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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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: De Villiers, Dawie
POM You were just talking a moment ago, Dr de Villiers, about the kind of pressure you run into in a situation like this where you are responsible for your ministerial functions, for your constituency functions and for your negotiating functions.
DDV And as Party Leader in the Cape too.
POM Party Leader too. How do you determine your priorities in that kind of situation and do you find that not having the time to think, having to think under pressure all the time often leaves you second guessing yourself?
DDV Yes I think one must admit it is a trade-off and you have to determine priorities which inevitably means that some of your responsibilities are not receiving the attention you would like to give to it. I think for the time being the negotiating process is taking precedence, that most of my time is devoted to negotiations either here at the World Trade Centre or in terms of preparation amongst your own colleagues within party ranks or in bilaterals with some of the other political parties and groups. That takes preference. Once we have passed this phase I think the election will take a higher profile and in between you have to function as a responsible Minister which makes it very hard and, as you say, puts a lot of pressure on one and I think we all suffer from lack of time and we need to work under pressure. But I accept it is a period that we will have to go through. We need not for that reason create a weaker product, that does not automatically mean or one cannot deduce from that that what we do in the negotiation process is inferior because of the time pressures. I think, given the time pressures, sometimes we succeed in performing quite well and remarkably. We are assisted by outstanding technical committees and I think all parties do a lot of homework but that is the situation and time is so important that although we must never rush just to get things done we must continuously be reminded of the fact that time is of the essence.
POM If you look back at the last year and a bit since the collapse of CODESA 2 what would you pick out as the major turning points in the flow of events?
DDV I would say the fact that we persuaded the parties and organisations at the beginning of this year, actually at the end of last year, to join the negotiating process again. You will recall that after CODESA there was a deadlock and for months we didn't make any progress which I think was unfortunate. The ANC then started their rolling mass action which didn't, I believe, make any contribution to solving our problems but fortunately we could persuade them and others to rejoin the process and really we started off in the early months of this year, the early part of this year, with more parties participating in the process than at CODESA. We had 26. We don't have 26 now but for a long time there were 26 parties participating. So I would say that has been a major turning point and also the commitments of the parties who joined this process. True, the IFP and the CP have withdrawn for the time being but I think we have made considerable progress over the last six/seven months because of the commitment. Parties now realise that no other route, be it mass action, rolling mass action, no other route will really take us peacefully to a new South Africa.
POM I'm going to ask you the next couple of questions on the basis of I'm publishing nothing until 1998 so I hope you can have a degree of honesty, sometimes politicians put things nicely but when you're in government ...
DDV No, I'll be quite frank with you.
POM I've been interested in following up - a lot of the media in the last year talked about the National Party as having lost a lot of its core votes, some polls showed that only one out of four voters who had voted for the party in 1989 would vote for it today and you read about fragmentation and possible defections and quarrels within the party about whether it should realign itself in the policy direction of the IFP or people are upset that they are getting too close to the ANC, you talk of 'hawks and doves' in the Cabinet itself. What are the nature of the tensions?
DDV You will look back on what I've said here in due course and my view is, and I think I have confidence that this will be carried out by the facts, that, yes, the National Party has lost support in terms of people who will now vote for the party. If you look at most of the surveys, and we have made a close study not only of one but of all the surveys done over a long period of time and particularly covering the first six/seven months of this year, you will see that 'uncertain', talking about the traditional white support of the National Party, and amongst that category there has been a substantial increase in those indicating that they are uncertain. There has been an increase from round about 5% last November to well over 20% amongst the white voters, people who say they don't know who to vote for. The other point is that none of the other parties have really gained support. Inkatha has made some inroads in the white constituencies but they have simultaneously not strengthened their position amongst the black voters. As a matter of fact all surveys show Inkatha to be rather a smaller party varying from 6%/7% to a maximum of 10%/11% of the total vote.
I would therefore predict that once we have a final product, once we have negotiated a product and we can go back to the electorate and spell out that we have met our obligations, we have performed in terms of our mandate, we have negotiated a reasonable, realistic solution and we start campaigning, that we will consolidate our support base because where else would our traditional voters go? The CP does not offer any solution, neither does the Afrikaner Volksfront and those parties will eventually also have to move to a more acceptable position. The CP is already trying to rid itself of its so-called racial basis but it can't, it will have to denounce racism and then they are back where we were a five, six, seven years ago.
So I think we are at a time where violence is causing a lot of anxiety among South Africans. They question the fact whether there will be stability in time to come, the economy is very depressing, the pronouncements by many of the political leaders of other parties are not really helpful and then they don't understand the negotiating process. They don't see a product. They read bits and pieces in the newspaper of almost a moving target and I think once we've finalised the product we go to the market, we start our campaign and things will change. We already notice since we have started a campaign, I don't know whether you've noticed in the newspaper, we are gradually working up now, consolidating, campaigning in that way to work up to higher levels of propaganda or campaigning that we believe we are really stepping the tide that there is again enthusiasm in some circles but it is a long uphill battle. We want to pitch, to really reach peak form by April next year.
POM And then in the parliament itself and the government?
DDV The focus is moving, has already moved away from the parliament. Everything is gradually focused on the coming election and if people are not happy with the party they will have to ask themselves where will they go. I'm talking about the caucus. I'm sure many people have questions about the process but they're not here. Things are changing from day to day so many people sit outside and they have numerous questions, every time at our caucus we have to explain a great deal. But as we get closer to the election and particularly once nominations take place, which will be in a few months, and we have our lists and those people will then realise, look, they're the candidates of the National Party, if they want to do well in the election and have their party do well they'd better now start working. So I think the whole mode of thinking will change.
POM How would you describe the philosophy or the value system of the National Party now that it has rid itself of apartheid? If you like you could look upon apartheid as something which held the entire fabric together and now that's taken away. What's left and what's been substituted in its place?
DDV I would say very much the set off of principles that you will get in a liberal democratic party. I think you will find that democracy, all the values that we ascribe to, freedom of speech, of expression, of movement, all those political rights and a system, we are supportive of a system that I think you can align with a liberal democratic system. We find that that kind of constitutional framework will give expression to what we believe in. Apart from that, of course, we are guided strongly by the fact that many of our members, the vast majority belong to a Christian denomination and derive particular values, family values and other values from their religious beliefs and this has an impact on the party. It comes from a very conservative background, I'm not talking about the politics but in terms of philosophy of life. Therefore I think it will always be conservative in its approach to many things.
POM If you look at June of last year and where the government and the ANC were then and where the government and the ANC are today what would you point to as the major compromises and concessions made by both parties to keep the process on track?
DDV Again, there it's not for cheap propaganda because I believe it sincerely and you can check it again, since June last year we have compromised certainly on details but not on principles. For example, we've always said strong regional, constitutional, strong regional powers based on federal principles. I think that's one area where the ANC has moved considerably. They have moved in terms of their acceptance of a government of national unity which provides for the transition for more than one party to participate in the Executive. They have moved from a very transitionary bill of fundamental rights, just a few fundamental rights, and then leading into the constitution making process to come up with a proper Bill of Rights. They've changed their position on that. We have quite an extensive Bill of Rights in the shaping. We have all along said that the transitional constitution must actually be the next constitution, it must be a full constitution and I think what is developing here is a full constitution.
There are still a number of outstanding issues where we believe we will have to put our heads together and a number of fundamental issues which we will find extremely difficult if not impossible to compromise on such as the present deadlock breaking mechanism which we find unacceptable, totally unacceptable, the position of Afrikaans, which is an emotional thing. Can we find a way to deal with that not to reduce its status but also to accommodate the fact that not all people are bilingual or trilingual?
But there are a number of other outstanding matters. The Executive, the composition of the Executive in a transitional period is equally important. Given that, once we have addressed the deadlock breaking mechanism then it will really require, constitution making body or not, Constituent Assembly or not, it will require two thirds of the people of the country to write the new constitution as you would find in most constitutions of the world. So it is like electing a parliament and requesting the parliament to change the constitution, amend it or write a new constitution. I think we would then have arrived at what we originally thought the best option and that is to negotiate a constitution.
Finally we realised that we had to accommodate those parties who could not really alter their position in terms of their electorate as far as a constitution making body is concerned. I think we have found the equilibrium, as it is called, or the bridge. I think it satisfies us. I think it should satisfy all reasonable people in this country and if we can deal with the fears of Inkatha about their KwaZulu/Natal situation, the powers, functions of regional governments, the constitution of regional governments and we can also accommodate those right wing supporters who understand that there cannot be a confederation but that within a federal state of South Africa they could also have a great deal of self-determination and expression of their rights as citizens but then not based on racial discrimination. Then I think we would have reached a point where South Africa must make its choice. We will not be able to appease everyone. [We hope we can minimise those who are ...]
POM So if you looked at the two drafts of the constitutional proposals that are already put on the table, to what degree do they satisfy the government on a scale of one to ten?
DDV I would say, the draft does not cover the Executive yet, so we would like to be satisfied that the Executive provides for a government of national unity not only a guise for one party to actually govern by itself.
POM This goes back to Mr de Klerk's idea of an Executive Committee?
DDV That's the point more, to put it this way, than only proportional representation in the Cabinet. To put it mildly it requires a role above that of just a minister for the party leader or leaders of those who participate or that qualify beyond a certain voting percentage. Whether it consists of agreement on broad policy guidelines that have to be followed in the transitional period or however that is structured but it's more than only proportional representative in the Executive. That is one thing. I've mentioned the deadlock breaking mechanism, I've mentioned the powers and functions and regions. I think those are three amongst a few others, language and other issues that I've dealt with, that we will be looking for further meaningful improvement. But then I believe we are getting closer to a product that is meeting most of our requirements.
POM Six out of ten? Seven out of ten?
DDV Yes, I would say six or seven out of ten. Yes.
POM You talked a couple of minutes ago about the IFP and its staying out of the negotiations. It seems to me that Buthelezi is painting himself increasingly into a corner from which he will have great difficulty digging himself out.
DDV I agree.
POM Why do you think he is doing that?
DDV I can only speculate. It's very difficult. I think that he is unhappy with the fact that he is not regarded, by the media at least, by the world perhaps, as such an important player as Mandela and de Klerk and that his party is not regarded as an equal. We don't say that, we say all parties are equally important but he feels that focus on the other parties, on the other leaders, they make the news, they set the pace. That's one reason. I think his preoccupation almost with KwaZulu, KwaZulu/Natal, I think his and many of his followers' deep antagonism on almost an ethnic basis against the Xhosas must not be underestimated as well. So it becomes a very complex situation too analyse but it goes far beyond purely political issues, but you're right.
POM I remember the first time I interviewed him he gave me a 600 page document which was documentation of every criticism of him made by the ANC over the previous ten years.
DDV He's a very sensitive, self-centred.
POM He's never made a statement without putting the word 'insulted' in there. So it's almost more complex, how do you get him out of the corner without again insulting him? Can he face an election where his party is exposed as basically a small party?
DDV I don't think he can. I don't know whether he realises that his party is not enjoying the support he believes they gather. I think that is one of his strategies, intuitively or planned, to link himself to the King which he knows will draw in the Zulu nation and the King has appeal to many, many millions over and above his support base. Perhaps that is the strategy that it will eventually not be Inkatha standing outside but the Zulu nation with the King taking up a particular position which will give him coverage. I think there are deep divisions within his own ranks. There is great unhappiness I know among some of his senior advisers and senior leaders, the infighting. One can perhaps say that of all parties but I think particularly there the pressure they are under is exacerbating the conflicts in their own ranks.
POM What's the worst case scenario you would see in that regard?
DDV It's unpredictable. I can only hope that eventually the process will gather such momentum once the product is final that people will see it is a federation, it has meaningful powers, it is more than worth giving it a try. Why stand outside if seven out of ten of what you are asking, eight out of ten, perhaps nine out of ten is in there? Will you fight then for the one tenth you are not getting or the two tenths? We must all make some sacrifice, some compromise in terms of the new South Africa. I can only hope that the momentum will overlap what we can achieve here, will persuade or will put so much pressure on him as an outsider, as a spoilsport not participating, that we might be able to bring him back into the process.
POM Do you think you will bend over backwards to accommodate him?
DDV We must.
POM Do you, in the sense of recommendations, do you think the ANC in Natal would then just say, "OK, that's it, this is the deal and we'll live with it", or they already have differences with their national leadership on so many levels, they fought a war over ten years that they will just fight on?
DDV I think that the ANC has difficulties with their own followers. Some of the leaders in Natal, like Gwala, I think they have problems on the ground. But I think the ANC realise as much as we do that you don't need to be a party with 20% or 25% or 30% support to create a lot of problems in this country. The IFP if they stay out, if it spills over into pseudo nationalism or whatever, ethnicity, can cause great problems so there's no question that the first prize for the transition is to get them in as much as having General Viljoen and the CP and all these others in their belligerent mood outside. It's not a case of, right, we've finished our product now chaps let's have the election. At the end of the day the wreckers can do a lot of harm, can do so much harm that instituting a new constitution can almost become impossible. So we need to work hard on reasonable people in Inkatha as well as in the right wing groups.
POM The right wing, do they pose a greater or a lesser destabilising capacity?
DDV Greater I would say.
DDV Greater, I would say if they mobilise all the potential forces. If we succeed, which I hope we can, in producing a product which reasonable people would like to give a chance then their power base will be weak. People won't fight for something that is close to what they think is reasonable. If it becomes a question of all those presently finding comfort in their rhetoric, supporting them to the hilt and deciding that it's worth their efforts to fight it then we have grave difficulties.
POM Some people say that all you have to do is pull the financial plug on Buthelezi.
DDV Then why shouldn't we pull the plug on the Transkei which is more of a problem in many respects, or Venda or Bophuthatswana? I don't think one can go around, then why don't you send in the army, forces to take - I mean you can guess at all kinds of scenarios. You have peaceful transition or you have a violent one. What we would really do is try and take the route where you take everyone along or as many as you can.
POM Do you think if the level of violence continues at its present level that you can have elections or is the risk of not having elections greater?
DDV I'll have to be short on that because I have to go, but the level of violence in the country as a whole is not high. It's high in one or two areas. Why penalise the whole country because you have violence in the PWV area or in one or two regions in Natal? Perhaps one should look at excluding those areas where violence is for the time being and arranging their elections later? The violence must come down and it is coming down. It has come down over the last three months but for two or three areas and it is a thing incumbent on all the leaders to really go out of their way to try and instil more peace in the country otherwise we are moving to more violent options which we will try and avoid.
POM I'll be back.
DDV I believe you're coming back in September or whatever. All right fine. Everything of the best.