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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Jun 1998: Meyer, Roelf
POM Let me begin with a simple question: what do the polls show? The polls that I have seen since I've come here have shown diminished support for the ANC but also diminished support for the National Party. I think last year you said that by the end of the year support for the NP would be down to about 7%. You have marginal gains by the Democratic Party. You have the IFP whose support nationally seems to have been cut by about half, they are down to about 5%. You have the Freedom Front that stays at its static 3% - 4%. Yet even though there is no, or didn't appear to be in the polls that I saw, any registration of support for the UDM, and that may be because I haven't looked at enough polls since I've come back here, how do you see: (i) the phenomenon that support for the ANC is dropping but no-one else is gaining or doesn't appear to be gaining in any significant way; and (ii) do you think the bleeding of the NP will just continue to haemorrhage? Is the DP just too elitist ultimately, a nice Westminster party but not really attuned to African politics? How do you see the flow of support moving between the parties between now and next April or May when the election is and what vacuum do you see the UDM filling?
RM There was only one poll published so far this year which was done in March by Markinor and that reflected the same pattern as far as the main parties are concerned, which you have just pointed out: ANC 54%, NP down to 10% and the others as you indicated. It also gave the UDM 5% at that stage so that is more or less the first poll that reflected the position of the UDM. The one previously I think, or the polls that were previously done, were more on the basis of the individuals, Bantu Holomisa and myself. I think this is the first one where the UDM as a political formation was recorded or registered. So I think we can say we are departing on the basis of 5% and we are quite happy with that as a starting point, not happy in terms of what should be the way forward but as a starting point it's not bad. The interesting thing is that the biggest score apart from the ANC was that of the undecided vote which was round about 14% in that poll and I think if one analyses that undecided vote there's quite a lot of potential there. My feeling would be that we should go for the strongest part or the biggest proportion of that, to try and collect that, as well as some further votes from both the NP and other minority parties.
POM Have you look at that undecided vote for the ANC, what kind of profile does it have?
RM The bulk of the undecided vote is coming from the ANC.
POM Who are they? Are they under 25, between 25 and 50, over 65? Are they urban, are they rural or is it across the board?
RM I can't say exactly off the cuff but I think it's basically representative of the broad spectrum. I don't have the exact analysis of that undecided group in my mind but if I remember correctly it's across the spectrum as far as age is concerned but probably more metropolitan.
POM That's interesting. Now when you look at the profile of your own vote, where does that appear to be coming from? Is it - I may mistakenly understand what your strategy is since you're still a small party and can't be everywhere, that you can target at the North West, target at the Eastern Cape especially the Transkei and target at parts of KwaZulu/Natal.
RM I think what we are seeing, that 5% that the poll gave us, is composed of 70% black, round about, 16% white, 8% coloured and 4% Indian. Now that would be a very true reflection of the demographics of the nation I would say. Education-wise it's also a reflection of the same kind of thing, the various numbers completely in line with the breakdown of the nation as far as education levels are concerned, the vast majority of course at the lower level, but then it goes through to round about 12% or 13% graduates. In terms of income it's again the same picture, exactly a mirror of the national picture as far as the nation is concerned. It is, however, true as far as the black grouping is concerned the majority of that is coming from the Xhosa speaking community wherever they are situated, it's not only in the Eastern Cape. They are of course in other parts of the country too but the majority of them are coming from that community.
POM Does it work to Bantu's advantage that he is perceived as a Chief?
RM I don't think that is the main focus as far as the black mind is concerned. I think the fact that he is being regarded as a leader who people experienced previously and over the last few years also as a person who is prepared to stand up for the rights of the people at the grassroots level, to my mind is the most complimenting factor in his favour. That is how people remember him, for instance, in the old Transkei, that he was the one who stood up against corruption, for instance. He was the one that fought corruption for their sake and on their behalf. But that support is cutting across the spectrum. I have met people in Umtata who are from all walks of life literally who are very strong supporters of him, people who are ex-government servants, who are academics still, in other words intellectuals as well as people right through to the grassroots levels who have this high regard for him in terms of what their experience of the past is and I don't think that is attached to the fact that he is coming from a specific traditional background.
POM Do you have these targeted areas - the North West was where you had the first Provincial Congress, do you see that as the soft underbelly of the ANC, that they are more vulnerable there than in other places?
RM So far we have not concentrated on any specific area to single it out. We will have to analyse the situation and decide, I think, when it comes closer to the election how we are going to utilise our resources, if that is necessary, but as for now and up to this point we have been trying to concentrate on all corners of the country because it's obviously important first of all to establish structures in all parts of the country and that is what we were busy with up till now. At the same time keeping in mind that we have a list system, PR system, every vote counts and the breakthroughs that we can make in the Northern Province are as important as those in the Eastern Cape for that reason. So our focus was really countrywide up till this stage although the polls indicated that the stronger provinces would be Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Western Cape in terms of our support.
POM And the Western Cape?
RM Oh yes.
POM Where is the support in the Western Cape? Are you eating into the NP's base there in terms of the coloured vote?
RM That's the interesting thing about the Western Cape that people tend to forget, is that we have the potential to cut into the support bases of both the ANC and the NP in that province simply because we can penetrate all three communities that are relevant there. One must remember that the majority of the voters in the Western Cape are coloured, more than 50%, then you have whites 25% and blacks 20% roughly as it is now, and the UDM I think is the only party that can attract support from all three of those at the same time. Whilst the Nats are obviously concentrating on white and coloured, the ANC is concentrating on black and coloured, we can cut across the spectrum and it is for that reason that I believe we can do very well in the Western Cape.
POM Where realistically do you see yourselves as being, say, next May, let's say the elections are held in May, May 5th has been bandied about as a possible date, what would you consider to be a significant breakthrough that will have made this effort worthwhile against all the odds and all the nay-sayers who said Bantu and Roelf will be on the scene for a couple of months and then they will be swallowed up either by the ANC or by the flow of national politics?
RM Well I think those that said that already had to swallow their words.
POM OK, but what would you consider victory in terms of what proportion of the vote you might gain and what would you consider a setback?
RM I have always taken the view that the first objective is not so much to attain a certain percentage but rather to structure a good platform for further growth and to my mind that would mean a support base that is really reflecting the national picture as far as the broad community is concerned, in other words support from all communities and that whatever the percentage is is less relevant to that basis because if we have that basis of support coming from all communities then as far as the future is concerned the sky is the limit.
POM But the fact of the matter is that, call them the media or the political pundits or whatever, set expectation levels for various parties and they might say if the UDM gets 8% that's a major breakthrough, they really are a coming force to be reckoned with. If the UDM gets 1% it shows that in fact they did get swallowed up by the ANC or by the flow of national politics, so those judgements are going to be made post-election and you must have a strategy to deal with them which means that you yourself must say realistically - you're not going to go out there and start telling political commentators we're going to get 15% of the vote. You'd say that's setting expectations that we can't meet so why should we set our expectations so high that if we don't come in at that level we are condemning ourselves to defeat, we must pick some kind of realistic level that we see as being an attainable level that makes us an important force to be taken seriously nationally, that even if the ANC wins the election the bigger story might be the breakthrough of a new party.
RM Can I say first of all I think the first target that we are setting for ourselves is to be the main contender in the 1999 election against the ANC and we're saying that on the basis that none of the other parties can really contend. They are all on the sidelines practically speaking. That includes the NP, DP, IFP, everyone, because they are in terms of their support base very selective, they represent certain sections of the community and not the wide spectrum. So for that reason we are setting ourselves the first objective and that is to be the real main contender in the election. As far as the outcome is concerned I would not like to set publicly for the record a target at this stage.
POM This is going to be published in the year 2001.
RM I have something at the back of my mind, let me be specific and say I think anything beyond 10% should be what we should go for.
POM That would be a real victory.
RM That would be an achievement taking into account that we were established in September of 1997, it would give us roughly 18 months between launch and election and I think that would be a major achievement in any terms, not only in South African terms, and of course the higher we can get above the 10% the better. At the same time it would not mean complete failure if it's between 5% and 10% but I would say below 5% is not acceptable.
POM Now when you look at the other parties, the NP, DP, IFP, how do you analyse or evaluate their path of growth or non-growth? Is the NP truly imploding to a point of where it will be non-recoverable or do they still have at the provincial level enough structures in place to be able to pull back a lot of the vote that they have lost?
RM I don't think they can because they don't stand for any idea. The whole exercise that they are engaged in at the moment about co-operation, seeking co-operation, forming alliances and so forth is only about one thing and that is their own survival. It's quite clear, it's the only reason why they're busy with that exercise. A party that is in a strong dynamic growth phase doesn't talk of alliance politics because you don't need to think that way. The NP is therefore the only party that is talking about alliance politics at the moment and I think that's a sign of the times for them. But the main reason is they don't stand for any idea, nobody knows what they want, where they will be taken to by the NP. The only support that they might have left at the moment is coming from the old traditional so-called support base, white Afrikaner and some coloureds. I would like to think that as from the end of this week, once we have completed our building phase, that is the provincial conferences and the national conference which is taking place on the 27th -
POM That's this Saturday.
RM This Saturday, once that is over and once we are preparing ourselves to make really an effort in appealing also to the white community and to the coloured community, that picture might change favourably for us. Up till now we have not made any real attempt to penetrate the white community or the coloured community, we have not really done anything about it. The first phase of establishing our structures since September last year was aimed at mainly township politics or township situations and rural communities and squatter communities and so forth. We did very little to even establish branches in the so-called white areas or the coloured areas for that matter, and once we start doing that and bring the whole message to the people the picture will change and my assessment is that once people, also in the white community, will start to realise that it doesn't make sense to support the NP any longer because it can't really bring competition to the political scene, they will start to look for some alternative. Their flirting with the DP is just a temporary thing.
POM Do you think the DP ultimately is just too elitist to ever break out of its own narrow structures of, I won't say representing liberal politics, but representing Westminster type politics?
RM It's even more than that. I don't want to be rude but -
POM Please do!
RM - my own impression, my own experience in talking even to those guys is that they're coming from a very strong white supremacist type of background and that comes across.
POM It's the English upper -
RM I won't attach it necessarily to the English speaking community, I would just say that I think the party as such, whoever is there in the leadership positions, are of that intention or at that mood and they might not intend to be that way but that is unfortunately how it comes across which is totally out of touch with current day South Africa.
POM One small example of that I might give you is that I was in Tony Leon's office at some point last year and the two magazines on the reading table in the reception area were The New Statesman, which is an elitist intellectual British publication, and The New York Review of Books, which is probably one of the most elite American publications, and that was it. When the accusation is made that particularly the DP is what would be called Eurocentric, do you think that's a real issue here? Again let me give you a small example, is that I have been trying to use Bafana Bafana as a metaphor for what's happening in the country, great expectations, expectations fall short, you blame the coach, you almost accuse him of being part of a third force, a conspiracy with the French, you have breakdown in discipline and things begin to fall apart. Players say well we've been in camp since 15th May. My God, some countries have been in camp for two years!
RM Or since the last World Cup.
POM That's right, since the last World Cup. Then they say that ten of the eleven players play for European teams so they don't really represent African football, they represent European football. Do you think that's an issue?
RM Well I guess it's probably part of the nation-building and the transformation process. Let's try to carry the metaphor through to politics, I am still of the view, and I think I've said this before to you, that very little has changed as far as the parliamentary parties are concerned since 1994. It is still in the mind of the NP, the DP that they can sort of change the political scene by means of their current approaches in parliament which belong to the old order, and the ANC on the other side is still a party who is at their back of minds representing black majority preferences and the real scope of what we need to do in SA has not come through in any of those parties. The ANC is to blame for the mistakes they are making as well in the process.
POM In fact I recall you saying last year that kind of a reversal process had taken over, that the ANC were more concerned about lifestyle, good salaries, good positions, patronage, what parties in power in many countries do.
RM Well much of that has unfortunately increased in the meantime. Let me take one example to prove the point, which is one that I have experienced quite recently, is the Commonwealth Secretariat at the conference here in Pretoria just across the street at the Reserve Bank a week or two ago which they invited us to and I went there to attend, it was a conference to wrap up their work over the last four years because they are closing down their office in South Africa which I think is not a good thing but nevertheless that was the decision, but it was a conference that was arranged between our Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commonwealth Secretary to give an overview of the work that has been done and also the way forward. It was supposed to be a high powered thing, the conference was well organised, one or two government ministers were to speak at the conference, which they did, but at the reception afterwards not a single person from government turned up whilst the Commonwealth Secretary General was there together with his staff and everybody else. Myself and Bantu Holomisa were the only politicians on the SA side present. Now I think that is the kind of sign that gives to my mind a very, very bad indication of the lack of interest the government is showing, to put it very mildly, lack of interest in keeping SA in the forefront and putting our case and ensuring that SA is living up to world class standards. And that's a simple example but that is also what people at the grassroots are experiencing, the kind of neglect and the feeling of being let down that they are experiencing.
POM So what went wrong with the ANC, in your analysis?
RM Well the joy of power is probably the main problem. It happened unfortunately elsewhere and the bad habits, that the previous government showed, were very quickly inherited by the new government in that regard. I must quite frankly say that that is one of the things that I still enjoy even though I'm more than a year now out of parliament, I'm still enjoying the fact that I'm out of parliament and being able to move around at the grassroots level as an ordinary South African.
POM In the year that you've been moving around, you probably in a sense have done more moving around in the last year -
RM Than the previous twenty years.
POM Yes. What have you learned about SA that you did not know before, what has surprised you? Has the experience changed not just your politics but you?
RM Certainly, no doubt. The last year brought a real change, I would say, in my political experience, my political views. It's very easy to talk about certain perspectives if you are on the other side. For instance, let me take the example, I was expressing this view when I was still in the NP that a party has to have black leadership to be successful in SA but it's one thing to say that and the other thing is to practise that and that is what I've been practising over the last year. I'm not talking about Bantu Holomisa and myself because we get along very well and it's very easy and we're like partners, but I'm talking about accepting my role as a minor within the bigger picture of a political party and that's the reality of SA but that's also the change that I have practically made in terms of my political participation over the past year and I would say that is the real change, that we as white people have to make to know where exactly we can play a role of any significance in our country. That is the message that I'm going to take out to the electorate over the next year up to the election, talking about the white elector, to explain what this idea is about and to sell this idea to them in that process because that gives to my mind also hope for it, hope of in the bigger context of what their own expectations are and how they feel about being failed and being let down and so forth themselves. I think there is a huge message of hope for them in what we are doing but I can give it to them from experience.
POM When you were in the NP, township politics or going into townships would not be a large part of the agenda. As you've travelled around and gone into townships have you been surprised at what you've seen, have you been shocked at what you've seen?
RM I can at least say that I have been over the last ten, fifteen years quite regularly into the townships so this was not a new experience, but it is a question of how I now go to the townships compared to before. If I can put it this way, in the past when I was with the NP I was looked at as a stranger whenever I went to the townships, now I'm being accepted as part of the broader picture and I think that's the big change, that's the big transformation I made in my own life as far as that is concerned and it's wonderful to experience that.
POM Before when we had talked I had asked you about your relationship with Bantu and how the relationship was different from the relationship you had with Cyril and you said that the relationship with Cyril had been very special and under very special circumstances. One of the things at least I had pointed out, I don't know whether it was true or not, was that you and Cyril never really socialised and I was asking do you and Bantu visit each other's homes and you had said he had been to your home and he had been trying to get your respective wives, whom I guess have no particular interest in politics, together. Have you become closer in that kind of personal way over the past year as you've - you're kind of Siamese twins in a way?
RM I think just to go back to the comparison again of the two relationships, the one with Cyril will remain special for ever, but the one difference between that and this one is that every time at the end of the day we went back to our separate corners, we were coming from different sides and we're today still from different sides, whilst Bantu and I every night go back to our same corner. In other words we are in the same corner all the time and that makes it a far more easy relationship and, of course, we spend lots of time together. I think our relationship as between us has been a very friendly one and a very close one, it has never developed yet into one of family friendships and I don't think it's necessary. My wife has never been directly involved in politics and quite frankly I never wanted her to become directly involved in politics and I think his wife is of the same nature, so that is not really material. Otherwise we're working so damn hard we never find time to socialise really except when we go to functions together, but in as far as that is applicable Carien, my wife, and Bantu are getting along very well and whenever there are social occasions where they do meet I observe that they are having a very special relationship too.
POM Have you been to his home?
RM I've been to his home once, but that's not regularly, it's mainly to pick him up or to drop him or he's coming to mine to fetch me or whatever the case is. Nowadays we don't have much time for extras because we are working long hours in any case together and there is not a need to find extra time like at the beginning. The other interesting thing that I just want to point out is that my children also have developed a good interaction with him. I can see that. For instance the other day he went with me to a school rugby match where my youngest one is at school, Bantu went with me, and the kids voluntarily came and said hello to him and that kind of thing and that was a sign that there is a good relationship that has developed between them all.
POM Now if one were to come down to it, in a sense what you stand for, helping the poor, eliminating inequity and inequalities, curbing crime, creating jobs, these are all things that have been articulated or are articulated over and over again by the ANC, so how in fact do you differ from the ANC from a policy point of view?
RM I think our policy document that we're going to release on Saturday will to a great extent address that. It's more on the question of implementation, taking an integrated approach towards the different obstacles, for instance, and the way towards job creation. It's quite clear that GEAR is not working, everybody now agrees with that and so the question is what do we do to create more jobs, because that is the starting point. Our basis point is that unless there are more jobs everything is going to fall apart.
POM Let's just take as an example say, the public sector unions. Everyone agrees that 100,000, at the max, state employees have to be retrenched in one way or the other and yet their unions are very powerful and time and again their unions have won the day. In fact I don't think there has been any decrease at all, there may even have been an increase in the number of state employees since 1994. How would you deal with a powerful public sector union that says, you start retrenching us and we are going to bring the country to a halt, who in fact even now are not even addressing the fact that there must be retrenchments but rather are threatening to go on strike because the pay increase they receive this year may be 2% less than what they had expected under the three-year agreement they had reached with the government? How do you deal with that?
RM I will have to give you a brief answer because I have to run to my next appointment, we're running after time now. But let me just briefly say this, I think it's all a question of how this is being negotiated with the relevant people. I think the frustration that one sees, for instance on the side of the teachers, I've been talking to individual teachers over the last month quite regularly, I'm talking about black teachers in particular, who have just received letters of retrenchment, telling them that sorry, you're gone at the end of this year. That is what causes the kind of reaction. Those people are being taken on board, so to speak, in terms of the bigger objectives of the country. They will not co-operate and nobody knows what those bigger objectives are, they are simply being told without carrying through a specific vision. That is why we're saying we have to first of all establish a vision where we want to take this country to and get everybody in line to accept that vision and then we can co-operate, then people would be willing.
POM What is the vision?
RM Our vision is to make SA a world class nation in ten years from now and let us get together and start to define what it means and in the process of defining it people will of course buy into the concept as well.
POM When Thabo Mbeki made his speech in parliament about this still being a country where there are two nations, where there are gross inequities, where there has been really no progress towards reconciliation, where a black elite was entrenching itself, could you read his speech and say I agree with about everything he says or would you have taken issue with some of the things he said?
RM I would agree with quite a lot of what he said but I think his definition of the problem might be a little bit incorrect. It's not only a black and white differentiation that exists because you have now more and more black elite that are equally careless about what is happening at the grassroots level, like you have whites on the same side. So I think it's not only a question of black and white, it's also a question of class and I think that is one point that I would like to bring to his attention as far as the definition of the difference is concerned. But in a nutshell I think broadly speaking, yes we are living in different worlds in this country still. The question is what do we do about that. But to hammer the one side only is not going to bring us forward.
POM But for him to say there has been really no progress towards reconciliation is in a way a reflection on President Mandela who spent the better part of his term in office trying to achieve reconciliation. In a way his Deputy President is saying, "You failed Mr President, there is no real progress towards reconciliation."
RM I think if Thabo is taking that approach I think he has to point some fingers at himself as well, because again people would know where we're going to if they have a clear vision of where the government wants to lead them to, but that is lacking. Even with GEAR, GEAR has set certain short-term targets in terms of growth, percentage and so forth but the question at the end of the day will be for what reason, what is the purpose of this, what is it going to mean to every one of us? And that has never been explained. GEAR was never sold and I think that's one of the main problems that the country is experiencing.
POM It's never worked, it's been like the Emperor - nobody has said the Emperor has no clothes.
RM It was a lot of grand ideas to which every capitalist, so to speak, agreed and in the end it was not properly marketed downwards and that is why COSATU is coming out more and more strongly against it. I have to run.
POM Can we have another before I leave?
RM We still need a dinner.
POM A dinner in between and then another interview.
PAT Do you have time for dinner these days?
RM Well next week.
POM OK. If I want to go to the conference on Saturday?
RM Yes please, I wanted to say to you, you must please come on Saturday. It's at Nazrec.
POM I just go out there?
RM Yes. As long as you want to be there. It's from nine to four on Saturday. It would be wonderful.