This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Mar 1997: Van Der Merwe, Koos
POM. Koos, what's going on? What's happening?
KVM. I can tell you immediately what's happening. Today is the birthday of my son and my grandson and both of them have my names. My son is 31, his son is one, so that's what's going on.
POM. It's the Triple-Koos Day.
KVM. It's a triple and the youngest one is called number four because he's the number four in the line that has the names Jacobus Hercules van der Merwe, it's a glorious day.
POM. That's terrific, so you have a birthday party this evening?
KVM. Not here but if I were a drinking man today it would have been the time for me to drown myself in whisky.
POM. There was a time when you were a drinking man?
KVM. There was a time when I did so much of my share that even my children and grandchildren need not drink because I have taken the full quota for us all.
POM. So in terms of politics?
KVM. What is going on in politics?
POM. It would appear to the eye that the NP is teetering on the brink of fragmentation or collapse, that the ANC is beginning to find itself beset by a set of internal difficulties arising out of the allegations that there are police informants who are in senior government posts.
KVM. The NP and all the other parties at the present moment are starting to prepare for the 1999 general election so you and I are talking in the environment of political parties now planning their act, getting their act together with a view to the 1999 elections. The IFP, my party, the Nats, the ANC, all of us are now planning and looking at structures and everything that is now being said, or not everything, but most that will now be said must be viewed from the point of view of the election. People are saying things with the intention of making propaganda now to get votes for the 1999 election so there may be a slight loss or even a greater loss of objectivity and truth in what is being said at the moment. If you look at them the ANC is very strong, certainly they have some difficulties, not only do they have the problem around who were spies for the previous regime, and I hear that Chris Hani was definitely one, Chris Hani was an informer to the old regime.
POM. Who else? I keep hearing of names.
KVM. Well hurling around names is also Modise, Mokaba, those are the important ones. Now I'm not sure whether that has an effect on the party. What will most probably draw votes away from the ANC will be the following. The first is that it is not going to be a liberation election again and that that political orgasm which was enjoyed by the country in 1994 will probably not climax again. It's going to be difficult therefore for the majority party, the ANC, to get its voters to the poll, you call it the turnout, and they will suffer most because the party with the greater support normally suffers most when the turnout is poor. They will also suffer because they have not produced. They have not produced in terms of promises, ordinary promises that every person will have a house and a car and a washing machine, whatever, and also they have not performed as a government. They are bad governors. As ministers, as a government, they are not doing well, they are not delivering. So I think the first strong point I want to make is that the ANC will get a knock from these factors that I've outlined, they will get less support because of that. Secondly, these impimpis or spies and so on, I don't think those things have a strong bearing on voter turnout. They will get past that. The other thing that may hurt them is Bantu Holomisa who is going to form a new political party. He will take away votes from them. How many is a different question but I would say that 3% could go to him.
POM. That would be primarily in the Eastern Cape?
KVM. It will be Xhosa territory. He was the strong man in Transkei for a long period. He had a good image and he has strong support. He will take away but not significantly. As you will see now the little ones may make up a shock for them. Let's say they lose a little, 2%, 3%, 4% because of the lack of good governance, the lack of what I've told you, let's say they lose 2% or 3% or 4% of that and they lose 3% or so to Holomisa, you now have maybe 7% that they can lose. They had 62% so this is taking them down to 55%, which causes that the red lights must shine for them. This is why when this year started you had the ANC quickly reacting to the courting by De Klerk of the other political parties. When De Klerk started this year saying that the opposition parties should move closer together, we must form a new movement and so forth, the ANC quickly reacted and I wondered at the time why until I have worked out this possible motive. They can be in trouble, they can certainly be in trouble if a combined opposition can get its act together. If they are forced down by the factors that I've indicated to you to around 55% and you then get an opposition together, and let me now address the opposition. The NP is really in dire straits. They had to decide between two options. The one option was whether to consolidate, in other words look at their power base which they gathered in 1994, seeing that their power base was mainly white and coloured, Afrikaans speaking coloureds, and to a lesser degree the Indians and practically no black votes. The one feeling in the NP could be that they must consolidate this power base, get them together, work with them, get many more dynamic young coloured people into parliament and into positions and make sure that they cement that power base, reinforce it.
. The other grouping in the NP feels that they should go for black support and therefore not consolidate so much but go for black support. However, I believe that the Nats had a report from Markinor at the end of November indicating that they will not get significant black support. Now we could have told them that long ago but clearly the Roelf Meyer's and the others who persisted in their opinions that they can get significant black support, then knew that it's out of the question. They then went into the bush, where maybe they should have stayed, but they went into a bosperaad in the bush and they came back and they then published this idea of getting a big group of concerned South Africans together, drawing into their fold inter alia the IFP. Why the IFP? Because it's the only other political party in South Africa with significant black support. If they could get the IFP with them then they have a key to open a door to black support to them. We have two million blacks who voted for us in 1994 and we could increase that. If, therefore, the IFP were to join the Nats in their new movement and if, for instance, the DP were prepared to move in and the Freedom Front and a number of people, then just putting them together and donning them in a beautiful modern dynamic suit and present this really as a party with good governors, saying that the difficulty with the present government is not the ghosts of apartheid and communism and socialism and all that, but the difficulty now, the current one, is lack of ability to govern and that we are the people who can govern the country properly, we will govern properly, and then move in and move to the black people through the IFP and others.
. Then it is possible to drop the ANC down to 49% theoretically. With this in mind I think the ANC at the beginning of the year saw the red lights and went out and made Buthelezi the Acting State President for two days until Mbeki came back and are courting Buthelezi and are kind to us and say let's forget the past, let's work together and so on. So they have a motive for doing that. They are not just kind to us, nice to us. On the other hand the NP is trying its utmost best to get people together, therefore the NP I think is facing a death threat. If they don't get significant black support from the IFP where will they get it?
POM. I was talking to somebody in the IFP in Durban and their opinion was that if De Klerk thinks that he can make a deal with the IFP after the way he lied to us in 1992 and 1993 and was party to the supposed negotiations, international mediation, he simply thinks that we are fools.
KVM. Yes I would go along with that opinion on the face of the situation as it is. It is extremely unlikely for the IFP to work together with the Nats on a sort of an official alliance basis for the simple reason that we feel we cannot trust them. We cannot trust De Klerk, we cannot trust Roelf Meyer for largely the reasons that you have mentioned now. They let us down at CODESA. When they had the opportunity to assist us and work with us they opted to work with the ANC, they let us down. They let us down on international mediation, they let us down on numerous other things and they actually lied to us according to some of the ministers. So it's extremely unlikely. Now we then, the IFP, let me take us, we have one of three possible options. We can join with the Nats and others, which is unlikely, we can join with the ANC which I think is also unlikely, or we go it alone. I think that's the option and we could probably improve our position if we start timeously like we've done.
. Now just back to the Nats again, it is really a problem for them because the only two parties through which they can get significant black support are the ANC and the IFP. There is nothing else and both of them will probably reject the hand of the NP. So what do they do then? This is a serious problem for them and also they are facing internal difficulties. Some people are getting very strongly against Roelf Meyer and others and then De Klerk has another group, I don't know whether they surround him but the unbelievable thing happened in that De Klerk said they are going to unbundle the NP. God alone knows what that means to 'unbundle' a party. He says there shouldn't be red tape. In other words he's going to disband the branches and the structures and so on, so what does he have left? He is doing a liquidation in other words. So maybe they are doing a soft liquidation in order that at some stage they say, well let's just form a new thing. It's a way of bringing, as we used to say you give somebody a bitter pill with a coat of sugar around it, maybe he's dismantling, maybe he's liquidating the party with a view to doing something in the future and that this is just a propaganda way of softening it up. The NP really is facing a cul-de-sac. I don't know what they're going to do. They are losing votes to other parties. I believe last night, to prove what I'm saying, there was a municipal by-election in a place called Kempton Park, you know Kempton Park in Johannesburg, where the NP candidate polled 200 votes and the Democratic Party 900 votes. So the Nats have problems. They have problems, firstly they can't get a significant black leader to assist them, secondly they are losing votes to the DP. They have weak leadership at this moment. De Klerk doesn't come forward with something constructive. I don't know whether he sees that Rome is burning. They are in a cul-de-sac.
. As far as the Freedom Front is concerned they have a great difficulty about the volkstaat. Although Afrikaners like myself would prefer to have a volkstaat the whole question is whether it is practically concretisable. Can you concretise these beautiful ideas? And they have demarcated an area in the North Cape, this the volkstaat, but what I told them is you are shooting yourself in the feet because not one of you except Carel Boshoff is prepared to live in that volkstaat, so are you going to tell me move there and live in the volkstaat but none of you are there? You're wasting your time. I think they are also facing a difficulty because they cannot produce. They said they will fight for a volkstaat and for this and that. I really don't know who is going to vote for them because what's the difference between them and De Klerk. The answer to that is there is a difference. They are here with the specific purpose of representing the Afrikaner, not on an apartheid basis or a racist basis and so on, but they are here with the specific purpose of representing the Afrikaner. That may bring them votes and if they say we have achieved a few minor things and we have to adjust and so on, maybe people will still vote for them. I would much rather vote for Constand Viljoen than for De Klerk.
. The PAC I think is a spent force. With their difficulties with the leadership I think they are a spent force. I don't know what old Makoba can really achieve. I spoke to some of them and I said I think your problem is your platform. Your platform used to be 'kill them', you know 'one boer one bullet' and 'one settler one bullet', and it's a land issue, but it's an outdated thing. You have lost your platform. The IFP says federation, we say pluralism, in other words whatever you are, even if you're an American and you want to live here you have the full right and protection to remain an American with your custom and so on. But we also have family values that we emphasise and so on. We have a definite image of a federal party, federal/pluralism party. The PAC, what is their platform? They have no platform. I think they're a spent force.
. The ACDP is not worth mentioning. They only have two members here and they will probably retain one or two of them, there may be nothing or maybe get up to three or four out of 400. It's insignificant.
. So I think that to look at the 1999 election the Nats will suffer unless they do something spectacular. The Freedom Front will probably remain the same. The DP, I haven't analysed them for you but very briefly, the DP as I said previously, probably to you, the DP has everything. The Democratic Party has the leaders that perform best. Their women candidates are the most beautiful ones. They have got the best pamphlets, they have got the best posters, they have got the most money, they have got the best policy. They have got everything except votes. This is their problem. They are acting on a platform that is unreal. People don't vote for them. They will never get big support. They are a form of classical liberalism, and then also you get a lot of racism amongst them these days. You will be astounded if I tell you who of their very, very prominent leadership are telling me about the racism that they actually now experience in their families and all around. The bubble has burst they tell me. We thought it will be hunky-dory and everything will be OK but look what the bastards are doing to us now.
. So in the 1999 election if things go as it appears to me to go at the moment, the ANC will probably come down to somewhere in the fifties, 56%, 57%, the IFP may go up to 12%, 13%, the Nats will probably stick around 20% with big plans or 18% or 17%, the Freedom Front will get their 2% or 3% and so on. Holomisa will get 2% or 3%. The important point there is that I think if nothing creative happens the ANC will still be in power in 1999 but it will be wounded.
POM. Now how about the IFP? I know we talked about this last year, the last time I was here, its performance in the local elections particularly in the metropolitan areas of KwaZulu/Natal was fairly disastrous to say the least. Its base appears to be a rural traditional base. It seems increasingly a regional party, provincial.
KVM. No I disagree with you.
POM. Ngubane has replaced Frank Mdlalose.
KVM. Before 1994 nobody knew what the other strengths were. After 1994 we had 50% of the vote in KwaZulu/Natal and that was the first good test, so the ANC said it was a flash in the pan and we will never get that again. So then the good thing happened, namely that we could test our strength against each other and then last year or so when the municipal elections took place their results came out and it showed what our support was, namely 45%. Now 45% is close to 50%. It therefore means that we in fact have an excellent power base in KwaZulu/Natal of around 50%. Secondly, it also showed where our power base is, namely it is rural. We were very taken aback of course, we were dissatisfied at the poll results of course but we know now exactly where our weak and strong points are and we've got an excellent organisation going and we think that we now know first what our real power base is and how strong we are and where it lies. We can now move out and plan as far as the next election is concerned.
POM. Why do you say you've got an excellent organisation in place when that organisation wasn't in place six months ago?
KVM. No I didn't mean that we have an excellent organisation in place. What I meant was that we are now trying to organise excellently. We had a three-day bosperaad or workshop a month ago in Ulundi. We have one again next weekend and in April we have another three days bosperaad. We are looking at every corner of the country. We are assessing the situation. We are determining the status all over, do we have branches there? What type of people are there? If we do have branches how many are there, who are the party officials there and so on? And we are reporting back next week on what we have done since the last time. How many new branches were elected, what are we doing, what areas have we identified? After another bosperaad, let's say another two or three by June, we will have our final plan for the 1999 election and then we will just continue along those lines. It appears to be an excellent line and we intend to follow it. I therefore think that the IFP will retain the leadership in KwaZulu/Natal, we will make sure that we do that, and we will probably increase in Gauteng and get more MPs in there and eventually have more here, so we will be a slightly stronger party next time.
POM. Many people have said to me that Frank Mdlalose in effect was pushed out?
KVM. That's not true. Frank Mdlalose is a diabetic. He's about 70 years old, he's a sick man and he has indicated a year ago already that he's had enough, he wants to retire, he can't cope, and Buthelezi asked him to stay on. Now he was then subsequently replaced by a young dynamic man, Ben Ngubane, who has taken his place. The Secretary/General is moving into business, Ziba Jiyane, he is moving into business and he is totally with the party. Not one of these people are against the party, they are still there, they are working hard. And the last one is Musa Myeni who was in Gauteng. He moved for business reasons to KwaZulu/Natal. He's still in the party, supporting the party and so on. Nothing really went wrong.
POM. But part of the reason I was given before for the relatively poor performance of the party, particularly in urban areas, was lack of organisation, that there wasn't proper organisation in place.
KVM. We hear that and it's possibly true.
POM. And where is the new leadership to create the new organisation, manage the new organisation.
KVM. I'll answer you as follows. The fact is that Buthelezi himself has taken control of everything with a very firm hand. He sits in at every discussion now and he is very strongly involved in the whole thing and I am sure that in the next three or four months new younger leadership will be born that will come out, that will be on the list for the next election, and possibly also strong leadership as far as organisation is concerned. It will come out of the process.
POM. Is there a realisation that unless the party breaks out of its rural base, of its traditional base, let me put it that way, and remains identified with Zulus rather than with Africans at large that it is sounding its own death knell?
KVM. No I think you are putting it too strong. I think that's putting it too strong. Of course the results have shown that we are a regional party. Of course we have a strong Zulu element in us but if you look at this caucus, for instance, there are more than half a dozen Indians, there are white people, Afrikaners, English speaking, there's even a Jew amongst us and so on. We are not unaware of the fact that we have a rural power base and a Zulu power base and it should go beyond that.