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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Jan 1993: Boesak, Allan

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POM     Dr Boesak, it's been nearly 18 months since we last talked, it would have been in July of 1991, or August of 1991, during which period this whole process has swung one way and swung the other way. I'd like to begin maybe at the CODESA part when CODESA deadlocked and then when the talks collapsed after Boipatong. In many circles, and I've talked to members of the ANC, they have said that in a way it was just as well that the talks collapsed because if the government had accepted the ANC's offer of a 70% veto threshold for inclusion of items in a constitution, that the ANC would have faced a lot of difficulty in selling that at the grassroots, people would have thought too many concessions had been made. Do you agree with that view?

AB     Yes. That is one reason that I think that with hindsight it was probably advantageous that there was a deadlock. But I thought there were other reasons as well. I really thought that everybody involved, the ANC in particular, needed to think a lot more about what was actually involved here, how one could retain political values and the goals you have set for yourself within the process of negotiation within which a lot of compromises necessarily will have to be made. I also thought that the deadlock, and this was for me a very important reason, came at a time that we could use it because that would give the African National Congress leadership an opportunity to go out and speak to the people directly.

     One of the most disturbing things about the CODESA process for me was that there was so little information that was given out to ordinary people. There was so little opportunity to go out and explain to people what is happening, why things are happening and get their feedback. I was never one for believing that you go through the process, you make the compromises necessary, you make the deals necessary, you come to a conclusion and then you go out to educate your constituency. I thought that that was a short sighted way of doing politics in the light of our own particular history, in the light of the enormous difficulties that we will be facing, in the light that for many, many years to come we would sit with the legacy of apartheid and you cannot explain that away, people will have to understand it. In the light of the fact also that necessarily we would not have in the beginning a fairly democratically elected ANC government, you would certainly have a government of national unity for a while and then maybe something else for a while, there would still come the process of writing the constitution and all through this time it would not be reasonable to expect major changes to take place so that the people could see the benefits of negotiation other than we are reaching milestones. We are negotiating therefore we now have the first phase of interim government. We are negotiating therefore the second phase is coming. We've got elections, we now are writing a constitution. You have direct representation in that. So those are the milestones, but there are no benefits. No new housing, no new schools, no new educational system, not equality in the society in any way whatsoever as yet. And people need to understand those things and I believe that that was an opportunity for the African National Congress to go out and say, "The talks are deadlocked. These are the reasons why: we gave the government - we made this offer and it may be a good thing that our offer was not accepted but this is what we intend to do. We hope that you will understand. The process will be a longer one than we had thought at the beginning but our goals remain firm, we want elections for you and these are the reasons, because we want direct participation of ordinary people in the process of negotiation itself."

     Because it's not enough to say the people participate by mass action, that is not enough, not by a long shot. In the event I do not believe that the ANC has used that opportunity to that effect and I believe the ANC will live to regret that because in the meantime so much has happened, so many other things have come into the equation now that it becomes more difficult to explain to people exactly what is happening and why things are happening and it is left to the newspapers in general to explain to people. That is not good because the newspapers do not necessarily explain the African National policy, the African National viewpoint. They show the whole slant in a totally different direction. Newspapers only became a lot fairer to the ANC when it became clear that the ANC and the government were coming closer to each other and I must immediately say that that alone gives me a very healthy suspicion as to how in the end we are still going to explain to people because in the meantime the ordinary masses still remain uneducated on these points. And I think the deadlock has now been used for bilateral consultations which again I think is necessary, it's all fine, but again it lacks communication.

POM     I want to come back to that question of communication but first I want to ask you, I was surprised when I heard the offer of 70% because most polls seemed to suggest that the National Party with the IFP and other minor parties might be able to cobble together 30% of the vote overall, in which case it would have actually had, I mean the ANC put itself very close to giving a blocking veto to its opponents. It's hard to understand the logic that was operating.

AB     I still find it hard to understand. I can just tell you what I think the ANC thought at that time. I think the ANC was very eager to show that (i) it is not inflexible on these issues, (ii) the ANC wanted to make clear that the constitution, we're talking about a Constituent Assembly where we're not talking about putting together a new government as such but we're talking about writing a new constitution. That the constitution was not going to be the constitution of the African National Congress but the constitution of the people of South Africa. So that the ANC did not necessarily want to have total say, or even the majority say, in every respect on the constitution and in details pertaining to the constitution. And the ANC was quite willing to say, "Let everybody who has to live under this constitution and accept it and respect it come in and bring in their own views and let's talk about this and so forth." I think those were important things that the ANC had thought about. I do not think it is true that the ANC was so confident that it would get 80% of the votes for instance that it could simply give away. I mean up until the very last morning it was still talking about that.

     And I was not happy but I was persuaded and I thought, OK if this is an effort of the African National Congress to say to the rest of the people of South Africa, "See how open we are on these things, that we do not necessarily want to impose our viewpoints and that the constitution must be the one thing that must bind us together and therefore we are willing to give away a lot on this issue", I felt it was rather noble. You could be cynical about all of this of course and say that I am reading far too much nobility into a political process that was never there to begin with and that's not unique to South Africa as you know. But that's the way I thought about it, that's the way I explained it to people. I do think, however, that in terms of, as I've just said, communicating this to everybody, it would have been a mistake. It would have been very, very hard to explain. The question is, for me, far more important now, not how did we allow that to happen and how did we, it's what are we getting in return? Not the ANC, what are we as the people of South Africa getting in return for that because I don't believe that in the future the fight will be over percentages so much as it seems to have been that morning when CODESA broke up.

POM     I'll come back to that but I want to move now to this November. Joe Slovo wrote a paper printed in The African Communist and a version of which became a paper called Strategic Perspective which was then put before the National Working Committee, a version of which was adopted on the 18th November. In essence it calls for power sharing with the National Party, not just sharing for an interim period but perhaps for a longer period of time where there might be in fact clauses built into the constitution, sunset clauses, which would set the limits of power sharing and how it would be phased out over time. (i) Again when I talk to people I don't find their understanding of what that document is to be very clear, and (ii) your whole point of communication, of explaining things to the masses, seems to have completely gone by again. Suddenly they are going to be faced with not only are we going to share power but we're going to share power for maybe 15 years. It looks as though nothing has been learnt from the first experience in terms of what you're talking about.

AB     Well, you know that the document was not without controversy to put it mildly and the ANC has now adopted that document in the final version as its position and at this stage I can only raise questions. The first question that I do want to raise is the question of communication to the masses because this is the one thing that's going to catch the ANC a little bit down the road, once the implications of all of these decisions become clear to the people. The second question one has to raise is, why does it seem that the document almost gives the National Party what the big fight was about in the beginning, namely the duration of the interim? I have always thought, and maybe we have spoken about this before, that we should make a distinction between the interim and the period of transition. Now the interim is between now and the installation of the first democratic government elected by the people. The transition will take a lot longer because the transition has to do with the changing of the laws one by one. It has to do with the restructuring of every single sector, the economy, the education, all of that. It has to do with the removal of discrimination in the many ways that it exists. It has to do with putting into place programmes of affirmative action to right the wrongs. It has to do with a sensible economic and political plan for the redistribution of land, of wealth. It has also to do with dealing with the legacy of apartheid and finally it has to do with the recreation of new attitudes with which people live in this country.

     Now that's a transition period and in a very real sense, even though the legal vestiges of, I almost said apartheid, in the United States have been removed in 1965, 1966 with the legislation then, the transition from that period is not yet over. And that's how I look at it. What I fear, and this maybe the greatest flaw of this document, what I fear is that there is a total confusion between the interim and the transition. So that the interim period no longer, we're only talking about the transition and the transition is now the interim and what should have been the interim in sharing power with whomever in order to say, look this is the beginning but an election is an election is an election, the results ought to be accepted by everybody else, that that element has gone under. And I'm asking whether that is the right thing to do.

     There is another question that is raised here and that is this, if what our motivations are that we need to do this, form what one could call coalition government with the National Party for ten years, fifteen years, whatever the case may be, who will determine when this period is over? Who will determine, because the motivation is that we've got to protect democracy, who will determine when our democracy is strong enough to make changes? Who will determine when the threat of counter-revolution, as they put it, is over? The people? The government? Which government? The government that has been in power for ten years? You'll have to keep them there in order to keep the social unrest away and in order to keep democracy safe? Who determines this? And does this include the normal workings of democracy? Is the threat only from those who can wield a gun or is the threat also from those who are in the Civil Service, because that's included, that's what they say, who can undermine every decision taken by the new government? Or from the police or from the army? What about legitimate opposition? Because if you take upon yourself as a government put together in this way, you put upon yourself the mantle of the defender of democracy, who says that five years down the road, ten years down the road, somebody comes and says, "I don't agree that this is right", will also not be seen as a threat to democracy and where are we then in terms of what we are now? I don't believe that these are only philosophical questions. These are political questions and within two years these will become very, very practical questions.

POM     You mention the Civil Service. In Namibia they made a decision that every Civil Servant would keep his or her job, there would be no lay-offs, no firings, no anything, and it's worked out at best with very mixed results where there is still considerable feeling among government ministers that large or significant numbers of the service try to undermine the government. In a situation like South Africa with these huge bureaucracies, if you enter into a policy of no retrenchments, everyone keeps his or her jobs, surely again the masses are going to see that at this very strategic level nothing has changed at all. Do you build a parallel Civil Service with Africans and Coloureds and Asians? Where do you end up?

AB     The ANC can't do that of course. But the ANC will not be the only one who will make those decisions because they have bound themselves into a coalition government with the National Party even before the political realities, or the outcome of an election has made it necessary of feasible or attractive. If you promise the Civil Service all sorts of things, there is no way to expand the Civil Service but the wise thing to do economically is to trim the Civil Service. Now the best that you can do is to take on a few people from the disadvantaged communities at the very low level and to kick out a few people at the very top whom you can send on an early retirement and then you put in a few black faces up at the top. What happens in the middle? What happens to the effectiveness of decisions taken and executed where the people feel them most? But to make these sunset clauses work costs money. Who will explain to the people? Or let me put in another way, who will defend the government and the work effect if somebody from outside the government, let's say somebody from the PAC or whatever, after two years points out to the people what they still haven't got? Schools, homes, streets, peace, effective policing and so forth and so forth. But all that money, that person says, that should have brought you all these things because you are entitled to it, is being used to pay the civil servants to remain in their positions or to pay them to leave so that some or other elite person can have a job that you can see a black face in a high level job.

     It's going to happen, it's going to happen. I fear for those times when they come because I say unless the people have faith in the government, one thing that I thought that the ANC had in its favour, when the times comes to explain to the people that some of their expectations will be met, many, many more cannot be met, not now, not within five years. Maybe within ten years. That people will accept that because they trust their government, because they have elected their government, because they know at least there was our expression of our political freedom. If you don't give them that, and even after an election, never mind the outcome, you move into a coalition government with who has been the sworn enemy of the people for as long as anyone can remember, who will engender the trust and the faith necessary to make the people understand why certain things cannot happen? Especially, especially as they will sit and see that Crossroads is not gone, Alexandra is not gone, but Bishopscourt remains, Constantia remains, and for all intents and purposes white people will still have most of the benefits of what is happening in South Africa, access to salaries, to benefits, to everything. And maybe the greatest danger that we are facing here is already the eroding of that confidence and trust in the government that should have been the foundation for building all sorts of relationships for the understanding of the people.

POM     The eroding of the trust in the present government?

AB     The eroding of the trust in the future government. The present government is not even ...

POM     Who in the ANC is addressing these questions, because these are fundamental questions of how to get to the long term?

AB     Maybe these questions are not universally regarded as fundamental questions within the ANC. Maybe these questions are seen as unnecessary philosophical questions. I haven't even begun to talk about what happens to the image of an organisation that has set itself up as a liberation movement and now, necessarily, has to give up some of its ideals, some of its aims, some of its dreams for its people because it's becoming politically involved. And how do you explain that to the people? Also because I believe that you do not have to give up all of your ideals and you do not have to give up all of your dreams that you had before you became such a cast iron political animal. So I don't know. I don't know who is addressing those issues. I can only say, and that's all I will say about it, that I tried.

POM     Because as I said, it struck me as more than paradoxical for many of the reasons that you point out of making these, before it is even required to make a compromise, in fact you negotiate a compromise, you don't give it away before you negotiate it.

AB     One of the big fights that we have is on the nature of coalition government. But maybe it's because I really got to know the workings of democracy during my years in Europe and in Holland specifically and I must say I have a great respect for that system of democracy where you give even the smallest party a chance and if they don't make it, they don't make it, and if the outcome of the election is such that there is no clear winner then without great ado you go away and you put together a government that is as representative as you can get. Now those are coalitions made when it becomes clear that your choices are more limited than you thought. When it becomes clear that you yourself don't have all the support that you had thought so you need other people's support and accordingly you reflect that in the government that you set up as a coalition.

     I also understand the working of an electoral pact before an election. I've gone through that as well. I have a lot of respect for that. But the thing is that then you go and you look for the partner most compatible, most likely to help you succeed and to help you fulfil not only your promises but the things that you know need to be done. Here, before the negotiations are concluded, before there have been elections, before we know the outcome, before we know the effect of the elections on the people, we already say we are moving into a coalition government with the National Party and, let me say, I believe, personally with all who the National Party will bring with it. And I do not know why this is necessary. I do believe the necessity for compromise and I may even accept the whole situation of a coalition government which is something different than a government of national unity, because we're talking after elections now.

     It seems to me, again, the motivation for having this leaves the door open for all sorts of things that can happen, that this country has not been prepared for, that the people will not understand, that politically it will not work as well as some people think it might. It might be, people say to me, your problem is that you think of South Africa in European terms and you mustn't, you must think of South Africa in African terms. I still don't understand that because here we are telling Africa, you've got to think in different terms, in terms of democracy, which simply means you've got to think in terms of western democracy. Now when we want to apply the terms of western democracy to South Africa we now have to hear that there is such a thing as African democracy. Now democracy of course is not the same in every situation. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that politically it seems to me, my instinct tells me, it's a mistake to make decisions on compromises before they are necessary.

POM     I suppose what makes it even more difficult for me to understand is that you had a situation of the Record of Understanding on 27th September too which seems to be a capitulation of the government to many of the ANC's demands which they made during the stage of mass action. Then without being required to, the ANC turns around and gives the government the single biggest concession it could be looking for because every government minister that I've talked to over the last three years, since 1989, has said, this is the question of ANC and government, this process about the sharing of power and the transfer of power, and the answer has come back on the ANC side that it's the transfer of power and on the government's side it's about the sharing of power. Now suddenly the ANC says, here we accept your version of what this process is about for almost the indefinite future.

AB     I don't know what happened there. I really do not know what happened there. I was not privy to those discussions and within the broader meetings when these things are discussed those details do not come out. So I do not know.

POM     So would something like this be discussed at an NEC meeting and then a vote taken?

AB     Well I have attended all the NEC meetings over the last year or so and I wasn't there on that day of 18th November because it was an emergency meeting. I wasn't there when they discussed this. But I don't know, all I know is that the questions that I feel are fundamental and looking in terms of the medium and the long term and the effect that might have and what kind of ramifications the implementation of those decisions might have five years down the road, I know that those issues were not discussed at that level. They may have been discussed at an even smaller, tighter group. That may be possible. But, again, I wasn't there, I'm not part of that kind of discussion.

POM     I want to turn to something different. The question of amnesty, and so far my understanding of the ANC's position is it's fairly straightforward, that they believe that individuals who were involved in crimes on behalf of the state should be named and their crimes made known to the people and at that point they may indeed get an amnesty but that the process should be almost similar to what returning exiles had to do when they looked for indemnity for their activities and they had to say, "These things we have done", and then the government would say, "Good, you are forgiven, blah, blah." Turning to the reports of the abuses in the ANC camps abroad, how do you think this issue must be dealt with by the ANC? Must the individuals be named even if they are senior members of the ANC? Must action be taken against them? Must they be expelled from the movement? Must the movement show that as a liberation movement with ideals that it hopes to bring to government that there's no way it could ever sanction the torture of human beings by its members?

AB     Yes, there is an argument that says the government must be dealt with in the way that the exiles have been dealt with. But you must always remember that from our part we were fighting against an oppressive, illegitimate, exceedingly cruel regime, much in the way that the Resistance in Europe fought against the Nazis. I accept that and I can accept even within that context also because historically it is not the ANC that has chosen the path of violence, but the path of violence is something that the ANC had been forced to take by the same people. It is a totally different matter, however, when in the organisation itself there had been these widespread abuses of human rights. I think that the ANC if it wants to set an example for itself in terms of its own tradition, things that it says it believes, if it won't set an example for the new government, the one thing we must avoid is to say, "We're not going to do too much to our people because de Klerk is not doing too much to his." In other words all of a sudden not our tradition, not our goals, not our ideals, become the standard by which we set ourselves, but the National Party government which is just about as low as you can get. So I do not accept that. I, therefore, believe that the ANC must act against these people who have done this. Whosoever's name is involved, those persons must be named. If we say to the government, "You name your people and you deal with them", then we must name our people and we must discipline them. What the disciplinary action will be I suppose depends on what people have done.

     The Amnesty International Report makes appalling reading. Now maybe I'm not even the right person to talk about this because my whole being rebels at the thought of using violence in any way and that's always been my problem in dealing with politics and the bland acceptance of violence as a tool in the political situation. But even if you accept that and even if I can tell myself, look again there was a difficult situation and somebody has been discovered to be a spy and that person has been responsible for the loss of lives and so this person must be executed after a trial or something like that, I can say, OK somewhere I can understand that. But I don't know what that has to do with torturing somebody and then smearing him with honey or so and sending him through a nest of ants. That is just beyond any understanding and you should not even in an organisation like ours try to justify actions like that. If the people are not named and their names are leaked when they have high positions in the new government, who is going to trust them?

     And I keep on coming back to this, you must forgive me, but people in this country so often talk about we must restructure the economy and we must redistribute the wealth and we must do that and we must do that. The one element totally inherent to the proper working of a genuine democracy is the element of trust. If it is missing you can do whatever you want and it will not work properly and so if a person is now excused because he has a high profile or has an important position and he has that important position a year from now or two years from now, but people know that man is a murderer, what faith do you have in the government? How will I know that the moment I cross him he will not do to me what he used to do in the camps? Just as I do not for one single moment trust these Generals that FW still has, apart from the few that he has fired, who have plotted murder with my name on a list and for some reason they just couldn't do it or didn't do it or whatever. That some person is still there. If I turn out to be a critic of this new government and because the same person, the same mentality never asked to admit to his deeds, never asked to repent. Maybe I'm much too emotional when I think about this because the question of amnesty has everything to do with the issue of national reconciliation. And reconciliation means also that wounds have to be healed. You cannot heal wounds with sand. So I think the ANC needs to take a very firm position. Already now, in my humble opinion, they have waited too long. I think for the movement to keep its own integrity ...

POM     Which has been it's biggest asset for the last forty years.

AB     And the thing is what has given me hope in terms of politics and in terms of fighting for a new situation here and in terms of fighting for the ANC, my belief that we as an organisation, in government, will be qualitatively different from what we have now. That's the people's belief as well. That's their hope. Once we've gotten this situation changed what we will have then will be fundamentally and totally and thoroughly and qualitatively different from what we have now. If we fail to show that difference on such an important issue as this one, I don't know how we will make a difference in other issues as well. I really think the ANC should act and the ANC should act swiftly. What kind of action the movement must take they must decide.

POM     Is there pressure from within the NEC to do something or is it just another issue that has to be dealt with?

AB     Yes. No, no. I think they're agonising on this one. I think they're really agonising with this. It's not easy. It's certainly not easy for Mr Mandela, I think. I don't know what kind of pressures are being put on him or on the NEC from anywhere else. It's very hard of course to discuss some of these issues when some of those people who know their names are on that list are sitting there and participating in the debate. But a lot rides on this and it's just one more thing that will come back to haunt us if we do not do the right thing now. And it will not help to make a deal with the government and say, OK if you cover my sores I'll cover yours, because the stink will be just anyway.

POM     In effect they're corrupting you?

AB     Yes.

POM     They've achieved the co-option they've been looking for.

AB     We cannot give the government that victory, that in the end we will become as they are. And that to me, I still find it hard to find words to express how I feel about this because in a very personal way it represents one of those boundaries that I cannot cross without doing more injury to myself than I have already done.

POM     So could you see yourself, if action taken doesn't meet your standards, your ethics of what you believe are the minimal ethical standards in this regard, could you see yourself resigning from the movement?

AB     It could become a very important issue for me. It's one of those issues where you need to know. This is a decision that you might have to take.

POM     It's been said that one of the reasons you were approached to join and become head of the ANC in the Western Cape and to become a member of the NEC was because the movement needed more Coloured faces, that it was too African, that you were a popular leader in your community and could attract Coloured members to the ANC. How does the issue of race between Coloureds, Africans and Indians play out in the ANC and do you see the Coloured community, at least in this area, becoming pro-ANC or as a lot of polls seem to suggest that in the end they will throw their hand in with the National Party because their fear of African domination is greater than the injustices they have already experienced at the hands of the white minority?

AB     Well it might be true, at least Mr Mandela, while I'm not sure that he did it for that reason, but he did approach me and we talked about my joining the ANC and I did so only after a discussion with him. And I said to him already then, if you want to draw the constituency that I represent, which is not just so-called Coloured, it's a wider Christian community across colour lines and that is manifested more and more and more and more every day even now as we sit here. You have to do a lot more than just have a face there that people recognise and even if I were made some very high bigwig in the ANC that in itself would not have been enough to convince people. A number of things should happen. My feeling at the moment is I don't care too much for these polls because they're constantly being conducted within a context that is not really real and all I know is that, yes, in the Western Cape and in some other communities, the enthusiasm for the ANC is not reaching the levels of the enthusiasm, for instance, as for United Democratic Front which the UDF enjoyed almost from the very beginning to the last moment of its existence.

     Yes it is true that I perceive that there is a rise in racism amongst the black communities, Africans towards Coloureds, Coloureds towards Africans, Indians and so forth. That is true and I think we have to deal with that. It's almost natural because I was never one to believe that apartheid and the racism that was always at its core, that drilled the machine as it were, left the black communities unaffected. And so, yes, all of a sudden all of the fears that the white people had taught us about Africans now come up, fears that were not even a point of a discussion a few years ago. That is true. Those have to do with values in our communities which it seems to me the ANC has to address but also other agencies like the churches, like the schools, like the media which are failing abysmally in this regard. There is also the question of whether the ANC succeeds in projecting itself as a non-racial organisation and in all honesty I don't think the ANC has. But it's not a problem that cannot be overcome. A lot has to do with the ANC being seen as an African organisation and a lot of my education of people which I spend a lot of time with has to do with explaining to them that that is not the case. But I mean you can do only so much explaining, the rest the organisation will have to show.

     I do not find that people move, let's say, from support from the ANC to support for the National Party. What I do find, and I suspect if an honest poll is conducted, you will probably see that this is true, that there are more and more people who are dissociating themselves from the political process as a whole. This might be happening more in the Coloured community than elsewhere and there are reasons for that I suppose. But what is happening in the so-called Coloured community is only symptomatic because people are disillusioned with the political process. Yes, Coloured people expected a lot more from the ANC. Just the other night I was listening to two tapes where I was preaching and both those occasions, the first was when Mandela was ill here and I talked about Mandela, and the second one I talked about the unbanning of the ANC. This was 1988 or so. And when I listen to those tapes I could still see that church was absolutely packed and you can hear the enthusiasm of the people. And I thought, "What has happened to that?"

     Now something has happened, something has gone wrong and it's not only the ANC, it's the political process as a whole and what is happening in our community is more symptomatic than anything else but I can foresee a time when support for both the ANC and the National Party will be less and less and less and less and the group of people in the middle who say, "I really cannot care what happens politically, I don't want to be any part of this," that that group will grow. All along you had a large number of people supporting the ANC in our community. A very small number of people who supported the National Party. But a large group of people in the middle who were indecisive. They are no long indecisive and that is the danger. I think they are no longer indecisive, not knowing where to go. They are saying, "I do not want any part of this thank you very much." I suspect that that's happening in the white community as well and in the Indian community. I don't think it's happening in the African community to that extent. I think the African community's hopes for all they have and all they should have had are still very, very much pinned to the political process and specifically to the African National Congress. God help us today if we cannot respond to that and do not have an explanation as to why.

POM     As to why Africans are abandoning the African National Congress?

AB     As to why the Africans will say, look even for us, even with the ANC we don't see anything. I don't know what will happen then. If you put disillusionment together with very little progress, socially and economically, then you have a very volatile mix.

POM     If you put the white, Indian and Coloured community already somewhat disillusioned in this corner and you put a coalition government in the other corner which cannot but disappoint the expectations of the African community, it sounds to me like you're creating a powder keg.

AB     That's what I'm saying. That's what I'm saying. That's why I said to you, five years down the road there will be no trust in the government and if people's trust in the political process is destroyed it's even worse because I don't have to believe in the ANC, for instance, or in the National Party, to believe that negotiations can work as a method of coming to a conclusion that is dignified and worthy of what we've gone through. But if I begin to lose faith in the process itself then it doesn't matter whether you have such an extremely noble figure as Mr Mandela to believe in. And nobody's even talking about what happens the day he's no longer there. That is a totally separate, scary issue. Maybe the kernel of our problem here is that we're looking towards what is happening right now and we are making deals for the short term. We're not thinking enough about the long term. We are making decisions based on the current political power play and as that play evolves the power is the keynote. How do you get these two major powers together? How do you keep them in coalition in order to neutralise the others? What is really threatening this power game? And we're not giving attention to what you called earlier the philosophical questions. And I just think it's a mistake.

POM     One can't see these huge social and economic imbalances being redressed under a coalition government which includes the National Party.

AB     And Gatsha Buthelezi.

POM     OK. How many minutes do you have? Five? OK. Just to talk about him for a moment. Does he have the capacity to be a spoiler? By that I mean, say there is an agreement reached at CODESA 3 or 4 or whatever you want to call it, and he objects to it. Does he have the capacity to conduct a low level civil war in Natal for an indefinite period that would threaten to destabilise any new democracy?

AB     In my view, no. I'm not talking about only his military capacity or his willingness to use it. That is always there. But he has been conducting a low level war for the last I don't know how many years. He could not even stop the workings of the United Democratic Front from the very beginning. He could not stop the unbanning of the ANC or the establishing of the ANC. He cannot, from Natal with a low level war locally, destabilise a new democratic government. Why he has been able to do what he has been able to do is because he has been allowed to do so. Chief Gatsha Buthelezi is a man on his own but only to a certain extent. He is totally dependent on Pretoria in many, many ways. I think he does not perceive that he no longer has the international backing that he once had, specifically from Germany, Britain and the United States. I think that that is changing, certainly in the United States it will change and I think Major in this regard is not so ideological as to follow the footsteps of his predecessor in that way. I do not think that he unreservedly has the backing of the business community in this country that he used to have. [He can only be allowed to do that.]

     But I have a theory about this and it may be total nonsense, but I have a theory that I believe the South African government, they really want him on their side for all sorts of reasons, numbers and so forth, the racial mix. They have built him up so that many people believe that he is indeed a major player, a major leader. If you look at the support that he really has, nothing suggests that he can ever be more than just a regional leader. But he's been built up into a national figure for a reason. Mr Major received him for a reason, so did Mrs Thatcher, so did Mr Kohl, so did the South African government. I think that what's happening now is that you have not only South Africa to think of, you have the region to think of. I think the South African government wants Buthelezi in and for only one reason, because they keep on saying he will spoil, he will internally destabilise and this and this and this. Why make violence and political blackmail a reason for including someone in a democratic process, to achieve a democratic outcome? Why not teach him now as we have to teach all of South Africa's people that if there is an election one of the first things to show that you're a democratic is you accept the outcome of a democratic election?

     There is a link between what is happening with Unita, what they want to make happen with Renamo and KwaZulu. The South Africans went into Angola not to make peace I believe but to give all sorts of logistical support to Unita and to force the MPLA. It doesn't matter what the outcome of the elections were, but you have to have him in here otherwise you will have civil war on your hands. That's the only reason. Not, let's teach him to respect the will of the people like Mr Bush said about the majesty of the democratic process. Not that, but if you don't give this man what he wants you will have a civil war on your hands. The same is happening with Renamo and the same is happening with KwaZulu. If you can establish a precedent in Unita and in Angola that the western world will accept although this is really not democracy, but, but, but for the sake of peace. Then you have the same pattern and the precedent that you can repeat here.

     So Gatsha Buthelezi can indeed, as the polls of the Human Sciences Research Council suggest, come out with less than 3% of the national vote and still be part of the troika for no other reason than that he can threaten to destroy the democratic process through violence. And if the ANC's motivation to form a coalition government with the NP is believed to keep at bay the violent anti-democratic forces in order to protect the fragile flower of democracy, if you apply that argument to the armed forces and to the police and to the AWB, how in the world are you not going to apply that argument to Gatsha Buthelezi or to APLA? Again, I just think the basic philosophical reasoning is wrong. The point of departure is wrong. We're not teaching our people anything. We may come to an agreement, we may strike a deal but we would not have made an advancement towards democracy.

POM     Again, just in that context and finally, what happened last night in Guguletu, does that disturb you, like there's no progress yet being made to creating any climate of tolerance?

AB     Yes, yes, I understand it. I happen to think that what's happening in the Western Cape at the moment is blown totally out of all proportion because this used to happen all the time with Labour Party election meetings in the 1970s, in the 1980s in Coloured elections and so forth. It used to happen all the time. They never made such a big thing out of it because everybody then told us, well you know this is the hurly-burly of politics, heckling and so forth. Every now and then a few chairs got broken and so forth. Every now and then the police would get called in but that's politics for you, it's elections. Now this is being used, and in the way the DP has gone on, why are you people doing this? You deplore any of that. And we made some mistakes too. We shouldn't have made all sorts of statements about the meeting on Monday night as being the biggest thing in 1993. It's rubbish. And everybody should understand that you cannot as a party, a white political party, move into our areas without getting bruised the first couple of times. People are going to take out their anger and you're not condoning it but you're saying this is the reality of politics also here, but I mean this is out of all proportion. I don't think democracy is threatened. That's over reaction. Democracy is not threatened. We haven't even learned democracy. You can't keep people out of the democratic process. I'm talking about white and black people, and then move in and all of a sudden say you've got to play according to democratic rules. The people will say, whose rules? Where are you coming from? You've got to deal with me first, with my anger before you can talk to me. I'm seeing this over and over and over again and you don't write people off because of that. It's going to happen and we haven't even had an election yet. It's going to happen and you can't call in the UN every single time the DP cannot have a political meeting or that the ANC is chased out of an AZAPO stronghold somewhere. You can't have that. You can, of course, constantly talk about political intolerance and I was very clear, I think ANC members who participate in that kind of thing ought to be disciplined by their branches and by the region if they have their names. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to do that and we need to do it swiftly.

POM     The thrust I get from what you say is that even if there was a considerable level of violence continuing to exist tomorrow and intimidation, you could take it for granted that an election should go ahead anyway, that it should be held even in the face of obstacles like this.

AB     Well of course that depends on the level of violence. I'm not saying elections at any cost, but I'm desperately afraid of creating a situation where a few violent people, because they cannot find satisfaction for themselves in what they're doing or because they don't have their way or because they are afraid of the outcome or because they are intolerant, that a few violent people therefore can hold a whole country to ransom and deprive the majority of their right to have a democratic election, because if we do that we might as well stop negotiating and say we'll never have a change until we really root out the violence and those people who are in power who can root out the violence are not interested to do so. But I do not believe we ought to be blackmailed into halting the democratic process simply because of the presence of anti-democratic forces. I mean England, or Britain, does not stop the democratic process because the IRA plants bombs every second day, and I think we ought to be clear. This is exactly what we have against Helmut Kohl. You are putting everything on hold, you are sitting and folding your hands, wailing about the violence whilst these Nazis go around and kill people and you're not doing anything about it. You cannot stop what is good in the development of the country because there are a few people who can make political gain out of not allowing it to happen. What you have to do is you've got to identify them and you've got to say and you've got to do things about this. A government that cannot stop the violence at that level maybe cannot set an example for people in the townships.

POM     OK, thank you very much. It was well worth the wait.

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.