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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Oct 1997: Meyer, Roelf

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POM     I liked the way it was portrayed as being show biz and then in the second half they said well anybody who can attract 6000 people at an event on a Saturday would have to be taken seriously. But it was like saying you were bringing the skills of modern politics to the launching of a party, which is exactly what you should have been doing, and then you were almost being criticised for it but I don't know what they expected. The press has been sympathetic, do you not think so?

RM     I think they could have given us better coverage on that. I think they could at least have ....  it's not something that you can ignore, not something that any party can ignore.  The Star on Monday, just on the second or third page .... research to find out what people are actually reading in the paper, and they did that in the Monday paper.

POM     Doesn't Markinor do anything that's on a continuous basis?

RM     They do it every quarter. But the problem is, and I asked them why does it take so long from July till now to give us the result and it has not even been published yet, it still will take another two weeks before they even publish it. They say the problem is that they have to verify the results, because it's rural and metropolitan.

POM     Do they send field workers out into rural areas and make the necessary adjustments in terms of - the HSRC does that, does Markinor do that too?

RM     Yes.

POM     Well I saw one extraordinary result a couple of weeks ago that I was telling you where the HSRC had the PAC at 1% and Markinor had them at 14%. That's more than a slight statistical discrepancy.

RM     True. When was that?

POM     That was published about two weeks ago.

RM     That must have been a very one-sided community that they took. The way that Markinor shows them at 1.2%.  The National Party are down to 11%. They say by the end of the year they will be 7%.

POM     By the end of the year they will be down to 7%? In their optimistic judgement that's where they're going? Is that their optimistic assessment of where they are going, from 11% to 7%? What is the background of Marthinus? Why does he jump to the fore? We were here for ten years and his name just popped out of the blue.

RM     It was FW that pushed him. FW was not good at collecting people.

POM     That's an ironic comment for you to make.

RM     It's damn good that it happened. The longer I am out of there the more I feel it was the right thing to do.... I've been through the negotiations, I've had the opportunity to ... I've been through all that but it's only now that I really feel that I've made ...  He reminded me the other day that even when we were together in Cape Town ...

POM     I remember that. I never saw you so despondent.  A new constituency?

POM     Most of the Northern Ireland Unionists have holiday homes in Cyprus.

PAT     What does your family think of this move?

RM     They are very happy. Essentially the National Party became so -

PAT     To be out of that.

RM     It affected them all. My wife and the older children were very happy when I left. My wife would have preferred ... because it was a wonderful opportunity but they are all very supportive. They were in fact all at the launch. Normally they don't take much interest in politics.

POM     I remember when we met in Cape Town and we had dinner, you had come from this meeting with FW and you were so kind of - on the one hand you were being a very social host and on the other hand you were completely pre-occupied by what appeared to be an insoluble dilemma, that you had been asked to do something which was impossible to do.

RM     He reminded me the other day of that, because it was right at the crucial point of things coming to a point.

POM     It's a wonderful resource, the Institute of Contemporary History (at the University of the Free State). What they do is as they computerise it, not only computerise it but download it so you pick it up -  you can have anybody on your staff take out every day and just print it out.

RM     When the negotiations were on they were the best local source. No doubt about it. I was last night at a book launch, he released a book last night, short stories, and I was there it was at the World Trade Centre. The publisher then came to me and said now can't they get ... Then we started to talk because the guy - all I had to say was - then I said to them, but this guy has got me taped and I know he's got a lot of other people taped, but still the best record belongs to this Irish American.

POM     No, no, not Irish American. Irish. That's the only thing that gets me really crazy. Irish! I'll put together for you all the interviews we've done and you will be free to use them in any way you wish, and I've made that clear to everybody. I see myself as a source of collection not as a source of ownership and that the more availability that can be made of everybody's memory the better.

RM     That's wonderful.

POM     And then I want to donate them to a university here. Is the Free State University the best place? Should that become - should it be Fort Hare, should it go to the University of the Western Cape? You've got competing centres that are collecting now different information but what really impressed me about the Free State was the level of their technology right now, that if tomorrow you rang them and said I wanted a clip out of everything said about our party in the last week you would have it on your computer within half an hour.

RM     I would say that that's the best.

POM     Is that right?

RM     Apart from that the people there have really played a developmental role in that part of the country, although it's coming from a very conservative university it's a university that is now majority black students.

POM     We were down there on Friday with Kobie Coetsee, he was a great host, and what we were talking about was with the cut-backs and reorientation in education are places like the Institute of Contemporary History going to suffer? Would they not be able to use the same technology they've been using where they've moved directly from micro-fish to just being on line, or will they get cut-backs and because where there are educational cut-backs you cut ... and you keep the money for students?

RM     I now have prepared a piece for a book that's going to be written by a guy from Minnesota, do you know him? He's writing a book on South Africa, the negotiations, and what he basically seems to do is to get a number of people to write a chapter so he has approached all of us. I would not even try to write it , prefer him to record it, he knows what I said.

POM     What's his name?

RM     Hennie Marais. I would like him to interact with you.

POM     I'll contact him then and make all our interviews back to 1990 available, and the tapes so that everybody will have access to them because this will be much studied. You don't keep a diary of your own reflections? One thing we didn't talk about before but I'd like to hear you share that, from that moment in Cape Town last year where you reminded me of a little  boy in a school doing an examination and you'd been asked a question to which you didn't know the answer. You had a blank piece of paper and a pencil and there was nobody else in the room but you were left in the room on your own to try to write an answer that you couldn't come up with. What led you inevitably to the conclusion - because I remember you said that FW, and Wimpie said the same thing, he said that what he wouldn't do was ever divide the party, that at heart he was a Nat and that keeping the Nats together was more important to him than moving in different directions, how you worked through your own mind processes, how you agonised with the question of how to move and when you knew that it had become the inevitable right time to make the break?

RM     It was a fascinating experience looking back at it. I sort of knew that it was starting to break up. Last year I was more prepared to compromise and I think after I returned from the TRC it was clear in my mind that that was the way it had to break up  and from there onwards I was on the edge all the time. Everything I did - if it would have gone my way of course it would have been wonderful but I knew that I could actually not stay there. It took me five months because the situation got worse, it was tough. Many mornings at four I would wake and start work at six. At six when I would get up I was ready for the day, took up the nearest challenge. It was tough because all the time I was alone.

POM     Are you surprised that you have not yet been able to take people like Sam de Beer with you?

RM     No, I've given up on him.

POM     You have?

RM     This is the strange thing, if there was not an anti-defection clause I would sit with half of the National Party. Nobody would have believed it, now we can make the press and the news time.  There is only one person that I called upon, notwithstanding this, he was the only one I asked to come with, not for my sake but I said for your own interests come along, and he was not prepared to.

POM     Why couldn't he do it?

RM     Didn't have the guts. He could have come. I've given up on him.

POM     Who?

PAT     Sam's son.

POM     He's with you?

RM     And his wife is still in Krugersdorp with -

POM     Oh my God, you're going to unite the country and dissolve a family.

RM     The other day I phoned her and when she heard it's me she ....  So I've given up on him. What is fascinating that it is really a new political generation that is coming forward. In terms of thinking it's beyond the ANC.

POM     Beyond the ANC. Like?

RM     Yesterday ...

POM     They are looking or they're not?

RM     They are looking.

POM     For practical answers.

RM     They are looking for practical answers that can be introduced at the grassroots.

POM     The point is that this new type thinking and synergy is trying to be more creative in a practical way.

RM     Simply looking at what's on the ground - people that I would have never thought would help us.

POM     You look far more animated than you did when you were in Cape Town, put it that way.

RM     But I love it.

POM     I want to put this question, I may have put it to you before but it fascinates me. If one looked at unlikely bedfellows you and Bantu would be top of the list.

RM     You were very sceptical when you asked that question.

PAT     We still talk about that.

RM     I think the first time that I say Padraig afterwards he asked me a question that is not a scientific, objective question.

PAT     Scientific question, personal in a way.

RM     It was very personal.

POM     I was shocked. We've known Bantu for as long as we've known you.

PAT     Since 1989.

POM     That's right. We travelled over eight hours till we got lost in Durban and ended up in the Transkei and he always wanted to do things differently, with no airs about him or he didn't go round with security guards and this whole entourage of people which people in other independent states or homelands did. He was just casual, his wife was studying at the university. What was she studying?

PAT     She was studying for her Masters. Sociology wasn't it?

POM     How does the chemistry, like you were talking about before, many people have, like the chemistry never developed between Mandela and De Klerk yet chemistry developed between you and Bantu. How did it happen?

RM     I don't know, but it's there. It's a different kind of chemistry than between Cyril and myself but we get along very well. Although we come from totally different backgrounds and have different personalities at the same time I think we meet each other when we face a problem, the approach that we take. We can really sit down and talk about a problem and work it out.

POM     I am going to ask a question which I may have asked but I have to because I always come back to this, it was pointed out in a number of books that were written about your relationship with Cyril, which I think was an extraordinary relationship on one level, a truly extraordinary relationship, but that you never socialised together or you never, you know. Do you and Bantu - has he been to your home, have you been to his home, have your families had a braai together? Or is it still like on a sophisticated level as distinct from a truly personal level?

RM     It's still a bit - he has been to my home, but it's still a bit ... we talk about the fact that we should get our wives together, but it seems to me that his wife is even more to make the policies than my wife.

POM     She what?

PAT     She's more immersed in politics than Roelf is.

RM     We will never develop the same kind of relationship I had with Cyril, that was very special, it was developed under different circumstances. I think in a certain way Bantu is his own worst enemy, doesn't know how to protect himself. I think he's got far more ability than the people realise. But there's one thing that you can't ignore about him is his ability to operate a crowd.

PAT     It's amazing. Did Padraig tell you that before the 1994 elections he went campaigning with him in the Free State?

POM     I spent a day with him, an amazing day. He took crowds at the stadiums and we wouldn't believe - he would say, we will have to go now because the crowd is building up, it's only ten o'clock in the morning but the crowd is already there. Oh yeah? The rally is supposed to begin at twelve o'clock, we would get there at eleven expecting the place to be empty.

RM     He's got that ability.

POM     He's also a rugby fan. He comes from that royalty, Xhosa royalty, he went to a special school, got specially educated, he was an advantaged person in a way.

RM     But he kept in touch with his roots. The interesting thing is, some of the local commentators have picked it up, apparently at some point he said if you vote for me -

POM     And he went to university in the Free State.

RM     Humansdorp. People have picked up from comments that were made ...  Without referring to that I made the point on an earlier occasion to say that I am an Afrikaner from the Eastern Cape, we come from different areas of the same province.  We decided to find a way forward. They decided to find a way forward. It's maybe a weak point.

POM     The question which, I've read all the editorials since the party was launched and all the editorial comments and whatever, it's very funny, I'll share a conversation with you. Yesterday I talked to Popo Molefe, I have a great admiration for him as  being one of the most articulate and thoughtful, intelligent spokespersons to come out of the liberation movement. He was describing you and Bantu as the fourth force and he was pointing to things like what the NEC is concerned about, the fact that you made an approach to Lucas Mangope, to him in the North West that's very important, and, what's the name of the guy from Richmond, the Midlands, that you have since totally dissociated yourself from? But he was saying that the associations were made that your judgements were faulty and in the end you're both associated with apartheid era politics. Now coming out of Popo I thought now is this what the NEC thinks? I said, is this what you think or what the NEC thinks? And he said in the North West there is a place called the Holomisa Squatter Camp or township, park, and there is some trouble there with concerned citizens, with different unions beginning to organise against the mineworkers unions, all of which they interpret as being counter-revolutionary kind of forces, that the idea is to split up, destroy and discredit the ANC. So they're not seeing politics as being that the more parties you have the better, the more disagreements you have the better. They were saying disagreements were a matter of trying to discredit them and undermine us rather than to enhance the dialogue.

RM     It's very interesting that Popo is taking that view, it must show that he is showing some concern from his perspective and what influence he might have. As far as Mangope is concerned, he wanted very much to be part of us but he kept low, but many of his followers are supporting us. The ANC are looking for all sorts of conspiracies when people are not toeing the line to follow what their thinking is. I think that's just an expression of that. They can't approve of what we're doing and that's part of the reason.

POM     The dichotomy would be to me that on the one hand they pay such attention to democracy, democratisation, consultation and openness and transparency and all of this and yet there is an intolerance of difference.  Where do you think that arises from?

RM     It essentially relates to the fact that they really believe in their own minds that they are going to be there for the next 50 years. They are bound to say that, it's so high in their minds that we're going to be there. I spoke to George Bizos -

POM     The lawyer?

RM     Yes. We all know how close George is to the ANC and he said congratulations, I'm glad you're there, it's good. My prediction is that the ANC will be there as long as the Communist Party was there in Russia. They really think they are going to be there for the next 50 years. That is part of their mentality, they know they have to say the right things but in their minds ... We have to break out of that.

POM     Well, I suppose this will be my million dollar question, you have job creation, crime, bread and butter issues at the top of your agenda, how does your vision of the New South Africa differ from the ANC? Put it like a PR person or whatever, you can write it on the back of a postage stamp so that three or four words differentiate you from them so that masses of people can make the distinction between what you and Bantu are about and what the ANC is about, as distinct from policy statements? How do you put it? Most 'pros' in the business of political management or consultancy would say you've got to have your message so clear, so sharp, so crisp, so defined that the electorate get the difference, because they don't read policy papers.

RM     I think it's very clear. Where are the jobs? GEAR is fine but where are the jobs?

POM     I've asked everybody about GEAR, everybody from my financial tutor, Derek Keys, to every minister I've talked to in the government, to everybody else, and they all say GEAR is not working. How do you create a policy, who have you working on a policy that creates jobs, redistributes the financial resources of the budget, encourages private investment by companies in this country, as distinct from sending their money abroad which they are doing, increase savings ratio, hold fiscal discipline and at the same time attract foreign investment? Now how do you do that if the ANC with all the vows they have made to international institutions have been unable to do it? Are you not in a way a victim of a global economy, that in fact you don't have a lot of power over this?

RM     I think business can be made by looking at it from a totally different perspective. Most western European and western democracies, and that is looking at it from the top down ... we have to make economic plans, looking at it from our perspective. Where are the jobs?  What can be done in terms of practical reality for the people on the ground, because if they can become successful, the people on the ground, the economy will work and the macro economic plan will work.

POM     If I were a member of the ANC I would say I understand that but it's not happening. How do you generate that happening?

RM     I think there are answers to that, I am not suggesting that I have the answers, but I think the answer to the question is that how can we ensure that small business initiatives, entrepreneurship, really takes place?

POM     Not to press the point but I would say if you and I were sitting at the Council of the ANC, their Economic Committee or whatever they call it, the Finance Committee or Transformation Committee, we would be exactly saying the very same thing that it must be done from the ground up, you must create small businesses, you must give entrepreneurship a chance. Why has it proven just in the last three years so impossible to get any lift off in that regard at all?

RM     The ANC is not sharp, it's become bureaucratic, old-fashioned, more concerned about their good salaries, the good life. I said it to Valli at some point and he reminded me more and more of how we were. They are more concerned about the good things in life than the sharp edges that make the difference. Let it be so, good for me politically. They are not going to change because they are so self-satisfied because they think they are going to be there for 50 years. All that we have to do is become a bit sharper. My first intention is not to put up a fight. I'm not disagreeing with you, all that I'm saying is I think they are lacking ... they've become fat cats and they are letting the people down. What I would like to do is take up the cause of the people. It's so funny, these reversed roles, but that is really what it is about. If they don't take up the challenge of the poor people, this country is not going to survive. That's the reality.

POM     And so far that's not happening.

RM     Well there's no change. The people on the ground have experienced no real change. I see it as the reversed role of those that are in power.

POM     So can you go in, one of the elements of this to me, I don't know who pointed it out to me, in fact it was Mr Motlanthe the General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Union who is probably going to be the next Secretary General of the ANC, and he talked to me and he was opposed to Tito's bill. He was saying that what we should be doing is we should be working 48 hours a week and not talking about 40-hour weeks. We ought to be talking about sacrificing on behalf of each other and working harder and he said, "That's one of the few things I admire out of the Afrikaner experience of 1948 is that when they came in they transformed their society but they transformed it through certain ethics of behaviour and among those ethics was the ethic of work and sacrifice on behalf of the Afrikaner community, if you like to call it that."  There isn't any sense of that in the broader African community, no sense of cohesion of the need among, say, the trade unions to say we all must sacrifice in order for us all to advance because what we're really talking about are our children and our children's children, we're not talking about what we get next week or next month, and there's the absence of that ethic. Do you know what I mean?

RM     I think it's probably true and I can't say they don't hold to the culture of the unions. I've never been exposed to that so I can't speak about that. It seems to me that if you link up with the workers - let us embark on the course that will benefit everybody, serve the purpose for which we are here. What I would like to see coming out of this, we're talking confidentially, what I would like to see coming out of that is no matter whether a worker or a non-worker, they benefit from what is being achieved. What is happening at the moment? Only a very few are benefiting from the macro-economic plan whether it's through privatisation or not, it's only a very few who benefit from that. And it's only a very few who benefit from the drive the unions are putting in. But the overall picture is that the masses are totally neglected.

POM     Do you still talk to Cyril on any regular or irregular basis?

RM     No. We do talk now and then when we come across each other but not on a firmer basis.

POM     What I would find interesting is that you are conveying the message that he should be conveying.

RM     It's the reversed role. And the one person who picked it up was Mac Maharaj. When I left parliament, the day when I made my final speech, he followed and he said for years they were toyi-toying outside, and he's in government and now I'm going to take up (the outside position.) I'm not taking up this role for political purposes, it's simply because I think that's the only way in which we can actually close the gap between the haves and have-nots, because in essence, and I'm not saying this now for the first time, I said this while I was in the National Party, one has to state a vision for the next 30 years for this country, we have done one thing and that is not to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

POM     It's not happening.

RM     Not at all. I said that three years ago already in the NP. And what I can do now is try and make a new political party that will do this. So it's a re-engineering of the political scene if we are to achieve that objective because the ANC are, unfortunately, in government making the same mistakes as the previous government made.

POM     Yesterday, I think I told you, I was in Rustenburg with Popo but the Deputy Secretary General of the Mineworkers' Union was there. COSATU was having their first North West conference and Popo was late by about three hours, nothing was happening so I went into the room where the conference was being held and I was the only white face there, 400 people decked out, 500 maybe, nice T-shirts and red caps for COSATU and Department of Education, and I said I'll just stand by the door and they said no, no, you've got to come up, you're the Premier's guest, you've got to come up front. But the person who was speaking was the Deputy Secretary General of the Mineworkers' Union and he asked a couple of questions which were very interesting. He asked, "Of all you teachers who are here how many of you have ever  been in a mine, seen a mine?" Not a hand went up. He said, "How many of you have ever been to a processing plant or a factory, just to a factory where workers work?" About five hands went up out of about 500 people. Then he said, "Well I want to give you an analogy, it's about an Irish whiskey, down below you've all this black stuff and on the top you have the white cream, then on top of the white cream you have a sprinkling of chocolate or whatever and what we must do is we must take that sprinkling and turn it into an overpowering presence of the topping." So when Popo got up to speak he said, "Oh there's an Irishman right here among us." I began to shrink under the table. He went through this whole elaborate explanation of what I was doing in the country and he said, "Stand up Padraig, I want you to stand up", and they all applauded for about three or four minutes. It was very humbling. But there were two messages finally gotten across, one was from this man from the Mineworkers' Union who said forget this nonsense of protest, the protest days are over, the teachers are supposed to turn up on time, they are supposed to teach their classes, they are supposed to make what they do (beneficial) to the society that they're involved in. The other question was black empowerment and at the dinner table, I left a message for Cyril on his phone tonight saying they are spreading rumours about you that you're already supposed to be worth R33.5 million, and a lot of people are no longer beginning to see that as a message of black empowerment but of personal enrichment. When you go into black communities with Bantu does this come up in terms of who is gaining, who are the gainers, who are the losers? There are more black faces available no matter where you go but, as you said earlier, there's no real change in the condition of the masses.

RM     As I understand the local problem is the building up of a resistance in the black community even against Cyril. People like Winnie are going to become more and more popular because they are still being seen to stand up for the rights of the people, and that is what makes Bantu popular.

POM     Now you have a most unlikely ally in this, somebody I talked to today is Ferdi Hartzenberg who thought that your breakaway was one of the best things that happened, has happened in South African politics. And to address the very point you were addressing that unless the masses begin to see some visible change other than the change in the lives of the leaders, there is going to be trouble.

RM     I'm glad I did it.

PAT     Wouldn't it require the same for Holomisa? The politics of demagoguery, I think it was quite a point for Holomisa because in many ways he's not a natural political ... the integration of your people. It's one thing for the two of you to be able to get on but the ambience of the two and the personalities of the people and the way they work - what it's like inside those two buildings? It's pretty overwhelming for both sides, for both groups.

RM     It can open up other opportunities for us.

POM     Do you think the odds are so heavily on Pretoria at this point, do you think the odds are so heavily on Pretoria at this point that if you were a betting man you'd actually put some money down on Pretoria?

RM     I'm not close enough to them on this issue, I don't really know whether they have changed their minds or not. Last time I spoke to them I had the impression that it was going to come.

POM     Going to come to?

PAT     Pretoria.

RM     I don't know, maybe the fact that we lost the Olympics was negative. I don't know what is your impression.

PAT     I think it will come to Pretoria. I think there are too many ANC members who are living nearby. It's not the kind of lifestyle and even if you couldn't go home every night at least the prospect of getting home more often than they do. So I think the numerical support is there.  Padraig is going to Ireland this week.

POM     I'm doing a 'you and Cyril', turning around in 48 hours.

RM     Going to talk to the parties there?

POM     The American television and the BBC are doing a six-hour series on Northern Ireland. It's called Behind the Mask and ... the IRA but they will get more. First of all I want to tell you something, that I got a letter that was sent to my office. It said, "Dear Mr O'Malley, this is to commend you and the South Africans who are associated with you in bringing together the politicians from South Africa and Northern Ireland. I have been here for the last two weeks talking to members of all the parties and they all describe their experience in South Africa as being one of the most significant, if not the most significant experience of their political lives. They said they have all learned. Yours truly, Senator Ted Kennedy." Then he added a note saying, "Keep up the good work between yourself and the South Africans."

     Before I leave I want to borrow about 15 minutes of your time to talk about a follow-up, that is a visit from you. Now they've actually, they've learnt, I can see, I was over there two weeks ago for the resumption of talks and David Trimble and Martin MacGuinness after that first day when they couldn't be in the same bar have now reached the point of being across the same table, even though the first time we arranged to get them across the same table was that they agreed upon the formula but David Trimble would look at you as Martin MacGuinness and say - I want to expel you from the talks, but at least it was done head to head. And now they begin to work out an agenda. It will be business committees that are setting up priorities. Blair wants a settlement by next May. I don't know whether that's realistic. But I know that if you and Cyril and Valli maybe Mac visited, just said you were there to observe the proceedings, because their experience in South Africa has become part of the political lexicon.

     Everyone refers to what they went through here to justify or not justify what they do. I don't want to draw analogies, they all do it through process, that if this were arranged where, maybe just you and Cyril again being the prime initiators, saying we want to see you guys in operation for one day, see them in operation, how they're working. That again could give the kind of impetus it gave to things when you went there last June, 1996, you changed things. The two of you being there actually changed the way people began to see themselves and relate to each other. I can't over-estimate the impact those 48 hours had on people. Like Valli saying, Mandela saying, that you and Cyril reported to Mandela and said we've got to stay involved here. They see you as being absolutely, truly, completely neutral, no axes to grind.

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.