About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Mar 1995: Meyer, Roelf

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Let me start first with National Party. The National Party is the junior partner in government in the sense that it is really over-shadowed by the ANC and many people really believe that the GNU is just an ANC operation. What sense of identity does the party now have? What constituency must it find to keep that identity? How can you be at the same time a partner in the government and at the same time how do you control that as being the main opposition to the government?

RM     I believe at this point in time, and I am going to be frank with you, personally I believe that kind of question at this point of time is immaterial although that is natural that the question be asked and at this point in time people are asking particularly because the perception is that the ANC is the majority dominating the scene and that the minority parties are not really coming forward and playing a significant role and all that. That is the perception. The reason why I am saying it is irrelevant is because of the fact that we are only ten months now into the new period of government and the first ten months of the government of national unity. And of course the first part of these ten months was mainly devoted to settling in and getting the system going and things like that. So there was not a lot of pressure on performance, there were no questions about that because people accepted that things had to unfold and so on. So it is only now really that one can start to measure the developments and assess what is happening and so on.

     And for the same value it was impossible to actually assess the role of the National Party up till now especially taking into account that people were used to them being the governing party before the election for so many years and then also it almost disappeared after the election becoming a minority party. My view is that the political scene as a whole - what I am therefore saying is that I think the pattern is really only now starting to unfold and it's not clear yet what that pattern is even at this point.

     That leads me to the following point and that is I think it would be in the interest of the National Party to sit out or for that matter any position as far as it's future role is concerned. ... as far as direction is concerned. I think it is more important for the National Party to address issues on an ongoing basis and let things develop. The main thing ... because my belief is that the political scene will almost naturally change over a period of five years. I believe there will be a restructuring of the whole political system in time to come.

POM     That is if the ANC fragments into obviously different components with obviously different agendas?

RM     I won't put it as strongly as that, although that might be part of it but if one reads the political situation as it unfolds there is the potential for a lot of commonality to start developing between parties or sections of parties, between individuals, between role players, whatever. This restructuring, to my mind, will come into play not necessarily this year or next year, but not unlikely in a year or the year after, and once that is starting to take shape one will be over this ... What I am saying is, not only as far as the governmental system is concerned, also in the political sense we are part and parcel of the transition that is taking place. That is against that background I am saying that question is at this point in time is almost irrelevant.

POM     Is that role in which you find yourself, in a position where you are almost existing in a vacuum, you are trying to be two things. You told me that you are part of the government, also being a strong critic of the government. To quote from Mr de Klerk at the annual conference; he said, "The party would be forced to resign from the government if the ANC did not stop the insulting attacks on him and on the National Party." What was Mr de Klerk referring to?

RM     I think one must read that speech in the context of what happened between himself and the President ... But on a later occasion, a few weeks later, he emphasised, I think to my mind, the role that we should actually take and that is being the typical ... I think that is really where the emphasis should be. Those two roles are not exclusive because the business type of phenomenon you have, there are companies in the same industry working together on broad policies but competing against each other. That is the kind of role that we should play.

POM     Going back to 1990 when Mandela was released from jail and he talked about De Klerk as being a man of integrity, a man who you could do business with. That lasted for a couple of years and then things began to deteriorate. It never seems to have recovered to the same personal warmth, especially on Mr Mandela's side. He seems more prone to make a personal attack on Mr de Klerk rather than a policy attack or something like that. What do you think happened between the two or to the chemistry of the relationship?

RM     It was basically ... the position taken by Mr de Klerk on the question of their reliability as far as ... the provisions of those agreements regarding the setting up of ... and the armed cadres. ... Mr Mandela then immediately rose and ... because he believed that Mr de Klerk ... (unintelligible)

POM     One of the things that was talked about then and crops up now is the whole question of a show of force and ... you were Minister of Defence for a short period of time and you were unable to uncover anything. ... covert operations, the IFP described what appears to have been operating within the KwaZulu Police. There is no lack of evidence. Adriaan Vlok is mentioned as approving of some negative ... that had taken place, it's only an allegation it's not proven. But the flood gates seem to be opening in a peculiar way that suggests that a lot of 'dirty tricks' were going on and yet everybody in a senior position simply didn't know or no-one went to the trouble of trying to find out.

RM     It's another very difficult decision in that if people are not prepared to talk it's very difficult to discover what is really going on. The only reason of information now becoming available is because people are starting to talk. It's because people are starting to give evidence that certain information is becoming available. We're totally depending on that. If people are not providing evidence, in other words, for information you're cut off. I can tell you that at the time I had serious doubts because (a) the people are ... but I couldn't find any information or evidence. And maybe I was wrong but I had my doubts and I enquired as far as I could but I couldn't uncover anything.

POM     Would you say in retrospect that the ANC had a point when they did say there were elements of the security forces in collusion with the hit squads of the IFP or whatever, was there any credibility to what they said then?

RM     I'm looking back in terms of how I thought about it myself. I can remember very clearly about two weeks after the Pretoria Minute was signed we saw the first eruptions of violence of that nature and I immediately said that this is the first time it has become organised, there was something more behind it, and thereafter we could see it from time to time whenever there was a breakthrough in negotiations we suddenly saw new eruptions, be it train violence or other forms of organised activity. I always said it could come from different sources and I still think it could have come from different sources.

POM     Let me move for a moment to a matter of more immediate concern which are the local government elections coming up on 1st November. Looking around the country, talking to individuals, to MECs in the provincial governments, to ordinary people, I am a member of an organisation which has focus groups done on people's attitudes towards the local elections, the disappointment people feel, ... They don't understand why they have to go again particularly since they got nothing from the last election. They are confused about what local government is and how it operates and at best they confuse the new structures with the old the councils set up under the Tricameral Act in 1983. The net result is, number one, registration is extremely low and, two, the time is running out for people not just to register to vote but to explain to them why they should do so. The first thing that came to my mind was ... two, that they were making promises, if you want something like this then vote in November and people knew that they had received nothing ... My understanding is that Saatchi and Saatchi had the entire account for the advertising side of the local government campaign and in the past Saatchi and Saatchi have worked for the National Party.

RM     I agree with you, it's very difficult to get the message through. If one looks at the individual inclination of the townships, the urban areas that are coming through, it seems that in some areas we are breaking through. Ikapa for instance, down in the Cape, is 75% registered according to the latest information. It shows that in primarily black areas people are registering and there are other examples too but that's just one that I can think of. It is apparently a problem but I think it depends on how good we are, and how effectively we get the message through also at the political level. I can clearly understand why people ask the question; why do we have to vote now again, and why do we have to register, last year we voted without registering? It's a typical question. And the only way to answer those questions would be by the politicians themselves. And it's a simply fact that you have a stronger message in an ANC dominated community than in our constituencies. For that reason we as politicians and political parties will have to take that responsibility. ... the President himself is doing what he is doing. He was in Khayelitsha the other day and wherever he goes he brings that message. There is no other way that I can see that we can get the message across. The poster and the first part of the campaign I think was a very positive exercise, it actually is description of what is the process, what do you have to do. So there's a lot of work to do. But we will have to keep on assessing the situation and see what progress they make. ...

POM     ...

RM      At least for the main in the street ... The question about Saatchi and Saatchi, ... but then of course Saatchi and Saatchi was not directly involved in ... And they are a public company that competed for this like anybody else.

POM     Were they chosen by this department? Was it this department that handled it?

RM     No it was done in terms of procedures, it was open, Hunt Lascaris and all the others participated. Hunt Lascaris at that stage also indicated that they really don't see their way to do this one as well because they were already doing the DA's campaign. It was not Saatchi & Saatchi alone of course, they are working very closely with ... I think we've got a chance. Things are being presented, first of all, every time with campaign material and so on. We have to keep a very close eye because in the end we're going to be held responsible for it.

POM     Last time I asked you to rate the interim constitution and I think you gave it a seven or an eight or an eight or nine which indicated you were very pleased with it. My understanding of it as you were talking at that time was that the Constitutional Assembly would more or less tinker with the constitution, re-style it here or re-style it there, rather than drawing up a new constitution. The ANC talked about starting from the bottom, going out and getting submissions from people and putting the old constitution aside except for the constitutional principles and really going ahead with a fully evolving process on how to develop a new constitution. Is that a correct reading of the situation?

RM     That was how it was at the time but I think it is starting to change and as the process goes on my assessment is that it will further change. And Cyril himself used the term the other day, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. That is the approach that is developing more and more. I'm not suggesting that we have to leave the constitution as it is. A simple example that we came across the other day in a debate in the Constitutional Committee was the question of how do you allow members of the defence force to behave with an unlawful order. This particular theme committee came up with a very broad formulation on this issue. There was a debate in the constitutional committee about this formulation and then I remembered that we had something in the interim constitution about it and I looked it up and I said, "But why can't we use what is in the interim constitution?" And everybody looked at it and said, "Well it's good, let's leave it." An typical example of a small thing but I think the tendency that was there originally one could have expected and it's understandable because the vast majority of parliamentarians were not at Kempton Park, they didn't go through that process. ... But in the process they forgot one thing and that was that you can't expect a forum like that to write a constitution or for that matter to take public interests and expect the constitution to be written on that.

POM     It seems like ... in terms of the power of the provinces, what I find interesting, we were just talking in the car coming up, Tokyo Sexwale has gone absolutely crazy saying 10% of the revenue from the central government ... 30% of ... 60% of all revenue, you have ANC Premiers moving to more federalist positions than they would have been before they were appointed. You have Buthelezi out there, once again ... people don't seem to take him that seriously. Mandela, De Klerk and Buthelezi did sign an agreement and on the basis of that agreement he brought his people into the election. Why should they not honour it?

RM     The question of international mediation?

POM     They agreed to it, why will they not honour it?

RM     Well they didn't participate in the first instance on the strength of international mediation, they participated in the constitution in the first place because of the position of the King. They weren't in on the constitution at that stage. We were on call the day before the election, we all went to Cape Town, the whole parliament, to amend the constitution to put into the 1993 constitution a special provision regarding the King of the Zulus. That was the condition under which he participated in the election. Then the second aspect was, it was agreed upon there, was that so that protection for the King would be provided for in a constitution for the province of KwaZulu/Natal which was supposed to be ... That was the second aspect. And then thirdly they stated that any outstanding matters in regard to or in respect of the 1993 constitution would be taken further to international mediators. That was what we agreed. All that I am saying is if we need international mediation on the 1993 constitution we first have to sit down and find out what we need to mediate about.

POM      You have already indicated that the powers of the regions have become one of the top things on the IFP's list, their capacity to be more autonomous, to be ...

RM     What about the powers? Much of the powers have been devolved already in terms of the 1993 constitution. One of the subjects that was mentioned before the election by the IFP and one of the things that we are going to have mediation on is local government. Local government has been devolved to the provinces, they have complete power ... We don't need international mediation on that. All that I am saying is, let's sit around a table and establish what is there to mediate on.

POM      Maybe the potential repercussions of this thing ...

RM     I am afraid that is an ultimatum that should not have been issued because in the first instance it is not reasonable, there is something like that, because mediation in terms of the agreement ... is about the 1993 constitution and not about future constitutional rights.

POM     OK. Thank you.

RM     I should talk to you round about the 5th April.

PAT     A good place to close.

RM     ... bringing up this ultimatum thing ... He did it before.

(Rest of tape unintelligible)

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.