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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Nov 1994: Heyns, Johan
POM Sorry, you were saying that?
JH I think it is possible to say that from an outside situation I think indeed a lot has changed in spite of the fact that one could say nothing or very little has changed. First of all we had three centuries of exclusive white domination, 30 - 40 years of apartheid has come to an end. Historically speaking that is a very, very important change. We've had a guardianship relationship. We considered ourselves to be the guardians of these people. That has come to an end and we have entered now in a partnership relationship. I think that is a tremendous challenge to whites and blacks alike. We now have to accept these people as partners. The most obvious place to notice that is the Cabinet, a government of national unity, this country's President. It never happened since 1652 when Van Riebeeck came to this country. That was the situation, the whites were there, the blacks were there.
POM People have said to us that the government is all promises, not delivery.
JH I'm not quite sure that that is a correct observation. It all depends on what you consider the contents of that delivery. I mean where in the world can you say that a government in six months time have come out with a programme like the RDP, the Reconstruction and Development Programme. It's a magnificent programme. I believe that you've seen it and you know all about it. Where in the rest of the world?
POM Clinton would like to have something like that.
JH And I think that is a remarkable achievement for a government in Africa, on the African continent.
POM Well everyone says it's a plan, but everyone says equally that at provincial level ...
JH OK, and yet I think to come up with a plan is quite an achievement. Surely not only an intellectual but especially moral achievement. If you go to Rwanda and ask them what are they going to do to solve their problems do you think they could produce an RDP?
JH Not one single plan, not one single idea to solve their problems, compared to the RDP.
POM Apart from RDP what other significant changes do you think are taking place or must new structures be built before plans can be implemented on top of them?
JH I think what is most important for the implementation of the RDP is financial funding, obviously. Without funding they won't be in a position to implement their remarkable ideas, health and medical schemes and what have you.
POM Funding from abroad or to be generated within South Africa somehow?
JH Well I don't think it's a matter of either/or, I think it's a matter of international funding as well as from within the country itself.
POM Are there those kind of resources within the country? When one comes down to the economy it's always negative this, negative that, negative the other.
JH I think that is indeed a great challenge if they have the resources and to be quite honest I'm not in a position to tell you, that's completely beyond my competency. I do not have any insight in that and yet I believe that again poses a tremendous challenge to the white people in this country, how they have to sacrifice in order to ...
POM In one sense after six months they haven't felt the bite yet? The bite is still to come in terms of higher taxes or reduced benefits.
JH Well it's coming, it's coming gradually, but I think even before that the willingness, the will to sacrifice, to be able to do it, to see the necessity for it.
POM It's there now?
JH I think so.
POM Or that it has to be something ...?
JH I think it is there but there is room for improvement. We gradually have to accept the fact that we have entered into a completely new phase. For the whites now to really realise what it is all about now that we are partners, the sacrifice that is going to be asked from us.
POM Derek Keys last year when he was Minister for Finance told us that the best increase of employment per year for the foreseeable future would be about one percent and he had a large input into the RDP itself in refining technical aspects, the percent increase of one percent per year is hardly putting a dent in the rate of employment and unemployment.
JH I'm only too glad that I'm not a politician to solve those problems. But I am particularly interested in the moral aspect, being a theologian and being an ethicist.
POM Address that a little bit for me please.
JH I'm particularly interested in whether the whites are willing to accept the situation, whether they fully understand the amount of sacrifice that has to be made on their side in order to put the government in a position to implement the ideals of the RDP. They have to see that we cannot expect other people, people abroad, to finance this programme. It is ours and we simply will have to see that it will work.
POM Are the churches playing a role in preparing and educating the people?
JH Very much so, on a moral level. Once again you can't expect from the churches to contribute financially ...
POM No, no, no.
JH - to enforce those ideals being implemented. But on the moral level I think the churches must help and this is what we would like to get across to our people. We must get our synods to work together to get into the hearts of our people to understand.
POM A very concentrated effort on the part of the churches. One of the things we've noticed as we've gone around the country, and speaking to people in government, they have got a hazy idea of what it's about and have entirely different interpretations of what it's about. People out there don't know what the RDP is and the government has not done a very successful job in educating them like they did during the elections when the IEC put a concentrated effort into educating people what a vote was and what it meant.
JH OK, but if that is the situation, I do not have that sort of impression. If that is the situation then surely they don't read their papers, the newspapers. There's hardly an edition of the newspaper without referring to the RDP.
POM They go right for the sports section.
JH I think then it's a matter of interest. I believe that the institutions can convince our people that for so many, not decades, centuries we've been a privileged section of our population and we must use our ability towards those who were less privileged in the past.
POM Where in that regard would you place an institution like the Broederbond and what role do you think it would have to play?
JH Very similar to that of the church although the church acts on a religious level the Broederbond is acting on a cultural level. In Cape Town we had an extensive debate on the RDP and the role the Broederbond as a cultural organisation could play as far as that programme is concerned.
POM Could you define what that role was?
JH Well, where the church is going to call its people irrespective of colour and culture, the Broederbond said, "We as an Afrikaner cultural organisation, we'll have to inspire the Afrikaner, the white Afrikaners to accept their role vis-à-vis" ...
POM The Broederbond is still an Afrikaner organisation or can people of other persuasions join it?
JH It is open, it is open, but we are still predominantly white in spite of the fact that we've change our constitution but there is a reluctance of the other people to join.
POM The relations between the central government, all the provincial governments complained they have not received any powers, it degenerates into one of those issues, the whole issue of federalism again.
JH It's strange, we're standing on boards so to speak. It's also due to the fact that they are working with structures and dynamics and not with a programme, not with a positive approach to the whole problem. There's not enough policy behind the planning. They are very much involved and concerned about the structures and dynamics and not primarily in a policy in principles. And I ask myself whether that isn't due to a Marxist approach. I think that is typical of the new Marxist theory. They are primarily interested in structures and processes, not in policy.
POM It's more important to set up a structure where everybody is consulted right down the line than to actually develop a policy and implement it.
JH They are less directed by principles than by policy, than by structures. That could be even as aspect of criticism on the RDP. They are starting with the need of housing and I do not underestimate the necessity of people being well housed, that's quite natural, but once you are in a house and you do not have a job what's the sense of being in a house and not having a job. And I'm not quite sure whether there is a healthy balance between those two attitudes. I would say, if I were in their position (luckily I'm not, I'm not intending to be in any case), I would say, if you have to prioritise, I would say that jobs comes first. It's a very difficult choice to make.
POM Essentially you are saying if somebody gets a house and they've no job they can't pay for it.
JH Yes, yes. Is a house really the biggest need for people without jobs and without food to enable them to look after themselves instead of trying to get structures where they can live? Once again, I do not underestimate the necessity of housing, naturally not, but I'm not quite sure whether that is a very healthy, political moral approach.
POM The ministers with what they would call their perks and their Mercs and their salary increases, even though they have been somewhat modified, it's hard to understand how in a characteristic way they imitate their oppressor.
JH Or perhaps they fell prey to a universal human phenomenon, once being in such a situation they simply couldn't control it. It's remarkable that they are not coming back and there is a decrease now in the salaries initiated by themselves. That's also a very healthy phenomenon I would say.
POM Do you see unavoidable cracks developing within the alliance that is the ANC?
JH Well there's a very interesting scenario going around and that is indeed a crack between the SACP and COSATU and those people. A possible new alliance between the Nationalist Party and a so-called conservative ANC group out of which could come a completely new structure which then could influence the election in 1999 fundamentally, to that extent that Mr de Klerk once said, "It's not impossible that I would be in charge once again in 1999."
POM By and large the election was free of fraud, there were free and fair elections in that sense, but together it was ...
JH Well fair and free as far as the main tendency is concerned, Kriegler said the other day on the news.
POM Would it be your personal belief, from people that you've talked to and what you've read, that it happened for the right reasons that ...?
JH That was the very first one man one vote election in this country. The problems we have had I think that was quite foreseeable. Essentially I think what they have said is so many things that went wrong during the process of it. Once again I'm not particularly interested in the outcome of the election, I'm particularly interested that we could have had a blood bath during the elections, thinking of the threats that came from the side of the far right and I did ask when we went to Ventersdorp, we are the members of the Executive, Terre'Blanche said, "It's not a matter of if the war is coming, it's a matter of when and I'm ready to call my troops to fight for the rights of the Afrikaner." I don't know whether you've met Terre'Blanche? Taking that into account and remembering that sort of threat, it's a miracle that we have had the elections in the spirit it really was. And then of course, not only from the far right, that is the white people, but also black people, those who were not willing to accept a government of national unity but those who would like to see a white domination being replaced by black domination, who were not willing to share power with whites, the so-called oppressors, etc. In spite of all the threats from the far left and from the far right, we had a fairly violence free election.
POM Do you think one of the turning points was the Bophuthatswana incident?
JH That's one aspect. Another I think, very important, the mention of the problem from the right, far right, with the role Constand Viljoen played. That I think was very, very important eventually, though initially he was not willing to take part, but eventually deciding to take part, convinced him of the necessity of his taking part. At that time he wouldn't concede to his challenge. He said, "Look ... is not yet with us. We can't move ahead of him." He was during those months busy trying to convince ... to take in this election, it could change something, in a very substantial way we can take part in this process. Eventually he made a very important decision, quite a number of the Conservative Party members. In the history of the conservatives in this country, he then really realised that there is another more rational way in order to tackle the problem of the volkstaat. That was event number two after the Bop experience they had there.
POM Now this emerging rift between the King and Buthelezi?
JH Yes I think that is a very serious problem, a very serious one. We went down to see the King because we were worried by the fact that it was Zulu against Zulu. At that time it was not quite obvious that he and Buthelezi in general terms spoke about this clash between Zulu and Zulu, he thought that he as a King was not able to play that role. It became very clear that it is a clash between him and Buthelezi. I don't know if there are other groupings around them. [Mdlalose is also, in that he is very near to ...] And not only as far as KwaZulu is concerned because the Zulus spread right over the country and there's quite a big concentration of them on the Rand. There is that uneasiness about the position of the Zulus. I was to a certain extent quite amazed when they announced the establishment of this Truth Commission because I've heard Mandela very, very clearly say, "Let bygones be bygones." I got a very clear message. And yet in spite of that they have started this commission, so I'm not quite sure if that was the correct decision. Nevertheless it's coming. And now it all depends on how they are going to implement this commission.
POM From a moral point of view, can you simply let bygones by bygones?
JH It all depends, as I said, on how they are going to implement this commission. Surely there were injustices. Surely there were all kinds of atrocities. Is it true to say or to imply that that happened only within the framework of apartheid, on the side of the whites? What about those who objected against apartheid? Were there not also some kinds of atrocities? You see it's now a matter of how they are going to go about in this commission. Are they going to concentrate only on the injustices done by the suppressers, or oppressors? What about the situation with those who were involved in the anti-apartheid movement planting bombs right over the country? Are they also going to be investigated or not?
POM They should.
JH I think they should, but it is not quite sure that they are going to do it.
POM Would you draw a difference between citizens who were active in the anti-apartheid movement planting a bomb some place and a Head of State or one of his ministers instructing subordinates to assassinate a number of people?
JH Morally I would say they are both wrong. If you distinguish between structural violence and revolutionary violence and all the injustices done within the structure of the institutionalised violence or a reactionary violence, morally both parties are wrong and both parties acted immorally.
POM So what I've had heard all of my life, condemning the violence of the IRA because there are alternatives open to people and they are not representative of a very large segment of the population, but more importantly there are other avenues through which they can express their grievances. Is violence justified in any society where there are no other outlets?
JH That's a principle question on the whole problem of violence. I personally believe that violence is wrong. Whether it is institutionalised or whether it's a reaction on that factional or institutional violence, violence is wrong. I can't condone any form of violence. That does not mean that I am a pacifist. But given the situation in South Africa where we have indeed, I won't say already, at least negotiations were possible, trying to negotiate for a new position in South Africa and in spite of the fact that in those years the ANC were invited to negotiate and yet they went on with their violence, that is a position I cannot morally defend.
POM My larger question is, let us assume that a commission is set up to examine all atrocities by any side, should it then be ... by people who are identified by what they did and then they are forgiven, they are forgiven after they have been identified and prosecuted? Let's just assume for the sake of argument that Mr de Klerk as part of the national security system was a party to orders given to assassinate certain people and if that emerged in the light of the commission, do you think he would then be obliged to step down as Deputy President or should his position be that that was then and now is now? That these things were carried out when he was a member of the government was because the country was under threat?
JH His stepping down could then be seen as a form of retribution and I think he would be obliged to do exactly that because of my principle on violence and he obviously acted, hypothetically speaking on your premises, he acted violently and therefore immorally.
POM Again, on a larger scale, in East Germany when they opened the files of the Stasi and let everyone look at what information was in them you had situations where you found that a husband had spied on his wife or vice versa and rather than being an instrument of reconciliation it became an instrument of devastation. Are there any other valid grounds for letting bygones be bygones or must they be exposed before forgiveness can be given?
JH But surely you can go on ad infinitum to this sort of argument. I think one somewhere reaches a point when you can say, OK on the basis of forgiveness, without going on into the very depth of all these things. I mean, where would you end? Somewhere I think you can reach a point where you say, OK let's forgive each other, let's accept the forgiveness and let's start over. It's a completely new situation and unless we are going to accept one another on that basis of forgiveness and of forgetting the past by letting bygones be bygones, I cannot see how you can proceed in creating a new society.
POM Coming back here and going through the newspapers for the previous couple of weeks, one saw headlines of the MK walking out of military camps, of fighting going on between members of the SDUs and probable members of the IFP, of random strikes, of soaring violence, the level of violence went up in the last six months rather than down, of huge wage demands being made by the government. One would have thought that it was not a climate conducive to attracting any kind of foreign investment at all. On a scale of one to ten, where one is extreme instability and ten is extreme stability, where do you think the country lies?
JH Two? Four? I think it is clear by what we are experiencing now in our society that apartheid wasn't the only system to be blamed for all that has happened in the past. Even with apartheid gone now, a completely new situation arises. Not just with the idea of the model of apartheid but criminal elements, that is something else. Criminality is widespread.
POM But those in defence of the apartheid argument would say that's true but all of these things are the legacies of apartheid so that ultimately you can tie ...
JH That's an oversimplification. I can call in the rest of Africa for supporting my argument. You haven't had apartheid in the rest of Africa and look what's going on there. So all I want to say is that it would be completely wrong, it would be oversimplification of the situation to blame apartheid for everything. You have to blame primarily the human heart and I have always said in the past, we have a moral task. And unless we are solving our problems on that basis we will never ever solve our problems substantially and permanently. It would be completely an artificial approach to think once again that you can change a society by only producing new structures. New structures cannot and will not create new people, but new people can create new structures.
POM What of this moral task? What will be the main elements within it?
JH I would say respect for the human being, for the human being created in the image of God with certain basic human rights and human responsibility. That is also what we have lacked in the past and what is really the very essence of the immoral dimension of apartheid, the lack of respect for fellow human beings. And unless we're going to address that problem I cannot see for one moment how we're going to solve our problems.
POM Let's relate that to something you said earlier which was to inculcate in whites the fact that they will have to make sacrifices. Do you think that message is getting across? Then again we read in the newspapers, in the media about house boycotts and non-payment of rent and electricity spreading to white communities which is the very opposite of making sacrifices by saying if blacks don't pay it why should we?
JH Once again, an immoral argument. That's a completely immoral argument. They have been the privileged section of our population over so many centuries and now that they see a chance not to sacrifice on behalf of those underprivileged people in our country, that they are acting like that is a completely unacceptable, immoral stance.
POM In your day to day dealings with blacks, in the stores, on the streets or whatever, do you see anything different in them, do you see any sense in them that they have now empowered themselves to a degree, or are things much the same as they were before?
JH Amongst even those who are not empowered there is a completely new spirit I would say. We are now working together. I am pleased to see that even a white leader like Mr de Klerk is willing to serve under a black leader. That is an acceptable example to us to work together, knowing that even at that level people are willing to work together and that gives us hope for the country. That is more or less the argument, even if they are not as yet empowered, not economically and financially, they are still working for whites, and yet they see light in the future. In spite of what has happened, you know that is the amazing thing in this country, in spite of what has happened to so many people, there is still a remarkable reservoir of goodwill. And that gives me hope.
POM Is Mr Mandela the kind of glue that holds this entire thing together?
JH I've had many contacts with him, before and after the election, and he is in every respect a remarkable leader with moral integrity. I can really testify to that. We even invited him to attend the opening of our Synod but he couldn't come and then we thought he won't be there, and then he phoned us and said, "Look I would like to come, I would like to speak to you", and he came and he spoke and he gave a remarkable speech. There is an incarnation of an agent of reconciliation, an incarnation of the agent of reconciliation. He is transparent, to use a very popular word today in our language.
POM I'd never heard that word before I came here.
JH Transparency? He is transparent in his attitude and in his spirit.
POM Is there an over-reliance on him? For example, like when the MK mounted their mini rebellion or whatever, they said they would not be satisfied until they had talked to Mandela and he cut short his holiday to come back and address them.
JH But he did address them.
POM He did yes. My point would be, should he have or should it be the responsibility of the Minister of Defence? If everyone called upon Mandela, I mean if every dispute in the country had to be settled by his presence, it means that the rest of the leadership is not exercising its responsibility or authority sufficiently.
JH I think that is a sign of the very high estimation of Mandela to support the Minister of Defence (a), and (b) the fact that he was willing to come and to address them I think is also from his side a sign of his knowledge that he has a real, very, very important position. He is actually a father figure and I think that is very important, both for the blacks and the whites. What we need today is that sort of father figure. Perhaps it's very strange to you for me as a white man to say that he is a father figure but he is really the personification of the possibilities of bringing people together and holding them together. I don't know what's going to happen when he is not there any long. Let's hope and pray for his health and a long life, but I think that he is presently in a very, very sensitive position to lead this country.
JH Very artificial, I wouldn't be in a position to make any substantial contribution.
JH Yes, that is a psychological matter I think you can say. The heart of a human being is not to be measured by an intellectual approach. I think you asked me what his intellectual position would have been? But what I think is important in this country is the fact that we have had for many, many centuries whites and blacks living together and I think that sort of relationship was very healthy most of the time between the whites and the blacks and perhaps that was not the situation in the rest of Africa. That was a colonial situation where the whites came and they loved to see themselves rich in a very short period irrespective of the welfare of the other people and we have never ever had in South Africa a colonial situation in that sense that we are only temporary here and if things are not going well we are leaving for home. We have never ever operated in the framework of a possibility of escaping into a 'home'. This is our home. South Africa is home to white people. There was not a sort of a back door possibility that if it doesn't go well here then we'll go back home. There wasn't a home, this was our home. And therefore we were all obliged to make the best of the situation and that I think gives a certain moral ground for all our activities in relation to the other people. Perhaps as far as our country is concerned that could be one of the differences in the relations between us and the rest of the South Africans.
POM When we come back the next time we will expect you to have worked out an intellectual position.
JH We are so busy with our own problems.