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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
04 Apr 1995: Meyer, Roelf
POM One question I asked you the last time which didn't come out very clearly in your response but I thought it was an important question, was that when I had asked you after the interim constitution come into being to rate it and you gave it a pretty high rating, I think a seven or an eight out of ten and so did most of the senior negotiators in the ANC. My question was, if everyone is so pleased with the interim constitution why is there this need, at least being expressed by the ANC, to recreate the constitution from scratch?
RM Let me answer it as I now feel about it. It might differ a little bit, but not for any particular reason. I think one has to see it in the light of the process itself taking into account the departure points that both sides had in 1989 for instance; the ANC saying that there must be an interim government and a Constituent Assembly writing a constitution on ... qualifications. And then of course the agreement that came about on the two-phase process. First to have an interim constitution, transitional government and an election based on that transitional constitution. Thereafter a further process of constitution making, of course with the approach that the elected parliament then would have the right to write the constitution, to draft the constitution without any qualifications except for the constitutional principles. And I think one has to read their approach against that background. Our approach from the National Party's side was always that the multi-party forum should be entitled to write the constitution on a once-off basis. Again, we made the compromise also from our side and that is now we arrived at a settlement through the Record of Understanding, because that is basically when that was agreed upon, this two-phase approach. So I think essentially what we now have is a drafting process on which the ANC departed on the basis of their original position on this thing.
POM The ANC?
RM Departed, sort of on the basis of their original position, that is to draft this constitution anew. But I think what we are seeing at the moment unfolding in the process of drafting, through the work of the theme committees and the constitutional committee is that people are tending to more and more take the approach that it's not necessary to reinvent the wheel and that we can in fact look at the transitional constitution even as a departure point in many instances.
POM But the proposals adopted by the ANC last weekend seem to put more limits on the powers of the provinces than exist in the interim constitution, they assume more of an administrative load rather than a legislative load, very definitely a movement away from giving more powers to the province. Where in that situation, the ANC being at one extreme and the IFP being at the other extreme looking for outright federalism and perhaps even autonomy of some description, where would the NP find itself?
RM Let me immediately say I think the positions that the ANC are taking at the moment are basically departure points again. And after all there are certain proscriptions in the constitutional principles that have to be adhered to by all parties. One is that the existing powers of the provinces can't be diminished. So at least that is a firm departure point in terms of the constitutional principles. I think these are proposals that the ANC have adopted over the weekend and I would see it in that light, the rest will come through further deliberations and negotiations in the process of the work of the Constitutional Assembly. Our position, from the National Party side, is basically on that issue that we depart from the basis of Section 126 as it stands and that we should probably try and do two things. One is to clarify more the position as far as the division of power is concerned between central and the provinces, if possible through formulating, hopefully, 126 in a better way to make it clearer so that the accusation that exists at the moment that it is vague in its definition should be clarified and together with that especially that we try and be more specific about it, the so-called overrides in Section 126.3. Then we would also like to look a Schedule 6 again to see whether that should be extended. But in essence our departure point is 126 as it stands, as a departure point. That is basically our position. I think our position would therefore differ from the IFP in the sense that they have never expressed any pleasure in 126, they wanted to take a totally different approach which essentially says all powers are exclusive to the provinces except certain powers.
POM Residual powers get brought back.
RM Correct, and of course that is not our position.
POM How do you interpret a remark like that Cyril made over the weekend? One was, "Eat your heart out National Party", there was this big emphasis on that majority rule would take being in 1999 and that was it, there would be no more governments of national unity. Do you think they are copper-fastening themselves into that position by repeating it so often that in the end it would be very difficult to provide for a voluntary extension?
RM Well the ANC originally in the negotiations also took a very firm stand against any form of power sharing and the agreement that came about developed on account of the negotiations of a bilateral nature that developed in that process of negotiation. To my mind this is what is going to happen again. On our side we don't foresee that we necessarily stick to the exact concept as it is now in the constitution but what we feel strongly about is that on the one side the transition will most likely not be over in five years' time and that would require, for the sake of further stability, that the kind of concept that the government of national unity should be extended for a further period at least. And secondly, that taking into account all the circumstances of the country, we believe that that would provide the best model for a basis of real development in the country. The emphasis for the next ten, twenty, thirty years or longer in South Africa will be not constitutional but rather developmental. In other words how to succeed in bringing about the socio-economic upliftment that we all desire. And to our mind a government of national unity would also be, or that kind of concept would also be in the best position to ensure that. So on the one side the stability and on the other side a collective joint drive towards enhancing development.
POM What would happen now, do you think, in terms of both domestic politics and international politics if the National Party were to withdraw from the government of national unity and say, "We're going to become an opposition party. We'll still be constructive, we're not against what you're doing, but we are not part of the government per se. We will operate as a normal opposition."
RM It's at any given moment going to be difficult to assess that question, in other words what the impact of it will be. To my mind, at this point in time, the kind of working relationship that has developed, for instance, in the Cabinet between the parties was to a great extent responsible for the kind of success, especially of the transition, up to this point and if the National Party as a minority party withdraws from Cabinet and simply becomes an opposition party that will in itself have the effect of it causing or playing a destructive role in terms of government decisions and execution of policy. So there would immediately be some tension going out in all directions and effectively cause a negative result in the state administration and also at the grassroots level.
POM Do you think it would also have an impact on the international community in terms of it's willingness to consider foreign investment?
RM I think there are two aspects in that regard. The one is the continued presence of, let's be blunt about it, the white community in the government's affairs, through the National Party who have been seen by the international community as part of the solution. So if the National Party would therefore withdraw it would also definitely be seen from the outside as if there is a withdrawal of the white community, rightly or wrongly, and that in itself I think would cause some hesitation. The other factor of course is the fear that it might lead to further tension and even conflict in some cases.
POM Let's take that to the IFP. What if the IFP were to withdraw? I mean they've already set Wednesday for a Constitutional Assembly and now they are talking about walking out of parliament again after the ANC put forward its proposals. What kind of impact would that have? Let me put it maybe in terms of a broader question. All three of you parties did sign an agreement which was instrumental in part in bringing the IFP into the elections. People would say you're not keeping your part of the bargain. Why not give him his mediations, sit down, bring in an international mediator who may say after a hour, "There is nothing to negotiate, I'm going home", in which case you say "Dr Buthelezi, we had the international mediation, there's nothing to resolve here", rather than him going on in what seems to me to be an increasingly risky course in terms of the ANC in particular, reiterating again and again that there will be no compromise on the question of international mediation.
RM Before we get to the subject let's just say if the IFP would withdraw for instance from the government of national unity the consequences would be different. I think they are very much being seen as a regional party with some strengths of course in a particular province, but I don't think it would be seen as a national disaster as such. And of course the consequences could be that in the case of their withdrawal there will be further tension and conflict in KwaZulu/Natal which could also go beyond the boundaries of that province. But how to resolve this on the question of international mediation, yes, I also believe that we should find a way to finally end this almost futile exercise because I think deep in their heart probably the IFP also know that the whole idea of international mediation is to a great extent a smoke-screen. I have that impression for at least a large number of them because international mediation in itself is not going to resolve their political or constitutional problems. So from that angle one can just as well say, well let's embark on that process and get it over. The question, of course, is what will be role of the person who is coming to mediate, or persons? What will he do, what role will he or she play, will it actually extend this whole thing as it has unfortunately been embarked on? I mean it came about by accident. I think it was not really well planned and thought through at the time and it could actually see itself being perpetuated instead of coming to some conclusion and some end. Of course one must remember that whoever is to come for mediation purposes, that group of people or person would have to be agreed upon by all parties and it's going to be very difficult to determine beforehand what exactly the outcome will be. Therefore, the position that we have taken all the time was to say let's ensure that we have clarity and agreement on the terms of reference so that it can't get out of control, so to speak.
POM Are the ANC more hard-line than you in this? There reiterations, again, over the weekend by Mbeki, no compromise, you've got to walk the plank, or is that politics?
RM Difficult to say exactly how each party feels. Our position all the time was, yes, we adhere to the agreement. The question is how do you implement it? I think the ANC in later statements took a stronger position in saying international mediation is not really necessary. We have never said that. We are basically saying that we are prepared to adhere to the agreement but let's look at how it can be implemented.
POM Could you envisage in Natal a conflict on the scale that existed prior to the elections in April last year?
RM I think the tension is less. If it was the same as last year we would have probably seen more violence already by now, which probably tells that the stakes are also lower than they were this time last year. But of course it can develop in the wrong direction as we draw closer to the local elections if this whole thing is not settled.
POM I have some figures here which make fascinating reading, these from the Election Task Group, monitoring of registrations, provincial comparisons 30 March 1995, and the figures in every area are astonishing for KwaZulu/Natal. For PLCs at 6.6%, for TMCs it's 4.4%, for non-urban areas it's less than 1%, total overall for KwaZulu/Natal is 3.4% with 22 days to go. I mean, would Buthelezi want local government elections under those kind of circumstances? What do they mean?
RM I think those are old figures but one must also take into account they started very late, weeks after the other provinces. I think that doesn't reflect the real picture as it is because one must remember from about the second week of March they started to penetrate the rural areas through the Amakosi and we might be surprised at the end of the day about the real percentage in those areas because if there's one structure that is disciplined enough to get people registered then it's the Amakosi. They are probably better organised than most other rural communities, so I would not rely too much on those figures as it stands. I think that's far off the real situation.
POM One of the areas that the IFP wants clarified in international mediation is the role of traditional chieftains in local government. Where are the differences that exist now between how the National Party would envisage the role of traditional chieftains and what the IFP wants?
RM Let me just say the subject of traditional authorities was never part of any dispute that could relate to international mediation. I'm talking about the positions that were taken then by the IFP at the stage of the 19 April agreement or at any stage thereafter for that matter. The 19 April agreement basically referred to two things and that is on the one side the position of the kingdom of KwaZulu, in other words the constitutional position of the kingdom, and secondly the question of autonomy of the province. Traditional authorities really only came into the picture more recently at a very late stage when the position of the traditional leaders came into dispute on account of the elected local authorities to come into being. There was suddenly this realisation that if we're going to have democratically elected local authorities, the authority of the traditional leaders might be affected through that, and then suddenly they jumped to the conclusion that international mediation could also resolve that, which is definitely not on. The National Party position on traditional authorities is, I think, basically what is stated in the constitution, namely on the one side that we respect and recognise the position of traditional authorities and on the other side adhere to the principle of democratically elected authorities at all levels of government. The question is how do you work out a compromise between these two obviously conflicting positions, because if you say traditional authorities are recognised it also means that they have certain rights and authority that they can exercise, but that might be in conflict with the normal functions of local authorities. That is where the conflict actually comes in. The whole position on that, in other words, is very much aligned with the constitution. We are saying, let's work out a practical solution in each province because it differs also from province to province. The basic position that we're taking is, leave the traditional authorities as they are dealing with matters of indigenous law and let elected local authorities take care of the provisional services and so forth. That should be the best way to keep them apart.
POM Now, if there were international mediation it is my understanding that he would only refer to matters outstanding from the interim constitution and has nothing to do with the present constitution that's being made. Right?
RM That's correct. It's very specific in fact. It says, 'outstanding matters in respect of the 1993 constitution', it says so specifically.
POM We have talked to a couple of IFP people who said, "Oh, no, no, this was in a way a way to get mediators in the door so that the powers of the provinces can be increased and then that becomes the base line."
RM Well I'm afraid that's not what the agreement of the 19 April says. That is for sure. We're still thinking I would say.
POM It was said after the last elections that part of the slowness of the central government to devolve powers was that many of the provincial governments lacked the competency to exercise them. Now you have a situation of local government elections coming up where, without disparaging anybody, the calibre of the leadership and capability is probably less than at the provincial level. Will powers be delegated through the provincial governments or through the state government to local governments? And, two, if this is a real problem you are setting up a situation where you are saying that the implementation of the RDP is the most important thing that we can undertake in the next five years and we are handing its implementation into the hands of the people with the least competence to administer it and make it work.
RM Well let me first say that the areas of authority of local governments are very specifically prescribed in the Local Government Transition Act and also partly through chapter 10 of the constitution. Their specific functions are quite clearly defined. It's there, it's constitutionally provided for, like the provision of services in regard to water, electricity and so forth, whatever. That is clearly the position. Let me also say that the position as far as taxing competence is also much clearer and specific for local authorities compared to the provinces. In the case of the provinces they can only tax casinos, gambling and lotteries, things like that, exclusively out of their own. For the rest they actually have no exclusive taxing competencies. They can only raise further taxes on the basis of what they are being permitted through parliamentary Acts. In the case of local authorities, they can raise taxes through property tax and various other means on the basis of their own decisions. It's true that local authorities have very strong positions as far as their functions are concerned as well as their taxing competency is concerned. Of course that raises the question of who is going to govern, who are going to be the people there and I think it's for that reason very important that all parties should see to it that they really put up as candidates competent people who will be able to exercise that responsibility. One tends to think that this is a universal type of problem but it also exists in other countries. It's not unique to South Africa. But people who serve at the third level of government are not necessarily the first in ranking order from the party side.
POM That's being kind.
RM But it's something that I believe we should really address in the process of our nominations for candidates.
POM How can that be related to the capacity to implement the RDP as the centrepiece of the government's plan for the next five years? You are in essence handing it over to the least competent authorities to deliver it.
RM Let me just say that over and above the question of the elected authorities that will come in place, there are of course also existing administrations which in many cases have a lot of experience in regard to the delivery of services. I think that is probably where the strength, in the short term, of the local authorities could lie. In other words proper experienced administrations. But wherever there are shortcomings we will have to make provision for that through training and developing skills. In fact I have been in discussion with Jay and Valli and others quite recently through which we are addressing exactly this issue on how to build skills at that capacity, especially at the local level but also at the provincial level. You see there is one thing that we tend to forget and that is at least local governments are existent and they have been there for many years, decades. The local level of government was at least developed over a long period in South Africa whilst at the provincial level we practically had nothing on the 27 April last year. We had to start anew, as you all know, and for that reason we are better placed in terms of existing structures at the local level. But the shortcomings will be there and we have to address it through building capacity.
POM Just to turn to the economy for a moment, I'm puzzled and always am. I talked to Derek Keys when he was Minister of Finance and he very bluntly said that between now and the year 2000 maybe employment can increase by 1% a year and even that is being optimistic. And I went back and saw him after he was Minister and said, "Do you still hold the same view?" and he held the same view. You had Tito Mboweni saying at some conference the other day that in order to increase employment by more than 1% you need a 10% growth in the economy. Even this year though you've had some economic growth, the population growth outstrips the economic growth. You have figures for the RDP floated around from 11 billion to 36 billion, you have the Western Cape saying, "We're bankrupt, we're 11.2 billion in the hole." You've Gauteng saying, "We are already in deficit and we're both the two richest provinces". Now the whole thing seems to be a mess, that jobs can't be delivered and yet it seems that policy decisions are still being made on the basis that they can. Like you were talking about the public works programme, that by substituting all labour for capital you would create 30,000 jobs a year, it's not even a percent. Is this a more pressing need than housing or is housing on the front burner because it's something visible?
RM I would say housing could also be job creating. That is probably the one industry from which one can create most jobs by directly employing people to do it, together with tourism. Those probably are the two potentially most creative as far as jobs are concerned I would imagine. We will be engaged in debates on this issue for many years, no doubt about that. In other words what I am saying is, yes we will have to live with the huge unemployment figure problem for a long time. I have not involved myself in the actual calculations, I can't say whether that 1% is a correct estimate or not. But no doubt on the other side we have to ensure economic growth in the country. First of all to ensure that we make our RDP programmes work and through that I believe there could be also the development of job opportunities. Once you look at it from the angle of the family structures, the social structures in general of South African society, one should accept that even an increase of 1%, as far as unemployment is concerned, could have an extended beneficial result through which many more than the 1% can gain. I think that is typical of the South African situation and that of many other similar societies. But what is equally important is that we have to close the gap, or to at least diminish the gap between the so-called haves and have-nots because what is more important to me over and above the question of actual job creation is at least the way in which we are going to address the expectations. In this regard I think we need a collective attempt by all concerned and especially Nedlac, to my mind, can play an important role in this regard because as was also indicated by others already, the mere fact of increased salaries and wages being bargained for by the unions, for instance, is not beneficial to the unemployed and therefore I think one should look at all times at how to balance this through a collective attempt of those parties concerned, government, business and labour. To my mind Nedlac should be the vehicle to achieve this.
POM Let me switch tacks for a moment, and tell me how long you have.
RM I basically have to go by quarter past, if that would allow you to finish.
POM OK. Well I could go on for ever. I want to talk about the Truth Commission for a moment. Do you think that white people in general understand the extent of the wrong that was done to black people during the whole era of apartheid or do they mostly not think about it?
RM No I don't think they do understand because people are still living to a very great extent in different worlds. It will probably be very difficult even during the period of the transition to overcome that specific problem so it will probably need a new generation almost to eliminate that factor as such. There is, of course, over the last ten years or so there was a general awareness that developed across the spectrum in the white community and that led of course to the easier acceptance of the need for political reform, and that of course led to the smooth transition, so there was a greater awareness but the real understanding, I would say, is still lacking.
POM Could the Truth Commission undermine this fragile sense of community that has been developing or is it necessary to make progress, is it necessary that before whites must ask forgiveness for the wrongs of apartheid, they must know what they were?
RM It's difficult for me to say whether the Truth Commission can play that role. I've a dualistic approach, so to speak, on this issue. On the one side I can see the need for the Truth Commission. I think that's probably one of the reasons why the ANC leadership have been prepared to make in their own minds a lot of concessions, sort of knowing that the truth will come out at some or other part and for that reason I can understand the need for the Truth Commission. On the other side there is the fear that it could lead to further tensions and new tensions on both sides. On both sides people might not like what they are going to hear and if this whole thing is not handled and managed in a way that will really in the end lead to reconciliation it can be a very bad thing. So I think there are two elements in a broad sense. On the one side one would like to ensure a better understanding on the white community side of how black people are really experiencing, or have experienced apartheid, and on the other side there should also be a move away from the perception that the white community in general were responsible for the wrongs of the past and that not all the intentions and decisions of the past were wrong from that angle although some were definitely. I think that kind of understanding that has to develop on both sides is very important to this whole process. If the Truth Commission played that role in reconciling these understandings it would, to my mind, actually serve the best purpose.
POM I think somebody said to us, giving one of the reasons why a Truth Commission could never work, is that if you had somebody from the IFP saying if a man came before the commission saying that he was responsible for the murder of three people, blah, blah, blah, and it was a political crime and it was recognised as such or whatever, then he goes back to where he lives and he's dead the next day. Retribution would take over. Do you think that there could be a retributory factor there?
RM It could be a problem. It could be a real problem. That is one of the reasons why we have argued that at least there should be provision for some separate evidence, especially from that angle. You are using one example there. There is of course also the kind of example totally on the other side of the spectrum. There was a story over the weekend I read in one of the papers about this woman complaining about the fact that her husband a year ago gave evidence against a fellow security staff member and she is saying that since then her life started to become hell because she is receiving threats all the time. She is the wife of the guy who split, so to speak, and that kind of thing can happen.
POM Three last questions. In the two and a half months that we've been here we've seen taxi blockades, students running wild, racial strife in the police, seeing former MK members who are now in the defence forces mutiny, the unions holding people hostage, the whole anarchy in the state of education. You could easily form the opinion that there was nobody in full control, that there is still not a very stable society, that the signs of instability were still all around. Would you agree with that or do you think that stability has been achieved?
RM I think that stability has mainly been achieved. I think those are, I wouldn't say isolated examples, but it could easily be taken out of context. I think the broad context is a pretty smooth peaceful transition. One can even say that you could have expected far worse.
POM You would call them more of the normal problems associated with transition, that are not unique to South Africa but occur in all countries undergoing this kind of process?
RM One could expect this to come still to even probably here and there worse examples than what we've experienced so far. The question of course is where does the solution lie, how do we prevent that some of these do not lead to real anarchy? To my mind it's a question of management, management especially in regard to how we're going to meet the expectations at the socio-economic level. That is why I am personally very much concerned with how we can ensure that the RDP does not remain a white paper and becomes effective in terms of service delivery. But also in terms of management, how do we involve people who could otherwise become radical in their approaches and I think the experience that we have seen over the last five years in South Africa tells us one thing and that is if you involve people on all sides in becoming part of the solution, you have half of the answer or more even and that applied over the last five years to those on the left side of the political spectrum as well as on the right side of the political spectrum. It's very important that all of these situations be managed accordingly.
POM Last question, is there a Winnie Mandela factor in the politics of the ANC to the extent that was her firing being a message sent? Was her firing meant to convey to other what we would call populist elements of the ANC that it was time to get their acts together and all come under the one umbrella, or has she, do you think or would the NP assess her as having sufficient independent political strength to be a real factor in future South African politics? Would the NP consider her to have sufficient support to be a significant force in South African politics in the future?
RM It's I think very difficult to read exactly her influence at this particular time. I think it would be incorrect to be misled by the events of the last week. In other words what I am saying is I think the President handled the matter so well and with such authority that nobody practically in the ANC ranks could even dare to oppose it at this point in time. And, therefore, and that is probably what Winnie also realised, is that it would be absolutely wrong for her now to try and react against that decision. But my feeling at the same time is that it is not the last seen of Winnie Mandela on the political scene and the picture can change significantly and time will only tell us what impact it will have on the ANC. The tendency towards populist, so-called, drives will always be there in the ANC. The question is whether she will be able to manipulate those aspirations and what kind of support she would be able to generate from that.
POM When the NP has strategy sessions like think sessions does it go through various scenarios on what could happen in the ANC under different leadership and how the opportunity for forming new alliances might arise if the party did in fact split into the populists and the trade unionists versus the more moderate and centrist?
RM My opinion on that would be it's too early to develop those kind of strategies. The situation is too fluid. The whole set up in terms of the transition is so new that you can't really determine specific directions. As things stand at the moment I think it's quite clear who will be the successor, for instance. That in itself will not cause, to my mind, much of a difference in the short term if that is to happen at this point in time. But the picture can change two or three years from now, significantly. If I have to write a strategy at this point of time I would say it's better not to strategise for four years ahead but rather to keep yourself positioned on a daily basis. In other words to view the situation as it develops. That would be my position. So five years from now is longer than four years from now. It's a pretty long time. But let me say this, because you said you are only going to publish in 1998, so it's still some time. I said this to some close friends, I believe the potential for restructuring the political scene in South Africa is definitely there. In fact I'm prepared to say it's going to happen and my own prediction at this point of time is that it will take place between three and ten years from now.
POM Between three and ten? I hope it's three so I can get the conclusion there. I mean ten I will be out of date!
RM Well you can cause some disturbance.
POM Thanks very much.