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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Mar 1997: James, Wilmot
POM First of all, again, thank you for being part of this study which I think is the longest ranging study done on the transition with no visible results yet but good scholarship may depend upon waiting. I'll begin with the whole question of this rift in Afrikanerdom between Die Burger and Hermann Giliomee and others, they didn't quite say it was time for FW to go but he used the word 'surrender' in London which seems to be one of the key things that led at least people like Ebbe Dommissee to an editorial reply that surrender was (giving everything away). Is this an attack on the part of the Afrikaner intelligentsia who are displacing the politicians or is it one more internal problem?
WJ This battle is being fought out, if that's the word, between personalities and it's very difficult to actually read whether there is anything more behind it than simply just a group of individuals and Hermann Giliomee is a key person in that and I think that he's actually being quite mischievous.
POM Hermann is on your board, right?
WJ No he's not.
POM I thought he was.
WJ Hermann Giliomee? No, no, he's President of the South African Institute of Race Relations. No, he's not on my board. And probably more than mischievous. The statement that targeted FW as having given everything away, the Afrikaans word is oorgawe, which is just to give away, was I think used to make a political point that is not entirely clear to me other than to say that it's a result of what seems to be Hermann being dwars, which is an Afrikaans word for being obstinate and stubborn about something and it's not clear what that is, because I don't know what the demands are.
POM But this was my question to Ebbe Dommissee, that if you all knew that the Record of Understanding was going to be the end of the game, so to speak, and then that it was capitulation and that out of that there resulted an interim constitution and then a final constitution why has it taken all these things so long to come to a head? Why haven't they been voiced before?
WJ And what did he say?
POM He said because FW had used the word 'surrender' and surrender is like a key word to the Afrikaner, that an Afrikaner never surrenders. He said that when he rang up FW afterwards and FW said, "I didn't mean surrender, I really meant relinquishing of power", which are two different concepts, but the use of the word surrender seemed to ignite obvious fears that are there.
WJ My own sense is that whatever this is leading to it is not leading to political destabilisation. I don't see any potential for that. I see this as some kind of struggle over who is to lead what remains left of the National Party. A lot of that is over-stated. Giliomee speaks about rifts within the NP that seem to follow the lines of Hernus Kriel on the one side, FW on the other side and with Roelf Meyer stuck somewhere in between. I think that notion of rift is over-stated but clearly the NP is in the throes of a conundrum about how it can build a bigger electoral base that is not racially exclusive and is not ethnically exclusive and it doesn't seem to have a whole lot of room to manoeuvre, but it's certainly going to try. I don't know what Roelf Meyer has in mind. He seems confident in his ability to build a new kind of movement but what that would look like and how you would proceed I'm not quite sure. So this is in-fighting but to the extent that it is in-fighting it's among a small number of people. I don't know where the Afrikaner intelligentsia stands. I know where Hermann Giliomee stands but there is more to it than him.
POM If you had to put that in the context of one of the scenarios bandied about of the Hernus Kriel factor in the Western Cape trying to tie up the white vote and the coloured vote and drive a wedge between that and the African vote so they can maintain hegemony, here it's an argument, what do you think of it?
WJ That's what they've done up till now.
POM By the year 2004 there is going to be a majority of Africans in the Western Cape so it's an extraordinarily short-sighted policy.
WJ I must say I have had no reason to look at the demographic figures but I would be surprised if that were so. The rate of movement into the Western Cape on the part of the African community has stabilised and I think it would take some major shifts in demography in the Western Cape to lead to a point where Africans would be a majority. I would look at that again if I were you. But even so it would be short-sighted to actively exclude the African community from a potential lateral base. I think that in practice what the NP has done is try to (split) the African and coloured vote even though they give it a gloss and say that that is not what they are doing, but the way in which the 1994 elections were conducted that's what it was. They deny it. The way in which the local government elections were also conducted is consistent with that view and I don't see any reason why they would not want to do the same thing in 1999. I haven't seen any new ideas come out of there. The one set of new ideas around the constituency has been to sell the notion of a middle class system of values and try and build a middle class party. The problem is that a big portion of the middle class in the Western Cape and in Cape Town in particular is an English speaking one and although they have quite a bit of support there for the NP there's also quite a bit of support for the DP.
POM Now you wrote about that recently yourself that they needed to include the middle class as a necessary ingredient both for development and for social cohesion. Is that middle class, is that African middle class developing or is that white middle class still there or are they getting more alienated? What's your sense of alienation?
WJ Well that piece was about building public confidence in a section of our society where there is a concentration of wealth, of skills and expertise and so on and that you cannot alienate that section of the country and that there is quite a bit of cynicism there that can be reversed if a number of things are done and to actually make a deliberate effort, certainly on government's part, to project some of its policy goals in a manner that builds confidence in that class. Now who that class is, how it is constituted, there has been quite a shift in terms of black people into certain sectors of that class but the shift has not been significant when it comes to property ownership, when it comes to business ownership, when it comes to certain key sectors of the professional classes. But certainly the movement in the civil service, into government, and we will very soon see some of the outcomes of education and training initiatives and that middle class will become one that has a significant black segment contained within it. It will be very good if one can seriously move away from racial politics and see whether politics could be played along class lines. I think it would be for everybody's benefit if that happened.
POM That doesn't happen any place in the world.
WJ Oh I don't think racial politics are necessarily permanent.
POM Hermann is talking about infinity.
WJ Yes, I think that class politics are possible in this country.
POM How? These are the readings I get and tell me whether they are right or wrong or whether you agree or disagree. One, the NP is in total disarray. One part of it is designed to consolidate and build up party structures; you have another part that says we want to replace the NP with an entirely different movement that's part of a bigger umbrella and more inclusive and whatever. They are both contradictory. Two, you've got the attack on FW as having sold out Afrikaner rights, surrendered them particularly in language and culture and there is a growing resentment of that, so which way does the party play with regard to that issue? Does it consolidate it's base among Afrikaners which would be contrary to reaching out to the broader African community? Is the thing that keeps FW in power the fact that he, like Mandela, is the glue, that there is no heir apparent, he still has the personality and the charisma to hold things together even when he holds contradictory, or tries to reconcile contradictory, views? Which ones are going to win?
WJ I suppose there's some truth in that. I don't know what motivates FW. Some people say that he should in fact step down, that his time is over, his time has been over for the last two years, that he is going to end up like Gorbachev.
POM What do you believe?
WJ I'm not sure. I think that Mark Gevisser wrote quite a nice profile on him, a bit hard, a full page profile on FW.
POM This was in The Independent?
WJ Yes. I thought it was quite a harsh one in some ways but it did make a number of interesting points and the one is that he doesn't think that FW in fact finally changed, there are limits to his capacity for transformation which means that if he was to step down, if he stepped down a year ago he could have stepped down in full glory, but now it seems like he is going to probably hold up what would be the changes necessary within the NP and he is probably standing in the way of change in terms of what the debate within that party is. I don't have a very clear view on it, I don't know enough about what goes on inside the NP. I think that Roelf Meyer is probably a little frustrated, I guess.
POM He is sitting in there in a nice room like this with a big jotter in front of him and a piece of paper and he is supposed to put together a realignment. What possible realignment do you think, at this point in time, it is possible to put together that would make any ideological and racial sense and given the apartheid struggle that might condemn the ordinary people to be rather stupid in the way they make their judgements?
WJ What would a new National Party offer anybody? When they were in the government of national unity they at least could offer deputy ministerships and ministerships to people. They can't do that now. They have lost that perk, that avenue. They presently control the Western Cape so there's a bit of room there but the potential benefits for new constituencies and new leadership in those constituencies I feel are very, very small to zero and so unless avenues open in the Western Cape and presently they are not. The senior leadership of the NP in the Western Cape is white Afrikaans and their most senior political person who is not white is Patrick McKenzie who doesn't exactly command a great deal of respect across the board either in the white community or in the coloured community. So there are blockages in terms of leadership possibilities in the NP in the Western Cape on the one hand and they have very little to offer beyond this province. The only thing that they actually have to offer is FW's international reputation.
POM Which is going down the drain rapidly.
WJ Yes. I don't know, what is Roelf Meyer going to do? I don't see where there is room for manoeuvre.
POM OK, so if there's no room for manoeuvre, that you can't move to the right or to the left and you're caught in the dilemma of the past, are you really a party that's in the process of disintegration?
WJ That might happen.
POM What would your own view be as an academic?
WJ No I just think that -
POM If you analysed it how would you see it?
WJ I don't know what the forces of disintegration are. Maybe they can just hold out for a while and try and keep things together. And it depends on the scale and intensity of the struggle within the party in leadership ranks. I'm not being cautious because I necessarily want to be. I don't know what the forces of disintegration would be.
POM Who do you represent? Do you go back representing Afrikaner interests, language, culture, which compartmentalises yourself into a minority party doing one thing, or do you reach out to the broader community which means that those values have to be less affirmed or other values taken into account and can they accommodate both? For example, the question I asked you, can FW have the Deputy General Secretary saying, build up the structures of the party and consolidate them and on the other hand saying to Roelf Meyer, go into a room and devise a mode where we have to destroy the whole party, kill it off, change names, change banners, change whatever, change symbols? There's a basic dichotomy here that to me seems irreconcilable. If you accept that then what would, in your view, be the future of the NP?
WJ I would say the future of the NP is uncertain. It doesn't have a positive strategy on the one hand and it doesn't have room to manoeuvre on the other. If it was placed to take advantage of what will be a failure on the part of the ANC to deliver in a variety of ways leading up to the 1999 election it might be able to gain some black support but I don't see that. I don't see the PAC picking it up, I don't see the DP picking it up, Bantu Holomisa's new party might pick up some, I'm not sure. I see some percentage of the ANC vote going away from the ANC but I don't see it going anywhere else. It's feeding into a category of people who would be disaffected.
POM The stay-at-homes.
WJ Stay-at-home, yes.
POM I remember before we talked about multi-party democracy and the possibilities for it. After our last conversation do you see the possibilities for that increasing or diminishing, in fact that the only force for change can come on the alliance side, that if it breaks up it will change the way things are but if it holds together essentially you have a one-party state with Tony Leon out there screaming or making good debating points or pointing out deficiencies but you don't have a viable alternative opposition?
WJ I'm actually quite worried about this thing because one of the things that Tony Leon mentioned coming out of the meeting with Mandela was that he offered the example of Zimbabwe as what he had in mind and I think that's actually frightening that that's what the thinking is on that level. I had no idea it was like that. It's hard to make sense of it.
POM He made that when Mugabe tried to - ?
WJ Essentially draw in Joshua Nkomo. That's another story in a way because Zimbabwe had its own problems at the time. I think what is at issue there is the fact that within ANC ranks it seems that there's a perception that there's a key section of the white community, that doesn't have a voice and is not represented in some way, that are clinging to decision making structures and with the NP leaving the government of national unity there has been no replacement in terms of that constituency. That's what Willie Hofmeyr says, I'm not sure whether you've seen the articles in the Cape Times, what that does is actually play back to in fact in some ways racial corporate politics that you need to have, you've got four different communities and they have to be represented in some way in decision making structures in order to have, I guess, political stability. If you have a disintegrating NP, possibly you have a DP that can't grow much bigger than what it is now, you have a PAC that has some potential for growth but not a whole lot, and you have an IFP that will be led by Buthelezi into the next century and where it's base is also largely provincial, and you have some disaffection from the ANC, the chances are that come 1999 you will still have an ANC-dominated government with a comfortable electoral majority and yet there seems to be an effort within the ANC to co-opt people into it. Now it's not clear to me why.
POM Is co-option a matter of co-option or is it in the interests of trying to eliminate opposition?
WJ Yes, but why, is the question? I don't understand why they would want to do that. What's the point?
POM I think one thing which has struck me over the years is that the ANC doesn't particularly like criticism. You still hear the old call about things, for example, the story about Basson was broken by The Sunday Times and Ronnie Kasrils came out and made a statement that this was one more example of the white media exploiting an issue, where in fact The Sunday Times is now owned by NAIL. In fact it's black owned.
WJ Yes. Then maybe the ANC, and it's cheaper and easier just to deal with the criticism rather than to build a strategy for co-option based on some sense that criticism is not to be tolerated. It's easier. It's easy for them to live with the criticism. What's the big deal? So they get criticised, so what? So you dismiss it or you deal with it or you keep your channels of communication open and it won't cost a whole lot of money to develop a different strategy for dealing with the media if they are willing to do that.
POM They're buying it out, right?
WJ What I have great difficulty with is the notion that co-optive politics is a response of a party that has a hold over the electorate but nevertheless can't stand criticism and therefore they are going to go out and co-opt the people who are criticising them. I think there are easier ways to deal with this problem, much easier, because it might be ironic in the end that by virtue of the intolerance of criticism, and they are to some degree, and the knee-jerk to it and so on, that they are their worst enemies, that they might in fact begin to lose support in certain quarters because of their intolerance of criticism. It's one thing if this was a minority government or had 50% support in the electorate. It doesn't, it has 63%, probably down to 57% now or so, so why don't they just act with some confidence on that basis and find more sophisticated means of dealing with the media?
POM If you had to give your primary criticism of the government after three years, the government of national unity or whatever you want to call it at this point, what would your criticism be, where is it failing in trying to achieve its own professed core values?
WJ It's failing, I think, in three respects, at least they have shortcomings in three respects, at least three key ones. The one is inability to deliver in certain key areas, which is tied into an inability to reform a state structure. There is a lot of talk about public sector reform and public sector efficiencies but there is no capacity within government to actually reform itself on that level, so that we have certain departments of state that probably should not exist and others that ought to be shaken up in some way and that existing initiatives are not having much effect. That's one area. The second area has to do with our foreign policy. We don't have one. What do we have? We have a government that does essentially two things, it mixes opportunism with a rhetorical commitment to human rights and democracy values and doesn't have a strategic sense about what it ought to be doing in Africa and whether it should play any role at all beyond that. I think the way in which the Taiwan/mainland China story was managed was not good. Foreign policy, I think, doesn't exist, I think it's one of the weakest areas and we have a window, I think, a three, four year window and that window will shut very quickly. We are already beginning to get the reputation globally that we don't know what we're doing.
POM Was that partly the appointment of Alfred Nzo as Minister for Foreign Affairs, the most sensitive portfolio in any government?
WJ It's easy to blame Alfred Nzo just because he doesn't have much of a presence and he doesn't have much - I mean I don't think there is a lot of political will there to turn things around in a department that's not been reconstructed, but I think it's not just him. It's hard to get anything out of that department.
POM So in that sense do you believe that the third force, whatever amorphous force that is, still exists in some way? People point out to me that the under-reporting of crime is due to almost a conscious lack of effort on the part of the police to go and get criminals, that they want to show that South Africans will go the way of the rest of Africa, that they can't make it, that there's that mentality still deeply ingrained in the white mind, in the white establishment?
WJ I don't know about the third force theory. I just think that there are no new ideas to the extent that if they had new ideas in the Department of Foreign Affairs, talking about foreign policy, they are not coming out. They are not emerging and they are not being translated into a strategic positioning which is what foreign policy should do.
POM People keep saying this government is brilliant at producing white papers, green papers, yellow papers, whatever kind of paper you want to call it, but they can't translate those papers into something that hits the ground and that what stands in between is the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy is still white controlled. Is that a correct perception, it's still a reactionary - ?
WJ I would say that that is certainly true in my most direct experience with the Department of Home Affairs over immigration, for example. But it tends to be reactionary and it tends to be influx control moved to the borders kind of approach. Now I'm not sure whether that holds across the board but it's also true that in circumstances where people were never asked to regenerate new ideas about how to do things very differently that just doesn't come out and it's not initiated. I don't think that there's a lot of support for innovative approaches on the level of policy in this country. There's an anti-intellectualism that floats around within government. There's a suspicion that floats around in terms of what people do at universities and so on.
POM Does that worry you?
WJ Yes it worries me deeply.
POM I was going to ask you, how do they see IDASA which is critical, forthright. Are you regarded as friend, enemy, neutral or somebody just merely to be suspicious of?
WJ I think we're regarded as trouble. I think that what has become clear to many people is that we're going to be around. I think many people thought that we'd sort of disappear off the map just because that's what's been happening with non-governmental organisations. But we're going to be around and be around for a long time and because of that there is actually quite a lot of effort being made at this time to establish some kind of decent relationship with us. That's the one thing. The other thing is that some people do see us as providing a kind of a neutral platform and gives credibility to initiatives that they think are important. I think our role in the Immigration Green Paper is a case in point. It gives it a stamp that they can't give it. I'm not saying that's the only consideration but I think that's there.
POM The Truth & Reconciliation Commission, where is it going? Are the contradictions inherent in the concept of granting amnesty and the rights of victims and the fact that you have security people standing up there on the stand confessing to all kinds of grizzly murders, looking at their watches and saying, "Jesus, I've 15 minutes more to go and I'll have amnesty and then I'm out of here. I have no remorse and I don't give a damn, I'd do it all over again." Do you think that there is, what I've sensed in some places which I didn't a couple of years ago, is a deepening of black anger that so many people are going to walk?
WJ What is it that somebody once said? It's about reconciliation and not justice. The problem is that if you don't have justice then how far does the reconciliation really go? And it's actually a very hard thing to measure. I don't know whether we are reconciling ourselves and how. It's one of those vague propositions. I think that that commission would have to do something about that black anger. It can't do it because it's there and people are really just going mad.
POM Once upon a time we were told, like at the end of apartheid, about ubuntu and blacks didn't have any bitterness against whites, but as I see it as these revelations come out and what was actually done is that in fact there is a bitterness growing twofold, one because of what was done, how it was done and two, because most of the people will just walk.
WJ And are clearly not repentant either.
POM They don't give a damn. As I said, watching their watches.
WJ Difficult. The TRC's brief is what it is and it's set up in a way that makes it very difficult for them to go beyond what would be the writing of a report based on what these people tell them, and yes they will walk and that's the risk and it's a question of how you manage that risk. I think they would have to think quite hard about how to respond to what are pockets of black anger and not to generalise it but to ask what exactly is it that we are talking about? There are some families that are directly affected who look at this farce, well it's not a farce, but they look at this thing and they say a bunch of priests are there on this Truth Commission and we have a confessional procedure and they are happy, they've got the information but what about us? And so that commission must be able to respond to victims and they have made quite a number of promises in the course of the hearings and I'm not sure whether they have the money to do something about it, and secondly they must really think about what it is they do in a genuine sort of way that would make people feel a bit better about the fact that some people are going to walk.
POM It maybe comes down to the crucial question, if one of the frames of reference is that if you committed an act that was within the political policy of your party or whatever at the time then it qualifies for amnesty within those parameters. Who can say whether a Eugene de Kock, corrupt, psychotic, whatever you want to call him, didn't still think he was fighting a war?
WJ Where does one draw the line and who makes that judgement? They would have to make that judgement.
POM Who makes the judgement?
WJ The Truth Commission should. The Amnesty Committee has to.
POM How do they? What are the yardsticks?
WJ They have to develop yardsticks. I don't know what these yardsticks should be.
POM For example, this whole thing, which I thought very reasonable of people in the security forces saying people who were our informers now occupy high positions in government should be named, seemed to be eminently reasonable and something that should be said, "Of course", and yet there was a resistance to it initially. Why? Because it would be destabilising, because it would expose too many people?
WJ I don't know. I presume that that's why, that there is a judgement call being made on whether political stability would be impaired or not.
POM So which bit was more important? Political stability or truth?
WJ Based on the assumptions we just made, political stability becomes the most important. So I don't know how deep the independence in fact, and strength of mind and application, runs within the TRC if that's the calculus. It must be the calculus otherwise why would they? They're reasonably intelligent people. They can make good judgements about procedure. So who are these informers is the question? If they are high up in government, how high up in government?
POM I'm just using this as an example, not that it's true at all. What if somebody said Mac Maharaj, for instance, and if other people began to be named who were playing both sides of the coin, it would tear it even further. So what becomes of the national interest and what becomes in the interests of truth? And truth has nothing to do with reconciliation because it depends upon whose truth you're talking about.
WJ There's always danger in releasing names of spies because people can be mischievous, the police can be very mischievous if they want to. People have been named as spies in the past and that can damn and destroy them and it's not true, so you have to be very careful about that thing. The effect downstream could be extraordinary, so it is risky.
POM I'm asking you some of these questions because I'm going to join Alex Boraine on a panel in Ireland in June on boundaries and truths and they are going to deal with reconciliation and I have decided that I am going to attack, not attack, argue against the manner in which the arrangements were put together here, that in fact they can lead to some form of justice, they can hear, the voice of the victim being heard all the time, but that they don't lead to reconciliation and it may in fact increase polarisation and in the end run, in the interests of political stability a lot of people are going to simply get off the hook. So there's a falsity, your Cronjés and your De Kocks and people like that are ... oh my God they're so evil, they don't belong to us, they ought to belong in jail anyway.
WJ Put them down a mine shaft.
POM Put them down a mine shaft! Think if the apartheid government had ever come up with that idea!
WJ Oh my goodness. It's horrendous. I can't believe it. And somehow people take it seriously. This Truth Commission is a very risky, tricky business.
POM If I were to ask now how do you see it playing itself out in the next six months?
WJ I think it's going to be subject to political pressure from political parties, including the ANC.
POM That's Matthews Phosa looking for his meeting again tomorrow on what's an unjust and a just war.
WJ A lot of pressure because this Truth Commission is going to publish its report a year before the election and it actually has the capacity to do some very serious damage, I am sure, to the fortunes of parties running up to the 1999 election. If it decides to release names of spies, for example, if it decides to do X, Y and Z and parties are going to try and interfere, the ANC will try and interfere I am sure, very much, because that report is supposed to be a statement about what happened over the last 30 years, covering both sides where in its initial brief it established moral equivalence between the ANC strategies and apartheid's repressive policies. So it might become - I would be surprised if it didn't become one of the key election campaign issues. What shape that would take I am not sure.
POM Just finally, as you know I've dealt in Ireland for a long, long time and I have absolutely no tolerance at all for the violence of the IRA. I can find no morally justifiable ground for it since their people have other options including the right to vote and freely express themselves. If you took when uMkhonto was founded it was like when the apartheid hammer was at its worst and black people had absolutely no way of being heard whatsoever so that their only recourse was to violence and I accept that. I accept the violence of the ANC where I cannot accept the violence of the IRA because I see again on moral equivalence that they are different, but for a repressive state to say that we are no different than the people we systematically and completely and thoroughly, and it's been documented, oppressed is a third factor. So where would you come down? Is there a moral equivalence or do you think the ANC by and large tried to fight a just war?
WJ Oh I don't think there's a moral equivalence because you're dealing here with using the resources of a state to suppress, repress and commit acts of extreme brutality against people and closing off the political space and being driven by a morality and an ideology that cannot be defended on whatever grounds, as opposed to a liberation movement that - I actually agree with Kader Asmal on this one - that, yes, there were excesses committed, that's true but they were incidental, and that the basic cause of the ANC is morally superior by far to anything the NP and the apartheid regime could dream up and so on those grounds I don't think there is any moral equivalence. I don't think violence is entirely reducible, I don't think the issue should be seen entirely through the prism of violence. It has to do with ideas and commitment to morality and so on. But it's still a grey area in the end whose violence is morally different and so on. So I always think that there's an element of doubt about that in the end.
POM Does this not become one of the undermining features of the TRC itself, that it can't define what was morally justifiable and morally non-justifiable? That there's, again, a basic dichotomy that conceals the basis of truth and justice?
WJ That will be the difficulty. Why do you make the judgement calls on these things? And it almost seems like you have to do it case by case and you would need to have some kind of legal process to deal with this. It might be a good idea for the Truth Commission to call in some legal advice, proper legal advice, in terms of how to resolve certain problems and so on, and it might be a good idea for it to actually take a strong stand and say in terms of this particular person we are not going to grant amnesty for the following reasons and we are going to refer this to the courts and we're going to initiate prosecution in that way. If it does it now nobody else is going to come forward.
POM But would that not be in legal terms double jeopardy? That you have confessed on the basis of understanding one thing and now you're being prosecuted on the evidence you gave against yourself on another?
WJ It could be. It can't get out of this dilemma otherwise. It's in a way a no-win situation. You should have an interesting conversation with Alex Boraine in Ireland.
POM I'm going to see him before then but I am going to see him there too. Thank you.