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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
02 Oct 1992: Schlemmer, Lawrence
POM How are you?
LS Not too bad. And you?
POM Not too bad either. Back being involved in Irish stuff and work at the university so it's difficult to keep switching from one role to another, but I'm sure you're more used to that than I am. Anyway, I'll get right down to it. Let me go back again and start with the whites only referendum last March. My first question would be, were you surprised by the extent of the result? What accounted for it and what do you think whites were voting for? And what do you think whites were not voting for? And finally perhaps what do you think blacks thought whites were voting for?
LS I was surprised, I shouldn't have been surprised because our own research was showing that there would be a seven out of ten yes vote, but due to the newspaper coverage of the right wing campaign it seemed as if there was a ground-swell against it.
POM Against the referendum?
LS Yes, against the negotiation process and even people in government were expecting somewhere between a fifty and fifty five percent yes vote. We undertook research subsequently and from a national survey which we undertook it appeared that whites were essentially voting yes because they feared the consequences of a no vote on the economy but that their commitment was to negotiations and very little more. We found that there was in fact not majority support for an interim government and they were essentially voting to give de Klerk a mandate because of the very high trust that they have in de Klerk not to sell them out. So they were simply voting for him to continue his particular initiatives. They were not voting for power sharing. They were not voting for an interim government. All these things have substantially lower support than the notion that de Klerk has got to try and resolve the problems of the country in discussion with the ANC and other parties.
POM Do you think that trust in de Klerk has eroded in the period since or that he still maintains that high level?
LS No, I think it's eroded substantially. We've got bits and pieces of subsequent evidence that seems to show that support for the idea of settlement with the ANC has lost ground. Certainly white perceptions of the ANC have turned more negative, became more negative and I think de Klerk would battle to get a yes vote if it were done today.
POM Again going back to March, how do you think de Klerk interpreted the mandate he received in the referendum?
LS Well I think it certainly increased his confidence. It may have made him somewhat over-optimistic about the degree of support for the process but since then other research, other feedback that's he's got, has undoubtedly brought him back to a fairly sober sense of reality in this regard. One of the particular findings, for example, was a recent piece of research that we did among civil servants at the request of the Commission for Administration and we found that only some, as I recall it, 15% of civil servants, not only white civil servants but civil servants, supported the idea of an interim government. As a matter of fact there was no majority support for any of the concepts surrounding the new South Africa. The only thing which is keeping whites together, as it were that would seem to be consolidating the civil service, was de Klerk himself. Some 65% of civil servants said that they trusted de Klerk. Substantially fewer trusted the government as such and very substantially fewer had any support or any trust or faith in an interim government or power sharing with the ANC.
POM When you say 'trust in the government', Larry, what do you mean by that?
LS Trust in the government to look after their interests.
POM Many people, particularly in the ANC, suggested that after the referendum that de Klerk got a lot more hard line in his negotiation stance at CODESA. Do you think that's an accurate perception on their part?
LS No I don't think so at all. As a matter of fact de Klerk has been absolutely consistent. From February 1990 onwards right through the Federal Congress of the National Party, special Federal Congress of the National Party in 1991, he has consistently maintained the position, the constitutional position which he's adopting at the moment. I don't think he became tougher. I think what happened is that the negotiation process simply moved closer to the critical issues and they moved away from fine words, they moved into the area of detail and obviously once you move into the issue of specific provisions it's going to appear that your opponent is getting tougher.
POM So to turn for a moment to ...
LS Could I just say this? Sorry. In the referendum campaign he had to re-emphasise certain things. He gave certain categorical assurances and that provided his general approach with somewhat more focus and I think that may have been perceived as a toughening up as well.
POM I mentioned to you before that the manner in which the referendum was reported abroad was always in terms of it being a process in which whites were prepared to share power with blacks. Do you think that since de Klerk's statements about what the process was about seemed to go largely unchallenged by the ANC at that time, that he believed in some way that the ANC saw the process somehow as being a process about the sharing of power rather than the transfer of power?
LS Well, there's always been a view in the ANC, a section of the ANC, particularly among the more senior people, that have accepted that there would be power sharing for a period and de Klerk has always negotiated on the assumption that this particular viewpoint within the ANC would be the counter-poll, as it were, with which he would interact and negotiate. What has come as a surprise to de Klerk and indeed I think to the ANC themselves is the emergence of another view which has become stronger and that is a view strongly opposed to power sharing on the grounds that it is some sort of co-optation, some sort of trap and I think that everybody underestimated the resistance to power sharing in certain echelons of the ANC. It's becoming clearer and clearer that there is a pragmatic view. Just yesterday, or the day before yesterday, it was expressed very ably by Joe Slovo who declared himself willing to endorse what he called sunshine clauses making provision for several years, not months, years of joint government under certain conditions. Now de Klerk has always assumed that this ultimately would be acceptable to the ANC and indeed I think that for a long while Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela and others also accepted that they would find a resolution in this context. But there is opposition to this in the ANC and the government is very worried about it.
POM Now is this opposition emerging primarily from the SACP and COSATU or from COSATU or can it be identified with any particular part of the alliance?
LS I don't think that it's very clearly identified with the SACP. I've just given you the viewpoint of Joe Slovo who is SACP and he is obviously in the pragmatic camp. There are some views that it is the UDF faction within the ANC that has combined with sections of the SACP to oppose the co-optive power sharing. Let's call it a neo-Marxist faction within the ANC, a more progressive and aggressive and militant faction within the ANC. I think that it has members from the ANC proper, it has members from the old UDF, it has members from the SACP supporting it and some exiles. In other words I think what is emerging in the ANC is a division which correlates with the communist/non-communist division but is not a clean correspondence.
POM I want to talk for a moment, Larry, about the negotiations at CODESA, themselves for a moment and the events which led up to the deadlock in May. On the one hand when I look at what seems to have happened at CODESA, that is that the ANC had agreed that the powers of the regions should be entrenched in the constitution when they had agreed that the boundaries of the regions should be drawn up in a body other than an elected body (it was suggested that it should be CODESA that would draw up the boundaries of the regions), when it had put forward a 75% veto threshold on a Bill of Rights and was prepared to go as far as a 70% veto threshold on items for inclusion in the constitution, when they appeared to have bought for the most part the idea that an interim constitution would be drawn up at CODESA and then really be amended in a Constituent Assembly. It seems to me that on many levels they had been outfoxed, so to speak, in the negotiations and that it was only the government's refusal to go along with the 70% veto threshold that took them off the hook. What's your commentary on my commentary?
LS I think that's substantially true. There was an additional complicating factor that helped get them off the hook. At the last moment they also came up with a deadlock breaking proposal which amounted to something like the fact that if a deadlock was not broken within six months it would be put to a referendum and a 51% majority would break the deadlock. Now that proposal came from the ANC.
POM That the constitution that was being rejected would be put to the electorate in a referendum?
LS That's right. Now that was totally unacceptable to the government and that was another factor which placed the agreements that they had hammered out up to that point in jeopardy and it was in a sense another factor which got them off the hook.
POM What happened to the ANC? In the end did the ANC want out of the process? What happened to them that it appeared that the government was able to dictate in many respects not just the pace but also the substance of many of the agreements reached?
LS Look, as I said earlier on, there has always been a view in the ANC, and it was really the presence of this view which made negotiation possible in the first place, that there would be some kind of consociational arrangement. They wouldn't have called it that. So in other words, they weren't really outfoxed. The government was negotiating with a particular approach, shall we say, in the ANC and they were arguing about details. But there was a lot of underlying consensus to start with. But when other parts of the ANC, other personnel in the ANC, actually saw the agreements emerging before their very eyes they became very worried about them. You see the ANC had not taken these issues back into its central resolution and policy making committees so as to clarify and rationalise their position fully in the organisation. There's always been a lot of inconsistency in ANC positions, a kind of creative confusion, if you like, to some extent, helpful contradictions. You see a party like the ANC has got to maintain its unity in some way or another. It has a diversity of viewpoints. It's got strong ideologues, it's got pragmatists. So it has in a sense preserved its unity by being vague and contradictory. Now part of this vagueness and contradiction allowed it to go in and debate the detail of something that the government could agree with but this was one particular approach within the ANC, moving towards agreements with the government and being influenced by the government, obviously. The other viewpoints in the ANC, when it became clear that this was actually taking a concrete form, that commitments were being made, they became very worried. Then of course COSATU, which had been excluded from the CODESA negotiations, was worried for other reasons as well because it felt that possibly it would find itself marginalised. So suddenly there was a reaction against this and the crisis in CODESA, you're quite right, let the ANC off the hook. They didn't have to go back and fight these issues within their own membership. The government's position on the 70% versus 75% safeguards and on this deadlock breaking mechanism made it easy for them to say, "OK well let's suspend it." Now the whole process is starting again. Nothing has changed. I think de Klerk will now try to soften his position to make it easier for this approach within the ANC to win through but I suspect that there will be the same reaction against it within the ANC.
POM When you say that COSATU had concerns that it would be marginalised, could you elaborate a little on that?
LS Look, COSATU or elements within COSATU have always been rather worried that their position would be weakened if a powerful political establishment were to become so concerned with general issues in the country that the rights and the interests of workers would be to some extent overlooked or traded off. They wanted to participate in CODESA in the first place. They were fobbed off and there was mobilisation against that. They want to make sure that they won't be exposed to what they see as a rather typical populist position whereby the politicians use welfare, use symbolism, use all kinds of populist redistribution to retain their legitimacy which undermines the effective leverage of organised labour and it's this leverage that COSATU is concerned with. And here again the breakdown of negotiation allowed COSATU to consolidate it's position because without the assistance of COSATU the mass action campaign would have been much less successful.
POM So do you think COSATU has emerged more on centre stage as an active player than it had heretofore?
LS Yes I think it has.
POM And do you think that strengthens the hands of those who you would classify as the neo-Marxists?
LS Yes it does. Yes it does definitely.
POM Your sense of the negotiators themselves, how would you assess, to the extent that you can, the performance of the government negotiators and the performance of the ANC negotiators? Who were the strong negotiators? Who were the relatively weaker ones? Who starred? Did anybody star?
LS I think that the ANC negotiating team probably had somewhat greater depth than the government's negotiating team. They've got more intellectuals to draw on. In a sense the government hasn't drawn in a lot of the more skilful people which would surround its support base simply because the government is in a sense a formal agency, there are formal roles. In other words they use they personnel that are in appointed or elected positions. The ANC is drawing on a much wider range of people that are part of its structures at the moment and I think there was more variety and depth in the ANC negotiating team. I don't think the government were as skilful in negotiations as the ANC, perhaps they didn't have the same finesse. But on the other hand the government has got much clearer positions. It's got much more carefully mandated positions. It's got much greater automatic assumption that it is accountable with the result that the government is cautious and tough from the outset. The ANC has to debate quite a lot in order to discover where it's got to draw the line or what issues it's got to dig in. The government position is already fairly well worked out, not in detail, but in effective categories of demands and interests. It's really two different organisations. It's very difficult to compare them. All I know is that the government people were under tremendous strain mainly because there were so few of them.
POM Looking at the period from the deadlock at CODESA to the collapse of the talks later on in the month, what were the dynamics within the ANC that moved de Klerk and Mandela when the talks deadlocked, from putting the best face on things, emphasising that a lot of progress had been made, to Mandela less than a month later saying, "We can't bargain with the murderers of our people", to mass mobilisation being put on the front burner, to him walking out of the talks altogether?
LS Well it was a lot of pressure on Mandela, on the ANC's negotiating team, from middle levels within the organisation, from regional formations of the organisation. In other words the ANC's negotiating team was simply exposed to a lot of pressure and political interests coming in from the middle levels of its own organisation which shifted Mandela into this attitude of hostility. In other words he was following his movement, he wasn't leading it then. And then of course Boipatong gave some kind of symbolic, shall I say, credibility to this position of non-co-operation and it was at that stage that it became possible for this other viewpoint, or approach, or strategy within the ANC to assert itself which was really what is referred to here as 'the people's ANC approach'. Mass action. I've been exposed in little workshops and things like that to a fairly wide variety of middle level people within the ANC and there is a very, very clear refusal to reach any compromises with the government around some sort of pragmatic approach to settlement.
There are still people as short a while ago as a week and a half ago, there were still middle level people in the ANC and I believe there still are who genuinely are thinking of a Leipzig kind of mobilisation to bring so many people on to the streets that you overwhelm the government. Now this approach was very unrealistic in the weeks following Boipatong where there really was a belief that you could somehow mobilise across the country to dislodge the government. But when they actually had to try and implement mass action they realised that it was more difficult and they scaled down ever since. They have retreated from that position but there are still a lot of people who believe that that position has to be held as far as possible. So now when negotiations resume they are probably going to be tougher from the start. The polarisation between the government and the ANC is going to be clearer from the start and there's going to be much more pressure on de Klerk to make concessions from the start and we're going to go through a very tough period indeed because de Klerk's room for making concessions has also narrowed because his own support base's view of the ANC is now very much more negative than it was when CODESA started.
POM Is that primarily as a result of the mass action in August?
LS Primarily as a result of that. A lot of harsh words have also been spoken. Also time has just eroded some of the romance of this whole business of negotiating with the ANC. There was a lot of romance in it, a sort of serendipity if you like, the voyage of discovery. Now all that is old hat now. Now it's tough and it's real and you're negotiating with people who are your political opponents and very little more than that.
POM How do you evaluate the mass action in August? Again, and I know a lot of it is rhetoric, but the ANC people that I spoke to subsequent to it seemed to believe that it had been effective, that they had in fact sent a message to the government that the government couldn't ignore, while government people seemed to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. It had been largely the result of intimidation and certainly not something that was going to make them tremble in their boots. They didn't fear any kind of a Leipzig model. Where do you think the truth of the matter lies?
LS Well I know that the government has been exposed to research on black attitudes to the mass action and the government's real view behind the scenes is probably very much what the research is telling them and that is that it's a mix. The mass action was a mix of intimidation and support. The government knows that a majority intention among blacks was not to dislodge them. In other words they probably see the mass action as protest more than revolutionary upheaval, but effective protest. So I would say that the reality of the position is more or less midway between those two.
POM But was it a politically successful mass action in the sense that the government, whether looking at the economy or other factors, believes that it was not in their interests as distinct from the country's interests for this kind of mass action to continue in the future and that, therefore, they will move in some way towards making concessions to the ANC in order to get the negotiation process restarted?
LS I think the economy weighs very heavily with the government and they were moved to making concessions to get the process restarted and the external world, the western bloc is very important here because the government is in constant interaction with them and the government is genuinely concerned about getting aid and investment going again, getting confidence restored in the economy and for that reason they want negotiations started. They realise that they're marking time. I think they now realise that they've got to move through and try and secure some sort of interim settlement before the economy will really recover.
POM So was part of the ANC strategy in this to put pressure on business to put pressure on the government?
LS I don't think business had to put pressure on the government. As long ago as October 1991 I personally spoke to Mr de Klerk where he indicated that this was a critical and prime concern of his, a personal commitment of his to try and get confidence restored in the economy, to try and get the last vestiges of the whole sanctions tradition removed and all the associated actions and reactions. I think there's more or less a consensus view here in the white middle of the road political and economic establishment. I don't think pressure needed to be put on the government. The pressure is on the government. It's by definition on the government. They know that this is the way they've got to go. Their problem is one of constraint. For example, when SACOLA, that's the business organisation, was trying to negotiate with COSATU and the ANC to scale down or call off its mass action campaign, there were businessmen pushing the idea of some kind of conciliatory approach with support from government. Government was actually supporting quite a conciliatory position with the more progressive business groups. Other interests in business were saying hey, hang on, you're giving it all away, what's this hanky-panky with these communists? In other words, I don't think you can see business and the government as being in separate places at the moment. It's a blur. There's a more forward looking and a backward looking emphasis in both.
POM Turning to the question of violence for a moment. We have talked before about dilemmas facing de Klerk, Mandela and to an extent Buthelezi that none of them is in control of his own base. Could you just address that in terms of (i) the constraints on de Klerk in terms of being able to restrain the security forces or in terms of his need to maintain their support, (ii) the constraints on Mandela in terms of the ability of the ANC to control action in the townships itself and (iii) the constraints on Buthelezi in terms of his capacity to rein in elements of Inkatha?
LS All right, let's just get to de Klerk. I think de Klerk's got two problems with the security forces. The one is a problem of competence in the security forces. They're being exposed to new demands and pressures which they've never been exposed to before and they're not trained for it. Competence and stress. Now they are trying to do something about that as hard as they can and I believe that they are winning. The other one is that a lot of people in the security forces don't support him but support the right wing parties and I think there's going to be an on-going danger of conspiracy in the security forces for that reason. I have no doubt that he has toughened up on that as well and I think that there will be less of it now as long as he is seen to be in control and as long as the centre appears to be holding he will be able to tone that down. There have been many messages sent to the security forces that they must come into line. He has quite clearly indicated that he does not hesitate to prosecute where necessary. If he starts wobbling and starts giving away too much then he's had it. The security forces will come apart. Then we really will have chaos in the country. De Klerk has got to maintain a position of being at the helm and in charge of initiatives. I think that sums up de Klerk's position. His position is improving.
POM When you say 'he seems to get wobbly', what do you mean?
LS If he starts making panic concessions to the ANC just to save the negotiation process, and he's coming awfully close to that at the moment in terms of the perceptions from the civil service, then his base will come apart. He will have massive disaffection in his own base, in the civil service and the security forces. But de Klerk is very competent and experienced and I think he knows he's sailing close to the wind and he's very cautious.
POM What about the suggestion that the security forces know all the dirty tricks of the past which they could reveal or leak information that would be highly embarrassing to the government or might even implicate present members of the government in past actions that were clearly illegal?
LS Yes but this has happened and it is happening and as a generalisation, and I appreciate that this generalisation may not hold and I may be surprised, as a generalisation I would say that there is a danger that some more upper middle level heads may roll as a consequence of this but I think that de Klerk could probably squirm out of it. In other words I don't think it would necessarily be a body blow to the NP as a participating and negotiating body at present. It could be embarrassing but I don't think it will collapse.
POM Even if one or two of his Ministers were implicated in acts?
LS I think they can fudge their way out of it. I don't think they were stupid enough to become implicated in such a concrete way that they are nailed or nailable.
POM And the constraints on Mandela and his capacity to rein in violence?
LS With Mandela he's got two problems. He's got the militants in the movement and there is an ongoing procession of assassinations of Inkatha people and of policemen. Some of the time his people are involved. I don't believe he can control that but the National peace Initiative and the Goldstone Commission to some extent control the effects of that. In other words I don't think it could lead to a complete explosion. We've got fairly institutionalised methods of dealing with it now with the Goldstone Commission and the National Peace Secretariat. It's a stabilising factor. Buthelezi, his people are the most vulnerable in the sense that his supporters outside of Natal and in many parts of Natal are the bottom end of the pile. They really are the migrant workers, the unemployed shack dwellers and people like that and a lot of their responses are sometimes spontaneous and violent. He can't control that but I do believe that he can control some of the more focused violence. So let me just generalise now and say that all three of them can probably reduce their involvement in violence by about 50% to 70%. But all three of them have got the problem of about 30% of it which is beyond their control.
POM Do you think the fact that the ANC has insisted since August 1990 that the violence is due in some way to the actions of the security forces in complicity or acting with Inkatha, that it is tacitly approved by the government, that there is a double agenda? Do you think, (i) that there's any truth in that assertion whatsoever or (ii) do you think that the ANC's refusal to admit their own role in the violence, that they have any role in the violence, inhibits bringing it under control?
LS Well, yes, I think that the ANC's refusal to admit that they have a role does inhibit bringing it under control. That applies to all the parties but equally to the ANC. There are vigilante type or third force type phenomena. These are what I refer to as conspiracies. The ANC has always in a cavalier way suggested that the government was tacitly approving these things. Now with the Goldstone Commission really sharpening its ability to probe these things, increasingly it's becoming difficult for the ANC to argue that the government is involved, tacitly or actively. And I predict that in six months time the ANC too will have to probably concede to some extent that there are conspiracies which the government cannot control either. Once we reach this stage then maybe we can work together to try and control the violence. I think ultimately the Goldstone Commission, which has enormous credibility, will help to stabilise the situation in this way.
POM Do you think in the absence of the violence being brought under control that you can have free and fair elections?
LS No, it's manifestly impossible to have free and fair elections in the present climate.
POM So if one were even talking about the short run, what in your view is the earliest you could force any kind of an election for, say, a Constituent Assembly?
LS When I say it's impossible to have elections under current circumstances it is because of the sort of 70% phenomena that I was referring to. Where you have the ANC operating in a mass action mode I don't believe you can have elections. For example, to try and run elections in Durban with the ANC marching up and down the streets toyi-toying, with the additional aggravation or tension surrounding voting, Inkatha are going to attack. It's impossible for people to exercise choice when you've got this sort of singing and dancing exercise going on. Once all the parties, to get back to my earlier albeit rather over simple phenomenon, at least example, once they have come to terms with their own problem to the extent of acknowledging their own roles and they've brought 70% of the violence under control then I think we could have elections because at least the official party activity will be compatible with holding elections. There will still be violence, people will get killed, but it will be more like India and India by and large manages to have its elections although some people are killed. But I think we could have elections then. But I think that that could happen quite soon. I would see elections as being possible within six months. Possible, but it's more probably that it'll take something like 18 months. Padraig, I'm beginning to run into a time problem.
POM Just one last question then, or two last questions. One is on Buthelezi, does he have the capacity to be a spoiler and has that become more apparent in the last couple of days?
LS Yes he has the capacity to become a spoiler, but he's got some genuine points of view here which are legitimate, which the government has to address. At the moment he is without any kind of assurances as regards regional rights. He doesn't know how much the government is prepared to give way to the ANC on this issue. The ANC has toughened its position. I think that it's quite rational for Buthelezi at this point to take a tough stand. He wants to restore the earlier position of greater assurance that he had and I think it's possible for them to give it to him. I think that these problems can be resolved. In the event of them not being resolved he can be a spoiler and it's now become quite clear, and it's a new development, that there is the very real prospect of a strategic consensus on the right wing which is now a non-racial right wing, if you like, and there is strategic correspondence between Buthelezi and the Conservative Party and other right wing forces. And of course this increases his capacity to become a spoiler and to destabilise.
POM So when people say, well the way you deal with Buthelezi is you simply take away the resources he gets from the state, you take his money away, do you think that's a simplistic view?
LS That is a simplistic and quite frankly I think it's an irresponsible suggestion. The money he gets is money that is spent on ordinary government services. He doesn't get any political money from the government. I mean if you take away his money you're taking away subsidies for hospitals. I don't know quite frankly what these people are talking about. What you can do is try and close down his administration and appoint another administration. Well that's a declaration of war and I don't think de Klerk would remotely think of doing that.
POM Is there a Zulu factor? When he talks about that CODESA can't negotiate over the head of the Zulu nation and they will not be a party to agreements made to which they have not given their assent, is this a real threat or just posturing?
LS No, no, I think it is a real threat but like all ethnic movements there's a core and then there are various layers of periphery and in any ethnic movement you get a centre and when Buthelezi is saying you can't negotiate over the heads of the Zulus, he's talking about the Zulu centre. But as you get into the big urban townships you're moving near to the periphery so you can't say this. It's a dynamic more than anything else, but there is in truth in it, yes.
POM Last question, Larry, and thank you for all the time, twice over, and that is CODESA itself, was it a flawed process in terms of its composition and structure? What's to be learned from the round that failed that can make for a better or a restructured CODESA this time round?
LS Look, in my view it was far too much a confusion of the general to the specific and the specific to the general. What really needed to happen was for there to be an inner negotiating team to concentrate simply in principles and to elaborate them to moderate detail and then for those things to be thereafter, after getting agreement about that, for the details to be worked out by sub-committees. But there should have been much closer, a much more coherent central negotiating process. Far too much use was made of committees. It became untidy. It lost control of itself.
POM So do you see the process back on track within weeks?
LS Yes, but as I said, I see it back on track within weeks but it's going to be tougher from the start and probably, therefore, standing a better chance of success.
POM OK Larry, on that note of optimism, thank you ever so much for the time and I will see you at the beginning of next year I hope. Take care of yourself.