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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

30 Nov 1993: Slovo, Joe

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POM     Mr Slovo, I asked you last year whether you have been surprised at how far the process has come in the two and a half years since you had come back to the country and you said that you were, even though it was the middle of Boipatong at that stage and stayaways and whatever. I ask you a similar question now. Do you think that the process has moved quicker than you thought in terms of there being an interim constitution passed, an election date set and more or less a line set down where there would be majority rule for South Africa?

JS     Well I think particularly in the last six months we're in a time squeeze to meet the target date which we had set for ourselves and got the negotiating council to accept, the 27th April, and I think that put some fire under the seats of most participants. Once the date was accepted the process had to be speeded up and in a way that was facilitated in a rather distorted way by the withdrawal of some of the dissidents, Inkatha and the elements within the Freedom Alliance, because they had attempted to go in for what they called 'constructive filibustering' and their absence removed that particular obstacle. It's not that we don't want them there but objectively it helped to facilitate quicker progress. Nevertheless looking at where we are now it obviously gives one a feeling of elation that we have reached this point which at this stage I think is pretty irreversible. We couldn't say that six months ago despite the progress that had been made.

POM     If you were to give advice to the Freedom Alliance and to Buthelezi regarding what options are open to them what options would you say are open and how would you evaluate the options?

JS     I believe the only option they've got is to come back into the process. We've bent over backwards to try to accommodate them. I think we've gone far enough both in their interests and in our interests. I can't see at this moment in time that there is too much room to manoeuvre in the sense of making any fundamental changes to the dispensation which has been adopted or is being adopted.

POM     If you had a Hobson's choice between the white right wing staying out of the process and Buthelezi staying out of the process which would do the most damage to the process itself?

JS     It's a difficult choice. As you say it's a Hobson's choice. I think we need to make the process as inclusive as possible because both these elements you talk about have got some potential for destabilising the situation. It's not that they represent a significant majority even in their regions but it doesn't require much to create a little bit of chaos and havoc as we discovered when we were engaged in the struggle.

POM      At one time I made a comparison of the right wing and the IRA and said that it would have a similar capacity in terms of a bomb here a bomb there, it could create an atmosphere of continuous instability where you have thousands of troops tied down, where you were forced into bringing in emergency measures which are most crippling of all.

JS     They do have that capacity, they have got some sympathisers I am sure in the security forces and the police and the army and they have got a pretty passionate grouping among the Afrikaners in the case of the white right wing. And, of course, Inkatha also has got what I consider to be still an ethnic backward constituency which can be misled into these kinds of actions. So I don't think we should underestimate the potential but I think at the end of the day I don't believe that they will be able to sustain any kind of violent campaign which is their only alternative to participating in the election, but it's difficult to forecast what spill over effect this will have on the general climate in which the election will be held.

POM     Quite a number of people have said to me that it's more important that the elections take place on April 27th even in the face of a lot of intimidation and violence and if there are not seen as being free and fair in the sense that international monitors use the word, that it's necessary that you have an election that confers a sufficient degree of legitimacy for the incoming government, that if you wait for the ideal date to have an election you'd never have an election.

JS     Well I don't believe it will reach that point. I don't think they've got sufficient power across the board to derail the process to the point where the election can't be certified as free and fair, but it's pure speculation.

POM     These international monitors are very picky and I often wonder if they monitored US elections they would find more irregularities than they do in other countries.

JS     But if you actually examine, if one wants to speculate about what they would do, I think they have got no presence or power within the black constituency apart from Inkatha which is in Natal, portions of Natal and perhaps portions of the PWV region. In none of the other areas is there any significant presence of Inkatha elements. That's as far as Inkatha is concerned. As far as the Volksfront and the AWB it's within the white constituencies that they can create some kind of mayhem through bombs and acts of sabotage and so on, but even there I think they will have to calculate what the response would be and I don't believe that they will be able to sustain it over a long period of time, bearing in mind the reaction that it would evoke. My own view is that, I don't dismiss what they are saying as bluster, but I think there is an element of attempting to use these threats and intimidatory approaches as bargaining chips for trying to achieve more than they have achieved up to now. This is something we'll have to see.

POM     One thing that struck me very forcibly last year when the negotiations got under way again was that there were two kind of bipolar negotiations, the government and its allies on the one side and the ANC and its allies on the other side and then in the renewed negotiations the government switched dancing partners. What was their strategic reason? Do you think the government had gone into these talks with a clearly thought out strategy of what it wanted to get at the end of the day?

JS     I think of course they had a clear vision of where they wanted to get at the beginning, but that vision was influenced by the realities of the negotiating process and I think initially they really believed that they could create a front across the colour line which could challenge the dominance of the ANC. The basic factor which influenced them was the possibility of a sort of alliance with the IFP and some growing support amongst the Indians and the Coloureds. I think as things have turned out they have begun to recognise that there was no basis for that kind of an alliance and there was only one way of reaching some kind of negotiated conclusion and that is by some understanding between themselves and the ANC. I think in the last six months in particular they settled for that kind of approach.

POM     You've been involved in negotiations from the beginning, what would you pick out as being critical turning points? I'll give you one example, not mine but of Hermann Giliomee in his column on Sunday or Saturday, he said that December 1991 was a critical turning point because it was then that the government gave in to the idea that there would have to be an elected Constituent Assembly which they had fought tooth and nail against up to that point.

JS     Sorry, what was the question?

POM     What were the critical turning points in the last three years which altered the direction or the focus of the negotiations?

JS     I think from the start the government had hoped that the process would lead to the adoption of a fully fledged constitution at the World Trade Centre which would be in place for many, many more years than is going to be the position with the interim constitution and their battle was always to make that constitution as full and final as possible so it would bind any future elected Assembly in all its detail. In other words they were hovering on this approach of having a one-stage rather than a two-stage process. I think they realised, certainly in the last year or so, that there was no way that they could negotiate a settlement on that basis and there is an element of pragmatism in their approach in the relative sense and I think they settled for that. I would say one of the turning points was the Record of Understanding which made it possible for the negotiating process to resume after the Boipatong massacre.

POM     They jettisoned Buthelezi.

JS     You see they had to make choices, that's the point. It's not a simple issue. Throughout this whole period they were confronted with various choices and calculations and I think at that point they realised that there was no way forward with an embrace of Inkatha and all its approaches. I was told that our own readiness to accommodate various concerns on the government's part, including our strategic approach in relation to the government of national unity, our elaboration of a more acceptable regional policy approach, I think set the basis and foundation for this latest breakthrough I would say.

POM     Do you see the regional structures as presently defined in the interim constitution and what the IFP is looking for and what the FA is looking for as being incompatible?

JS     I think it's not as far apart as it might have been a year or two ago because I really do believe that the agreement we've reached does give not phantom but really substantial powers to the regions and makes possible the governance which really involves a great deal of regional power sharing or autonomy. I don't like using the word 'federalism' because I don't think it means much, I think it's a cliché just as 'unitarism' is a cliché, but if you actually look at the substance of what has been agreed I would say that any person who is jealous of having a real effective safeguard for regional participation at levels of meaningful power on the ground should see the dispensation as an enormous advance on what we were talking about a year or two ago although we haven't bridged the fundamental difference. I think there are other factors which may interleave with all this. It's not just a question of regionalism in the case of Inkatha. Regionalism is the expression of an ambition to create a power base in the only area which they can hope to influence in the light of a conclusion which facts have demonstrated to them that nationally they have got no possibility of making an impact so they have been really fighting, I believe, for maintaining their own power positions.

POM     Do they still talk about their right to self-determination?

JS     Not Inkatha. They might have used those words but in the process itself when we debated the issue of self-determination with the salvo being fired by the Conservative Party in the debate, they were met with the most passionate opposition from the Inkatha representative, Joe Matthews, who came in and said that it's astonishing to listen to them talk about the whole process as if it's all about the liberation and the freedom of the minorities as the real issue before us is a struggle which the majorities have carried out for self-determination and independence. So with all these words we mustn't place too much emphasis on these clichés including federalism, unitarism, self-determination and so on. You've got to look at the content of what it's all about and I think in the case of Inkatha the insecurity they feel in the democratic process itself, they have always tried to ensure that the decisions are taken before the election and they clothe that in the form of self-determination but when they talk of self-determination they are not talking of self-determination based on the expression of the will of elected representatives of the people. They are talking about self-determination by the existing incumbents speaking on behalf of their constituents and it's the same with Bop and Ciskei and elements like that.

POM     Do you differentiate between, like when you're trying to make strategy or whatever, between Buthelezi and the IFP?

JS     Well I'm sure like all organisations there's no absolute mechanical unanimity and I think in the case of the IFP perhaps more so in their case than other organisations. The cult of the personality factor and the power which he wields in his homeland by virtue of apartheid laws is a crucial factor in dominating the whole course of events. I think there are now signs, we don't know how far they will prove to result in some kind of transformation, but there are clearly signs that there is rumbling and disaffection and one can understand that because basically we are dealing with a group of politicians who are concerned about their future and I think as the momentum of this process continues, and becomes a fait accompli even beyond what we are doing now, the provisional constitution is passed and we're headed for an election, I think the ground will have been laid then for choices to be made which will be influenced by I am sure a lot of personal factors and I fully expect that some of the leading individuals might well have a rethink about whether they should tie their flag to Buthelezi. I think he is sensing this too because he's talking perhaps for the first time in his political career of stepping down.

POM     Bisho and the assassination of Chris Hani. Last summer when I talked with you, it was perceived to be a struggle within the ANC between those who wanted to put more emphasis on mass mobilisation and those who wanted to get back to negotiations and it looked like those who wanted to take a hard line were prevailing and then Bisho happened and it seemed to be a turning point of sorts.

JS     I think that's also an oversimplified conclusion. A mass movement like the ANC with over a million members with different backgrounds and different levels of adrenaline and conceptions, in fact it is a very positive thing to expect debate, different emphasis and so on particularly in this very complex area of how in a negotiating phase, how you link what is happening around a table with what's happening on the ground. There's lots of room for flexibility, for debate, for discussion because we know from the word go that the negotiating table was the culmination of pressure both international and local and that our strength at the table is very closely and has always been closely connected with the balance of forces as we call it on the ground and the demonstration of will by the people to move forward and in that sense all of us have accepted there is a link between the two. The question at each moment whether you actually engage in one form of mass action or another form or whether you indeed go in at a particular moment for a general strike or you don't is a question of tactics which needs some kind of analysis and not everybody agrees at all stages.

     In the case of Hani I think he was not just misunderstood but misrepresented. I think Hani was a very profound supporter of the negotiating process, he's always been so since we started the process and remained so to the end of his days. I think he regarded his own specific role with his charisma and his capacity for getting responses from people on the ground, to devote his energies on the campaign trail but not in conflict, I don't believe ever, with the negotiating process. So whether he from time to time made the kind of noises that have been described as war talk, we've all done that in the heat of the moment after massacres and so on and so forth, but I think that doesn't describe what Hani was about. He didn't belong to that grouping. There is a small grouping like that which has been reluctant to fall in with the importance of the negotiating process. It's a question of degree really rather than basic substance.

POM      What do you think was the political impact of his death and the political consequences off it?

JS     The loss of Hani to the SACP was an irreplaceable one. It's something which goes without saying. I think in the end if an evil deed like that can have positive effects I think it didn't serve the purposes of those who perpetrated the act and that is to try to demoralise people, to weaken the struggle as a whole. They didn't succeed. I think it had the exact opposite effect.

POM     I've had some people say to me that the rage that spread throughout the country following his death for the first time made the government seriously understand the depth of black anger and how close things were to the precipice and that the fact that it was Nelson Mandela who had to go on television to calm the nation was almost a symbolic transfer of power, so in that sense it was a very symbolic moment.

JS     Yes. Not just a symbolic moment. It was a real moment which helped to instil into the government a greater sense of realism about what they were going to face if the process just dragged on and on without any kind of solution.

POM     So when you look at the three year period, but more importantly since serious negotiations began, what compromises and concessions would you point to as having been made by the government, what compromises and concessions would you point to as having been made by the ANC?

JS     Well the government I think eventually conceded the two stage process. The government conceded that the executive which would come into power would be a majority executive without minority vetoes and connected with that they abandoned their original ambitions to have the country governed by a Council of Leaders and that whole kind of dispensation. I think they abandoned, if they had real intention of creating a classical federal state, they abandoned that and they settled for and they are fighting for substantial regional dispensations and division of power between the centre and the regions short of a classical federal state. I think they also came to accept that the mechanisms which were necessary to ensure a free and fair election had to be given teeth, that is the TEC and all the other structures which are now going to be put in place. Perhaps there are other things. On our side I think we've gone as far as is consistent with our basic principles and our basic bottom lines to try to accommodate the fears and concerns of the other side, but my own thinking on this has changed slightly and that is that there was a point in time when one approached this whole problem as being prefaced by the question: what compromises can we make to reach a settlement consistent with our bottom lines? And I think looking back on that I would say that in all the key areas what might be seen as basic compromises are best described, I think, as ...

POM     Form not substance?

JS     Well not so much that as arrangements which I now believe we would have entered into in any case without being pressurised to do so. I think for example the basic factor which had an impact on the negotiating process, the government of national unity, was not, now on reflection, now that we theorise it, analyse it more clearly, was not just in order to entrap the other side to reach a settlement but even if we decided not to institutionalise it in the form of legal imperatives, it is in our interests, in the interests of governance, in the interests of getting over the hump that we are going to be forced to get over after April 27th, it is in the interests of our constituency.

POM     You laid out this argument fairly forcefully in the paper you did last year.

JS     Yes. But I'm saying that in relation to that paper if I had my life all over again I wouldn't have given it the heading that it was given "Negotiations - what room for compromise?" I think I would have approached the question from the point of view of what agreement must be worked for in order to ensure, taking into account the reality that we will face in the post-election period in order to ensure that we will be able to lay the foundation for the transformation which will not end on April 27th but will only begin as a process.

     I don't know if you actually get what I'm trying to say. It's something which I believe to be in our interests, it's the same I would say about our approach to the regional question. Two or three years ago we had no regional policy worth talking about and that's understandable for any liberation movement which is just targeting the destruction of the state which its basic policy has been fragmentation, Bantustans, homelands, dividing the people, dividing South Africa, ethnic separation and so on. Our response as a liberation movement at the stage before we were faced with choices about the future was one united central state opposed to any form of regionalism and so on and so forth. I believe that the agreements that we've reached on the regional issue accord with a correct perspective of how a country like South Africa should be governed. It cannot be governed in a completely centralised way. We've had our own experience even within the ANC where the regions that we have created in the ANC organisation are extremely jealous of their jurisdiction wanting not to be lorded over by Shell House and that is an indication in some microcosm of the approach which I think accords with the need for general effective governance whether it's of an organisation or of a country. When we began to address this issue seriously in relation to the negotiating process it looked like we were responding to pressures from the other side and there were pressures from the other side, but in determining what our approach should be I believe we reached what in any case would have been the correct kind of approach.

POM     I've asked this of everyone I've talked to since last week, on a scale of one to ten where one represents very deep dissatisfaction and ten very deep satisfaction, how would you rate the interim constitution or what came out of here?

JS     Of course it's not perfect and there are all kinds of reservations one can express particularly about the dispensation on local government which in essence is not a democratic dispensation. I think for the rest, by and large, I would give it seven to eight out of ten.

POM     I must tell you the members of the National Party and the government, their answers are consistently lower, it's interesting. When I was watching television last week it was almost like an anticlimax in the end but I couldn't help thinking that this year I have found a far greater degree of polarisation between blacks and whites. Every other year I've gone into townships and just never felt anything but safe and saw white people there but now I notice that I'm the only white person and just this last week in Thokoza I was shot at and stoned which gives one pause and fear comes in. Do you think it is across the board that kind of polarisation?

JS     Well I don't think the polarisation is across the board. I think there is a section of the disaffected youth in particular which for socio-economic reasons, conditions have just deteriorated continuously, and that has had a slight snowballing effect in relation to their attitudes. I think also it's a spill over effect from the kind of violence which infects their lives from day to day. It's the actions of sectors of the security forces, the internal stability units. It's the fact that the process has gone on and on and up to now perhaps there was no confidence that it was going to get anywhere and therefore this is just an expression of frustration and pent-up anger and so on.

POM     Do you think whites have prepared in a serious way for what is to follow, the big changes that are going to occur?

JS     Well nobody's prepared apart from the process itself and inevitable adjustments which I am sure are taking place but one can't measure these things. I would say on the whole in the case of even the majority of whites today there is an acceptance of the inevitable. There's a difference as to whether that inevitable history be blocked but I don't think there's a serious constituency even among the right wing that they can actually stop a general dispensation, leave aside the details of the transitional constitution, which wasn't the position two or three years ago. I think at that stage, that same constituency felt that there was no way we're going to reach this point and so on. I think it's becoming in their minds a fait accompli without necessarily being happy about it, not all but I think a substantial portion of them.

POM     As I go around, I live not too far from where you are, in Cyrildene, I'm astonished by the amount of property that's for sale. Every fourth or fifth house has six For Sale signs in front of it.

JS     It's not people leaving the country. I think it's people who think their property is going to drop because a few blacks are moving in. That's my guess and they are tending to move, those who can afford it in these areas you're talking about. They are trying to move to areas where there's less of a danger of lowering standards.

POM     There are three things in the upper stand the ANC took, well two that concerned me seriously. One was the Constitutional Court and the other the single ballot. On the Constitutional Court on the basis that it de-institutionalised democracy, it left the appointment of the majority of the judges of the Constitutional Court in the hands of the State President, giving him enormous powers to undermine the constitution itself.

JS     Well we've just had the details of the debate on that, but in general the issues were whether the existing structures which are dominated historically by the white privileged group, the legal profession, the Attorneys, the Bar, the magisterial benches, the Supreme Court and the real issue was whether that element of the inherited judicial structures should play the dominant role in influencing the kind of Constitutional Court that we're going to have. The issue facing us was that, for reasons which are obvious, if you talk of a certain number of judges that have to go on to the Judicial Commission there's only one black judge on the whole South African Supreme Court bench. They would inevitably have to be white, male, paid from the apartheid past. If you look at representation from the Law Societies, the same thing, 95% white dominated. You look at the representation from the academic sphere, the legal academic sphere, the same position. So the real issue was not so much whether it is abstractly correct for parliament or an independent body to appoint the judiciary, it really goes to the whole issue of the inheritance of apartheid and how do we begin to change the face of these power centres which have been based on race privilege. That was the real issue, not so much the abstract question of whether it is right for the Executive Officer to appoint the judges which happens in the United States. Of course they have to be vetted by the Senate, perhaps one could take that further step but it's basically an executive action and a political action. It's decided by the political parties. So there's nothing exactly right or wrong about it and you must approach that question in that framework.

     On the question of the one or two ballots, it's clear for this first election that there is a degree of deprivation of choice for regional parties who don't want to stand for national election not so much a deprivation of choice by them but the voter who might want to vote for one party nationally and for another party regionally. So nobody can argue in that contention that it is some slight incursion into the democratic process, voter choice, but if you weigh that against the fact that it's the first election, that even the single ballot is a mystery and it's difficult for those who accept this as bread and butter, it's a mystery to most people who have never voted. But to have these two ballots for a first election in the case of a completely unpractised voting constituency will do more damage to voter choice than the damage in the actual arrangement which has been accepted. You speak to people who have engaged in voter education, you might have seen the Sunday Times last week where forty organisations engaged in voter education welcomed with relief the one ballot for the reasons that I have stated and Professor Hennie Kotze of Potchefstroom University, I don't know if you saw his statement where he says that they have recently carried out tests on the two ballot system and what happened in those tests is that about 30% of the voters assumed, despite voter education, that they were voting for their first choice nationally and having voted for their favourite party whether it's the ANC or anybody else in the national ballot they assumed that the second ballot was their second choice. In other words to have two ballots would affect the democratic choice through this confusion and this is why some of the minority parties were so anxious, particularly the PAC which would in some urban areas at any rate find voters to say, "Yes we support the ANC but if you ask me who next - PAC", and they would therefore hope to pick up votes in that way. So it's not a simple question and in any case it's for this first ballot and hopefully in the future these elections will not take place at the same time.

POM     In the executive, I've had trouble finding out, how will decisions be made in the Cabinet?

JS     By majority. The provision in the Act, originally the government was fighting for a special majority. We opposed that and now the compromise is, if it is a compromise on their side, not on our side, that decisions in the Cabinet will be taken if possible by consensus, if not, if you can't get consensus then the decision will be taken into account, considerations of the government of national unity and the spirit of national unity and effective government. So in practice if you read that section you will see that at the end of the day decisions can be taken by simple majority in the Cabinet.

POM     Which really means that majority rule, in the strict sense of the word, is already here.

JS     It's here. Well the constitution needs two thirds majority, the unblocking mechanisms and in case of the constitution not being adopted it requires a referendum with special majorities. The government of national unity, it's not just a question of voting in the Cabinet because in essence if you want to maintain a government of national unity, whether the law compels you to do it or not, you're going to try to keep people together and you're not going to just ride roughshod over it.

POM     It would be more like decisions would be made after consultations with, rather than in consultation.

JS     Yes, after consultation, but obviously taking into account the strength of feeling of your coalition partners. If you want to break the coalition you can, but that's not in our interests and that's not what we intend and it's not what the spirit of the constitution says. But in law, strictly speaking, there is a majority executive.

POM     I remember last year, Moses Tchitendero, the Speaker of the House in Namibia, saying that when they began their election campaign they wanted to get as large as majority as possible, or 70% of the vote. In retrospect it was better for the country that they got under 662/3%.

JS     Well I wouldn't say that. I hope we get 662/3%, but I think even if we get 662/3% in the light of the potential for destabilisation in our situation, in the light of the fact that we will have political office but still not have power because all the state structures will be the same the day after as the day before, something we discussed before, I think we would be foolish if we just used our technical legal power to jettison these people and to ride roughshod over their feelings and their participatory potential.

POM     OK - thanks.

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.