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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
24 Jul 1998: De Klerk, FW
POM Again, Mr de Klerk, thank you for taking the time to see me and as I said, I am more than envious that your book which you began less than a year ago is finished and ready to go and mine which I began ten years ago hasn't even gotten down to the really hard part.
FDK Maybe yours will have a better quality than mine.
POM I would like to begin first by asking you, how do you think history will remember you and what do you see as your legacy?
FDK I would prefer the historians and the analysts to come to their own conclusions. I am basically a modest person. My experience as I travel the world is that the overwhelming factor when people talk to me or about me about what happened in SA seems to be that I, not as the only role player but as one of a handful of key role players, in my capacity as president controlling SA managed to firstly ensure that the transition to full democracy was relatively peaceful. Secondly, that I managed to take a very clear majority of the white voters along on the road of relinquishing their former ideals of self-determination within a sort of a confederal state where there would be one white dominated state as part of such a confederacy, and to convince them to accept that they will have to relinquish dominating power which they had and accept a minority role in a united SA. I would hope that I will remembered as a man who played a key role, once again not as the only person who achieved this, but who played a role which prevented hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths, of avoiding a cataclysm which was building up and of bringing, and this is for me the most important, of bringing justice to all South Africans in a reasonable manner.
There will, however, be other people who will remember me, because I have my enemies and that will be more within SA, who will continue to accuse me that I went too far. I am being accused, and I will deal with this in my book, of not delivering on the promises which I made to the white voters and that we were not tough enough in negotiations. I am convinced, however, that we substantially delivered on all the promises. Those who make such accusations do it on false premises, namely that they believe that I promised them a sort of a white minority veto which I never did and which I made very clear in one specific important speech in parliament before the referendum.
POM Can you remember the date of that speech or is there a copy of it?
FDK Well it's in Hansard and I can look it up for you because I refer to it in my book.
POM Now you mention that you would like, or hope that you would be remembered as somebody who prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths and my recollection, I think, of talking with you before and talking to other people is that the 'breakdown' as it were of Mandela's trust in you came from his insistence that the violence taking place in the townships was orchestrated by a third force that existed within the military and that you weren't doing enough to oust those elements in the security forces.
FDK Yes, it is true that that was his attitude and he at times insulted me and attacked my integrity also on international platforms. He has now been president for almost five years and the deaths and political violence in KwaZulu/Natal continue. The rumours that there is security force involvement in that this time, also people who have been appointed to the security forces from the ANC side, persist. There are daily revelations of security force involvement in crime. I think he has found out in the five years that a president can install rules, can try to manage those rules in order to prevent wrong-doings within the civil service or within the security forces, and should be tested against what he did to prevent this type of thing. If those measures fall short then he is guilty of negligence but if notwithstanding effective and wide-ranging measures and policies to prevent this type of thing it continues you cannot say that the president is guilty of that, of wrong-doings.
I want to re-formulate this, I was a bit rambling. It is true that President Mandela accused me also internationally of not having proper control, sometimes that he believed that I might be involved myself and that he attacked my integrity. Obviously that is not the case and I took extensive measures to get to the bottom of the truth. I took the initiative to appoint the Goldstone Commission, I gave it every assistance, I broke down the old securocrat system which was in SA which was installed by PW Botha. I appointed the Kahn Committee consisting of highly respected civilian people who were not known for being supportive of the NP government, to go through all the covert activities of the security forces and to advise me on what should be closed down and what is in the whole country's interest to continue. All nations and all countries have covert activities. So my conscience is clear on this. It is clear to me that apart from everything else there was a small element in the security forces who got out of control, who were against the reform measures that I was implementing and who were intent on sabotaging. It is also clear that there was a serious breakdown in the whole command structure of the security forces which allowed certain elements to conduct what Goldstone has called a sort of a 'silent war'.
Having said that, I think President Mandela, after five years, will realise that a president cannot prevent wrong-doings within the civil service and within the security forces. As we sit here, almost five years later since he became president, there is still political violence. In the past weeks scores of people have been killed in Richmond, Natal in political violence. There are allegations of police involvement in continued political violence. This time allegations also point fingers towards former ANCs who are now in the security forces. There is growing corruption and many allegations of security force and civil service involvement in that corruption and even in crime. The final test for the head of a government is not whether from time to time crimes are committed within the civil service or by people working for the state or within the security forces, the final test is what happens if it is discovered. Is it properly investigated? Are such people brought to court? Secondly, the test is, are there adequate preventative measures in place? Is enough being done to prevent this type of thing? And the third test is, of course, is there political complicity in any such wrong-doings? In my case I believe that I and my government since I became president pass all these tests in the positive sense.
POM Do you accept now that what's popularly called a third force did exist, comprising these elements within the security forces?
FDK The term 'third force' is a very confusing one because I was in the Cabinet when PW Botha was President when we considered, on the basis of a comparative study which was being done, instituting an overt third force. It was about the question should we, apart from having a police force and having a defence force, should we have a special force separate from those two; that's why it would be 'third', to do riot control and to have more specific tasks of maintaining public law and order and of being a sort of a special force fighting terrorism and the like. After repetitive discussion of this possibility it was decided against and it was never implemented. From this the TRC picking up the word 'third force' in minutes tried to make something but everything and all those discussions were aimed at the possible establishment of an overt, visible, with a different uniform of which the public would know, third leg within the security forces. What has been uncovered as a result of the Goldstone Commission's work, which I had appointed, and which actually opened the door for many of the revelations which came out under the TRC, definitely points towards a number of well organised units and cells which were active in destabilisation, in instigating violence, in murders and assassinations. I was never part and never in any State Security Council meeting, Cabinet meeting, was there authorisation for the commitment of serious crimes like murder, assassination, rape, serious assault, torture, gross violations of human rights. It was not the policy. Who authorised what was done, in as much as it was authorised, is something that I am as interested in as anybody else.
POM I would be derelict if I didn't ask you about the statements yesterday by Johan van der Merwe and Adriaan Vlok that they had informed you.
FDK Yes, well I can just give you a copy of my statement.
POM But just so I have it in your words rather than the statement.
FDK Well in essence the whole furore in the press was that the impression was created that I have denied knowledge of their involvement in the relevant bombings of buildings and that now they say they have told me. The fallacy is I have not denied at any stage that ipso facto years after the bombings, when I became president I became aware of their involvement in this and some of my written replies to questions of the TRC prove that I knew about it, that I didn't hide that from the TRC and that I said Vlok would be the best person to give them information on the degree of his involvement in these bombings and other things because he is going to apply for amnesty. So it was based on a fallacy. There is no conflict between the evidence given by them and the evidence that I gave to the TRC and I have issued a press statement to that effect yesterday.
POM Just two other questions on the TRC, one is that, and I've asked this question of many people, which is why in a sense does President Mandela treat you with so little 'respect' whereas he seems to have far greater respect for PW Botha? He rings him on his birthday, calls him a first class gentleman, assists him before the TRC. What do you think accounts for his attitude towards the person who in fact incarcerated him for most of his life and the person who released him?
FDK Well he has stopped doing so since I stopped being the leader of the NP, so I think the first obvious reason is that I was constantly, in my capacity as leader of the NP, attacking him in his party political role as leader of the ANC and his party. So I was the enemy. There is I don't think any single negative thing that he has said about me since I retired as leader of the NP. I deal extensively in my book with the deterioration of our relationship and in the end come to the conclusion that another important factor might have been that I was still on the scene and that so often we were mentioned in the same breath and I was also throwing a shadow. And I say that it's a fairly well known phenomenon that when a previous top manager, whether it's in business or in government, remains on the board it always causes some sort of friction, some sort of rejection because a new top manager doesn't want the former top manager to look over his shoulder.
POM I know you think that the TRC has treated you unfairly in the sense of trying to single you out and almost lay all the sins of apartheid directly on your shoulders. Why do you think that is so?
FDK Well firstly the TRC doesn't have a single supporter of the NP on it. If you analyse its composition with less than a handful of exceptions all the members are absolutely pro-ANC and some of them have a history of having been active in that. So its composition is basically flawed and while I was the leader of the opposition and while I was the most prominent anti-ANC politician they had a vested interest and I have no doubt that the TRC is being misused in their investigations by the ANC and surrogates of the ANC for party political purposes. I am not accusing Archbishop Tutu specifically of this.
Secondly, I think I was the only prominent leader, the only leader of the NP on which they could lay their hands and they wanted to make me the symbol of all the sins of the past and of all the injustices of the past, whereas while I fully admitted this, that the NP has brought a lot of injustice and apologised for it, I urged them to accept that it was the NP which ended apartheid, not the ANC. The ANC received a clean slate, all forms of racial discrimination had been removed from the statute book by a National Party dominated parliament before the election in 1994. We have not only apologised, we have gone miles to do, in a certain sense of the word, reparation, to change the system, to bring justice to everybody. It is almost my experience in front of the TRC, it's almost one of they wanted to force me on the issue of what they're investigating, namely the political crimes which were committed, to tell a lie. They wanted one prominent scapegoat and they wanted to force me almost to lie about it and say OK, just to satisfy you, I knew about, but I didn't.
POM When you look back at all those years since, say, 1948, that period which you ended in 1990 and when you hear the revelations made by security people or whomever applying for amnesty and the tales of the attempts to manufacture a poison that would sterilise just black women or whatever, and how people were abducted, assassinated, tortured, murdered, whatever, what went wrong? You have said before, as I recall, that petty apartheid was wrong but that grand apartheid was conceived as a noble sentiment.
FDK I really think the best I could do in that regard, because it's a long story, is really to give you my submissions to the TRC.
POM Can I have those?
FDK Yes, because in that I dealt with what I call the four periods of NP rule and each period must be seen within the context of what was happening then in the world and in SA. The last period is the period of real transition. Furthermore, I deal with this issue of what went wrong and I say that some of the things which went wrong were caused by the fact that rules, as you do when you install a state of emergency, normal rules are suspended, covert actions are undertaken with secret funding, many things started to be done on a need to know basis. All this creates an atmosphere which is conducive towards individuals, small groups getting out of control, overstepping the mark. It creates a sort of a grey area where the typical controls which are effective at preventing wrong-doing cannot be implemented effectively. I also say that the overwhelming majority of the members of the security forces were doing their duty, they were not committing crimes, they were in an admirable way defending the life and property of all peaceful, normal, South Africans. They were defending SA against a Russian inspired, financed, revolutionary take-over. In this process of what was called in PW's time, the total onslaught and the total reply, some of them might have got over-zealous but with good motives. Some of them might have been sort of caught up in a spiral which at points got out of control, but I maintain that as reform progressed there was also a relatively small element which developed their own agenda because they did not like the way in which we were going and an analysis of what Eugene de Kock has said is that he regards me as a weakling. He thought I was selling out the country and he had his own agenda and he almost admits to it. He is one of the key role players. I and the overwhelming majority of all white South Africans, NP politicians, NP supporters are filled with abhorrence about these revelations but I strongly resist the attempt which there is from certain quarters to now make all white South Africans and everybody who ever supported the NP and every politician who ever held a position in the NP, collectively guilty for the abhorrent crimes of a handful in relation to the total number of people, a handful of criminals.
POM In that sense do you think that the TRC is trying to indict white people as a whole and hold them collectively responsible?
FDK There is such an undertone in many statement which have been made by prominent people in the TRC and in the ANC.
POM Among, say, your friends, colleagues, white people that you talk to, has the TRC alienated them?
FDK Not in great numbers but there is no question that the TRC has damaged the NP in the sense that there is an element amongst the white voters whose reaction to all this is to do anything they can to distance themselves from it and some of them say, well if this happened under the NP then I have to look for a new political home. The numbers are not great but there are such people so it has damaged the NP. I don't find on a personal level anything of that. I think that I am believed because of what I've done, that I am believed by my own people with regard to what I say and I don't experience that I'm being blamed for this. The rejection that I experience is from whites to the right who feel that I have gone too far, I have done too much, that I have given away too much.
POM Do you get any feeling from the white community that the TRC is in a way a kind of a witch-hunt?
FDK Absolutely. The TRC's image amongst whites, if we were to hold a white referendum, would be I think an 80% vote that the TRC is biased and that the TRC's activities and approach was not even-handed and that therefore in advance it's report will be looked upon by the overwhelming majority of whites as a biased and unbalanced document. The problem with the TRC is they have not with the same vigour and energy concentrated on perpetrators, other perpetrators from the ANC and others, of these political crimes and killings. I am absolutely convinced that the overwhelming majority of deaths over the past 15, 20 years was caused not by the security force people but by black on black violence. The TRC has not as yet investigated the systematic assassination of a list which Buthelezi gave them of more than 400 top office bearers of the IFP. The TRC has not effectively dealt with the necklace murders and the TRC has not effectively investigated the murders committed on the other hand by IFP people on ANC people. That is where the overwhelming number of deaths arose. So there is, if you look at time allocated, energy allocated, money allocated, areas on which the TRC concentrated, there is a clear imbalance and their time is up.
POM That was going to be extended for another two or three years?
FDK I don't think so.
POM You think they will submit their report and -
FDK I don't think so. They're going to submit, according to my information, a very substantial preliminary report within a month to President Mandela and then I think their final report will be early next year. One wonders whether it's timed to be just before the election.
POM One wonders. You say that with the old instincts of a true politician. I just want to refer you to a statement that Leon Wessels made to the TRC and then we can finish with the TRC, and I say that because he was one of your younger appointees and one of the people that you put a lot of trust in and one of your negotiators at Kempton Park. He said, when he was before the TRC, that it was foreseen that under these circumstances, that's the circumstances of the times, that people would be detained, people would be tortured, everybody in this country knew people were tortured. Do you think that's a gross overstatement on his part?
FDK I would say it's an overstatement. We know that all police forces, even in the fighting of ordinary crime, exert some form of pressure sometimes on prisoners or on suspects. I am not saying it's right but it's a phenomenon which the citizens of all countries I think are aware of. Once again the test is what do you do to prevent it? Since I became President while there was still a state of emergency where people were held without trial, we strengthened the protective measures against us and expanded their rights to be visited regularly by magistrates to whom they could complain, to be visited and to have access to legal advice and the like. So once again I didn't close my eyes to a suspicion that things might go wrong in that regard. I introduced measures to prevent that.
POM What do you think would lead him to make such a statement? Do you think it's his own personal sense of guilt?
FDK Regularly there was publication of such complaints so it was a matter which was in the public eye.
POM People that I have talked to, again both politicians and non-politicians, academics, journalists, whatever, say that the mistakes that the NP made in the negotiations were agreeing to an elected Constitutional Assembly, that once you had agreed to an elected Constitutional Assembly essentially you were setting up a Constitutional Assembly where a majority would have the whip hand in writing the constitution.
FDK Let me firstly say about that that the elected Constitutional Assembly did not have a free hand. They were bound by 34 immutable principles with which the final constitution, which the elected Assembly had to negotiate, had to comply and where the Constitutional Court had to certify that it complied with the 34 principles. And in the 34 principles the most important, essential aspects which were essential to the non-ANC participants who negotiated the transitional constitution were embodied. The 34 principles even embodied the principle of a form of self-determination and even the vague possibility of a volkstaat. That was inserted and accepted by the ANC, it was actually the result of negotiations between the ANC and Constand Viljoen. So therefore I reject it that it was a mistake. We didn't hand a sort of a blank sheet to an elected Constitutional Assembly.
POM But the elected Constitutional Assembly was agreed at at CODESA 1 which was before these 34 principles.
FDK It was an initiative from me but it breached - what did the ANC want? The ANC wanted an interim government, non-elected, to take over from the elected NP government in order to arrange an election and not an election of a parliament but an election of a Constitutional Assembly and they wanted that Constitutional Assembly, an elected one, to write a constitution. We said no, we must first put a constitution in place, then elect a parliament so that the country will have an elected new government, a transitional government, and we would then charge that elected parliament to also act as a Constitutional Assembly bound by the 34 principles and not being able to write the constitution as they liked to with the requirement of 66% was needed to adopt the final constitution. In that sense of the word there were checks and balances built in. Had we negotiated, as those critics say, a final constitution, so-called final, obviously that constitution would have provided for the possibility that it can be amended and then after an election in terms of such a constitution if a party on its own or with the help of smaller parties could obtain more than let's say a two thirds majority, because that is the international norm, in any event it could have amended the constitution. So I don't take that criticism very seriously.
POM The second was agreeing to a date for the election prior to a settlement being reached.
FDK It seems as if you have spoken to some IFP people because that was their main criticism throughout. We agreed to an election date in order to set a time schedule which would ensure that within the five years during which I have been elected, that's from our side, things would be brought to a head. But that was not the main motivation. The main motivation was to ensure that all the participants would be bound to a programme of not procrastinating, of not postponing. If we did not do that then the risk of walkouts, of new crises like we had when CODESA 2 broke up and when the ANC boycotted and came with their mass action and disrupted the country for a number of months, the risk of that would be extremely high. I think it also served the purpose of forcing those who were actually playing for time, who were not really actively and willingly making their contribution towards the negotiations to make their choices.
POM Third was that the deal that was available at CODESA 1 was probably a better deal than what emerged out of Kempton Park in terms of for the NP.
FDK There wasn't a deal available at CODESA 1. Things were very, very vague and all the major role players, the ANC, we and everybody, steered away from trying to make CODESA 1 a place to reach agreement on what the constitution should be. CODESA 1 took place to launch negotiation and to create an atmosphere for reasonable negotiation. CODESA 2 produced already, on let's say about 75% of the issues, a broad consensus. The Record of Understanding after the ANC's months of boycott and of mass action did not make one constitutional concession to the ANC on the constitution aspect and reiterated the point which has been reached in July 1992 as the same starting point for the continuation of negotiations.
POM The last one was that leaving the government of national unity was a mistake.
FDK I think you will find a number of NP people also maintaining that, so the division which existed when we left I think continues to exist within the party and from people outside the party. In my book I will make it clear that if I had now with hindsight to take the decision again I would have taken the same decision again. I believe that with the ANC's refusal to accept in a severely adapted form, but nonetheless to accept the principle that there should be a consensus seeking mechanism with high influence beyond 1999 as the government of national unity was intended to be a consensus seeking mechanism, with their rejection of that proposal of ours and with the smaller parties on this issue not supporting the NP we could therefore not muster more than 33% in order to create a deadlock on the issue. With that it became untenable for the NP to continue. We would be sitting there as the second biggest party, we would continue to be drawn into actually ANC dominated policies and we would have been emaciated before the next general election.
POM Whither the NP now? Most surveys show a dramatic decrease in the support for the NP.
FDK Yes but the surveys from early 1993 up to the election showed the same percentages. The average was 13%, 14%. The 20% that we achieved, therefore, there was an additional - at least one quarter of the votes was never shown by the surveys as really belonging to us. It comes from, which in any country exists, the group of people who are undecided, who change allegiance, who are influenced by campaigns. Therefore, I am not so pessimistic about the NP future. What is happening is, yes, we have within the white electorate I think a problem at the moment, the NP. That is manifested to a certain extent by municipal elections but less than 50% of the NP's vote came from white South Africans and more than 50% came from coloured, Indian and black South Africans. The surveys are showing also that the NP, I think, is more or less holding its own amongst coloureds and blacks and Indians. Within the white electorate I think the problem has two main causes. Firstly, there is disillusionment with what is happening in the country. The whites are more than anybody at the receiving end of ANC dominated policies. It is they who are being kicked out of the civil service. It is they who are the victims of unbalanced affirmative action. So there is a backlash and somehow or another some of them blame the NP because the NP initiated the reform which led to the new dispensation. Then I think the TRC, as I have said, is taking its toll. But I am convinced as I sit here, one cannot be a prophet, but I believe that the NP will once again come out as the second biggest party in the 1999 election.
POM I've referred to it before, Patti Waldmeir's book. I don't know whether you ever had an opportunity to read it?
FDK Not to read it in full.
POM But she advanced this thesis that it was a study in the psychology of capitulation, that slowly but surely the NP underestimated the negotiating abilities of the ANC, that they were out-negotiated by the ANC, that Mandela was able to establish a psychological ascendancy over you and that in the end it was like a slow capitulation to the inevitable.
FDK No, I disagree with that analysis. It depends what one's departure point is in saying what did the NP really want. If you say the NP wanted to negotiate a sort of a minority veto, that the NP wanted apartheid actually, in a disguised form, to continue, that the NP wanted to negotiate an inordinate percentage of power beyond normal democratic principles for whites on a racial group basis, then one would say that the end result is far removed from that. But the NP never stood for that and in the referendum we made it absolutely clear and asked the whites to authorise us to do so, that we are working for a united South Africa with a one man one vote basis without any form of racial discrimination but with reasonable protection built in for the rights of cultural, linguistic and other minorities, religious and whatever, because you can define majority and minority in many ways. You can define it racially, you can define it economically, you can define it culturally, etc.
I maintain that if you analyse the original points of departure of the ANC, what did they want? And this that I have now said, this is what we want, then on balance the ANC made more major concessions than the NP because in the end surely you cannot say that there is a democratic constitution if you withhold the power which a majority gives to a majority party or parties, the normal powers exercised by majority parties throughout the world. Then it would be an undemocratic constitution. On the other hand you don't contain that majority by reasonable measures, from misusing the power that being the majority brings, then it would also not be democratic because it would lead to suppression of minorities. President Mandela has much less power than I or any of my predecessors ever had in terms of our old Westminster constitution and there are many controls in the constitution which can and which actually have already prevented the misuse of power but there are red lights flashing and that is that some of these institutions, if they are politicised, some of these checks and balance mechanisms if they are totally politicised will obviously become so suspect that it will no longer be able to effectively exercise those controls against the misuse of power.
POM Would you regard Tito Mboweni's designation as the next Governor of the Reserve Bank - ?
FDK I think it's a serious mistake. It discloses, not that I have anything against him as a person, I think he's an intelligent man, but I think it's a serious mistake in the sense that whatever footwork they do it politicises a post which must be totally de-politicised and Manuel's reiteration in this past week that the Reserve Bank will be independent loses really much of its value if you say, but at the head of the Reserve Bank will be someone from the inner circle of the ANC who has spent a lifetime in that inner circle and who has been a prominent political figure within the ANC. So I think it's a mistake. One would hope that this being so that Tito Mboweni will so much go out of his way to disprove this that something good might, from a pragmatic view, come from it.
POM Just a few more short questions. One, in hindsight, if you relive as you have when you've been writing your book, all the events leading up to the negotiations, the negotiations themselves and the aftermath, is there anything you would do differently?
FDK All the major decisions I would have taken the same, but with regard to the implementation of them with hindsight on some issues in the negotiations I would have been more insistent.
POM Like for example?
FDK Like for example, although I don't think it would have made a difference, but like for example on the issue of a consensus seeking model, some form of consensus seeking mechanism. I would have been much tougher on the TRC than we have been although we have been very tough. With regard to the new constitution, to accede to the transitional constitution and again to the final constitution, to leave the government of national unity, those I would have done again.
POM And finally, Kobie Coetsee played a large role in negotiations leading up to the release of Mandela, or at least establishing dialogue between the government and Mr Mandela, and then he kind of disappeared off the screen and in a way became more of an opponent of some of the elements of the settlement that was reached than a proponent.
FDK I wouldn't say that. He was the minister in charge who arranged the whole amnesty set-up, that is now from a legislative point of view. He is accused of having failed in negotiating a better amnesty situation and it is true that the amnesty negotiations time and again stumbled and that in the final weeks before the acceptance of the transitional constitution we had to put into the constitution certain things which should have been negotiated in greater detail by them. But this was an ANC strategy to delay this. This was the issue which almost scuttled the Peace Conference because the ANC dropped us. This was the issue which at CODESA 1 caused Mandela's outburst because I attacked them about it, which was the least I could do because once again through their delaying strategies agreement on how do we deal with transgressions against the law from all sides should have been taken further by then already and I had a choice: either scuttle CODESA 1 or make a strong speech and Mandela should have been, he was, advised through a messenger, I don't know whether the messenger never gave him the message, that I would be making a very strong speech on that. This was the issue which in the final run-up to the agreement of the transitional constitution almost caused a crisis.
So in that sense Kobie Coetsee has become, also in the eyes of many Nationalists, they are blaming him, a controversial figure. But I wouldn't say that he became anti the agreements reached. It was the most important parliamentary post with the support of the ANC which went to Kobie Coetsee when he was made President of the Senate after the elections. Even now there's a very good relationship between him and Mandela. He is one of the few NP former high profile figures that Mandela never said anything negative about.
POM Well thank you very much.
FDK OK. So you'll send me this?
POM I will.