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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Mar 1994: Coetsee, Kobie

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POM     Minister, first looking at the interim constitution that was produced last November/December as a result of all the negotiations at the World Trade Centre, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 would represent very unsatisfactory and 10 would represent very satisfactory, where would you place that constitution in terms of your own personal satisfaction?

KC     I would give it a six.

POM     Since then, that constitution has been amended in a number of ways as the result of negotiations between the government, the ANC, the IFP and the AVU. As a result of the changes made in that period, how would you now rank it?

KC     Perhaps 5. It could be 1 point down. But all inclusive I would give it, with all the amendments since, between 6 and 5.

POM     In the negotiations with the right, many concessions have been made in an attempt to bring them into the process. Which of those concessions do you think has weakened the constitution and which has strengthened it?

KC     Well, I think the extent of the constitution is to be judged on its acceptability and its acceptance amongst the majority of the people, or rather amongst people. I don't think its acceptance has been decreased or negatively influenced by the changes. I think it has been positively influenced by the changes. I think more people now want to support the constitution than before. In that sense, the constitution has been improved, if you put it that way. If you look at it from the angle of the people, you could say it warrants perhaps an increase of two points on that scale. If you look at the constitution in a radical way, a radical constitutional way, then I think it is a patchwork that only warrants 0,5%, a 0,5 increase on a scale of 10. But by and large its acceptability, the impression, the perception has been such that the right wing, especially the radical right wing, now has a lesser appeal to their supposed followers.

POM     I remember when the constitution came out, you took some flak with regard to the Constitutional Court. It was alleged that you had agreed to the President being able to make the majority of appointments to the court.

KC     That was a blatant lie.

POM     Yes. Could you give me your side?

KC     That was a blatant lie of course. I did not agree to that. It was in the report that the government and the ANC differed on this issue [and that the Judicial Service Commission, that it's role is to be determined] That was in a footnote and it was blatantly used as propaganda by the Democratic Party, knowing that that must be the case because I tipped them off. I said to them, "Look I've taken it so far, I'm telling you now, here's a stumbling block". I gave it to them, I passed it on to them deliberately, I told them in parliament, "I used you".

POM     So the key thing was in the footnote ...

KC     To put it bluntly, yes, you are obviously informed. With my history, do you think I would do that? I mean with my history and my dedication to the law, do you think I would have done that? And I succeeded because it was my proposal at the World Trade Centre, it was all our proposals, but what did I have to do? I had to get the DP and the ANC away from the proposal that the Senate was to appoint the Constitutional Court, because that was the proposal. And all our proposals, including the appointment from the judiciary, four from the present judiciary by the Chief Justice that was our proposal. Their contribution was zero really and I told them that in Parliament. They are very quiet on this now.

POM     It was their big day in the sun for a while.

KC     It was a big day for them, but I allowed them that because I needed them, I needed them because that was the very purpose of the negotiation. You understand what happened?

POM     When you look back at the negotiation process, beginning with CODESA 1, then CODESA 2 and then the last round, do you think the government essentially improved its position?

KC     After CODESA 2?

POM     After CODESA 2.

KC     No, it substantially weakened its position.

POM     What happened to bring that set of circumstances about where you ended up in a weakened position rather than a stronger position?

KC     Our position was weakened because the moderate parties, the centre and the moderate parties were very strong at CODESA 1 and 2, with the exception of the IFP. They thought they were in a weak position at CODESA 2, which they weren't, and subsequently they realised their mistake because they were proclaiming against the legitimacy of CODESA 2 because the Zulu King wasn't there. They made a horrible mistake because they were in a very strong position at CODESA 1 and 2. So, with the demise of CODESA 1 and CODESA 2, you've seen a new structure altogether, dominated by the ANC, utterly and completely dominated by the ANC. So they succeeded with their strategy.

POM     Cyril Ramaphosa is on record as saying that, in the end, the government just folded and threw in its hand.

KC     In the present round?

POM     No, at the World Trade Centre.

KC     No, no, you talk of CODESA 1 and 2 and then the present situation. Does he say that the government folded with the existing round of talks?

POM     In the round that succeeded CODESA 2 and ended with the passage of the interim constitution.

KC     No, I don't think the government just folded, but he will go on saying that because there are grounds for such a perception.

POM     Also, one hears frequently of there being hawks and doves within the cabinet itself, and if you, Tertius Delport and Hernus Kriel would be ...

KC     No, I'm not a hawk, I'm not a hawk. I'm a reformer. I can't tolerate delay, gimmicks, stratagems, manipulation. You cultivate a circle of trust with whomever and you operate within that circle of trust. Now let me just rectify the situation as far as the government is concerned. Towards the end, the government recovered a lot of ground by insisting that the constitution become all inclusive, and with that approach I would say rather that the ANC and not the government folded, because that has been the government's approach all along, that it's got to be all inclusive. Now who conceded on this? The ANC, not the government.

POM     If you have two blocks, one being post-CODESA 2 to the time the new constitution was passed, then the second block from the time the constitution was passed to negotiations with the IFP and the AVU and the government which are still going on, but the concessions given then in the second and latter part were at the expense of the ANC. It was the ANC who was making the concessions, not the government.

KC     On the issue of inclusivity, yes.

POM     Did inclusivity make for a weaker constitution?

KC     No, no, for a stronger constitution according to the view of the government, tenets of government.

POM     Yes, well the government would be in favour of more devolution of powers to the regions.

KC     Now there are weak sides to this and they mostly relate to the question of whether this can be overthrown and upset again if there is a substantive majority in the new parliament. That is the question that is causing a lot of uneasiness.

POM     This comes down to the question which resulted in the tie up in CODESA 2, that is, what deadlock breaking mechanisms are there, and it seemed to me that the question of deadlock breaking mechanisms was almost shunted aside during the World Trade Centre negotiations, that one is still not clear how ...

KC     It's not clear even now whether it's going to be implemented. I think it will all depend on how strong the majority party is going to be.

POM     Have you any understanding now of how you think it works?

KC     No I would rather not air an opinion on this one.

POM     Going back again a bit: when you look at the process that lasted over four years from the time of Mandela's release, what for you were the critical turning points that moved the negotiations in a different direction or that gave an impetus to them in some way?

KC     Over what period?

POM     From 1990 through 1994, the whole process over the last four years.

KC     Well, I would say that there were definite turning points or rather stages which were clearly visible from the outside, from an observer's side, perhaps not so much from those who were participating. It was just an ongoing process, but from the outside they were perhaps more marked and identifiable. Now I would say that the birth of CODESA gave tremendous impetus, of course. That in itself was significant and that significance can never be argued away because, whatever difference there might otherwise have been, they were moulded into a process, everyone, and that was a great step forward, it was of great significance. That was preceded, of course, by the effort to have an all-inclusive peace process. Again that was also significant because, for the first time then (this was actually some time before the birth of CODESA), we succeeded in bringing most of the parties together, getting them to be committed, and one will never be able to assess the value of this process. Many people will say cynically that it didn't succeed because there were still deaths, people died. At times there were so many incidents and so many complaints against the participants and most of them against the ANC. But it all added up to an atmosphere in which the public and the press shared expectations from parties that they would stop doing their own thing; that they should suspend their participation in violent activities, stop the infiltration of arms. A kind of atmosphere started to grow in South Africa, emphasising negotiation as opposed to an armed solution. I think from an historical point of view that this is sometimes overlooked. That was a major step forward because no-one thought the negotiations would succeed. Now from this peace process and from this negotiation process flowed another thing (I'm also an historian in a sense I mean I studied history, I majored in history, but followed something else). The world was amazed that we could by ourselves create an atmosphere; create mechanisms that would solve our constitutional situation. The world was quite amazed that that was what we could do. They thought these Boers are too stupid to do it and they thought the ANC is too belligerent and they couldn't understand this coming together. And from this grew at least the beginning of nationhood. It's there; it's there already from this recognition of the leadership involved, De Klerk, Mandela. I would say that there were no turning points, but there were stages, phases, major stages and major phases, and every time it had the effect of increasing the numbers of those who would want to be involved in the process, decreasing the other numbers. And that is one of the very interesting facets. If I have therefore to assess the process, if you were to ask me how to assess the process I would give it an 8 if not an 8.5. That's something different. Therefore, you have now, at this point in time, two statesmen who virtually come forward, recognised as such, and you have others now competing for this stage. The PAC for instance. There is a difference in their ranks as to whether they should continue or not that is progress. The same applies to the radical right wing and the right wing. There is conflict in their ranks about whether they should come in or not. That is success. That is why I would say I would give the process 8.5 if not more.

POM     Can I go back again to tie this into the fortunes of the National Party in recent years? There were a number of polls late last year showing that the party wouldn't get more than ...

KC     Well everyone knew that we were going to pay a price for this. I paid a price in my province where I have been involved in reform, not for the last five years, but for some time before that. You know that of course, don't you? I introduced the whole concept of human rights in National Party ranks, in the government as far back as 1986, and I started the release policy of people, starting with Breyton Breytenbach. That in itself is ... I changed the policy.

POM     You were also involved in the initial talks with Mr Mandela while he was in gaol, I understand.

KC     Over quite a long time. But it was all the time against the then current approach of the National Party, and I lost some of the seats which we have been holding for many years in the Free State. But by then, I must give him credit, PW Botha himself was pushing forward and I was very much encouraged by him and I supported him up to the hilt. We realised that we were going to pay dearly for this, but we also said to ourselves that the result will get people back to the National Party. And we are still there, we are still there. What's happened now is that we have lost to the right; we've lost in the centre. But what's now something new (not new; it could have been avoided, but that's another story) is that we are now being castigated for sins that go back as far back as 1980, 1975, that could have been avoided. Bad tactics and bad strategy on the part of the National Party. If you are writing history, it will be published in some years that it could have been avoided. It was not inevitable. And now we have been castigated for that. This enables the parties now fighting the election to say that the leopard will not change. It has only changed its spots but the leopard will not change. Our sins will be held against us and, as I say, this was avoidable.

POM     After FW de Klerk's huge victory in the referendum in March 1992, it seemed that the right was discredited, befuddled, had lost their sense of both direction and morale, and yet one finds a year, a year and half later, that they have resurrected out of the ashes.

KC     Who? The right?

POM     The right, and are still a potent force to be dealt with. (a) Do you think they are a potent force to be dealt with and (b) if you had to contrast the black right (say, the IFP, Mangope) now with the right white, which poses the greater challenge?

KC     You've now asked four questions. No, the right has stopped ... the right has not become resurrected. There is a meaningful section of the right now that would want to come in. They didn't want to come in with a weak federalist proposal. No, they haven't become resurrected, they have been there all the time, but they voted for us at the time, still believing in negotiation and that there should be accommodation of everyone in South Africa, but they didn't accept the result of the constitution. That's what the constitution presented to them. So they became targets of the right wing leadership. That's why, as I said to you at the beginning, the constitution as amended has now definitely eroded the power base of the right because people say, "Well we can now live with this; it's a stronger regionally inclined constitution", etc. So it's not a matter of being resurrected; they have been evaluating the results and they like the results and that's why I say the danger of a right wing uprising has decreased. Now if you ask something about Mangope ...

POM     Again Mangope, contrasting the ability of the white right to mount some kind of uprising as against the ability of Mangope or Buthelezi to hold on to their pockets of land, to refuse to come into the process as Mangope has already done and as is still hinted that Buthelezi will also opt out.

KC     I don't quite understand what you are driving at.

POM     Sorry. If you look at the right in two parts: the one part being the white right with its experience (because many of the people in it formerly belonged to the security forces), with its capacity to mount some kind of a guerrilla campaign in terms of placing bombs here and there, making life uneasy, making the place kind of unstable, the instability they could create versus the instability that could be created by Buthelezi saying, "KwaZulu is seceding" or Mangope saying, "Bophuthatswana is an independent country and I'm going to keep it that way, by force of arms if necessary". Which do you think would pose the bigger threat to stability after a new government was elected if they were still outside of the process?

KC     You see, it's our purpose and our declared view is to have an all inclusive process. I'm still confident that it will be an inclusive process in the end, so I don't want to dwell on the negative possibility of ...

POM     But they are important because they must be taken in ...

KC     But they must come in and they will come in. They are doing what they can do with the power at their disposal. They are playing power politics, they are playing pressure politics. That's it. And the question could be now: what will bring them in? What will bring them in? Are they going to succeed? Yes they may still succeed because everyone wants them in and Buthelezi wants a constitution that will virtually give him all the power that he wants, but still as part of the greater South Africa with a weak central government. Bophuthatswana would come in for the same.

POM     So this, in a sense, would be a defeat for the ANC which began from the very opposite point of view of wanting a strong central government with as little federalism as possible. Right? So all the things they were so gleefully going back to after the new constitution was passed at the World Trade Centre, and they thought they had done a great job, they are now having to give away bit by bit in order to draw these other parties into the process. Do you think their rank and file can go with that?

KC     On which side?

POM     On the side that they are giving away too much to bring Mangope or Buthelezi into the process?

KC     I don't know how much they can still give away and how much they are still prepared to give away. I'm just pointing out that these people are playing power politics and that also has a limitation. The very strategy of power politics: you can take it too far. You can do it in such a way that you stand alone as a leadership and have no followers. If we have an election and if Mangope's people come across the border to vote, what will be his case? Will he still have a standing? That's why I say there are other ways of getting them to take part.

POM     Some people suggest that all you have to do is turn off the spigot, no money.

KC     There are various ways of doing it, but I don't even want to consider them in terms of which side is more dangerous. There are various ways of dealing with this; it's not necessarily conflict in terms of danger. You have mentioned but two. As I say, once we have the election, these people will come across the border to vote. That's what will happen. The same applies to the Zulus. What would you say if 70% of the Zulus voted and 80% of the Tswanas voted?

POM     They will.

KC     That's what are they going to do.

POM     When Buthelezi said after his meeting with Mandela, and I quote, "Our first option was for a federal future in which there would be a sufficient autonomy to accommodate self-determination. The cause of federalism is now phased and we must seek our destiny elsewhere. Can you think of any other option? The people only have the option of an independent Zulu kingdom. Zulu people will not put ourselves ..." Do you see that as part of his playing power politics or trying to move the goal posts? Do you think that statement illustrates him playing power politics, or is it an attempt on his part to move the goal posts themselves?

KC     Could be.

POM     That he's trying to shift the goal posts?

KC     Yes, I haven't really concentrated on pronouncements; although I agree that they are very important, but I haven't spent time analysing what is really hidden in his pronouncements. I'm just trying to come back to the topic of power politics and pressure politics. I became sensitive to the possibility of pressure politics and I have been warning my side that this is coming. I listened one day to Ferdi Hartzenberg and then I listened to one of the right wing professors here, and it became clear to me that they have adopted the strategy of the ANC to exert pressure and to play pressure politics. Because that's what the ANC really did after CODESA 1 and 2 packed up.

POM     After Boipatong?

KC     Exactly. With the mass action which culminated in the 25th and 26th September. That was pressure politics par excellence. Then of course, also a pronouncement by Buthelezi and I listened very carefully then to what had then been said and I could sense that something was being planned. That's why Buthelezi withdrew completely, the others withdrew completely, and they decided that they would be exerting pressure politics. Now whether we have seen the end of this, I don't know; and whether Hartzenberg and Mangope still feel that there is something to be gained from pressure, I don't know. If I were you I would have a chapter, "Here are Pressure Politics" and analyse that.

POM     Do you think in that regard that the stay-aways and the strikes that the ANC had after Boipatong when they withdrew from the talks, culminating with the march on Pretoria with 50 000 people coming in and Mandela standing at the Union Buildings and making an oration. Do you think they were successful, that they ultimately achieved ...?

KC     Did they scare the government?

POM     Did they scare the government in the sense of saying, "You had better get back and start dealing here", subsequently leading to the Record of Understanding which changed the whole shape?

KC     Well at least the perception from the outside is that the ANC had succeeded. That's why they repeated ...

POM     In politics perceptions are sometimes more important than reality.

KC     That's the answer.

POM     When I look at CODESA, I see the ANC and the Patriotic Front lining up on one side of the table and the government and its allies lining up on the other side: two major protagonists. And then after the Record of Understanding, it seems the government and the ANC had in fact formed a loose coalition and everybody else could either become part of that or stay out of it, but they had become the joint driving engines of the process. From the government's point of view, what led to that basic reassessment as to the way forward?

KC     I have told you that I think it was [to an extent that weakened our side].

POM     It weakened you?

KC     It weakened our side, yes.

POM     What was the strategic thinking behind it? Who made the case and who said at the end, "That's a really good idea"?

KC     I'm sure you've been discussing this with Mr Meyer and everyone else. This is a chapter I reserve for myself.

POM     That's not fair. It's taken me twenty-two years. You will be published before I will be published. Again, looking at the government of national unity, what way will decisions be made at the cabinet level?

KC     In what way?

POM     Yes. Must everyone agree? General consensus? Sufficient consensus? 51%?

KC     Of course. It's in the constitution. I'm sure you can get it from the constitution. I really forced this issue in regard to the appointment of judges and decisions on the judiciary and then they came up with a definition that the consensus means that those parties who share in the decision making must all agree. That is the definition in the constitution.

POM     Which means that anyone who has 5% or more of the vote, and therefore a minister in the cabinet has a veto power over any decision?

KC     No, no. What also goes hand in hand with that is a commitment on the part of Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk that they will never vote, and that they will develop a convention to find consensus, issues to stand over. That's the way I see it. Although it's possible in terms of the constitution to have deadlocks and conflict, I have confidence in those that will be there that they will find accord.

POM     Just to turn to the economy and the social challenges facing the country for a minute. Derek Keys has gone on record very publicly saying that the best the economy can do is to have a 1% increase in jobs between now and the year 2000, which seems at odds with the ANC's pledge to create half a million jobs within five years and to build one million units of housing in the first five years. There seem to be two prevailing views on the economy. One, that it is in for a continuing rough time, and the other that unleashing massive amounts of expenditure will result in some ... jobs.

KC     The ANC of course sees, and I think they see it correctly, that if you build houses you will provide a large number of jobs which they commit themselves to create. It will generate activity on a very wide front. Your capacity and use capacity of factories, whether it comes to wires or cables or what have you, that will be employed in the course of providing electricity, all these will create jobs. That will definitely then cause inflation to rise unless you have fewer strikes and you curtail the power of the unions. So they are in a bit of a cleft stick, the ANC. On the other hand, the government itself is in a cleft stick. The way I see it, there is no way that you can succeed in creating jobs, activating the economy if you are not prepared to take on a ....

POM     So you must take that risk?

KC     Yes. That's my view. But I'm not an economist.

POM     That probably makes you more qualified to look at the economy.

KC     If I look at the economy I can give an opinion.

POM     Does the fact that there will be a large number of communists occupying pivotal positions in the government bother you? Or do you think this whole issue about communism is a dead duck?

KC     I think in the end it's all about power. There are those who are scientific communists following the strategy of the communists to get on top and who will work towards a second revolution. The communists will probably not have all their best people in parliament. I've already noted that only a few of them are in Parliament, or at least on the list. There are quite a number outside. I would rather have them all in parliament, if you want my opinion, because then you can watch them. But quite a number of their intellectuals are outside parliament. That bothers me more than anything else. What will they be doing? I think they will be planning a second revolution; they will be planning co-ordination with the masses, with the workers for the next round. And you must not be surprised if they end up with the PAC, or rather in partnership with the PAC, because if the PAC loses the election now ... but the lost generation, the cheated ones, cheated by the ANC, will be their propaganda because they were against children boycotting schools.

POM     The PAC?

KC     Yes, they were against it. So was Buthelezi of course. They will say, "The ANC have cheated you. Now they are in power; they are all living like fat cats and now it's our turn". So within five years it's their idea to be in power, and then you may have the communists siding with them and each time getting a larger slice of the partnership. So I would much rather have them all in parliament enjoying all the good things of life.

POM     But you don't see them as a serious threat to the ...

KC     Well I think that they are going to be a stumbling block to the ANC more than anything else. And they are already: the ANC have to explain to the youth, they have to explain to all and sundry why we still have the communists with us. It's really hampering the ANC.

POM     Level of expectations. In the townships you find incredible, even now, very high levels of expectations. At least, when I ask people, that's what comes back to me they want a lot apparently pretty quickly. Do you think the level of expectations is too high, this electioneering, the process is ...

KC     It's too high. It's this very fact that's going to harm the ANC because they won't be able to deliver.

POM     They also thought that the trick was to lose the first election. Any government in the first election will have on its shoulders so much to deliver that it can't possibly do so and in the second election they will simply be voted out.

KC     The PAC is bargaining on that.

POM     In a serious way?

KC     In a serious way.

POM     Just a couple more questions and thank you for the time. Three more short ones. One is, if I were a foreign businessman sitting here and you were sitting across from me, what kind of case would you make to me that I should invest in the economy?

KC     As a foreigner or South African?

POM     Foreigner.

KC     Well I would advise you to invest in land immediately. I am confident that we are going to see in the first eighteen months or two years the same reaction that we have experienced in Namibia, Walvis Bay. You can't buy property there. Swakopmund, you can't buy it. Windhoek, you can't. The value of farm property has trebled in some places. In some places it has doubled, in some it has increased by 30%, 50%. You will experience this especially with coastal properties, valuable farm properties and so on, especially since the ANC has now toned down its affirmative action policy. The question is going to be whether AZAPO and the PAC can succeed in holding the ANC to ransom on the question of land. But I think the ANC realises that, in order to draw foreign investment, they have to come out very strongly on the protection of property rights. I think for this reason I can tell you to invest in property. And secondly, invest in everything that relates to building material, because a government of national unity in which the National Party shares, will go for the upliftment of people, housing, etc. There's already [Derek Keys, not Keys - Shill,] one billion rand waiting for investment. This waits for every province. All the farmers have become upliftment orientated. Building material, yes. And we can go on. Now, what is more, I think the ANC will be much more protective of local industry for this reason the one thing follows on the other much more protective than my government. I expect them to be more protective and I think they are going to be. They can afford to be tough; they have nothing to lose.

POM     You said more protective of local industry. What precisely do you mean?

KC     In other words, they would want to provide jobs and you can only provide jobs if you are protective of local industry on a very wide front. In other words, you would rather have people pay more dearly for local products than to pay ...

POM     Would it be for establishing target areas?

KC     Exactly. [And they would be inclined to protect the following ... as well because they want ...]

POM     When I began this process four years ago, one of the questions I would routinely ask people was whether it was a process about the sharing of power or about the transfer of power. After four years, which would you classify it as now?

KC     There's definitely going to be a sharing of power. Mr de Klerk has also said that we definitely believe that the principle of power sharing must be a part of the final constitution.

POM     So would you see a future after a first government in which power will continue to be shared by the major parties?

KC     With the experience the ANC have now gained from the last few weeks, they will realise that they have to share power, otherwise we will have chaos. That's the only answer, whether it will be for the first five years or thereafter. Anyone who has had some ideas of governing from one central point must now realise that in South Africa it would be a foregone failure.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much.

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.