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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Jan 1993: Beyers, Andries
POM Mr Beyers, the last time I interviewed you, you were the General Secretary of the Conservative Party. That was two years ago. Now you are the leader of a new party which is called?
AB Afrikaner Volksunie.
POM What does that mean in English?
AB Well in English it may be called, we only have an Afrikaans name, but freely translated, Afrikaner People's Union.
POM What's the acronym you use for it? AV or AVU?
POM Now I remember when I was here last year your party was in the midst of a debate, I think, that had been stimulated initially, at least my understanding is initially, by Koos van der Merwe who wrote a memo suggesting perhaps that the Conservative Party should go to the negotiating table. Could you first of all take me through your own career? Your won the seat in Potchefstroom, you were a person who for a moment there had de Klerk and his government not on its knees but certainly getting a little bit jittery and a year later you are head of your own party.
AB Well what happened is that for the past two years actually it became clear that the old style of separate development will not succeed in South Africa. We made an error as a people actually and that was to claim the most of the country for us leaving the blacks with a smaller part of the country and especially in the last two or three years people came to the conviction that that should be changed. We should rather claim a small area for ourselves leaving the rest of the country for majority rule by the black people. The method by which we could gain this was through the Conservative Party. If the Conservative Party could win an election and if we could succeed in persuading the Conservative Party to change its view to accept a drastically reduced fatherland then it was possible for us to get our freedom constitutionally. And that was what we fought for during the by-election in Potchefstroom. At that point in time it was still possible that a white, a general white election would take place and we tried to demonstrate the power of the Conservative Party and our strivings were that election. Immediately after the election Mr de Klerk called a referendum instead of a general election, so the result of the referendum was that not another white election could ever take place in South Africa and will ever take place again. So from that point we had to develop a new strategy.
POM Why did the Conservative Party decide to contest the referendum since it would obviously be held on an unequal basis?
AB It was a most stupid decision by the Conservative Party to contest the election. I told them, the caucus, that they must know that if we take up the referendum we accept that we are going to get a referendum instead of an election and that was not the ideal terrain for us to fight because in a referendum you only had three weeks. It will be basically a TV referendum, the National Party have all the power the manipulate the TV, etc. We had no chance in that short period to reach the people at ground level which was our strongest point. In spite of that the majority of the party decided to take part in the referendum and it exactly happened what I feared would happen and that was a total rejection of the Conservative Party. That changed the whole situation, the playing field was changed dramatically because it was now clear that there would not now be a following general election for whites so we had to go back to the drawing board and ascertain what in the new circumstances we should do to promote our ideal of self-determination.
POM At that point in time the policy of the Conservative Party would be that they would not negotiate at the table unless the principle of an Afrikaner homeland had been conceded beforehand?
AB Actually before that it was my standpoint, yes, and it was the standpoint of the moderates that we should first compel the ANC and everyone to accept the self-determination for all peoples and our people before we go to the negotiation table. But the standpoint of the majority of the party and of the radicals in the party was that you do not negotiate with atheists and communists, etc. So we tried to persuade the Conservative Party to take a more moderate approach and that approach should be that if the ANC was willing to acknowledge in principle our right to self-determination we should negotiate with them. Even that they didn't want to accept.
POM What role did Koos play in this at that time?
AB Yes I think his ideas were along with our ideas, that is Koos was always sort of a loner without very strong support within the party itself but he had some influence, I would say, on thinking, etc., and on policy making but he never was actually a person with very great influence within the Conservative Party. He had his influence as well. The point I want to make is that at that point in time we had to change, we had to accept that we will have to take a smaller part of the country first of all. Secondly, that we should bargain on behalf of a people and not on behalf of a race. Thirdly, that in the new circumstances it was important that we should be willing to go to the negotiation table to negotiate it and if you go to the negotiation table there is no sense in talking to some and not talking to everybody. So we promoted the idea that there should also be talks with the ANC and at that point in time that was somewhat an unpopular standpoint with the Conservative Party. But we took the standpoint and everything led to the break in the party.
POM How would you assess where you are at now in terms of support among the Afrikaner community and what are both the strategy and the tactics of the AVU as a new round of negotiations appears to loom on the horizon?
AB We are aware of quite strong support at ground level for our ideas, for the idea of a small and realistic, negotiable area in which we will form the majority, our people will be the majority in which there will be no race discrimination whatsoever, in which every people living there and every nation living there will have the same political rights as others. There is quite, I think, important support for this idea of an Afrikaner dominated area where we will be in the majority and getting the political rule, however the other peoples will have the same political rights and there will be no race discrimination. There is quite support for that because of the fact that it is reasonable and it is realistic and it is in no way to the disadvantage of any other people from any other race whatsoever. And we experience quite a lot of understanding also at other parties for this realistic standpoint. More and more members of the National Party are supporting it and I think there is a future for this idea.
So our strategy at this point in time is to get involved in negotiations, especially in negotiations on the shaping of regional government and we want to use that procedure, negotiation for regional government, as a method by which we can promote our ideal. So we are quite pragmatic. We say first of all we want to negotiate that the region should be delineated in such a way to constitute majority occupation of our people and that we will be prepared to accept that region as part of the federation and we accept that most of our people are going to move to that area as soon as a settlement on this has been reached. Our strategy is to bargain for that, to persuade the National Party and the ANC and other role players that if you do this, if you grant this form of self-determination to the Afrikaner people then you are going to succeed in persuading Afrikaners, Afrikaner nationalists, to in future also become the defenders of the new dispensation and you do not compel them to be the enemies of a new dispensation. So that is what we say to the ANC and to the National Party and to other interested parties, we say make it possible for us, make it possible for other moderate Afrikaner leaders to lead our people, and also other right wing organisations, to the acceptance of a realistic and moderate approach. If they come to agreement with us on that then we again in our turn will be in a position to get the support of other right wing organisations as well because then the Afrikaner, the reasonable aspirations of our people have been accommodated.
POM My first question, almost the obvious one, is where would this new homeland be generally, not specific boundaries, but have you an idea so that when you go to the table you can say that this is the area, we will negotiate but this is what we have in mind?
AB Well we have certain limitations as far as that is concerned. I excluded my own constituency from that because I realised that an area should be found where we, at this point in time, are in the majority. So what we decided to promote is an area including Pretoria and excluding the big townships, a big township like Mamelodi, including parts of the East Rand and excluding the big black towns of the far East Rand, including some districts in the Eastern Transvaal, from Pretoria to the Eastern Transvaal, including their black townships, etc. So there you have an area which can be delineated quite naturally in which at this point in time there are approximately one and a half million whites of which 80% in that area are Afrikaans speaking and approximately one million blacks living in that area. So that is a small area but that is an example of an area, one single area, in which our people form a reasonable majority at this point in time.
POM So there's 1.5 million Afrikaners?
AB 1.5 million whites of which 80% are Afrikaners and one million other people. That's right. So we say if other parties grant that to us to demarcate a region as part of a federation then we accommodate the reasonable aspirations of our people. Furthermore, we say that a region should be demarcated in the Cape Province where Afrikaners and Coloured people, who are also Afrikaans speaking, are in a vast majority and where they can solve their political future with each other there. They can work it out and they can come to an agreement, the Afrikaners and the majority of the Coloured people there. Then you also have another Afrikaans, not Afrikaner, but Afrikaans dominated area in the Cape Province which will also accommodate some aspects of our strivings to self-determination. Actually we are supporting two regions. A bigger region in the Cape Province where we and the Coloured people can stay together and a smaller, drastically reduced region in the northern part of the country where we will be in a majority.
POM The delimitation of the area around Pretoria, is that all one contiguous geographical area?
AB Yes, it's one area. We didn't come to final borders as far as that is concerned. We work with investigations by the ... Committee, etc., and we are negotiating that with other parties and see whether we are going to ...
POM Now you talked to the ANC about it, sat down with them?
POM Could you just give me an idea of the flavour of the discussions you've had with the different parties?
AB Well let me frank and say that it may sound impossible but I got perhaps more understanding during our negotiations with the ANC, from the ANC, than I got understanding from the National Party. That may sound somewhat unbelievable but it is true. We got quite an understanding from the ANC, but as far as the region in the Cape Province is concerned I am sure we will get that from them. As far as the region, the small region in the northern part of the country it will be somewhat more difficult. But they are quite interested in that and I am sure that they will go out of their way to reach a settlement with Afrikaner nationalists. The National Party is somewhat more difficult. I think they are always looking over their shoulder to what the ANC is going to say. As soon as the ANC will come to an agreement with us they will accept that but it is quite difficult for them to come to an agreement with us and then try to bargain that with the ANC.
POM Did you see de Klerk as being politically weakened over the last year?
AB Somewhat, yes.
POM Last March after the referendum he was riding the high point of popularity.
AB Yes, his position within his party became weaker and I think in the rest of the country also.
POM Why do you think this has happened when he appeared to have such a mandate he could have moved in many directions and yet ...?
AB It's difficult for me to say why. In the white community he created an image to just yield to ANC claims. He also lost the support of his natural supporters, like Inkatha and Mangope, etc. by the Record of Understanding he reached with the ANC. I think the government has the problem that he must be both the facilitator and also a role player and I think after the collapse of CODESA 2 he made the error only to concentrate on his role as a facilitator and forget about his role as someone who also has a party that must also bargain for the interests of his own constituency and I think he neglected his constituency and that is the reason why it seems to me that he is growing somewhat weaker. And that is the reason why I think there is growing in-fighting within the National Party itself. Strong members of the National Party, influential members, are not happy with the situation that he broke ties with Inkatha, etc.
POM Could you just, off the record, identify one or two of those for me because I would like to go and talk to them?
AB You want to go to talk to them? You will not inform them that I told you?
POM No. I'm trying to get the points of fragmentation so that I can go in the future ...
AB As far as MPs standing nearby Inkatha is concerned I could mention Mr Jurie Mentz from Vryheid, the man from Umlazi, Piet Matthee, probably Dr Johan Steenkamp and then I think there are also Cabinet Ministers like Mr Kobie Coetsee who is a senior member of cabinet and Dr Tertius Delport is also a minister. I think in the Eastern Cape that MPs will also find difficulties with the problems they have with the National Party.
POM So would it be their view that the government to date has been too accommodating to the ANC?
AB To the ANC and alienating to Inkatha.
POM And alienating to Inkatha. You, again, look at who you will bargain with and form coalitions with, who do you see as your natural allies?
AB Well all people and all parties that are supporting some or other form of autonomous regions. Like for instance the National Party and Inkatha and Mangope and the Dickonquetla(?) Party of Qwa-Qwa and nearly all homeland parties and in the long run even the Democratic Party.
POM Are you part of the Concerned South Africans?
AB Yes we are and in COSAG we have formed a more moderate group. COSAG is fighting for a stronger alliance which will constitute Inkatha and the National Party and everyone supporting a strong federal system or a strong regional governmental system.
POM Is Mr de Klerk having a meeting with that group tomorrow?
AB That's right.
POM And you will be attending that meeting?
POM And what would be your hope that would come out of that meeting?
AB At this point in time I think the main concern within that grouping is the fear that de Klerk and Mandela want to go it alone and they will ask guarantees from the government that that would not take place. As far as we are concerned we say that we have a previous undertaking from the government after the Record of Understanding that the powers and the boundaries of the regions in a future dispensation would be entrenched into the transitional constitution in such a way that the new constitution making body will not be in a position to easily amend that and that is exactly, from our part, what we are going to try to bind de Klerk and the government to that undertaking that the powers and the borders of the regions must be built into the transitional constitution.
POM Powers and the boundaries.
AB As soon as that is done it paves the way for us to also take part in a government of national unity, etc. But without those guarantees it will be difficult for us to co-operate.
POM In the event of your demands not being met, of space not being given for an Afrikaner homeland, what do you think are the likely consequences of that?
AB It is difficult. We say that will not solve the problem. Our people will feel and regard themselves as an oppressed people and they will be compelled to fight against that and then moderate Afrikaner Nationalist leaders like myself will have no reason to tell the people we must try and negotiate because then it was proved that negotiations helped them nothing. So if our reasonable plans are being ignored then I personally will have to back to my people and tell them, "Well, I tried everything and I tried to negotiate and I was reasonable. I accepted a drastically reduced area. I accepted that within that area there will be no race discrimination whatsoever of any kind. I accepted that we will be bound by an Act of Human Rights in that area. I accepted that we would not claim full sovereignty from the beginning. I accepted the federation." So I was reasonable to the fullest sense of the word but I must come back to my people and tell them that although I was reasonable and although I tried everything I couldn't manage to negotiate a reasonable degree of self-determination for them. So that would be my report and then I believe that there will be a fight. Yes, then they will fight back. If other peoples are not going, if other parties are not going to be reasonable to my people then they will compel my people to fight back. What their ability will be to fight is something different.
POM Do you think you have got more in common now with Buthelezi than you do with the National Party?
AB At this point in time, yes, because Buthelezi is also supporting a strong regional governmental system with strong powers to his regions and we support him in that and the government, in our view, is at this point in time too eager to come into an agreement with the ANC that it seems to us that they are prepared to just yield to ANC pressure.
POM Do you think that the ANC's concession, in a way, that they would consider power sharing with the National Party not just during an interim government but perhaps for a longer period of time, although there would be sunset clauses built into the constitution, do you think this is something that the government will prove receptive to or is it again creating problems for the government within the National Party itself?
AB It will make it easier for the government to come to an agreement with the ANC, but it will also create tension within the government itself and it will create more tension between the government and a possible ally like Inkatha. Actually to get a final solution, the ANC themselves should get to terms with a strong regional governmental system and I think there will be a solution. And they themselves have moved a bit in that direction.
POM They are moving in that direction?
AB It seems to me so. They are realising that that holds the key to the solution. I think they are realising more and more that one or other form of federalism holds the key to the solution.
POM As you look at each of the major players, beginning with the ANC, how do you evaluate their performance over the past couple of years? What changes do you see in both their strategies and tactics and goals?
AB Over the years?
POM Since February 1990, since the ANC was unbanned. Do you see any significant evolution in ANC policy, any significant evolution or changes in government policies?
AB Yes. First of all I think the ANC tried quite successfully to establish itself as a political grouping representing the black people. They were a banned organisation, they tried to get their constituency after them because quite a number of the people at that point in time when the ANC was unbanned were actually UDF supporters. The ANC first had to establish itself as a political grouping representing the black people and I think they successfully did that. After that, by mass action, they had to demonstrate their power, their ability to organise the black people, etc. and I think they have managed to do that as well.
POM So you would have seen the mass action of last August as being successful mass action in a political sense?
AB Successful to demonstrate the fact that the ANC actually represents probably the majority of the activist black people in this country. And then suddenly after CODESA 2, and after the miracle of Bisho, they started to adopt a moderate approach. It seems to be that they are going out of their way to advertise a moderate image. The standpoints of even Slovo and Chris Hani in recent times are in the direction of accepting a moderate approach and a moderate image and then eventually the actions by APLA in the last few weeks put the ANC in a position where it is coming out as a moderate party.
POM Condemning acts of terrorism.
AB Yes, they are actually also a party that comes out against terrorism, etc. So it seems to be that they are improving their image as a moderate party and they are succeeding in that.
POM Who do you think within the party is responsible for that shift? Is Mandela still the glue that holds the ANC together?
AB My impression is that Mandela is still the strong man. I have no doubt as far as that is concerned, that he is a remarkable leader and that he is quite strong and that he actually leads the ANC. It seems to me that that is true.
POM Do you think in a post-election period where there's an interim government or under a new constitution, that the ANC alliance will hold together or that the differences between what COSATU stands for, what the moderate ANC stands for, the SACP stands for are too great, that if there's not that common enemy of the regime there that they will go their separate ways?
AB No, I think for quite a while they will stay together because the Communist Party although they have influence as they are influential members of the Communist Party that are also members of the NEC of the ANC, the National Executive Committee, they don't have real ground-roots support. Black people are not communists. They used the communists. They accepted the money from Russia and China and from the communist world because it was available to them. That was the reason why the Communist Party got influence in the ANC because of the fact that it could provide the measures, it could provide the money, it could provide the weapons. But now that is over. Now the black people in South Africa they do not need the communists any more and there are not communists left. So the Communist Party, I think its influence will wither away, it will become a non-entity. COSATU is a very important factor and I think it will grow more important because after the taking over of the ANC everyone knows that the salaries of the black workers will not increase. Work opportunities will grow fewer and then the influence of COSATU will become bigger and perhaps COSATU can become a force that will act against the ANC. That is possible.
POM Is this one good reason why the ANC, even should it command the majority of the vote, chose not to govern alone because they will not be able to deliver?
AB Yes, I think they will try to form a government of national unity themselves. Off the record, it was said to me that that was their policy but I didn't hear them say that in public. They told me that they need the white people of this country and they will accommodate their reasonable aspirations. It's difficult to know whether you can go on their word but at least they have a serious feeling that the whites should not be treated in a way to persuade them to leave the country.
POM You really see the black community as being predominantly behind the ANC?
AB Yes I think so.
POM And organisations such as the PAC and AZAPO are really marginal organisations?
AB It all depends on how long the transitional period will take. It is possible that if it will be very long and we get the economy poorer and poorer, those extremist organisations may get some more support, but they haven't got the leadership. The ANC is a huge organisation, strong organisation with an impressive leadership core, quite a number of leaders that can take over from Mandela, while the PAC, for instance, the only moderate leader they have that made some impression was Moseneke and the other day he resigned from the PAC because of their attitude. So I don't think they are a real threat to the ANC, not even to talk about.
POM Inkatha as a threat to the ANC. Can there be a settlement, a lasting settlement that doesn't accommodate Buthelezi in some way?
AB That will be quite problematic because Buthelezi is in strong command of the traditional Zulus, not the Zulu nation as such but he is in command with those Zulus that will be prepared for the sake of ideology, that will accept his command and go to war with people against them. I think Buthelezi has quite a following as far as the traditional Zulus are concerned and those traditional Zulus I think they will do everything which Buthelezi or the King will tell them. If he is neglected and ignored I think there you will have some organised revolt which will be very meaningful and very extensive.
POM Do you think he has the capacity to be a Savimbi of sorts?
AB To a certain extent, yes. He has white resources, there is quite a lot of white support for Buthelezi. There is quite a lot of international support for him. He has an area where his people are dominant. Yes, I think he will form quite a remarkable force.
POM When you look at white politics, how do you see them playing themselves out in terms of who's moving up, who's moving down?
AB It is difficult to say. At this point in time the AWB is gaining support, yes, because of the activities of APLA. The Conservative Party tries to follow the AWB, they also accepted a more violent approach and it was interesting the other day the AWB attacked them quite seriously for the fact that they chose to move to the terrain of the AWB, so there's quite a competition now between the Conservative Party and the AWB to persuade the people at ground-roots level which organisation will be the most effective violent organisation. So there's quite a strong movement within the CP ranks to become out and out a violent organisation, organise violence, etc. and to compete against the AWB, to be a more effective violent organisation. And because of the happenings and the activities of APLA they are helping the violent organisations on the right to gain more support. As far as the realistic people are concerned, that's people who know that that is not the best thing to do for our people, I think we are gaining some support and more and more support, more people are feeling, realising that we should be realistic and we should be reasonable and we should accept the fact that there will be no discrimination in future any more and that the only way is to claim a territory in which we will be in the majority in order that we could win an election in that area. That is the only way.
POM Would you at this point see yourself taking more support away from the NP than from the CP?
AB Well from both. I think we are getting support from both of them. It is difficult to say. At this point in time we are getting more support from the National Party than from the Conservative Party but as soon as the APLA happenings are over then we will get more support again from the Conservative Party supporters. So it quite difficult to say but one can only imagine because there are differences within the National Party, people are leaving the National Party but not in large numbers to join the Conservative Party. Some of them are going actually to support Inkatha Freedom Party instead of going to the Conservative Party.
POM If there is a serious attempt to make this into a two-player game, or if the government and the ANC say OK let's cut a deal and the others can go along with it or they may not want to go along with it but between the two of us we have enough clout to support the entire state apparatus and can make any agreement we want to stick. Do you think that would be a mistake of major proportions?
AB I don't understand the question.
POM Say if the ANC and the government decided that they in fact would go it alone, that they would cut a deal between themselves on some power sharing arrangement for a period of years that would include both members of the ANC and the NP and their attitude more or less would be to all the smaller parties, "We're the major players. You have to follow basically in our footsteps. This is not an equal or level playing field and you just have to accept that." Do you think that would be a serious mistake on their part?
AB I think so, yes, because they will be confronted by strong support from Buthelezi and all other traditional homeland leaders who have quite remarkable followings. There will be organised action against them by Afrikaner nationalists and then also even the PAC will fight against them. So I don't think that will be a wise thing to do. I think if they can include Buthelezi then they will be in a position to govern the country for a period because Afrikaner nationalists will be able to organise terrorist groups not quick enough, not before they have been oppressed thoroughly. I think that will be the time when Afrikaner nationalists will be successfully organised in terrorist groups and that is as soon as they have been suppressed thoroughly.
POM What would you regard as qualifying as suppression?
AB Many people ask me that question. I say that peoples, actually all over the world, they regard themselves as being oppressed if they are not in a position to determine at least their own affairs like education, like local government, like aspects of symbols, etc. If they are not in a position to determine that, if they are not in a position to be winning an election within their own people to determine the future of that people, I think they regard that as a violation of their human dignity and that will be the position of my people. I regard it as a violation of my human dignity if my people, if I, even by winning the support of all my people, are still not in a position to determine their future. Then I regard it as a violation of my human dignity. And that is what happened in Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia. People want to determine their own future as far as it is possible. People want to be realistic about that and reasonable but if everything is being ignored then they regard themselves as being oppressed and then it is easy to organise them in revolt and revolution groups.
POM So as you look towards the next year?
AB I think that we are going to get a settlement in this year.
POM You do?
AB Yes. Including the National Party, the ANC and Inkatha. There is a possibility that we will also be included, that because of the reasonableness of our aspirations something will be done to accommodate our reasonable aspirations and I think if that can happen we will have a solution, or at least we will be working in the right direction then.
POM So if you could put those three big apples in one bag?
AB I think so. If you get the ANC and the National Party and Inkatha and then also one of the smaller rightist organisations, then you have a chance of success.
POM Do you see this meeting tomorrow of being of critical importance?
AB Yes I think so. I think it will pave the way either for multi-lateral negotiations or a complete withdrawal from that by the COSAG members.
POM By your members?
AB Yes. It will be quite important for us, the question which we will ask ourselves is, will it after tomorrow be in the interests of our people to get involved in multi-lateral talks or not? So if we get some realistic hope that we must get involved, yes, then we will be there.
AB I think it is unlikely because I think that the government will try to prevent that, the government will make it possible for us to be there.
POM How can they give you the ironclad guarantees that you are demanding, which I hear as that the boundaries of the regions be determined in the interim constitution, that is, i.e. in a non-elected body, and that powers of the region be defined at the same time?
AB If they don't give us the undertaking that they will also support that then the situation will arise where we say if they do not support that what is sense of getting multi-lateral negotiations, so then there is less sense to take part in that. So although they cannot guarantee anything they can at least give us further assurances as far as that is concerned and that will help us to bind them in and to gather their support for those ideals. So that's what we are going to try to do. I don't know whether we will succeed. If there is a total rejection of everything we are standing for, well then it will be easy to say we will not take part in multi-lateral negotiations.
POM OK. I will leave it there for the moment. Thank you very much for your time.
AB Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.
POM You are in a sense, I think, the most optimistic person I've spoken to on this trip.
AB Is that so?