About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

03 Dec 1996: De Klerk, FW

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POM     Let me begin, Mr de Klerk, by asking you a question. After 2½ years into the middle of the social and political transformation and half way through President Mandela's first and last administration, are you pleased with the way things in the new South Africa are shaping up or do you have grounds for lots of disappointments, that the vision that you had of what things would become or might become is not quite panning out in the way that your original vision imagined it to be?

FDK     There is not a simple answer to that question because it's yes and no. I have many concerns, many South Africans are deeply concerned about a number of things in our country at the moment and we are highly critical about how those issues are being handled. It can be handled much better. A list of those concerns would include the seeming incapability to really come to grips and put the foot down on the crime situation. It would include the whole management of the country as a result of unwise affirmative action. I support affirmative action, but not unbalanced and over hasty  affirmative action. Such a lot of expertise and experience have been lost in many departments that we have a management problem. That list would include a feeling of apprehension that the ANC leadership might in the end not, and I'm not just referring to President Mandela, in the broader sense not be strong enough to resist the pressures from within their own power base, from people who are unhappy with the compromises which have been made with regard to economic policy, with regard to the economic direction of the country and a number of other things.

     On the other hand, on the positive side we have a good constitution. It more or less contains the most fundamental things that I would like to see there. I think it's a shortcoming that it does not contain a consensus seeking model at executive level. We made a very sensible proposal which was rejected. But the most important thing is that it limits the power of all structures. It limits the power of parliament, it limits the power of government, it contains a value system in its Bill of Rights and it creates mechanisms which can be effectively used to prevent a misuse of power. We are pointed in the right direction economically speaking. The fact that we were in the government of national unity afforded the opportunity for the ANC to accept compromises which in any event were inevitable from their vantage point. Unless we have economic growth, we cannot succeed.

POM     Would you regard the National Party as having had a major influence on the development of the macro-economic development plan?

FDK     Absolutely. It's for all practical purposes our policy, it was just re-packaged. It contains all the elements of a macro-economic plan which was already developed when Derek Keys was Finance Minister in the Cabinet under my presidency. So on the macro-economic side I am satisfied that we are doing the right thing and generally speaking, therefore, if I look back I would say that the pains and the concerns of today are challenges which we need to handle. There is no alternative for what we have gone through, there was no alternative and there is no alternative for what we still have to go through.

POM     I just want to run a statement by you because it was a statement that President Mandela made in his interview with The Sowetan to mark the 2½ year period into his term of office and he said in reply to a question: -

     "We have had criticism from certain senior black journalists who assume we have defeated whites on the battlefield and that whites are now lying on the floor helpless or begging for mercy and that we can impose conditions on them. They are not aware, for example, that a few weeks before the election we discovered a plan where the right wing wanted to stop the elections by force."

     Have you any idea what he was referring to?

FDK     He was referring to what Constand Viljoen recently said publicly. Constand Viljoen recently made a statement to say that he needs to apply for amnesty because he was involved in the planning of such an uprising but that that was intended to conquer a piece of South Africa and to establish unilaterally there the volkstaat, a nation-state for the Afrikaners, and that he was at the heart of that planning but that he now cannot apply because the amnesty cut-off date is 31st December 1993 or a date in December 1993 and it should be shifted to 10th May was his plea. This is being considered at the moment. So President Mandela was referring to the activities of the far right during that period.

POM     After six months of the ANC being in office on its own and the National Party being for the first time for a very, very long time being the major opposition on its own, how would you assess or evaluate the performance of both? What has the ANC been good at doing? What has it messed up? What has the National Party done well? What does it need, the machinery, the cogs of opposition, to get into better gear?

FDK     Vis-à-vis the ANC, in a number of fields since we left they began to move towards much stronger centralisation especially in the field of education. The new Schools' Bill is proof of that. We expect a green paper to be published on universities soon. So in a number of fields they have been moving towards centralisation which is a trend which I am concerned about. They are failing dismally to deliver on the Reconstruction & Development Programme and although the books of the government seem to balance one of the main causes for that balancing of the books is the incapability to spend money which has been set aside for good causes like building houses and the like and it's going to catch up not only with the ANC but with the country. The backlogs are growing instead of being reduced.

     As far as the National Party is concerned we are to a certain extent in a learning curve. We have undertaken some internal reorganisation to ensure that we become more effective as an opposition and that we play that role to the full. I now have a Central Parliamentary Policy Committee which in many democracies would be described as a shadow Cabinet and this new system is beginning to work very effectively. We intend to bring about a few more management changes in the months ahead and we have found our feet and relatively speaking I am satisfied with the progress that we are making. But we not focusing on just being an effective opposition. What sets us apart from all other opposition parties is that we're the only party which in a credible way says we want to become the biggest party in South Africa again. We are challenging the ANC. We want to be co-instrumental and play a leading role in that regard in achieving a realignment in South African politics, away from ethnicity and race.

     I think the most negative development, if we just return to the ANC, is that the ANC is relying heavily on racial emotions to make up for its lack of performance in retaining their support base. They are making racial appeals all the time. The quote that you read from what President Mandela says, it's an example of how regularly he and others continue to just discuss the problems of South Africa in terms of continued racial divides, in terms of continuously still classifying people primarily according to colour instead of really moving towards a true non-racial situation.

POM     Let me share with you three findings that have emerged out of a different study I was conducting, a copy of which I will send you just for your own information. It was about multi-partyism and the public funding of political parties. But there were three things that emerged, not just from that study but from other questions I have put to people in ANC, outside ANC, across the board, every sector of civil society, and within your own party. It is the belief that when you criticise the ANC in parliament or outside parliament that (i) it is seen by the ANC and (ii) it is seen by Africans as being an attack on Africans, the innuendo is somehow there that you're saying, "See, we told you you couldn't do it. See, we told you you were going to go the way under your rule the same as the rest of Africa and we're getting there quicker than we even thought." So that they resent that and that this poses a problem for your party in trying to reach out and attract African voters.

FDK     Yes I'm aware of that and in the last number of speeches I went out of my way to tell my audience that this image, perception is created by the ANC but that it is not true, that when I criticise Minister Zuma I don't criticise her because she is a black lady but I criticise her because she's wasting your and my money in how she manages the Health Department and her being black has nothing to do with my criticism. So I go out of my way to try and break down that perception. It's not the type of thing which gets published in the press but at least my audience hears it and judging from a black audience's reaction to that statement it drew a loud cheer.

POM     Do you not think it's a very difficult message that all levels of the party must be sensitised to the potential negative political consequences of what are perceived by ordinary black people to be not an attack on the ANC but on their competence, on their ability to run the country?

FDK     Oh absolutely. We constantly try to do that within our caucuses and our other structured meetings of opinion-formers within our party and of leading figures. We make ample use of research material in that regard. We carefully analyse public opinion polls which are held and which often include probing questions from which you can make the sort of conclusion that you've made from your own research now. So, yes, we're very sensitive to that. Our goal is to grow dramatically amongst black voters and we realise that we will have to change certain perceptions about us, we will have to convince them that our concern about their lot is real and that we're not a non-racial party in disguise actually continuously still being preoccupied by the protection of vested white interests. That is what we must break down.

POM     That comes directly to the second point which emerged and I was surprised, and this came primarily from higher structures within the ANC, and I was surprised by the, I won't say vehemence, but almost contempt with which the sentiment was expressed, and it was the sentiment that the National Party is not an effective opposition party, that it will never be an effective opposition party, (i) that it is and remains the protector of sectional white interests, (ii) that the party is an obstacle to transformation rather than an agent in making it happen, (iii) that you are like an irritating fly that must be brushed off occasionally, but brushed off is the operative word. And what concerned me was the dismissiveness with which they treated the National Party, saying that if real opposition emerges it will emerge from other structures that will be African driven whether it's new structures or a realignment over time in their own political structures or whatever, but they don't see you as a factor and that surprised me, I will go back to saying, the degree of certitude with which they said this, they had no respect for you.

FDK     I am, of course, not in a position to evaluate it in the same way as you do but let me say the very reason for that attitude is because I am the only one, not just me as an individual, and that which I represent which is issuing a challenge to them party politically and it is almost a puerile way of practising typical democratic conflict. Throughout my political career I have seen that people who lack arguments move towards dismissiveness, aggression and insult and that is the problem of the ANC, the underlying problem for this dismissiveness. Why do I say they lack argument? I'm not attacking their intellectual capacity or anything. They lack argument because the ANC has become a party without a philosophy, without a real philosophical basis. The cement which used to keep them together was to overthrow the so-called old regime and to break apartheid. They did not even have the full satisfaction of succeeding in doing it in the way that they wanted to do it. Apartheid disappeared not because the ANC had a victory but because the very people managing it admitted that it had gone the wrong way and that it had become morally indefensible. There wasn't a revolutionary victory. There was a peaceful transition. There wasn't an absolute take-over of power, there was a period of fundamental and deep power sharing. But suddenly this cement has disappeared and now you find pragmatists, non-communists, communists, hard-line socialists, capitalists all together in an alliance and in a political movement which seeks direction. That is why I say they lack argument.

POM     But is it not troubling, my question would be that in attempting or in the progress towards developing a true multi-party democracy

FDK     Culture.

POM     Culture. Is it not troubling when the major party in the country almost refuses to accept the bona fides of the major opposition parties?

FDK     Of course it's troubling. It's troubling if you take an objective view. I'm also at the receiving end of that. I also experience a lot of pettiness from the ANC with regard to simple pragmatic things arising from the fact that I am a former president. So I don't allow that to upset me. That is one of the reasons why we left the government of national unity because we saw in their attitude that everything is fine and everybody is praised and everybody is recognised as long as they don't form an obstacle and that there is an impatience in the ANC with criticism and that there is a basic rejection. I am convinced that the ANC has a concept of democracy which says that the internal democracy of the ANC is enough democracy.

POM     I'll talk to you about that in a minute.

FDK     And therefore there isn't tolerance and my party at the moment is the only party really challenging their authority and saying, "We are going to cut you down to size." Constand Viljoen, whose party has a racial basis, that against which the ANC always fought, is praised so regularly by the ANC but because he is (a) cuddling up to them, (b) he is being very subservient and (c) he doesn't try to take one single vote away from them. Before he starts speaking in parliament he is cheered by the ANC. I don't think that's good for democracy. Better then this dismissiveness. Underlying to that dismissiveness is not a lack of respect, it is a fear that they are losing their grip on their own support base because they are losing it.

POM     This is almost an aside question which deals more with the study I've done but I will throw it in because your input would be very helpful. You tell me how long I've got.

FDK     We have another eight minutes.

POM     Oh God no, give me fifteen please, I've come all this way.

FDK     OK.

POM     Let's go then to the important ones. If you were abroad and I was a head of state and I was meeting with you and I said, Mr de Klerk, what's going on in your country? It appears to have driven one member of their movement who was highly respected for his talent and his political expertise, Cyril Ramaphosa, out of the movement, it has closed ranks on the Sarafina affair although it seems clear even to us that she misled parliament, they had the expulsion of General Bantu Holomisa from the party on the grounds that by asking open questions he was bringing the party into disrepute, you had what amounts to the ousting of Premier Lekota of the Free State and his entire Cabinet and what amounts to the imposition of Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who is not even a member of the provincial or the state legislature, as premier and I don't know what the constitutional position is on that. You've had Peter Mokaba who was drafted to run by elements in the Northern Province for leadership, then he was told not to run he had too much work on his hands, something that was not raised when Dullah Omar wanted to run as head of the ANC in the Western Cape. You had the spectacle of the Premier of Gauteng, Tokyo Sexwale, having to call a press conference saying he wasn't going to run either for president or vice president in 1998. You had Jacob Zuma making this extraordinary statement in Durban two weeks ago that, to quote him directly, that anyone in the ANC who thinks the constitution is more important than the ANC is in trouble. You had even just this weekend Valli Moosa going to the KwaZulu/Natal ANC Congress and telling the two people who are running for Secretary that there had been a directive from above saying that neither of them were to run and the National Executive had chosen a third candidate. I would say, what's going on? What does this say about the future? Is this the internal democracy of the ANC? Is this a worrying trend that is now developing?

FDK     My basic reply would be that all the examples mentioned are visible evidence of the fact that the ANC is not a fully fledged political party as yet, is in transition itself and is managing itself very badly and that all this, while it might be very worrying for the ANC, might in the final analysis be very good for democracy in South Africa. So it's not all negative because it's the beginning of the breaking up of a party with too much power. Every South African now has full freedom of choice. The country needs a realignment and to get that realignment an essential thing which has to happen is that there must be a break up within the ANC according to philosophical lines and values because in the long term a sound multi-party democracy in South Africa must be deracialised maximally and must be built along values, policies, principles and for that we need inter alia the ANC to change. There are many scenarios. The two most likely ones are that the more radical leftist elements will in the final analysis get control of the ANC in which event one can expect a split towards the centre of more moderate people, or that the moderate element will retain control and you might see a more radical party to the left of the ANC growing. When that happens, (and I'm not banking on that in trying to achieve growth for the National Party, I'm targeting the support base of the ANC not the leadership), but when that happens it will greatly expedite this inevitable realignment of South African politics and I am confident that that realignment will leave us with a better and healthier democracy than the one that we have at the moment.

POM     Is the ANC as you know it today, after four or five years of dealing with them at all different levels and structures outside of government and in government, would you regard it as being a more autocratic party today than it was four or five years ago, or a more intolerant party with regard to criticism and opposition than it was four or five years ago, more a party given to less debate, open debate than it was four or five years ago?

FDK     Well I think it's easy to pay lip service to something if you don't also carry the responsibility. So it's easy to demand transparency when you're in a revolutionary movement and in opposition. The moment you get into government and carry the responsibility you need also decisiveness and if you don't have cohesion in your team and in your support base then the leadership is forced sometimes, and I am not defending everything that you have described, but then the leadership is forced to say, well this is how we will do it and if you don't like it remove me but I want it done that way.

     There were occasions when I had to do it. Let me give you an example. When we started losing by-elections I consulted my caucus before I announced the referendum but if I asked them to vote that day the majority would have said don't call a referendum. But somebody had to take a decision. We were drifting and I took the decision. They conformed, accepted it, worked very hard and we had a two thirds majority. If I lost it they would have removed me as leader of the National Party. So I have some understanding for some of the things that you describe, especially in a party which is boiling within. The ANC is boiling within so it's their way of trying to suppress these inner tensions in their party.

POM     Do you find the way they are dealing with the Free State situation in particular disturbing?

FDK     Oh yes, I find that absolutely because, because I would also say to that statement that everything you describe somehow or another relates to corruption and what we are seeing is we are seeing people being punished who are rising against corruption. Lekota is an example, the basis for Holomisa's removal is an example and so on and that is bad news.

POM     Has it also got constitutional implications that are disturbing? That the party moves in and - ?

FDK     It is a party's affair what processes it follows to elect, for instance, from within its ranks it's candidate to be a premier in one of the provinces. In our case it was the National Party of the Western Cape, it was still then the old Cape Province, which elected Kriel as their candidate for the premiership. When we then achieved a majority in the Western Cape he automatically became premier, I didn't appoint him. On the other hand when I was president I appointed ministers and they weren't elected, and like John Major and like anybody else the leader has the right to reshuffle and to say you will no longer be a minister. Now if the ANC made Lekota a premier on the basis that he was appointed to that position by the leadership of the ANC then from a constitutional point of view it is their right to say he will no longer be that and they will not be bypassing the constitution of the country in the sense that the new premier will still have to be elected. They will use their majority and it is their majority in the Free State which has to decide do we take orders on this issue from above or not?

POM     Do you think that the PR system with its emphasis on accountability to the party before the people - ?

FDK     No, no, the most shocking thing is that the ANC is more and more even saying openly that the ANC's interests come first and not South Africa's interests. And that statement by Zuma that the constitution of the ANC is more important than the constitution of the country is a shocking one.

POM     Why wasn't he pounced upon? There was absolutely no editorial comment, I saw very little statements from anyone.

FDK     I am also critical of a lack of incisiveness in criticism against the ANC. It is as if people want to keep the miracle alive at all costs and there is a forgiveness about faux pas and mistakes by the ANC which is unhealthy for democracy, and that forgiveness is not in the National Party any longer and that is why they hate our guts.

POM     Just four things to quickly run through. One is, I've heard this time more than before from across the board but particularly from I would say National Party adherents, that when they look back on the negotiating process they say that when Kobie Coetsee and whomever went to see Mandela in 1987, that period when they were talking together, that they came out of those talks believing here was a man you could deal with, drive a good bargain with, that one result of that was that when he was released that the National Party believed that they were dealing with a rag-tag bunch of amateurs, that on the National Party side they had sophistication that came out of, in part, the Namibian negotiations, they had a state bureaucracy, they had a lot of highly sophisticated people lined up, that as a result the National Party under-estimated the ANC, didn't think some positions through to their logical end, that they were in fact faced by a highly sophisticated ANC who had a very strategic sense of where they were going and knowing how they were going to get there and that in the end they took the National Party 'to the cleaners'?

FDK     Well I think people talking like that are trying to rationalise their concerns, their unhappiness about certain important practical things. I, for one, never under-estimated the ANC and never thought that the ANC would sit around the table without international support, without having tremendous funds at their disposal, which they had, and that we would have to deal with a very professional team, and that is how it was. What I've learnt about negotiations is that negotiators to both sides never satisfy those who initially mandate them because built into negotiation is you must make, if you want a deal, you must depart from your original proposals. And the very same dissatisfaction that you describe exists in the ANC ranks and there are powerful figures, and specifically in COSATU, which says that the ANC has made many too many concessions and have actually compromised their cause to such an extent that there are also accusations from those ranks against ANC people as having been sell-outs and as having done the cause that the ANC always stood for a lot of harm. So the challenge is to get people to say what we have at the moment is irreversible. We have a new constitution, the new South Africa is here, we must now make it work and we must identify that with which we are dissatisfied and we must use each and every channel including the political channel to change it.

POM     I think you said one time that party leaders should not get involved as negotiators, that it was their function to pick their negotiators knowing that the negotiators had a mandate but that the party leader knew that the negotiators would have to depart from that mandate, bring it back and that the party leader had to be there to back up and take the decision.

FDK     Take the decision in the final analysis. And we had a very refined and very regular report-back by negotiators to what was then the Cabinet and in the latest round of negotiations to a broader body called a Policy Committee and there was a lot of interaction between negotiators coming to tell me and other advisors what they were confronted with, redefining the mandate constantly, giving the green light, you can say yes for that but continue to fight this one, and I am sure that happened in the ANC ranks as well and in other parties. So negotiations carry with them almost inevitably disappointment as well as fulfilment because you get many things and as long as the final compromise is not weak-kneed, is not just a hash of things, is relatively sensible and workable, it's better than trying to settle a dispute in any other way. I am convinced that the final results of our negotiations were relatively good, although one could identify a list of ten things where if we had to write it it would have been written totally differently, and I am sure the ANC can identify ten things. They were against our new essential federal system, to give you one example. They would have written the property clause differently, etc., etc. The final result is not bad at all, that is why we voted for it.

POM     Two last things, one is on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the court hearings. When you listen to the allegations of Eugene de Kock and when you see people like Colonel Cronjé going before the Truth Commission, when you hear what Dirk Coetzee has to say, when you hear about the existence of hit squads in other provinces, not just at Vlakplaas, when you hear allegations about this organisation in which top government officials or whatever were involved, when you hear this litany of things that went on, are you sometimes more inclined to think that when Mr Mandela used to come to you in the early nineties and say that a third force existed and that it was trying to undermine and destroy the negotiating process, do you think in retrospect that his allegation at that time to you in hindsight might be more credible than it appeared at the time?

FDK     Yes obviously it looks like that but at no time did I disregard that allegation. Every time when there was sufficient, not evidence, evidence is too strong a word, but just sufficient indications, I took steps to have it properly investigated. Cronjé testified to Goldstone, which commission was appointed by me. The allegations around de Kock were investigated by the Harms Commission which was appointed by me. Until almost the very last, almost the very last report of Judge Goldstone he in his report said, "Thus far I have found no evidence of a third force", and it was only in his last reports when Cronjé and a few others came to the fore and started to give information that he said, "Now", he said it to me too, "Now I am beginning to believe there was such a third force"' I've given him each and every thing that he ever asked for, capacity, access to documents, whatever he ever asked of me I gave him. So I did my level best to try and get to the truth. Can I just lastly in that regard say that I have asked, for instance, General van der Merwe, "Did you know about what de Kock was doing?" And he said, "No." And if he didn't know and if General Fivaz, who was the general in charge of the finances of the police and who is now Commissioner of Police, didn't know then surely it's reasonable to say that I couldn't have had the knowledge that they were in a better position to have, in a direct line of command if it was even kept away from them and done in such an undercover way that they were not aware of.

POM     Were you shocked when General van der Merwe went before the Truth Commission to say that he had orchestrated the blowing up of Khotso House on the instructions of Adriaan Vlok who said he got direct instructions from P W Botha?

FDK     I am refraining at the moment from going into factual details.

POM     No, not fact, were you just shocked?

FDK     I am shocked by many of the things which are coming out but whenever I say that there is a knee-jerk reaction to say, but does that mean you were not in command, you were not effectively in control? And my reply is, no it doesn't mean that, it means that certain things were done but that no stone was left unturned to ascertain whether they were actually done. Secondly, if you really read the ANC submission to the Truth Commission they are saying exactly the same thing about serious misdeeds in their ranks, that their leadership didn't know, that their leadership cannot be held responsible for that which they didn't authorise and for that which doesn't qualify as a reasonable interpretation of their policies of the time.

POM     Last question which is a simple political question. Hernus Kriel in the Western Province is pursuing a strategy of trying to have a Western Cape constitution that would entrench power sharing for ten years after 1999 and is running into opposition from the ANC in particular, who want nothing to do with it. He wants to appoint ministers from the minority party, they have a say to appoint ministers and there is opposition to that. How does that fit into, in terms of what he's doing, how does that fit into your overall strategy?

FDK     It is the policy of our party that we should go for maximum consensus on issues of national or regional importance and we made a proposal that our final constitution for the country should do what he now says there. So what he is trying to do is a manifestation of what our actual policy is. Nationally, we also started out in the national constitutional negotiations by saying the government of national unity must continue for another five or ten years. The ANC rejected it. In a final effort to retain some element of consensus seeking we said OK, if a party gets more than 50% of the vote let that party form the Cabinet but let's form a consultative council which is more or less composed like the GNU next to it to which the government must refer all issues of national importance in an effort to get consensus. They rejected that. That's why we left the government of national unity. And if we were to win the next election we will try to effect, if we can get the two thirds, a constitutional change to provide for some sort of consensus seeking model and what Hernus is doing is he is negotiating for continued adherence to this principle in the province where we are the majority.

POM     To those who say, and there are many of them across the board from all political parties, including your own, that the idea that the National Party will in the short run attract millions of black votes is delusional, it's a denial of history, that it's simply not going to happen, what would your response to them be?

FDK     I would say that if we do nothing and if we don't come up with successful strategies they would probably be correct. In other words if the assumption is that we just carry on as we are at the moment it's going to take a very long time. But we don't plan to just carry on as we are at the moment. We plan to come up with strategies, we plan to make things happen. And I will say, well when Ernie Els was a youngster would you have believed that at 27 he would be number two in the world, when he fell over his own feet when he was small? Great things are the result of vision backed up by work, organisation, strategy, commitment, effectiveness. That's what we will have to come up with. We will have to change the image of the party in the hearts and minds of the black voters. That assumption is based on an expectation that nothing happens. We intend to make things happen.

POM     OK. Thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.