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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
08 Dec 1993: Heyns, Johan
POM We were just talking about the differences in culture, I suppose, between white people and the black community and I was giving you my observations on getting Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer to Boston last June to receive honorary degrees. There always is this problem, the ANC as an organisation will just not be there but there will be no explanation given, no-one phones back and says I have to cancel the interview tomorrow, I'll be some place else, ring my secretary and we'll reschedule it. You just turn up and they're not there. What do you think this is indicative of?
JH Well I've just referred to the difference in culture, difference in background between people from the first and the third world. But I think there is an additional reason for that and I think that is to be understood against the background of the ANC. They have been for so many years a revolutionary organisation and now they are also, as is the rest of SA, in a transitional period from the revolutionary organisation towards the forming of a political party with the burden of the knowledge that very soon they would be part and parcel of the new government and that is not only an organisational transition, that's also a mental transition. I think you should try to understand it against that background.
POM Yesterday someone quoted Naipaul to me when he went to South America and met one of these dictators or whatever but he said, the phrase was that he had given up the security of agitation for the insecurity of power. When you look at what happened at Kempton Park last week and what's ongoing, what are your reflections on it? If I had been here three years ago, which I was, but if I had said to you at that point that within three years SA would have what amounts to a sharing of power government with a date set for an election with a 160 page constitution drawn up and that essentially you will have the transfer of power take place on 28th April next year, would you have been surprised that things would move so quickly or would you have thought they would have moved more slowly or do you think they have moved too quickly?
JH Well I think generally speaking one could say what has happened at Kempton Park is nothing less than a miracle. I always say that you must keep in mind the historical background of what's going on in this country today. Without that historic dimension I don't think you will be able to understand either the tensions or the achievements. We have had for three and a half centuries exclusive white domination. Added to that a period of 30 - 40 years of apartheid in which the government tried to maintain the privileged position of the whites. Apartheid has failed, exclusive white domination has come to an end, we have had a guardianship relationship between whites and blacks and now we are entering into a partnership relationship between whites and blacks. That poses also, irrespective of the political and economic dimensions, also a number of psychological challenges to both blacks and whites in SA.
Now given this background I think it is, as I said, a miracle what has happened in Kempton Park. I think it went very smoothly. That does not mean that everything is ironed out already. Obviously this is only the beginning, a starting point, and yet I think it went very, very fine. Well, fine to the minds of those level headed people because you have, as you know, to the right and to the left the extreme reaction: people who would like to replace white domination by black domination, whites who are not willing to enter into this new phase of partnership because of the fact that they still want to be in a dominant, privileged position as they've had for the last three and a half centuries with their idea of self-determination for the whites and their demands and claims for a volkstaat, a state for the people. So for the middle block, not the left and not the right, I think we are very happy with what has happened.
POM Some people have said to me that at this point it's more important to have elections on 27th April even in the face of perhaps high levels of intimidation and violence than to postpone elections to some ideal date when the violence will have subsided. They say it's more important to confer a sufficient degree of legitimacy on the government than to wait for ever before having an election.
JH That's a very difficult question to answer. It's quite obvious that according to the far right if they're going through with the election on 27th there would be some form of violent resistance and from, I won't say from the left, but in any case from the ANC it is quite obvious and they have said it very, very clearly in public already, that if they're not going through with the election on the 27th there will be trouble. So I think that is indeed a very, very complicated dilemma to solve. According to our State President, I met him a week or two ago, he said, "We cannot postpone the date and I have to choose." I have to choose on the one side to face the threat from the right and I have to choose the threat from those people who insist on going through with the election on the 27th. So that is a very, very awkward situation. He is faced with this dilemma I would say.
POM Given the high levels of intimidation and violence that now exist, if they continue to exist at the time of the election do you think you can have free and fair elections in the normal sense in which those words are used or will one be saying, well, no, they won't be free and fair completely and there will be intimidation and there will be violence but nevertheless if there's a sufficient turnout and there's a defined clear result there will be sufficiently clear, fair and free to confer legitimacy on whatever government comes in.
JH I believe that what we are experiencing today is a new birth, new birth of a new nation and as is the situation with all births there are always birth pangs. What we are going through now is to be expected if we really are looking forward and are very anxious to see this new birth. If we are not going through with this election on the 27th I think there could be an increase of violence. If we are going through with it surely there would be also violence and resistance and therefore it is as simple as that, that those in charge have to decide what is of paramount importance at this stage and I think they have already decided that they will accept the degree of violence when they are going through on 27th because of the fact that it is of very, very great importance for this whole country to go through this stage on its new road to a new SA.
POM When you look at the last three years what changes have you found most difficult to live with, what changes have made you happy, very satisfied?
JH Structurally I don't think there have been any changes. I think as far as structures are concerned the situation remains stable but the intensification of the emotions throwing a contra to the reform process has increased. Those in favour are excited to see the eventual change from one phase to another, from the old to the new SA. Those against it are more convinced of the fact that the changes are completely impossible to accept. We've had yesterday an example of what could happen. I'm referring to the siege of Skanskop here in Pretoria. I have had many discussions with Constand Viljoen and with Ferdi Hartzenberg and they are determined not to accept the council and they are determined not to co-operate in the coming elections. They are also determined to resist what's going on. You know that they are threatening with a civil war. Exactly what the extent of that is going to be and how are they going to operate once they've embarked on that disastrous road, I don't know.
POM Some people have compared what they could do to what the IRA is doing in Northern Ireland.
JH That's right.
POM The IRA has about fifty operatives with a support group of maybe 500 and they've tied down 30,000 British troops for the last 20 years to induce a state of constant emergencies where there are all kinds of laws for detention without trial.
POM So at this point you don't see the Freedom Alliance coming into the process?
JH I don't think there's anyone in SA who could answer that question at this very moment. Sometimes it looks very positive, sometimes it's very negative. But some of them are very hopeful as to the possibility of them coming into the process and partaking in the elections.
POM How would you contrast the threat that Buthelezi may pose as against the white right? Do you think if he continues to stay out, that the IFP do not contest the elections, (a) that it will be almost impossible to have elections in Natal and (b) he can induce a state of continuing uncertainty and instability?
JH I think the answer to that question depends on Buthelezi's internal position in the IFP and I'm not quite sure whether he still has that massive support of his own people. There were speculations as to the possibility of the IFP taking part without Buthelezi so it is not impossible. There were certain signs, rumours that some of his executive members are distancing themselves from this leadership. Now I'm not in a position to evaluate that internal situation but yet that is a possibility. The tension between him and the rest of his men in the IFP and there is the possibility of the IFP perhaps with the support of the King, but I think more likely with the support of the King taking part in the election and that could result in a very isolated position for Buthelezi himself in which case he would be completely out of the process.
POM How much would you say his personality has to do with his actions? I've interviewed him four times and I've been amazed about his sensitivity. He uses the word 'I' all the time, everything he does the word 'I' crops up more than any other word in anything he either says or writes. He has a constant preoccupation with being insulted, with being humiliated and documents at great length every insulting statement made about him by whomever. I suppose part of the way I was thinking was that he's a man who three years ago thought he was going to be an integral part of the new process, he would be one of the big three, this was between Mandela, de Klerk and himself, and now he finds himself marginalised to a degree but he's also found that perhaps the support for the IFP nationally is no more than 5% and to contest an election in which he had been posturing as one of the big three and to end up with 5% of the vote is the biggest humiliation of all. Perhaps he can't do it? To stay outside protects his ego in a way that going into it would destroy it.
JH You see I'm not a psychologist and I wouldn't be in a position to comment on his personality structure but I think your observation is quite correct. He's very, very sensitive of criticism and he usually reacts very, very strongly at the slightest indication of difference with him. So I think there is that dimension in the personality of Buthelezi.
POM There was this what they called "six pack" passed on the last night of the negotiating forum when six items were linked together and they were accepted by the government and the ANC as being a reciprocal set of accommodations but there were two of them about which I have had no two people tell me what they mean. One is how decisions would be made in Cabinet and the other is just what is the deadlock breaking mechanism in the event that the Constituent Assembly fails to agree on a constitution. Could you tell me what your understanding of each of those are?
JH I'm afraid I'm not in a position to do that. That's so typically a political question with the presumption that I have had, internal insight which I do not have. I think the overall perception is that yesterday evening on Agenda they talked about the 'love' relation between the ANC and the government and this love relation is of a very exclusive nature. It excludes everybody else and then in the negotiation process they have to just be willing to adopt what has been laid before them and all the rest of the players feel that they are completely excluded from this party of two. That is all I can see. That is my observation.
POM When you look at how the negotiations proceeded over the last year, what can you see as the major compromises made by government and the main compromises and concessions made by the ANC?
JH That is also a political question. Somebody said that it was a matter of fifty/fifty. Now whether that is correct I think is a debatable point. That is to say government has made 50% concessions and the ANC has made 50% concessions. It is clear, however, that the government came into this process with definite ideas, for instance, about the position of the presidency. They have an idea of three rotating presidents and that has been dropped. I think the powers of the local and the national have also gone through certain changes. I don't think that the ANC bargained right from the outset on what has now been achieved. Perhaps they started with the idea of taking over and not really sharing power and I think from their side that was quite a remarkable concession.
POM If you had to rate the constitution, again I ask everyone, and the whole package of arrangements that came out of Kempton Park on a scale of one to ten where one would represent you being very dissatisfied with what they had produced in terms of a constitution and a bill of rights and transitional arrangements and ten where you were very, very satisfied with the arrangements made with regard to these matters, where would you come out?
JH I would be very satisfied with the present situation and I would give round about eight. It isn't perfect but under the circumstances I think it is the best they could achieve and therefore I would give eight.
POM Looking at the threat to the process which you had talked about, you said that Thabo Mbeki had been addressing of group of, was it interdenominational?
JH Dutch Reform Church family, church leaders.
POM What was his perspective on the current level of violence, the possible future levels increasing, decreasing, what factors are at play that will either diminish it or increase it?
JH He spoke not for very long but he focused not on the political dimensions of the problems of violence but mainly on, I would say, the attitudinal aspect and he called on the churches to play a bigger role in order to change people's attitudes because he said you cannot expect from people to change overnight after the speech of the State President in February 1990. They came a long way with certain statements and certain attitudes and you cannot expect from people to change that immediately by a stroke of the pen when they scrapped apartheid and I thought that was very, very aptly said and a very true diagnosis of the situation because that is also true of the situation in the Dutch Reform Church. You know that we have not only accepted the policy of apartheid but even tried to give it a biblical, ethical justification, then gradually we distanced ourselves from that to that extent that in 1986 we adopted a report called Church & Society in which we said that we're not going to support apartheid any longer and you cannot defend apartheid on biblical grounds and we've reiterated that view. In 1990 we even went further and said apartheid is sin. So that is formally the situation of the DR Church but that does not mean that every aspect or every remnant of racism or apartheid has been eradicated in the hearts of our people, not at all.
The de facto situation is a proof of what I'm saying. Constand Viljoen and many others to the right and even to the far right are still members of the DR Church in spite of the official position of the church as it is expressed and formulated in Church & Society.
POM Do you think that Constand Viljoen lent a credibility and respectability to the right that had hithertofore been missing?
JH Yes, oh yes, without any doubt. He's a man of integrity and he has a very, very great influence on people to the right and I think you're right by saying that he lends certain credibility to those people. I am not personally very sure if he is in a position to give very strong leadership. The influence of the other people, for instance Ferdi Hartzenberg, on them is also very strong and yet he plays a very important role in the right wing.
POM It's cobbled together with so many different interest groups. It's hard to see them - at some point in negotiations the fish line will be appealing to at least one of them to get in so you might have a fragmented alliance after a couple of months. As you said there are a number of people in the IFP who want to get into elections.
JH Oh they are very deeply divided, very deeply divided, that is true for many, many of these organisations and institutions.
POM One thing that puzzles me that I've observed happening in the last 18 months is de Klerk. In March 1992, the referendum, he was at the peak of his popularity. He had the right wing being discredited, disorganised, in a shambles. Then rather than moving on from that high, from that point on things kind of get worse for de Klerk. Up to that point he was the man who was making all these astute moves, he was like the leader of the process, right out in front of everybody else. Somewhere in between March of 1992 and the present he lost the initiative. He's more indecisive, appears to be more indecisive, the NP itself has fragmented to the extent that I think recent surveys show that it might only gain 13% in a national election. What's happened to the whole constituency that used to underwrite the NP?
JH Once again I would take the historical background for evaluating this situation. Up till his famous speech in 1990 the NP was obviously very strong. They have had political power, very strong political power. Then in 1990 de Klerk initiated a process of dismantling apartheid, a process which implied a sharing of power, a stepping down of what they had had, a process which implies a give and take game and I think that is exactly what the NP did. It played, I would say, this game very successfully to my mind, that of give and take. Now that implies a necessary decline in that very strong position. Hence I think we can indeed deduce from that the decline in the popularity of de Klerk. Isn't that inherent in the process which he has initiated? If he would have been the strong man he was before 1990 this process couldn't have taken place. But I think that is his strength, that he was willing to step down.
POM Do you see a situation of where the NP could contest an election and not even end up to be the second largest party?
JH It's theoretically possible but I don't think that's going to happen. I think we will be surprised at the support the NP is going to get at the poll.
POM They'd like to hear you say that. They'd like any good news these days.
JH Exactly the same thing has happened before the referendum, the support built up and ended with 68% support which came as a surprise for the whole of SA and especially as a surprise for de Klerk himself. He had never ever expected that much support.
POM Chief Buthelezi says the chances of a civil war are fifty/fifty. Under what circumstances do you think SA could be plunged into a civil war?
JH I think it all depends on how determined people to the right really are and if the Freedom Alliance would join the process and take part in the election and if they could reach some sort of agreement on a volkstaat which I think is not impossible. Then I think the possibility would decrease, possibility of a civil war would decrease. But if they, the right, feel that they are completely at a loss, if they feel that they are completely ignored and there is no sign of hope whatsoever of getting what they really want to get, then I think we are on the brink of civil war.
POM Where would you, again back to Buthelezi, going back to the Freedom Alliance in general, if its demands are not in some way taken into consideration can you have a SA emerge that is stable and democratic?
JH No. Then I think we could embark on the road you've already indicated, that of Northern Ireland, because I think that all aspirations and all political alternatives from all the different parties should be taken into consideration and somehow accommodated and unless they are going to achieve that we won't solve our problems in a peaceful manner.
POM Which means there will be no foreign investment for years and years.
JH It's possible.
POM I talked with Derek Keys the other day and one of the things that became clear was that as a result of the government's application to the IMF and the World Bank that he formed a team composed of economists from all the political parties and they all agreed to a common economic policy for the next six to eight years. He says the level of unemployment is about 46% and there is virtually no way that that figure is going to be reduced. He says if you get a 1% decrease in unemployment per year it will be a miracle. He points to Europe which hasn't created a job in twenty years. If you have redistribution, which he thinks you can have, but that the black community finds itself four or five years from now at more or less the same level of unemployment as they have today where one thing they have been promised by the ANC is jobs, have you been making a real political conundrum there?
JH That all depends on the policy the new government is going to follow. If I'm thinking of what Hitler has done in the thirties, he has changed his country completely, not only politically but also economically, and I think it all depends on the initiative and the creative power and the willingness to make a success of the new SA via this new government. We haven't had this situation in the past. I've already told you this is the very first completely democratic government in three and a half centuries and it all depends on what is going to happen with them and the reaction of the people from abroad to this new government which is for a theologian, not a politician, not an economist, not a diplomat, awfully difficult to answer. Don't you think so?
POM A theologian must deal in speculation all the time.
JH No, that is not according to the style of his job. He is actually dealing with the most certainties, absolute certainty that exists in the whole world. He is thinking of the word of thinking, contemplating, trying to reformulate, trying to disseminate, etc., etc., the word of the great architect and what in the world can be more sure than that? He who knows everything from the beginning until the very last end. So we in theology are working with absolute truths. You people are working with the relative speculations and now if you are coming to ask me all these sort of tricky questions.
POM They're not tricky.
JH It is tricky, it all depends on reactions of individuals and countries and politicians.
POM It's like laying out different scenarios, they're laid out on certain premises and if premises are false and scenarios are false scenarios.
JH That's right and nothing about politicians, I am sure.
POM Well, just to proceed.
JH I'm just warning you!
POM Two things surprised me and disappointed me at the end of Kempton Park. One was, both referred to the ANC, one referred to the ANC, the other to ANC and government, the decision that the State President would have the final say in the composition of the Constitutional Court which completely politicises the court and lays the basis for undermining the constitution. Secondly, the decision on the part of both government and ANC, but more so on the part of the ANC in favour of a single ballot rather than a double ballot and a single ballot effectively restricting people's choice at the regional and local level.
JH Yes, but you know that wasn't the position of the State President on the Constitutional Court. That was a proposal made without his knowledge by Kobie Coetsee and according to my information they were amazed to hear this proposal from Kobie Coetsee.
POM Do you believe that?
JH The ANC has had that in mind but thought they will never ever go through with it or get the support from the other people so they decided not to make that proposal. In that vacuum situation where they considered other possibilities there came this proposal from Kobie Coetsee and they were so amazed they immediately accepted it but that was without the knowledge of the State President. Only after the reaction from the DP, as you know, they have changed that position which I think was a very good thing.
POM What would have led Kobie Coetsee to make such a proposal in the first place?
JH A politician's reaction is completely unpredictable, on the spur of the moment he reacted in that unbelievable way.
POM Did the ANC say, 'Where's the trap?'
JH No, and the position on the ballot I think was only, or merely, not a principle one but a pragmatic one. The consideration was here you have so many, what? 20 million people who are going to vote for the very first time and who do not have expertise to do it and to have two or three ballot papers would confuse them and therefore, as I said, on a pragmatic argument they decided to have only one.
POM When you look towards the next six months what do you see? Do you see efforts to bring the Freedom Alliance in being successful or unsuccessful? Do you see a very sticky period while the election campaigns are in full swing?
JH It's going to be very tense naturally. Different parties are going to put their views very, very strongly towards the electorate and against the others so it's going to be a very tense time and yet it's going to be an exciting situation. For the very first time in the history of this country we are going to have an election where everybody is going to take part. The very first time in three and a half centuries.
POM This goes back to my very first question. If I had said this to you three and half years ago would you have said, no, it's going to take much longer?
JH Yes, that's the reason why I've referred to this process as a miracle and I think you can substantiate that, not explain it but substantiate it by saying that that is a sign of the goodwill, the amount of goodwill, the reservoir of goodwill in spite of our history, in spite of the history of discrimination and exploitation and what have you, in spite of what we have had there is still a reservoir of goodwill and that comes now to the fore.
POM This week John Kane-Berman made four criticisms of the constitution and the process. He said South Africa's next constitution will last for a shorter period of time than it took to write. The new constitution must be adopted by the Constituent Assembly within two years, the interim constitution has taken 2½ years to write. Do you expect the interim constitution really to be the basis of the final constitution with minor modifications here and there to get rid of some of the more obvious defects or do you think, as they're entitled to do by the law, they can throw the whole thing out and start from scratch?
JH I don't think, well it's my very limited personal observation, but I don't think that the new constitution will differ very much from the present one. I don't think so.
POM He says, "Constitutional negotiators have made at least four mistakes along the way. They've been too hasty."
JH Yes, well that is a criticism from the far right.
POM "They have prematurely set the election date."
JH Well that's a debatable point. If that was later on that could create more and instigate more violence and according to the State President this is a means of trying to curb the violence.
POM "They focus on sharing power rather than limiting power."
JH I think that is a debatable point.
POM Then, "They have rejected to cater adequately for minorities." He said, "The NP is in a weak position to bring about a trade-off between the ANC and the IFP." Do you think the weakening of the government as reflected in support for it among its own constituency makes it far more difficult for it to strike a bargain with the IFP or other elements in the Freedom Alliance and then to go and sell that to the ANC?
JH I'm not quite sure we can argue that way. If you've had a strong party, and that is true, where in the world has happened what is happening now in SA where the NP, who introduced a certain political model, namely that of apartheid in 1948, fifty years later dismantled the same political model? Where has that been done not by a different political party but exactly by the same party? The NP introduced and they have abolished apartheid. Now if they were to be the strong party that they used to be when they started in 1948 for the process of dismantling apartheid how on earth could they achieve that if they were not willing to play this game of give and take? Therefore, as I said, that is inherent in the process that was initiated by the NP. If they were as strong as they were already in 1948 now when this process of change is in continuation then they couldn't have achieved what they have achieved.
JH But that's a sort of philosophical approach. To achieve a new constitution those who were strong must be willing to be weak otherwise it's not possible.
POM So in that sense everyone close to the ANC talks about them going after as much of the vote as they can get, not of the question of whether it would be better for them and for the country if they received less than two thirds of the vote or more. In the ANC they have a problem with that question, they say more would essentially mean they could run things, write their own constitution. They probably would consult with everybody else but essentially they would have a mandate from the people to pursue the policies they were putting forward and wouldn't be inhibited by the need to take the opinions of others into account as much as they would be if they got a smaller share of the vote.
JH Well that could happen only when they get two thirds. If they get less than that some say that they think they could get, I've heard this morning on the radio, no not 60% but 53%. But if they do get two thirds then there is the theoretical possibility that they could simply reject all that has been done at Kempton Park because there would not be a strong opposition and I think that would be a disastrous development in this country. For that reason I hope they really do not get two thirds.
POM I remember Moses Tjitendero, because I've seen him in Namibia, telling me one time that when SWAPO began their election campaign they too wanted to garner as much of the vote as possible and initially they were disappointed they didn't receive more than two thirds. But he said in retrospect it was a good thing both for the party and the country that they didn't. It meant they had to engage in meaningful negotiations, trade-off with the opposition in parliament and what you had in parliament was a real opposition not a token opposition. But we never learned these lessons.
JH No, I really hope that that's not going to be the situation in our country. We have so many minorities in this country and it is so obvious that they should be taken into account.
POM This comes back to a question which I asked two years ago and that was whether there was an ethnic dimension in the conflict and whether it had been sufficiently recognised in terms of the numbers of minorities out there and we had a breakdown of opinion on it. The ANC said there was no ethnic factor, if there is an ethnic factor it was created by partition and didn't precede it. Then I talked to white academics, government people, whatever and they would say of course there's an ethnic dimension. So again in a way they were following along their ideological fault lines in their responses. My own feeling is that there is an ethnic dimension.
JH Of course, history has proven that.
POM I think there's been some rethink on the part of the ANC as they've seen what's happened in Yugoslavia. I mean here were people who lived together comfortably who turned on each other.
JH Well you can't deny the existence of the ethnic dimension in our history. Just read our history books. So many clashes against the Zulus and the Xhosas and what have you, and the Afrikaners and the English, and the Afrikaners and the Dutch. You can't deny that phenomenon in history, it's completely impossible.
POM In that sense then Afrikaner nationalism has to find a way of expressing itself either within this constitution or outside of it.
JH Well preferably inside.
POM Lyndon Johnson had a famous phrase, which I don't know if I should use, to describe that kind of situation. He said, and excuse the language, "It's better to have somebody inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."
JH Yes. Really very realistic.
POM Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
JH You're welcome.
JH I got Constand Viljoen to show me his map for a volkstaat and we can assure you, according to Mandela, that we will use our influence in order to extend the boundaries of that volkstaat to include a major presence, a presence of a majority of white Afrikaners within that volkstaat. I've invited Constand Viljoen to bring his map to Mandela. Now that I think is a very interesting remark to come from Mandela, on one condition, that within the boundaries of the volkstaat there should be no apartheid whatsoever, no discrimination whatsoever. All people should be seen as equal. So if you're willing to reject apartheid we are willing to see what we can do in order to accommodate you.
POM It sounds like a reasonable offer.
JH I thought that was very reasonable.
POM A huge turn around on the part of the ANC.
JH Yes. And compare that with the policy of Andries Beyers, the Afrikaans Volksunie or whatever it's called.
JH Yes. I think it now has one member.