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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 1993: Coetzer, Piet

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POM     Piet, last December The Star wrote this editorial which said: -

     "Both the government is discredited and divided, the military may mutiny, Buthelezi wants secession and APLA threatens a race war. De Klerk fiddles while South Africa burns."

     All the media that I've looked at over the last year, and I've gone through them all and I've kept up to date with various news clipping services, all point to a National Party that is in some disarray, fragmentation, with some defections to the IFP and with more defections promised if the government moves more closely to the ANC and more isolates Buthelezi and there are talks of hawks and doves within the Cabinet, those who want a tougher line with the ANC and those who want some kind of reconciliation with the IFP. Nothing I'm publishing will be published until 1998, so you can be quite open.

PC     Well, Patrick, defections yes. There have been the individual defections but there have been defections from other parties as well. We have seen defections to the National Party as well. Let me give you just one example. Contralesa has always been seen as the ANC's front for traditional leaders, for the Chiefs. The Vice-Chairman of Contralesa, Chris Mokeba(?), has recent joined the National Party and serves with me on the Transvaal Executive Committee at the moment. My other colleague from Soweto, Dave Shinwan(?) used to be a member of the PAC and he is now Chairman of the National Party in Soweto, also serves on the Executive Committee with me. But there have also been defections from the Democratic Party to the IFP. I think that one must understand that since we are a society in transition that there's been total realignment taking place on the South African political scene, the direction to which people move is not always ideological it's very often influenced by their own practical circumstances. If you look at the defections, there are only two members of parliament who have joined the IFP. In the one instance it's a fairly senior guy from Natal and from the northern part of Natal where the IFP is very strong. The other one is somebody from Johannesburg and in that part of Johannesburg where you have hostels and so on, where there's a very strong IFP/ANC battle as well. So I don't think that the movement of people across political lines at this stage is surprising.

POM     Is it significant that a white MP would defect to the IFP because the IFP will have to put some whites pretty close to the top of the list knowing that blacks would defect?

PC     Well I don't know. The point is the defections are across colour lines. I don't think that, with the exception of the extreme left in the form of the PAC and the extreme right in the form of the Conservative Party/AWB faction, I think that South African politics is really starting to rid itself of racism. People are moving more according to political beliefs and policies and that sort of thing. There's another very interesting thing taking place. I looked at some statistics this morning of the buying patterns during the recession that's coming to an end now and one of the interesting things the analysis that I've read of them has brought forward is that increasingly also on the economic front within the past you could almost, rich and poor, equal that to black and white. That's disappearing. There's been increasingly an upward mobility amongst black people and the normalisation on that front is taking place as well. What I'm trying to say is that I think the dividing lines in South Africa are normalising and because of that you would find a realignment taking place in society also on the political front. That's not to say that ethnicity is not playing a role. One would be fooling oneself, the IFP is basically a Zulu party. Look at surveys, that does not mean that the IFP equals the Zulus. I don't think that the IFP represents the majority of the Zulu people and if you look at the Conservative Party you will find that it's not only exclusively white, it is 90% plus Afrikaans speaking. So yes ethnicity is in there as part of the flavour of the political mix.

     Coming back to the position of the National Party I think that very often analysts over-simplify that. Let me say first of all that, yes, the National Party is going through a downswing in its support but again to just attribute that to the negotiations and what's happening on the negotiating front I think is a dangerous over-simplification. Why did George Bush lose the election? Because of the state of the economy. Why does Prime Minister Major have serious political problems? All governing parties find recessionary times, times of economic downturn, difficult in terms of their support base. So there are other factors that play a role as well. If you look at what the National Party's position was in terms of opinion polls and so on six weeks before the referendum of last year and it turned in the biggest majority in history in the referendum. The campaign hasn't really started.

     I definitely do not experience the National Party at this stage as a party of disarray. What is true and it would be very unnatural if it was not true is, yes, there is some very intense debate going on inside the party. We are writing a new constitution and it's almost, politically speaking, life and death matters. So one must expect that there would be intense debate about to what extent do you protect the interests of regions, what functions regions should have, what is the mix in terms of on the extreme one side a total loose confederation, which the CP wants, and the totally centralised state which was the point of departure at least originally of the ANC. Where amongst those poles do you formulate the constitutional structures? What exactly should be the role of a Bill of Rights? Should it just be a bill of fundamental rights or should it be an activist document that prescribes things like affirmative action for instance? What should be the role of a constitutional court in a future dispensation? What sort of special majorities do you need for what kind of decisions in a constitution. Under those circumstances if one did not have intense debate inside the party one would be surprised but I don't think that's a problem, if you want to call it a problem, of just the National Party. I think it's a problem of all the parties. The other major party, the ANC, there's often talk of serious tensions inside the ANC as well. I would be surprised if there weren't tensions. It would be totally unnatural.

POM     How about the tensions relating to the position of the National Party with regard to Buthelezi?

PC     As far as the IFP is concerned I think what is becoming clearer and clearer and I'm looking at it not as a party politician but trying to look at it as a political analyst, Inkatha and Buthelezi are increasingly becoming defined (defined is not maybe the right word) becoming exposed to a black equivalent to the Conservative Party or the Afrikaner Volksfront. If you look at what they stand for, a Zulu national state, the kind of federalism that borders on secession for KwaZulu. So if you look at rhetoric, if you look at the ideology and the structures of their proposal, there's not much difference. Buthelezi has got one advantage over the CP or the Afrikaner Volksfront, at least he has some boundaries that exist for a Zulu homeland. So I think that while there are areas of common interest between us and the IFP in the sense that both parties are federal parties, are in favour of federalism or regionalism as we prefer to call it, there are some real differences as well. Secondly, one must accept that there's an election ahead and because there's such a lot of overlapping in terms of political ideology, we will be competing for the same slice of the political market so to speak. So one must expect that there would be some tension amongst us and the IFP as well. I'm convinced that it will settle down. It will settle down. Maybe not before the election, in fact I think it's unlikely that it will totally settle down before an election.

POM     Is there any alarm over what would appear to be for a period anyway of the government drifting towards the ANC?

PC     I really don't believe that we are drifting towards the ANC and at the same time I don't believe that there is a drifting of the ANC towards us. From both sides some real concessions have been made. That's what negotiations are about. So there has been a convergence between broadly where the government or the National Party and other parties inside the negotiating process stand and where the ANC alliance with the S A Communist Party and so on stand. There has been a convergence but a convergence in terms of the constitutional principles involved. In other words in terms of the rule book of politics which is a constitution and constitutional structures. When it comes to day to day basic policies there are still vast differences. The two processes get mixed up in the people's minds.

POM     One's about a process, the other's about politics?

PC     Yes. You see what people don't understand, there are two processes taking place at the same time. We're writing the rule book, we and the ANC and everybody else involved in the negotiating process because that's what the constitution is. It's the rule book of politics and in an ideal world you will finish the rule book before the game starts. Politics doesn't work that way. We're still busy writing the rule book but the game itself has started because we all know we're heading for an election. So the one day people read about a breakthrough and agreement between the National Party and the ANC, but it's agreement about the rules. We haven't agreed on what the final score is going to be.

POM     On that score, how does the National Party define itself today? For forty years the driving ideology was apartheid, you strip that away there's kind of a vacuum. What do you consolidate around?

PC     I don't think there's a total vacuum. Our approach is a federal approach. If you look at the policy of separate development which was aimed at creating separate so-called nation states even in the days of Verwoerd, Verwoerd's final dream was a confederation of southern African states or so-called national states, nation states. That did not materialise. If one looks at the constitution that's being drawn up and the constitutional ideas that we are driving for now it's still federalism. What has happened is that it has been stripped of racism. It's been stripped of racism but the hard core of a federal approach, a division of power or a devolution of power bears the mechanism to protect groups or to protect the citizen against the abuse of power by over-concentration of centralisation of power. I think that's still there. If I had to describe the National Party at this point in time I would say it's constitution, it's a federal party. The National Party, by the way, as a party has always been organised on a federal basis. There are in fact four separate National Parties. Each of the provinces organised in a fairly weak federation on a confederal basis. So the federal approach is still there. For the rest it's free enterprise, capitalist, those sort of things.

POM     But the average National Party voter has a clear idea now of what his party stands for?

PC     I don't think there's a single party in South Africa who can lay claim to that at this point in time, not even the Conservative Party. They say they want an Afrikaner state. If you ask them where the boundaries of such a state are, their eyes go all glassy. A period of negotiations of necessity brings a lot of uncertainty. It's an involved, very complicated process and I think it just goes over the heads of most of the citizens. The ordinary Joe works on broad perceptions. How many people do you know that can give you much details of the American constitution and its structures and modalities? A constitution is a complicated document.

POM     There's so much talk between doves and hawks in the Cabinet where Hernus Kriel and Kobie Coetsee are identified as being leading hawks and Tertius Delport is a leading hawk and Roelf Meyer and Dawie de Villiers and Leon Wessels as being doves. What are the differences?

PC     I think the only difference really is in line function. The one guy's job is to work for a negotiated settlement and therefore would take on the profile and perceptions would develop around this guy that he's the nice guy who is talking to everybody, trying to make compromises and that sort of thing. Hernus Kriel's responsibility is law and order and he's in charge of the police and it's not the easiest of times to try and maintain law and order. So I think that those perceptions, and my experience of the guys in talking to them, are mostly false. The question depends on what a person's line functions are. I think a very good example are the perceptions around F W de Klerk. F W de Klerk was Chairman under the 1983 constitution with its 'Own Affairs' structures, so-called 'Own Affairs' structures, was Chairman of the white 'Own Affairs' Ministers Council and he had a label around his neck that he was one of the arch conservatives, that he was verkramp, that he was against reform. When his function changed, the job that he had to perform, the perception around him today is totally different. So it depends a little bit on what the function is that you have to perform. I haven't come across any serious battles between Hernus Kriel and Leon Wessels or Roelf Meyer. Yes, there have been some very heavy debates, some very heavy debates where Meyer would, for instance, argue that if we take the following steps it could ruin the negotiations and Hernus Kriel would argue that if we don't take those steps what we will negotiate about is who will clear up the ashes afterwards because we had to take these steps for the sake of law and order and security. So, yes, those sort of debates you have but that does not mean that there in terms of a broad direction, that's there are differences.

POM     When you look at where the government was last June when CODESA collapsed and where the ANC was, what are the major compromises and concessions each side has made to bring them to the position they are in today?

PC     I think I can honestly say that from the government side there have been very little concessions in the sense that we already occupied the middle ground at that stage. The sort of concessions that have been made on government side is that I think the whole idea of not finalising a constitution in the multi-party negotiating forum or at CODESA but to only have an interim constitution with only constitutional proposals fixed and judicable in the constitutional court, that was a concession on the government side, that the first elected parliament can finalise the constitution, in other words can change the constitution.

POM     And start from scratch. The Constituent Assembly can start from scratch?

PC     They can start from scratch if they want. They can start from scratch provided they stick to the something like 27 constitutional principles that have already been agreed upon.

POM     Now there's one of those, that (1) the borders of the regions will be drawn up before an election for a Constituent Assembly and (2) that the powers of the regions will be defined and spelt out before the Constituent Assembly and that Constituent Assembly cannot change either the boundaries or the functions that are devolved to the regions.

PC     That's correct but the important thing is the fact that the Constituent Assembly / interim parliament can write a final constitution. That's the most important concession from the government side. I see that the one other concession is that the whole idea of power sharing is on an indefinite basis. It's been scrapped and that is only tied down now to a period of the first five years after the first election. Those are the two concessions on the government side. On the ANC side I think that the concession that a totally comprehensive Bill of Rights also be in place during the interim phase was an important concession. They wanted just a very basic sort of Bill of Rights. We now have a comprehensive Bill of Rights, still being negotiated, but the principle has been accepted and we've been through a couple of drafts of that. I think a major concession on their side was the whole question of the functions of the region, of strong regionalism, regionalism to the extent where you can now call it federalism. That's been an important concession on their side and I think which was also a major concession on their side was the question of a government of national unity. They call it a government of national unity and we call it power sharing.

POM     What's the difference between the two?

PC     It's the same thing.

POM     Semantics?

PC     Well it's semantics. Whether it's a government of national unity or power sharing it amounts to the same thing, that in the first five years the government will not be dominated by a single party but will be formed by a number of parties. I think those were the major concessions on their side. Yes there have been smaller points but I think those would be the main issues.

POM     The rise of the right. A year or eighteen months ago after the referendum they appeared to be in disarray, demoralised, without any cohesiveness or any real leadership. Today they seem to be a force that must be reckoned with. What accounts for the turn around?

PC     I don't think it's a turn around so much. Again, if one looks at the figures of opinion surveys the size of the right wing hasn't grown that much, in fact it hasn't grown at all since the referendum and I think that they have always been a force to reckon with. But the first thing that has changed is that they came into the negotiating process which gave them a different profile and gave them also some political clout in the process, plus they teamed up with Buthelezi, they teamed up with the IFP. In the negotiation process they started playing the political game and that has changed, that is the one thing that has changed. I think the other thing that has changed was that for the first time there is some real leadership in there and Constand Viljoen has succeeded, at least for the time being, to consolidate the right wing. The right wing in the past, collectively they have been on the same side, but it was a very splintered and divided group. Constand Viljoen succeeded in consolidating the right wing to some extent. I don't think that is necessarily bad or to the detriment of the process. Immediately prior to the assassination of Hani we went through a phase where there were a number of racist attacks on whites. One had the attacks on restaurants.

POM     You mean APLA?

PC     Yes, the APLA attacks in the Eastern Cape on places like restaurants and so on and in the eastern Free State on farms and the temperature in right wing circles was rising. Then one had the assassination of Chris Hani and with all the activities that followed on that and the very high level of militancy also on the left and the temperature amongst right wingers went up even further as a counter-reaction to some extent to what was happening in the wake of the Hani assassination. It was at that stage that Constand Viljoen appeared on the scene, during that period that Constand Viljoen and Tienie Groenewald, the other General, appeared on the scene. They in fact succeeded in cooling down temperatures, they channelled their energy into political action. So I don't think and I don't experience Constand Viljoen as an extremist, not at all. He's fairly soft spoken, I think he's fairly reasonable, I think he's politically naïve in many respects but if he can bring a more consolidated right wing with whom one can sit down and talk and speak to a consolidated grouping the chances of bringing them and delivering them for the process are much better and the danger of extremist groups wrecking everything afterwards is less. What worries one is, what I'm worried about more is we don't have a similar development on the extreme left. In the last days, in the last few weeks of his life it seemed as though Chris Hani was in fact trying to create that role. He was moderating his utterances considerably, he was taking initiatives to try and channel the energy of the militant youth and then one had the unfortunate tragedy of his murder. I'm almost a little bit more worried about the extreme left at this stage than the right.

POM     That would be the PAC?

PC     Yes the PAC.

POM     Militant elements within the ANC itself?

PC     Yes, militant elements within the ANC itself. To me at this stage that is a bit of a worry in fact.

POM     I remember last year on the issue of, when agreement was nearly reached at CODESA, there was the whole issue that if the ANC had accepted the deal, that the ANC might have had a real problem selling it to its constituency and in fact most of them said that they were very relieved that the government didn't accept the deal because they would have been split. What do you think are the political consequences of Hani's death?

PC     Let me say first of all I think that the way that things played out immediately after the death of Chris Hani, I think we were very fortunate in many respects as well, the fact that the alleged assassin was caught so quickly, half an hour later or something. That has helped of course. But I think if one looks at how relatively calm that incident went by and how quickly things calmed down, how relatively little the disruption was, there's reason to take heart from developments immediately afterwards. I think it proved that the process of negotiation and reconciliation has moved so far that it can handle even a potentially serious crisis. Chris Hani himself, I think that it did slow down the process of bringing the more militant elements on the left into the deal. Long terms effects at this stage? I don't think there are going to be any real long term effects. I think it disrupted the South African Communist Party to some extent. Joe Slovo is not well, he's very ill. I think that the Communist Party, as a party seen from their point of view, needs a black leader. Chris Hani was supplying that. I don't see anybody close resembling him anywhere on the political scene. There are some very strong and intelligent guys like Jeremy Cronin and so on but they are of the wrong complexion in terms of the interests of the Communist Party.

POM     How about Buthelezi? Increasingly hard line statements, slowly it looks as though he's boxing himself into a position or a corner out of which he cannot get without losing face and he is so absorbed with losing face, so sensitive to being insulted.

PC     I'm not too sure what happens in there. What happens inside the IFP is very difficult to judge but you're right that is a bit of a worrying factor. It does seem at this point in time that Buthelezi is painting himself into a very tight spot. I think one of the worst moves that they could make was to go for the court action. What is Buthelezi's option if he loses that court case? I don't see any fall-back. So I just hope, and I see that the multi-party negotiating forum have decided that they are going to defend the case, that they will argue against Buthelezi's stance. I think he's asked for preparatory judgement. If it goes against him I think then he's really in a spot. I'm not close enough to the details of what's happening at the moment. I just hope that the multi-party negotiating forum, that the MPC is filing papers to create the platform for maybe some bilateral bargaining that would bring them back to the negotiating table and allow everybody to walk away from the court case before it actually comes to trial. As I say again, if it comes to trial and Buthelezi loses then he's really in a tight spot. If it comes to trial and he wins in the sense that the election date is overturned and the whole question of sufficient consensus is overturned, then the negotiations are in serious trouble. So it's a bit of a high risk thing.

POM     You know I've interviewed him four times and the first time I met him he presented me with a 600 page book which was an extract from every newspaper of every insult that the ANC had heaped on him over the last three or four years and no matter where he speaks the word 'insult' comes up. "Insult, insult, insult." He's obsessed with being insulted. Can a man like that - which do you think is more important if you are in a corner, you say, "OK I lost, I back down" or do you think he says, "No I have to go over the brink, that's who I am"?

PC     That I don't know. That's difficult to try and judge for or predict. I think it's a very high stake game that he's playing. I think if he loses the court case it's not to say that he'll accept the judgement and come back. I doubt that. It's got a lot to do, Patrick, he's a very complex personality, it's got a lot to do with Zulu culture. You would not find that only with Buthelezi, you would find that with all traditionalists inside the IFP, you would find that sort of approach. Children are seen not heard kind of approach like my Granddad used to have. Of course he is of royal blood, he is part of the royal family and that is something that still weighs very heavily.

POM     He is playing the Zulu card, bringing the King into it and talking about the threat to the Zulu nation.

PC     Absolutely.

POM     Some people have said to me that some Zulus who are members of the ANC would in fact rally to a call by the King to defend the Zulu nation. Is that just problematical?

PC     That I don't know. To what extent that is true, Patrick, I don't know. I mean it's a fascinating subject. One doesn't have enough time to really look at it. I very often suspect that if you look at the battle in Natal between the IFP and the ANC, one must remember it's Zulus fighting and killing Zulus. That is a battle that goes back, that I am aware of, at least two decades, as a newspaperman, of the faction fights inside the Zulu nation. I once as a newspaperman did an article on white mercenaries who were recruited by some of the Zulu factions in their factional wars and this goes back to the early 1970s. It very often appears to me as though what we are seeing to some extent happening in Natal or in KwaZulu is a modern version of the French revolution where all the land and resources are controlled by the headmen who although they don't hold individual title control the land and resources and that there is an uprising amongst the commoners and that has become politicised since the unbanning of the ANC. It started earlier, it started before the unbanning of the ANC, it started in the mid-eighties when the UDF, the United Democratic Front, was formed, it started becoming politicised. The UDF was nothing but the ANC's front at the time where they had taken up the cause of the commoners, and I'm over-simplifying that, while the IFP is the royalist party to a large extent controlled by the traditional leaders and so on. I don't say that explains the whole picture but I suspect there's some element of that in there as well.

POM     Let's say some kind of settlement is worked out to satisfy Buthelezi, they give him a lot of what he wants, not everything but a lot.

PC     He's got a lot already.

POM     Do you think that somebody like Harry Gwala and the ANC in Natal who have been fighting this war, bitter war, for ten, twelve years will roll over with the national leadership and say, "OK" or would they say, "Screw you, we're going to keep fighting on. We're not going to allow things to ... ".

PC     Patrick, against the background of what I told you just now, of my experience as a young newspaperman in the early seventies, I don't think that any political settlement in the short to medium term will settle all the disputes and conflicts in Natal. I think it's much deeper seated than just a straightforward ANC/IFP battle. It might cool down somewhat, the intensity might be less. Harry Gwala is a very old man as well but there are more Harry Gwalas out there and, no, I don't think it will settle down immediately, no I don't think so.

POM     Could you see then if you had elections next year and if the IFP stayed out and the Conservatives stayed out, will they be meaningful elections?

PC     If the CP stays out I think the elections will still be meaningful. The CP in the big picture is a minute minority, a very small minority and there is no big concentration in any specific area, not the concentration of numbers that it would make that much difference. If the IFP stays out I don't think it will be meaningful election especially not as far as Natal is concerned, that would leave Natal in absolute turmoil, it would leave the Witwatersrand area in turmoil because there's a big concentration of Zulus here in the hostels, they are well organised and well disciplined. But I don't believe the IFP will stay out. I'm convinced the IFP will come into the election. Buthelezi is holding out for the maximum for Natal, or for KwaZulu at this stage. He wants to get as close to an autonomous state as possible.

POM     Do you think yourself that elections will take place, everything will be in place to have elections by the 27th April?

PC     I think it can all be in place, yes. I think it's unlikely that we will postpone the date. It's not impossible, it might be postponed slightly but I think that would be high risk at this stage to postpone. But also from ANC ranks there has been some - was it Terror Lekota who said that under certain circumstances the election might be postponed? I still think that everything can come into place. The next four, five, six weeks are going to be crucial to determine whether we can stick to the deadline.

POM     If the level of violence on the Rand doesn't come down would it be possible, is it possible in many of these townships at the moment or even looking at the foreseeable future to have free and fair elections, elections free of intimidation?

PC     I don't know. One would be naïve to think that we will have elections totally free of intimidation. There's going to be some intimidation, there's going to be some violence and disruption as much as one would hope and pray that it won't be there. I think if one is realistic ...

POM     Could you have a South Africa coming in, a new South Africa, that would be unstable? In this sense, do you think outside business is going to wait and see what happens rather than say, "OK you have a new government, we'll rush in with our money"?

PC     I would suspect that most people would take a wait and see attitude.

POM     OK. Thank you

PC     I'm sorry I have to run.

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.