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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
14 Jan 1993: De Beer, Sam
POM Mr. De Beer, you were just talking about the new portfolio that you have just assumed for national housing and you said that under that brief, the question of hostels comes up. We have spent quite a bit of time in the hostels in Thokoza. I have found that they are very much up in arms against what they see as unilateral agreements between the government and the ANC regarding what should be done with the hostels, and more up in arms about the question of hostels being closed and then being used as some form of community housing. In the Record of Understanding there is an agreement that the hostels would be fenced in and they are angry about that, saying they were being treated like animals and they were not consulted. How is that whole situation playing?
SDB Yes you are right, there is a perception amongst many of our hostel dwellers that we are dealing with unilateral decisions between the government of the NP and the ANC. That perception of course, is not correct. My predecessor, Mr. Leon Wessels and the government have all along said that we will not address this issue without full consultation of all parties concerned. In other words we are not only talking about the ANC in this particular case, we are also talking about the hostel dwellers, but then furthermore, we are also referring to the community in which these hostels are situated. This has all along been a very strong point of view with the government, that as far as possible full consultation must take place and as a matter of fact that is one of the bedevilling factors which is actually slowing down the whole process of, on the one hand, erecting fences, and on the other hand, upgrading the hostels, because I know that is another complaint with the dwellers, that we are concentrating on the fence and not on the upgrading of the hostels. That perception is not correct, we are doing our utmost to consult as widely as possible in this regard.
POM Did you think the ANC is sensitive enough to the concerns of the hostel dwellers, that it understands the way hostel dwellers feel about themselves, that the hostels are not their homes, that their homes are in Natal mostly and that for the most part, they are quite happy to live in hostels if they can go home every so often and visit their wives, cattle and children? They don't think in terms of it being a community because they have a home already?
SDB It is very difficult for me to talk on behalf of the ANC, we would certainly in our discussions with the ANC bring up this kind of perspective. I was a member of the National Executive of the Peace Committee where the ANC and the IFP and the NP and myself are of course, on an ongoing basis, (as a matter of fact after we finish this meeting I am going to a Peace Committee meeting), where we are in constant dialogue about this problem. Near the end of November we had a sort of a getaway when we were reaching some sort of a cul-de-sac in the peace process. The concerned parties went away with gung-ho on a getaway in the Eastern Transvaal near Pilgrims Rest, where we could really have a brainstorming session. Opportunities like this present themselves with the opportunity to make this kind of input in trying to bring about a better perspective. All of us have a tendency to see something only from our point of view.
SDB So, I think at this stage yes, I think the ANC people realise that this is a very sensitive issue. They of course, don't have the same opinion about this as the Inkatha people. In many ways they see the hostel dwellers as intruders in the community and I think this is where part of the problem lies.
POM The ANC sees the hostel dwellers as intruders in the community?
POM The IFP would not, of course, see it this way?
SDB The IFP would take the angle that you used in putting the question to me, much more sympathetically.
POM To turn to events of the last year, which have been very tumultuous since we last talked about January. We had the referendum in March, which resulted in a victory for Mr. De Klerk, you had the deadlock at CODESA, you had Boipatong, the collapse of CODESA, the period of confrontation with the stayaway in August followed by a lack of communication between the ANC and the government, lasting into September until Mr. De Klerk and Mr. Mandela got together and came forward with a Record of Understanding which seemed to resolve most of the outstanding issues between them. Then, in November the ANC issued this document 'A Strategic Perspective'. Have you seen it?
SDB I haven't made a study of it, no.
POM In essence it says it accepts the concept of power-sharing, just to quote from it, it says, "We have won the demand for an interim government of national unity. However, we also need to accept the fact that even after the adoption of the new constitution, the balance of forces in the interest of the country as a whole, may still require us to consider the establishment of a government of unity, provided that it does not delay or obstruct the process of orderly transition to majority rule, that the parties that have lost the elections will not be able to paralyse the functioning of government."
It is based on the assumption that the new democratic government would need to adopt a wide range of measures in order to minimise the potential threat to the new democracy. However some of these measures may have to be part and parcel of a negotiated settlement. Strategic forces that would need to be considered right now are the SADF, SAP, all other armed formations and the civil service in general. If the transition to democracy affects the interests of individuals in these institutions, wholly and purely negatively then they would serve as fertile ground from which to destabilise the situation. It makes the argument that even if the ANC won an election, that's a different thing from having control of the apparatus of the state. In a funny way they are trying to co-opt the NP to say we would form for X number of years, under a new constitution a government of national unity, we would have sunset clauses in the constitution. We talked to Joe Slovo, who is the intellectual owner of this piece. Does the government see the ANC as accepting the principle of power sharing beyond that of an interim government?
SDB Once again I wouldn't like to speak on behalf of the ANC, however, and I am now giving my interpretation of this. I was part of the NP team which attended the so-called bosperaad with the ANC near the end of November. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, although there are, of course, so many differences, to find on how many issues a shift of theme has come about in the ANC thinking. I don't know if you have seen their document on the regionalism, which although they won't say it in public, is to a certain extent (as I interpret it), certainly an acceptance of a federal sort of concept, which we all along have felt very strongly about. I certainly got the impression that where one earlier thought that the ANC was talking about a power take-over, they are certainly willing to settle for a lesser form, whether they would acknowledge that that is a concept of power-sharing I don't know, I certainly see it that way. This has all along been our policy, that we are against all forms of power domination, not only white domination but also black domination, and we want to see a form of a democratic society in which power sharing would be the prominent element.
If I have to give you an overall opinion on what my perception was of our talks at that venue, I certainly got the feeling that, especially when one listened to Joe Slovo on the sunset clauses, that he certainly propagated, initially in any case, a form of power sharing, although they are saying that they don't want to see the concept of power sharing written into a constitution, and there I think we differ. We want to perpetuate power sharing by writing into the constitution and I think this is one aspect which we will still have to give a lot of discussion to.
POM Would you see power sharing from your point of view being written into the constitution as something that would be permanently there, something that would have tied in with it sunset clauses?
SDB I don't like the terminology of a sunset clause because that reminds me of the old Rhodesia, and I think that is how I interpreted what Joe Slovo was saying. He was saying for a certain period you guarantee a certain group a position. I don't like that. I would rather prefer to see the future constitutional process developing in the direction which would perpetuate democracy in the sense that we understand it, in other words the population would have the opportunity to not only have one election but to have elections on a frequent basis, and that certainly I would see as a prerequisite, as a very important bottom line for the new constitutional dispensation.
POM You would see the ANC as having made a significant policy shift?
SDB No doubt about it.
POM I would like you to speculate on how the people who are involved in the overall process have a particular aspect of it. When we left here last year at the beginning of September, there was this great confrontational attitude on the part of the ANC, they had all the talks on the form of the Leipzig model, the Chap model and mass mobilisation and the two going hand in hand. Then they turn around and they issue a document like this and it seems contrary to the rhetoric and actions of the previous month. What do you think accounted for the shift in their policy?
SDB If I may put in a popular way, all along we have been under the impression that we have doves and the hawks amongst the ANC. One must always remember that the ANC is in an alliance, consisting of COSATU, of SACP. I can assure you that in my doings since May last year, when I became really involved in the doings of the Peace Committee, I have come very strongly under the impression of the divergent opinions within the ANC alliance. They are not a unitary party in that sense of the word and I think to that extent Mr. Mandela has had a very difficult job in leading this group of people, and from time to time it was my impression that, certainly up to the Ciskei Bisho incident, one certainly had the impression that the hawks were fairly well in control of the top structures of the party while when at the stage when we met to have the think tank between us and the ANC and the group of people that I met for the three days in the bush, it was my impression that these people were certainly looking for closer association with the NP and as a matter of fact, it was my impression that they felt that we are the two parties who can decide the future and that we must try and find each other. They were very careful in not disregarding the other groups knowing the pitfalls in this but they certainly see us and them as the main parties in finding the solution.
POM Their paper said "the objective reality imposes the central role of the ANC and the NP in the transition".
SDB That's right yes. In public they are not saying that Inkatha is not important, but they are saying we are more important, if you understand what I mean. You asked me how I perceive this change in opinion. I certainly believe that at the moment the group of people who would be more inclined to finding solutions through negotiations certainly is at the moment the stronger element, that is the impression that I have.
POM Who would you identify as being the moderate elements who want to get on with the negotiating process and get a settlement, and those who would be more hard-line?
SDB It's always difficult when it comes to persons, I am always very careful when people start referring to people's personal opinions. I am perhaps one of the soft politicians, who try to somehow play it peacefully.
POM This would be off the record.
SDB If you ask me off the record, my opinion is certainly a person like Thabo Mbeki, he is a person who I would see as a dove. I think that Jacob Zuma, now I see his name is being mentioned in connection with the Quito Camp and so on, I was surprised to see that because the impression that I have of him is that he is a very pleasant and approachable person. This might surprise you but my impression at the moment of Joe Slovo is that, I don't know whether this is some hidden agenda, but he certainly at the moment is encouraging and more moderated in his approach to matters. Even a person, I am now talking about three, four days of personal observation as I can't say I have known them for too long, but a person like Joe Modise whose name has also been mentioned, I find very approachable. Even the role which Cyril Ramaphosa played during those days was a very positive one. Those are the few quick thoughts of moderate thinking people. Even with me on the Peace Committee, and I have gotten to know them quite well, a person like Sydney Mufamadi, who is actually, I believe, a member of the SACP, Sydney and I get along very well. Aziz Pahad is another person, this is not a Communist, I find him a very approachable person, a person who I would see as a moderate thinker.
POM Who have you seen as the most hawkish?
SDB I think when we get to people like Chris Hani, he wasn't present. As a matter of fact it was obvious that the more hawkish people were not present, Chris Hani was not present, then our friend Ronnie Kasrils was not present, I believe that his image did get a bit dented in that.
POM Did Bisho have an impact on the balance of forces within the ANC?
SDB In my impression, yes.
POM What in the country at large, was the general opinion?
SDB I think the general opinion, the media, the Peace Committee people were very closely involved in this, we are seen to be apolitical; I remember the emergency meeting which we had after this incident occurred, and certainly the ANC came out very badly. By that I am not condoning Gqozo in any way, but I am replying to your question. The ANC came away from Bisho with a very damaged image, that was my impression. I think it was certainly a contributing factor to this situation which we are now experiencing.
POM Do you think the NPA is working? If one looks at the first year of its existence and looks at the level of violence in SA in 1982, the violence reached record heights. I am not saying that the NPA is not working.
SDB That is a hypothetical question in a sense, because we don't know what the situation would have been like if the PC was not there, and my impressions, and I was not a founder member and so to a certain extent I came into the process at a later stage; my opinion is that the PC has played a major role in keeping the processes going. You were referring to stages last year in August and September, where for all practical reasons, dialogue came to a standstill, while in the PCs we were talking to each other. So the PC certainly played a very important role, the PC played an important international role. If you take the consequences and the report of Cyrus Vance after his visit here, the PC's involvement in getting UN observers involved in the peace keeping process, I believe that - you asked the question whether it is working, I don't think that is a fair question. I think that the PC has made a major contribution in establishing some credibility, also internationally and this is a very important aspect for the future of this country, of a group of people who are really trying to bring about peace and who are really committed to bringing about peace in this country.
PAT Why do you think there seems to be a reluctance on the part of the Council of Churches to participate in the PC activities on the ground?
SDB I believe we will this evening in our meeting also address the functions of the PA as such. You and I can go and sit down and tear the UN functioning apart, and indicate all the weaknesses that they have. I think there is a perception among many people in this country that the peace structures are not functioning well. That is true and we should address that. There is a willingness amongst all the people involved in the PC to address those issues. If we can improve it by all means we will, it is such an important issue. So if I have to answer that, once again I can't talk on their behalf, but I think most probably they would feel that it is not really functioning effectively. But one does not improve the effectiveness of a body or organisation by withdrawing from it, that would be my argument. One can only improve by getting more involved and by making a positive contribution to improve it. I believe that the PC has a very important role to play in this country because it has created a credibility and with the involvement of people like Justice Goldstone and others, we have also created a picture of objectivity and people who are sincerely involved in bringing about peace. So, yes I think it is playing a very important role.
POM I want to go back to the strategy, to the referendum, after which Mr. De Klerk seemed to be a role model, for two years he seemed to have that golden touch, it didn't matter what political risk he took, he would been seen as the initiator of the process. Internationally he received a lot of acclaim, yet since March, from the outside, the perception is that it has been a slow slide down, that he lost the initiative, that he didn't make good political moves and as a result, both the NP and the government are in a weaker bargaining position than they would have been last March, for example, and many people said he could have done anything, he could have struck any deal quickly. First of all, tell me whether you agree or disagree with that perception.
SDB Once again it is a perception, and I am not altogether certain whether that was a realistic expectation. People who have been working very closely with President de Klerk, some of them, very closely related to him otherwise, always knew that the honeymoon period cannot go on forever, so if you refer to what happened in March last year, I wasn't surprised. I believe that this had to come. The point is that the jump which he took from the old dispensation to the new one was so grotesque that it couldn't have been other than a honeymoon period. But when we crossed that stage and we had to get down to the very delicate final issues of moving towards consensus, the issues became much more difficult and one really had to expect that this was going to happen.
So if you ask me that question, I believe that this was inevitable, it had to happen at some time, because I believe in moving towards that acceptable solution to most of the parties concerned, it is going to be an uphill road, it is not going to get easier, it is going to get more difficult and as that is happening and people become uncertain about their future one has to accept that a person like Mr. De Klerk would also become more difficult. I mean I could use exactly the same argument as far as Mr. Mandela is concerned. When he came out of jail more than two years ago, there were people who thought this is the Messiah, as a matter of fact, I think Jesse Jackson referred to him as such, a lot of people are beginning to see him now as an ordinary human being. What I am saying is that a lot of the Utopia and expectations are going to dwindle as we move to the nitty gritty issues where hard bargaining is going to take place and where people are going to begin to realise that heaven is not going to dawn upon earth as some of us expected. So as expectations are going to be lowered, people are going to become more disillusioned and disappointed, but that does not take away the fact that in de Klerk and in Mandela we have the key figures to bring about an acceptable solution to our problems.
POM If something would happen to Mr. Mandela, if he were to die of old age of something, do you think the ANC would have a difficult time holding together as an alliance, is he the glue that binds it at the moment?
SDB When I see what your black caucus is doing for him, it underlies the fact that he has a presence and a past about him which makes him an exceptional personality and anybody who doesn't realise this is not being realistic. Yes, he is certainly an internationally acclaimed figure of great personality. He is actually in a certain sense a mystic figure and politicians being what they are, would use that as long as they possibly can and in that capacity I certainly believe that Mr. Mandela is playing a very important role in keeping a lot of people in the ANC together who have divergent opinions on where this country to go. So to find a successor to Mandela, who has all these built-in factors, I believe is going to be very, very difficult. As a matter of fact, I don't think that person exists. So yes, I think that it is definitely a problem for them and I think that is one of the factors that the ANC wants to see progress as quickly as possible.
POM They want to do it in his lifetime because they might develop problems if they can't.
SDB They also realise his magic in this regard, if I may call it that.
POM At CODESA, it seemed, in my understanding of reading and talking to certainly government people, that the ANC had agreed that the powers of the regions should be entrenched in the constitution, that the powers should be decided at CODESA and not in a Constituent Assembly (CA), and that the borders of the regions should be decided at CODESA, or a body like CODESA rather than in a CA. Is that your understanding of where that issue lies?
SDB Yes. Once again I want to clarify before I answer, by saying that I am not part of the official negotiating team, I wasn't involved in that capacity.
POM But Cabinet would be given briefings on issues.
SDB Sure. I understand the government's point of view, that this is how we want to see it done and come about. I am not quite sure, if I listened carefully to your question, I am not quite sure whether it is the perception amongst our people that the ANC agreed to that at CODESA, I have always understood that the ANC is saying, no, we are not going to determine this at CODESA or beforehand. That is not the perception that I am under, perhaps I am not fully informed about that, but I haven't been under the opinion that we believe that the ANC conceded to that, that is our point of view, but I have always been under the opinion that the ANC has said that they don't want to write that into the constitution.
POM Which do you think would be the most difficult question to negotiators?
SDB I think the point which you have just made attaches on one of the very delicate issues and that is, as I understand it, what role the transitional constitution is going to play in the process of bringing about the final constitution. As I see it, this is a main point of difference between us and the ANC. As I understand the ANC, they are saying the transitional, I hope you understand what I mean when I talk about 'transitional constitution', is really transitional in that it is only going to last for a short period and it is not really that important, while we are saying no, the transitional constitution, in a certain sense, is actually the guarantee to minority groups that certain very important factors in the final constitution can only be guaranteed if that is written into the transitional constitution, and I think this is the point where we are at a cul de sac at CODESA. The role that the new transitional constitution is going to play I think is going to be a crucial issue. The whole issue of power sharing, whether this will find a special place in the final constitution or not, is another question which I believe we will still have to hammer out between us. The whole concept as a matter of fact of what is democracy?
POM It seems to me that if I were an ANC negotiator, that I wouldn't have issued a document like this, I wouldn't reveal half my hand before I go into negotiations, I would make you fight for every sentence that was in this document, and then I would get from you some concessions in place. Whereas here, they have laid it out and said we are prepared to do so without it being required of them before the next round of negotiations. Just a tactical point here.
SDB This is not only a question which I think the ANC has to deal with, this question also relates very close to our team. The new phase which we are approaching, is really in SA's context so new, and we have a situation where groups of people who are so foreign to each other, it is such a new experience that this has created immense uncertainties not only amongst the followers of all the parties concerned. Then you really deal with the question of how much must we try and brave, as it were, these uncertainties or do we keep our own thinking under our hats and hope and pray that when we put our case on the table that our followers will be there. Then you run the risk that if you leave that too late, you might find yourself coming to a point where you reach consensus with the people you are sitting with around the table, but your followers aren't with you anymore, and that is a very serious risk. So I understand your question and I believe that in doing so they are in a certain way perhaps sharing their cards. We also have our plans and virtually at every discussion, this question arises, how much of this must we make public, because the moment you have made public your point of view, it makes the negotiation process so much more difficult because in the process of negotiation it is always a question of give and take and if you keep on saying to your people, this is our bottom line, what are you negotiating for, if you understand what I mean. This is a very difficult position and the ANC has that dilemma and we also have it.
POM In that sense, does the ANC need a strong de Klerk, a de Klerk who doesn't become politically damaged within his own community to such an extent that he can't take that community with him?
SDB Let me put it to you this way, I think that we are very fortunate to have a strong leader like de Klerk, who is a man of his own making, who is able to lead. I think that is why I am saying that personalities are going to play a very important role. We are not going to reach consensus if we don't have strong leadership around this negotiating table because we will have to negotiate which means give and take and if we don't have strong leadership where a man says, "Damn it, I know a third of my people don't agree with me, but if I want to reach consensus, I must take this decision", we are going find it very difficult to reach consensus. So, strong leadership is, looking at it from our point of view, not a threat. If we have a strong leader in the ANC I believe it is a plus factor. It is in our mutual interests that there are strong leaders who are willing to make that sacrifice, who are willing to stand up and be counted.
POM It struck me that at the special session of parliament, when the Amnesty Bill failed to go through, which was an embarrassment for Mr. de Klerk, and then when he had to have a press conference and said he could call on certain key people in the military to resign and that he had suspended others, to which the ANC could have said, "We told you so, all along we have been saying there are elements of the military involved in illicit activities", to both things their response was very muted, they didn't overplay it. It struck me as if they didn't want to do more damage or to have de Klerk appear to be more politically damaged than he might otherwise have been.
SDB I think that we are reaching a stage where, and perhaps we should think we are entering the phase before an election, and I think there are many supporters on both sides who are beginning to realise that in destroying de Klerk or Mandela you are not scoring points. Somehow or other, victory lies in the fact that Mandela and de Klerk must survive.
POM The last question. Buthelezi sits up there in Ulundi making all kinds of noises, military threats, threats of secession. Has he the capacity to be a spoiler? By that I mean even if the NP and the ANC get together, reach consensus on a large range of matters, if this does not accommodate Buthelezi's basic interests, has he the capacity to conduct a low level civil war in Natal indefinitely, to be a destabilising influence to a fledgling democracy that is trying to get off the ground?
SDB I think the answer to that, in my personal opinion, is yes. Therefore, I think if you move around in the SA community at the moment, there is one (I have been in the Cape for a few weeks), thing that is obvious at the socials, at the cocktails at places where people relax, the people of SA are sick and tired of violence and a real acceptable solution to the situation in SA will only really be seen as a true solution if we can curtail the violence and bring about peace. And therefore I believe that Buthelezi is a very important figure in this for exactly the question that you ask me, I believe he has the capacity, I believe that the Zulu people have the capacity to be a spoiling factor in this, and therefore the ideal situation would still be, and the first choice must be that we find a solution which is acceptable to Buthelezi, Mandela and de Klerk.
POM When de Klerk had to take that action against the senior staff in the SADF, did this cause a lot of concern in the government, that whereas the ANC had for years been saying that there are elements in the military that are behind some of the violence and the government would deny it routinely and yet the government has come out and admitted that they have found that some of the military personnel have been involved in covert activities? Did it shock the Cabinet, is there a fear there are more of them, that they are not fully rooted out?
SDB That situation is still be fully investigated and the decisions which the President took as far as I understood, were all of them temporary decisions, pending the final finding in the investigation. So that situation has not been finally resolved. There might have been people who were shocked about this, I must also say I think there was relief amongst some of us that these chaps were uncovered and that the President had the courage to deal with that matter as he did. I think if by doing so we can shed that shadow which has been following us from our shoulders, I think that would be very positive. So, if things develop well, as we hope, I think this can still be a very positive happening.
POM Are you looking forward to 1993 and anticipating a lot of change and a lot of progress?
SDB This is a crucial year. I have been in parliament now for nineteen years and I cannot remember in all those years, that a year was more crucial than this one. Yes there is a lot of expectation, a lot of adrenaline pumping at the moment and I think there is certainly a realisation amongst us that this is do or die. But I am also approaching the year with great optimism, much more than I had when I last spoke to you. Looking at everything that has happened up to this stage, in perspective, one could pick up many negative things. I think overall the progress that we have made in relation to time and looking at horizons not at the short-term, I think we have made major progress and by that I am not saying that everything is going to be moonlight and roses and it is going to be easy, etc., but I think we are making progress.
POM Good note to end on, thank you very much for your time.