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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

26 May 1994: Ramaphosa, Cyril

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POM     Just two things quickly, on the day the constitution was passed and adopted it was your 41st birthday, how did you feel?

CR     I was elated naturally. It was a feeling of great joy that on my birthday, age 41, a rather tender age to have participated in a history making development like this for our country and also to have led the ANC negotiating team in achieving this magnificent victory.

POM     On the day you voted in April how did you feel then when you walked in with that ballot, walked towards the booth, went inside, marked it, came out and put it in the box?

CR     What preoccupied me then, for me, was just being there with the miners because I voted at a mine, thousands and thousands of them. There were about ten thousand miners waiting to vote. They had queued up and it was like the longest queue I had ever seen and they saw me driving past and walking past them and they glowed and the glow in their faces is what I kept remembering because I went to vote at a mine which was the first mine we organised in 1982 when we started and as I was going there I was stopped by one miner before I even voted who said, "We are very pleased that you are here", he was an old miner and he said, "I can now go and retire because what we fought for all these years and what you also came and fought for, for me has now been attained and I can go and retire and die." And he then said, "Your coming here shows that you have come home, you belong to us as miners." And that was what preoccupied me as I walked down to the ballot box. A great sense of achievement for all our people.

POM     As you mention the mines, can I ask you a question that came into my head a couple of days ago, and that was that the ANC draws its strength from the people, it sees itself as speaking for the people yet they spent three days having this lavish party at the Carlton Hotel, even the drapes were done in satin in ANC colours and this even more lavish inauguration. I have never seen anything like the food tents that were up. Didn't it contradict in some way the people's poverty?

CR     There is a contradiction there. There is a contradiction and it is based on the most convenient way that we had to find to celebrate. Firstly the party, you could never have had it in a township because there is no such venue in or near the townships and in the end I think life has to be good for all our people, one accepts that and there are those contradictions. Some of us no longer live in the township for a whole number of reasons. I was asked to leave the township soon after my election by our own people, the community where I lived said I should move out because they were worried about my safety. I lived in a duplex which has a bottom section close to the ground and the street and no security and a top section and I received a delegation of a committee nearby and they said, "We know you'd like to stay here with us but we think you should move because we are more concerned about your own security." I said if I were to move I would have to move maybe to the northern suburbs. They said that's fine. We've lived with those contradictions all our lives. They are not jarring, they are not startling. Our people understand. For instance at the Carlton quite a number of our own people from the nearby flats, even from the townships did come to attend although they had to obtain admission through a card they found a way of getting in. So they are there and it is a contradiction.

POM     Let me go back about five or six weeks ago, the international media arrived here and it seemed that the last chance of getting Buthelezi into the process had gone by. Then he has one more meeting with De Klerk, I think you were represented at that meeting too, and suddenly this agreement is reached, violence dies down overnight and he gets the result which is 50.3% of the vote in KwaZulu/Natal, just enough to give him power to hang on there, 10% nationally and everything seems to have just fallen into place like a miracle, almost too neat. For my sceptical mind I say, what kind of horse trading went on to first get him in to the election process, second why wouldn't the ANC demand a recount? Any party in the United States or France or Ireland or wherever, if the opposition got 50.3% you damn well demand a recount. Point three of a percentage is not exactly a sizeable majority.

CR     There was massive fraud in Natal. We don't believe in the end that the good showing that the IFP had in Natal is reflective of the support that they have. You must have read about this, there were accounts of pirate stations being opened in Natal in Chiefs' kraals and so on and that has motivated us to argue that we need to review the way the voting took place in Natal, but we have accepted the results for now but we think for everything to be legally and politically acceptable a review is necessary and our people in Natal are dealing with that. Horse trading? There was no behind the scenes horse trading beyond what is known generally to the public. In the end when the deal was struck it really arose from political shock treatment for Buthelezi because he had wanted to play the great political brinkman, to push everything to the very end and see whether people had nerves of steel and finally when the penny dropped for him he realised that we were proceeding with the entire process without him participating in the election. I think it was at the point when the mediators left that he realised that he was going to be relegated to the dustbin of history and decided that he should now reach some deal with us and the agreement that was struck is as straightforward as has been publicised.

POM     Which was?

CR     Which was he would come in, we would have the name of his party inserted on the ballot paper through the sticker and that we would amend the constitutional principle to give consideration to how the Zulu monarchy can be protected and all that and also that we would amend the current constitution to allow the province of Natal when drafting the constitution to reserve a special place for the Zulu monarchy which was not out of line with what we would have given. In the end he settled for much, much less than what we had offered him, also than what he would have obtained if he had participated in the negotiations throughout because his participation would have in many, many ways enriched the constitution. It would have made it more whole, he would have exacted many more compromises from us which he failed to do by not participating. He was left with the crumbs that fell off the table because we were moving ahead in the process.

POM     Then the details of this outrageous land deal where one third of the territory of KwaZulu/Natal is structured over to the monarchy. One, was De Klerk acting legally if he signed that without consulting the TEC? And two, what can be done about it?

CR     He was acting legally only to the extent that as head of state he has to approve legislation from the self-governing territories, but clearly illegally in terms of the TEC Act because a matter like this had to be done in consultation with the TEC. So in that regard he acted illegally. What can be done about it? Obviously the matter has to be approached politically. You cannot just approach it in an emotional way which one is tempted to do because it came as a shock all round to all of us to hear of this deal. In terms of addressing it politically we have got to take into account a whole range of things but it is a proclamation or an Act that can be allowed when we pass legislation on land issues. It is morally indefensible in my view that one person through a trust should be able to own so much land or to have control over so much land.

POM     It makes him the biggest land owner in the world.

CR     Indeed the entire world.

POM     One for the records.

CR     Yes.

POM     Did Buthelezi in any way accept, there was some massive rigging of the vote going on in Natal or has he completely denied it or said the ANC stole votes from him?

CR     Did he accept?

POM     Does he accept that there was some rigging of the election in Natal or does he deny it?

CR     I think he denies it because he knows the extent to which his people participated in all this. He would deny it.

POM     When you look at the right wing, it struck me at the time of Bop going under, the AWB went in and they had to retreat with their tail between the legs and even the pictures of the three AWB men being executed didn't arouse any sympathy among people, do you think that's a signal of the beginning of the collapse of the extreme right?

CR     Oh yes.

POM     And the reaction of the people of South Africa to the event was not one of sympathy to them. Do you see them as any kind of a threat or are they really out of it?

CR     I think that event was the death knell for the right wing in many, many ways, a right wing which always believed in white supremacy, they were the untouchables and they were never ever going to be defeated by blacks even at military level, that sent shock waves within right wing circles because they started to realise in the end that black people with guns and pistols in their hands could also inflict a lot of damage and when they took into account the overwhelming numbers of black people in this country I think it must have sent a great deal of shock amongst many of them. I think in the end it is what brought people like Viljoen to their senses that the route of violence is not the answer, you would rather go forward through peaceful negotiation and the response of the public was essentially that, well, they killed them, we have no pity for them and they can be defeated. I think from then on the right wing started on a downward slope, they knew that their power had actually been completely reduced.

     You see the other thing is there aren't many white people in the end who will want to sacrifice everything they have, the good life they have had, to fight a struggle and a cause which does not look winnable, where the strongest political organisation or movement in the country has set a palatable menu on the table for many white people, reconciliation, forgetting the past and so forth. Their immediate interests as individuals are not under threat, they know that. Their rights in terms of culture, language and religion, the sorts of things that you would take up arms for and go and fight a war are not under threat and the idea of a volkstaat is an emotional one but many Afrikaners know it is not feasible because they haven't got a territory to fight for and defend. If they had a territory, like say Buthelezi and his people have in Natal, you have a good cause to fight and you would be prepared to sacrifice your life and I think in the main Afrikaners know that they can forge a common cause with all South Africans and that is one of the reasons why they have been divided on this issue.

POM     About the question of two thirds of the vote, I asked a lot of people beforehand, who were associated with the ANC, whether it would be a good thing for the ANC or a good thing for the country or a good thing for the ANC but bad for the country? Do you think, as Mandela said that in a way it's better that you did not get two thirds?

CR     I think so, I think so. I think a two thirds majority would have sent a signal of fear across the country amongst many people. They would have feared that the ANC is going to ride roughshod over them, the constitutional drafting process. They would have feared that we would be over domineering and that the whole concept of the government of national unity could also be undermined. Not achieving two thirds, in my view, has not reduced the stature of the ANC or the influence of the ANC and the ANC has a great deal of stature, it has a lot of influence in our country and it's beginning in a very informal way to show that it can lead, it can influence the turn of events in our country in a positive way and I think in the end persuasion of other parties, even in drafting the constitution is what we should rely on most because in the end you want to have a constitution that will be broadly acceptable to all South Africans and you want to have a constitution which you know all parties have drafted by fighting for certain principles which they can try and have other parties accept. You therefore don't really need, if you are ANC, a two thirds majority. You want to get other parties on to your side through gentle consistent persuasion to come on to our side.

POM     That's not the way The Times of London described you yesterday.

CR     Yes?

POM     You're the hard-liner.

CR     Absolutely. The hard line has been appointed.

POM     Last year I asked you, I asked everybody, on a scale of one to ten how satisfied were you with the constitution; where one represented very dissatisfied and ten very, very satisfied. You didn't give me a number but you said you could live with it. In terms of the interim constitution now, from your point of view, from the point of view of the ANC, is it a better document or a worse document than it was last August?

CR     It is a good document, better than when we talked last. I believe it is a legitimate enough document and it's growing on us every day. The democratisation of the political system in our country is going to be a process and as we get accustomed to how the constitution should work I think we will find that it's a document we can all live with. I would now give it maybe seven to eight.

POM     So you would see sitting at the Constituent Assembly that it would be rather amending, adding amendments to the existing constitution and won't go back to some basic elements. For example, take federalism, has it been defined to a point of no return as far as you are concerned? Have concessions been made to those who would want a federal state and that the powers that are retained at the centre would be retained or are you open to more suggestions about how power could be devolved?

CR     There's scope for more power to be devolved but that becomes clearer as the provinces begin to get accustomed to how the exercise of power that they have is going to enhance their position or hamstring them and the input that we are going to get in this regard is going to be quite important, particularly from the provinces themselves because it's going to be born out of their own experiences and when we get more and more accustomed to how the constitution functions then they also begin to flex their own muscles and we will have a better idea of what the final constitution should look like in terms of provincial powers. Terms like federalism have been bandied around quite a bit and some people within our own ranks used to be very hostile to the idea of federalism. It's changed now. We are finding that even in our own ranks some people are slowly becoming federalists and in the end you will find that they will want more and more power to a point where you can have a federal type of state like maybe Buthelezi wants.

POM     You could see that happening?

CR     It could happen.

POM     But the ANC wouldn't oppose it in principle?

CR     If it's good for the country. If the devolution of power in the end is good for the country and our people.

POM     Switching away from that for a moment: if a new amnesty Bill or Act is enacted it seems to me that the Afrikaners have never really apologised for the past by saying, "We did you wrong". Can you have true reconciliation without that kind of understanding on their part that what they did was a mistake, that it was fundamentally evil?

CR     No I don't think so. In order to forgive you need to know what to forgive. It is for this reason that we are calling for a Truth Commission, the truth must come out, but at the same time as the truth comes out there needs to be a collective apology by Afrikaner people who will be able to say, "We did you wrong and in order to let bygones be bygones we apologise so that there can be true and meaningful reconciliation."

POM     Would those with whom you associate, not people like Roelf Meyer, but others, their attitude seems to be the past is over, let's get on with the new South Africa and let's wipe the slate clean and start right over again, whereas in fact you can't wipe the slate clean?

CR     No you can't. It is difficult, it's virtually impossible. You just can't and it's for this reason that some of us are calling for a museum of apartheid so that we must never ever forget what they did to us. Our children and grandchildren must know what they did and it is only on that basis when we have full understanding that there's a nation in the making of what happened in the past that we can begin to move forward with confidence in the knowledge that we have indeed buried a past we know about and it is that which should inform the various steps that we need to take to move forward into the future.

POM     What do you see as some of those steps?

CR     Truth Commission. When it comes to amnesty my view is that it cannot just be a blanket amnesty, people need to disclose what they did.

POM     Would an amnesty cover Clive Derby-Lewis?

CR     Ah! The wounds are still bleeding and open in a number of cases. For many mothers and many fathers who have lost their children and children who lost their parents the wounds are still gaping open.

POM     If you look back over the four years that you have been in negotiations was there any point that you had a feeling that things were going to fall apart and if so what events were occurring at the time?

CR     There were times in the four years that one thought we would never have the breakthrough that we had. There were such times when the right wing was up in arms refusing to be part of the process, the black right wingers represented by the likes of Buthelezi, the Freedom Alliance, when it seemed like we were moving down the path of a civil war, a civil war which would have engulfed quite a number of parts of our country, the PWV and Natal. Those were dark and grim days but in the end we always harboured the hope that it would work, it would fall into place somehow and if it didn't you were going to have a government which from the inception would be engaged in trying to quell right wing elements, both black and white. And it could have been bad because you would have used draconian measures to bring them into line and in the end when you do that you just reinforce their determination to struggle on and to fight. In the end it's been very pleasant.

POM     Was the question of legitimacy more important than the question of fairness and freeness? In other words was it important that the country and the international community would say, "Well they weren't fair and free", because if they look at Natal it definitely wasn't free or fair, and make a judgement in that way even though the constitution says 'substantially fair and free'? Is stability more important at the moment than anything else, that you project stability for investors who are watching?

CR     It is. I mean the election had enormous problems. In the end whilst it was free and fair it had many aspects that in my view were not particularly that fair.

POM     Would you call it free and fair overall?

CR     Yes I would call it free and fair.

POM     But you talk of massive fraud.

CR     That's why I say fair. There was no overt intimidation. We expected much worse than this and we are able to say, yes the question of legitimacy in the end, legitimacy that is acceptable all round by our own people and the international community far outweighs the weaknesses, the problems that we experienced in the election.

POM     So if you pursue a course in Natal to show that there was in fact massive fraud you're doing that in the context of accepting the result?

CR     Yes. We're doing it in that context.

POM     Is there any argument about that? I can't hear Harry Gwala saying OK. You see what I mean? I just can't see it.

CR     Yes it's an exercise that's aimed at revealing the truth of what actually happened in that election and that's it. That's what it's aimed at. But in the end we accept it, the result.

POM     The Constitutional Court when the provision was that the President would have the power to essentially make the appointees to the Constitutional Court and the DP had their day in the sun or whatever, did it not strike you that giving the President the power to appoint members to the court undermined the essence of democracy?

CR     No, because if he appointed them to the Constitutional Court it doesn't mean that they have to be his lackeys.

POM     Yes but they could be.

CR     But if they are people of integrity they wouldn't. We have had judges in this country appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice who have gone against the executive in many ways, so no I never thought that it would undermine democracy. But in the end it's good that it worked out in the way that it did because it will, I mean some of the judges will be appointed through the Judicial Services Commission which is great.

POM     When it comes to government how will decisions in the Cabinet be made?

CR     I think substantially by reaching consensus and if consensus cannot be reached then it will have to be by majority vote. But in the end Cabinet never really votes, it's always by consensus. So we hope we will never get to a point where we have to divide the Cabinet but if it gets to that the constitution does not bar that.

POM     If you had been told four years ago that by April 1994 there is going to be a black President and a government of national unity and to all intents and purposes the violence has died down, whether it returns or not we do not know, would you have said, "I didn't think it would come that quickly", or would you have said, "We are going to have things in place before that"?

CR     Well we thought we would wrap it up way before the four years that we have now traversed. We really thought so. Once we started negotiations we thought it would be done and finished in no time. When Boipatong happened our optimism just dipped and when we withdrew from negotiations I thought it would be a long haul.

POM     That was at CODESA 2?

CR     Yes. But it's taken time. It's long. But it was possibly necessary that we should go through that experience.

POM     You can build up more trusting relationships with some of your counterparts in the other parties.

CR     Very much so.

POM     Talking about the Zulu King for a moment. If parliament wants to annul the Act, say this simply isn't on, could you see any circumstances in which Buthelezi would take this as the final insult and kind of walk out of parliament?

CR     If we annulled the Act? Could be.

POM     We were just talking about Buthelezi walking out. The Act is annulled and he storms out of parliament saying, "This is betrayal of the Zulu people and the Zulu nation."

CR     It could come to that. That's why the matter has to be addressed and approached politically. It has implications. We are alive to that and you cannot be emotional with the matter, you've got to approach it in a political way. Absolutely.

POM     No matter what the consequences. If it meant in effect the central government had to take military action against ...?

CR     No, I'm saying the whole matter has to be addressed in a political way. You've got to be aware of the consequences and analyse them, weigh them up against a whole lot of other factors before you take a move either way and you've got to deal with a moral aspect whether it is defensible at all for one person just to be bequeathed so much land. So all those aspects have to be looked at.

POM     General Viljoen. Do you think in hindsight that it was a good thing that he actually got involved with the right wing and played the role that he did play?

CR     He has a calming effect on those who tend to be on the lunatic fringe of the right wing. He does. They see him as a militarist, as a leader of stature and a reasonable person who represents their cause effectively. It was good that he got involved.

POM     One subject which we needn't discuss if you don't want to, and I'm using nothing until 1998, but at least the challenge the media proposes between yourself and Thabo Mbeki and both of you waging campaigns for first Deputy President and both of you heir apparents and the shuffling that goes on around that. Is there substance to any of that?

CR     We're not really waging a campaign. We didn't wage a campaign. It was just projected by the media when they looked around for people who could be Deputy President and they just latched on to both of us.

POM     I must tell you I was very pissed off that you didn't get it. It wasn't a feeling like, "Oh gee, too bad", it was like, "That's not fair!" in some way.

CR     But I think he will do well.

POM     Does being Chairman of the Constituent Assembly mean that you are more or less like the Speaker of the House, is there any chairman when parliament acts as a parliament rather than as a constitution making body?

CR     The constitution making body, the Constituent Assembly is a sovereign entity. The chairman will not really act like the Speaker who has to be completely neutral in all aspects of political life though very much a political animal and have office in the ANC. So I'm not going to be hamstrung by the position that I occupy. I'm still going to be very active politically within the ANC and even as a chair it will in a way be trying to strike a balance between the ANC which is well represented in the Assembly and the parties that are not well represented. I'll try obviously to represent the views of the CA but essentially I'm an ANC person and I will come across as such.

POM     Just lastly to go back to the piece in The Times, they said you were more opposed to power sharing than others, that essentially you believed in a Westminster style of democracy; you've got the government and you've got the opposition. That's that and if you're in the majority you are in the majority.

CR     No truth in that. No, power sharing is absolutely necessary in our situation. If we didn't have power sharing, a government of national unity, I think this country could have been plunged into a terrible situation, a type of civil war. The power sharing or government of national unity notion has in effect helped to calm down the fears of many people and has made it possible for us to get where we are. If we hadn't mooted the idea right at the beginning I think it would have been difficult to get where we are as quickly as we did even though it took four years. It was a necessary element in ensuring that the transition process becomes as stable as possible.

POM     Do you see any return to the violence or do you think it has abated permanently?

CR     I think it has abated on a long term basis.

POM     I have one more question and I can't for the life of me think of it. You'll take the opportunity to run! Thanks a million.

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.