About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Nov 1993: Yengeni, Tony

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Let me start first with an event that seemed to have a traumatic effect on the country, that was the assassination of Chris Hani. What was the impact of his death on the political dynamics of the country?

TY     The impact of Comrade Chris's death on the country was that it caught the country unaware and the whole nation was in a state of shock and panic because nobody knew what was going to happen next. There was a lot of anger and there was a lot of cause for revenge in the air. Secondly, the death of Comrade Chris Hani led to the realisation on the part of the national liberation movement that it's leadership and membership are not safe from those that want to stop the process even by way of violence. Thirdly, this indicated the point that the undemocratic forces in the country who wanted to stop the process would stop at nothing even to a point of plunging the whole country into rivers of blood and I think that the death had a much more important significance and that is across the board, irrespective of political affiliation, people in the country condemned that deed. They united around the condemnation and the funeral of Chris was something that was never seen in the history of this country. This was ironical because he was the leader of the Communist Party and yet the whole country, including people from the establishment political parties, were deeply shocked and affected by this.

POM     Do you think it had an impact on speeding up the process, that the government realised that the country had been on the verge of a total uprising and this gave greater impetus into the negotiating process?

TY     Definitely it did give impetus to the negotiation process because one of the most important consistent calls after his death from all and sundry, church leaders, business leaders, political leaders, etc., was that the process has to be speeded up because if it is delayed in any way then that would plunge the country into darkness. So the death of Chris, yes, did give impetus and speed to the negotiation process.

POM     I've looked at a number of surveys and over the last few years have talked to a large number of people about the Coloured vote and I have a number of families that I interview, Coloured families, and they all seem to be leaning in the direction of voting for the National Party but they're not voting for the ANC. Why has the ANC had such difficulty in making inroads into the Coloured community?

TY     Well there are many factors. Number one is that the regime, that is the Nationalist Party government, for a long time declared the Western Cape region as a so-called Coloured preferential area, keeping out blacks, Africans from this region by way of the pass laws. The Pass laws were implemented in the most vicious manner in this region, more than any other region in the country precisely because the Nats wanted this to be preserved as a Coloured, as they said, to be the Coloured preferential area. Now when it came to jobs, employment, education, housing, the blacks or the Africans were not considered. There were no black areas that were developed and constructed. They were all sent to live in hostels. It's only later that all the 'temporary sojourners' were allowed to stay in small townships in the Cape but the people fought heroically against the pass laws and finally they collapsed and they came here in droves, in thousands a week. That is why today you see squatter areas sprouting all over the show here in the Western Cape. The Western Cape has got the fastest growing squatter area in the country because people are running away from hunger and starvation and unemployment and disease in the Bantustans. Now when it came to jobs they got the lowest paid jobs, no houses were built for them, nothing was done for them.

     Now the Coloured community had a comparatively bad time, standard of living, thanks to this policy and I think a lot of racial propaganda was instituted against the blacks to a point where I think it developed some racism in the minds both of blacks and Coloureds in the Western Cape. There was a clear division between the two communities, but of course that tide was changed a little bit when the apartheid laws and injustice began to have effect on the Coloured community in the Western Cape by way of black children, schools, being beaten up by the police, harassed and jailed by way of all types of harassment and the United Democratic Front emerged which was mainly directed at the tricameral parliament [which was overwhelmingly ... in the country].

     But now that the ANC is in place we are suffering from the events of the past where the Nationalist Party has carefully propagated the idea that the ANC is a black organisation for black aspirations, the ANC is a violent organisation and doesn't want peace, the ANC is an organisation of communists that doesn't want God. Now those are the stereotypes that have been repeated all over again on TV and the radio and in the newspapers and that has had effect on the Coloured community, negative effect. I understand that the biggest concern of that community now is that when the ANC comes into government or the ANC comes into power the aspirations of blacks and Africans are going to be topmost on that agenda, then the whites and then they will come at the end. They are very concerned about that. Whenever we address them that question comes up, what is going to happen to their houses, to their jobs, to their children in their schools, etc., etc.

POM     So in a sense it's the fear that white domination will be replaced by black domination.

TY     Yes that's the fear. I don't think the fear is unjustified, not that I think it is completely justified. But that's not the point. The point is not that the fears are rational or irrational. The point is that a perception has been created and it is there that the ANC is going to do some of these things. Now we have a difficulty in mobilising that community because of this obstacle, the perception that we must deal with. It's not an easy thing taking into account that we don't have in our hands the press. The press still is in the hands of the ruling class, the establishment political parties. They are in charge. They are owning all the newspapers. The ANC doesn't own a single paper. Despite the changes in the SABC Board nothing has changed in terms of SATV, it's still the same old thing. The radio is still under the SABC, so we are massively disadvantaged compared to the establishment political parties and this creates a wall, an obstacle, between us and the Coloured community. The political playing field is not level and until such time that it is level we can't be able to enter into that community much more freely. We do now have rallies and public meetings and sessions and all those things but we need the reinforcement of other means of communication to understand that, unlike in the African community, in the Coloured community the best means of communication or the form of communication that they listen to mainly and are attached to is the television. African or black communities most of them cannot afford a television set so they rely on the radio so the radio is the most important.

POM     I bring this up because a number of Coloured families mentioned it and said it with a degree of disillusionment and cynicism that Allan Boesak was installed as Chairman of the ANC in the Western Cape in the hope that he would draw in Coloured voters and their point was that here was a man who lived in Constantia in a big fancy house, who in a way was no longer part of the people and that they as working class people could not see themselves voting for him. To them he had become a symbol of material power, of living a fancy life, of being out of touch with the ordinary people.

TY     That's a difficult question because he is not the first person to live in a big house. Most of our leaders live in big houses. Mandela lives in a mansion. I'm sure Cyril and Thabo also have their own mansions. But this is a problem.

POM     The perception.

TY     It's a problem because it alienates the leadership from the grassroots and the grassroots then do not understand the disparity and why they should be there and they should be there and it creates perceptions to the effect that these people are only interested in themselves and not in the masses. That is something that our leadership and our organisation should be careful of at all times especially now that with political office there is a very strong possibility that some of us may be presenting ourselves as espousing the aspirations of the people because we want to go into parliament yet when we get to parliament we forget those aspirations, we become self-seekers who have nothing to do with the man on the ground. Now I think that's a challenge to our leadership, it's a word of warning. I think we should be careful about presenting ourselves as an elite which is very high up and has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground.

POM     Do you think looking back at Kempton Park that in one sense this is very much negotiation among elites, there was very little trickle down to the grassroots and if you ask the grassroots today what has been agreed upon they would be hard put to tell you what exactly has been agreed on?

TY     There are two problems here. The first is that there is no way that you can conduct negotiations other than to have teams, not the masses, talking to one another. That's the first problem but that problem now is related to the second problem and that is that if you have that negotiation then necessarily you then have alienation. It's not always the case because if you look at the negotiations that take place between the workers and the employers, the workers are always informed about what negotiations are about. Maybe that's a simplistic example but in our country we have allowed a situation where the people, the masses, have no role in this process and what has happened is that they were merely spectators that had no input, that awaited reports from Kempton Park. Now I look at newspapers yesterday and today and I see there is an outbreak of excitement about the adoption of the interim constitution. Now to me, and I think most people on the ground, it doesn't make sense at all because this is supposed to be only an interim constitution not a final constitution, but the way people are embracing it now is like it's what we have been fighting for all these years, yet it is not. The constitution that must be made in this country is the one that must come out of the Constituent Assembly that will be elected on 27th April. Somehow the excitement is misplaced as far as I am concerned. Yes it's a great step forward. Nobody can deny that. It's going to allow us to take other more important steps to achieve our objective but I am very sceptical because we've had agreements of this kind before. We've had the Peace Accord Agreement, the Groote Schuur Agreement, CODESA agreement, and what happened? What happened is history, a history of disappointments, resistance and reluctance to implement agreements.

POM     Yesterday we went around asking people just randomly what did they think about what had happened and the answer was a total absence of any kind of excitement as though they felt detached from what was going on. They had heard about it but they had nothing to do with it and they didn't know what it meant.

TY     They don't know where they fit into this whole thing. They can hear it on the news, they can hear Mandela and De Klerk talking there, but where they fit in and what is going to happen the following day they don't know so therefore they are not attached to the whole thing. It's like me, I'm reading it as another piece of news. There is nothing that says, "Gee, this is a big thing and we must now move", something like that. No it's business as usual.

POM     When you look back at the last three years since the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC up until Kempton Park yesterday what do you see as the critical turning points in the process? At the beginning De Klerk seemed to make all the running culminating in his March 1992 victory in the referendum when he was at the peak of his popularity. Up to that point it looked as if he couldn't make a bad political move, he was dominating things abroad, he was the man who was making things happen. Then after March of 1992 there was Boipatong, the collapse of CODESA and slowly De Klerk began to slide to where he now appears to be a rather indecisive leader who already has thrown in the towel, so to speak. What do you think happened that brought about the crucial changes both in alignment, like in CODESA the IFP and the government were together and then the government changed dancing partners, so to speak, and is now dancing in a sense with the ANC. What was going on that led to these various changes?

TY     I think that fundamentally the programme began when De Klerk called the referendum because he wanted to put down the right wing. He asked the country to support a yes vote for negotiations. Now the ANC analysed the situation and decided that whilst they are against the racial referendum and the manner in which it was called by De Klerk, they are going to act big by supporting the yes vote. The ANC went out and supported the yes vote and mobilised the yes vote and the yes vote got an overwhelming majority. Now instead of De Klerk intensifying and quickening the pace of the process after the referendum because now he had effectively put down the right wing, now it is possible for him to say, "I've got a mandate, we have to push the negotiations forward and let's move", he started stalling saying things about uMkhonto weSizwe and that type of thing and so on and so forth. That created problems for him because Mandela and the ANC felt stabbed in the back because they expected that in supporting the referendum he was going to respond in kind and say, "OK let's now unite against the violent elements in the right wing, let's take the country out of this morass, let's work together". He started attacking ANC, uMkhonto weSizwe and creating all sorts of problems for us.

     We think that De Klerk and Inkatha overplayed their hand in the violence. The strategy that works and brings good results to them would create problems for the ANC because the communities that are attacked are black communities and the ANC has the burden of having to defend those communities whilst De Klerk is seen as a person who is above the violent conflicts in the black areas with clean hands. It's blacks killing blacks. Now we think that he overplayed his hand and when the country responded after Bisho and Boipatong and demanded that action be taken it was not easy to go in and take action and then he became weaker and weaker because he just could not assert himself on these violent elements within the state security forces and within the right wing and increasingly he developed the image of a lame duck president who was either scared of these guys or was part of their agenda or something like that.

POM     Do you think in any way that because there appeared to be deep splits in his own party and in his own Cabinet over some of the directions his negotiating team has taken that he had to ensure that his Cabinet didn't split and that made him in a way a hostage to the security forces because if his Cabinet split they would be the only thing left that he had or else he would have nothing at all.

TY     You see, yes, there are differences within the De Klerk Cabinet but I don't think that the differences are really fundamental. The differences are having to do with the tactics of the situation but the fundamental principle of defeating and destroying the ANC it is a strategy principle of the Nationalist Party but of course they are going to that objective in different ways because the others feel that they are giving too much. They need to be much more strong otherwise they have to convince that although we are not strong, we're not giving in but we're just using the best route open to us to ensure the same objective. At the end of the day all the Nationalist Party people who have a record of racism.

POM     Again looking back since the negotiating council came into being, what would you look at as being the major concessions and compromises made by government and the major concessions and compromises made by the ANC?

TY     I think that the nature of compromise that has been made by the ANC is in relation to the whole question of a unitary state vis-à-vis a federalist state. Initially we never thought that we would give in to very strong powers for regions. Yes, we accepted the need for strong local and regional government but I think we have been forced by the negotiation process to give in to a whole range of powers that we didn't envisage before for regional government and in terms of the agreement we understand that there is even a provision and a possibility for regional constitutions. Now those I think are major concessions from the ANC because we were scared of this thing because we thought that the central government should have all those powers and should be used to right the wrongs of the past but now if we have regional governments who have all these powers and in some regions you find that the ANC is not as strong and the Nats are stronger then simply the status quo is going to be perpetuated rather than changed. That was the biggest fear. Now frankly speaking from the side of the regime I find nothing or very little that I can say is a major compromise on their part because I think that their position has always been that they want federalism, they want the country to be split up into mini states. Of course they have not got all that, maybe that's a concession, but at least I think they have gone a long way in achieving their objective in terms of a federal arrangement in South Africa.

POM     Yet as I understand it, and maybe I'm wrong because sometimes it's very difficult to understand exactly, as I understand it the centre still has the right to override the regions in terms of the use of their powers, that the centre can take back a particular power or step in if the region is operating in a manner that is contrary to the national interest, so it's not real federalism in the sense that these are not rights that are embedded for ever in the constitution. It's not federalism in the sense of the United States or in the sense of Germany.

TY     Yes, I think one understands that difference but still the fact that a whole range of things like housing, police, you name it, are going to be more in the hands of regional government, those are very serious concessions because it is not going to be easy for central government to intervene in the arrangements that are made by the various regions even if they do have the power to intervene constitutionally. I think that power will be rarely used. The regions will gain more and more power to themselves than give in to the central government.

POM     So if you had to rate, say, the constitutional proposals for the interim constitution on a scale of one to ten, where would you place it? Four, five, seven, eight? If you had to rate your satisfaction with the interim constitution on a scale of one to ten would you give it one out ten, nine out of ten?

TY     You see when it comes to the interim constitution I think that on the whole it is something that we can live with, something that will carry us into the next arrangement. My only fear is two ways. The first is the detail with which we've gone into this interim constitution to a point of discussing anthems, flags, symbols, all those things. Now if this constitution is interim, why that detail? And therefore I have this feeling that this constitution may well not be in fact interim, it may be a permanent constitution and it's got to be perpetuated until it gets its own dynamic. I think that the powers of the Constituent Assembly should be sovereign and it should be the body to come up with the constitution because that would be a democratically instituted body in a democratic election.

POM     So if this interim constitution became the final constitution with very small modifications would you be extremely disappointed?

TY     As long as it has been agreed upon by a democratically elected institution like a Constituent Assembly I think that constitution will have weight, it will have authority, it will be the ultimate law of the land which everybody which everybody will respect. But if it's a constitution that emerges from an undemocratic body like the Kempton Park talks then it opens itself up to a whole range of attacks from people who are not happy about the process. So it has to come out of a democratically elected body even if it can be retained or changed here and there, strengthened and so on, but as long as it has that I think everybody is going to be happy.

POM     So are you saying that even if this interim constitution was debated by the Constituent Assembly and the CA agreed that it would let things stand, that it wouldn't modify it in any way, you would accept that decision and be satisfied with it or would you be disappointed?

TY     Yes. No, why? I mean the people would have spoken. We are very serious about democracy and we are even saying that even if we lose the elections we are not going to threaten war or engage in a war, we are going to accept the verdict of the people, the people would have spoken. Our interest here is a democratic system of government or a democratic system of doing things. If that is guaranteed then we think we can abide by any decision.

POM     That's why in a sense I was disappointed by the proposals that the State President would have the final say in determining the composition of the Constitutional Court because the Constitutional Court ultimately becomes the interpreter of the constitution that is drawn up by the people so it's imperative that it be non-political but by leaving the appointment, as in the earlier proposal, of the majority of its members to the State President it was politicising it in a way that allowed for the possibility for a lot of abuse in the future.

TY     The president of course is not like any other leader of a political party, he's the leader of a country irrespective of political affiliation. Of course he has been put there by a political party but he has to lead the country without any favouritism or favours to any specific person and he has to do things like those consistent with the constitution of the country and we don't think there is anything wrong with this. Of course groups outside the president and outside parliament, the legal groups and other organs of civil society who won't make an input, I think they should be allowed to do so because the final decision should be taken by the president of the country and we are told that this is what is happening in most European countries in the Constitutional Courts, the judges of those courts are appointed by the State President. In this country the State President is the one who appoints judges but, of course, it seems to us that there has been an argument that that position should be modified.

POM     When you look at the Freedom Alliance, on the one hand you have Buthelezi and on the other hand you have the white right wing, if they stay out of the process do you think either of them pose a threat to the future development of the democratic society?

TY     Yes I think they are a very serious threat because they not only talk about civil war which is a problem in itself. We understand that they are preparing for war, stockpiling weapons, training people, etc., etc. Now the white right wing groups have very good contacts in the security forces of this country, the army and the police, and Buthelezi has got very strong contacts with the right wing movement in South Africa and abroad and therefore together they are a formidable group and they will give us lots of problems and nightmares.

POM     Of the two which do you think poses the larger threat to stability?

TY     I cannot say which of the two but I think that both of them have a similar approach to this process. It's not a question of white or black, it's the course that they are following, they are following the same course of preparing for war, training people and instigating them against the ANC and the impending ANC government. If I am forced to compare then I can simply say that Constand Viljoen can do a lot of damage to us. I don't think it's an either/or situation. I think they are all in the same camp and will be in that same camp for some time unless some other group springs from the IFP and says, "Look this is wrong, we don't want to take this route, we want to join the democratic process." There is a possibility of that happening because we understand that most of these IFP chaps, black chaps, are dissatisfied with the fact that Buthelezi is using Walter Felgate as his right hand man and he listens to him more than them.

POM     As you see things, do you see Buthelezi finally coming into the process or do you think he's an egotistically driven politician who is going to stay outside and demand his pound of flesh, so to speak?

TY     I think Gatsha Buthelezi is the kind of man that is going to stay outside the process and demand his pound of flesh and if we judge by what he has done already and the rise of people that have been killed in Natal and his intransigence in relation to a whole range of issues, then on the question of the talk for civil war for example I must tell you lots of South Africans have spoken to him about that. Even abroad statesman, countries' leaders like John Major, Bill Clinton and others have spoken to Gatsha about this thing. We understand that he is simply brushing all that advice aside, continuing with his intransigence. Now it seems to me that he is going to persist in this direction.

POM     So could you have a situation where perhaps the right wing is perhaps carrying out bombing campaigns more along the lines of the IRA? You don't need a large number of people, you just need them in the right places.

TY     Anything can happen in the right wing as far as I am concerned. The very fact that they invaded the World Trade Centre and they held leaders hostage, the entire political leadership of the country, to me was just the first taste of things to come. And I think those were just small things, there are bigger things to come.

POM     Could you see a situation where you would have an election under a new constitution and that with the instability of the country that the first thing the new government would have to do would be to declare a state of emergency?

TY     No, not a state of emergency. I think that the first task of the government would be to clamp down viciously on all those elements of violence because the people will be needing stability and the people need stability because for a long time our country has been unstable and we have been suffering under a process of instability, violence and people will be needing relief. The economy will be needing relief and we will just be coming out of a democratic election, it would have been voted into power by a majority of the people of the country and would then have a mandate to clamp down on violence and I think that the new ANC government has to clamp down very, very strongly on these elements of violence.

POM     What do you think the people have a right to expect after five years of a government of national unity? What should the average person in a township be able to expect?

TY     I think the average person in a township must expect the beginnings of deliverance of the goods by the ANC government even if it's not everything but there must be a visible programme of development, houses for example, doing away with the squatter areas. There must be a visible programme and creating jobs. There must be a visible programme of building schools and improving our education, blah, blah, blah. There must be movement, complete movement in all these areas.

POM     So people must be able to see things happening?

TY     See things happening and then they will understand that there is a new government. But if Mandela comes in there and he sits there and does nothing then the country is going to go in flames and by then it is going to be difficult because there will be no credible leadership to stop the people from doing that. The credible leadership will be the one that is giving problems, the new ANC government.

POM     A number of people in the ANC, some of them old timers, people who sit on the NEC, talked about how the Harare Declaration had been all but abandoned, it had been set aside, it didn't figure in negotiations, the just pragmatically set it aside. The ANC used it as a debating and negotiating tool until 1990 and before that, but then it disappeared from the vocabulary and that they have really moved into the centre and become far less of the revolutionary organisation. Do you sense that there is criticism of the ANC by other members of the ANC, more radical members?

TY     Yes, I think that the ANC has lost its image as a militant revolutionary movement, it is seen increasingly as a moderate, reasonable movement. You no longer hear about the contents of the Freedom Charter that says that the people shall govern, all wealth shall be transferred to the hands of the people, etc., etc. Those things have been put on the wayside and, yes, there has been some shift in the ANC maybe to try and assure all those good things that it's an organisation that isn't interested in just killing and banning.

POM     Does that movement away from it's core disappoint you? Would you have rather kept more to that agenda, the people-based agenda?

TY     I think there is merit in the criticism that the ANC is shifting away from the people's agenda not by the content of the policies, I think the policies have not just changed. Slight changes here and there in emphasis but the clauses remain the same but what you see visible, you see Mercedes Benz, you see mansions, you see these things, these are all trappings of power, limousines, three-storey houses, etc., etc. And even the language, it's no longer the old language of comrades, it's Mr. So-and-so, no longer Comrade so-and-so, and so on and so forth.

POM     How would you say the ANC in the Western Cape differs from the ANC in the PWV?

TY     I'm afraid that my time is up, but I'll answer this question. The ANC in the Western Cape is different from the PWV because it is operating under different circumstances. In the Western Cape you have a minority in the country being a majority in the region and that minority in the country, which is a majority in the region, is not well disposed towards the ANC. You don't have that problem in the PWV. The majority which is the black people are the majority in the PWV. They don't have the problems which we have. But it produces a whole different dynamic and character into our approach.

POM     One last very quick question, do you think that parties like the DP, or the NP for that matter, should have the right to go into townships and to canvass votes there and to try to organise?

TY     Yes. I think that they should have that right and space to go and canvass anywhere in the country where they want to canvass support. We have suffered under repression for centuries. We cannot now renege and say, OK, you disallowed us to operate freely and we're now going to ban you from coming to the townships. No, we are saying that they must come. What we are saying to the people is that when they come they must give them a very good chance to be heard but they must also pin them down on their policies now and in the past, their practices. These guys are responsible for not just massacres, there has been genocide taking place in this country, there are still mass graves. The apartheid system was declared a heresy, a crime by the international community.

     So they must pin them down on all those questions. How have they changed? If they go and say, Look you must vote NP, why should we vote NP? They must ask them that question, "What's different from the NP of last year and the NP of this year? You have been responsible for this country for 45 years, you messed it up, you are coming to us and say that you want another chance." So we are saying that they must not just let them in and out, they must sit them down and say, "Look, just account", they must teach them democracy.

POM     OK. Thank you very much. I'll be back again in about six months if that's all right, one more hour. I want to do you right through 1997, one hour twice a year, two hours a year.

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.