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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Oct 1996: Fismer, Chris
POM First to go back to the decision of the National Party to leave the government of national unity. Perhaps you could talk a little about the debate that went on in the party at the time about that decision, how unanimous it was and then subsequently your own decision to leave politics completely and go back to private life. And I should preface that by saying, I think I said to you before, that you were the first National Party MP that I interviewed back in 1989 who talked about the kinds of changes that you saw coming and I recall Patricia and I leaving your office which was then in Pretorius Street saying, "Wow, haven't heard this before", and a lot has happened since then and you are now out of public life, or at least out of that part of it. So could you just talk about that period first and then I will work my way backwards.
CF The decision to leave the government of national unity coincided with the acceptance in the Constitutional Assembly of a so-called final constitution and the official reason that had been given at that time was that in the final constitution no accommodation had been made for the concept of compulsory government of national unity and because government of national unity, the concept is part of the National Party policy, they thought it appropriate then to leave the government of national unity due to the fact that in the longer term no accommodation for that type of government had been made which pre-empted actually the whole situation because the interim constitution had a compulsory arrangement that the government of national unity should remain for at least five years and although that part of the final constitution would only come into effect after five years the National Party thought it wise to leave the government of national unity already then at that stage.
But I must say that there was a much deeper underlying debate both on the constitution as a whole and as well as the position of the National Party and the way that they have seen it developing in politics. And on the constitution itself there was some doubt in the party of whether the constitution should be supported and in the end the decision was taken that given all the pros and cons we will vote for the final constitution. But I think in the minds of many, although they may not agree to the fact that it played a role, when they realised we're going to support the new constitution they felt that something else should be done and it was I think at that time very convenient then to raise this argument of in five years time, or in three years time, as from then there would be no government of national unity, let's rather pre-empt the matter and leave now. I think it also had a lot to do with perceptions within the traditional support base of the National Party where people felt a discomfort with the role of being opposition on the one side and being part of government on the other side. I don't think it was such a big problem in the minds of the body electorate, the broader constituency, but it was most definitely a problem within the National Party caucus and party hierarchy of representatives where many of the elected MPs wanted a stronger opposition role and they felt that the six members who represented the National Party in Cabinet were playing too much of a participatory role in the government of the day. And through that it may very well be that some lack of definition existed in the mind of those who had to support the National Party and people felt for political reasons it would be good to sever the ties and rather become a fully fledged opposition.
I think those were the issues at stake. What played a role in my own mind is that I thought it was far too soon if you look more holistically at South Africa, that two years was far too soon to say we've become tired of this exercise. The whole concept of using a government of national unity to break down fixed polarised positions and to exactly bring about a greater deal of fluidity in politics where people don't take their decisions and their positions on very fixed situations of the past but rather on a more fluid situation that's developing due to the circumstances of the present, to have left that kind of experiment after only two years was really a very sad fact for me and I couldn't associate myself, that we who so strongly advocated that concept, then decided not to continue with it only after two years. Again, I must say the argument was, well, there's no accommodation for it after five years, but we knew that all along. We knew that since the interim constitution has been accepted that this is an arrangement that's only been written in for a period of five years and the five years will have to prove in whatever way it can continue.
I think somewhat through our own behaviour we also caused a situation where the ANC also became stronger even than before opposed to this concept of a forced coalition, a forced co-operation in government and they were in my mind and in my experience open for some arrangement of that kind after five years but then more on a voluntary basis because in the interim constitution the situation is such that when a party with more than 10% of the support decides to participate in government the majority party is obliged to take them in, while that minority party has a choice of whether they want to participate or not and they argued, and I thought it made some sense, that the majority party should also have some choice in this whole exercise.
But be that as it may, the exercise became very uncomfortable towards the end due to the role of personalities involved and I think elements of leadership lost confidence in the whole concept. Personally I was very strongly motivated in politics, even to join politics because of that concept of government of national unity, of bringing South Africans together and forcing them into a situation of some kind of coalition, of consensus decision making, and the mere fact that we have now have now taken a route which will take us back to a traditional Westminster type of democracy which has not had a good history in Africa and which I don't think suits our circumstances, it was for me very clear right from the word go that I would not be prepared to serve in politics under such circumstances.
POM How much of this was prompted by Mr de Klerk himself? Some people have said to me he laid it on the table in saying this is what I'm doing and if you don't like it elect a new leader, but I am definitely going to quit as Deputy President, I'm not going to go along with this arrangement any more.
CF Well he played a very active role in bringing the decision about and in fairness I might say I think part of the reasons why he did it was to consolidate his party again because there was a lot of irritation among some about our dual role, or which they described as a dual role. I don't think it was so much of a dual role, one can have a long philosophical argument about it, but they created the image of a dual role and of the irreconcilability of this dual role and that perception stuck also with our electorate. So Mr de Klerk, I think, in one way tried to consolidate his party as a good political leader who wants to keep people together and although he would deny it he thought that the fact that we voted for the final constitution, in favour of the final constitution, may anger a few people but they will be comforted again by the fact that we withdraw from a government of national unity, a sort of a quid pro quo situation for the sake of party unity. I think his personal circumstances also played somewhat of a role in the sense that the relationship between him and President Mandela became very tense, well it had been tense all along but it deteriorated also all along, it was on a downward trend, and not only with him but also between Mr de Klerk and other senior role players within Cabinet. My own evaluation of the whole situation is that he didn't want to continue with the exercise any longer due to his own specific personal frustration with the whole set up, with which I had a great of sympathy but again it was kind of irreconcilable personalities and whatever other personalities tried to do to make the whole thing work made it very difficult if the leaders cannot really in the same spirit co-operate with one another.
POM Some people have said that your departure from politics and with the departure of Leon Wessels some of the most progressive thinking in the party have left and that in a sense this has been a victory for the more traditional elements within the party, that they are forcing their way back to the front whereas before the progressive elements were more in control. How would you describe the party now in terms of its orientation? Has it gone back more to its traditionalist root? Or is this vision, which I must tell you frankly most people that I've talked to say is part fantasy, they see it as a kind of fantasy, the belief that the NP over the short haul and maybe even over the long haul, can attract significant numbers of African votes. They say it's just make-believe, it's not going to happen.
CF I wouldn't like to so much focus on what's happening within the NP, I think it becomes even more understandable if one looks at a broader picture and the broader picture that I see is that unfortunately in the last couple of months there has been a tendency to a greater deal of polarisation in the South African political community and amongst the electorate as well. Part of it is due to the fact that some of the things that the ANC have been doing frustrated other minority groups tremendously. They weren't satisfied about it or they were concerned about or they were sceptical about it.
POM Like, for example?
CF Maybe things that happened in the field of education, on South African television the way that changes have been brought about there, perceived deterioration of standards for instance in health care and a bit of an arrogance in dealing with some of the obvious mistakes that the ANC have made like the Sarafina issue and so on. It caused a great deal of scepticism amongst white people and those who supported the NP and in reaction to that the National Party also became more in an opposition mode to what's happening within the ANC. So I think that broader spirit that existed played it's role and the unfortunate outflow from that, result from that, is that parties tend to stick more to a traditional approach of opposing one another and that fluidity that could lead to something I think has for the short term disappeared a bit from the scene. So in that sense I think what's happening in the ANC, in the NP and the IFP is that parties have consolidated to previous positions within their own ranks.
Now I for one would have liked to see a different set of circumstances developing and I think we have the potential for that to develop, not maybe exactly along the lines of the NP's vision but I had hoped that within the greater fluidity that's been brought about by a government of national unity concept and the fact that you see people starting to group around certain issues which does not necessarily correspond with their traditional party political line on those issues, both within the NP but more specifically so also within the ANC, I thought that if you had the nerve to live through that phase of fluidity and maybe less clearer definition of the role of different political parties than one would like, that that had a potential to bring about new political alignments in South Africa which will more realistically reflect the different views that exist in a new age, that will take us away from the traditional party political position which is actually a child that has been born of circumstances before 1994 in apartheid dispensation where the NP had a particular position, the IFP a particular position, the ANC a particular position.
I had hoped that the new circumstances would create an environment where people within the ANC would start realising, well they are not actually having the same views on the way ahead, people within the NP would realise that and the same with the IFP and others and that something completely new can result from that. I think the way in which things have developed in the last couple of months, at least in the short term, I don't think that that hope that I had would realise. It may be after five years or ten years that something of that will come to the fore again but we have lost the opportunity in my view to at least throw some oil on the fires of realignment and where things have now consolidated more to the positions of the past and the immediate possibility of what I had hoped for, I thought that on the short term maybe there is not really a role for me to play in politics.
POM It's like the NP going into opposition means almost by definition it has to attack the ANC more often therefore it's perceived by blacks as attacking the ANC, attacking blacks, insinuating they're not up to doing the job and that polarises, it narrows your opportunity to develop a black constituency.
CF Yes that's part of going the opposition route too soon, only after two years, where whatever good has happened within the NP, amongst many they are still perceived to be a party for the whites, maybe a party now for the whites and the coloureds but definitely not an option for blacks; whereas the ANC is still very much being seen, although they have a non-racial attitude and policy towards many things, people see it as the political home for blacks. While that is still the fixed perception amongst many one should have been extremely careful not to find you in a position where you're forced to oppose one another the whole time because that actually strengthens that wrong position you're in and it doesn't allow yourself the full opportunity of being part of the fluidity out of which something new can come.
May I say there are two options which I don't believe as really being practical or realistic. The one is where all the parties that are not within the ANC should come together in an alliance. I think that's maybe a short term pragmatic but long term stupidity because you will bring people together who by definition will still be a minority. If you add up all the parties that are not part of the ANC you're still with a minority. I don't think they have a long term potential to become a majority, and you bring people together who are ideologically and by way of policy do not belong together so you force actually a kind of an opposition due to the fact that you have the same opponent but you don't agree on policy to the extent that you can become one. So I was never in favour of that option and unfortunately there are very strong elements in the NP who force that kind of idea which I believe is unrealistic.
Secondly, to use only the NP as a basis or a springboard to develop an alternative against the ANC I think is equally unrealistic. The only way in which I thought in the longer term that really, and I still believe that, that we can have a viable multi-party situation that will reflect present and future circumstances is that you must in some way throw everything in the pot and something completely new must come out of that pot, if you understand what I mean. A new ANC must come out of it without parts that it had before and with some new parts. A new NP or whatever name one can call it by will come out of it with maybe some elements of ANC in it, maybe some elements of the IFP, but also minus some elements that they presently have with them. Where people will sort of lose their attachment to political affiliations of the past and become part of political affiliations that reflect present day circumstances and future challenges. That's the only way in which I see a longer term viable multi-party situation developing in South Africa and if it doesn't develop along that route then the ANC will remain the only party and one will then have to look at completely different ways of involving all South Africans in government because it won't happen through political parties any more.
POM In a sense the key to the kind of realignment that you're talking about is some split in the ANC itself where elements of the ANC realigns itself with elements in other political parties, right?
CF Well something of that.
POM Can it happen? Can you have the realignment you're talking about without there being a realignment within the ANC itself?
CF I don't think there's a huge potential for that realignment now because also through the action of the NP you don't only get a consolidation of people who oppose the ANC within the NP but there's naturally also then in reaction a consolidation within the ANC who become stricter on party discipline, who don't allow, for instance, and it's already now clear in the way in which they take disciplinary measures against Holomisa, in the way in which they doubt whether they will have a free vote on the abortion issue, where they start also to consolidate and strengthen party political discipline. So you get more fixed positions against one another and that whole fluidity which could have brought something about is definitely at least shifted to the back burner as far as the short term is concerned.
But I have always thought that the broad church of political affiliation within the ANC is too broad to withstand the test of time and that people with many different considerations, whether what part they played in the struggle, if they have been exiles or in jail or in the internal struggle, whether they were part of the labour movement or the Communist Party or what other forum of influence within the ANC, that many of them in practical politics I have seen, it would have been realistic to predict that at some time they may take different routes and that on the left wing, on the PAC type of wing with people like Winnie Mandela, Peter Mokaba, Bantu Holomisa and so on, something of a nucleus existed for something to happen there. The tension between labour and government could lead to something. The tension between a more free market orientation and a more socialist orientation might have led to something in the longer term. But I have never thought it would be realistic for the ANC alone to split up in some different political directions. If that could have been assisted and triggered by more or less the same type of realignment also in other political parties, and specifically within the NP, that would have strengthened the potential of political realignment in South Africa because then it was quite possible that with the 5% that you lose to the left you can gain a 5% from the right. By that way I think people would have had more guts to go into a kind of a realignment after five or ten years. Presently the situation, as I judge it, is that people are moving back into fixed positions with a lesser chance of this type of realignment.
POM Is this even more true in the case of the Western Cape where colour seems to have been the dividing line on how people, coloureds and whites, voted versus African basically?
CF Well what's happening with the NP at the moment is completely the opposite from what they express in their own policy documents and in their own mission and vision. The reality of facts is that the NP is becoming either a geographically based party with a very strong geographical base in the Western Cape and corresponding with that geographical base it's becoming a party for whites and coloureds and both those tendencies correspond with what happened with the IFP of becoming a geographical party restricted to KwaZulu/Natal or described in a different way of becoming a party for part of the Zulus, an ethnic based party. That's not the type of political party that we need in South Africa and it's not the type of party that will bring about a realignment in the political scenery of the country.
POM Does the fact that Mr Kriel is the only one at the moment who is exercising real power in the NP, does that give him extra clout?
CF I think so. Not that I think it's a realistic way to go about and to judge people's qualities. He may be a very able and good politician but I think there is more to judge the qualities of individuals than only whether they have political clout at the moment. It may be for instance that somebody like Roelf Meyer would have had much more qualities to lead the NP than somebody like Hernus Kriel but in the mind of the immediate middle leadership core in the party they are impressed about the political clout of one person and the lack of clout of others and they have never judged a situation well that in national government you're only six out of 21, with 21 ministers opposed to you and therefore your imprint on decision making will most definitely be less. But they compare it with the kind of imprint of what six NP MECs can make in the Executive Council of ten and think, well that's stronger leadership that you see there. It's nothing to do with the strength of leadership, it's about the reality of numbers.
POM It would seem to me that if the Olympics come to South Africa in 2004 that this immensely strengthens the position of Mr Kriel if he is still Premier of the Western Cape. He would be all over the place.
CF That's so many years ahead of us in politics, I don't think it's realistic to say what will happen there and I would very much doubt whether national government would allow the Olympic Games to develop in a provincial exercise. They will very carefully structure it. It will be an event of the President of South Africa and the South African government and not an event of a provincial government.
POM At the moment where would the balance of power lie within the NP? Would it be adhering more in the Hernus Kriel direction or in the Roelf Meyer direction?
CF I think it's without any doubt heading more in the Hernus Kriel direction and without any doubt in the direction of playing a stronger opposition role and of taking the option as has been taken in the last couple of months. The weight of support is definitely in that direction. That's why things also happen in that direction and that played a role also in my own mind of what the long term potential of pursuing the kind of ideals which I have in the midst of a party who clearly for the immediate future wants to take a different route.
POM Did you find it a difficult decision to take?
CF No I found it a very obvious decision and I never had the slightest doubt. From the first moment, even before the decision had been taken I knew that if this is the route things will take I won't be part of it.
POM The constitution in its preamble provides for a multi-party system yet without some kind of fundamental realignment coming about among all the political parties you say the chances of a viable multi-party opposition are rather slim. Given that it's in the constitution that this shall be the system of government, what should the government of the day be doing to try to strengthen both the climate and the infrastructure for creating a viable multi-party system or do you think that the ANC have any real interest other than lip service to the concept of a multi-party system?
CF No they have a real interest in it. I must just clearly state, I have nothing against the fact that one should have opposition to the decisions being taken by government and that good can flow from it and that it's one of the essential elements of democracy. That's all very true but you get different models of democracy for different circumstances and the fact of the matter is that the typical adversarial opposing kind of two parties as you typically have in the Westminster system did not have a good history in Africa. I cannot think of any good example in any African country where that really became deeply rooted as part of African culture of democracy. In many places a sort of model of that kind had been established by colonial powers, it had been taken over after independence but it never really got off the ground. One had one change through an election of political parties in which I can remind myself of, of Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, which was removed by a different political party in an election. But those type of examples are few and far between and mainly caused by other reasons than the typical working of a two-party system.
So I have always thought that the challenge if we want democracy in South Africa is to find something different from the Westminster concept and developments in politics as of late have moved back to that concept, and you will see the results in five or ten years time. We will have less of a multi-party democracy than what we have now due to the fact that we've taken the wrong options, I believe. And I think there is some kind of a guilt and a naiveté on both sides that we in South Africa for some reason would have a successful type of Westminster democracy where it hasn't really succeeded anywhere in Africa.
What the challenge now of the ANC and the present day government I believe is to make very much sure that the voices of minorities will be heard but where we have lost the opportunity of creating multi-party participation through political parties one must now take cognisance of other things and, for instance, in the way in how government is being compiled, how every board is being compiled that's appointed by government, every institution that's being compiled by government, the election of individuals to carry out certain tasks, senior leadership positions in government, that they should have a great deal of sensitivity although it's not written into the constitution and it shouldn't be, although it's not being accommodated for in the constitution, they should accommodate at some level of representivity a different people of South Africa so that all individuals have a feeling, well at least somebody like me is part of the broader concept of government. And I think although they don't express it in such strong words people like President Nelson Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki and others deliberately in practice try to promote things of that kind. I think along that route we can still succeed to have a type of government where all segments of the population in some way feel represented and not completely alienated to the process.
POM What should the government, I mean this is really saying the ANC, be doing to say - I mean if it says we believe in a strong multi-party system, what should it be doing to encourage that to happen or is there anything that it can do other than what you've said?
CF Well one cannot really expect them to promote other political parties. No political party will do that. And what do they do if there is no strong viable political party standing up against them or attracting some broad based support? Then they will have to deal with the IFP as a type of regional Zulu orientated party and they will deal with the NP as a kind of regional, white/coloured orientated party and in that sense they must give importance to them but not really as alternatives that will be able to win elections. As far then as the day-to-day government they should give a role to play for those political parties as far as is necessary but also on a broader sense, for instance as I've said in the people that's appointed to government, people that's appointed to senior civil servants positions within the security forces, within the diplomatic corps, within every other body appointed by government, they should have a sensitivity that in some way the broader population as a whole has a role to play and that you should never come to a situation where, for instance, whites feel we have no role to play in the security forces, we have no role to play in the civil service, we have no role to play in any other field of human activity. That would be bad for the country.
POM Yet the kind of imperatives of affirmative action not just being done but being seen to be done are a pretty overwhelming move in the opposite direction.
CF No, no, not necessarily. I don't advocate that, that whites should play a role far in excess of their numbers, their comparative numbers in the country, but they should play a role and I have never understood the ANC to say, "Well we want to get rid of each and every white person in the security forces and of each and every white person in the civil service."
POM I mean that when new appointments are made there would be a strong tendency for the new appointments to be made from the majority community.
CF Yes, yes. What I envisage as a responsible thing to do is that if you have for instance in government thirty director generals of state departments I think it would be very good if they recognised there's now no whites any more at director general, then at least to have a white as a director general or three or four or five of them' to see there are no coloureds in a senior position in the civil service, if we should deliberately try and look for somebody with the merit so that we can at least have one or two or three coloureds as director generals. The same with Indian people. If you look at if there's 150 ambassadors to be appointed to foreign countries you shouldn't have all 150 of them black people, Xhosa speaking from the Eastern Cape. That would polarise the country. But if you deliberately say, at least from time to time, I will give an important appointment to a white person or an Afrikaner person or Zulu person or whatever, to have that image and that perception of everybody in the country participating, then you will be able to govern the country. If you don't do it things will even polarise to such an extent where in years to come you may find it difficult to govern.
POM Some people have floated the idea of there being some form of public financing of political parties so that, for example, smaller parties would have a better chance of developing, of getting their message out, of building their constituencies. Would you be in favour of some form of public financing of political parties?
CF Yes I will be very much supportive of that, naturally with very strong constraints and to a limited extent one shouldn't make political parties rich through it. One should really have a minimalist approach of what's necessary to participate in elections and so on, candidates and getting the basic message out and there will also have to be some norm where you take size and previous position into consideration. You cannot for the next election give the PAC with less than 1% support the same amount of money as what you give to the ANC, to take the two extremes. On the other hand you also have to build in something of discriminating against the strongest party because if they really proportionately get all the money, that they will be able to get it can also create a kind of an unfair situation. But I have always thought that one of the negative aspects of democracy is the fact that political parties have to find their money in the market place and more than often it leads to a very grey area of corruption or potential corruption which I don't like.
POM So would you favour some minimum degree of public financing that then would be augmented by the usual market place search for political funding?
CF Yes I think some formula of that kind.
POM Two basic models would be you give a sum arrived at by some formula to a political party and say, OK you can spend it as you wish but there are strict accounting procedures, or do you confine the support just to elections?
CF I think it should be focused more on elections and for during election time. The support in between elections should even be more minimalistic than what I have advocated. It should only be, for instance, in between elections to such a minimal extent that you could keep a head office alive with a fax machine and a secretary, nothing really more than that. But for election time some increased support to enable a party to fight an election. The thing that one must try to avoid is if the electorate want to completely reject a political party and that history should allow a party to die one shouldn't be in a situation where this kind of system keeps a party alive because there are some individuals who have a stake of a job and so on to keep the political party going. So maybe some cut off point. I think we have been over-generous in our interim constitution, for good reasons but one should revisit it in the longer term of accommodating parties in parliament whatever low percentage they get. It's a clear message if you have 1% that the electorate have completely rejected you and something of that must then be reflected in body politics of the country. So the system must be carefully designed in such a way that you don't resuscitate parties that really belong to the past and in that way then also prevent any realignment to take place because people have too much at stake to keep a certain institution alive. But on many of these issues my approach would be before one takes up fixed positions to, by way of an international comparative study of what's happening in the world, what are good examples in other well established democracies, to learn from it, to take from it and by way of thorough research into the matter by independent bodies get yourself in a position where you can take examples from what's happening all over the world that worked and try and avoid the traps that other countries have stepped into.
POM Should there be, just to finish this line of questioning, a cap on contributions from individuals and corporations or do you think they should be allowed to give as much as they wish to political parties?
CF That's a bit of a difficult one to which I do not have an exact fixed view now. In some way one has a feeling that they should be able to give as much as they want to but one is aware of a situation where many companies who give money have a string attached even if it's very indirect. They hope to position themselves in such a way that they can get some return from government for it and in that way it may be good that if there is a limit on what government funding should be, there should also be a limit on the voluntary funding that should be so that you get a situation where a country with a relative economic strength that it has and we're in a sense, although we have strong first world elements, we're a poor country with many poor people in it and one should discourage political parties to absolutely overspend during times of elections and therefore caps of a different sort may not be unrealistic whether it's on the private funding part, whether it's on the government funding part by taxpayers one must just be realistic. It should be something that can be administered and in that sense I would also like to learn more from international experience. It helps nothing if you write the most wonderful rules in a book somewhere but it's completely unrealistic to really apply.
POM Now from your new position of more detached observer and you see this tendency towards increased polarisation among the political parties and the tendency, at least at the moment, for the party to be moving more in the direction of a Hernus Kriel than Roelf Meyer, what do you see in the ANC? You have the Holomisa affair, you have the Sarafina affair, you have the Sexwale/Mbeki saga, you have the Molefe affair, you have the Lekota affair. One gets the sense of a party that's cracking down fairly hard on its own ranks or trying to establish some kind of homogeneity within the party itself.
CF Well unfortunately the ANC is providing a lot of temptation for other political parties to take only the opposition route because they have done more than one thing, by the examples that you have given, that also creates that temptation amongst others to use it to the optimum for their own benefit. Maybe a lot of what happens in the ANC is for what I mentioned, that they have too broad a church with too broad a definition. The thing that I have mentioned in previous conversations, they were an umbrella organisation for everybody that's against apartheid but now that that thing that you're against has disappeared to a large extent, now you have to build homogeneity on what you're in favour of and then you realise, well this church is so broad it's virtually impossible to keep together. That's the one thing.
The other thing is merely the practicality of getting involved in practical day-to-day government where you're not in the luxurious position of being a freedom movement which is something like an opposition party. You only have to make nice speeches and nice pronouncements and you haven't really had to do anything about it. Now you have to execute what you say, which for any individual and any political party is quite a difficult challenge. But be that as it may, with all the mistakes that the ANC has made, and I am disappointed by many things that are happening within their ranks, I don't think they are doing so badly and one can find yourself in a situation where you exaggerate the failings amongst them.
The other side of the coin is I think they're doing more or less a good job of governing, with all the mistakes, with all the learning experiences, with all the personality clashes and so on, so much so that I am still confident that on broader aspects we are moving in the right direction. There is the nit-picking that one can do of fields of society where things are going wrong and going wrong in a big way, but if you weigh everything against one another I still think there's a chance of a very good realistic chance of them making a relative success of their task of governing the country.
POM Do you think a lot of what's going on now - one person described it to me as the ANC's political puberty, that it's just part of normal politics, jostling for power and position and that divisions among people in political parties don't mean parties are going to split, in fact divisions between people and parties who are ambitious is par for the course. It's almost like more normal politics in a sense than abnormal.
CF Although I must say with many of the things that are happening amongst them it's difficult to say what the end result would be. It may be just that it remains within the normal framework of what you describe. It may be the beginning of bigger problems and bigger clashes.
POM What would you point to as what could be the beginning of bigger problems?
CF For instance there can be a healthy relative type of tension between the labour movement, COSATU and the ANC, but on the other hand it can deteriorate to something much more serious than that where the labour movement starts a different workers' political party and decides to oppose government, or the ANC, at the next election. I think it's too soon to say at what stage of puberty the ANC is in, just as with the individual during the age of puberty you cannot give an exact description of what kind of adult that individual may be. Things point in a particular direction but it may completely disappear.
POM A lot has been made lately of the manner in which the ANC is conducting itself, i.e. disciplinary committees, members instructed not to make internal differences public, that they are to follow party procedures and that it's to be kept in the family, that dirty linen is not to be aired in public, that party discipline is everything. Is there any real difference in the way that the ANC is conducting itself as a party and the manner in which the National Party over the years has conducted itself?
CF No. Holomisa would have in any political party, had he done what he did, would have had serious trouble with his political party. I have no doubt about that. You wouldn't find a serious political party who would, if they really have to speak the truth, say that they would allow a member to do what Holomisa had done to the ANC and they would then not touch him and just pat him on the back and say, "Go on good friend continue on that route." So as somebody outside the ANC one can have a great deal of joy at the embarrassment that they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis and the type of dirty linen that Holomisa is picking up which has a ring of truth to everything that he is saying, to a lesser or stronger degree, but the same would have happened in any other political party.
POM But the NP put a lot of stress on internal discipline, that if members disagreed with party decisions or directions of the party or whatever, they were free to express themselves within party structures but were certainly not encouraged to do so outside of party structures?
CF No, without any doubt.
POM So in this regard the ANC is to a certain extent behaving as a mirror image of its old nemesis?
CF Yes, yes, and I'm not so much aware to say it but I think also in other countries if you have an individual behaving in politics in that way you will have trouble with his political party, at least with the type of political parties we have in South Africa that is a clear situation. Maybe the ANC in some aspects blundered in tackling Holomisa for what looked amongst the broader population, or segments of the population, that he was serving the truth and coming out with a lot of scandalous things that have happened, so he had the backing of people who thought he was doing a good thing and the party is trying to suppress the truth, but in the fact that they acted against him I don't think they had a choice.
POM Does he now become an rapid non-factor in political life? He has no job, he has no money, it's one thing to have a salary and free air fare and travel round the country promoting your cause or yourself but if all these things dry up ...
CF It's difficult to predict. Holomisa can surprise one and become quite a political role player to take note of, but my personal prediction is that he will disappear off the scene. I may be wrong but that's what I expect to happen.
POM Another issue which a lot has been made of more recently is corruption, or wasteful expenditure or abuse of position or whatever. Do you think it's any more rampant now than it was during governments of the National Party, or that it's just more transparent and reported upon more?
CF I think it's maybe not more rampant than what apparently happened in the last days of the apartheid government and then specifically what happened during that time within the homeland governments where I think a number of people in the realisation that things are coming to an end started to grab and run which caused a lot of corruption and unjustified promotions.
POM This was in the homelands?
CF Yes that was within the homelands but today when the Auditor General reports on that it's being reported all as being part of the previous system and you don't get the kindness from political opponents where they will make the distinction, well that promotion of 100,000 civil servants in an unjustified manner was part only of a very small homeland. They say, well that was the previous system. Maybe correctly so also. Unfortunately I think that with the fast way in which provincial governments had to be structured, especially within provincial governments, sometimes a bit of an over hasty application of affirmative action, bringing in people without having the benefit of experience or training in a particular position, the lack of controls that came about with that really caused a very high level of wasteful expenditure through inexperienced governance which I think is a huge problem at the moment. But again, I think there are enough signs that government doesn't satisfy itself and that slowly and surely they're getting to grips with the situation. One will have to see if they in the end succeed in that.
For instance, there are about 20,000 civil servants that have to be laid off of which most of them should actually be of the previous homelands governments, but that's black people, unfortunately, and it's black people who voted ANC. I think one of the wrong things which the ANC is doing is that by offering packages to civil servants you find that very senior experienced and in many cases the best civil servants now take the opportunity of taking their packages and they leave the civil service because they have the ability to succeed on their own outside the civil service. But those people who are not really making a contribution, who just sit somewhere and get a pay cheque every month, they are not yet being laid off and I am holding my thumbs that government will have the guts, if they really want to cut the civil service to what it has to be, that they will also have the guts to sort out those previously civil servants who came from the homeland governments and who are now mostly within the provincial governments.
POM Again, some people have said, I think even today, to me, or brought up affirmative action and pointed to the manner in which the NP used affirmative action to place its own people in the civil service, in the parastatals, in whatever, and that the ANC is simply again in a sense just repeating exactly what the NP did before it.
CF Oh yes. I have no doubt that many of those things are happening again.
POM Is there a peculiar paradox here in the sense that the former oppressed are imitating the oppressor?
CF Yes, yes. I would have hoped as more of an idealist and as of a younger person who had serious problems when I grew up with realising in what way are we governing the country and who then had high ideals for what we are writing in our constitution and how things will be in the future, one is then the more disappointed to see things are actually going the same way as before, sometimes worse, sometimes very much the same and I hope we can get out of that mould. I must say the type of affirmative action appointments which I criticise are not so much on the higher levels of government. From what I have seen of individuals being appointed, for instance, to positions like director generals and so on it's very impressive capable people who are really well equipped to carry out the task and the challenges in the new South Africa. I think it's at lower levels of middle management and lower levels of management where sometimes you find that merely for the sake of appointing a black person somebody is put into a position where they are really not yet ready or equipped to carry out that task. In that sense many of the wrongs emanate from people who made a failure of the homelands who are now sitting in similar equal positions or even improved positions within provincial governments and causing the same lack of delivery and the same lack of proper government control in the provincial governments where they sit.
POM How about the Sarafina affair? Is that symbolic of anything or is it just something on which the ANC has said, "We're being attacked from all sides on our handling of it and therefore we're taking a position and the position is that she stays, period"?
CF I think the initial problem that existed wasn't something that serious in all realistic terms. It was a problem, it was money, error of judgement and money being allocated to a wrong project which hasn't been well thought through and things like that happen in a government. It's not to be recommended but it happened in the previous government and I think it will happen in future again. But the way in which it was handled after it was clear that there was an error of judgement and that the wrong type of project had been started and supported, the way in which they tried to get out of the thing then created something that I think can be referred to as a scandal and where one would have expected stronger action from the government against individuals involved, especially the stupidity of trying to find a secret donor to pay back the money. They should have come out right from the beginning and said, "We've made a mistake, we backed the wrong project, we will try and recover as much money as possible and we won't continue with it." But then they started with secret donors that will refund it and the project will continue and action won't be taken against anybody, I think that created the impression of a cover up, in fact a cover up, and what's more quite a stupid cover up.
POM Well in 'normal' democracies her head would be gone. Definitely for all their faults the British Ministers rush to depose themselves when something goes wrong. The most famous case I can think of is Lord Carrington during the Argentinean war where he resigned because he felt he had been derelict in not watching the moving of Argentinean ships and no-one said, "That's OK, Lord Carrington." They applauded him for resigning.
CF You know if there's one tendency that one can be concerned about within the ANC and to which this thing points in some way is the fact that the ANC has at a very high level too many husband and wife combinations, or families playing a very strong role in government and I don't think it's healthy. In many instances it would have been better if they made the choice of who's in politics, either the husband or the wife but not both of them. For instance this specific Sarafina example, on the one hand you have a very capable Mr Jacob Zuma, a high ranking ANC official who is the chairman of the ANC, I think that's the number three position in the ANC, number three or four, it's the President, the Deputy President and it may be then the Secretary General before the Chairman or the Chairman before the Secretary General, I'm not sure. But say the number three or the number four of the ANC is the chairman of the party, he's taking the decisions now in the final capacity on what's happening with Holomisa, but his wife is the Minister of Health and I just think that the party in the upper echelons decided on many occasions that they cannot afford the embarrassment of the wife of the chairman being sacked. That's the unhealthy thing which I'm sure if that relationship did not exist one would have seen stronger action against the responsible minister.
POM Let me turn for a minute to the allegations of Eugene de Kock and the whole series of intrigues, atrocities that he alleged took place while he was in the service of the government. One, do you believe there is probably a substantial element of truth to most of the things he is saying or is he just trying to save his arse? Or two, does the richness of the detail he is providing in itself suggest that there is some truth here? And if there is does it surprise you?
CF I think one can spend hours on formulating your opinions on all the aspects and reasons why he is saying certain things. Without any doubt in my mind there is a great deal of truth in what he is saying and I think by far the largest percentage of the things that he is saying has a very high percentage of an element of truth in it. I think specifically the things in which he was involved and in which people below him were involved and at the level of people just above him, as far as generals are concerned, I think he's a person which one could really listen to because he's in a position to have very well known how decisions have been taken there and so on. I am aware, if I read on all things that he says, that there are some things that he is saying, for instance, about previous presidents and so on where I know very well he is now expressing an opinion on something where that's how he thinks it did work on the higher levels and what they had known and what they had said, but he did not have that first hand experience of that level. After all he was a major or a colonel and so on and that's not involved with State Security Council meetings and Cabinet meetings and things like that.
I was in fact a bit encouraged by his very low thinking of F W de Klerk because he says F W de Klerk just laid on his back and didn't support his people. Now what did he expect? Did he expect F W de Klerk to support him to the hilt and to be part of the cover up and never to stop it and never to turn it about and never to open up the can of worms or allow others to do it? So in that sense I think it's actually a good piece of evidence to see that people who were involved with that type of thing, what low thinking they had of F W de Klerk who stopped it and who came in between with what they were busy. But he is also, I think, very carefully maybe, not exaggerating, to an extent maybe also, but in a theatrical way presenting the case as to improve his chances of getting amnesty. There are definitely elements of that in his whole presentation and in suddenly not having any bad word for the ANC or what happened to their cadres or what happened amongst the type of people that were involved in their grassroots struggle and fight, but having this very high regard for them, that's really somewhat a backing for amnesty. It is in the end as a South African a shocking experience all in all, to listen to it and to know that's the type of thing that happened, one cannot pride yourself in it.
POM Do you believe that if that kind of thing happened on the scale that he alleges and there was this dirty war, do you think that it could have taken place without the at least implicit if not explicit approval of ministers in the government?
CF Let me say this, the main impression that I have if one reads, for instance, everything of what De Kock says, is how wonderful it is that we could have stopped that and by 'we' I mean all South Africans and political leadership on all sides, that leadership on both sides could realise this is not something that we would like to continue with and that we have not exposed further generations of South Africans to become part of that. That's the wonderful thing about it and in a sense the depth of the miracle comes more to the fore when you realise what we were busy with on all sides, doing with one another and doing with this country. That's the main impression that I would like to take with me and then to say how careful should we be to structure ourselves never to get into things like that again.
But then if you ask OK take things back to that time when it happened, I think you will have to take every case on its merits and decide in this particular case did people know up to a very high level? Surely there are cases where people up to a very high level knew about it but some of those things are things that I think in some way can at least be argued why it happened. For instance at the time when people went into a church in Cape Town and threw around grenades full of pieces of iron and when they blow up the Heidelberg Tavern in Cape Town, everything pointed to APLA. If the Chief of the Defence Force and the Commissioner of the Police then come to the State President and say we have now found the nerve centre of these people, we know where they are and we can go and attack them, but according to the law of the country it's in Transkei which is outside our area of authority and you must give permission, I think one can argue that if a State President at that time had said, "No you cannot do anything about it, just leave them", that one can phrase that as a kind of irresponsibility.
So Eugene de Kock says F W de Klerk should have known about everything because he had given permission that we could go into Transkei in that specific operation. Yes, F W de Klerk did know about that operation and he did give permission for it. I was a bit shocked that the defence force, for instance, used De Kock in that operation because in my view De Kock was at that time already a highly questionable, discredited figure of the type that one had expected the defence force and the police to take action against and at that very late stage they still used him then really one starts to question the loyalty of the Commissioner of Police at that time and his motives in the whole situation.
I think in the end also if one looks back the one thing that one can say is that leadership at the highest level if they did not directly know about anything maybe they should at least have been a little bit more suspicious. Then one must study from there on how effectively have they been misled by the Chiefs of the Defence Force and the Chiefs of the Police, but they should have been more suspicious. The same for the ANC on what happened and things that they deny today what they were aware of. Maybe they should also have been more suspicious if somebody throws a bomb somewhere or plants a landmine somewhere. Is it not really our people doing it? But I think at that time everybody was in a mould, well if we have done something wrong at least we're at war with one another and at the end of the day we have to win this war and I think that made them to become a little bit less suspicious than what you wanted, what you would like to expect of them today in different circumstances. And again I want then to conclude, the miracle of the whole exercise is thank heavens that political leadership at both sides at the point realised let's stop this kind of thing and take a different route.
POM Two and a half years in, how would you rate the political transformation on a scale of one to ten?
CF Still on the positive side. One is bad?
POM One is bad and ten is tops.
CF It's a number that's decreasing. If on the 27th April 1994 and 10th May with inauguration of the President just after that, I would say we were then on a ten. We now are moving dangerously close to a five but I think it's somewhat of an expected slump and I think the potential is there to stop it and to turn it around and to keep it at a six or a seven which would be more than enough to make this country successful for all its people.
POM How about the economic transformation in terms of just the whole economic situation, delivery of services through creation of jobs?
CF It's not being executed in the nice way in which politicians have made promises during the election, not at all. If you measure it against their promises it's a complete failure but one shouldn't measure results against promises of politicians. It doesn't work anywhere in the world. But measured against what can realistically be expected and the complicated nature of the challenges that any government has to face in South Africa I think it's going rather, not good enough, but on the positive side of the scale. Just.
POM I was talking yesterday to a former colleague of yours, I won't mention any names, but he was saying in essence that the first world part of South Africa which was the magnet to attract foreign investment and the like which is needed in the long run to uplift the entire economy, that that part of the society was contracting and that he was raising his family to emigrate, that he couldn't see them living in a society that was so unsafe, and he's talking about white society, that segment of it, that where the quality of health care had deteriorated, where educational standards were deteriorating and that the best he could do was to ensure that they got the best education they could here and then to get out of the country. Would you encourage your children to stay or to leave?
CF I leave it to their choice but I've tried to raise them to feel very positive and committed to this country and I would be very glad if they exercised the choice to rather stay here and to be part of it, but it should be their choice. I think people with the attitude that you have just described are taking it too far. They are too depressed. Their depression doesn't correspond with the situation although there are tendencies in the situation which make people say things like that but that is a concern for me that the first world element of South Africa is falling into this communal type of depression and that's why I'm so doubly disappointed in the way in which politics have developed. The challenge was really to have kept all involved and my view is that in 1994, 1993 we made a contract with one another that for five years we will together try to make this thing work and I think the NP has broken that contract by leaving after two years and in that sense white people by becoming too pessimistic against the whole situation are escaping our responsibility to really give everything to help make it work. On the other hand I must also say that I think the ANC is not completely without guilt. Although individuals have done a lot to comfort the white people and the first world element of the country they have also allowed some things to happen which has led to this discouragement that white people experience and it will be still possible but more difficult than what I expected before to turn it around.
POM What things can you point to?
CF Well what certain individuals were saying at lower levels of the political spectrum without being repudiated and certain things of the list that you have given of the failures of government in the first period of time have lead to a kind of disillusionment which could have been handled more sensitively.
POM OK. Thank you ever so much. It's a pleasure to talk to you and if you won't mind I'll keep coming back periodically. You were there at the beginning.
CF Yes, if you think it still has some relevance.
POM Oh it has.