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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Aug 1997: Moosa, Valli

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM     Minister, as this will be quick session I'll just grab maybe some of the main points  in the light of having gone through in enormous detail Patti Waldmeir's book on the negotiations which left me with a number of questions and then just having finished reading Van Zyl Slabbert's book Comrades in Business. He says, and this is a quote :

     "When the chips were down Afrikaners meekly handed over power without even seriously attempting to bargain any special group privileges. They even agreed to simple majority rule."

     And, he concludes:

     "De Klerk's negotiators were really part of Mandela's team. In facilitating the transition to majority rule he was a pushover."

     Is it your recollection of the negotiations, dealing with first Gerrit Viljoen then Tertius Delport and then Roelf Meyer, that it was a pushover?

VM     Well we had, certainly I had never considered it to be a pushover. It took many years to negotiate what we had. But what I think many people do not realise is that there was - what you've got to ask yourself is not what was in the mind of the most backward, right wing, narrow Afrikaners who sought some sort of a volkstaat deal, don't confuse that with what the concerns of the majority of Afrikaners were. The concerns of the majority of Afrikaners were that if there is majority rule in this country that in their own minds they saw it as the flip side, they saw black majority rule as opposed to white minority rule and what they feared most was a black majority rule which would be like the white minority rule. In other words black majority rule would mean for whites what white minority rule meant for blacks. That was their biggest concern, that they would be trampled upon as a group, that they would be discriminated against, that their language, their religion, their culture, all of that would be trampled upon, that we would have a less than orderly society and from that point of view I would say that the National Party negotiators were representing the interests of the majority of whites and certainly also the majority of white Afrikaners.

     Therefore to say that they did not succeed in getting a deal for the Afrikaners is really a meaningless thing because what is this deal that any logical person would have wanted to get? They in a sense undermined, I would say, the intelligence of the enlightened elements in the Afrikaner camp. The enlightened elements in the Afrikaner camp in fact did not want a white Bantustan to be created for them. They did not think it was in their interests. They objectively were able to see that it wasn't and it couldn't be in their long term interest to be in a state of perpetual conflict, to be in a kind of Middle East Israel/Palestine type of situation which is a recipe for conflict all the time.

     The other factor that needs to be borne in mind is that once there was an acceptance internationally, and widely in South Africa across the board, that the apartheid system needed to be replaced by a proper decent democracy, that any other dispensation for white Afrikaners would not have been compatible with the concept of a democracy in the South African context as such and therefore that there wasn't anything else that could be done. What could they do? They could ensure that the perception they had of the ANC as being kind of a centralist, authoritarian, eastern European style party with that kind of ideology and that would want to set up that kind of system, that from their point of view one of the main objectives was to ensure that that does not happen. So they would claim that they have been able to ensure that there's a constitutional state, that the constitution is above parliament, that there is independent court, independent Auditor General, that this human rights, this individual and collective rights that are protected, all of those sorts of things I think are things that they would be able to point to. That the public service would not be disrupted, that people would not just willy-nilly lose their jobs, that people would not be placed before firing squads for having committed crimes to humanity. I mean the fact of the matter is that they would be able to claim that they have been able to negotiate a deal where those who were responsible for apartheid crimes have not been put against the wall and before the firing squad.

POM     Some of them still occupy high positions.

VM     Yes, many of them occupy high positions and they continue with life. They have their pensions, they keep their homes, many of them keep their jobs. There was a tremendous struggle in the negotiations around all of those sorts of things and the NP negotiations in fact did not want at the end of the day - they flitted around for a period of time with the concept of something less than democratic majority rule, a kind of consociational concept where groups however they are defined would each have a veto of important matters over legislation, over governmental decisions in some form. But nobody, not even the best of ideologues amongst the Afrikaners were able to develop that concept sufficiently and also sufficiently rigorously in order for it to stand up to public scrutiny and to survive debate with just about anybody, and I think that that was the whole weakness in that. Nobody was able to develop that sufficiently.

     If you think about a person like Giliomee, Afrikaner ideologue, who quite clearly is not happy with the present dispensation simply because he thinks that Afrikaners do not have a special place in this society which is what he clearly wanted and which is what he now accuses the NP of not having won a special position for Afrikaners. But even him, one of the leading ideologues and academics, has been unable to put across a rigorous model which would have allowed for that sort of thing and which would have been compatible with democracy and which would have promoted peace and prosperity in this country.

     So at the heart of it I would say that I certainly don't think that the thing was a walkover at all. If you think about the creation of provinces, I mean the ANC had never wanted provinces. Provinces have become such a feature of this society, they mean so much to the lives of people, they are responsible for the bulk of the administration of the country. The government is in the hands of provinces. The biggest portion of the budget, the national revenue, goes to provinces as such. They deal with education, health care, social welfare, a whole number of important aspects of life. It may not be federalism, academics may not describe it as federalism but certainly it is a far cry from what the original constitutional positions of the ANC were. We did not want to countenance the idea of provinces at all.

POM     So did you find what seems to be like a plethora of books and articles coming out, that implied one way or another that the Afrikaner gave it all away, that they were out-manoeuvred, out-negotiated, outsmarted by the ANC and never really knew what they were up against, didn't take them as seriously as they should, thought they could manage the process?

VM     Well you see that when you think about it you can't describe the Afrikaner as a single organism with one mind. There never actually was such a thing and there certainly would have been those in the power structures who were of the view that let's get involved in negotiations, we're going to hoodwink these buggers, we're going to short change them, we're going to pull their teeth out, render them impotent, break this sort of great draw-card they have of being a liberation movement with many great heroes, sacrificing, Mandela in prison and all this, let's remove all of that and they will become completely weakened and we would be able to sort of extract something from them. But even that they didn't know what was that something that they wanted to extract from them. Even if they had succeeded in this it's not as though they had a blueprint which said that, fine, if we render these people impotent, we outsmart them, outsmart them for what purpose? To do what? What is it that they wanted to achieve? You see there wasn't one mind about it. There were some that would have thought they would outsmart them and what we will do is we will create some sort of situation where we remain in power even if we are a minority. But they had very quickly found it difficult to define themselves as representatives of whites, the NP. They said they are a non-racial party so therefore they could not have proposals which would say that the white minority shall always have this or that veto. And the reality was that they couldn't project themselves as representatives of whites because then they would be permanently disempowering themselves and the social forces of the society moving inexorably towards non-racialism and towards South Africanism and away from groupism in that sort of sense.

     I think that at the end of the day one must accept that they lost the battle to maintain apartheid in perpetuity. The fact of the matter is that they lost that battle. Whether it's the ANC that waged a successful liberation struggle or not is a matter that academics can look at, whether it was the ANC's mass mobilisation, armed struggle, international isolation and all of that that defeated the apartheid regime, whether it's that or whether it was other forces, a mixture of that and other factors that lead to the defeat of apartheid. But apartheid was defeated, it was defeated. They were in control of the army and all that but apartheid as such was defeated. So from that point of view there couldn't have been a kind of - we'll take half of apartheid and we'll take half of the values of the liberation movement and put that together and that would be the win-win situation, that both got half of what they wanted. There was no half of apartheid one could bring in here. Apartheid had to go. They could not argue, nobody could argue that let's keep half of apartheid. We'll get rid of 50% of apartheid, as a compromise let's keep 50% of that and we'll bring in 50% of what you want. It wasn't that sort of thing. It's not that kind of bargaining that was possible because of the nature of things and therefore they had to abandon what they stood for completely and argue within a completely new paradigm.

     So even if the negotiators that they had were other people, were smarter people, of course I always did think we were smarter negotiators than they were but I would think that wouldn't I? But let's assume that it was possible to have a much smarter set of negotiators from the government side what would they have come with? What should they have done? None of these people are saying that. Nothing else was possible at the end of the day as far as I am concerned.

     Let me just make one final point, that because the ruling block was receding, because its ideology was crumbling, because apartheid had failed and been defeated, they were in a state of chaos, the ruling block was divided, it didn't have a sharp edge to it. The liberation movement and the values of the liberation movement were on the ascendancy in society. The liberation movement had everything going for it so the liberation movement was more united than it had ever been throughout it's own history, absolutely united, it was able to work with one mind, it was able to function like clockwork, it was able to take decisions. That gave us the possibility of acting much more strategically and not making mistakes. I am not saying there were no divisions and no debates, there were when you look at the broad sweep of things. So when we had to make compromises, when we had to change our positions even very fundamentally, we could do it in a manner which didn't make it look as though we are compromising anything big and we had always done that. We were never prepared to find ourselves in a situation where we would have to eat humble pie in the eyes of our constituency. That was just the art of politics, it wasn't for us to put ourselves in that position because we wanted to hold ourselves together. The other side constantly made mistakes. They constantly put up half-baked proposals which didn't even have unanimous support amongst themselves and they constantly had to backtrack on those and it constantly looked like they were not getting what they wanted to get. It was just very poor politics and a very poor set of politicians even if you look at it now because they have lived in this sort of protected environment. Apartheid was a protectionism for the white politicians. They were not operating in an open market and once the market place of politics was deregulated in this country, protectionism was removed, they just could not survive. They just couldn't survive. They just didn't have - and right now they can't survive with that.

POM     This is the last for today. A quote from Patti and then two quotes from Mbeki in different speeches he gave, and I have difficulties with what Mbeki says because it seems to in fact contradict some of the things you have just said. Her quote is : -

     "Afrikaners, pragmatists as they are, made the peace with the new South Africa with extraordinary rapidity. Theirs is a political culture based on an obedience that borders on obsequiousness so they easily made the transition from obeying the National Party to obeying the ANC. Even the Afrikaner dominated civil service and security forces, groups the ANC had feared would undermine black rule, fell swiftly into line. All of this surprised the ANC which had expected far greater resistance. The sunset clauses were offered because the ANC feared it could not rule without the NP to guarantee civil service and security force co-operation so the ANC had agreed to protect jobs and pensions of white civil servants and having FW as the Deputy President but within months of the elections senior ANC figures were asking whether these gestures had been necessary."

     And then Mbeki, from a speech: -

     "The ANC discovered quite late that we had made a mistake. None of us really factored in the dynamism of what was going to happen. We didn't factor in the speed with which the Afrikaners would shift, recognise the fact that there is a majority party, here is a new government and we have to sign a relationship with that majority."

     And from another speech: -

     "The notion of a government of national unity derived precisely from the understanding that the National Party would be political representatives of the army, the white police, white business, the white civil service, that it would have a hold on very important levers of power. When we came into government we came in with the numbers, they would come in with the power and we would need to work together for a certain period instead of saying to those centres of power, you are the opposition."

     It kind of says that all these sessions on government of national unity, the sunset clauses, in reality they weren't necessary. To me the logic appears to be backwards, that the transition was smooth because of the fact -

VM     I think Patti has got it wrong. I think that she looks very simplistically at this question about the obsequiousness and blind loyalty to authority of Afrikaners as such, regardless of who the authority is. I think that that is extremely simplistic. What she does not realise is that we had constantly asked ourselves from the day that we had said to ourselves that we must pursue the path of the negotiated settlement, we constantly said these guys still have a lot of power, they have the power to delay a negotiated settlement, they have the power to delay it for a long time, they have the power to create a lot of harm to the society, the economy and to society, before a settlement is arrived at and they have the power to destabilise. We had no doubt that there would be a democracy established but they had the power to destabilise the democracy to such an extent that it will not be possible for a period of time after the coming into being of democracy.

     Therefore, we had to ask ourselves, what is it that will make these people want to settle? Something must make them want to settle. Something must make them want to be loyal to the new system and we worked at it terribly hard. I don't think it's purely by accident that one day Afrikaners suddenly decided, well, we will be loyal to the new government. You worked at it and that's what the sunset clauses were all about, that's what the government of national unity was all about. I must just say that the notion of sunset clauses, sunset clauses don't describe the thing properly. In fact there were no real sunset clauses other than the government of national unity concerned. That was a sunset clause but it's not as though there were a plethora of sunset clauses. People overplay that. But all of this, and we had to say that the NP as the political representative of this white force that we need to bring in and that we need to have loyal to the new state, what deal do we enter into with their leaders? One of the mistakes that we have made which I would acknowledge is that we over-estimated the extent to which the NP was representative of that power bloc.

POM     That is the business - ?

VM     The extent to which the NP would be able to carry the white power bloc with them because the majority of the people in the army had no respect for the leadership of the NP, that's what we found. A lot of the Afrikaners in agriculture and on the farms had no respect for those people so as a result of which we had to also be at the same time appealing directly to sections of the white community. That's the reason why when the government of national unity was set up it actually didn't mean so much whether the NP stayed in or not because their co-operation was not essential to the maintenance of the loyalty of the white community to the state, not necessarily to the ANC, not support for the ANC but loyalty to the state and an acceptance of the system.

POM     Was that something that was post-analysis, post-election analysis or even pre-election analysis?

VM     I think already in the pre-election period we had begun to see that, already then.

POM     My reasoning would be that if the transition has been this smooth that it is due in part to the fact that you did put mechanisms like this in place that made whites feel more secure in their future and by making them more secure you were putting them in a position to be more co-operative. As they became more co-operative they became more secure and it was a snowball effect. But if you didn't put those things in place the outcome in terms of the aftermath might be quite different, there might be a lot more resistance.

VM     No you needed to put that in place, it was important. You needed to have this in the name of reconciliation, all of these measures that we had in place. You needed to say to public servants that the day on which the ANC walks into the Union Buildings you remain at your post and you will get paid at the end of that month and the month after that. As far as you are concerned, as far as your job description is concerned nothing has changed. And to the individual white person that was important. To the public servant, especially key managerial people who were in their forties or in their fifties who had built up big pensions, all this was very important for them.

POM     Your personal experience of it - ?

VM     That does not mean, I must say, that does not mean that there isn't a degree of disloyalty in white society. I think that there is a degree of resistance to the changes that have come about and a degree of resistance to the new system but I think it's disorganised, it's dissipated.

POM     What manifestations would you - ?

VM     Well I would say that not everybody in the public service is loyal to the government, not everybody in the armed forces is loyal to the government, not everybody in the police is loyal to the government. One of the biggest factors - you must know that the police were the blunt edge of the apartheid system. On the day to day basis it is the white policemen who made apartheid work, on a day to day basis had to keep the black man in his place. One of the reasons why we have a problem with crime control now is that many of those policemen have not been able to become loyal to the new system so that there may not be an organised counter-revolutionary campaign but just in their day to day behaviour. What the fuck? Why the hell should I risk my life to go in? Because you risk your life every time you try to arrest a criminal if you're a policeman. Why should I do that? He doesn't have any real loyalty to the system, turns a blind eye. A lot of that sort of thing does exist. In general there may be the loyalty but you must not assume that there isn't that sort of counter-revolutionary type of sentiment.

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.