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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

20 Aug 1997: Giliomee, Hermann

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POM     Hermann, let me begin with in fact a quote from Comrades in Business, the Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribert Adam book, and they say, I'll read you three statements: -

     "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."

     Two, that: -

     "Affluent Afrikaners sold out the poorer Afrikaners because they felt more confident in their ability to either survive in or leave the new South Africa."

     And three, then most damning I suppose: -

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

     They lay great emphasis on the NP and government negotiators being simply out-manoeuvred by the ANC negotiators. Do you agree with that or is it too simple?

HG     I think any academic would say that the other academic's argument is too simple. Heribert Adam probably wrote most of it and we have been having arguments for the last five, seven years, but what I write in this article is an attempt also to -

POM     That's in Surrender without - ?

HG     Yes. I think if you think in retrospect what had happened actually was that De Klerk didn't actually think that he was handing over so much power so abruptly. I think what he had thought was that his position within cabinet and his position with respect to more or less the guarantor of investment both local and foreign would give him a kind of a leverage in cabinet, but he didn't realise that in fact that role had already been replaced by the ANC itself through its abandonment of its nationalisation policies. I think it only became in retrospect, I've got a quote that there's a great fallacy of what had happened had to happen and it happened and the people knew what was actually happening. I think it only became clear in retrospect that De Klerk had handed over all his powers. What he thought would be his points of strength, namely the business community, simply abandoned him for the ANC, the military made their own deals with the ANC, the civil service made their own deals. What really became clear to me when writing that article was that once the leadership in a modern state, in a modern democracy defects or falters then actually there is nothing that common people could really do much.

     I always have Sunningdale in mind. Why didn't we have a Sunningdale in South Africa? But the point is that with Sunningdale already there were some important Protestant people in that common decision making process, and having bought into that decision making process I doubt almost if you would have had the Sunningdale kind of scenario. Sunningdale was still at a stage when the whole thing was still very, very sticky and that ambivalence kind of thing and it's really then the fait accompli of your leaders already being in a joint cabinet that actually paralyses grassroots people.

     So I think there two great betrayals. The one betrayal was of course De Klerk of his constituency but then that betrayal only became a foregone conclusion as a result of the ANC having betrayed their kind of socialist agenda. So that I think is a slightly different one. I think in the case of Comrades against Apartheid it's almost as if there were these spineless creatures and they just collapsed and that will be my problem with that.

POM     I remember in the early years one of the questions I used to ask National Party and government people was what's more important to you in negotiations, the preservation of some form of political power or the preservation of the economic order and private property, capitalism and the free market system? And invariably they came down on the side of preserving the right to private property, the free market system was far more important.

HG     They got that, yes. They never took that. The whites got what they wanted economically and the blacks got what they wanted politically, but that part doesn't really come through in the kind of Comrades against Apartheid equation. It's almost as if there was this almost unilateral collapse.

POM     Waldmeir almost repeats that where she says that the Afrikaners adjusted to the changeover with extraordinary rapidity, that within months there were serious reconsiderations in ANC ranks that they needn't have given away as much as they had in terms of the sunset clauses. And you have this quote from Mbeki saying that we realise that we made a mistake, perhaps we didn't have to give away as much in order to have a smooth transition. But it would appear to me that gaining the sunset clauses gave the Afrikaners, or the establishment or the bureaucracy or whatever, the security to allow a more smooth transition and without those things being in place it mightn't have been as smooth, so that rather the very opposite conclusion might have been reached.

HG     I think I would go along with that but my criticism I think of them would be that they should have realised that the cultural issue is a separate issue, that doesn't come with the package deal, that the ANC will divorce the cultural and the economic and the political issues and that they will simply isolate the Afrikaners on the cultural issue. I think they simply didn't pay remotely enough attention to both culture and education, a sticking point, and the whole symbolism area. But I think if I were to write a book about it I probably would have stressed the double betrayal and that if the ANC had stuck to its economic agenda then De Klerk would have been very valuable within cabinet and he could have played his kind of thing with the business community, with the white electorate and with the international community. But the moment that the ANC then also abandoned their nationalisation agenda and became free marketeers then what leverage did De Klerk retain? He didn't retain much. That would be my main argument. So Adam, we've often argued about it but he has this thing that the cultural issue and the ethnic issue is in fact simply a phoney one, that there are no strong feelings of ethnicity or concern about culture and that it all will simply become subsumed in a modern consumerism. But then this is a typical German post-nationalist phase and these things are not important, it's simply serial issues.

POM     The quote from Mbeki was: -

     "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 here is a majority party, here is a new government and we have to define a relationship with that majority. The notion of a government of national unity derived precisely from the understanding that the NP would be the political representatives of the army, the white police, white business, the white civil servants, that it would have had a hold on very important levers of power. When we came into government we would have come 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."

     I would read that in fact, as I said, in the opposite way, that it was because of the concessions made regarding sunset clauses that facilitated a far more smooth transition than would otherwise have taken place.

HG     I think the sunset clauses were very important at the time of the election in 1994. Look, this is after the fact kind of analysis, once there was this beautiful phrase, I think it's a Swedish, but it would have gone smoothly in any case from the start but the point is that all these concessions, and also because the measure of ambiguity or because the people didn't know how things would work out in cabinet and how the government of national unity would operate, they were prepared to give it a chance. When they actually then discovered after some time that it in fact worked in favour of the majority party in government it was a gradual process where they then adjusted to the fact, but the point is simply that Mbeki can't say that it would have happened smoothly without all these sunset clauses, without all these concessions, and the key one is the one about private property, the abandonment of nationalisation. But they really want to talk about their own betrayal.

POM     When I stack up now, after three years, who has gained and who has lost, I see very little lost on the white side. There hasn't been a lot of pain.

HG     I think perhaps that third statement of the poor whites being sold out, but that is in fact not in the transition. The selling out of the poor whites happened over the twenty years before 1994. There was this calculation by McGrath which showed that the poorer quintile, the poorer two quintiles of the whites had lost 40% in income between 1975 and 1991, so the betrayal had already taken place of the poorer whites. It wasn't that these negotiations - it virtually simply sealed the fate of the poorer whites to some extent, but the betrayal by the richer Afrikaners of the poorer whites had already happened in the kind of phase from mid-seventies to the beginning of the nineties. What was the middle statement that you asked me about?

POM     That was the one I think,

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

     Waldmeir uses the phrase.

HG     I think Roelf Meyer was a pushover, I think, because he had exactly operated in the mode of the ANC.

POM     She says, and others have said and he has said, that he got converted to the concept of majority rule early on in the process in which case De Klerk had the wrong negotiator in there because he had a guy negotiating who didn't believe in the mandate he had been given to negotiate.

HG     But that is still the only riddle about our negotiations, why De Klerk in fact used Meyer because Meyer is one of the most unreal politicians I've ever come across. He simply dreams up the kind of society that he wants to have. He wants to dream about a homogeneous society where simple majority rule could work and then he tries to found a party that could in fact operate in such a dream constituency, dream society. I've never come across a politician, I listened to him the other night also, who is so completely divorced from the realities of their own society in which he is operating. Because for majority rule you need a rather big section of floating vote of people who don't see themselves as belonging to any particular community; that simply doesn't exist in South Africa. If you've seen the latest polls, 3% of whites support the ANC and I think about 2% or 3% of blacks would support any of the historically white parties. Now what is Meyer talking about? How can you talk about that you believe in majority rule in a situation like that? But those figures simply, somehow I think that transcript you did of his speech at Belfast was really wonderful. It shows you that he is not a politician serving a certain market, he serves a certain dream, he is in service of a certain dream which is totally unrealistic. Now the key, the riddle about the whole thing is De Klerk certainly is not that kind of politician. Now why he actually kept Meyer for so long and why he actually stuck with him and why he in the end went along with whatever Meyer came back with, that is the key riddle. That no-one can understand.

POM     Someone said to me, it may have been Van Zyl Slabbert, that the ANC team after every day of negotiations went back to Mandela and reported to Mandela and there was a discussion of whatever they had negotiated or were in the process of negotiating that day, whereas De Klerk had a hands off process.

HG     One doesn't know whether that is empirically true, one will have to find out whether that is empirically true. I would like to know whether it's true and I think it would be good if you could find that out because that will be a key thing if he actually had - I think Slabbert uses the words 'the comfort zone' and so on, De Klerk never really got into it. But better test it like a good journalist, whether this is actually true.

POM     There were a couple of other things that puzzled me in Waldmeir's recounting.

HG     You're slightly irritated by the book I can see.

POM     Well I preferred it to Sparks.

HG     Well anything is better than Sparks.

POM     Not irritated, because it raised a lot of what seemed to me to be contradictions, little things that didn't add up, like you go to page 270 and you said, well now let me see, what was said and a different aspect of the same thing on page 15 and the two were sometimes totally opposite. But there were three things, she describes the strategy of De Klerk of first go for a quick election, they are in disarray, they're back, they're disorganised, I can ride this crest of goodwill and translate it into a vote and that's the way forward, make a quick deal. You have Van Zyl Slabbert saying that he talked to one close confidante who said one of his colleagues was told in confidence that they thought they could (that's the NP) keep the ANC negotiating for at least five years while the NP governed the ANC support base away from it. That's the second scenario. Then you have the third scenario where she recounts visiting De Klerk after the collapse of CODESA 2 and they find him in a buoyant mood where he is saying he is convinced that the ANC will climb down on some of its demands and says, "Time is on my side." Well all three can't be correct. Then we move on to September, so this is May, June, then we move on to September where she is saying categorically, De Klerk is desperate for a deal. De Klerk will do anything to get a deal. He doesn't care about the content of the deal any more, that on the Record of Understanding he caved in on everything.

HG     In that article I say that he was a poor manager and a poor strategist and I still think he was a very poor manager of the process and he's a poor strategist, but then one has to take into account that the ANC probably wouldn't have allowed themselves to be dragooned into an early election. Certainly the ANC for the first year and half it was just an effort to get them to come to the table and to find a formula for coming to the table. I think the only period where there was a moment of uncertainty on the ANC side was just in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, that April 1992 to round about May, at the end of May when the talks collapsed. But I think the crucial events are the events from round about June, July to early September when De Klerk then suddenly becomes very, very anxious for a settlement. I had a few conversations with Kriel, we were at university together, Hernus Kriel, and he was saying that De Klerk at that time was constantly talking about Leipzig, in cabinet, talking about Leipzig, talking about investment flowing out of the country like when you pull a plug out of a tub and that was the kind of talk that he was hearing. I wouldn't be surprised if -

POM     The Leipzig option?

HG     Yes, that Leipzig could happen in South Africa and that investment could flow out suddenly, like a plug out of a tub. I think in that period some of his senior officials, this is pure conjecture, some of the senior officials, senior business friends that he plays golf with, could have said to him, look we are now on very thin ice, that there could be a meltdown quicker than you think and that he then - but this is conjecture.

POM     Derek Keys certainly went to him, he said he did because I asked him, because Waldmeir has him talking to Trevor Manuel and Manuel going to Mandela and Mandela got frightened. And I said, "Well did you give the same thing to De Klerk?" He said, "In fact I presented it to him a couple of weeks beforehand."

HG     No, that is the key, that sounds to me a plausible argument, that someone with the tremendous influence of Derek Keys would say you think you can hold out and you can spin it out but economically there could be this quick meltdown before anyone realises what is happening.

POM     Was it a case then of Mandela having better nerves?

HG     Yes. But then again Mandela's kind of constituency could have continued suffering for another five or ten years. In the end it's really a great irony that the wealth of the whites became their weakest weapon, that became their Achilles' heel, the wealth, that really you actually had to be much less wealthy if you want to sit out an economic collapse for the sake of retaining political power. This is I think the key irony of South Africa that your wealth became your great Achilles' heel.

POM     Just talking about Keys, I go to see him every year because he gives me my financial tutorial.

HG     Does he give you advice also like stocks to buy?

POM     I've asked him what should I do? He says go to unit trusts! He's names a couple too, one is called BOE or something.

HG     Board of Executors.

POM     The question I asked him was: is GEAR dead? His answer basically was that it was and he painted the following scenario. He said the following is the reality: (i) we can get a growth rate of 2½% a year and that's growth but we're not going to get to 5%, government spending is too high, it's an over-consumption society, the level of foreign investment will remain moderate and you can only rely on foreign investment to a certain degree before you start looking at the Mexican scenario; (ii) with the population growth that means that you might get at most maybe 1% increase in per capita income a year, that the jobless situation will remain as is and it could even deteriorate as the country becomes more integrated into the global economy; (iii) that the masses are going to remain just as poor as they are by and large, they might get some electricity, they might get some light and they might get some houses but in terms of this kind of big economic uplift it simply is not going to happen; (iv) that the gap between the haves and have-nots has stabilised or it may even get a little bigger if anything and your first world sector is going to get on quite OK, there are lots of opportunities in the private sector, lots of opportunities to make money.

HG     Apart from crime everything is fine.

POM     And that's the future and this talk of transformation that the ANC keep insisting on over and over again is simply mythological.

HG     To me the key question is then basically why do they actually maintain this very rigid fiscal and monetary discipline, why the spending cuts? That's very impressive that they actually could slash this budget. Is it simply that any alternative would make matters even worse?

POM     I would say (i) was the assumption that it was predicated on winning foreign confidence that they could be fiscally responsible and thereby attract foreign investment, which hasn't happened, (ii) why should there be anything magic about 4%? The third problem is that if they do increase government spending as they are, if they keep the proportion by keeping the deficit proportion, actually spending is increasing, it's not diminishing, the proportion of the budget that's the deficit to the GDP remains at 4% but they are both growing, is that coming into an election year they have to spend more. They can't go into 1999 with the record of delivery of services that they've had for the last three years, I mean any government just says in the year before an election, let's worry about the year after the election when we've won it.

HG     It's impressive that they stick to these financial controls but I suppose that if they let go then you get inflation and then the poor are even in a worse situation.

POM     The other thing is that there's been this more or less attack on Stals on maintaining the interest rates at such a high level, which most economists would buy, that that is a deterrent to growth.

HG     Sure. I would imagine, yes.

POM     So that's something else that the government won. They wanted the Reserve Bank to be independent of any government control and they got it with a vengeance.

HG     They got that, yes, they got that. In fact I think you're quite right. I think if you look at the deal which was blacks get political power and whites retain economic wealth, then actually it was a pretty fair view virtually if you think of it purely in terms of a long term perspective. It was in fact a deal that needed a dual betrayal, betrayal on both sides. But the other part of course, no-one is supposed to mention that other part really, that the blacks in fact got far less than one would have thought economically except for that very, very rich elite, the Ramaphosa faction. But then also this whole pattern of the inequalities of income and wealth not declining, I think in terms of that coefficient scale I think we used to be at 55 but I see Kenya and Zimbabwe are now just below us, that's at about 48, 49, and so it seems to me that even to have whites around this kind of African state will almost inevitably give rise to the same kind of income inequalities.

POM     So what are the consequences of there being no social transformation, economic transformation?

HG     I think the consequences, of course, are obviously the violence, the crime and not only the crime but the violence of the crime, the violence, I think very few people write about it, but that sheer outrage that things still stay the same. So I don't see any change with respect to the crime situation and the kind of violence simmering just below the surface. But the other point, of course, is that you would have a lot of symbolic politics with the kind of Truth Commission type of politics, that if you can't reward your constituency materially you can at least reward them symbolically.

POM     I think it was Larry Schlemmer used something of the same description by a German sociologist, the dirty syncretic.

HG     Oh yes. But that you would have this kind of attempt constantly to symbolise and to score symbolic victories. Now what kind of scope there is for that I suppose, I don't know once the TRC is over whether you can find a way in which keeping this whole thing alive, the Kader Asmal tactic of denouncing apartheid in the most extreme terms and so on, that will be the kind of politics, the constant raking up of the past and picking some symbolic targets like the Rugby Board and things like that and humiliating these people. The other one is also that we get the emasculation of institutions like parliament and so on, with power almost going back into the hands of a smallish, Leninist clique. I write about it in the Cape Times tomorrow, but by and large for whites in general it wouldn't be too bad.

POM     They're doing OK.

HG     Yes, and work counts for so little in this country that people don't take work seriously.

POM     Let's talk about that. Mandela about two years ago when opening parliament he called for a new patriotism. I had this out with Tito yesterday, it almost developed into an argument, it became more of an argument than an interview and it resulted from a conversation I'd had with Mr Motlanthe who is the Secretary General of the Mineworkers' Union who is tipped to be, or at least whose name has been put out there, as the next Secretary General of the ANC, and he said what we need to be doing in this country is working 48 hours a week. He says we must work longer and harder and Tito's response was, "Why doesn't he tell me that?" He says people out there are going for a 40-hour week and it's not that people out there should work longer, they should work smarter. The issue is, is labour making a set of demands that are really in a way first world demands with regard to labour standards and totally out of line with the level of development of the country and totally out of kilter with creating either an industrial or a service base that would create jobs because if you just substitute capital for labour -

HG     You put that to Tito? And what did he say?

POM     Yes, and he is saying that it's not that we work longer, it's that we work smarter.

HG     What does that mean?

POM     What does that mean? How many do you see out there in the street going on strike over wanting to work smarter? They want to work shorter. You can't do it. But we were going around in these circles and he was misunderstanding something I said, so he said we've raised the overtime rate to time and a half from time and a third and now the minimum national holidays will be three weeks and not two weeks. But in the US it's two weeks, you get ten days vacation. That's the law. Here you're going to have three.

HG     Amazing. John Kane-Berman has just come back from Washington and he was just saying that they were just laughing at our labour market. He went to the IMF and the World Bank and investigated labour markets from a comparative perspective and they were just laughing at South Africa.

POM     The problem here is systemic. This is not going to change, not just in the short run but may never change at all.

HG     At all, and employment will just get worse.

POM     Has there ever been a work ethic? For example, if you take the argument that would be put forward that apartheid allowed whites certain privileges and among the privileges was that in order to have a good life they didn't really have to work very hard?

HG     I don't know. There was not this kind of legislation for white workers that you have for the working force at the moment. I think there is a great irony. People talk about that apartheid saw there is great corruption and I was looking at an article recently by a very prominent sociologist, Andrieski, who taught in America in 1970, grappling with the question why there is so little corruption in South Africa and he said people have got an ideal that they're working for something, they've got this idea this is a white state and you're building up the state and that you actually have to give your energies and so on. I think the decay and corruption happened in the years when apartheid got eroded and it became a completely ludicrous shallow ghost of an idea. But the key problem with South Africa is that we have got no unifying vision or ideal or values that keep us together. I was talking to Ken Owen today, he was giving a lecture, the country is  being held together by indifference, everyone is just simply trying to make it materially, to get away with the least at the expense of others and so there are no unifying values or whatever. Everyone is just out there to get it. To some extent it's similar to the American idea but in America I think there is a much more merciless kind of law that if you don't pull your weight you're out, you're actually slaughtered.

POM     I was just talking to a friend over lunch this morning that IBM or AT & T can on a Tuesday announce that they are laying off 15,000 workers across the country and they get two weeks notice and no-one brings up the words 'retrenchment package', you're gone.

HG     Hit the door and go to the wall. I don't think there is in South Africa anything, for instance Dr Zuma in order to get medical students to do an extra year serving the poor, she talks about it will be good for these people 'living in obscene opulence' to do a year service. Now that's not the way in which you inspire people for any ideal and so you really are developing a kind of vindictive society, and I think the whites are as guilty as anyone else. You must simply realise there is no community or national ideal that you are serving, there is just simply a jungle and you take what you can and you try and get away with the shortest cuts and give the other guys the rawest deal.

POM     You can't divorce, it would seem to me, the culture of entitlement or non-preparedness to pay for services, you can't reconcile that with a commitment on behalf of the people to work with each other in order to achieve something.

HG     A sort of a follow-up article that I'm writing for that is having a commemoration of Rabin's assassination in Israel on television and I was asked to talk and I want to talk on the idea of exchanging a homeland for peace, but within that exchange something happens. The peace does come, we can't deny that there is political peace in South Africa, but something goes, something goes and it could be idealism, it could be willingness to work for an ideal. Even white civil servants when they were still working for the ideal of apartheid they worked damn hard. There were enormously idealistic people in the apartheid bureaucracies. Old Nic Olivier was a Progressive Party member of parliament, he was just saying they would work hours and after hours just for this ideal. But what ideal is there in South Africa?

POM     Ironically Motlanthe too brought up the Afrikaner paradigm. He said at least when they assumed power in 1948 they certainly did transform society on their own behalf. We might not like the way they did it  -

HG     To an enormous degree it replaced idealism. When I grew up in the fifties there was simply this idea we are going, we're working, we're working for a new society, we're working for a republic, we're working to transform society, you must pull your weight, you must give everything you have, you must learn very hard and you will be getting a job and then you won't be paid much and that was it. But it seems to me now I don't believe the ANC is serious about transformation. That's why they talk so much about it. They simply want this upper hierarchy of black businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats to be entrenched in a particular place but they don't care about the unemployed I think, because the only way you can actually do something with the unemployed is to free up the labour market. I don't think that, I mean Mbeki's idea of a renaissance, African renaissance -

POM     What does he mean by that?

HG     He got the idea from the guy from Uganda, Museveni. I think Uganda had growth of 4% or 5% but it must have been from a very low base, from a very stagnant economy. This guy told him they can make it economically and all that but I don't see how you can actually, with this kind of corruption, with the lack of capacity of the South African economy to grow at a rate faster than 2% or 3% and talk about an African renaissance, very fast economic growth, very great improvement in economic opportunities, educational opportunities and so on. I just don't see it.

POM     To what extent would you buy into the argument that still most of the corruption that is taking place is part of the legacy of apartheid, that inheriting the  bureaucracies and whatever you inherited, the corruption that went along with it, especially the corruption and unaccountability that went on in the homelands - ?

HG     I think there is something there but the ANC doesn't do anything about it in the sense then that the NP has now come with a corruption barometer and they have really done research into many of the cases and people who get caught in the civil service for corruption don't get penalised. They don't get taken to jail. They are simply transferred to another post. I don't think there is a serious signal coming from government that we must do something about corruption and I think the corruption is more due to the cultural entitlement. I think certainly through that, with the homelands, especially Transkei and Ciskei, there must have been a culture of corruption for the last ten to fifteen years but in the case of the white departments, whites were really working under, and the coloured departments, they were working under fairly strict rules. If you use the state garage these are the rules. It happened in one or two departments, there was great corruption with the Bantu education, black education was a department for great corruption, the school text books and so on, but not in the normal civil service really. I don't really think it was as rampant as the ANC tries to depict it.

POM     The second part of this equation given to me in fact just last night by Dullah Omar is that a significant proportion of crime is still activated by a different kind of third force. It's like there is no commitment on the part of many policemen to doing their jobs whereas the police in the apartheid days were committed to suppressing the hell out of people.

HG     But was there a third force? Simply if one is not committed to do the job, is that then the third force?

POM     Yes, or elements within the police.

HG     Who would then persuade the other policemen not to do their job properly? People must start laughing now. When Mandela was talking about after the murders and assassinations in Richmond, Natal, about this third force with massive resources behind all this kind of crime, but where is the evidence? It's very much the same story that they had in the pre-1994 election of all the violence between blacks being the result of third force activities. I don't know, I think that the police really are in a desperate situation in the sense that half of the police force is probably corrupt and the other half is inefficient so I just don't know what you do with that police force, but I think Dullah Omar is as much responsible because the whole thing falls down on the court system, on the legal system.

POM     How would a police force, regarded as being so ruthless and efficient as the police force was during the apartheid days, suddenly deteriorate? You know somebody crosses the border and they grabbed him before he's even set foot over it, turn into this kind of messy, inefficient -

HG     Give a dog a bad name, the ANC have always said the police are completely untrustworthy, it's a very bad police force and people are simply acting according to the name that they have been given. There is very little attempt with this whole constant reference again to the third force in the police; it simply further destroys morale.  I think Omar is perhaps the greatest culprit, I think also because people do get caught and then they go to the courts and they get easy bail, they're out and nothing will demoralise a police force more than a person you have caught goes free the next day. But Omar has been pursuing his affirmative action policies in the courts and at the expense of a more efficient judicial system. The Institute of Race Relations has made a very, very good study and they show that the kind of prosecutions is simply down way back from what it had been in 1981 in absolute terms and this is because Omar believes that you won't get a proper judicial system unless you replace those whites there with coloureds and blacks. But have cabinet ministers any sense of panic that they are not getting the society under control, are they just like a steamboat?

POM     It's moved I would say to the point of saying, well Rome wasn't built in a day and what we're doing is we're putting in place the structures and the institutions that in the long run will ensure the transformation of the society. Unless you get the first moves right in terms of establishing your structures and your institutions and your institutional values then the end result will be the wrong result.

HG     Oh I see, that's comforting.

POM     So, inheriting the mess, what are we to expect? We thought it would be a lot easier.

HG     Yes you could blame it on the whites. Obviously there is a sense in which you must slowly rebuild the police force and it will take time and you must rebuild the courts and you must rebuild the prisons, but there seems to me very little result showing.

POM     Let me turn to something different for a minute and that is, why has the TRC picked on, if one wants to use that term, De Klerk rather than concentrating their aim at Botha? Whatever excesses happened, the worst excesses and the worst repression occurred during the years when he was either Minister of Defence or State President and the worst that can be said about FW De Klerk is that -

HG     He turned a blind eye.

POM     He turned a blind eye or he didn't do sufficient to -

HG     I have it on fairly good authority that Mandela told Tutu not to go for PW Botha because he's old and so on and the idea of hauling a guy out of retirement and then putting him in a humiliating situation. I think Botha probably would refuse to appear before the TRC. But apparently there was a very firm instruction from Mandela, after he spoke to Tutu, to tell them not to summons Botha. And that I think increased their frustration with De Klerk. That made them much more determined because the Truth Commission in terms of its own constituency among white academics or black intellectuals see themselves as not succeeding unless they can prove that there was a conspiracy going right to the top, right to cabinet, and so everything now the TRC does is trying to find that conspiracy and demonstrate that conspiracy. It's even gone so far, previously the arguments that people have made why you can't allow cross-examination in the TRC is that you can't put a victim through this whole torture again of being humiliated by someone that cross-examines, but even those people in Natal like Varney and these people, whites who actually tried to prove this conspiracy, they did not really allow cross-examination of them. The point is that the moment that it gets to the courts then all these stories collapse under tough cross-examination. So the point of the TRC is simply to establish the conspiracy and to establish the fact that it's gone to the very top and that De Klerk must have known. Now I had a very interesting conversation with Johan van der Merwe the previous head of the police. Have you ever met him?

POM     No.

HG     He's a fascinating person. I know you've got 120 people.

POM     So 121!

HG     He always came out of it badly. He was head of the security police and he was head of the police and he really impressed me. The point is that he doesn't create such a good impression on television because his English is not very good but I spoke to him on a one-to-one basis and I spoke in Afrikaans, it was about two or three hours and it was a fascinating two, three hours. He was saying that he's pretty certain De Klerk didn't know because De Klerk didn't want to know. De Klerk was, of course, not in that kind of ministry. He was in Education and so on, but De Klerk made it his business not to know and he feels irritated with De Klerk because he says De Klerk didn't even want to know under what conditions we worked and why certain things were being done. He was very open about what he knew and what he didn't know. He was telling me about those hand grenades that exploded in the hands of young black activists and he was telling me about what led to that decision about black policemen being hand-grenaded out of their houses and that they then decided to give them these hand grenades and he says he's asking for amnesty for that. But he says that De Klerk from the start, whereas Botha would actively take an interest, De Klerk simply from the early eighties on it was just one of those departments and 'I'm not going to get involved in that'. And I think that is the frustration of the TRC. They feel that De Klerk actually should have made it his business and I in fact wrote something in one of the Afrikaans newspapers that surely when Khotso House was bombed or Cosatu House here in Cape Town, surely the cabinet must have realised that there is something fishy going on and that they must have actually insisted on knowing what is going on, but they didn't and there may be a certain sense that if the TRC hadn't been so obviously loaded on one side that the cabinet could have come and said, look perhaps we should have made it our business to know and we didn't and therefore we - but the point is of course they wouldn't want to ask for amnesty. As far as I can see the TRC is really not going anywhere that will lead us to greater reconciliation. I don't know what people like Kader - have you seen Kader Asmal recently?

POM     Not this year yet. I saw him in March but I will see him later on.

HG     Omar didn't talk about the TRC?

POM     He thought it was an absolutely necessary process and that in the long run it would lead to - in a way he said it didn't matter whether it led to truth, justice or reconciliation, it had to be gone through, that the past had to be exposed.

HG     That certainly has been done. There has been exposure of cruelties and the fact that there was a dirty war. I think that certainly has been exposed.

POM     Just to pick up on the point you make, it's not leading to reconciliation, in fact if anything it's leading to more polarisation.

HG     Yes polarisation and cynicism.

POM     On the Chris Hani case if you were a betting man?

HG     Well, I would probably say that they will not get indemnity because I think the story is that Mandela from the start has said that these people, these two shouldn't get off, the rules must be drawn up in such a way that they don't get off. But I, for the life of me, can't see what is the distinction between the two of them and, say, Brian Mitchell, the policeman who shot about eight or ten people in KwaMakuthu, that Natal massacre, and other murderers who got off. I simply can't see what's the difference between them. I think Derby-Lewis is doing a bad job in his own cause, that he could have pointed to some very ambivalent speeches of right wing people like Treurnicht and so on and say we will fight and there will be bloodshed rather than handing over the country.

POM     He was on my list, he was one of the people that I interviewed four or five times.

HG     Treurnicht?

POM     Clive Derby-Lewis, and he was hard. This is not a man who - it's like an over-compensation because he spoke with such an English accent.

HG     So he was a killer.

POM     He was militant and in the last interviews I did with Treurnicht he had talked about the analogy of could it possibly be that the Conservative Party would develop a relationship with the AWB that would be like the Sinn Fein relationship to the IRA, and his answer was yes.

HG     Yes he would do that?

POM     Yes.

HG     That's the kind of testimony, if I had been Derby-Lewis, that I would have tried to sell to the commission.

POM     So that the Conservative Party saying that it distanced itself from violence or the possible use of violence doesn't wash. They did talk in those terms.

HG     Of course they did.

POM     And in the latter days more and more so in those terms.

HG     If I'm to bet I would probably say that the two will not get it. I suppose if they were to get amnesty that will certainly be a major shock to the system, to the blacks I think, that two such blatant killers could get off.

POM     What I would do is I would say you're free to go but we're taking your passports away.

HG     Oh hell, how long will they live?

POM     They might say, OK we'll stay where we are.

HG     I can't imagine that they will live very long.

POM     So just generally, 3½ years down the road, your quick debits and credits?

HG     Obviously political peace, an economy that is, I suppose, slightly stronger but not much more capable of addressing the great social needs of this country in terms of finding, especially employment. Certainly in terms of the Afrikaners and the Afrikaans language I would certainly say that as far the language is concerned we are in for a long haul. It's still not quite clear that we will be able to preserve a particular language and culture, whether it wouldn't suffer a major set-back and that the English will get their way finally in respect of the sense that there should only be one language of communication in South Africa, public language of communication. So in terms of culturally I think the Afrikaners have suffered a very, very serious defeat and it's not clear to me whether they actually can recover from that. Politically I don't think we've got a liberal democracy by any stretch of the imagination. I think there is a steady decay of parliament, there's a steady decay in terms of corruption. I think we're probably going to slide into a kind of democracy which will be not much more than a form of electoralism where you will actually have the ritual of voting but not very accountable ministers, not very competent ministers. I think the country itself will hold together but more out of indifference than any commitment to a country and so on. But it will be a fairly peaceful country, a fairly nice place to live in. It's still a place that one could call home I think.

POM     Derek Keys said it's not a bad country to be poor in, there are worse places.

HG     There would be worse places.

POM     That's from the luxury of his office on Hollard Street.

HG     Not a bad country to be poor in. Yes, for me here in the Western Cape it's still the best place I could think of living, but that only goes as far as the Western Cape, Stellenbosch and Cape Town and the area 70, 90 miles from here. But it's a mixed picture. I think the subtitle of my lecture will be 'The mixed blessings of the South African bargain'.

POM     One last question, a comment on a statement by De Klerk where he says that :-

     "The people who structured apartheid and put it on the books were not evil people. Apartheid was in its idealistic form a plan to make all the people of South Africa free. The Afrikaner fought the first anti-colonial war in modern history in Africa against Great Britain so Afrikaners have a deep understanding of the need of a people to be free. The idea was we would lead the rural homelands to independence just as the colonial powers to the north had done. The goal was to bring justice to all by transforming South Africa into something like Europe, national states working together in respect of common interests."

HG     Well Afrikaners, apartheid always had this curious combination of self-deception, idealism and fear, cynical exploitation and use of power. There was certainly an idealistic wing in the party at that time, certainly the academics and the churchmen, and they had this kind of ideal that apartheid would, as they call it, be a better system than segregation where you simply would just separate off people without any kind of compensation and justification. There was certainly an idealistic element but there was also a huge element of self-deception, there was a huge element of just sheer, naked, brutal oppression. I wouldn't completely write out the idealistic part but I will balance it up against self-deception and the brutal repression side.

POM     What do you think the average Afrikaner thinks?

HG     Of the early days of apartheid?

POM     Just of the apartheid era, period.

HG     It's a difficult question. I still think there would probably be a sense that it was something that was tried. Certainly I think very few would say that it was done from the outset with evil intent. I don't think many would believe that but there would certainly be my age of people who would see it more as a combination of comedy and tragedy, that it was an attempt to build a better South Africa that actually ended in a kind of a nightmare. But then very few people do think historically I suppose here and elsewhere. I am trying to write a chapter for a book now that I'm writing on apartheid and I will probably only be able to tell you afterwards what I think.

POM     OK Hermann, thank you ever so much.

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.