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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Mar 1995: De Klerk, FW

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FDK     And right through the 1987 election, the whole thing when Treurnicht left the party, the 1987 election when we changed the policy to a policy of abolishing all forms of separate development, already in 1986 we said inclusively, one citizenship, one vote for all. We fought the 1989 election on that basis. On that basis I carried them on the 2 February 1990. On that basis they were the core which gave me amongst the whites a two thirds majority in the referendum. You don't have somebody from that group speaking on how do they now find everything and so on and I think it is a serious action.

POM     I will rectify it. Let me start by asking you, what did you the reformer, most people I've talked to have said or written about you as being an unlikely reformer, that you were part of the Afrikaner establishment, that when it came to the leadership and the fight with Barend du Plessis he was perceived as the liberal and you as the conservative and yet you came in and in a very short space of time transformed entirely the politics of South Africa by your actions and my question would be, what led you along that path? What was the development of your own thoughts that led you to that place?

FDK     I think I have been incorrectly tagged in politics for a very long time, even before I became leader. I became leader of the National Party in Transvaal when Treurnicht broke away. As leader of the Transvaal I was fighting, I was right at the forefront of fighting the onslaught from the white right and therefore the emphasis of my party political activity was crossing swords with the white right. That gave a particular emphasis to my political activity which typified, which led, I think, commentators to typify me to the right. But at that same time I was deeply involved in the whole reform process which started with the planning and negotiations which led to the institution of a three-chamber parliament, bringing brown, coloured South Africans and Indian South Africans into the parliamentary system. I was the minister who repealed the Mixed Marriages Act which my father had put on the statute book as Minister of Internal Affairs. I served together with Chris Heunis and Gerrit Viljoen and others on a small constitutional reform committee throughout, which planned the whole run up to the 1986 National Party national conference where we formally changed our policy away from separate development with regard to also the black nations, towards one citizenship, one equal vote for all without any form of racial discrimination provided that there will be effective protection of minorities. I actively participated in the 1987 election just for white voters when we said we have changed our policy, give us a new mandate for power sharing and for this policy of one new South Africa with one citizenship and full equality. And I was enthusiastic about it. So I think I have been incorrectly tagged.

     Secondly, I did not have a Damascus Road conversion. It was part of a process throughout and within our party. The National Party went through a period of deep self-analysis. When Treurnicht and that which he represented formed a stumbling block in the process of reform, when the split occurred in 1982, it freed us and then the real reform process started to gain momentum and led to the situation that when I became leader of the party on 2 February 1989, and president later in 1989 in September, the policy for the abolishment of all forms of separate development was already in place and I had the opportunity to say now is the time for implementation to really do something about this new policy, to take an initiative. I was assisted in this by the historic events in eastern Europe, the breakdown of communism, the fact that Russia stopped being a world power with expansionist policies aiming at gaining control over the whole of southern Africa, directly or indirectly. The ANC stopped being, also, apart from being a political movement of South Africans, but it was also until Russia lost its hold and until communism broke down an instrument in the hands of a world power with a specific strategy vis-à-vis our country and our neighbouring countries.

POM     Would you have been able to do it if eastern Europe hadn't been liberated and the Soviet Union fallen into disarray or would it have been a much slower process?

FDK     I don't think that there would have been any possibility of unbanning the SA Communist Party under such circumstances.

POM     But you would have unbanned the ANC?

FDK     It would have been very difficult, but we are entering the speculative field.

POM     When this whole process began Mr Mandela made his famous statement about that you were a man of integrity and a man that he could do business with, over the years the relationship seems, at least from the outside, to have deteriorated some with some quite vicious personal remarks made by Mr Mandela against you that kind of moved away from the professional to the personal. Am I right in that perception?

FDK     You are definitely right in the perception that Mandela has made a number of conflicting statements about me and you should ask him what his motivation is. It is difficult for me to analyse it. I think that there are two main reasons. Firstly, and I think that has now been rectified in his mind, he was incorrectly informed on the occasion of CODESA and believed that I played a trick on him, whereas I gave him notice of the speech that I would make and it wasn't transmitted to him. He had a suspicion that we insisted that I speak last so that I could make an attack, whereas the question of when I spoke and what I said were totally not connected and I then gave notice the previous day to him and said that because we did not reach a specific settlement on an issue where we were promised a settlement I had no other option but tomorrow on this point to make an attack, and he never received that message. I think he carried the suspicion with him for a long time that I didn't play clean. Secondly, he at times seems to have believed that somehow or another I could have done more with regard to the activities of what has become known as the so-called third force. I think that since he came to power he is finding out that it's not so easy for a head of state to ensure that everybody in your party or everybody in the service of the state does as the leader would like them to do.

POM     Given what seems now to be like policemen making confessions or the trial of Colonel de Kock and the seeming implication of other generals in the security forces, is there any doubt in your mind now that a third force of a type did exist?

FDK     I have always said that it was quite possible and in actual fact it was proven from time to time that individual policemen and individual members of the force, who might have organised themselves into little groups, have gone far beyond what was acceptable and beyond any orders or any authority that I know of. But of an integrated third force permeating through the forces, there has never been any evidence. Goldstone himself has made that finding that he could not discover any such evidence and right up to almost the last Goldstone report, Goldstone substantiated my approach with regard to the fact that the image which the term 'third force' calls up that that was not in reality the position. When we are talking, I'm not an expert on it, but when we're talking about what now comes to light, what is alleged to have happened at Vlakplas, we're talking about a unit of thirty or forty people or I don't know how many, out of a police force of, a vast police force, one of the biggest police forces in the world. So, we're not talking about a sort of a giant conspiracy leaking into all sections. General Fivaz, the new Commissioner, knew about it. He was in the police.

POM     As you look back on the process that ultimately led to the government of national unity, what would you identify as the chief turning points?

FDK     Well you can either approach that question from the point of view of the negotiation process itself or deal with it more holistically. I would prefer to deal with it more holistically. The ANC started from the point of having really an agreed upon joint government, call it a government of national unity, for a short period, preparing the elections, then having the elections of a Constitutional Assembly, then the Constitutional Assembly writing the constitution while this non-elected government continues governing. At a certain point that was their view. The big breakthrough was, we started out from the viewpoint we negotiate a new constitution, that is the constitution, in terms of that constitution we then elect a government and we wanted in that constitution to have a government of national unity and until that election the government would govern, the then elected government would govern. The compromise was to say we negotiate a transitional constitution for a period of five years. We write principles into it which will assure the basic framework and structure and foundations of a final constitution which are immutable, those principles, to have a government of national unity for the five years and we first have an election and the government of national unity must be an elected government. It was a good compromise.

POM     On a scale of one to ten where one would be dissatisfaction with and ten very satisfied with, where would you rank the interim government or the interim constitution?

FDK     I would give it a very high pass mark, but I wouldn't say very satisfied but I would say satisfied. Give and take which is involved in real negotiation asks sacrifices and the acceptance of disappointments on both sides.

POM     With the Constituent Assembly now in session drawing up the final constitution it can go either one of two routes. One is that it can fine tune the existing constitution and change things that haven't worked or need amending, or the other is it can write a constitution from scratch. My indications from ANC leaders is that they will write a constitution from scratch within the parameters of the constitutional principles already set out. What do you envisage the function of this Constituent Assembly?

FDK     Let me say the practical and most efficient way would have been to use the transitional constitution as a starting point. Of the ANC's vantage point, however, and they gained the majority in the election, it has always been their ideal that it must also be a bottom up constitution and I therefore understand their motivation for pushing strongly for the type of process which we are following. We have decided to work with them in the sense of co-operating in the process, but I am quite convinced that we are going to end up with identifying in this process those fundamental aspects in the transitional constitution which requires further negotiation.

POM     Could you point to an example?

FDK     Let me give an example. I don't think that this process is going to take us away from the form of federalism which is written into the transitional constitution, and the issue which will crystallise from this whole process will be; should the provinces get more power, should that list be extended of the functions that they have? How can the grey area of overlapping authority be narrowed? How can we get a clearer definition of which powers, functions and authority should rest with the provinces or should rest with the central government? And thirdly, what fiscal and financial power should the provinces have, more or less or the same that they have now? I think in the Bill of Rights certain clauses will become highlighted as various of continued controversy where there will be further negotiation required.

POM     Could you give me one example?

FDK     Like how to achieve a balance between concepts like no discrimination on the basis of race or colour or gender or whatever and on the other hand affirmative action, upward mobility for particularly black South Africans. How can we assure that a proper balance will be maintained? Then I think one of the main areas will be a new system of local government because there we don't have something in place yet. We just have a transitional system in place for which the elections will be, and local government needs to be extended much more. And the obvious fourth area, do we take the concept of a form of joint decision making at the executive level, call it power sharing, into the future or not? The starting point on that, with regard to the constitution which is now being written from the ANC side is at the end of five years that's over and if a party gets 50% or more of the vote it forms the government, full stop. The starting point of the National Party is we are not married to the present composition of the government of national unity which is fairly rigorous, according to a formula, but we believe we should look at ways and means of making the concept of joint decision making about fundamental issues also part of the final constitution and we will be putting forth alternatives which might even be complementary to each other in this regard in the negotiation process.

POM     But the situation ...?

FDK     Can I sum it up by saying we believe that South Africa with its complex society, multi-cultural, forget about colour, requires formulae which can create win/win situations, which can effectively protect minorities however you define them, whether it's religious minorities, whether it's political minorities, whether it is cultural minorities, against discrimination which can give a feeling of security to minorities that there is space and room for that which is dear to them and important to them, will be effectively protected. And for that you need formulae, that is what the whole world is looking for. We believe that, and it is not a smokescreen, to continue to preserve privilege or to maintain behind a smokescreen a form of separatism or apartheid, it is what this country needs.

POM     Donald Horowitz.

FDK     In each and every country where genocide is taking place today in this world, where many people are killed in political violence, analyse the causes. Prominent amongst the causes will be failure to find a way of dealing with the fears and aspirations of minorities.

POM     Donald Horowitz wrote a book about South Africa about three or four years ago in which he came to the conclusion that it could be called a divided society and that as a divided society such concepts as the traditional concepts of democracy didn't simply work, that you had to devise structures that would allow the different minorities to feel that they had part of, that they had a say in the governance of the country. Here you have a situation; one, would you agree with him that that would be a good example, that South Africa is a good example of a divided society or that it isn't a divided society? Is it a country in which ethnic cleavages are important but are rarely talked about?

FDK     I would, without tying myself to his terminology or specific conclusions, say yes South Africa was a deeply divided society. We have successfully brought that deeply divided society together and united them with an overwhelming majority against a common goal and that is of building a new nation. The main threat to the success of achieving that goal of building a new nation united behind common law is that the divisions which continue in practice to exist in our society, whether it is economic divisions or ethnic divisions, will prove to be stronger than the drive to bridge them. And it is for that reason that I say that we need to devise formulae to accommodate the stresses and strains built into the complexity of our society, the language complexity, the cultural complexity, the long period it is going to take to bridge the economic divisions which divide the well-to-do from the poor. That is what the RDP to a great extent is all about, of which we are fully supportive. It is an orderly, affordable way to develop the human resource potential of each and every South African to his or her fullest potential. Help people to help themselves, through economic growth ensure opportunities and new horizons for them. But in addition to that I say that we need also to realise that specifically on the cultural side with regard to language, with regard to education, with regard to concepts like mother tongue education, like religiously based education, like culturally based education. Specifically if you look at black South Africans with regard to the divisions between traditional blacks still adhering to old customs and feeling strongly about questions like the role of chiefs and traditional leaders and the modernised black, that all those divisions must be effectively bridged by offering security to all the component parts so that they won't feel threatened in their very existence. Only if all the component parts of the total society feel that they are not threatened by being part of this bigger nation, that they won't be trampled upon, that they are not asked to stop being what they are by becoming and being a loyal South African will we get the right atmosphere which will make nation building really succeed.

POM     What do you think are the greatest obstacles in the way of nation building? For example, I have been in the country this time round for about two months, but I have been spending about eight months a year here for the last couple of years, and you saw taxi blockades of Johannesburg, you saw ex MK members in rebellion in Durban, you had incidences of white police shooting black police, you had a plethora of strikes. One could very easily gain the impression that the underlying situation was taut with instability, that no-one was really in control. Do you regard these problems as kind of teething pains?

FDK     I would describe it as more serious than teething pains. I think they are serious problems arising from the process of transition. I welcome the recognition of the seriousness of the situation by President Mandela because it is basically within his power base that these problems exist at the moment. The ANC itself is still in transition on its way to become a typical political party and there are all sorts of pressures and stresses and strains within the ANC as a movement. The second big factor is the continuing conflict at grassroots level with the violent implications that it has between Inkatha and the ANC. They are serious problems. From a security point of view they can only be dealt with if the government is united in dealing with it firmly and President Mandela is not giving the lead that the government will deal with it firmly and he is calling upon people in authority such as principals of universities to deal with insurrection at universities. Simultaneously we will only overcome these problems if we succeed with the RDP, if we address the root causes of unemployment which makes a contribution of a lost generation, as it is called, a million or more young black South Africans who dropped out of school, who cannot read or write properly, who have no training, who now that their political role is behind them have to turn to crime, and thirdly, if constitutionally we devolve power to such an extent that we defuse some of the issues which are at the root at the moment, by making a success of provincial government and also making a success of the new system of municipal government.

POM     Would you see central government devolving power, say, to both the regional governments and the local governments, or the provincial governments themselves devolving specific powers to local governments?

FDK     Essentially already the areas where local governments can get additional powers fall more within the parameters of the provincial governments than the central government, but there is, in the field of welfare for instance, room for devolvement of functions to local governments, the question of old age homes and similar institutions.

POM     I want to go back for a moment to when I asked you about turning points. I think what I was looking for was that as you review the process over four years whether certain points, i.e. like the assassination of Chris Hani or Boipatong ...?

FDK     Oh yes, there's a whole list which had either a positive or a negative influence.

POM     That's right. That's what I was trying to get you to. Which do you think were the crucial ones that moved things in a positive direction or which almost ...?

FDK     In the constitutional process the crucial ones were the break up of CODESA in July 1992. It brought the Memorandum of Understanding in September 1992, the period in between having been devoted by the ANC to really make the country ungovernable through mass action but failing to do so and returning to the negotiation table, first just with us. Buthelezi's unfortunate negative reaction to that. So his staying out until the last moment was another event. Before that I was losing by-election after by-election, I found myself in the same position more or less that Prime Minister Major finds himself in in England at the moment.

POM     He's down to 3.9% support.

FDK     No, but I was going down, not statistically. And the decision to hold the referendum, focusing the white electorate on just the one question, "What do you want for the future?" and the two thirds majority. Then events like Chris Hani's murder, Boipatong, had a marked effect. I think in looking back I would say the fact that we have overcome these far reaching setbacks always through negotiation, through returning to the negotiation table, is something of which I think all South Africans can be proud. It could not have been achieved if it weren't for the leadership on all the sides involved.

POM     After you had unbanned the ANC and the SACP and released Mandela, I was going into the townships around Johannesburg mostly and all the time came upon people who called you 'Comrade de Klerk' Your standing in the black community was as high as Mandela's was. That changed.

FDK     Not fundamentally, I would say that there is more a recognition now of me also as an opposition leader but wherever I go I still experience from people wearing ANC T-shirts an anxiousness to shake my hand and basically warmth and a friendliness. I continue to be able to go to places where I couldn't go to until the day of the election, where my security would not allow me to go, and I think we are becoming of age with regard to a more democratic approach.

POM     How do you reconcile, or how does the party reconcile on the one hand being a loyal member of a government of national unity, albeit a minority one, and on the other hand an opposition party? Is your identity as a party not in fear of being lost?

FDK     It is a difficult tightrope to walk but if the Germans could do it after the second world war, they always had except for six months or so coalition governments, there were always parties in that position. In Holland the same pertains, in Denmark, in Sweden, in Norway. In Europe there are many instances where coalitions stay together and then fight elections against each other. Sometimes it ends up with the coalition parties moving closer together and almost entering into election pacts, but quite often quite strongly against each other. We have to learn from that process. I would describe the ideal situation that maybe we shouldn't call ourselves opposition and partner but we should call ourselves co-operators but also competitors, and it is on those lines that we are trying to structure our participation and the way in which we oppose also is the second biggest part. We don't oppose what we've agreed to but we oppose that which the ANC as a party says or does, so we don't oppose the government of national unity of which we are a part, but the ANC also has a distinct personality from the government of national unity as is evident from the critical stance that their own caucus takes against the government of national unity. That is what we oppose, and we put on the table policies which in some instances we say yes we are a part, to compromise on a specific policy issue. But if we had the only say we would have put a better solution on the table than the compromise. And if you make us the leading party, even if we have in future a co-operative form of power sharing we will be in a better position to improve on that compromise, give us a mandate for that.

FDK     Well firstly they are not in a position. They don't have a two thirds majority. They will need support from elsewhere. Secondly, even in the principles there are already elements, and in the Bill of Rights, which diffuses the concept of simple majority rule. The element of federalism diffuses simple majority rule. The question of effective protection of certain cultural rights and certain very specific rights in the Bill of Rights is an element but it's not enough. Already we have a system of checks and balances accepted as a principle. In the 34th principle it is stated that self-determination somehow or another must feature. So I'm not negative about the negotiation process. If you asked me when we started negotiating with the ANC, you could have asked me the same question. The ANC was then against any form of power sharing. The ANC was then against all the things which we have in the transitional constitution and against many things which we have in the immutable principles. I believe in negotiation. I believe in the worth of my case because I believe that most of the things which we say are crucial for success for us, the ANC, for the country as a whole, for all the people of South Africa, and I believe that in the learning process of governing together the responsible leadership of all parties are learning the truth.

POM     Where does that leave Dr Buthelezi who once again is playing the role of a loose canon.

FDK     We must finish now.

POM     OK, one question after this one. Or maybe I'll skip this one and ask you one that I have to ask. This will be on the Truth Commission. How do you balance the individual's right to know what happened to a son or a daughter against the interest of healing and reconciliation, whereas if you take a Truth Commission to its ultimate end you will end up with more scars in the society than healing?

FDK     Well I'm not enthusiastic about the Truth Commission and have never been. We accepted the principle of it. We have nothing to hide. If we did otherwise we would have been told that we are running away from our past which I don't intend to do. I am highly critical of how it has been approached by the ANC. We once again, however, chose the road of negotiation and removed much of what was totally unacceptable to us from the original bill. The second passage is now through parliament where the same arguments are being argued all over again. We are at the moment locked into negotiation to ensure that we can live with the final result. I think that we are going to be fairly successful. But then it carried with it a tremendous risk. It's goal is national reconciliation. The stated objective of everybody concerned is it must not become a witch hunt. How to prevent that is going to prove one of the most daunting challenges which the government of national unity has ever faced and which the ANC has ever faced. It has the potential if it is not well managed and if the Truth Commission itself does not adhere to the spirit of the enabling Act, that will be their mandate to get out of hand and do a lot of damage. We will be doing our level best to assure that it doesn't happen.

POM     Thank you very 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.