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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Aug 1992: Viljoen, Gerrit

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Dr Viljoen, in all of the debate that has been going on about the constitution, some of the issues that we talked about last year seem to be more clouded. I would like it if you would perhaps bring me up to date or elucidate on what changes in nuance there might be in what the government attaches to certain terms. The first is whether, again, this is a process about power sharing or the transfer of power and if power sharing, is power sharing being talked of as an interim measure, a transitional measure that will be phased out over time or something that would be entrenched in the constitution?

GV     Our viewpoint is that both the transitional constitution and the ultimate final constitution, insofar as you can call a final constitution, should embody power sharing. In other words it should entail a constitution in which both legislative and executive structures are not dominated by the majority party leaving the rest in the relatively inactive role of opposition but that some of the major minority parties are also participating in the actual exercise of particularly executive power.

POM     So that the Cabinet would continue to be a multi-party Cabinet?

GV     Yes.

POM     And that is still the official negotiating position?

GV     It's our position, yes. Obviously the desirability of certain features in the constitution change with time as people and specific communities change their perceptions of each other. This is being experienced in South Africa between Afrikaans and English speakers and it has also been the experience between Coloureds and whites and will certainly also prove to be the case with regard to the stage in the future occupied by respectively the whites and blacks. I do not think that present reservations and present concerns and present fears would necessarily remain the same. They could be very considerably abated, but they could of course be increased.

POM     Do you foresee a situation where the confidence between the two communities could be such that permanent power sharing would evolve into a more - the practices of a 'normal democracy'?

GV     And where particularly the need for the concept of statutorily imposed coalition which we would propound at this stage very strongly, might become a matter of less concern.

POM     There are two issues of contention that I have raised with people in the ANC with which they appear to disagree and I don't know which is the right version and which is the wrong version. My understanding is that in the Charter of Principles that the ANC alliance agreed that the powers of the regions should be defined by CODESA, or whatever was the equivalent of CODESA, and entrenched in the constitution, i.e. that residual powers would go to the centre rather than the centre devolving powers to the states. That was number one. And number two, that the borders of those regions, the geographical specifications of those regions would also be settled in a forum that was not the Constitutional Assembly.

GV     I'm not sure if I got this last point. Just repeat that again.

POM     The last one would be, the language that was used would say regional boundaries and powers of regional governments will be defined in phase 1 prior to elections and require consensus from all parties in the constitution making body for these to be changed.

GV     Yes, that is I think basically as I understood it. I think there has been a convergence of views towards accepting that regions should have a constitutionally defined position whilst previously the ANC viewpoint was that the regions should be entirely under the discretionary ultimate authority of the central government. As I understood it during the negotiations they accepted that there should be a transitional constitution, that this transitional constitution should spell out the powers and functions of the regions. It was more specifically said that each region should have both legislative and executive power. We wish to add fiscal powers and that these powers would be spelt out in the constitution so that the central government could not arbitrarily interfere with that. The fiscal powers were not included in the formal proposed agreement that we formulated in Group 2, but it was added in the minutes that that is how it is being interpreted, namely that autonomous executive and legislative powers would also include those fiscal powers and all this should be defined in the constitution.

POM     Maybe this is the issue: would the powers of the regions be spelt out in the interim or transitional constitution?

GV     Yes in the transitional constitution and then obviously our proposal would be that it should also then become part of the ultimate constitution.

POM     Of the final constitution.

GV     That implies, of course, if you speak of powers of the regions, that there will also be a definition of the regions themselves as such, in other words the boundaries also to be defined.

POM     Before a Constituent Assembly is elected?

GV     Is elected. We would see therefore the rules for setting up and electing a Constituent Assembly as part of the same document, that at that stage already commits itself to these aspects of regionalism in terms of powers and functions and in terms of definition of borders that we've just mentioned.

POM     So if the ANC alliance were to come back to the negotiating table and say we're not really talking about writing a transitional constitution any more, why don't you take your existing constitution and amend it to provide for the Transitional Executive Council and let's just get ahead and set up the machinery for the Constituent Assembly that will write the constitution and among the duties of that Constituent Assembly would be to write the boundaries of the regions, to define whether powers should be devolved from the central government to the regions or whether the regions should have powers entrenched in the constitution. Would you find that a violation of existing agreements?

GV     Well I must, of course, say that formally there has not yet been an agreement. The working groups made certain agreed draft resolutions. Those agreed draft resolutions were never finally tabled at CODESA for acceptance or rejection or recommendation. And in this respect there was really no difference of opinion as far as I can gather and as far as I experienced that there should be a transitional constitution and that that constitution should define the powers of regions. This could be done, the transitional constitution as such could even be a new document worked out from scratch or it could be the present constitution amended to such an extent that it is acceptable to both parties although I think it is unlikely to work that way because the present constitution is in essence a racist constitution, a constitution based on racial definitions of groups within the population.

POM     Just to redefine my question. If they were to now say we want a Constituent Assembly to define the regions and we want it ?

GV     In other words that we are not committing ourselves to regions or powers of regions or boundaries of regions before there is a Constituent Assembly? That would not be acceptable to us because a Constituent Assembly would pre-suppose also a concurrent transitional government or interim government. That means that for that interim government we would have to abandon very largely our present position of powers. We would not do that unless we have certainty, and it's not only us but the other parties who agree with us as well unless we have certainty that the regional concept and the division of regional powers at least are defined as clearly as possible even though it might not be perfectly achievable, also that boundaries should be defined.

     Let me just say again, I referred to other parties which think like we do. I think one of the important things about CODESA 2 was the disillusionment of the ANC finding that it was not as they hoped it would be, a consultation of the government and the National Party versus the rest, but it was a situation of nine parties on the one side and nine parties on the other side, divided mainly on the question of the regional issue, to a large extent also the question of the power sharing issue which crystallised and which really had an effect of dividing the participants in the CODESA negotiations into two more or less equally strong camps in terms of the number of parties represented.

POM     Is it fair for me to assume that the government would look for the maximum devolution of powers to the regions, very strong regional structures? Would it be fair to say that the government would look for a very strong federal structure, that is very powerful regions, semi-autonomous or autonomous regions?

GV     We haven't emphasised the word 'federal' or 'federation', but since CODESA 2 parties such as Bophuthatswana and Ciskei and particularly also KwaZulu and also Qwa-Qwa and the Conservative Party have said that they would prefer an out and out restructuring of the state as a federation rather than just with strong regional governments. The implication being that in the case of federation a function is either totally assigned to the region or totally assigned to the central government. We are a bit more pragmatic in our thinking. We say for instance that although education should be a regional matter there are certain overall important aspects of education which should be the responsibility of the central government.

POM     I came from meeting Mr Keys and had rather a depressing session of the economy, but he said that the government would seek to have fiscal parameters written into the constitution, i.e. that the government's share of total consumption shouldn't exceed let's say 16% of total consumption, that there would be provisions that would be made, or have the regions integrated to the centre? Is that part of your - ?

GV     Yes, we certainly consider the fiscal aspect of very great importance. We are very concerned about the ANC's attitude there because, as I said just now when we agreed, in the working group on a proposal, it did not include fiscal powers but they were prepared to write into the minutes of that meeting that it does imply fiscal powers, and we warned them that ultimately we are not going to achieve agreement unless what is understood, according to the minutes, should also actually be included in the document of the resolution. Fiscal powers are important because the economic abilities and the economic resources of the different regions, however defined in South Africa, would vary quite considerably and there would, therefore, have to be some need for a redistribution of fiscal means at least within certain parameters and to ensure that certain minimum norms and standards for providing vital services such as education, housing, health and so on are being complied with in each one of the component states. This is what happens in Germany where the states are not dependent only on their own income as such, but where they also have a certain amount of equalising grants which are granted under the leadership of the central government. As we understand it, it is the same in Australia where there is a statutory fiscal commission, very strong, which has a non-political style and composition and which also aims at equalising somewhat the financial position of the different states insofar as they are not meeting the minimum standards, or not having the ability to acquire the resources for providing such minimum standards and services.

POM     Would these fiscal parameters include statutory limitations on how large the public sector can be?

GV     Yes it could. That is not a matter affecting regional government or federalism as such. It is rather a matter of basic and fundamental economic policy and we consider it advisable that certain economic fundamentals should also be negotiated and included in both the transitional constitution and the ultimate constitution, such as, for instance, what you've mentioned, also the question of the importance of freehold property and protection of ownership and what is related to that. Also insofar as it is possible, write into the constitution that the degree of state interference in the economy should be limited within certain confines.

POM     On the question of the percentages, this is where we've heard innumerable different stories. First of all the ANC coming in with their threshold of sixty six and two thirds percent and the government with its threshold of 75%, of the ANC moving to make an offer of 70% with some riders attached. What's your understanding of how that section of the negotiation proceeded?

GV     I think that whole matter was alive in CODESA and amenable for a compromise solution until what you called the rider came, which is really the big nightmare. It's not simply a rider because it implies that if after six months of negotiations the required majority cannot be found for constitutional changes then the changes will be introduced by way of a simple 51% majority in the constitution making body and if necessary also by a referendum. That, of course, changes the whole position because anybody is able to draw out the negotiations so that six months can be wasted as it were and from then on work no longer on the basis of a loaded majority but on a simple majority.

POM     Did they come and say, "OK, we'll move from sixty six and two thirds percent to 70%" and you said, "OK, I think we can agree to that"?

GV     If I remember it correctly (and this is a matter that can be checked up) at the time I was out of action, I wasn't there myself on that first day of CODESA 2. There was still an argument about whether the government is accepting a 70% all round or whether it is insisting on having a 70% except in the case of the Bill of Rights, perhaps also the clauses dealing with a regional structure, in which cases a 75% majority will be required. That discussion was still moving to and fro. Then early that morning the ANC came forward with an announcement that there is going to be a rider that they want to add in any case. This then made it for the government virtually useless to go on with the discussion because it was just not possible within the few half hours available before the main debate was to commence to thrash that new matter out. That was, as I see it, quite clearly an obstacle purposely thrown into the road by people who wanted to block negotiations and that statement I underpin by reference to the report in the Sunday Times which was never denied, according to which Ramaphosa at a meeting of Trade Union leaders acknowledged that already a week or ten days before CODESA 2 started, the ANC had decided that they have to scuttle this thing because it was leading in a way which was not favourable to them. The style of negotiations, the style of give and take was not producing the kind of unqualified power transfer result that they wanted and therefore they had decided to fall back on their mass action putting stronger pressure on the government and the other parties to accept what the ANC wanted and the manner they interpreted the different aspects that had been included in the Declaration of Intent of the first CODESA.

POM     I want to be clear on this. They said sixty six and two thirds percent, you said 75%. They come back and then say 70% and you say, well, 70% but 75% for some matters. They go away, come back and say we've amended that. It's now 70% with this rider. But they offered on one occasion the 70% without the rider?

GV     Anything with that rider would be unacceptable, but it was the rider.

POM     What I am getting at is, was there a space of time between them offering the 70% and saying they were going to attach a rider to the 70%?

PAT     Was the rider always with their 70%?

GV     The rider was added, as I recall the information that I got - I say again I was not there myself - it was added on the morning of the first day of CODESA 2. It was a last minute extra that they added. It wasn't a rider that had been included in the previous bargaining of alternatives which had taken place in the preceding four or five days.

POM     So in your own analysis, why would you see the ANC wanting to back out of negotiations at that point?

GV     Well it was clearly a question of an internal struggle within the ANC between the more pragmatic who are in favour of a negotiated solution which implies a give and take and which means that you don't get everything you want and those on the other hand who want the transfer of power pure and simple and who had come to the conclusion that negotiations are not going to produce that. In fact quite a number of the draft resolutions that had been unanimously accepted in the working groups were such that this more militant and extremist ideological faction in the ANC found it impossible for themselves to work with. One could have anticipated this earlier. Roelf Meyer had made an observation, already about three weeks before the beginning of CODESA 2, that there were certain changes in the personal representation of the ANC and the Communist Party, bringing in a stronger element of the more militant people who are also active in COSATU, the trade union side, and this was perhaps an early warning that there are some elements inside the alliance, and I think also inside the ANC itself, which were not happy with the direction things were going and who wanted a much more militant and much more demanding stance as in fact was then adopted after the breakdown of CODESA 2.

POM     As you strategise about the future, do you see COSATU assuming more of a centre stage position?

GV     Not as COSATU but through some of their positions within the ANC. The leadership inside COSATU, the Communist Party and the ANC is so mixed up it is all virtually one organisation and sometimes the more political element of the ANC is coming forward otherwise the more workerist element of COSATU is coming forward and sometimes the more ideological element of the Communist Party is coming forward and this changes from time to time. At the present moment it seems to me that there is again a movement towards a more realistic assessment, as I would see it, and an acceptance of the full implications of the word 'negotiation'.

POM     Where do you see Mr Mandela standing in all of this?

GV     I think his personal conviction is that of the negotiating, pragmatic party but he has developed a leadership style where he is being led by his followers much more than he is leading them, which is also I think the cause of so much of his double talk, his ambiguities on nationalisation, on protection of language and cultural rights and so on. Before certain audiences he makes, from our point of view, very encouraging remarks but then when he's back with the boys again, his views are much more radical.

POM     Some people have made an analogy between the white referendum in March and the stayaway in August, saying that Mr de Klerk needed the referendum in order to pull his constituency together and to proceed with the mandate. While the right, the Conservative Party, was there chopping away at by-election after by-election it was putting constraints on how far he could go and how far he could take his constituency. They say the ANC was sympathetic to that, understood his need to deal with the right, adopted a low profile during the referendum, encouraged people to vote yes and in that sense

GV     I think the militant element in the ANC was very disappointed with the referendum result. It was not the way they would have liked things to go because it obviously strengthened de Klerk's hand as a negotiator and it also I think strengthened negotiation as the method to be followed and I think the result of the referendum may be one of the factors which influenced the more radical, ideological element towards promoting the breakdown of the negotiating process.

POM     Because they saw that de Klerk was in a stronger negotiating position?

GV     That is also so. It is obvious that in this whole mass action campaign the element of virulent personal attacks on de Klerk is an extreme problem even from the side of Mandela who previously had a more moderate position. But ever since the December first meeting of CODESA he had become much more aggressive towards the person of de Klerk and I think the fact that he won the referendum in a much more handsome way than anybody had expected has contributed towards this element of personal animosity and personal denigration in the rhetoric of the ANC.

POM     I have thought about that and one thing that crossed my mind was that among many blacks in the townships Mr de Klerk is held in high regard.

GV     Also in Boipatong I might say.

POM     Is that right?

GV     Well the motor car drive into Boipatong that Saturday morning which almost ended in disaster was, except for an organised group at the entrance to the town where we entered, which was clearly hostile, the rest, the people on the sidewalks and along the streets and in the houses, were waving very friendly and when they recognised him they became quite excited and clapping their hands and reacting in a positive way. But the demonstration and resistance there had been quite clearly organised. I think the police hadn't done a proper job of assessing it beforehand. I was disappointed in that situation. So, in brackets as it were, my answer to you, I think that the popularity of de Klerk in the townships is present also in a place like Boipatong.

POM     Denigrating him like this is a way of trying to demonise him?

GV     That's right. Break down his power and the National Party's power through him in that respect.

POM     Three more questions.

GV     You must really understand - we started late but I have a problem because I have to be at Sasolburg. How long are these three more questions going to take?

POM     They're short. Five minutes. One is, was there an understanding in the government that Mr Mandela had to pull his constituency together, that mass action was something that was necessary for him to have in order to appease some of the left wing elements in his organisation?

GV     Yes, there is understanding that he has need of certain instruments to ensure grassroots support, especially because of the strong militancy of the grassroots. We have all along said that we have no objection to mass action as a normal democratic method of voicing opposition, voicing criticism and mobilising support but the declared aim of the whole thing was to topple the government. It was an 'Exitgate'' operation, as it was called. It was also to break down the economy. It was a small price to pay for freedom, it was said, if the economy has to collapse one has to suffer. That was the thing that we objected to.

POM     Does the government believe that the success of the stayaway in terms of numbers or whatever was primarily achieved through intimidation and coercion or through people voluntarily aligning themselves with the ANC?

GV     I think their marches were pretty well spontaneously supported, but it is quite clear that the stayaway from work was a stayaway which does not reflect political sympathy or political support but simply an attitude of let us stay away for one day without any further troubles especially in the light of the intimidation. Threats regarding the use of fire to burn people's houses and so on were very strong everywhere but it was done very subtly and it's not very easy to identify and arrest the people concerned and to get the evidence.

POM     Lastly, would the prospect of more mass action along similar lines, maybe a slightly different structure but involving part stayaway, part marches have a political impact on the government to the extent that it sees it as a threat of some sort, that it becomes a bargaining chip for the ANC?

GV     Insofar as the ANC is using mass action as an instrument to achieve by force and by pressure what it cannot achieve by negotiation, it certainly is going to continue to be an obstacle in the process.

POM     So rather than being a bargaining chip for them that they can use to push you in the direction or to get another compromise out of you or to make you slightly more accommodating it's going to have the opposite effect?

GV     The opposite effect. Most definitely. No doubt about that. I think that effect is going to work amongst the black people as well.

POM     OK, thank you very much.

GV     Sorry that I'm cutting it short.

POM     I'll be back at Christmas and perhaps around that period we can have a longer chat.

GV     Certainly we will.

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.