Hernus Kriel is saying: OK, you want to be the ANC government? Come and govern with the old style administration. Let's see you do it. You come and be the ANC government and you go to Voortrekkerhoogte and tell 22 Generals, "You're fired", and they turn round and say "Go and take a running jump." What do you do? Do you say, "Well OK, you're not fired"? It's that kind of dilemma. What do you do? Or do you call the international community and say I've got this miserable administration that doesn't want to listen to my orders? I see no other way.

POM     I want to relate what you've argued in some articles that negotiations would have to be protracted and you've outlined three or four factors why you think they would have to be protracted. Against present political developments which suggest that the ANC want to pressurise negotiations, speed them up, have an interim government and an election for a Constituent Assembly, have a relatively short interim government and move on to a new government under a new constitution, and they're doing this against the background of a mass action that's encouraging their supporters to believe that this mass action is paying off and that in fact this is going to happen. How do you read the ANC's actions beginning from the deadlock of CODESA to collapse of the talks to mass action to where there are now, which again seems to be somersaults in the last couple of days from looking as though things are going to speed up and now they're not?

VZS     I think that the ANC at the moment is gripped in an internal conflict about the strategy to be pursued in bringing about transition. If I can use the Boipatong example, I think Boipatong saw the initiative within the ANC shift away from say the negotiators to the mobilisers. This is a very crude and raw distinction but it's useful to make the point, and the point about it also is that the negotiators and the mobilisers differ amongst themselves on the role of negotiations and the role of mobilisation. So there is a strategic ambivalence within the ANC and there's no question about it. And within the people who mobilise there's a difference. There are those who mobilise for the so-called Leipzig option and there are those who mobilise in the sense that mass mobilisation is like a tap that you can turn on and off and then you can structure negotiations depending on how you use the tap. And then there are people within the ANC who fundamentally oppose mass mobilisation. So I think that you're seeing a vacillation within the ANC on these issues. Now they're trying to work out which way to go.

     My own view is, if the ANC genuinely believes mass mobilisation is going to be the vehicle or the instrument that they're going to use to speed up transition, it will prolong transition. I've no doubt about it. So the very way in which the ANC tries to speed up transition is part of the reason why I'm saying it's going to take much longer than they expected. And in that sense it will invite repression. It will. Equally it makes no sense for government spokesmen to say transition will last ten years. I don't know on what grounds they say that, but transition will last for as long as it takes to solve the problems that transition has to resolve. If you can do it quickly then transition will be shorter and you move to a democratic outcome and if you can't resolve those issues then it will take longer.

     In that respect I have a very firm conviction that if the ANC becomes part of an interim government it's going to be confronted with the awesome problems that have to be administered during transition. Just the logistics of holding an election, for example, the whole question of access to alternative sources of information, the control of the SABC, the question of setting up development programmes that can somehow show people that you're serious about wanting to change the quality of life. All these things come into play. And, as I said, your expertise and your personnel that you're going to need in order to work through the civil service. These things are major problems. Now if the ANC insists on a short transition and generates enormous expectations about the benefits of such a short transition, it's going to land itself with performance crisis. How does it perform under circumstances where it doesn't have the means to meet the demands that it's generated? Those are problems that I see as very serious problems that confront the ANC.

     So I think it's true to say that the government would like, as I've said in an article, the government would like to give the ANC a lot of responsibility and no power. The ANC would love to have power but not too much responsibility and in that they hope to have a short transition, land the responsibility for administering post-transitional South Africa on to the current civil service with the assistance of maybe some of the government people and they then find themselves in executive positions saying you do this and you do that and hopefully ... That's a fairy story. It doesn't work like that.

POM     The trick here might be to lose the first election because the party may do so badly in government that it will not be elected for a further term.

VZS     You have on the one hand the dilemma that you can come in on your rhetoric but go out on your performance and on the other hand you've got the dilemma that if you win the founding election you lose the next one. So yes, stand back and let the other side fall. But this is exactly what they're not saying. They say we want to be in there, we want to be the government, we want to be in charge. And I say, fine I understand that but the manner in which you want to make this known and in which you want to speed up the process is in fact going to prolong it. People look at it differently. If mass mobilisation was capable of effecting transition, why do you need negotiations? You could have had mass mobilisation right from the outset and you could have gone along right through until the old Leipzig option, which is another variation of the Walls of Jericho, would have happened.

POM     Is the ANC in your view, and from a number of members that we've talked to and I always try to distinguish between what they say for rhetoric and what they really mean, but the members we have talked to since mass action would suggest that from their point of view it has been a very successful mass action and that they in fact sent the government a message of their capacity both to mobilise people and of the support of people for what the ANC stood for and for its demands. Government people we speak to, on the other hand, say, it was OK, a lot of intimidation, but if they think they're sending us a message, that we're trembling in our shoes at what mass action did or that we're going to bend to their demands, they're just off their rocker. We just don't think that way. From your conversations do you find that people in the ANC really believed this was an action that sent the government a message to the extent that the government would say: we must act and accommodate these people in some way or God knows, as Business Day said yesterday, a third or fourth day of mass struggle and the we'll topple the whole lot. Is this fantasy?

VZS     There are those who believe that. I certainly have come across people who believe that. But I don't think amongst the more serious leaders that they genuinely believe this is the way. I think they see this as a complementary strategy to basically bargain. There is no view there that you can topple the government through mass action. I know because this was personally told to me by Mr Mandela himself. He says you can't topple the government but this is to send a message. But I think it's as predictable as anything that the government is going to say it doesn't impress us and that the ANC is going to say, well wasn't that a magnificent show? I think the ANC certainly showed that they could mobilise on a mass basis, which people started doubting, and I think they can justifiably feel bucked about it that they've managed to do it. But the more important point about the whole thing is that the economy is essentially being used as a political instrument. Now that I'm afraid you can't do too often and there all sides will hurt on it. And again in a declining and deteriorating economy your masses are the most vulnerable in the final analysis. So yes, you can try again and you can try again but each time you're actually undermining your own support base to a certain extent.

POM     It's likely to have diminishing returns.

VZS     I would think so. I would think so unless there's a realistic prospect that is just another evil but I don't see that. I don't think the government has come out of this process significantly weaker either in the international community or domestic. The economy certainly has and one can argue the toss as to whether that benefits the ANC or the government. I would find it very difficult to argue that the ANC is now much stronger because they have a weaker economy.

POM     When they do go back to the table do they go back in relatively equal degrees of strength or is the ANC stronger or weaker, or government stronger, weaker?

VZS     I think they square up more, well I wouldn't want to use the word 'equally' I suppose, but I think they square up with one another on the basis of, look we have the capacity to mess each other about, now don't let's do that again type of thing. I mean it's more that attitude and in that respect I think Mandela comes out of it a bit stronger. You see I think it's slowly tilting back towards the negotiators. That doesn't mean that your mobilisers aren't out there still demanding their pound of flesh, saying we managed to pull this one off now let's see what you can pull of with negotiations, but negotiations within a fairly circumscribed area of bargaining at the moment.

POM     To a person ANC members we spoke to say the government wanted the talks to reach an impasse, wanted to stall the talks. To a person the government says that the ANC wanted to break off the talks and there were many signs there beforehand that they wanted out of the process. Do you support either?

VZS     I think there are a number of factors one has to take into account. Number one, the whole group dynamics of bargaining there in Working Group 2, I mean the people were generally tired of one another, so that can precipitate a process which none of the parties really wanted or anticipated. I think there was something of that there. Tertius Delport running off to make a call to find out what he's got to say now and then the other side coming and upping the ante and eventually you get tired of the process and of course you get into a time constraint because you've now got to come to a resolution. At the same time there are those within the government side who would say let's drag this one out, the more we drag it out the weaker the ANC becomes so they're playing that one. There are also elements within government saying, we can't afford this, we've got to get moving. Equally on the ANC side there are those who say, listen let's get into this interim government, let's start working at it and sort out the problems and there are others who say, you are going to compromise your constituency. So I don't think it's all that helpful to apportion blame. I think in the final analysis once the whole thing came unstuck the name of the game became one of 'spot the spoiler', who was responsible and they spent an enormous amount of time trying to blame the other side and then expose the other side to the international community and to the South African community as being people that you can't trust or work with.

POM     One other view that was prevalent and endorsed again by many ANC people was that if in fact the government had accepted the package of 70% threshold for the constitution and 75% for a Bill of Rights that they might have had a real hard time selling it to their own supporters.

VZS     Do you mean the ANC would have had a hard time? I suppose it would be true in certain areas. You see I think the ANC's constituency is not a hegemonic constituency, it's not monolithic, it's not simple, the heartbeat is one type of thing. I mean the ANC's constituency is a bit of a Hydra-headed animal, you have organised labour, you have the rural poor, you have traditional people, you have urban bourgeoisie, you've got the South African Communist Party, that's all part of that constituency and I don't have to tell you to sit and listen to strategic debates within the alliance, it can be an extremely confusing thing. You just have to read Work in Progress or listen to Cronin talk about mass mobilisation and Suttner and compare that to say Steve Tshwete getting us back into colonial cricket and all that, your mind goes for a walk after a while if you listen to all this and you say how does this fit into the strategy.

     So I would say that it would have been a high risk in certain quarters to go back and say we've settled for 70%, but I think they could have carried the day. They could have carried the day and said, yes we've settled for this now let's move on and see what happens. I sense a lot of people supporting the ANC beginning to say, we just can't go on like this the whole time, something's got to happen. And that I must say is one of the dangers underpinning continued mass action. You can stay away from work maybe once, twice, three times but eventually you want to know what is this achieving. The mobilisers could always point to the negotiators, and I think the government was partly to blame for it, to the negotiators and saying, what have you achieved in the last 18 months? What can you show that we've achieved and therefore now give us a chance to go for mass action? But mass action is going to land up with exactly the same kind of credibility crisis.

POM     If someone had said to you when this whole process began 2 years ago that after roughly 2 years all the parties would be around the table, that there would be substantial agreement in many areas including the form of an interim government, would you have been surprised at the level of agreement that had been reached on many issues in negotiations? Would the process have been further along than you thought or would it have been behind what you thought necessary?

VZS     Well I've argued almost from the very first that until such time as they resolve the problem of stability I cannot see significant progress being made. I think it's not all that difficult to reach agreement on broad constitutional goals, which is what the Declaration of Intent of CODESA reflects. You can say, well that's remarkable agreement between the different parties. I think there is a kind of emerging consensus on the broad goals of a post transitional economy. I think there is broad agreement on some of the political measures and mechanisms for transition, but where you run into difficulty every time is who is going to be responsible for maintaining law and order and how they do that. So that has been one of my concerns from the outset.

POM     In that context, what happened in the National Peace Accord which was signed a little less than a year ago with great fanfare, Buthelezi, Mandela and de Klerk present, yet this has been the single most bloody year in South Africa's history? Would things have been worse without it being there? Has there been just lip service to it rather than any real commitment or agreements reached between people like Mandela, de Klerk and Buthelezi signed but they simply don't work at the grassroots?

VZS     I think if they displayed the political, and I include all three of them, Mandela, de Klerk and Buthelezi, if they displayed the political will to make the Peace Accord work it would have worked much better. I still think that the Peace Accord has done remarkably well under these circumstances. In fact without it we could possibly have been much worse off but it's impossible to implement a Peace Accord if the principals are hacking away at one another and using inflammatory language like one accused one of being a nazi and enjoying killing blacks and the other one saying that your troops are out of control, you're using intimidation and the other one talking about cultural weapons and that kind of thing. So I'm afraid my view is, in a sense, that there was bad faith between the principals on the Peace Accord from the outset.

POM     Are the respective principals in control of their respective constituencies? For example, taking de Klerk, has de Klerk the capacity to take sweeping actions against elements in the security forces or would he run the risk of alienating key elements or having the security forces turn against him?

VZS     De Klerk hasn't got the capacity for sweeping actions against significant sections of the security forces for the simple reason that in the kind of transition we're going through the incumbent regime's last fall-back position is the security forces. That's it. So if they are contaminated as part of the process of bargaining and transition, where do you step behind? Do you step off the cliff as it were? That is his dilemma and that's why I've maintained from the outset you can't expect de Klerk to pull himself up by his bootstraps and then sanitise his security force and then turn around and say, let's go now. The ANC display this ambivalence. On the one hand they say to de Klerk, now come on, law and order is your problem and when he exercises order they say, no you're killing our people. You can't do it. You can't expect him to do it on his own. And in that sense the participant referee crisis is a very acute one for de Klerk.

     My view is that the ANC has not really appreciated this dilemma but in the same way de Klerk has never really appreciated the ANC's dilemma with its own constituency, that it is a multi-faceted constituency and that it makes extraordinary conflicting demands on the leadership. So in a sense they have both been rather unsympathetic towards each other's dilemmas and the only way out of this, the question of sanitising the security forces is it has to be a multi-lateral exercise. You've got to involve all the parties. And that's why the idea of an amnesty and an investigation and so on helps the matter and I would say in this regard the involvement of the international community is a great help. It, in a sense, lets de Klerk off the hook because if he appoints his Judge to investigate his General and his Judge finds his General guilty then his General is going to say, "You did that deliberately to get at me." But if you bring in the international community and they presumably dispassionately investigate the matter de Klerk can say, "Listen here I didn't do this, we all agreed that this is what has to be done." So it does let him off the hook but it doesn't really solve the problem unless he gets the active co-operation of all the other principals in addressing this issue.

POM     How do you relate that to what Professor de Lange said, you were heading up a study of the lost generation, the youth in the townships who had turned to violence, were forming gangs, were looking up to nothing but peer authority, were beyond the control of any established structures of authority or even MK or ANC structures in townships. How are the two related?

VZS     Well the extent to which there is a lost generation is an open ended question that has to be established and what exactly one means. The extent to which you have a total breakdown of community structures and a kind of youthful lawlessness is also an empirical question. Comparatively speaking I think that element of the youth is fairly limited in the total South Africa. It's here, it's in this area here, it's in the Vaal Triangle, but if you look at the Eastern Cape, if you look at the Northern Transvaal, the North West and North Eastern Transvaal, if you look at virtually the whole of the Free State and significant sections of the Cape, people are going on. But that doesn't for one moment mean that I don't take seriously the fact that you have got absolutely anarchic youth in say Boipatong or Sebokeng or wherever and they pose a problem not only for the government but they pose a problem for the ANC as well. I think this is what Chris Hani referred to. But you don't stand a snowball's hope in hell of addressing the problem of those lost youth if you don't at least have an agreement on what constitutes acceptable behaviour for the agents of social control, for a cop on the beat, or for a soldier, or for community structures that can address the problems of dislocation and violence and juvenile delinquency or whatever. If you haven't got that your criminal elements will feed off that situation with impunity, as we see at the moment.

POM     So this particular study's frame of reference is the youth?

VZS     South African youth. It's as broad as that. It covers white right wing youth, left wing youth, black youth, conservative youth, rural youth, urban youth and whatever conceivable aspect of youth. We're just now in the process of looking at projects that have come in. You know, people sending for tender that they want to do the social this and that and we try to establish where you've got gaps and so on. So it's fairly wide terms of reference we've set ourselves.

POM     In another piece you wrote you said, "What is not clear is whether there is sufficient unity of purpose and meaning of what democracy is and is not." Looking at the language and actions of the principal players, in what way do their understandings of democracy, or my question is, in what way do their understandings of democracy differ? Because it strikes me that you have, it's kind of an ironic situation here, every party to these negotiations is talking about democracy yet nobody from Holomisa ...

VZS     It's impossible not to find a democrat.

POM     Nobody has ever had any experience of democracy or a democratic structure yet every second word out of their mouth is about democracy and democratic values and whatever. What would you see as the kind of major conceptual differences in how the government, for example, sees democracy and how the ANC sees it and how Buthelezi or the PAC see it?

VZS     Well I would think a fundamental difference between the government and the ANC is that the ANC sees democracy as a device to transfer power and the government sees democracy as a constitution that can stabilise the situation and lead to stable government. So there is a difference in that respect. There are a lot of important differences that many, many supporters of the ANC see democracy as the thing to develop. If you have democracy there will be a chicken in the pot, things are going to happen, there will be growth, there will be stability and so on. I think another difference is that many supporters of the ANC see democracy as a kind of immediate, intimate, massive experience, what I call assembly democracy. They see that very strongly, whereas for many people on the government side, or whites generally, democracy is a ?? for them, it's participative in the kind of intermittent since it's representative, it's a system of government that goes on over a period of time but you can't use it as a device for immediate gratification of whatever you want. And that is a serious tension, that is a very serious tension and, by the way, it's a tension within the ANC too.

     There are your assembly democrats within the ANC who see the masses as the kind of vehicle for immediate satisfaction of needs and demands and the kind of rolling mass action carrying on for ever. Then there are others who say, no this is a system of government that's fairly remote and has to be institutionalised. So those would be the most important differences. Then another one is that for the ANC democracy is a rather simple ideal of majority rule. It's a simple question of just the will of the majority has a certain ethical thing about it in the sense that it in itself is good if the majority decide in a particular way. The fact that the majority can make stupid decisions is not something that one talks about too often. On the other hand there is also, on the side of the government, an attempt to use democratic devices to try and curtail the simple expression of the will of the majority. And that's an understandable kind of thing. But these are the most important differences.

POM     I asked you this last year, but I want to see within the year have there been any developments that would significantly, or if not significantly change your view. That is, to me there have always been two languages being spoken here. The government and National Party speak a language of, this is a process about the sharing of power, about equality. And the language of the ANC is that it is a process about the transfer of power. They are conceptually talking about two different things. At some point they have to come into sharp conflict with each other. Do you see the government in the last 2 years having in any way significantly modified its definition of what power sharing is?

VZS     Yes I think so. I think there are elements within the government who are actually beginning to flirt with the idea that they could win a majority rule type election. I'm not saying this is a very confident attitude in government circles, but you heard Pik talk to the Security Council saying we don't want a minority veto because we're going to be the majority party. Now he may have just been whistling as he walked past the cemetery to give himself some false courage, but certainly there are people there who begin to talk like this. So I think that, not all of them, but certainly the negotiators are now more prepared to take the chance on a democratic kind of constitution. That's not their problem. The problem is the transition, the interim phase. That interim phase is the one that worries them. You see when the ANC wishes to transfer the responsibility for negotiating the interim phase on to a Constituent Assembly, all it's really trying to work is for us to use a device of majority rule to transfer power to a Constituent Assembly. But my point is, if that was on from the start, then there was no need for negotiation. You just do it and off you go.

     The point that the government is making is they say, hey, we're going to be in on this interim thing whatever happens, we're going to be there, and therefore they will try and thwart the ANC's attempts to do that. I think that in itself is going to prolong the process. When we started off on the 2nd February I said to government and ANC people that I don't see any interim government before the first three years. They thought I was out of my head, crazy, "What do you mean? We'll have it before Christmas." There's nothing you fellows are doing now that would persuade me that that's remotely possible. I now say I would be very surprised if you have an interim government between Christmas and July next year and they still say, well we'll have stuff ready. And I say, let's see, let's see.

     And there I say to them I think it's unlikely to have a first democratic election for the next three or four years and then of course they fall on the carpet and start rolling around. I said, "Not because I want that, it's what you people are doing that is prolonging the process" So in that sense the government would say, OK we're ready, we're ready for interim government, let's go. And then the ANC will say, hang on, hang on, what do you mean interim government? Do you mean we come in there and there's a quick one into a Constituent Assembly and we're the government? Well the government says it'll take a little bit of time. So it's this interim business that they're hassling about. It's this period of what I call the seasoning of the minds that we're into now. On the broader goals of an eventual democratic constitution I don't think there's such a great deal of difference between them. They're not worried about that, they're worried about the loss of power in the interim.

POM     One analysis I came across said that, this is the ANC saying or arguing, that after the referendum the government became much tougher. De Klerk didn't use it as an opportunity to be more conciliatory or accommodating in negotiations but took a tougher line, a more inflexible line. And one analysis that we heard was that when de Klerk initially had a problem with his right he was thinking in terms of a future coalition between the ANC and the NP, they would do the running together. It has been said that after the referendum when he had disposed of the right his dependency on the ANC diminished too and he began to think in a new direction, that is with allies he could put together a coalition that could maybe possibly beat the ANC.

VZS     I think that there is a flotation with that possibility. I sense it in looking at what they're doing. But to come back to the referendum, the referendum, as it were, removed the threat of the right as a card that de Klerk could play with and that threat always made him look far more reasonable because he could always say, "Look, I understand what you're saying but have you seen what's waiting for me out there if I should agree to this. Now he can't use that, now he suddenly becomes unreasonable. He has now to say what I would like to say and then he's thrown back on to himself and he sits with a security problem and he sits with other constituency problems and he now can no longer, as those Latinos would say, he cannot play cool poker any more. He cannot say, I may not be pleasant but look what's waiting for you down the road, because he's dispensed with that in the referendum and they all say that's no threat, what do you really think, and suddenly he appears to be much more unreasonable than de Klerk battling with his right who would actually be far tougher under those circumstances. So I think he comes out and he looks around and says, well first prize was to settle with the ANC. Now the doubt begins to creep in and he says, but can you settle with them? Then the third stage is, but who are these fellows and who are you settling with? Are you settling with the SACP or are you settling with Mandela? And now the question is, but what do they want to settle? What do they really want to settle? What are they after? So they're standing back and saying this is a very confused picture here. Can they deliver? This is the question here. Can they really deliver? And when they start asking those kinds of questions they become quite adventurous. They start saying, well maybe there are some other allies hanging around there that we can pull into a coalition and so on. My own view is there is no successful transition without a deal between de Klerk and Mandela. As long as Mr Mandela is there there's no way you're going to get a successful transition without him.

POM     Now you would call transition?

VZS     Interim government.

POM     The period of the interim government.

PAT     But they do call the Constituent Assembly an interim government as well don't they, in it's second phase?

VZS     Yes but there they may have differences.

PAT      In getting to the first election.

VSZ     I mean just getting, well it can be a referendum. I don't know what the device for popular legitimacy is, it's really not all that critical. But I see the moment the ANC and the government and whoever else, Inkatha and whoever else, accept responsibility for administering transition together, whether they do this by just constituting themselves as an interim government seeking progressively clearer legitimacy by means of Constituent Assembly elections or by means of a referendum or by means of whatever devices may be available, from that moment on they share government. I would argue from that moment on the dynamics of the situation change fundamentally because then both de Klerk and Mandela accept responsibility for the security forces maintaining order in Umlazi, Winterveld or wherever, and that will be a very critical moment for the ANC.

POM     By the same token, when you look at the last 2½ years do you see any significant changes in what the ANC regard as transition to democracy?

VZS     They've shifted significantly on the economy. They certainly have. They've become far more conciliatory, at least the top spokesmen, on the economy and the whole question of commanding heights kind of rhetoric. They have shifted or let me say they have become far more accommodating on the question of, for want of a better phrase, cultural diversity, Afrikaans language, mother tongue instructions, the fears of the right you have to accommodate, you can't exclude. In other words they've become inclusively tolerant whereas previously they were inclusively intolerant. You can come in on our terms, non-racial, and you listen to what we say and we're all the same and nobody's going to be different. Now they're saying, come in and let's talk about it, what do you feel unhappy about? And in that sense I think they have become inclusively more tolerant. By the way, the government has moved from what I would call exclusive intolerance to inclusive tolerance now as well and that's also far more simplistic and messy for quite a long time. I sense that but I don't think one can underestimate the real power play that is going on because the stakes are still pretty high for both sides. Either the loss of power or this seizure of power, the transfer of it is still very much on the cards.

POM     All the while most of the questions I've asked you have been directed either to the government or the ANC and I sometimes lose sight of the fact that there are other players there too. Can this process work as a process that requires essentially agreement between the government and the ANC or must a way be found to accommodate, say, Buthelezi? Is Buthelezi a potential spoiler sitting out there nursing his wounds in Ulundi?

VZS     Buthelezi's most important attribute under these circumstances is his capacity to spoil. No question about it. And I think any settlement, so called, that tries to be successful by excluding him is going to create enormous difficulties so I can't see how he is going to be excluded. And the very fact that he knows this is his strongest card so he can make a settlement pretty difficult.

POM     Is it the Zulu card?

VZS     I don't buy that it's just a Zulu card. I think that a lot of the conflict in Natal is intra-Zulu. I think that the King is an interesting phenomenon in the sense that he represents a fairly stable constituency of conservative traditional Zulus who are not going to sacrifice themselves on the altar of Inkatha or of the ANC for that matter. I think that would be a grave mistake to make to think that they are simply there and they are a stable constituency at the beck and call of Inkatha. I don't see that. But that there is a kind of exploitable Zulu ethnicity, yes it's there. But it's not only there for Inkatha. If Buthelezi drops dead tomorrow and Inkatha disappears, don't think the Zulu factor is going to be gone. It will be there somehow in some form or the other and I would argue that in the same sense there is a Xhosa factor but not in the rarefied sense that the NP used it in the past or in the rather inflated way in which it is often used as a threat in the present by 'we Zulus' and that kind of thing. But it would be silly to underestimate the capacity of that kind of ethnic outbidding to reveal itself in the future circumstances.

POM     Some people suggest that the way you deal with Buthelezi is you simply pull the financial plug. Is that just too simplistic an analysis?

VZS     You can pull the financial plug but you're still not going to solve the problem of violence and it's capacity to do damage. I can't see that. I think where you would have to begin with Buthelezi is to look at the security situation, again the KwaZulu Police, Buchner, people like that, you have to look at that and there you would have to reach some kind of an agreement because without it it's going to be difficult.

POM     What's your opinion, for want of a better word, of Buchner?

VZS     I don't know the fellow, I've never met him. I've seen programmes on TV about him. I've read about him. He's the guy that turns the ANC into Ascaris, he's methodical, he's very shrewd, he's intelligent. These are all the stories here. He trained up the KwaZulu Police. So from all accounts he's a figure to be taken very seriously when it comes to violence and law and order. That's what I've heard.

POM     On tape he comes across as a liberal democrat, kind of hints that he votes for the DP.

VZS     It wouldn't surprise me but it doesn't really matter does it?

PAT     Three times.

POM     Four times and one of the cracks in it when you gather the testimony, like the weak things, revealing statements that give things away. He's very, very good.

VZS     But there are a couple of them. Felgate is another one. Roly Arenstein. Political mutants hanging around there and they're advising. Roly, Communist Party, prison, hates Slovo with a passion. Felgate, IFP, ex ANC, sits there and works out the Zulu thing you know and feeding Buthelezi. But I think it would be very short sighted to say it's expendable, forget about it, which is what the ANC have been doing ever since 1985 when I've talk to them, "Ag man, we'll look after Gatsha." It's not as easy as that.

POM     A couple of final things. One is the violence and elections. It's obvious that there's not a climate in this country at the moment in which you could talk about having elections for anything yet the more you postpone elections the more you create violence and the more you create the violence the more you postpone the elections. How do you pull this chicken and egg thing? Must the violence be brought down to, a phrase used in Northern Ireland, they talk about 'an acceptable level of violence'? Does such a thing exist here? Can it be achieved in the short run? Are you realistically talking about an election for anything to be counted as free and fair and observed as such may take three or four years?

VZS     Minimum, minimum I would say. I come back to the point, the picture you've got to have in your mind is polling day at Ventersdorp, polling day at Umlazi, polling day at Paul Kruger's statue in Pretoria, and in the queue you have Conservative Party, AWB, NP, ANC, PAC gently waiting for their opportunity to make a little cross in that little booth and walking around outside are the SA Police and defence force with uniforms, 'our boys' seeing that we behave ourselves. I mean, what are we talking about? How long do you think that's going to take? Three years you said? At least. And the sooner you address that problem the better because you see, to come back to your concept of acceptable violence, unless we can marginalise the violence, there has to be an agreement that you marginalise it. You say we will not tolerate that kind of thing. And the way you marginalise it is you start off with amnesty and you start off with a new security force, you give them a new code of conduct, you implement the code of conduct, there are supportive structures in the community where you say this is what we're going to demand as a minimum of so-called democratic tolerance between the different parties to operate. You will allow the ANC, the DP and the NP to operate in Umlazi together with Inkatha. You will allow them, they can have meetings and so on. And these people will see to it that there is no destabilisation. I mean you're talking about an enormous transformation that has to take place in this country.

POM     So in a sense you're in a way more agreeing with the government that you have an interim government, transitional government, call it what you will, and you work out the problems that have to be worked out and then you move on to the next stage.

VZS     I would say it's in the ANC's own interests to approach the problem in that way.

POM     But if they approach it by saying no there must be a life span of 18 months on this and if the violence is still at the levels it's currently at in 18 months, there's no way you can hold an election.

VZS     That's why I say for Cyril to say in 18 months there must be a transitional government, on what grounds does he say it? But equally I say for him to say ten years, OK. You can move into elections if you've solved these problems we've just talked about. If you haven't solved these problems an interim government is going to wake up with a headache every morning saying what do we do, how do we get around that? And I'm not, it's no sort of question of agreeing with the ANC on this one, it's a matter of saying there are certain practical problems that you're going to have to solve if you want to hold elections. The SABC is one of them, just a simple one. Now how do you do that? You say we will appoint a multi-party commission of control over the SABC. That's a wonderful concept. Now who are going to be the members of those parties that you're going to have on there and what is the brief going to be? What do you mean by 'competing sources of information'? How much broadcast time will you allow the different parties? Do you have to pay for television adverts? If you do, where do you get the money? Who is going to ...? Oh come on! These are practical problems. Or do you say, free television time, where in the world is that the case, for everybody? So you have a bite at the cherry, half an hour tonight for you, prime time, ANC can put its message to the people. Next night Eugene, the next night - I mean these are very practical issues as far as I can see. And if you don't resolve them the first people to cry foul are the people who will be the party that does not perform as well as it expected to do. And guess which party expects to perform very well at the first election?

POM     Last question, if you look at the government and the ANC, for each what is the one issue that approaches being non-negotiable, where they've a bottom line below which they cannot go?

VZS     I really believe de Klerk when he says that he will not hand over to chaos. I believe him. Now what he exactly means by that, that's another matter. But he will not hand over, as he says, to collapse, to instability. I really believe Mandela when he says there is no way you can continue holding the cards when we've bargained transition. You will be at best or at worst accept the outcome of a democratic election. Those are the two and in an extraordinary kind of way they highlight the dilemma. The one is the need for stable government and the other one is the need for equitable government. Those are the two. That's the tension that I think is gripping us at the moment.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much again.

VZS     It's a pleasure.

POM     In time, do you have a card, a new address or is this a good address?

PAT      I believe you're on some kind of local government issue in Johannesburg?

VZS     I'm sitting there right now. I've just come from the Local Dispute Resolution Committee trying to find a way of dealing with hostels. It is a most extraordinary thing that this is where all the parties will agree on the most efficient way of providing services, water, electricity, sewerage and refuse removal. There's no question, but none of them will allow the other party the slightest possibility of credit for assisting in resolving a problem. So what happens? There's no water, there's no electricity. Hand on heart they say, "well the people are suffering".

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.