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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

21 May 1996: De Klerk, FW

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POM     Mr Deputy President, the obvious first question I should ask you is, why the NP left the government of national unity and why now since part of my understanding is that many if not most of the Ministers who were in the government of national unity were in favour of continuing in the government of national unity for the time being?

FDK     I would tend to disagree with the factual correctness of the statement that most of the ministers were in favour of us staying. There was also significant support from ministers and deputy ministers that we should go. No names, no pack drill, of the four provincial leaders who served as ministers, two were in favour of us going and two were in favour of us staying. So the division wasn't according to interest and it wasn't a division which ripped it apart. I instigated a very, very full scale debate and I didn't sum up and actually make the decision before listening to each and every member of the Executive Committee of the National Party. All of them had their say and there was no natural division. If you look at colour, two of the three black South Africans favoured us leaving and one said we should stay. And so the division wasn't according to class, according to status, according to the job you held and it wasn't a division. Some people were arguing and putting the emphasis on the advantages of staying and the disadvantages of going and the others were putting the emphasis on the advantages of going and the reasons for going and weighed that up against the disadvantages of going. So everybody was arguing really both sides of the case because there are two sides.

     There are definite disadvantages for us and the country in leaving and there are definite advantages for us and the country in the decision that we took to go. The decision, therefore, had to be based on balance what is in the best interests of South Africa and to what extent do the interests of the party and South Africa coincide on this? I am convinced that our decision is in the best interests of South Africa because of the balance of power, already it can be said that the ANC has too much power. Continued participation definitely held the risk of us being emasculated as a political force. We were unable to achieve a sufficient party political profile to, in a credible manner, offer ourselves as a credible alternative government and majority party to the ANC. The smaller parties which really have negligible support misused our participation very effectively to the extent that almost the whole press started to paint a picture of us as if there isn't really much difference between us and the ANC, and the differences became blurred and our staying on carried with it the risk of shifting South Africa towards becoming a de facto one-party state with small but totally uninfluential political parties remaining and with us losing substantially in our support base. That, and I am very, very serious when I say that, is not in the best interests and would not be in the best interests of South Africa. We had a choice and I confronted the Executive Committee with that choice and the real choice is, if we stayed on then we should accept that the best solution for South Africa is more or less the Malaysian option which is de facto a one-party state but an ethnic alliance where the other smaller parties don't count for anything but where the government is composed of interest groups where ethnicity plays a basic role, or to become a fully multi-party democracy where politics becomes more and more value-based and value-driven instead of ethnically based and ethnically driven.

     We have accepted that challenge five or six years ago, to become a truly non-racial party. We have made great progress in the first election, more than 50% of the people who voted for us were people of colour, people who were at the receiving end of apartheid historically. In that sense we became a new party and a value-based party and we announced our new vision on 2nd February 1996 in which we say that this party as it's vision accepts that it will play a leading role in bringing about a political movement behind which a majority of all South Africans can be aligned on the basis of certain core values which can be encapsulated by the term 'Christian norms and standards'. And we say in that vision and mission that we are even prepared to cease to exist as we are and to form the backbone of a new political movement which can bring a majority of all South Africans on the basis of substantially the value system for which we stand together.

     So, the main reason and motivation was, we need in this country, we can only have long-term stability if we can normalise politics to the extent of breaking through the old historical ethnic barriers and getting parties where one is Social Democratic, the other is in German terms, Christian Democratic, and maybe in American terms Republican or whatever, but to get political movements, hopefully fairly near to the centre on both sides, who can become the two mainstream movements in South Africa with more smaller radical parties to the left and smaller radical ones to the right.

POM     It would seem to me that a logical implication of what you are saying is if you are to attract enough African support along with coloured and Indian support and white support, to become the majority party or a feasible alternative government, that in the end your leadership structures must reflect that, in fact that blacks would be in the leaders of the party.

FDK     Just before I reply to that, can I just say the main thing which triggered our leaving the government of national unity is that the new constitution does not even contain a whiff, even the faintest basis for the concept of multi-party consensus seeking in a structured manner on issues of national importance. We did not propose in our detailed proposal the continuation of the government of national unity after 1999, but we proposed that a party which has more than 50% of the vote can form the government but that there should be a consultative council which is more or less composed like the present government of national unity on a pro-rate basis where the main political role players can be brought together and which should be referred to by the Cabinet before decisions are finalised, issues of national importance such as the budget, such as foreign policy, such as important security matters, in an effort to find consensus and to lift such issues out of the party political arena. It was flatly rejected by the ANC. They said the time for majority rule has come and in 1999 we must switch to a simple majoritarian system. I then warned President Mandela that this will bring the debate immediately on the agenda that if that is to be the position why should we stay on longer. Why must we keep this one aspect, a government of national unity, artificially alive while the rest of the transitional constitution will be replaced by the new one? Let's rather then, the debate will go I warned him, implement the whole new constitution. And Roelf Meyer warned Cyril Ramaphosa on more than one occasion that this might have the effect.

     Nonetheless they continued to refuse to accept even this mild form of prescription in the constitution that with regard to a limited number of issues there should be this principle which I believe, and it is still my party's policy, is in the best interests of the country where you seek consensus on issues of national importance. And if we were to get into power we will write such a mechanism into the constitution and if we can't get a two thirds majority we will create it by ordinary law. It's our policy. But with the constitution as it stands the principle basis in terms of our own policy fell away and we've got to accept this is the reality and then the other argument came in and that is now on that basis what is in the best interests of multi-party democracy in South Africa. The ANC also is beginning to flex its muscles, it feels there is a constitution now. We feel we've kept our promise to give a new constitution to the country and play our part in it. The ANC feels that it has had enough in service training now, it now knows the portfolios and it has had enough experience now of how to govern and of the inner workings of government and the civil service and more and more inside the government of national unity the effective consultation process was being eroded.

     I have publicly mentioned one example, two examples. One is Chris Liebenberg was appointed as a Minister of Finance when Derek Keys resigned. Derek Keys was a National Party Minister. Mandela then refused to allow me to appoint a Minister of Finance and we negotiated and made a deal that the constitution would be amended as it was to make provision for a neutral Minister of Finance to be appointed. I accepted then instead a Minister without Portfolio to replace Derek Keys. The Cabinet was enlarged, so fundamental the agreement was. It has now become public knowledge that President Mandela has known for six months before Chris Liebenberg resigned that he was going to resign. I was made aware of it the day before which is an example of a breakdown in the commitment to serious negotiation and consensus seeking and an open channel of communication.

     Right, your other question. Yes, I publicly said on Friday evening in Mmabatho at the National Party Congress that there is a theory that the National Party doesn't really want the majority of its supporters to become black with the logical consequences that also the face of the leadership will change and that the party will look like its support base with a majority of black faces also in its elected positions, etc. I publicly said we are not afraid of that. We accept that. That's what we want. We want to target five or six or seven million of the people who voted for the ANC, and most of them are black, to come and vote for us or vote for such a new political movement if it is to evolve. And we accept the logical consequences of that and in all probability the next leader of the National Party might be a black person, but we do not look at colour. We have become a non-racial party, not that a white person forgets that he's white or a black person forgets that he's a Zulu and black, but the cement which binds us together must be values and policies and principles.

POM     If I were an African and the National Party came looking for my vote and I had been under the heel of apartheid for forty years or whatever, why should I turn around and vote now for the party that had oppressed me for so long and limited my opportunities in life for so long and perhaps damaged my family or where I lived?

FDK     I was asked that question in a television interview Sunday a week ago, it was just slightly differently phrased. The lady who interviewed me said, "If I were a lady living in Soweto, a black lady, and you knocked on my door and said I want you to vote for me, what would you tell me if I asked you, but why should I, a black, vote for you?" My reply was firstly, I wouldn't under-estimate the intelligence of the black lady and I wouldn't try to give her a pat answer. There is no slogan which I can throw at such a person asking such a question which will convince him or her. I will have to sit down with such a person and I will have to have long discussions with such a person, either I or whomever speaks on behalf of the National Party to such a person, and first convince that person that the National Party is not doing what it's doing just for pragmatic reasons but that the National Party has come to the inner conviction that however well-intentioned grand separate development might have been, it resulted in injustice which was morally unjustifiable, and that the National Party then had the guts and the courage and the honesty to say, well what we're doing is wrong, it's not going to succeed in bringing full freedom and full democratic rights to everybody. It failed to do that and that we, therefore, changed our policy, not under pressure but out of inner conviction and that therefore the National Party is no longer the party of apartheid and it apologised for that which resulted in injustice.

     And having convinced such a person of our bona fides in that regard I would then sit down and firstly analyse my main opponent and show that that opponent has not apologised for its injustices that it has brought to many people in South Africa and that my main opponent is still in bed with an ideology which is just as dangerous and bad as apartheid ever was, namely communism. And that would lead me to tell such a person, your future is going to depend on what policies and principles are applied in South Africa from now on forward and then to analyse economic policy and say which economic policy will create the most jobs. How can we create the new wealth which is necessary to win the war against poverty? And I would go on to moral issues to point out the choice that that person has. Does he or she want to support a party which refuses to recognise God Almighty in the pre-amble to the constitution, which lays a foundation for abortion on demand in the constitution, which simultaneously lays the foundation that while you can take the life of an unborn child at the whim of the mother you may never take the life of a serial killer who murders under aggravating circumstances? Or would you prefer to support a party which adheres to moral and ethical values? Would you, Mr Voter, actually believe him because you are against abortion on demand and you are in favour of in exceptional circumstances the death sentence and you are against the uninhibited allowance of pornography? And I would then move on to the multi-cultural nature of our society and argue the case of, for instance, mother tongue education as the best educational way in which to bring each and every child in this country to his or her full potential, which has nothing to do with politics, and point out that our main opponents are preoccupied by politicising education using a language policy in education which militates against the educational needs and interests of the child. And so on and so on. And I would try, therefore, to convince that person that the National Party stands on the value basis and on the basis of principle which that person actually agrees with and I am convinced that millions of people who voted for the ANC on historical grounds actually are much nearer in their inner convictions to the National Party than to them.

POM     Are you resentful of the way in which the ANC simply will not allow the NP to escape the code word of apartheid, the insinuation is you're still an apartheid party, you're still trying to maintain the privilege of the few and that what you do is motivated not by a larger vision or by genuine change but by desire to hold on to whatever perks of power that whites had in the past?

FDK     Well I can't stop them from doing so.

POM     But you resent it?

FDK     And it's not an illegal sort of political strategy for them. I believe, however, that if they are really serious about reconciliation, to which they pay a lot of lip service, that that is not the best way in which to build reconciliation, that the continual raking up of the past cannot go hand in hand with real forgiveness and a real effective closing of the book on the past. Resent is maybe too strong a term. I use those attacks for counter-attack and I use those attacks to prove how wrong they are. So it's an unpleasant part of the political debate. It's actually a way of escapism for them which on analysis one can understand although not approve of. Because the ANC is in quest of a new vision and a new philosophy it used to be united on bringing apartheid and the apartheid regime down and that was the uniting factor which brought communists and non-communists and black nationalists and white liberals together in one movement. And the one thing which brought them together was the enemy apartheid, a white racist minority regime. That has fallen away and at the moment this conglomeration of quite often conflicting ideologies and philosophies and principles to which various sectors within the ANC adhere is being kept artificially together by the constant revival of the old bogey. If they lose that they lose the cement which bound them together. Therefore, I am convinced that there will be a realignment in South African politics. I can't predict when it will occur. I don't think it will occur necessarily before 1999; I think even it's unlikely that the ANC will have serious split-offs or anything like that before 1999. The thrill of holding power is still too dear to them. But it's going to happen somewhere in the future. Already in debates, already in public utterances, already in discussions in standing committees in parliament and even in Cabinet it is apparent that the ANC isn't ideologically speaking a whole party.

POM     Do you think that the role COSATU played in the amount of pressure they put on the ANC regarding the lock-out, because again I'm told that the ANC and the NP negotiators on at least two occasions had come quite close to common ground on the formulation of ...

FDK     And then the ANC was pushed back.

POM     And then the ANC each time had to come back and say we're sorry.

FDK     I think that was bad news for South Africa. I think the relationship and what seems to be the powerful grip which COSATU has on the ANC is very unhealthy for South Africa and it will be part of our platform in our new full-time role as the main opposition party. We need a flexible labour system, firstly, because there are more unemployed people than there are members of the unions in South Africa and top priority should not be at all costs the protection of those who have a formal job. It should be job creation and a way in which to enable the unemployed whether it's in the informal or the formal sector to save their dignity and to become self-reliant to the maximum extent otherwise we will drift into a welfare state. I'm not against unions, but I think it's unhealthy in every country, as it has proven itself in Great Britain where the unions get a grip on one of the major parties and where there isn't a clear division between the political arena and the industrial arena, the employer/employee relationship arena.

POM     I just want to go back because it intrigues me, to this question of unloading the apartheid past. You took your party with you in a number of what were very courageous decisions and brought them along and made change happen and yet the ANC continues to tag you as though you were the prime architects of apartheid and an integral part of the apartheid machine who only through expedience and because you had no alternative took the decisions you took. Given the intimate discussions and negotiations you must have had with President Mandela and with other leading members of the ANC do you find kind of a hypocrisy when they promulgate that vision of you? Do you find it outside the norms or, well first of all (a) untrue and (b) outside the norms of fair politics, and (c) rather than making you part of the process of reconciliation it looks as though they are almost trying to keep you out?

FDK     Well they blow hot and cold on that one. When it suits them party politically they take the route of not recognising the role that I and others have played in really giving the National Party a new heart, a new image, a new foundation, a new philosophy. And then when it suits them there is that recognition. There is the realisation that although they might have a numerical difference, that the constituency which I represent at the moment, forgetting now about vastly enlarging that, is a constituency without which South Africa cannot succeed. And it's not just the white constituency. It's, firstly, a two thirds majority also of the coloured people. It's more than 50% of the Indian people and it consists of about 500,000 blacks, between 500,000 to 800,000 blacks, and our research proves that included in that 500,000 - 800,000 who voted for us you will find what can be described as a very good representation from the black middle class, from nursing sisters, from school principals, from entrepreneurs.

     To a certain extent I don't like the terminology but it's the quickest way to sum it up: I represent the majority of the first world in South Africa, the first world in economic terms, not in ethnic terms, and they represent the masses, the third world. The first world cannot survive without the third world in South Africa and the third world cannot succeed without the first world in South Africa. That is the umbilical cord which, irrespective of the break up of the government of national unity, which will constantly throw the leadership of a majority populace movement together with the leadership of, as long as it remains so, a minority but representing the economic, financial and educational backbone. Intellectual would be derogatory, I don't mean it that way. Educational in the sense of those who have achieved from all population groups high standards of development. I'm not saying that it's exclusive to us but I am saying that we all need each other. I also have the expectation that notwithstanding the break up of the government of national unity there will have to be in the best interests of South Africa responsible, regular, interaction between me and President Mandela in the years to come with regard to issues of national importance.

POM     You said your relationship with him is now better since the government of national unity has broken up?

FDK     He's very relaxed. There is no tension. I admire him for the way in which he accepted our decision and the statesmanlike way in which he said a country needs a sound multi-party democracy. I think the fact that I was President before I became Executive Deputy President might have had, unconsciously even, a straining effect on our relationship. In my new role our relationship will substantially change and we will be talking as responsible opponents to each other and not as also mystical partners thrown together by a fairly rigorous but nonetheless somewhat unnatural constitution.

POM     One or two more questions. What in government would the NP be doing that the government is not now doing?

FDK     Or might not from now onwards be doing?

POM     Yes.

FDK     It will be interesting to see how it develops. We definitely had on some decisions a major influence. There were some areas where right from the beginning it was difficult to exercise influence but in the economics sphere very specifically the ANC actually accepted our advice and deviated substantially from policy which it advocated before the 1994 election and I believe have committed themselves to such an extent to essentially the National Party's economic policy that right at the moment we are quite happy with the economic policy of the government of national unity. All the conventional economic wisdom, fiscal discipline, privatisation as opposed to what the ANC used to preach, nationalisation, is there, no increase of the taxes, continued fight against inflation, a smaller civil service. Those are things that we stood for. They never stood for it. But from a pragmatic point of view they realised it's the only way in which to achieve economic growth. We will be watching them very closely whether they deviate from it because the pressure is there from within, from COSATU, which has put a totally opposing economic plan on the table in reaction to what the private sector has put on the table. So we had in some areas tremendous influence, in other areas it was less. Now that we're gone they will either have to develop a capacity within themselves to analyse each and every proposal in order to ensure that it is in line with this economic policy framework that they have committed themselves. If they don't they are going to deviate from it and the cracks will show soon and we will, as opposition, obviously look for those cracks, highlight them, point them out and now from the outside continue to provide that critical analysis and build up pressure that they shouldn't make those mistakes. If they do develop that internal critical analysis and really stick to the economic policy framework it will be good for South Africa but our task to oppose will be made more difficult.

POM     Final question and it relates in a way to all the others, is that I know from the beginning that you had misgivings about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the manner in which it might operate. After it being a month on the road, so to speak, has your view changed, do you think that it is contributing towards reconciliation, do you think that white people are really taking any real interest in its proceedings or it's become more a vehicle for certain families to be allowed to unload their emotions?

FDK     There are redeeming features but there are also red lights flashing. The redeeming features are that in all their public hearings so far good exposure has also been given by people who came to the fore, and I didn't organise it, and who raised their concerns and complaints and grievances about acts of the so-called liberation forces of the ANC and of the PAC in the past. In that sense of the word they have been even-handed, they have allowed the victims of serious transgressions against human rights, violations of human rights from all sides to have their say. The red light is flashing. I've been given the assurance by Reverend Bishop Tutu and by the Vice Chairperson in a meeting which Deputy President Mbeki and I jointly had with them that they would make sure that if a person is accused by a witness coming to the fore that before that accusation is made in public that person would be advised of the fact, would be given the opportunity to look at what the witness intends to say, would be given the opportunity to give an explanation and/or have the choice to say, well give me all the particulars, set a date, I want to be represented when that is said so that there can be cross-examination and the proper procedure. In the very first hearings they deviated from this to the extent that some ex-generals had to take them to court, the court found in favour of the ex-generals that their procedure was deficient in that regard. The risk of the Truth Commission is that people's reputations can be ruined long before they have a chance to defend themselves and that untested accusations can be made publicly without a due process which right from the beginning puts such accusations under the test of cross-examination and serious testing procedures.

POM     But as an instrument of reconciliation do you think it's ...?

FDK     It is a very difficult task. To my mind it can only be done if the Truth Commission very soon gets to the point where it starts to focus not on individual cases but on what was behind it or on finding a perspective in the spirit that from all sides the main cause of the conflict of the past had a sort of understandable background. That's the only way in which you can build reconciliation, to see the other side's case, to look at it objectively and to realise that there never was a situation where the devil was on the one side and the just on the other side. Our submission, which we are working on, will make that clear.

     The fight of the ANC and the PAC wasn't just against apartheid. They were also instruments in the hands of Soviet expansionism. The fight against them, therefore, wasn't just to suppress in support of apartheid, it was to prevent the revolutionary overthrow of a constitutionally-speaking legitimate government by revolutionary forces supported by world power. There is that dimension. When a soldier or policeman, therefore, acted against them it cannot be said that soldier or policeman did it to continue with apartheid necessarily. They did what every soldier and policeman does in every country and that is to maintain the integrity of the state. By that I am not saying that apartheid wasn't maybe the most relevant issue but the Truth Commission will have to come to grips with the multi-faceted nature of the conflict of the past. They will have to also analyse the motives of the so-called liberation army in killing other blacks who were also anti-apartheid people and that happened in their hundreds and maybe thousands, the intimidation of others who were also against apartheid but who chose to oppose apartheid in a peaceful manner within the law and not in a revolutionary manner. It is a multi-faceted problem and reconciliation can only be achieved if all the role players start saying, "I can't just put the blame on the other side, I have to accept a part of it." I have reached that ripeness in my mind.

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.