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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
22 Oct 1996: De Villiers, Dawie
POM Dr de Villiers, perhaps we could just start with a comment you made before I turned on the tape recorder and that is that you are now stepping back out of politics and see a different role for yourself in what remains of your political season and will be moving perhaps in a different direction in 1999.
DDV Yes I have recently stepped down as leader of the National Party in the Western Cape, a position I held before we had nine provinces. I was one of the four provincial leaders way back at the end of the eighties and into the nineties and played, therefore, also a central role in the transition. I have entered politics in the seventies as many young Nationalists of my time with the burning desire to make a contribution towards solving our central problems, race relations, to find a way out of the cul-de-sac that we were finding ourselves in. Certainly the views I held then, although they were liberal in terms of National Party politics, developed over the years. My views were strengthened by many experiences which was one of the reasons I managed to get so much satisfaction from my involvement in the transition. Now, very briefly, that chapter has closed. We have succeeded in removing the central problem of apartheid, of race relations, of separate development, whatever name you want to give it. We have removed that from the agenda. We now have a democracy, we have a non-racial democracy and non-racialism finds expression in many forms in South Africa not least of all in the National Party which is now a multi-racial party and in the Western Cape, as you know well, we can now say that the majority of card carrying members in the Western Cape are not whites. So we are a party from leadership down who reflect the changes and we are a party of change.
But for me the energy I have given to the transformation, the excitement it generated, the dreams one dreamed, the vision you had, that has been fulfilled, the book has been closed and now it's politics of opposition, politics of positioning and it's for the National Party as the major opposition party a long road ahead to communicate its vision to the people, to try and further break down the polarisation that is shaping up in our politics which unfortunately is also a polarisation with ethnic, racial undertones. It is a long and challenging road but for me the period that I have been directly involved in and that captured my imagination so much is over. So I feel I've reached the point where I can say that book is closed. I still want to be active in one way or another. There may come opportunities, I do not want to speculate now. Since I'm not going to stand in the next election, 1999, I have stepped down as leader so as to enable my successor to begin to shape the party and give direction to it and work out his strategies for the 1999 elections.
POM South Africa has a democracy. Does it have a viable multi-party democracy, and the constitution provides for one? That is, does it have a multi-party democracy in the sense that there is an effective opposition and the possibility or the probability of an alternative government in the foreseeable future?
DDV It has a multi-party system. There are more than one opposition parties in parliament, the National Party by far the largest but the IFP not insignificant, so the first reaction would be yes we have that. But as your question actually indicates, multi-party democracy goes further than just to say we have fairly effective or large opposition parties, if those parties remain unable to really mobilise enough support to become a threat to the governing party the real essence of democracy is really that there must be a real chance of government changing hands, that people will vote as their convictions lead them and that racial, ethnic, cultural positions will not be so strong that the political landscape remains unaltered. I believe the latter is presently a reality in South Africa or rather I should say it offers a major problem as regarding the development of politics. I'm not negative, I think the present political landscape is going to change. I can't see the ANC alliance, ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance remaining what they are but as far as the present political situation is concerned there is a fear in my mind that we can polarise in ANC versus National Party and that there will not be the fluidity in politics which could lead to different parties becoming the government. That is why the National Party has set itself the goal to serve not only as an opposition party but also to serve as a catalyst in trying to help form a broader opposition movement, not merely getting people to join the National Party because there might be many will find this totally unacceptable in years to come, but we would, so to speak, throw ourselves into the melting pot to become part of a broader based opposition of the future and the name and structures of the party are therefore not holy cows, we have indicated our willingness to even change that. The real challenge over the next five to ten years would be whether multi-party democracy can take root in South Africa.
POM Three questions on that. One is that the argument has been put to me that one of the reasons why the National Party should have stayed in the government of national unity was that by becoming an opposition party and behaving as an opposition party it was seen as a party that was always opposing what the ANC did and therefore always opposing what blacks did, the implicit message or the subconscious message being that blacks can't do it, they're screwing up, they're doing this, they're doing that, and that for a period of time we needed not to have that kind of politics in order to build national unity. So I would like to hear you talk a little about the National Party's decision to get out of the government of national unity and what you think the consequences of that have been and will be. The second is the question of really racial politics. Is the reality, and may it be the reality for some time to come, that the ANC increasingly becomes an African party and that's just the way it is? Whites will continue to vote for the National Party or the DP or whatever new structure emerges but you really have a form of racial politics and coloureds will vote with the National Party but you've got the ANC increasingly African not, ironically, non-racial. It's kind of funny that the party that was supposed to be, the National Party, the one kind of racial party is now the most multi-racial party. And the third thing is, is the only way that a true multi-party system can evolve in the country is through some realignment of political forces mainly involving some splitting up of the ANC into whether it's right, left or whatever?
DDV Yes, I think three very crucial questions regarding the political face of South Africa. First of all there's a lot of truth in your first statement that the fact that the National Party left the government of national unity enhanced the polarisation. Leaving the government made it necessary to show your hand more effectively as an opposition and that certainly created the feeling that the National Party is always criticising a government that you must remember for many was seen not only as the government taking over but as the salvation of South Africa. The National Party left the government of national unity for a number of reasons. I did not support all the reasons but what was obvious to me was that by remaining part of the government of national unity would have created immense tensions within our own party to the point where it became ineffective and it could even have led to further division because the difficulty to be both opposition and government as the same time became impossible to explain to our followers. For them it was, for many of them, it was more simplistic to say you're an opposition party and you should act like one. Also, some of the media traditionally supporting the party were very critical of our continuation in the government of national unity making it even more difficult for us. So I have said in my speech at the congress that it would have been far better for South Africa had the government of national unity survived and had we even for the next ten years tried to find something outside the traditional context of western politics, a government of national unity. If we could have achieved that I think the country would have had a much better chance of really developing and building a new nation. Now we are slipping back into hard nose political battles and such confrontations in a society such as ours do create all the other images that you refer to, to say FW or the National Party is only critical because they think blacks can't govern the country, etc., etc., etc. So that is my one concern about the future. Can we break that deadlock? And we can only break it if politics are not seen to be a black party versus a party where all the whites, or the majority of whites, find a home.
And that brings me to your second point, it is true, yes, that the ANC today certainly cannot claim to be representative of all population groups. They are predominantly a black movement and you must also not under-estimate the transitional role in which they find themselves in many ways, to move from liberation organisation to government, to move from government now laying down the law and implementing the law, not emotionally whipping up people not to pay their rents or for their services, now trying to force them to pay. It's creating all kinds of tensions, all kinds of problems. The high expectations that they generated with their supporters, housing, work, etc., very little is coming from it, therefore they find themselves in all kinds of tensions and that also encouraged them to try and use the easy political trick; blame apartheid, blame the National Party on the one hand and hold your people together by emotional bonds.
The real opposition in South Africa will therefore not only come from a realignment between existing opposition parties. I believe that an effective political movement of the future, political party of the future, will have to be partly black driven. You can't have the engine of the old National Party, so to speak, even if you have a huge body of supporters now coloured, Asian and a number of blacks. It will still bring with it too many of the perceptions of the past. Only when we can manage to make the National Party, or, let me rather say, only when a new opposition formation can be truly African in its leadership will they begin to put a real challenge to the ANC which is not going to survive the present composition, I mean COSATU and in many ways they have their split differences.
And also then other disagreements will become more divisive. Take the question of the death penalty, just one, I have views on it but I am not a campaigner one way or the other, but if you leave that to the population today, the black population, the majority of them believe an eye for an eye in this kind of violent society. It creates tension within the party. If you take, oh there are whole number of issues, I don't want to go on into them now. The tensions are there but it requires more than the tensions because every time the ANC is in danger they will find the scapegoat. Is it the National Party who is just playing their silly tricks of the past? And this will be the spook to drive the fear into their followers and unite them. So something deeper, something more fundamental will have to happen to really create a strong opposition and not only the realignment of existing opposition parties.
POM Do you not think that this tendency to draw on 'the legacy of apartheid' or the remnants of apartheid or whatever in using this emotive force and the National Party as a bogeyman is also something that is being constructively used on their part to hold their alliance together like that as long as they stay together even with their disagreements they have the power. To start actually dividing means losing power and it takes a hell of a lot of differences to divide and lose power. You can paper over many ideological differences to hold on.
DDV Yes certainly, it's just a question how long will that last? How long will people still be persuaded to say, but you know it's either due to apartheid or if you don't stay in step with us the National Party will divide us and we will go back to the bad old days? And that's why I say as long as the face of the National Party still reminds people of the past, that might continue but as we change the electorate will also begin to view us differently. Already, certainly, in the Western Cape that does not have a major impact, that line is not working. But amongst the black community it has a powerful hold and then also one mustn't under-estimate - I think it was true of the Afrikaner and it's certainly true of black people that there's a deep rooted identification with one another. We belong to the same family and that feeling is stronger often than political disagreements. We're of the same culture, we're of the same nation, we're of the same father, basically. Western kind of politics where you vote according to your conscience and you can even vote against your brother and you can cross all barriers and borders, that is not a deep rooted reality in Africa. If you look at the African politics and you compare that to western democracy I think there are major differences. I'm not talking about the coups and military dictatorships, I'm talking of where even it is working and working fairly well at times, you have this closer, almost politics by group, politics by identification with the group and not so much individualistic as we have it in western tradition. That might also play a role.
POM I'll come back to some of the issues we've raised there, but when Mr de Klerk says, and I'm quoting him at I think the party congress where he said that in the next election in 1999 that you will take the Northern Cape and hold the balance in Gauteng. Do you think that is wishful thinking in the sense that for your party to believe that in the short to medium run, whatever that is, that large numbers of Africans would forget the inherited memory of the past and what was done to them by your party and vote for you, would be something almost unique in history of where the oppressed turned round and within a short period of time began to vote for their oppressors in large numbers, that it's just not feasible and that it's more wishful thinking and therefore that it comes back to, in a way, the point you were making that not until the leadership, or whatever you call it, is Africanised can you talk about that kind of change being possible?
DDV I don't disagree with you. I think you're right but you must also read carefully what FW de Klerk said. You must remember that he said (a) we will retain the Western Cape and strengthen our position here, which is it is capable of, the composition of the electorate here is different. Then he refers to the Northern Cape where we lost by not too large a margin in the last election. Again the Northern Cape are also white, coloured and black and the National Party could make progress amongst the coloured portion of the community in the Northern Cape. So that is a quite reasonable expectation without a dramatic swing, perhaps a 5% swing in the Northern Cape or not much more and the National Party could become the government there. We lost by the smallest of margins. Then the situation in Natal is there's a disillusionment amongst many with either the IFP who they see as too hard-line, too one-sided, and the ANC who is too pushy. So there are other forces working into that political situation. Also you have a large Indian community who are more politically mature to change parties. In the last election the majority of Asians, as we gather, voted for the National Party, so making progress in that community is not too far fetched. Then he said we will make substantial progress in Gauteng and in other provinces. Now no politician can go on a platform without saying my party is not going to make progress. In Johannesburg, in Gauteng, you do find blacks more of an individualistic lifestyle than you might find anywhere else in South Africa.
The point I made just prior to say changes in politics do link up with how individualistic can people think and act or do they act as a tribe, as a clan, as a group, and I think the latter is very true of Africa but it is not true of all individuals and where you find a more free society where people are more thinking and acting on behalf of themselves then there could be a greater spread between political parties. But you are right, the realistic point of what Mr de Klerk has said, and don't ignore that, is actually if you read what he said, he said we can't win the next election. He's only talking about progress which is not too far fetched because you're right, unless the National Party or party politics in South Africa change to the extent that the real threat does not come from, and let me say including Mr de Klerk and others who are strongly associated with the past, the ANC will not be toppled. It will only happen and it could only happen if the leadership of the new party, if such a party is to be formed, will reflect a strong drive of Africans in its midst. It might be an appealing factor of such a party not to match black with black, an entire black leadership with strong black leadership, but to include in its ranks the diversity that we already have succeeded in mobilising in South Africa more so than the ANC which is beginning to show itself more definitely as a party where the power lies with blacks, not with Asians or whites or others. The same can be said of the National Party the other way round. So we need in future an opposition party who succeeds in beating that, that I think could really challenge the ANC but not before then.
POM Going back to the negotiations, there are a couple of comments that I've heard from people this trip round that haven't surfaced before, or have come in a different direction or more emphatically. One is that the National Party vastly underrated the ANC when it came to negotiations, that it thought that it could control the process and that they had more sophistication and strategic sense when it came to negotiations to in effect out-manoeuvre the ANC in negotiations and strike a really good deal for themselves. Some people point to the issue of amnesty as being a classical screw-up, as they would put it, of where the consequences of the action weren't thought all the way through and that instead they were faced with a sophisticated, intelligent and an ANC with a highly developed sense of strategic purpose who in fact out-negotiated the National Party. Some people would go so far as to say the National Party was taken to the cleaners, that beginning from talking about compulsory power sharing you ended up with a five-year term of interim power sharing which you even withdrew from before its term was over. That's one question. Two, looking back at the process of negotiations looking at where the National Party is today and where the country is today, is there anything in retrospect you think that National Party should have done differently or were you really faced with a situation of where there wasn't much you could have done differently and the end result would by and large be the same anyway, that people are really splitting hairs and talking about nuanced tactics rather than the broad sweep of what change is all about?
DDV Well let me start with your last question because I sincerely believe that is the case, that if we had to do it over it wouldn't be much different. People make one major mistake, and I'm talking about many people who are now wise after the event within our own ranks, within our own newspapers, critics who think we negotiated a bad deal, and they see the negotiations as the two parties who sat across the table like two companies talking about a contract, talking about a deal, hammering out a deal between them. But that was not the case. It's different if you sit there and you know that if this deal is not going to work there will be no business. It's not like two companies who could go back to their own businesses and pursue that. If we're not going to succeed the real danger of South Africa slipping away in confrontation, in conflict, in chaos was there. We got to the edge of the precipice and anyone who talks about the negotiations as if it took place around a table in an academic or theoretical way where two parties tried to twist arms to get the best deal, they ignore the reality of our situation.
As a matter of fact the problems we are facing today, high levels of violence, criminality, instability, the non-payment of services and the list is very long, are but a few of the examples of how far the pot was already boiling over and allowing it to be on the stove much longer would have created, in my view, immeasurable problems. I sincerely believe that a non-peaceful transition might have been the price that we could have paid if we tried to be too wise, too strong and tried to force things through that the other parties rejected totally. Yes, the non-peaceful situation, the conflict, eventually we would have had to settle. I have no doubt, we could still be fighting one another today but what would have happened to South Africa? We turned this country around at a time when many of the problems became so heavy that it is still pulling us down today and will do so for years to come. The economy wasn't performing for almost ten years. It is still not performing well now. We need to change that around and there are other problems standing in its way.
So for me, first of all, before we talk about where the National Party could have negotiated better or where not, the first remarkable thing is that we had a peaceful transition. No individual in this country lost its property. Businesses continued to do business. People travel and they forget that it was a real possibility five, six years ago that should a black majority government take over they will change this situation so dramatically and wipe out the past, that didn't happen. Things went very much, continued to go on as in the past. The farmers are farming, businesses are doing business, and that is the remarkable thing.
So against that background we negotiated from a position that was getting weaker not only for ourselves but for South Africa and you must remember that for the ANC, many still in exile, with uMkhonto and with many of their people prepared to pay a price because what they could lose was nothing in comparison to what many whites could lose had we entered full scale confrontation and what goes with that. So against that background I think we have negotiated a remarkable deal. People who criticise still have in the back of their minds that we could have managed to get agreement on something less than democracy in South Africa, a special position for whites, more voting power for them. What do they really look at? We've got a non-racial democracy with a constitution that is better than most constitutions that I know of with a Bill of Rights protecting not only black rights but white rights, particularly white rights when it comes to things like possessions, etc., and now after a period of renegotiation there is very little in the new constitution that we can cry out and say that this is totally foul, this is unacceptable. Looked at as a whole it's a very good constitution.
So I think people who nit-pick about who was wise and who was foolish during the negotiations and lose sight of the reality of how hot that room was and what we have achieved, and I don't say it in a sense of what glory or what honour should be given to those who negotiated, I just said they acted wisely, all of them. And one can certainly in such a broad scope of things say this could have been different, it's a pity that clause was not written in different terminology but what people who criticise, particularly from the right, also forget is that the ANC or the new government certainly would like, wants to rectify things that went wrong for many, many years. Affirmative action is one of their policy measures that we agree with. All we disagree with is the method in which it is being implemented and you mustn't do that in a way that you eventually create uncertainly amongst whites and make them leave the country. But on the whole it has been a very good process I believe.
POM Looking at a couple of things, one is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. The point again has come up that while in fact this process may result in healing between individuals and be cathartic for individuals and individual situations that it may not achieve the overall goal of national reconciliation and may in fact do the opposite particularly if in the white community the perception grows that this is in fact a witch-hunt. I've a couple of questions, one, your comments on that. Two, do you think the white community as a whole have distanced themselves in some way from the doings of the Truth Commission and things like the Malan trial? I came back the weekend of the verdict of the Malan trial ( I had been here and then gone away and come back) and that was also the weekend that Francois Pienaar had been axed as captain of the Springboks, and I counted the column inches in the papers devoted to commentary on the verdict of the Malan trial and the consequences and implications, and on Pienaar's situation and the future of rugby and where it was going, and other than City Press both radio, television and all the print media spent far more column inches on the Springboks than they did on the implications of the Malan decision. Does that say something?
And three, I suppose related to that is a thought that struck me afterwards and it was again switching the television dial the other night I saw it was cricket on one channel, international from India, there was golf on another, there was rugby on a third and there was tennis on a fourth, all predominantly white sports. What struck me was the thought that maybe there's some kind of sublimation going on that white excellence at sports has taken the place of politics to an extent and that what they invested in politics before and whatever sense of superiority might have existed with regard to politics has now been transformed in the international arena to sports where you are slowly proving to be, that is Afrikaners, better than everybody at all of the sports that you compete in and that this compensates in a way to people for some sense of political loss or not being the dominant force in their own country as they were before. I know that's speculative but I would just like to hear your own perspective on it.
DDV Well, an interesting comment about Pienaar and Malan, I think it is not fair comment because you forget that the Malan case took weeks and weeks and if you look at what was written, not only reported, but the many, many leading articles on that score, it certainly occupied the minds of South Africans and white South Africans in particular, far more. The emotional thing around Pienaar is a one-day, well not a one-day, but the announcement was so stunning that it would have pushed anything from the headlines particularly something that has been coming a long way. Many people who read the reports were convinced that there were no real charges against the majority, particularly not against Malan and others. Well the Truth Commission did link up with that court case to say that it is a good example of the fact that we shouldn't follow the route of the courts. All the millions and millions of rands wasted, all the agony, all the debate was unnecessary. We could have listened to people telling the truth and would have been more effective in resolving these issues.
Now I think we have discussed it previously, let me again just remind you that the National Party was not against the TRC and I personally think that one can argue strongly in favour of such a process. Can you imagine how this society would have been had every second Sunday for the next ten years one of the investigative journalists come up in a Sunday newspaper with revelations about who did what, who killed what and the past was being dug up all over endlessly. One objective certainly is to get out the truth. It is a ghastly reality for all but one must do it in an even-handed manner with the purpose to say fine, now we know how terrible our past was, the acts, whether it was that of terrorists or police officers, were unacceptable. And let me say the more I hear these things the more I believe, however uncomfortable and unpalatable, it is necessary. It's necessary that I as a member of the government realise what people in government did. I find it ghastly, I find it shocking, but perhaps my world should also be shattered to say, but you know you sat quietly in Cabinet. Nothing of these things were ever in the Cabinets that I sat in, nothing. But is it true that people down the line gave instructions of that kind? I have very little sympathy with people who engaged, involved themselves because I do not believe that was ever part of whatever instruction came from Cabinet or Cabinet committees, but perhaps we should say to the people out there, the South Africans who supported apartheid, this is what it led to and perhaps ANC people should also realise that their acts caused hardship, killed innocent children, people, destroyed families and then closed the book and then one would reach a point and not too long to say now we've got to focus on the future.
So the theory of truth and reconciliation I think is sound. I can from a religious point of view endorse it. But like so many things in life it depends on how it is managed, how it is transmitted. If it's a fair, even process, which it might be, if it leads really to forgiveness and understanding and sorrow and we close the book afterwards it can still play a constructive role. What is worrying me is the way in which many people are not prepared to even give it a chance. They have already come to the conclusion that this is a witch-hunt. Reverend Tutu the other day directed his criticism at two newspapers, I don't know whether you picked that up? He criticised Die Burger and Rapport, the Sunday paper, to say they have already decided that the commissioners are not even-handed, that it's a witch-hunt, etc. I have not lost my faith in the workings of the Truth Commission. I still believe it can play a useful role but it is a negative factor that so many people have already made up their minds that this is unfair, it's a witch-hunt, it's only to smoke out the old National Party or to discredit the National Party or to get at whites or to get at the defence force or whatever perceptions they have and that there is not enough yet balancing that out. The point made by critics is, fine, you get the generals to come and give evidence, you have the politicians, you have Malan and now Vlok and others, but there are no general level generals from the uMkhonto out there, there are no ministers of similar status of the leadership of the ANC out there to ask them how did their strategy work, etc. So some reparation is required in the work of the commission. They need to change the perceptions and they need to do their business and finish this off because it is really pulling out the insides of the nation. You switch on the news or you hear for the first five, six, ten items just these ghastly stories and the sooner they get this over the better, but if well managed I still say it can play a role in reconciliation.
POM Are there diminishing returns, like after a certain point to hear of one more atrocity or alleged atrocity is like an overload of information and like any overload of information it begins to lose its impact?
DDV I think so. That's why the time is crucial. They need to get out as much as possible within a reasonable time and then almost say, now it's finished, now there's no sense in continuing to dig down and try and unveil, unravel the problems of the past. We must now unite and build a new future. And just about your last sublimation argument, I think South Africans are a sporting nation but by far the majority of them take very little interest these days in what is broadcast on SABC, there is very strong resentment because of the language issue on the SABC and on many of the programmes. You need only watch TV for a while to see how Africanised that has become, which again is not wrong in itself but if Africanisation there means it forces out the programmes that people wanted to see or the language, it is creating reaction and almost revolt in some circles. I don't think that a sense you will find among ordinary South Africans is one of 'we will find our fulfilment in sport'. There is deep unhappiness with politicians in general but particularly with the ANC and the criticism I think is founded not so much in the individuals as in the style of government and the lack of government, the incapability of governing effectively. Good governance is becoming a real concern of many serious South Africans and they know they can't change this politically because their party, or whether it's the National Party or the Freedom Front, cannot change South Africa. If the process is not corrected my fear is that more and more young whites will leave the country and say, "I am well trained, I can be an auditor or an engineer in many parts of the world, or a doctor", which will weaken our ability to overcome the challenges, which will rob us of the kind of people that we desperately need to pull this train up the steep mountain.
POM When you're talking about people being unhappy with governance, what would you point to or what would they be pointing to as indications of things they are unhappy with, things that would drive them to leave the country rather than to stay?
DDV Right, they will point to the way health is administered in South Africa at the moment. Doctors are one of the groups of very unhappy people and the teaching profession is another group where dramatic reductions in the number of teachers lead to large numbers having to leave the profession. They would point to the mismanagement of funds, the Sarafina project is another good example, the high levels of crime of course, and although they hear the government talking against it and putting forward proposals and dealing with it there are still too many good examples of mismanagement. You find that people get bail very easily and they go out and commit more crimes and still nothing is being done. There is no good co-ordination between the Ministry of Justice, Safety & Security, which is the police, and the Prison Services. There is a feeling there is no firm hand on the government, that the President however respected he is, devotes himself more to reconciliation and general things and no-one else is properly governing the country. We need now strong actions. We need to take hard decisions, business people will tell you, on the issues that are crucial, of the competitiveness of the South African economy. We are part of a global economy and unless we improve our productivity, unless the government reduces its role in the economy we're not going to make it. Why does it take two years almost now to decide whether you are going to privatise some enterprises or not and still there's no plan on the table? So there are many areas where people just feel unhappy.
I personally believe it's the kind of tunnel vision that you develop. There are other good things as well, but these become obscure, they don't take notice of those and the focus is too much on emotional issues and the criticism therefore is growing unfortunately to the extent where it starts to eat into confidence. They say in economic terms that people can talk the economy down or they can talk it up and my concern is that people are so critical that it's the vogue now to be critical, it's the vogue to list the things that are wrong instead of saying, look A and B is wrong but certainly we've made progress in terms of C and D. We are beginning to lose that situation and again it brings us back to a point you made earlier on, that provides fertile ground for criticism of Deputy President Mbeki and the whole range of ANC ministers and officials to the extent where because it hurts people will say, as they do, "Ah, but that is again just the National Party, the whites who think they did better."
And that is why also against the newspapers the same reaction was aired by saying their big bosses are all white, it's the establishment, the press is really in the hands of the big bosses, the white business and that's wrong, that's why they don't understand our position. So the polarisation is not only politically it goes government versus business, government versus the press, and it's not a healthy development and it's beginning to bring an imbalance in things where people take their criticism too far, it's not balanced criticism and that is countered by a reaction that's equally not as balanced as it should be.
POM Just to echo what you've said, one of the people I talk to every year is Derek Keys because he's my barometer on the economy so I ask him almost the same questions every year, but the last time I saw him he was drawing up a speech that he was giving some place and he put down the plusses and the minuses and he had a whole range of plusses: the transition had been smooth, the constitution was in place, there had been no bloodshed, and many of the factors that you mentioned in terms of business went on on a day to day basis. It was good, it was in a way a miracle.
DDV For many people, whites went on as before.
POM Just as it was. And he said, yet whites are increasingly, despite the best efforts of Mandela and others to appease their fears, are becoming increasingly sceptical and fearful of the future and that this scepticism and fear that they had was communicating itself to the way that decisions were made in domestic business as reflected in gross domestic investment and that this in turn was reflected in the level and interest in foreign investment, that if foreign investors saw a white community that was sceptical about the future, well then they would not be in a rush to invest in the country. So that white influence in that regard, particularly when it came to foreign investment, was entirely disproportionate to their numbers, that for foreign investors they were the barometer.
DDV Yes I agree there. That is the kind of picture that is still a balanced picture. Many don't even have the plusses, they forget about the plusses. And the overwhelming problem these days is certainly the crime and the violence. Take tourism which should be a generator of income as nothing else in this country, because we have a good infrastructure, we have tremendous attractions and suddenly South Africa has become internationally known, people wanted to come here. Now for the Deputy Minister this week to say it's 99% safe for tourists in South Africa, only 1% of tourists get mugged or stolen from, in terms of proportion, and he's right, that sounds quite good, 99%. But out of the million visitors that means 100,000 are being mugged, stolen from, get affected by crime, which is just far too many to have a thriving tourism business. So the figures that grew exponentially over the first year and half, two years, are beginning to make a turn now and it's slowing down. Confidence of the business community is lacking and I think that is why it is difficult for the government to remove exchange control because too many people will just say, "I'd rather take the risk and put some money in the UK, even the little money I have." It is a general feeling, a general lack of confidence and if you try to pinpoint it, what makes people feel a lack of confidence? It may not be major issues. Crime certainly, crime is a major issue. But it's not the crime only, it's the reaction of government, it's the lack of reaction that makes people concerned and you can duplicate this at all levels. That brings me back to the point of governance. It is a difficult country. South Africa is a difficult country to govern. The problems are huge and complex, financial means are limited and give credit to the government, to the financial policies they are pursuing. I don't know whether Derek Keys referred to that. The fiscal monetary discipline, perfect. All these things, wonderful, and they stick to it. But that is dwarfed by the lack of decisiveness in other fields, by ministers operating in a way, speaking in a way that is not inspiring confidence. It's like a vehicle losing speed. If you pick up speed with little energy you can work up the speed to higher levels. If you start losing speed it takes more to get the vehicle out of that deceleration and I think South Africa now needs some injection, some movement to take us forward but it is not forthcoming.
POM Just two last things, one is a personal summing up on which I have just three or four questions, and the other rather quick: at the moment who rules the country? Is it the National Executive of the ANC, the government, i.e. the Cabinet, or parliament?
DDV The role of parliament has increased. The committee system has contributed to parliamentarians taking a more active role in law making, calling on witnesses and people to make representations, so the role of parliament has increased. One of the benefits of our new democracy has been a far more democratic process in parliament. But your question as I understood it goes much deeper, it's not only who works or how legislation is being made, who is really in command, where lies power within the ANC?
POM Or within the state.
DDV Or within the state. Well, I would still say that as far as the state is concerned it's very much the Cabinet and the majority party in the Cabinet. Although they have to do it slowly and differently from how other parties did it, if they decide that they want to pursue a particular objective and want to legislate for it they will do it, they will use the typical party process to get it through the committees and eventually get it through parliament. So I have no doubt that they crack the whip where necessary, like the previous government did, and the power is very firmly in the hands of Mr Mbeki and the President and those who are supporting them in the Cabinet and down through parliament.
POM So you would see the NEC as being subordinate to the Cabinet rather than the other way round?
DDV Yes. I don't think any political party in power is run by its head committee, in no country of the world that I know of, and practical reality demands that the ANC takes decisions as they go along. The NEC meets from time to time. It's true that critical issues go to the NEC as all parties do, their head committee or whatever central decision making body they have in the party plays an important role but it is eventually over-shadowed by those in power talking first of all of the President, the Deputy President and then the wielders of influence and power within the ANC, and I think the same applies there.
POM The two last: one, could the Holomisa affair have been handled differently? Did the ANC just handle it badly or were they intent on sending a message out and if so what was the message? And finally, in your own career what was the high point and the low point? What was the moment that gave you the moment of extreme satisfaction that you had being in public life and the moment when you felt least satisfaction at being in public life?
DDV Well first of all the Holomisa affair, make no bones about it Holomisa is not an easy person. I know him, he was my deputy and although we got on well he is a complex and a difficult man and he showed himself as such within the ANC, not on one occasion but on more than one occasion. Whether one feels sympathetic towards his cause, the fact that he went public to attack the Deputy President and by implication the President and that regardless of internal efforts to manage the situation he time and again used the public platform to wage his war within the ANC, made it impossible for them to resolve the issue, and I think you're quite right, they decided, look we are strong enough to show dissidents in our own ranks that we are a party of discipline, no-one is bigger than the leadership and Holomisa might be a good one to start with. No other member of the party has challenged them to the extent that Holomisa did. They had voices in the past criticising the party but they very quickly dealt with such persons, had discussions and resolved it, but Holomisa moved so fast he hardly gave them time to catch up with him and I think that is the message they want to send out strongly to say whether you're a big shot in the NEC you're not bigger than the leadership and you have publicly actually abused your position to openly criticise and attack the leadership and not only attack them on a policy measure, you have actually, one can say rightly or wrongly, they would say wrongly, you have suggested that they were corrupt. Be it the President where he was a bit more articulate in that case, but he did say with the knowledge that Sol Kerzner gave the ANC money, might have given the President the money, he went public on that and then suggested that Mbeki is not honest and is not honestly handling funds given to the party. Things like that I think pushed it just too far and they wanted to make an example of him.
What his future is going to be is difficult to say but politics in South Africa will be very different to other countries if he succeeds in getting an opposition group going. I don't know, I don't think so. I think, sadly in a way, that Holomisa will be sidelined for a long, long time. However, he is young and he is well known and he is charismatic, he has got very good qualities as well. Perhaps he can put it all together and as the political landscape changes get the right niche and get a foothold back in politics but I don't see it through the ANC unless he now goes into the wilderness and really proves himself to be such a good boy and come back in two or three years on his knees and say just give me another chance. That might be another option but I don't think that is the option Holomisa would like to take.
POM On your moments of ...?
DDV Well the high point, certainly again points in this regard would not be so much the 24 most exciting hours, it was rather looking back, I talk in terms of periods. The transition to democracy with several high points but even in that process it had it's low points or it's more difficult and less pleasant moments. So that whole transition and that I could be part of it and play my modest role in it was certainly the highlight. I've achieved that, going back to our first point of discussion, and that is one reason why I feel I have now achieved in politics in my lifetime the best I could have hoped for. So it might be a good time to call it a day.
The low point or the low points, I would say my low points and there were many and often, are more the frustration of politics. It is quite frankly a world where dog eats dog, where ambition is very often the source of people's actions. I won't if I leave politics, I won't miss politics, the hurly-burly of politics. I'm not a political animal in that way. Perhaps values and views and philosophical ideas were more the things that I enjoyed. So I am not a wheeler dealer kind of politician and politics in all parties, party politics and the dark side, the hard side one would say that goes with it, that was not very pleasant to me and I don't want to link them to incidents and experiences but there are many as there are many high points. Perhaps that is true of any career that the frustrations and the operations of people in the office or at the workplace do provide a dark side or a less pleasant side of one's experience. But I look back on a very full and exciting political life. I have been in politics 24 years now and I have been in the Cabinet three months short of 16 years and the period that we're talking about was really the period of change and dramatic change for that matter. So I must say, never a dull day, that's true. Perhaps that is also the time to retire.
POM OK. Thank you ever so much.