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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Jan 1993: Mabandla, Brigitte
POM Let me start with something that's very recent and then work my way backwards because I'm having trouble understanding what went on. This refers to the document, The Strategic Perspectives, that was adopted by the National Working Group on the 18th November which says that power sharing, not just on an interim basis but perhaps for a more protracted period, may be necessary and that to bring this about it may be necessary to have sunset clauses written into the constitution in order to provide the stability and an alliance between the ANC and the National Party is the way forward. The question I used to ask everybody over the last couple of years was whether this was a process about the transfer of power or about the sharing of power and everybody on the government side would say it was about the sharing of power and everybody on the national liberation side would say it was about the transfer of power. In your view, what is the process about and how does this strategic document relate to your understanding of what's happening?
BM I think it's better that you ask me to actually give you my view, my understanding of the issues, because I am sure we don't all understand it in the same way.
POM That's exactly what I'm looking for.
BM I think what I understand by transfer of power, or how I understood it especially in the past three years, was that people say, "Let people govern", the usual democracy. Let the majority rule in the sense of let them articulate what the future of this country is in that sense. That's how I understood it. Power sharing as viewed by ourselves therefore, that's my understanding, was actually meaning that having determined legitimacy through the process of elections, let all parties, all interested parties, all parties in the country be represented in principle and that's how I understood it. Whereas I understand the government to mean by power sharing that it doesn't relinquish power and that it co-opts. So I think it's a question of understanding the concept and I think even in my understanding of the transfer of power as we articulated it during the last three years that we were in the country was one that doesn't exclude minority views, even group views, but actually draws its legitimacy from the larger, the winning groups, the democratically elected, whereas perhaps I would distinguish that from the understanding of the uncertainty in how we understood seizure of power, transfer or seizure, I would make a distinction. At that point it was that we do not necessarily owe anyone. If you win you determine the whole future of the country. I don't know whether one is still saying it that way here.
The strategic document, perhaps I can give a content to that document. The issue of how to govern the transition and post-transition has been one that has been discussed within the ANC in the past three years. It is true that the idea got prominence when it was articulated by Slovo in the papers but it is an issue that has been discussed in the country and I think there is a realism, partly, that we need to make this quite public now that our people should not have false hopes and should understand that in order to have a just dispensation, in order to address the fears of the whites, especially because if you recognise the build up, the hysteria that has been built up in the last three years after the unbanning of the ANC about a lot of other things, you know through the media that it was necessary for the public, the potential ANC members and the actual ANC members at all levels at grassroots level in particular to begin to discuss this issue as an issue. That's how I understand the way in which it was brought to the fore but at the beginning of the negotiations itself the ANC did indicate in its writings that it is considering sunset clauses. I think the other reason why it was highlighted now was to address the eminent fears even of the government because there was a moving ahead with what we regard as a potentially disastrous formula for a constitution by entrenching power sharing, using all sorts of methods and we really had to come out and make this public for them and also for our people to accept. This is how I understand the process.
POM Do you see now the ANC negotiators are authorised to negotiate with the government an arrangement in which the National Party and the ANC would be the primary sharers of power with the ANC by far the senior partner for a period that would cover not just the transition but might cover for five or six or ten years thereafter depending upon what kinds of sunset clauses are written into the constitution?
BM I think we will have to come back to our constituencies and evaluate the discussions, the outcome of the discussions on power sharing and, of course, I think that we really believe in accountability and therefore I expect the ANC to have some kind of conferences to get a mandate from the people. But may I just say something about the question of power sharing? I do not know whether we have put a time frame to the sunset clauses. We haven't yet. I think it is the principle that we have taken to the grassroots, the principle of power sharing and I am not sure whether we are saying between the ANC and the government. I think we are saying that we still feel legitimation of government will only come from an outcome, will only be determined by elections. So it's not a question of ANC and National Party. I think at a strategic level people are very sober about possibilities whilst we recognise that we are still very strong in the country but we are not taking for granted the constituency that we have. I must say that we are very serious and we really want peace and we realise that unless we recognise the need for sunset clauses to alleviate but we need to strike a balance, allay fears and share power doesn't necessarily mean that we leave the status quo as it is because it will be a disaster for our country. There is a balance that needs to be struck there and I think that will come out during multi-lateral negotiations.
POM When I was here during this summer, a lot of people said to me that had the government accepted the ANC's offer of 70% as a veto threshold for the inclusion of items in the constitution that it might have had a very difficult time selling that to the grassroots, that the grassroots felt excluded from the discussions at CODESA, didn't know what was going on and suddenly these deals were being struck. Did you get that feeling at that time?
BM My fears were different. I was convinced at the time that the government was not negotiating in good faith and that in actual fact it was attempting to entrench certain unacceptable supposed constitutional principles at the level of CODESA and that is why it sought high percentages for change. So for a different reason I was happy that we actually had a breakdown because now I feel that we have made our offer public of sunset clauses so that perhaps we will have a more serious and we will have a different approach to the question of identifying principles at the level of CODESA. I think now there is almost consensus in the country if one looks at the press and institutions that there should be elections whereas at that particular point government was still unclear as to whether it is going to prepare itself for elections and whether it is going for elections. So that for government the proposed constitution-making body would just have been another step entrenching unworkable solutions.
POM So when you look at government, what evolution in government strategy do you see as having taken place since 1990?
BM I have very serious difficulty reading the government. I am not in bilaterals but I happen to have been part of CODESA and working groups there. I think that the government was not ready definitely for CODESA 2 and I come to this conclusion because of the pre-CODESA 2 meeting between itself, Bophuthatswana, KwaZulu and what today is the breakaway from the Conservative Party when it said CODESA was moving too fast. And I think they were still entertaining very seriously the issue of entrenched power sharing mechanisms in the constitution. I'm not certain whether they have actually departed from that and I think that they are still using the Bantustans, especially the three that I have mentioned, to ensure that they get certain concessions on the regional debate. I think they see the Bantustans as temporary allies. I actually think that we need to investigate where power rests at the level of the Bantustans because there's been a lot of restructuring going on in the country at local levels and perhaps at regional level.
In my view, the Bantustans are seen as forming - that it is easy to do away with Gqozo, for example. They can always call on us to say that when you have already had agreements on regions and stuff like that. So I'm not sure how much they have abandoned their strategy of ensuring power sharing and control at regional levels, in other words, of entrenching privilege, of holding on to privilege. I'm not certain. But I believe that there is change of thinking. Within the ANC there is always adjustment to new situations that that should happen to them as well and to that extent I think that they are also faced with a very serious ... Whilst they probably haven't abandoned the notion, they probably have abandoned their strategies of holding on to power and perhaps there is a voice of reason that maybe it's time that we actually transformed ourselves, the Nationalists, from the old to the new. I think that process should be taking on ... I'm sure I'm not answering your questions.
POM You are, you're doing fine. This is spread over several years so you'll have lots of opportunities to go back and forth on them. Do you think that the ANC needs a strong De Klerk to negotiate with? I put that in the context of here's a man who in last March was riding the crest after his victory in the referendum and since then it's been like a slow downhill, resignations from the government, Boipatong, the tarnishing of his international image and the firing of senior military officers, scandals in his government, a lot of grumbling within the National Party itself over the course of action he's pursuing. Would it present real difficulties if he had to disappear as head of the National Party and somebody else came in or does the ANC need him, saying we have got to keep him reasonably strong so that he can deliver the goods, that if we negotiate with him and strike a deal, that he is strong enough in his constituency to take that constituency with him?
BM You know ideally I would say, yes, we need a strong De Klerk, but that statement is full of traps. What has happened in the past, at the expense of reality and a clearer perspective of our history, in an attempt to build De Klerk, both international press and local press have actually crisis-managed for De Klerk. That's my view. And I think the world is filled with the obsession of trying to build De Klerk and to see him as a strong partner in the negotiation process. But what it does to us is that it - you see the point is that it is a question of power and in the process the ANC has been weakened. It's just cause has been undermined. It's just cause. Not that the ANC is a good organisation, I'm talking about the cause. What happened afterwards, when De Klerk actually took for granted, we supported him, that's why I say ideally we wanted that kind of situation. Ideally we would like to see De Klerk, the whites following De Klerk, so that we minimise splinter parties, etc., and hopefully the ANC will carry the bulk.
This was the strategy of our organisation but because it's a question of power I believe that the government abused that space that was created for it. Mandela created the space at the moment of his release. That statement, I think, was a deliberate statement that he is a man of integrity, OK? That the statement that he made on his release that De Klerk is a man of integrity I think was a deliberate strategic utterance. He was delivering De Klerk to the people of South Africa. You understand? You think I'm negotiating with a man worthy of negotiating with, but because it is a question of power we are involved in a power struggle. De Klerk abused that very thing and rode on and when they had the elections that they had, the referendum, again we supported but he rode on to that again and attempted to undermine the ANC. What I'm trying to say is we mustn't be naive by thinking, yes ideally we would want to see him strong but I don't think that he feels ideally we should be strong. I think we must understand that. In other words, all that is happening now if one looks very carefully at the build up, even the violence, even the mud slinging and all sorts of things that are happening in the country, eventually, deliberately to weaken the ANC and it is because it is a power struggle. They are not thinking that they need a strong ANC, they actually don't need a strong ANC to negotiate with. So it's a question of whether they still want to cling to power. I think when we talk about these issues, the balance of forces in negotiations is really critical. That is the struggle.
POM I have seen now, in fact in yesterday's Argus or Cape Times, their reference to a study by some man from California I think his name is Reynolds, where he projected that the ANC could in a multi-party election lose the election. Might get 46% of the vote, look at different turnout rates, he made certain assumptions none of which were wildly unreasonable assumptions. If an election took place and it was a fair election and the ANC lost it, what would that mean?
BM It was a thing that was discussed long ago when the Constitutional Committee sat. The members of the Constitutional Committee were told that when we are thinking of a constitution for South Africa we mustn't think of a constitution for the ANC, we must think of a constitution that will work for us even when we are in opposition. The very idea has been actually discussed at that level and I think the ANC would be prepared to take the loss, that is formally. I'm not talking about people on the ground. May I just comment on what that man has observed? And indeed it makes a mockery of the question of whether we want a strong De Klerk because when we make De Klerk strong we lose something from us and that's what we have seen. That's my view.
Practically what it means is that you underplay us, make it practical. Standards are exposed of the Nationalist Party, the press manages this crisis and underplays that. Standards are exposed of the ANC, the press makes maximum use of it because they are equalising, they use their judgement and where they are situated to make the equalising. The biases are great and class is always reflected because there is nothing - I don't believe that the press is very free in our country. It depends which one you look at. So I think that the playing fields are not level and that in actual fact that prediction in the paper is quite convincing if one understands the sort of institution, that it is possible for the ANC to lose the election and it's something that the ANC needs to look at and already many constituencies which were ANC constituencies have been so affected by violence and that of course was to be expected that they feel despondent on the face of it, that the ANC itself cannot move into certain areas in order to organise them and keep the morale of people alive. I think that the probability does exist that the ANC might lose the elections and that I think the ANC is willing to accept it.
POM Wouldn't this cause catastrophic problems on the ground with the masses?
BM What it will do is that the masses will lose confidence in the ANC. I don't know if we will be bold enough to be part of that government, from the ANC. The ANC will die a natural death and I think without the ANC the policies of this country will be so rotten that this country will remain unstable for a very long time to come. That's my worst case scenario.
POM You don't see the PAC being able to move in and saying, "I told you so"?
BM I'm coming to that. The PAC might emerge, the concept of a non-racist or non-racial society or both will be lost because, like I say, the policies in my view will be so rotten and, of course, you know we are operating in a very racist, either generally the wealth, it's conservative in this area, and inevitably the policies here will be very conservative in this country and the natural reaction of people would be to close ranks, to begin to see that the question of colour matters. So that's my worst scenario view of what is likely to happen. Not because the ANC has lost but if the current momentum at discrediting what the ANC stands for, if the ANC is not only eroded as a force at elections but if ideas are eroded, because they will have to be eroded at the polls, they cannot be borrowed by the DP. The DP cannot be non-racial or non-racist. In my view also the DP is as conservative as what you regard as conservative. They might have been progressive here in the country but according to general, normal standards they should be viewed as conservative. I can't see that them, the policies that the ANC is trying to, taking over the platform and actually implementing them, and the Nationalist Party is being shooed out in democratic ... and it cannot transform overnight. So without the ANC obviously there would be a closing of ranks and at grassroots level we could just shut up. There might emerge pockets of resistance, not from the ANC, from the people generally, with time, but also that's the worst case scenario.
POM Where would you place the PAC in relationship to this? Essentially their line for a number of years has been the ANC is involved in a sell-out and we are here sitting on the sidelines and when people see the ANC have sold out we will be the beneficiary.
BM The ideals of the PAC might be strengthened. I'm not sure about PAC as an organisation, but I've given you a worst case scenario. If the ANC loses the ANC has the potential, if it is not crushed and its ideals are not crushed, to offer very good opposition. That is if its ideas are not crushed it can offer very constructive opposition at that level, at government level.
POM Do you think there's any kind of complacency within the ANC itself. It's so often talked about as being the government-in-waiting that there's an assumption that, "We will win the next election".
BM That image is in the papers, the ANC, if anything they are such good political analysts and realists, they are not doing that at that level, absolutely not. I think that's why to a degree its policies were sustained. There's no self-aggrandisement or cult building in that sense. I think all that Mandela wants to do is deliver South Africa. He is not obsessed. I know of people who are so, for them it's a duty, a task, that's how people see it. I haven't come across anybody who actually sees themselves as minister-in-waiting. I don't think people particularly cherish those ideas, but the culture in the organisation, I don't get that impression so I don't think there's complacency. But I think it is so difficult for people to operate at ground level. When we wanted to build grassroots most of the people killed were ANC members at local levels in leadership positions. So you can imagine how difficult it is and that is why sometimes it has appeared like there are ... because on the ground those who were fuelling the violence were those who were supposed to keep those people talking, make them riot so much while other processes are taking place. So of course this creates despondency whilst this is recognised as a destabilising strategy. But many people soberly fear for South Africa, not for themselves but for the ANC.
POM Can I talk a little bit about the commission of which you were a member, which conducted an investigation into the abuses that took place in the ANC camps and then that was supplemented by hard hitting reports by Amnesty International. Do you think that the people who were involved in what might be called torture, or very serious civil rights abuses, must be named and that the ANC must take severe disciplinary action against these members even if some of them occupy fairly high places or else it's image, what it stood for as an organisation, would be so tarnished that it would be reducing itself almost to the same level as the National Party, saying it was acts committed in time of war?
BM It's actually viewed lower than the Nationalist Party now, the ANC, in terms of media coverage. Can I just say something? You know, Patrick, for the sake of the people I think the commission was good, not for name building. I don't think the ANC is going to win the propaganda of this thing, frankly. I think the commission, it is regrettable that other commissions were actually held, that's what we found and even if it's ad hoc report backs that national level in exile, except that it was a close thing. It's unfortunate that for the ANC's sake it didn't do this thing. For it's own good. And if really in the end it appears like it is responding to pressure, and pressures could have contributed, but it's unfortunate. It's unfortunate because in ideals ANC always aspired, in ideals, honesty, because I was in the Legal Department, I was in charge of a number of issues and I took on some responsibility and tried to expose whatever level the violence that occurred within family or abuse of children and stuff like that, because we really tried and for a liberation movement that was unique.
But it's a pity that this thing came so late after so much pain and also came out at this particular time in history. It's unfortunate that I haven't seen the Amnesty Report and I don't know what the wideness of its ambit is but our commission was actually - the real thing that in my understanding of how it was set up was the complaints that were lodged by the 32. That was what actually galvanised the setting up of that commission. And therefore our terms of reference were actually responding to the issues, according to the issues that raised at this particular time.
All I think I have said so far is to say that I just pray and hope that the commission was not for the power game, cleansing ourselves. I didn't get that impression. We as commissioners didn't get that impression. I think it brought out enough for the ANC to actually address within the constraints of the terms of reference, enough for the ANC to take the process forward, punishing and ...
Can I tell you a little story? Once I went to a jazz club in Jo'burg during the course of the commission, right at the time when we were sitting, but I was in Jo'burg at that time, I was with some members of the NEC, former members, just informally, and one young fellow came and said to me after I was introduced, "So you are Brigitte Melinda. You are on this Commission of Enquiry. You know I was in ... and this is what we did. My brothers died here and they disappeared." He meant that he was a loose force of the ANC and he was prepared to be punished by the ANC, but who are we to hear about that whilst the government has not accounted for the people who have disappeared and who were killed? Fortunately, as you said, this is an ANC Commission, that has nothing to do with it. And I can say that this young man was just a bit too happy, you know what I mean? But what it told me - I was never asked by anybody in the ANC, nobody harassed me, I never felt uncomfortable at all. That was the only incident and even that boy came to apologise afterwards. Apologised on the spot but subsequently apologised and I didn't even recognise him when he did so.
But the truth of the matter is that this country needs a Truth Commission if we truly believe in human rights. I think there was truth in what that young man said. We need full disclosure. I think this was the recommendation of the commission finally that we need a broader investigation. We need to go into details when there is no propaganda, the shed of propaganda, of gaining points. We need a real Commission of Enquiry in this country and I just pray that the Indemnity Act that is suggested doesn't hamper the future government or hamper a fuller enquiry. I just wish this for the sake of upholding decent standards in our country. I think for me that's what it is. The question of whether the ANC in order to cleanse itself, whether it wouldn't be seen in a bad light, to me it's a non-issue, but I think that the truth must come out about the whole of South Africa and I think we need a fuller enquiry. Not now, not Goldstone. Goldstone may be later under different circumstances.
POM Do you think it should be set up under an interim government when it's established?
BM I don't know whether that would be the right time to do that kind of thing, but I think we need a Truth Commission in our country. You see the whole idea of saying the ANC must, it's the fear that some of those people will get government posts. If I recall the lists of names, those are very young and insignificant people unless you put responsibility on senior members of the ANC. In which case again if you look at them very closely, if you look very closely also at the members, even the senior members of the ANC, I don't think those people are standing for that. But, yes, there is a need for discipline and the actions of the ANC - I don't think it resolves the question of people with dirty hands in a future South Africa. So we need a larger enquiry and I am sure the government is not going to be so clever on that because within the government those who want to run for these things are people with very soiled hands.
POM Two last questions. One is, the role of women in this whole transition?
BM Poor. Bad.
POM Are you going to have a classical sexist set-up where 90% of the positions of authority will be occupied by males and 10% by females, or where the struggle of women for equality is not treated seriously by men? I remember at the conference at Mount Etjo last year there were nine countries from southern Africa participating and when it came to women's rights and things like that the males basically treated the whole thing as a joke.
BM Yes. Can I just say that it's the truth about South Africa? In this struggle for power, wrestling for power, it's all male. The majority in the commissions whether it's the Peace Committees, whatever, it's men, CODESA, men, as they deal with what they regard as "hard stuff", as they converge to a Constituent Assembly it will be the men. Yes, we are going to have a classical male situation. I think the most troubling thing though, I feel it's the mouthing of democracy, of involvement of women. I actually feel that we are being heavily patronised even by De Klerk, for example, and the DP. For me those are the worst culprits because I don't think women have the kind of impact that we have in the ANC. In the ANC we do have an impact but it's tough I must say and we have been tested over time and we put conditions. The ANC conference almost broke down. The fact that the ANC's male chauvinism is talked about so much is because we have the latitude to actually expose those things. After the conference we went to the press, we raised the issues, we spoke openly.
We don't know what happens in the DP's closet. Women are scared to ask what happens in the Nationalist Party. We are going to have a rotten situation. But I think we are working very hard as women and I think there are rewards and I think that when we first conceptualised a women's coalition ourselves, the ANC women, before we came in and sold the idea for the Charter, we have helped bring women together, and that as one voice we could talk. We even made historic interventions at CODESA. Although we don't want to be advisers, we want to participate, we did have a group called the Advisory Committee on Gender. In the beginning it was treated badly, it was not given priority, it's decisions were not even read at CODESA 2, they were only noted, they could say that there are technical problems and there are technical reasons why that was the case but I think it is all the old schooling.
So I can just say that we are dealing with that issue, we have made gains, we see great challenges ahead. I think the coalition by its nature is a weak structure because it's a coalition of women across the political divide, that as cracks are seen, we are going to paper over the cracks in our society. As we move further to power, tensions might mount and, of course, there are other happenings like government, the Nationalist Party, worrying about this issue because as wide as the Nationalist Party women got educated, they raised the issues with them and that's why De Klerk patronised us and took the decision as if it's solved everything, to ratify United Nations Convention. And we don't want De Klerk to do it for us. We want to set machinery for implementation if we want those ratified. So it's a whole set of issues. We can talk some other time on that.
POM Very last question. Buthelezi. Has he got the capacity to be a spoiler? That is that if he is not accommodated in some way that he has the capacity to continue a low level intensity civil war in Natal indefinitely and be a destabilising force for an emerging new democracy?
BM I think the lobby for Buthelezi, he tries to convince the world that there are very strong possibilities. And I think that the lobby, I think it's all a huge strategy and I don't agree to that angle. But I think I do agree to the angle, I look at it differently, that the government at the moment is trying to use these forces but I think they are playing with fire because they have awakened ethnicity and they are not going to be able to tame and control it and in the manner in which they have awakened it they have restored it to certain individuals and hope that they can be able to - I think that's dangerous. They are not going to be able to control that kind of thing. Yes, he is a potential danger. Not Buthelezi, the ethnic lobby generally is a conservative lobby generally and in the manner in which it is presented it might create difficulties for us in the future. Not Buthelezi, the lobby and the manner in which it is helped through the press and writings and all sorts of things.
POM When you say the lobby you mean?
BM Something we need to have time to talk about because this is my own concept of understanding what is happening in the country. I want to remove faces of people and look at issues and when I look at issues I realise that there are conservative strategies that are employed and one of them is the ethnic lobby and that there are certain instruments that are used in the lobby in order to gain certain advantages when negotiating regional powers and regionalism, but that's dangerous.
POM If you waken ethnicity and you can't put it back into the bottle again?
BM You can't. In that sense not Buthelezi, but the lobby itself, it's awakening. In other words you keep reminding, it's social engineering. You are actually saying that they have stakes as a plural society, these plural groupings have a stake in this society in this format and you have to deliver. And it might be goodbye to a non-racial society.
POM OK. I'll leave you, let you go. I'll send you on in time a transcript and speak to you when I come back. Thanks.