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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Dec 1994: Du Plessis, Barend

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POM     Perhaps we should talk first about the developments that have taken place in the country since you stepped down as Minister of Finance and one of the government's chief negotiators, and what those changes augur for the future.

BDP     I understand that what I say now will be typed out and sent back to me.

POM     Sent back to you, and will not be published until 1998.

BDP     OK, it will only be published once I've seen it. But everything I say is publishable, or should be publishable, right?

POM     But you have the right to take up anything you want changed.

BDP     OK, fine. I stepped out for real personal reasons; I was physically and mentally exhausted. It had nothing to do with policy or anything of that kind, because at that time things were going on seven days a week and one of our main problems was the unreliability of the IFP. And there I can't say the IFP as a body, because it centred around certain individuals. It was the time prior to my departure, I'm talking about end 1991, beginning 1992, where it was envisaged that there would be a solid block of anti-ANC parties. I'm just defining it like that for convenience. It was envisaged that the National Party and the IFP would be major components, of course, in such a strategy. And we tried our level best to strike this kind of relationship with them. Very often, on particular points during the CODESA proceedings, it would happen that by Thursday, Friday there would be an agreement on common viewpoints, standpoints, common arguments for the CODESA proceedings due to start on the following Monday. But invariably on Sunday morning, Gerrit Viljoen would phone and say, "Sorry fellows, they jumped out again", so it's into the aeroplanes, up from Cape Town to Pretoria, spending the Sunday afternoon instead of resting, like we should do after having spent Saturday working anyway, spending the Sunday afternoon analysing the problems, strategising, meeting them Sunday evening. I remember one particular case which was typical: we said goodbye to them at about 11 o'clock at an hotel in Johannesburg, everything sorted out, in agreement again, just to find next morning 8.30 they distributed a multi-page document, just repeating all the things that we had thought that we had sorted out. So it was extremely difficult and it was a very tough burden on all of us at that time. So that typified the CODESA situation at that stage.

BDP     There were some of us who were also of the opinion that we should have had FW de Klerk leading our delegation more often and being much more involved. The argument was (a) he was the person best equipped to be at the coal face, to respond dynamically to the situation, to sort out both technical future constitutional issues and difficult strategic problems that arose. That also would have forced Mr Mandela to be present and, from the party political point of view, it would have engaged our chief opponent in South Africa where it mattered, because he has this enormous presence and it would have had a salutary effect on the underlings, as it were, to have him there. I think we could have made a lot of progress much more quickly. There is also something to be said for having the top functionary removed, but in that particular instance, there were some of us, and I was one, who felt that FW de Klerk's presence would have done what I said: it would have kept Mandela there, but it also would have forced Chief Minister Buthelezi to be present. And his absence, in my view, looking back, was a major problem, not only from the point of view of having missed an election alliance opportunity, but also from the point of view of getting him transplanted into the body of negotiations. But be that as it may, that's the situation as it was and subsequent to my departure I saw that, and I still believe it today, it would have been a better idea to have Mr de Klerk there. And eventually it didn't work out with Inkatha and there was a lot of difficulty with involving them in the election at all and their late entrance and so on: all those details are certainly not here for me to repeat.

BDP     As far as the economy is concerned: even to this day we haven't seen the millions coming into the country. Countries have been very modest in their real monetary contributions. I think it was General de Gaulle who said there is no affection between countries, there are only interests, and much of the response that has come from a variety of countries has been in the form of assistance to that particular country to trade with South Africa; very modest amounts have been coming for education and housing and so on.

BDP     We have also seen, since the election, new faces in virtually every job. We have seen affirmative action coming about in a really quick way. I am happy to say that a lot of these people coming into top positions I am also referring to some ministers are people with a very sound academic background. A lot of people coming into positions of director general and so on are also people of very, very sound academic and professional backgrounds, and that obviously gives one hope. It did also happen, unfortunately, that not every person is that well trained academically or that well versed in running something in administration. We have seen some very exemplary ways of doing it. I can refer to one specifically: Mac Maharaj bringing Khetso Gordhan, an engineer, into the position of Director General of the Department of Transport. But he phased him in; he brought him in first as his adviser. The SABC did the same, but Mac brought Khetso in as his adviser and he had him running parallel with the former director general who had reached the end of his contract period and was a very able man, a doctor's degree in economics and so on. I have been immensely impressed with both Mac and Khetso. So from that point of view, it gives one hope. There are other, in terms of the provincial governments particularly, much more disturbing phenomena and that is this move to completely redesign the wheel which has brought the whole factory to a standstill. New bodies coming in. In my view consultation is a good thing in principle, but I think it's done in many respects in a totally exaggerated way: involving people in the decision making process who are really not equipped to be part of it. The voice of the people, "vox populae, vox dei", yes there is something to be said for it, but then a properly informed people. I have come across quite a number of new structures that have so far been more obstructive in terms of decision making than helpful. I just hope that they are going through a rather rapid learning curve; otherwise we will not be able to get the country going.

POM     Would you think that the government's inability, or seeming inability, to make decisions is one of the factors that may cause its failure over the next five years?

BDP     Yes I think so. There have been what can be termed inordinate delays in getting the necessary powers transferred from national government to provincial level; and the moment the provinces demand those rights. Then all of a sudden there's some terrifically important need for the matter to be resolved at national level first, or for some of the powers to be retained at a national level. Because it's fresh in my mind: I just heard a conversation this morning about the Gambling Control Board; that's a typical example. According to the Constitution, I was told this morning, the Constitution delegated or vested all rights regarding wagering and gambling and what have you to the provinces. Now there's a Commission under the chairmanship of Prof Nic Wiehahn to go into a national lottery, etc. Now, all of a sudden, they want to say lotteries should be a national issue, which is not strictly according to the constitution, instead of what would seem to be the logical way, to vest a national lottery in the ownership of all nine provinces. But it is said that's not the idea of this Board; this Board wants to grab it all for itself. What I am saying to you by way of this rather silly example is that there are parallels with regard to other issues as well, where there is an inordinate delay in transferring those rights. That means that the provinces can't exercise those rights. They may have the structures in place, or begin to get the structures in place, but if structures are in place or are being put in place and they don't have powers then nothing happens.

BDP     We can talk about education. You hear conflicting statements every day. On the one hand, people are willing to pay to secure standards; on the other hand, they are told by a variety of government spokespersons that, "Sorry, that's no longer our policy to allow Model C schools or to allow private hospitals", etc., etc. So I'm extremely concerned that provincial government has been unable so far to perform. You can look at housing, you can look at infrastructure, you can look at everything virtually, and on a national basis equally so. On a cynical note, can I just add, the one consolation is that we won't be able to spend the budget, let alone over-spend, as we taxpayers all fear that they will eventually fall into.

POM     Most of the Premiers we talked to are resentful of the fact that they haven't received more powers; and I would think a number of them who were very much for a unitary state have now become federalists. It's like a touch of power, they like it. Do you think that they would say in their own defence that they had to dismantle the whole system, the entire apartheid structure of laws and bureaucracies, and this and that have all got to be torn down and new structures that will be democratically orientated put in their place.

BDP     There's nothing democratic about an administrative structure from the point of view of running a province. The democracy part of it rests on who runs the country or the province, who is the premier: has he been democratically elected, has he got a democratically elected council where his legislation and his policies are tested? But getting the bureaucratic structure, the machinery, going has very little to do with it, because there have been and OK, fine, they were installed as a result of apartheid policies but there are people of colour who are able to run an education department, a construction department, public works department, housing department. I mean he was a political appointee from the point of view of, broadly speaking, a member of the bureaucracy or the administration of a so-called homeland, be it self-governing or independent, but that doesn't contaminate him ad infinitum. And if the new ANC controlled government wanted to have a new director general, a top person from their own ranks as a political appointee to run certain departments, then they could just have taken over those departments easily and given them new instructions. It's not necessary to dismantle all those old structures, and that's exactly what they seem to be doing. I'm not that au fait with the detail of the extent to which they literally replace people, firing them and retrenching them and then appointing new people from the beginning. Certainly, I don't think a person is contaminated if he comes from an old regime where he had a job to do as a civil servant. He wasn't on a political mission.

POM     Yet many of them say that they have problems with the civil service; an uncooperative civil service can essentially prevent the implementation of policy.

BDP     I think there's a real element of truth in that, but aren't civil services all over the world rather uncooperative? It becomes an animal unto itself and an existence unto itself. But from the point of view of the minister knowing what he wants, it shouldn't take him more than two weeks to find out whether his chief executive officer is in line with him or not and, if he's not in line, if it's a political appointment, he can fire him on the spot and appoint somebody of his own political orientation, provided that person is sufficiently qualified and equipped to do the job. And that director general in turn, being at the coal face, can certainly find out in a matter of weeks where the sabotage is going on. No, sincerely, I think there's validity in that point, but I think we've seen people in place now long enough to be able to identify the saboteurs and to have been able to get rid of them, and we haven't yet seen all that action. And all this, what I'm saying to you, I mean we're concentrating on the negative side, there are many positive things as well and I've alluded to a little bit of it. But the markets do not show that South Africa has really become an attractive place to invest money and there are many, many reasons for it. The slow process of decision making, the fears with regard to tax, the fears with regard to monetary and fiscal discipline, these are the things; and of course the violence and the overwhelming crime wave that we are suffering under. These are the factors that prevent businessmen from coming. But I am saying that, as far as the administration is concerned, that is only one of many aspects where performance has not been according to expectations.

POM     This is a speculative question. You lost to FW de Klerk by about eight votes -

BDP     Yes.

POM     - when they were electing a new party leader. You were considered the more liberal of the two. If you had won, would you see a different outcome to the one that came with CODESA and negotiations and whatever; would you have taken a very different line to De Klerk? Not a very different line, just would you have handled things in different ways?

BDP     I think it's fair to say that I would have handled many of the things in a completely different way. However, the advantage of FW de Klerk's election as leader of the National Party from the point of view of the country as a whole is much greater than it would have been if I had been elected. At that time there was a very dramatic movement towards more liberal views at long last. The verligte movement was started in 1975/76. Those of us who talked openly against job reservation and against petty apartheid and all these things, we were only a small group. The irony, by the way, is that not one of us eventually landed in a position of real power in the new verligte SA. I became leader of the Transvaal after FW de Klerk, and Pik succeeded me, but I think in a way the power base that we had been creating over a long period of time was hijacked by the more conservative section of the caucus. Now if I had won it, it would have been by as narrow a margin as FW de Klerk's victory, but I would have had to spend the next maybe two or three years dragging the verkramptes from his fold, scratching and screaming, to our point of view, trying to consolidate the power base of the party from which to move into dramatic announcements and changes. FW de Klerk could, however, make those very announcements rather early  because he had the caucus of the National Party solidly behind him and the National Party as a whole throughout the country. But if I had won, I would have had a tremendous job getting those more conservatives to our way of thinking and our way of thinking. When FW de Klerk won by that narrow margin, he could leapfrog us in terms of policies. He found a ready-made market and could consolidate the caucus behind him and the National Party in a matter of weeks, at most a few months, and it was in the interests of the country that that happened.

POM     But in negotiations, could you just enumerate some of the things that you would have handled differently?

BDP     I wouldn't like to say that for the record.

POM     Off the record?

BDP     [The interesting thing is that the cabinet ministers who supported me in the presidential election after F W de Klerk's leapfrog thereafter became the more 'conservatives' in Cabinet. And don't forget that we were the anti-racists. I have never been a racist in my life. I have never condemned anybody on account of his skin. I know the differences of culture and that is the only basis on which I entered the National Party; and you can talk to Pik and you will find the same kind of thinking; you can talk to Louis Nel and so forth. Now, we were the ones who had all the right in the world to take a much, much tougher stance at CODESA because we had a history of saying, "Listen fellows, what obtains now is what we fought for and if I tell you in your face that what you're talking now is a load of rubbish, I'm saying it on the merits of your statement and not because you are black." But if I had a history where I supported apartheid on the basis of colour and never spoke out against racism and discrimination in a way that caused problems inside the NP. I couldn't have done it and that could well have paralysed FW de Klerk and most of his team.]

POM     I think we stopped when you said that this is off the record.

BDP     Let me make this compromise with you. If there are specific things from memory of what I said now off the record that you would like to ask, put it to me in writing and I will respond in writing if I feel I could say something for the record. OK? Because I think that is a crucial tool for understanding what happened in the National Party caucus.

POM     It is because at one level it seems all too you know one heard about doves and hawks, but you never heard of the internal battles that went on, probably driving the party apart.

BDP     Who drove Andries Treurnicht out and who continuously tried to pacify the Treurnicht faction? It was the verligte faction that drove them out because we addressed the issues on principle. Let me give you something that happened to me just after Connie Mulder left the party. One evening I had a packed hall in my constituency. It was the only time my report back meeting was so well attended and there was an electric atmosphere: hostility from right wingers all of a sudden because Connie Mulder had started his National Conservative Party. Remember? NKP. And I got the most vicious questions from the far right wingers sitting in the hall; one of them was so nastily racist. While I was responding to the first question, the answer to his second question (I'm talking about 1978, 1979, just after Connie was out of the party I can't remember exactly), hit me like a glass of cold water and I used this argument from stage to stage and in the caucus, in the study groups on labour and education. I said to the man, "What you said there was a terribly nasty racist thing", this was a public meeting, remember. "Tell me sir, did you have an opportunity to negotiate with God about the colour of your skin before you were born? Speak up." And I kept quiet, "Speak up, tell us, did you negotiate the colour of your skin before you were born?" And it was dead quiet. "No, the answer is obviously no, because He decided what colour you would be and, because you're white, chances are that you grow up in a Western orientated house where you become a man when you get a certificate that you hang against your wall that you are able to support your family. You don't become a man by having your face painted white, getting yourself circumcised in a river, covering the wound with mud and that kind of thing and going into a special hut, where you become a man that way and where arithmetic and geography and these things are not the order of the day." Because a generation ago or two generations before, that was what still prevailed in South Africa in so many areas. "Therefore I think it's the epitome of arrogance if a person gets up and arrogates himself that he's better because God made him a white; God could have made him a black if he had so preferred. So where do you come from? How can you base your life on this? How can you try to run a country on such an arrogant and", I don't know how to express myself properly in English, "simplistic premise". And I used that in those areas and Louis Nel used the same kind of arguments and so did Piet du Plessis and Pik. Those things changed the party because we reduced it to fundamental principles that racism is evil. And all of a sudden, when the caucus moved, the conservative leadership grasped the opportunity and it's not the first time that in moments of dramatic change people side with the more conservative leadership, because they think maybe they will not go so far. But let's give FW de Klerk his place in history. When he decided that apartheid was evil he changed 180°, and as a skilled politician and as a person who has a great understanding of principles he could motivate it and he could consolidate the caucus, the National Party, behind him and even the whole nation behind him. Let's give him his place in history. When he decided to go that way, he broke completely and he could formulate it in such a way, structure it in such a way that it was acceptable, and that changed South Africa for the better.

POM     I know you have to run. It's 1.30. Thank you for all the time. I'd like to come back in February if possible.

BDP     OK, you'll find me here, very busy.

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.