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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Sep 1997: Meyer, Roelf

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POM     Let me begin perhaps with what is most fresh in your mind: the last time we talked you had been grappling with this whole question of trying to come up with some design, as it were, for a new party or something that would take the National Party into a new paradigm and I remember us having dinner one evening and you were very depressed, I think you had just come from a meeting with FW, and one could see the depression in your demeanour that evening. What eventually forced you or led you to the decision that the only way forward for you personally and for the creation of a new kind of politics in South Africa was to leave the National Party?

RM     Well just to summarise again, I was appointed at the beginning of 1996 as Secretary General of the NP, a decision that was arrived at in consultation with myself and a decision that I was fully supportive of because I saw it at that stage as a real challenge. That was the beginning of 1996. I saw it as a real challenge because I thought that the way to enhance multi-party democracy in the country would be to change the NP, to bring about something new through that that would give a new direction to the political scene in the country and as a result of that I thought that one would be able to make a contribution to achieve that objective, which to my mind was very necessary, because the first phase of the democratisation process was completed almost by then, namely the finalisation of the constitution, and that subsequent to that we had to continue with the next phase and that is building multi-party democracy at the party political level. Now during the first half of 1996 we were still engaged in the finalising of the constitution so there was not much time available to really start this building exercise from within the NP, building it towards changing itself to something new. During the second half of 1996 we really got off the ground and looked into the question of how we can strengthen the party by especially gaining black support for the NP because that was the key and we had various sessions for which we got experts from outside but also internally we had discussion opportunities specially with our black membership of the party at that stage and we finally came to the conclusion that something new had to be introduced, a real paradigm shift had to take place and that by introducing something new one would either establish a new party or a new political movement of which the NP could also become part of and that in that process it would change and reform itself completely into a new situation. That proposal was not really accepted by the party except partly, partly in the sense that it was stated, yes we can go ahead with the formation of a new movement but at the same time the NP should retain itself and actually strengthen itself. Now those two objectives, of course, were mutually  exclusive because you can't apply that kind of dualism by strengthening yourself on the one side and saying yes for something new on the other side at the same time, and of course that dualism immediately created tensions internally but also confusion externally.

     I was appointed then the head of a task team to lead the reform process of the party, again with my full consent actually, I made the proposal to FW that I should concentrate my full time and effort on this exercise which he accepted but then he added something which - his decision that I didn't propose and could never work - and that was to at the same time appoint an Executive Director who was responsible to build the party and that emphasised the dualism and there was obviously no common thinking for unity of thinking on the process. After the task team went on with its task and did research, consulted with people around the country in various centres of the country, it came to certain conclusions one of which was that the NP in itself as it is will never be acceptable to the black majority, which is nothing new but we just emphasised it through our research and consultations and we made a very clear statement in that regard, namely that there is no chance that we can actually make progress without changing the party completely so as to ensure that it can make an appeal to all South Africans.

     That message was not accepted and as a result of that the task team was dissolved and I was effectively sacked myself in terms of the position I held at that stage because effectively I was number two in the party hierarchy, the position I held was the second in the hierarchy of the party and that left me with no alternative but to decide to resign from the NP out of my own conviction of course. It became clear to me that the NP can't be reformed, it's unchangeable and of course then I decided to resign and start something new which could lead to the realignment of the party political scene in the country.

POM     And this semi-alignment of yourself and General Holomisa, and some might find it an odd coupling, someone who was regarded as one of the more radical populists in the ANC and yourself who would seem more right of centre than anything else. Other than being strange bedfellows what has brought you together and how can this coupling work?

RM     The moment I left the NP I had two choices, the one was either to leave politics altogether and to go and do something else, like some of my former companions did, or I could try and make a further contribution to the political scene. That was the main choice. I decided that as one who had had such a long involvement in the whole process of change in the country that I would like to continue being involved in it, at least for the time being, and that since some special effort had to be put into trying to realign the political scene and since I believed it also had to be, partly at least, initiated from the white side of the community and since there was probably nobody else in the political scene that was really involved to the extent that would inspire anybody else to go on this road, I came to the conclusion that one had to play a further role in the direction that we should achieve a realignment of the political scene and building real multi-party democracy. Now of course then I started a process of consultation to talk to as many as possible with a view to obtain views but also to start to move in the direction of establishing a new political formation.

     So, I think right from the start at the back of one's mind the need for establishing a new political organisation was necessary. At the same time, or even at the time when I was still in the NP, I started to consult around the spectrum with various political figures and inter alia also Bantu Holomisa. It came as a result of the fact that I was approached by some of the people that were on his side earlier on already and they asked to come and see me and I met with them and we came to the conclusion there is some common ground as far as the process at least is concerned. I then had a meeting with Bantu Holomisa, that was probably in March of this year already, when I was still in the NP and it was with the full approval of FW that it took place. He was very much aware of those meetings. It was quite clear that we were talking about the same kind of process at least. He and his group were at that stage already involved in consultations towards establishing a new party which originally they intended to form in July of this year already. When I left the NP those discussions of course continued. In fact I set myself two targets immediately, or two persons to talk to immediately after I left the NP, and the one was Bantu Holomisa and the other one was Tony Leon. I think they were the obvious candidates to talk to. The result of those talks with Bantu Holomisa led one to come to a very obvious conclusion and that is that if he continues forming his own party and I would continue forming my own party then we were basically on the same two-track approach as in the past, one black party and one white party kind of thing, and that could have led us to repeat the same mistakes whilst the opposite was obviously the intent. The intent is to bring South Africans together instead of letting them go in different directions, and the result was that we came to the logical conclusion that it's better to try and work jointly towards establishing a new party and then we had to sit down and find out whether we have sufficient common ground as far as content is concerned to come to the same conclusions and it was possible. We had some good working sessions.

POM     What is the common ground? It would appear to me that his constituency is largely the Eastern Cape and Transkei. His initial base of support was black, very poor, very impoverished, rural. You're Gauteng, more sophisticated, liberal, white members of either the Conservative Party or the Democratic Party who are looking for a new way forward. How do you create (i) a marriage between the two, (ii) where is the common ground other than saying we're against crime and we're against unemployment and we're against all the obvious things people are against?

RM     I think the support base that he has over time attracted around him is to some extent actually surprising. It is first of all around the country, it's not limited to certain provinces only and it is, I would say, people that are looking for an alternative political home and are not necessarily in the radical or populist categories. I think it's a surprising factor which also surprised me when I first came across his support base and started to meet with some of the people that are supporting him and are working with him and it's quite clear to me that unlike the general picture that is being projected by him, maybe himself, that he is a popular thinker and a radical in the eyes of some people, that is not necessarily the case. The things that he is making an appeal about in the black community are the kind of things that I would make an appeal about as well. Therefore the main emphasis that we are projecting, putting forward, is that of good governance and civil order and that of course when one looks at how that can be affected it has to be put into very specific terms, in terms of policy and the way we're going to deal with the issues of the country. My general feeling therefore is that we will be in the middle of the political scene where I think I also fit in and not to the left or to the right. There are no big ideological debates right now in the country, as you know.

POM     In all fairness General Holomisa, I've known him as long as I've known you, I visited him in Transkei when he was head of government there, and it would require a large stretch of the imagination to associate the government he ran with good governance. He does not have a track record of good governance here. Many people would say that the NP didn't have a track of good governance for perhaps decades. What do you offer the electorate to show, given your backgrounds and maybe more particularly so his background, he is regarded by the independent states as the largest financial mess of any of them, that you are the agents of good governance and that you can deliver in a way that the present government can't deliver?

RM     Well if that is of course the approach then I guess there's only one way of thinking and that is to leave it all in the hands of the ANC and leave the country to become a one-party state, if that is the general approach that one has to take. But let us analyse the situation step by step. The first point is that Bantu Holomisa is clearly somebody who does attract black support. He is one of the few outside of the President and maybe Thabo Mbeki who is able to attract black support, so in that sense he is somebody of significance in the party political sense. And of course that brings into mind immediately there might be other people that claim to be better, more effective, more straight if you want, in terms of subjects like good governance and whatever, but they don't necessarily have any track record as far as popular support is concerned and in politics that is an important factor. So one might have shared that suspicion or scepticism that you are pronouncing but one also had to look at the reality of the situation and obviously there are no significant black leaders outside of the ANC and what I am emphasising is that there are very few inside the ANC, black leaders in particular that are making any impression as far as the electorate is concerned, and for that matter also as far as political commentators are concerned. So that is the reality of the situation.

     Therefore when this whole question came up I had to go and sit down and ask myself the very same question, where do I go as far as this is concerned? Analysing my own background as you suggest, it is true that I am coming from a government that was on various occasions criticised for its lack of ability to do the right things in the South African environment. I have been involved in the executive for more or less ten years so I've come through those phases. My own track record in terms of the portfolios that I held are there for anybody to judge. I think I have my own opinion about that but others might differ. But it brings it all back to the question in the end, do we leave the scene, do we leave the political scene and just let things continue untested, unopposed, unchallenged for an indefinite period? My sense of responsibility at least makes me feel that one should make an effort to try and structure a multi-party democratic situation in the country which can be worth it. The parties that are at the moment competing on our position side are worth nothing.

POM     Just recently an HSRC poll painted a devastating picture of opposition parties in this country. Even though the ANC had lost support the combined loss of support among all the other parties was even greater.

RM     Exactly. That is the point. And the question is, do we leave it like that until 1999 and beyond 1999 or do we try and do something about restructuring the party political scene? The emphasis there is realignment or restructuring, but what is the key to the problem? The key to the problem is still that South Africans are living in different worlds. Either you look at things in South Africa from the black eye or the white eye or whatever other compositions might exist and that means that also the political situation is very much divided along those lines and that brings forward the second problem and that is that as long as this situation prevails there is no real chance for any multi-party democracy to develop because you almost have a built-in majority versus minority situation for ever. So there's no real sense of true democracy.

POM     In terms of practicality it would seem to me that the new party must have almost out of necessity a black leader, that you can't have a new party led by another white person wanting to attract black voters. Two, you pointed to the paucity of the leadership calibre out there outside of a very few people within the ANC itself. Have you given consideration to that factor and how do you define characteristics, do you mutually agree on the characteristics on a person who should lead this new movement, the kind of calibre they should have in the community must be known, they must have outstanding qualities of leadership, they must have some kind of proven track record in administration, just to name a few things?

RM     Well the  latter qualities I think are qualities that can be developed over time but it's true that one needs some leadership that can raise inspiration in the minds of people and we will have to concentrate on ensuring that that kind of leadership be developed, if it's not from the outside then from the inside within the organisation. But it's quite obvious again, and I would agree with it, that black leadership is going to be a very important facet to the success or not. For the time being we have decided that it would be better to go for a joint leadership, at least for the interim, and to see how things evolve.

POM     How about your making your decision to make your own submission to the TRC? What process did you yourself go through before arriving at that decision and how will it differ from the submissions that have been made on behalf of the NP?

RM     The question of my submission deals with a very specific issue that the commission actually raised with me earlier this year already, I think it was in January that they asked me to make a submission on the then National Security Management System which I was involved in and for which purpose I said, well I would certainly like to make a contribution if it would be worth anything. I then started to prepare it and then I realised that I had to consult at least with the Research Department of the TRC to understand exactly where their shortcomings are as far as available information is concerned and we have arranged, well we had a meeting them between them and myself and we could ascertain where the shortcomings are, and the next step is that I will give them an overview of the perspectives that I hold as far as that System is concerned. So it's a very specific issue that I'm going to deal with, for which I have been also called to make a submission and I am preparing it in interaction with the commission. It doesn't deal, therefore, with the overview of all and everything.

POM     Just the operation of the National Security Management System as you knew it while you were a participant in it?

RM     Exactly.

POM     One thing strikes me or has struck me over the last month or so and that is that the TRC focused a lot of its attention on FW, focused very little of its attention, or has to this point, on PW Botha, and if one looks back at that whole era most of the transgressions committed would have been committed during the period while PW was State President and yet he is being virtually left alone whereas the person who was in effect the man who pulled the plug on apartheid is being made to bear the heat of the entire apartheid era. Why do you think there is this emphasis, why do you think PW has been left alone?

RM     I'm not sure about that. I really am not sure. It could be, and I speculate, that the TRC has the view that PW is an old man, he's probably not that well and that they would seek certain information from him but they're not going to, so to speak, put him on the block. I don't know but that could be. I guess nobody else out of the TRC can really answer that question. On the other side I think their approach towards FW is rather in relation to some disappointment on their side. It says to me they have expected something more from him than what they hear him saying, rightly or wrongly. I think they are disappointed about the fact that he has taken a very legalistic approach and that he is dealing almost with the TRC as a court of law instead of what it is and my impression is that that is one of the reasons why they are more pressing than one would have expected.

POM     Do you think, and I am sure I've asked you this before, but since it's an unfolding process that the TRC is an instrument of truth, justice and reconciliation or that while the idea sounded good that some place the process has got bogged down and it's not contributing to reconciliation and certainly not to justice insofar as the family factor, the Hani family and Mxenge family are concerned, and that the truth that is coming out is like an untested truth, untested in the sense that there are no evidentiary hearings as such, and that it may in the end end up being an instrument of lack of reconciliation rather than an instrument of reconciliation?

RM     I guess it will not be possible to really judge that before one sees the final report, but there is the belief amongst many that there is a one-sided approach in the TRC towards many of these things. There is also the belief that some of the conclusions that they seem to arrive at already are not carrying the full perspective and so on. I've always said that they have a very difficult task and that from my point of view we need to assist as far as possible to help them, to actually come behind the truth, to ascertain what the truth was so that they can build on that towards reconciliation, but it doesn't help to hide information or not to participate in the process because that will inevitably leave them with a distorted picture.

POM     If you were a betting man, this will be off the record and all these events will be long resolved before this ever sees the light of day of publication, if you were a betting man would you say that Clive Derby-Lewis will get amnesty?

RM     It seems to me the key question there was whether there was a political link and I don't think that question was answered positively so my feeling is that it is going to be very difficult for him to get amnesty but that is from the outsider's perspective. I didn't follow the application and the hearing that well, I didn't follow it in detail.

PO     FW, what led him to his own Rubicon of throwing his hand in and saying this is it?

RM     I believe he realised that he could not lead the party into something new. He probably realised that the second paradigm was not possible for him and he probably realised that there was no way forward for him. I think that is in essence what happened, but it happened at a very bad time for the party. If he did take this step at an earlier stage it might have been better for the party but he leaves the party at a very bad point of time.

POM     When you say very bad for the party, bad in what sense?

RM     Well it's at the low in terms of its support, it's struggling to do fund raising, it has a bad image all over. So many things are against it and he could have managed it far better. If he really wanted to go he should have gone maybe at the time he left the government of national unity.

POM     Looking at the calibre of leadership that's in the NP and the possible candidates for his replacement, even the fact that Pik Botha gets re-resurrected as an option shows almost the desperate straits the party is in, is it your belief that this is a party in the throes of disintegration and that it will end up with what is called the Bavarian Option, little pocket of - I mean Hernus Kriel took the right decision for himself but he said, "I prefer my little power base down here rather than sitting on an opposition bench having no power at all"?

RM     I think his decision or his indication that he was withdrawing from the national leadership race is in fact an indication of a recognition that the party is going to be reduced to a regional party and more and more to an ethnic party.  To my mind that was already on the cards at the time that I left the NP and it has simply now been confirmed with FW's resignation, that the party is moving in one direction and that is more conservative, more regional and probably more ethnic.

POM     No other pickings there for you in terms of you being able to approach individual members?

RM     Well I've no doubt that his resignation is a further contribution towards the realignment exercise because it certainly opens the opportunity for more people to reconsider their positions and I am not talking about people necessarily crossing the floor because the anti-defection clause is still there and nothing is changing as far as that is concerned. The same reason, therefore, that prevented people from crossing the floor at the time I left the NP still now prevails and that is that they simply cannot afford to leave the NP. That is the reality. But I think what is happening at the grassroots level is a completely different situation and I think many have come to follow us at that level and they do so already. That is what we are picking up. So there is no chance for the NP I think to change this around and if you look at the fact that there are at the moment five different candidates for the leadership position it shows that there is such a conflict internally.

POM     Fragmentation.

RM     Fragmentation, and it obviously will leave quite a number of people unhappy at the end of the result.

POM     There's no ideological centre either, ideological centre in terms of there being a common set of values around which various elements in the party can cohere.

RM     The big debate at the moment in South Africa in terms of all of this is not so much ideological, it's rather how one can bring communities together in terms of political formations and of course that requires some new thinking and re-thinking. Of course there are elements in the NP that would like to retain it as a white and coloured party and just that and then there are people who would like to make it a party for all South Africans and I think the big differences between the candidates are lying around those two key issues.

POM     Essentially those who are choosing what one might call the Bavarian Option are choosing what in the long run is a very short-sighted option since the day will come when the Western Cape will be more African just by pure demographics than by anything else.

RM     Sure, true, it's a very short term approach.

POM     I want to go back, Roelf, to - this is a statement by FW just to see whether or not it encapsulates what you think most Afrikaners, or for that matter most whites, still believe in their heart of hearts, and it was on an occasion when he said: -

     "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.  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."

     Do you think most Afrikaners still, or white people for that matter, still believe that, that this was a well intentioned experiment that had no malice to it or had no sense of wanting to be oppressive about it but that it just got out of hand and went haywire, or that there's a denial factor at work, that white people, Afrikaners, still despite what has emerged at the TRC are not quite willing to confront the past in the sense that there's not a single person you will find who will ever condone any of the actions of the security forces at Vlakplaas or any other of the atrocities that were carried out? They are saying we didn't know and if we had known our attitude would have been different.

RM     I think the majority of white people, and Afrikaners, would definitely not support that view any longer.

POM     That view that FW expressed?

RM     Yes. I think what he tried to explain there was what was the case at the time, but my view is that one will probably find a very clear distinction between the older and the younger generation on that particular viewpoint. I see it also in terms of my approaches for the concept of building a party which addresses all South Africans. The older generation in general tend to be negative towards it whilst the younger generation are in favour of it and I think the younger generation is more aware of the fact that they would like to get away from apartheid and the things that went wrong and are actually saying that the moral basis for it is totally unacceptable.

POM     Now when you go out and you talk to people in different communities how do you find the turnout in terms of demographic composition? Do young people turn out or mainly middle-aged or older people? Is it mixed - men or women?

RM     Well in general it's a fair balance. One must remember that the meetings that we had over the last two or three months were mainly consultative meetings, consultative hearings, so to speak, where we invited people who showed interest to come and talk so that we could discuss with them. So it was a cross-section but in general it was a fair distribution of people from among all communities and from different age groups, language groups and so forth, and also different political persuasions.

POM     What do you think accounts, and these are a couple of related questions, what accounts for the Democratic Party's real inability to move in the polls in any substantive kind of way? Tony Leon has been, whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he's very articulate and at least at this point is almost the best known voice of opposition yet there's no reflection in surveys of there being any significant shift of Democratic Party members into that camp, it's gone nowhere. That's one. Two, what objectives would you set for yourself as a new party coming on the scene looking at 1999, looking at the organisation that is required and more particularly the fund-raising that is required to establish a political identity and what identity will you, again to go back to something you mentioned at the beginning, would you establish that is different from saying we're for good government, there is no party that is not for good government, so that's not a particularly positive and powerful identity as such. No-one would go around saying, we're for bad government  or mediocre government. Why hasn't he been able to pull more people with him and what's the latch that will allow you and Bantu and whoever else is involved to pull this thing forward in a significant way so that you don't get stuck out as one of those 4% parties? Now you've reached your limit, your 4%, and your party is a fragmentation rather than a realignment.

RM     First of all you asked about the DP. I think the DP has become stagnant on account of the fact that they have a very specific portion of the market and their potential for growth is very small as a result of that. Their acceptability in the minds of black people is probably as low as it is for the NP for a different reason. The NP's problem is it's linked with apartheid. The DP is linked with white elitist type of thinking.

POM     White liberals?

RM     Yes.

POM     White liberal values.

RM     White liberal values which does not appeal to the black electorate. The difference that I think we would like to try and make is to say that we can make a contribution towards good governance, civil order and those things, because of the fact that we're going to try and look in a different way at the problems of South Africa than any of the other parties do. Most parties are looking at the problems of South Africa from a sectional perspective and that is why opposition parties are lacking at the moment in making any progress particularly. What we would like to try and do is first to get South Africans together so that we as South Africans can look at our common problems and our common solutions and that is the big difference. If you look at parliament now on the one side it's the ANC which operates from the mind of the black majority and on the other side it's the NP which operates from the mind of the white minority and, if you want to be more specific, the Afrikaner white minority. And so they're talking not at each other but across each other. There is no meeting of minds. They don't even look at the constitution in the same way as a starting point. And that is the real difference that I think we need to make. I hope we can succeed. I'm not claiming that we have the ability to change it all. I don't think two individuals, or for that matter a single party, can really realign the thinking of people. All that I know is that somewhere we have to make a start.

POM     What is it about white liberal values that so gets under the skin of African intellectuals and African elites and opinion makers? It's as though for the last couple of years there has been a constant drum beating against white liberal values, somehow trying to impose their value structures on Africans. What is it in those values that they find so irritating?

RM     I think it's probably a number of things which I'm not an expert on but from my own observations I think it has to do with the fact that white liberals are perceived to be concerned about their own interests as individuals. In other words they seem to be concerned about each one of them as individuals and what they are. Whilst from the African perspective it is rather important to find belonging, belonging to a community, belonging to a group, belonging to the nation, belonging to the continent. I think the sense of belonging is for the African mind far more important than anything else whilst for typical white liberals it is the individual that counts, with self-interest.

POM     Let me take a very, very small example, if I had white children, school age children, I would say well I want to send them to the best schools and if that means the local school to which they went is now going to be more integrated and therefore standards are going to fall so I'm going to take them out and put them into a private school or whatever because that's what's best for them and for me and that's the way I think. Whereas an African might say it's the collectivity of us all coming together, trying to build a better school that's more integrated is a more important consideration.

RM     Probably yes, probably a good example.

POM     I'm going to ask you a couple of questions about this famous book, Patti Waldmeir's book. Did you ever get a chance to read it in any depth or go through it?

RM     I read through it, particularly those sections or portions that refer to the period that I have been directly involved in. Not from a self-interest point of view but rather to see how she has reflected on those things that I know of and to make an assessment of that. I must admit I didn't read the book as a whole yet although I read great portions of it and I thought it was a very good compilation in a general sense.

POM     It was a really good compilation?

RM     I thought so.

POM     "Why the Boers gave it all away." If I put that in the context of a book by Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribert Adam, Comrades in Business, he says: -

     "When the chips were down Afrikaners meekly handed over power without ever seriously attempting to bargain any special group privileges. They even agreed to simple majority rule. Affluent Afrikaners sold out the poorer Afrikaners because they felt more confident of their ability to either survive in or leave the 'new' South Africa."

     And their conclusion in this particular section was : -

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

     Now put that in the context of her chapter entitled "Why the Boers Gave it All Away", you certainly don't think, you would disagree with her analysis that you gave it all away?

RM     We didn't and of course I disagree with her on specific aspects of that. But the overall impression that one had to reflect on is the fact that she gives credit for the fact that we have succeeded in bringing democracy to South Africa and that was the overall determining objective, at least in my mind, and there could be no real democracy if one would at the same time try and retain certain vetoes for minorities whatever the case might be.

POM     This dichotomy appears to crop up throughout the book. One, is that FW is not a convert, if that's the word used, to majority rule to the very end, even if he was a convert, where you were an early convert to majority rule. In a sense do you ever feel that you were mandated to negotiate a settlement which in your heart of hearts you knew couldn't be negotiated, that there was no ...  between majority rule and democracy, whereas FW was looking for ways around whether it was rotating presidents or one thing or another?

RM     Well you see that is exactly the point. I think we were playing for too long with ideas that simply were not associable with real democracy, were not possible to get agreement on in any event and were not possible to implement.

POM     How did that affect you psychologically? If I am in there, say I'm Cyril or whatever and you're Roelf and I know my bottom line and my bottom line is that I will make trade-offs on A, B, C, D, E, F, G, whatever you want but I'm not making trade-offs on one thing and that's majority rule but you're opposite me, another chess player, and you've a different mandate from your leader, you've been mandated to try to find this here and this there and that there but in your heart of hearts you know that you agree with your opponent.

RM     I think the biggest change in that kind of thinking occurred in that period that I've often referred to in the past between June and September of 1992. It's probably true that before then there was a vague mandate on issues like that but during that period I think it became clear, and we had ourselves also to become clear on the question in our own minds, that we had to structure a democracy which is a true democracy. I think there was some view that we were not comparable or not compatible to that before that stage. I am therefore saying in the stage leading up to CODESA 1 and in the early part of CODESA while the discussions took place and so forth, before the break of CODESA, I think the party didn't have its mind clear on those. But I only took over as chief negotiator in May of 1992 and what I am suggesting is that after that we started to work on a clearer picture of what we wanted and that emerged through the Record of Understanding and what subsequently followed. It was therefore not as if I were negotiating for something that I thought was in any event not possible.

POM     She says, I'll lump the statements together : -

     "In the end vanity drove De Klerk to compromise but he craved the endorsement of the international community."

     She almost goes so far as to suggest that in the end getting a settlement was more important to him than the content of the settlement itself. She recounted the story of Mandela threatening to refuse to appear with him in Philadelphia unless he gave in to certain demands that they had made during the negotiations that led to the Record of Understanding. She quotes Joe Slovo as saying on his assessment of the Record of Understanding that the NP caved in on everything, that he could barely conceal his glee. There is the account of Mandela putting De Klerk in his place over the issue of Robert McBride, of Ramaphosa putting you in your place with cryptic remarks that changed the relationship between you both. How did these factors play in? What were the psychological factors that were at work, that were beyond or above the official positions of parties?

RM     I do think that FW right from the start knew what was most likely going to be the end result but that there were of course forces in the party that tried to make a different impact, they tried to force him in different directions and that he probably also tried to play as hard as he could to minimise the inevitability. But I said it to Patti and I think it's reflected in her book that at a very early stage of the whole process he mentioned to me the consequence being that of a liquidating of the firm. That could mean only one thing.

POM     But you didn't say - what did you mean?

RM     No I didn't say it because I think we had the general knowledge of what we were talking about, being both lawyers. Let's put the overall picture in perspective and that is why I would say Joe Slovo was naughty when he made that statement and I think he did it intentionally. He knew he was not necessarily correct. Let us look at the overall perspective from where we started in 1989 and compare that with that of the ANC and I think then one has to come to a conclusion that overall we did pretty well as far as the whole process is concerned, but if somebody thought that we should not have agreed on democracy then that person would be disappointed and think that we have given everything away. But if we had to agree to establish a democracy the end result is there. I think she is a bit unfair to FW in making the assessment that he was giving in to pressure to accept majority rule. He very well knew from the start that that was inevitable.

POM     How would this question of, for example, there are three things that I can't quite square up. My understanding was that at the beginning of the process of negotiations that FW wanted an election as quickly as possible but the ANC were in disarray and he thought he could put together an anti-ANC alliance and pull off a victory, and you have Van Zyl Slabbert, or one of three authors who were involved in putting his book together, he said one of his colleagues told us in confidence that they thought they could keep the ANC negotiating for at least five years while the NP governed the ANC's support base away from it. And then you have her quoting or visiting De Klerk directly after CODESA 2, when CODESA 2 collapsed, and she was among the journalists who visited him : -

     "As a journalist visiting De Klerk's office after CODESA 2 I found him in a buoyant mood. He was sure that compromise would come from the ANC since he was confident that he could get 51% of the popular vote by leading an anti-ANC alliance. Some members of De Klerk's negotiating teams argued that maybe they should have settled at CODESA 2. Some of the agreements drafted there were never implemented, including what interim government arrangements gave an effective veto to the NP were the most favourable offers the NP could ever get."

     Mbeki has him by September saying he was desperate for a deal. Why would he be desperate for a deal in September? Were the NP ever desperate for a deal in September? What changed? What objective factors changed?

RM     I personally argued at the time of CODESA 2 that we should at all costs try and get a deal there to try and settle it. My argument was then, and has always been, that a deal today is better than one tomorrow and I sincerely thought that that one would have got a better deal at that point in time. It was probably not possible in any event to get a deal at that stage. I don't think the ANC, after realising what was going on, was in the mood for making an agreement. They would have shifted the goal posts in any event, so I don't think a deal was on at all by then. On whether it would have benefited the NP to have an election at that point of time or not is very speculative. I don't think it's possible to speculate on that.

POM     If he was saying time was on his side, she quotes him as saying time was on his side, why would he by buoyant?

RM     That was a misreading of the situation.

POM     The journalists found him in a buoyant mood. He was sure that compromise would come from the ANC.

RM     I would think that that was a misreading of the situation.

POM     A misreading of the situation on?

RM     I think FW misread the situation at that point of time.

POM     Why would he have misread it?

RM     I think it was all in the spirit of and after effect of the referendum.

POM     Did he misread the referendum?

RM     Well the outcome of the referendum made him and others in the NP feel that we were in a strong position as a result of the referendum outcome.

POM     Even though he ran on the platform that a vote for the NP was a vote against majority rule?

RM     Well it was not clearly defined. But the reason why he was in high spirits about the outcome of the referendum was that he thought that that gave support for taking a strong line in the negotiations and at the time of CODESA 2 that was still very much in the minds of many of those on the NP side, which was, of course, again a misreading of the situation because people tended to forget it was a white vote only.

POM     Was this discussed within cabinet?

RM     I think the point was argued. We argued it definitely at the time of the CODESA 2 event.

POM     Well she was talking about that you had 3½, yourself, Leon and -

RM     Well that was not the case at that stage. The 3½ argument actually became more applicable in 1993 when it was Dawie and Leon and myself who were responsible for the negotiations that took place at that stage. The set-up in 1992 was still different.

POM     You were moving at that point almost inexorably towards majority rule. Was FW presiding over the cabinet but not declaring where his own hand was?

RM     I am not quite sure. I was not so much in control of the negotiating situation by then because remember I only took over effectively after CODESA 2 as chief negotiator and it's difficult for me to reflect exactly what was in his mind up to that point.

POM     Why would she say that he was desperate, that by September of that year he was desperate for a settlement?

RM     I can't say exactly but it could be as a result of the ongoing mass action that started in June and carried on for three months. I'm not sure. Padraig I'm running out of time, I should be at my next appointment already.

POM     Oh we didn't begin until 25 past.

RM     Oh sorry, Renee on my programme she stated it's till 12.30.

POM     OK, just quickly then, one or two questions. She then quotes you: -

     "These guys had an advantage over us. They had been through negotiations par excellence in the mining industry, where we had to learn through experience on a daily basis. You can't learn these things in books."

     Do you ever have the feeling that you were out-negotiated?

RM     No I don't necessarily think so because whenever a situation arose where we could not conclude or reach progress or make progress or could not find an answer immediately in terms of what our desires were we would have delayed matters or postponed it or go back to find some new guidance. So I don't recall any specific situation where I had the feeling that we were out-negotiated but there were a few occasions that one was in a very uncomfortable position and those are related to events like, for instance, the raid on the PAC during the negotiations. There was one night a raid on the PAC which we as negotiators didn't know anything about. Of course that placed us in a very uncomfortable situation. On another occasion there was a raid on Umtata which we also didn't know anything about. That kind of thing did put one in a very negative situation on the spot right at that moment but overall I think I can say that I never had the feeling that we were out-negotiated.

POM     What about this incident that she calls the one day when Cyril had to put Roelf in his place. This was when he accused you, I think, of calling him a kaffir or something and you were getting ready to walk out and then you didn't walk out. She concludes that in his savaging of you, he deliberately set out to see how far he could push you and that as a result he gained a permanent psychological advantage over you and that this was part of Cyril's negotiating style.

RM     No that is not a correct reflection of what actually happened. That was Mac's version. The situation was actually the other way round. It so happened that that particular evening Cyril obviously tried to push it, it was a very specific evening that in the process of the channel between June and September of 1992, and Cyril was trying to push certain points and he made certain accusations against us and all of that.

POM     Against you personally or - ?

RM     Well personally and generally and it was clear to me that he was playing a game and I said to him, "I'm sorry I'm not going to tolerate this any longer." And he said "Why not?" And I said, "Because you are not negotiating, you are acting like an actor." And he pushed me further and I said, "Well you're just an actor", and he didn't like that, it was quite obvious. Then he pushed it to the point where there was a real fall-out, it's true, but on my side I had the experience that after that we could come to better terms, more equal terms. It was not for one moment going through my mind that Cyril had got the upper hand out of that conversation. I think it was rather a question that he was reduced to equal level because he didn't like me calling him an actor and that he is not behaving in the spirit of negotiating and we took a break. It's true that we all walked out of the room and after a while he and I had a personal conversation without anybody else present and that led us back to the table.

POM     Just a bit into your mind, third last question OK, you're very cool, you don't react after that question, you didn't portray any emotion, you read an account like that in a book of what supposedly happened and was basically incorrect but becomes the accepted version, becomes the version of the reality of what happened that Cyril pushed Roelf Meyer to the psychological edge, and she quotes Colin Eglin as saying Cyril had the whip hand or whatever. Do you not find that hurtful?

RM     You know when you're in politics I've learnt one thing and that is that you have to become something like a duck over the years, you have to let the water roll off.

POM     But that's very philosophical.

RM     Yes but if you're not philosophical about it you will never sleep, you will never get peace in your mind. When I read that I had to consider what to do about it, either make a statement and repudiate Patti, and I can't repudiate Patti because she got it from a certain source, so I enter into a debate in public with Mac Maharaj and then it's his version and my version. My belief is that the test of time will tell and the bigger picture is more important than something like that.

POM     Oh sure, I'm just interested in the ....

RM     I normally when I come across something like that I work through it and come to a conclusion and then put it away, forget about it.

POM     This is in fact my last question.

RM     If I would have not been concerned about the bigger picture I would have reacted, I think that is the difference.

POM     So when she talks generally about this, one of her theses is that Mandela gained psychological ascendancy over De Klerk and that Cyril gained psychological ascendancy over you. You, at least in terms of your own case, say that's nonsense. In the case of the latter did Mandela in the end psychologically get the upper hand over De Klerk?

RM     I don't think you can call it a psychological upper hand. I think it's a wrong description of what it really is. I think it's rather two individuals with completely opposite personalities and the one being a person's person and the other one a legalistic person. Of course the one with the personal approach will always have higher appreciation, always make a bigger impact than the one with the legalistic mind. It's like Diana. One suddenly realised that Diana has the whole world at her feet, or had the whole world at her feet. She's probably the most popular person in the whole world one suddenly realises if you look at the reaction, the coverage. It's amazing, it's unbelievable. For an Afrikaans newspaper like Beeld this morning to use the first six or eight pages, every single column on those pages on her tells something. Unbelievable. And that's a small newspaper in South Africa, Afrikaans newspaper and the Afrikaner never being attached to the monarchy. It tells you something. So all that I'm saying is that she came across apparently as a person with whom everybody could associate. That makes the difference. And of course the old man has got that ability too and I think therein lies the difference. It's not a question of upper hand, it's not that he was personality-wise stronger than FW but it's just completely different styles.

POM     One very quick question and the other one is, to me, a fundamental flaw in Mbeki's analysis of the situation I would like you to comment on. One is that one or two people mentioned to me that Mandela was a hands-on negotiator, at the end of every day Mandela's team went back to him and they went through the day's proceedings and they plotted out strategy and whatever, whereas De Klerk was a more distant negotiator, you were left more to your own devices, there were no daily meetings between you and De Klerk to discuss what went on. So Mandela was more hands-on in that sense.

RM     No, I don't think that is completely true. He was pretty hands-on too, he had a clear picture of what happened every day. He was consulted on an on-going basis. But it's true that probably our negotiating team did meet more often on our own and then we would take our recommendations to him and so forth. One must remember one thing and that was that he was at that stage also President of the country and he had to attend to all other line function responsibilities as well. Negotiations were part of his responsibility not his only responsibility, whilst on the side of the ANC it was almost everything for them.

POM     Was that not a mistake to involve cabinet ministers as your chief negotiators at the same time, so you were all the time bearing two responsibilities?

RM     My function was in any event that.

POM     Yes that was your function, yes, but in the case of the others?

RM     No it was problematic to other ministers  but on the other hand line function ministers could not be excluded because of their special knowledge about certain subjects, so you could not exclude them from the negotiating team, like for instance Kobie Coetsee as Minister of Justice. There were very important issues related to his line function that he was the key negotiator on.

POM     Mbeki said, I'll read the quote, this is her talking and then Mbeki:-

     "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 NP to obeying the ANC. Even the Afrikaner dominated civil service and security forces, groups that 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 a Deputy President but within months of the election senior ANC figures were asking whether these gestures had been necessary."

     Then she quotes Mbeki : -

     "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 derives precisely from the understanding that the NP would be the political representative 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 would come in with the numbers, they would come in with the power and we would need to work together for a certain period."

     One, do you think Afrikaners have a political culture that borders on obsequiousness? And two, do you not think, in my view the transition was smoothed by the fact that if Afrikaners in the civil service and the security forces fell into line it was because of the existence of the sunset clauses and had those clauses not existed the transition might have been a lot more difficult so that Mbeki's got it the wrong way round?

RM     Yes, I think it's a very simplistic analysis that one. In fact the picture is changing in any event very fast now, so it's a very simplistic analysis that one, not a correct one.

POM     Very simplistic analysis on the part of?

RM     Of Mbeki.

POM     Of Mbeki. Is it a simplistic analysis to say that theirs is a political culture?

RM     Simplistic in the sense that they thought the NP would be representative of the Afrikaner and therefore a deal with the Afrikaner would solve everything. Simplistic in the sense that that is not correct. The NP was not necessarily representative of all in the security forces, of all in the civil service. It's rather a fact that people come to terms with the settlement and with the transformation on account of the fact that there was obviously through that the possibility to avoid civil war in the country and people were not looking at that possibility. It's also rather something of an acceptance that black majority rule had to come and it was also an acceptance of the President as a person who became acceptable to the majority, of the whole nation. But today that picture has changed and there is far less acceptability today in the white mind to what the ANC is doing for various reasons.

POM     That's acceptability from white people of what the ANC is doing?

RM     Yes.

POM     Than it was?

RM     At the time of the transition. So maybe that is a subject for another discussion.

POM     Yes, but quickly could you put your finger on it?

RM     It relates to a lot of things. It relates to the TRC, it relates to the fact that in many instances whites have experienced that they are being forced out through affirmative action. But probably most importantly is their concern that the administration of the country is starting to take a dive and that they are disappointed about that.

POM     The report on the provinces was pretty damning. I've been telling Zola that for years and he still won't accept a proposal to train people.

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.