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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
29 Jul 1998: Van Der Merwe, Koos
POM I met with Dr Buthelezi yesterday and contrary to the reports that have been in the newspapers about the IFP conference in Ulundi which was attended by Deputy President Mbeki, he said there was no intention of there being a merger, that he was against it and that Thabo Mbeki was against it and that fundamental differences existed between the IFP and the ANC particularly regarding constitutional matters relating to federalism, that many of the old issues had not gone away they just weren't on the surface any longer, that he feared that in the next elections there could be a further outbreak of violence again, that that was not at all out of the question, that many of the communal tensions that had existed in 1994 still existed and were unresolved. So he kept, I won't say railing, but saying that the newspaper reports were either exaggerated or simply wrong. What is going on?
KVM Exactly what he says because talk of merger was never on the table. Mbeki and other people came to attend the IFP's 23rd annual conference in July 1998 at Ulundi. This is a very historic day in South African history, it may even be the most significant day of the new South Africa. Why? Because since the negotiation process started at CODESA and elsewhere this is the first time that all political parties have come together again, be it only for this meeting for an hour or two and then they left but they came together again firstly. Secondly, they came to a very unnatural venue. You do not attend another political party's conference, it is a private thing, but they all came. Mbeki was there, the NP sent somebody because their leader was overseas, the Freedom Front leader General Viljoen was there, the DP leader overseas sent somebody else, and the PAC sent somebody and even Hartzenberg of the Conservative Party was there, Rajbansi was there and even people from Roelf Meyer's party. All the major big and small parties were there. That is extremely significant. It shows a cooling down of the heat of the political debate and what was very significant to me was what developed as a theme mainly between the IFP and the ANC but this theme was supported indirectly by the other parties.
Now what is the theme, the central theme? It is the following: let us put the conflict, the struggle and things like that, even maybe apartheid, let us put that behind us and let us now seriously address the real issues confronting the country such as the economy, such as hospitals, crime, etc. It's very significant, it may be a watershed moment, it may not be, but it has a chance of becoming an extremely important watershed moment. But there was never talk of a merger. There was talk of co-operation and the implication is let us not fight and insult each other openly and let us try to fight a more realistic and serious political battle in order to address the real issues. Now what would be very interesting is if this would come to fruition. If the struggle, apartheid and things like that could be sidelined now, also if COSATU and the communists if their influence could be sidelined, then there's a new dawn coming upon SA, a new political game on the horizon. Very significant day, 19th July 1998, and we must not let that opportunity slip away. This is how I feel.
POM Now I was talking to Essop Pahad this morning and he said that only a couple of black journalists had picked up on one significant thing that Chief Buthelezi had said in his address and that was where he expressed either implicitly or explicitly, I don't know, the hope that or the desire that the IFP would participate in the next government.
KVM Well let us examine what Mbeki said about that, Mbeki said firstly that the IFP and the ANC have co-operated. The point I want to make is that in his speech Mr Mbeki made a few points about co-operation. He said, number one, the IFP and the ANC have co-operated well within the last four years in government with no tension. He says the people of SA have gained by this co-operation. He says if we didn't co-operate the people would have had less. He says the people expect this to continue. In other words on the basis of the best interests of the electorate Mbeki, and I am sure Buthelezi, want the government of national unity idea to continue after the 1999 election.
POM That's quite a change from - that's in a way a revolutionary change considering the state of animosity between the parties in the immediate aftermath of Mandela's release or throughout the 1980s.
KVM You must take it from 1994. We started to sit in the cabinet with the ANC, for four years now, and it has now become a natural thing and if there is a change in attitude then this attitude change has existed for four years.
POM Do you see there are some scenarios being played with of a special position being created for Chief Buthelezi as a Deputy President or a Prime Minister?
KVM I have no information, I have no definite information, I can only speculate on rumours. By the time you publish what I'm saying all this will be over, but I also hear rumours that Dr Buthelezi may become Deputy State President in any event, that there are talks about creating the position of Prime Minister which he may fill. Now if you remember in the Buthelezi tribe in the Zulus their leader was traditionally the Zulu Prime Minister and I think Buthelezi's grandfather was Prime Minister to King somebody, so that it would be in line with Zulu thinking that Buthelezi would be the Prime Minister of the country. Whether that will happen we will have to see because that type of thing has changed considerably.
POM How do you see - if you look at the position nationally of the IFP most polls would suggest that, like all parties, its strength has fallen nationally, that it is perceived more as a regional party rather than a national party, really those two major points.
KVM The polls and our status as now a regional or a national party, these two points are well known ones, they've come a long way. In the 1994 elections some polls gave us something like 4%. We got 10%, 10½%, so if they now say we will get 4% or 5% or so it's old news, we will probably get the same or more than we had last time. A regional party? On the face of it of course we are a regional party. If you look at the results of the election in 1994 of course we're totally regional, only KwaZulu/Natal, but our policy is not regional. Our policy is a policy that appeals to all the peoples of SA and the IFP has appointed nine election managers who are working very, very hard as I'm talking to you in all nine of the provinces. They have started structures, they have to report on a two-weekly basis. Every two weeks there is a meeting in KwaZulu/Natal in Durban where all these people meet and it has precedence over anything else in the party. That meeting takes place, nothing else can take its place, and all the dates have been set aside until the election next year.
POM So how do you run an election where you are part of the government and yet you have to define policy positions that are in a sense in opposition to the ruling party? How do you distance yourself from the ANC since you will be competing against them for votes and at the same time one can say well, you were part of their policy making apparatus, you were part of the government?
KVM You see this is the same problem the NP had and we have and this is that you are a political hermaphrodite. Now a hermaphrodite as far as I know is a worm that is both male and female, that's a hermaphrodite I'm told, you are of both sexes, you have both organs I believe. Now to be in a government of national unity means you are a political hermaphrodite, you are government and opposition and this is one of the difficulties that the NP could not bridge. They had many beautiful stories, especially De Klerk with his mind on Greece, talking about this is the way we will execute our duties as cabinet ministers and so and so we're going to be opposition, but they failed. The NP failed dismally as an opposition party because inherently they are a government, they have been a government for half a century, they cannot get a new identity. This is why they all left, they ran away from the sinking ship, even the leader De Klerk, Botha, the whole bloody lot ran away. They left it to this youngster here to see what he can do and he can really now try to become an opposition party because he's not involved in government but he's not succeeding. So the NP left the government of national unity, trying to become an effective opposition and failed because they cannot identify their new identity. They do not know how to operate as opposition because in their genes they are government. On the other hand the IFP has the same problem that we are both government and opposition. Now how do you criticise? This is your point. How do you go out to the electorate and tell them to vote for you? The answer is you have to live with the reality of being a political hermaphrodite, you have to live with that because you want that. Now you've got to make the best of it. Now what we do is, I think we're not going to over-criticise the government. We're going to hammer on things such as delivery, they haven't delivered, they're making mistakes, but very nice ones. And then I think our aim would probably more be a question of -
POM You say very nice mistakes. What do you mean?
KVM What I mean is that we will say very nicely, we won't insult, and be very strong. We will say we criticise the minister for doing this and this and this, but we won't really jump on his head and so forth. But on the other hand I think what we will come out with strongly is that the country will do much, much better if it changes its fundamental policy to IFP policy. The answer to the country's problems, that answer is IFP policy, federation, pluralism, family values, free market economic principles and so forth. Go for this option, it's much better. You even preach that sermon to your fellow ANC colleagues. That's about the best you can do. It's a very unnatural thing, people don't understand and they think it's simple. From a political, scientific point of view I hope people understand that it's extremely difficult and people could write papers about this. How do you perform as government, how do you perform as opposition when you are part of them? It's easy for the ANC, they are only government. The IFP has to, simply has to go along with most of the things because you agree to it in the cabinet every Wednesday. So where is the room then for criticism? I think that room is mainly to say that we can do much better.
POM Talking about the question of delivery, many people have said to me that this government is very good at producing papers, white papers, green papers, orange papers, call them what you will, and they are full of good ideas, but when it comes to translating those ideas into action -
KVM They fail. OK, I have experienced this very thing and I'm glad you've noticed it and I will address you on it. What I have observed is that my black colleagues, both in the ANC and also in the IFP are what we call 'process driven'. They become totally overwhelmed by process. In other words meetings after meetings after meetings. Numerous words have so been invented: we must take this on board; we must revisit that; let us postpone so as to get expert opinions; let us postpone because Mr A and B were not here last time to bring them on board again; let us have a sub-committee; let us produce a white paper; let us produce a working document; etc., etc., etc. It becomes a process driven thing. We fail to see that they arrive at what I call the concretisation phase. We, I in particular as a businessman also, but in white politics we went through the process as quickly as we could so that we arrived at the concretisation and do the damn job. The ANC, IFP, other black people are process driven, they almost forget about the outcome and the concretisation subsequently and they get overwhelmed and drowned in the process. Millions of meetings and going overseas to see people and getting experts and public hearings and stuff and it's process, process, process and it's a bad thing, it's very, very bad because you never get to the concretisation phase where you actually do the things. So it is a phenomena that I have also identified which is here and which is a bad one.
POM If you look at GEAR and how it is become a kind of a wedge between the ANC and the SACP and COSATU and yet GEAR is supported by the IFP, but by any measure GEAR is not working.
KVM This is what we are criticising.
POM None of its targets are being met. This year would be the first year where per capita income is going to decline. 30,000 jobs were lost in the formal sector this year alone. The assumption that if you had reduced the deficit to 4% or 3% of GDP that there would be this influx of foreign investment has simply not materialised. Standard & Poor recently rated SA as the second most risky market in the ten top emerging markets, business confidence is declining.
KVM The rand is falling.
POM The rand fell. I love it, sorry to tell you that. It does me good.
KVM It's the inability of the ANC government to effectively govern the country, full stop. The same shows itself with crime and various other matters. They don't seem to have either the experience, the ability or the political will to do things. They are not so much in the hands of COSATU and the communists, I can't see that that is hampering, it's just a question of inability. They can't govern the country.
KVM They don't know how to, they don't have the human resources, the human capacity, they're not good enough. That's it, they're not good enough at the job. If they were in the cabinet of Churchill and other famous people they would have been dismissed long ago. They can't do the job. Irresponsible things like appointing youngsters to the Youth Commission, paying a youngster who is 26, paying him almost R30,000 a month to come and serve on a committee. It's not rubbish, it's bullshit. Having a lot of advisers, you see it's the process driven thing, it forms a block and a hindrance in the path of these people. They don't get to the actual doing of the thing. Delays, and it manifests itself then with retarded economic growth and the other factors that we've mentioned.
POM So what happens? Where does the country start sliding to?
KVM Well the country started in 1994 to have its standards dropping. This is what we have, we have a drop of standards. It started in 1994. We discussed this matter in 1994 and at other times some of my colleagues and friends and I, especially those who are emigrating, they say what is the country going to look like five and ten and twenty and thirty years ahead? What is it going to look like? If I know now that it's going down, down, down, then I leave now and I go and settle elsewhere in the world. I face the trauma of emigration rather than face this trauma here. Now the thing is that we also discussed whether we will drop as low the rest of Africa, economically, socially and otherwise, and I had the opinion which I still have today that we will drop. Now if on a scale from one to a hundred a western country, France, Germany and those, are being governed at a level of let's say eighty and Africa is being run on a scale of let's say twenty to thirty, now we were let's say on a par of about eighty and we will go down. But my prediction is we won't go down to the African or the third world level of say twenty or thirty, we will settle down roughly in the middle. So if a third world country is run on 20% productivity and effectiveness and a first world country at 100%, we will settle around 50% or so. We will go down, even much lower than today. And that level where we will eventually settle, that will determine whether people will stay in the country or not. Even I have to make that decision. To emigrate is a great trauma, it's a great trauma, you can't leave your country, but white people must now choose between two forms of trauma, remaining here and face the trauma or emigrate and face the trauma that is normal to emigration, and you must make that decision and many Afrikaners and whites are emigrating at an alarming rate. They say my language is being kicked out, it's violence, it's economic poverty, all these things, I'd rather go to New Zealand or Australia. I'll live there, it's the same environment but I'm not subjected to this.
POM Has the consideration of emigrating seriously entered your mind for the first time or has it been in the back of your mind in your subconscious?
KVM You mean first time now?
POM Yes, or are you giving more serious consideration to it now?
KVM As a professional I have looked at the question of emigration, years ago, I considered it. I'm not too reluctant to consider any option. I am not prepared to say that I will not emigrate. I am also not prepared to say that I will emigrate. We will have to see. So I may emigrate but I may also stay. I hope that I will stay.
POM I asked you the last time whether you would continue in politics through the next election or whether you feel there is, again, a diminishing role for whites in essentially what are black political parties.
KVM At this stage I've made up my mind, I want to come back. It will be 22 years that I've sat in this parliament by next year, I want to come back. I want to be there, if there is a role to play I want to be there.
POM How do you account for your own political development? When I met you first in 1987 you were joining the Conservative Party, you were for a homeland for the white person who didn't want to be ruled by blacks. You moved from that to being an independent and then made this switch to being the Chief Whip for a mostly black party.
KVM How do I account for the change?
POM Yes, what developments took place within you?
KVM Let me say that my original dream of not wanting to be governed by others, not so much blacks, even Englishmen or Americans or Italians, the dream still is alive and well. My dream is that at some stage even after my death there will be part of Africa that belongs to the Afrikaner free of racism and apartheid, that there are enough Afrikaners so that they are in a majority and they govern themselves according to their own value system, their own language and so forth where like a Frenchman can go and live in France, I as an Afrikaner can go and live in Afrikanerland. And that dream is still there. But now what has happened is the blacks have taken over the country and I have spent millions of hours in thinking, meditating, now what the hell has happened? And I have come to the conclusion that not one white faction has an answer, had a plan. The NP didn't have a plan. The Progressive Federal Party, later the Democratic Party, no plan. The Conservative Party, no plan. The AWB, no plan, no plan, no plan. We didn't have a plan. The best proof that we didn't have a plan is the fact that we have lost totally in the country, we have no political power at all. Why? Because we had no plan. We under-estimated the whole situation. Today there is one municipality in SA that is being governed by whites and that is Grobblersdal in Mpumalanga because of a technicality in the 1995 municipal elections and soon blacks will also govern there.
Just to think that four years ago Afrikaners ruled the whole of SA, we were totally in charge with the strongest army in Africa. Today we have no power at all, no political power, no influence, nothing. Fantastic! Why? Because we didn't have a plan. We never applied our minds thoroughly to the question of our survival and our future. We never did that. We thought we did. Therefore we sit where we sit.
So what I said to myself is this, well he who runs today lives to fight another day. I now have to come back to parliament, be realistic, form part of the new SA and see whether in a realistic way a plan could emerge in the next few years or decades to fulfil our dreams. So I am running with the system now waiting for an opportunity, waiting for inspiration, waiting for a plan to still have the dream put into operation, put into practical effect of an Afrikaner state. I don't think it will happen in my lifetime. I also fear that it may never happen and I will tell you why. 1902 we find ourselves after the war, and the British did very much the same thing as they are doing today, namely to kick our language out and try to anglicise us and so forth, but it didn't work mainly, Padraig, because there was no TV. The instruments of influence today are extremely powerful. Everybody has a TV set and they watch that bloody TV day after day and they get brainwashed, they get intimidated, they get the news there day after day after day after day. So what is going to keep the Afrikaner youth on their legs? I don't know, I fear that, but at least if they then disappear and they want something else it will be sad but I am waiting for a realistic chance and a realistic plan to try to improve the position of my people.
POM Would the IFP find itself in principle agreeing with the SACP and COSATU that GEAR is not working, that in fact it's contributing to poverty and that many of its assumptions need to be re-examined in the light of new realities?
KVM Yes. In other words a re-evaluation. Yes, and expediting things and getting to the concretisation phase and getting out of this vicious cycle of process, process, process. Before we make this investment or before we do this and this let's just re-think it again, let's get so-and-so on board, let's revisit this idea, let's have another sub-committee, let's have another white paper.
POM Thabo Mbeki made a speech in parliament on I think 4th June in which he said a number of things and I would just to like to hear you comment on what your response to him would be. One was that there had been no substantial progress towards reconciliation in the last four years.
KVM That is to a degree true because what is forming an obstruction in the way to reconciliation is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. That is a very hurtful device, it is opening wounds and if that was away, if the TRC was away, if the government would call in the overseas assessors or judges to come and look at the international mediation which we asked for, if the influence of the communists and COSATU is slowed down, then also you could have an increase in reconciliation. But if you take away people's language, like they do with the Afrikaner, they're taking it away on a large scale, then where is the reconciliation if you take away my language and you call it reconciliation? So there are steps taken by government or steps not taken by government which cause the lack of reconciliation. Affirmative action, no jobs. You're 18, you're white, no job. You've got a matric, no job. You've got degrees, no job, they're reserved for blacks. You approach big institutions like Sanlam and ABSA Bank, these massive ones, white place, no room for whites. My brother's son has a PhD in Transformation, the first one -
KVM Yes, how do you deal now with the new situation? He's got a PhD in that, he got it a few months ago. How do you deal at school level, how do you deal at the working place, how do you deal with transformation? This is where the problem lies. I made an appointment with him, with ABSA Bank, the biggest bank in Africa, in Africa, they said to him, "We have a transformation section, there are a few people there, they're all black. They don't have one tenth of your qualification, we need you but we can't appoint you." And the saying now is, you are not prepared to spend the R20, this is why you won't be appointed. Which R20? You should spend R20 to buy for R5 a brush and R15 worth of black paint and paint yourself black. So spend the R20 and you'll have a job. The TRC, affirmative action, taking away your language, how the hell can you expect reconciliation?
POM So you would judge Mandela being portrayed as the great reconciler over the last four years as being more of a PR stunt than -
KVM Of course, everything about him is a PR stunt. They say he's a great statesman. He hasn't governed for a second. Surely a statesman should be in government, you should run a country to be judged. He's never run it. I don't think he chaired ten cabinet meetings. Mbeki has been running the country for the last three or four years, so what statesman is he? He's the greatest PRO man that you can ever imagine, goes all over the world, he's Mandela and so on, but that has nothing to do with him being a governing person, a King or a Queen or a President in actual governing of a country, managing a country. He's done nothing about that so it's just a joke to say that he's a big statesman. You must run a country for a few years and over five and ten and twenty years show what you can do in the effective actual concretising running and management of a country. There grows your image as a statesman, not from 20 yards away.
POM Then the second thing he said was that there are two nations, they are as divided now as they were during the apartheid years.
KVM It's bullshit that there are two nations. It's either one nation or numerous nations but he just divides them between the haves and the have nots. What does he expect? Does he expect those who have just to give away what they have? The premises from which he moves out is false. It's not true that there are two nations, the haves and the not haves, because hundreds of blacks are now haves and thousands of whites are non-haves or have-nots, so what sort of a thing is that?
POM Well the income gap still between black and white is eleven to one.
KVM Yes maybe it is so but how quickly do you want to solve that? Ten minutes?
POM Let's just look at affirmative action for a moment. You can't disagree with the premise that blacks were disadvantaged, that they were given inadequate schooling, that they had inadequate opportunity, that they were in fact oppressed.
KVM Let me put another version to that. The original idea was that this is not one undivided country. It is a sub-continent like Europe consisting of various nations living here. There was Botswana an independent nation, there's Lesotho an independent nation, there's Swaziland an independent nation, and the Transkei at one stage was almost independent when it was Kafraria in the old days and the NP started on a policy to give effect to this sub-continent of different nations and one of them was going to be the Afrikaners or the whites. Now we created opportunities and blacks came from all over to come and work in our areas, they sold their labour and we built up the part that we lived in and we had schools for us, etc., etc., and universities and we were a first world people and we developed these things. We then tried to develop their areas also as well as we could. We eventually introduced compulsory education for Indians, we eventually introduced compulsory education for coloureds. We were battling with the black education problem. There are far too many black children to be accommodated. There are language barriers, there are cultural barriers. You can't put Zulu children in a school with Sothos or the fathers will kill each other. Now firstly you have to have schools to put them in. Secondly you have to have teachers. From where do you get teachers? You can't get teachers from overseas because they speak English or French. They have got to speak Zulu or Sotho or Xhosa. It's one hell of a problem, but we progressed with that so we looked after ourselves, we then looked after the coloureds, the Indians and we were addressing the black problem and in the process this experiment failed. Fine, it has failed.
But what I have as an example, I am a fairly rich man, rich in the sense that I have three children, I have children, I have a home, I have cars, I have a farm and so on, but I work my bloody arse to a standstill to keep that. It wasn't given out to me, to no white. Any black person could register at UNISA to work there. They were all taken up in the civil service and elsewhere, they had good jobs, many of them were too lazy to work, to study, they didn't have the need to study. So it's a sweeping statement to just blame the old white regime for taking everything for themselves and not for them. But we sit with the effect that there is a gap and what we say in the party here, the IFP, the gap must close. Yes, there must be affirmative action but we must not lose sight of reality, of merit. We mustn't lose sight of that. We must have a realistic approach to this. You can't just close the door on whites. What must become of the young whites? Must they all go out of the country? If that is so then OK we will go, then I will pick up my roots and tell my children there's no future, we won't ever have work here for the next forty years until they all have work, let's go, sell my stuff and go and many of us will go because the door is closed on you.
POM The third thing he said was there was the emergence of a black elite where there is abuse of freedom in the name of entitlement, I think he was referring to black empowerment, in terms of the deals being made involving the Ramaphosas and others of the world.
KVM What is happening is they're trying their best with government support to assist black people with privatisation and so on and laws and so on. They're doing everything in their power to try to close the gap.
POM Are there good ways to close it?
KVM It's a very tough problem because now you get down to economic principles and if they tell you and you're at the university here and you're getting R10,000 a month, what are you prepared to do to close the gap? The first thing you will say is you're not taking part of my salary, I've worked for my degree so I've worked to be here, just don't touch my position. And they say, sorry but your son has got a BA now, we can't give him work, we're taking a youngster and he's got a Standard 8. Then you say, no that's not fair. Boom, back to square one, one hell of a problem.
POM Then he says there has been a collapse of moral values and called for a 'moral summit'.
KVM I don't know what that means. He can call for that summit, I won't be there. Maybe he should leave that to the churches.
POM He says, whites enjoy all the privileges they ever enjoyed, they have not lost.
KVM Sure, why should we lose it? I still have my house, I still have my cars, I still have my practise, why must I lose it? Is he implying that whites by now should have lost their positions?
POM No, I think he's saying that apartheid put whites in a privileged position and that part of creating a new SA is that they must, in a sense, as reparation, give up some of that privilege and share it.
KVM Like what? Must I give my farm away?
POM I don't think so.
KVM You see it's easy to talk that way for the masses but then what does it mean? Do you want to nationalise now? Because under the surface of that is nationalisation, we must take away from the haves. My time is getting less and less.
POM OK. When you hear many of the revelations before the TRC where you have security people come in and admit to atrocities they committed in the name of the state or whatever and you hear about the detail of the torture and the detentions and whatever, (i) how does it make you feel, (ii) do you really believe that no government minister other than Adriaan Vlok really knew what was going on in the darker realms of the security forces?
KVM I'll tell you what I think, I think it was a time of war when atrocities were committed on both sides and maybe more on the ANC side. I've read the book by Moise Twala who was in Quatro Camp where, for instance -
POM What was the name of the book?
KVM I'll get you the book, it's Moise Twala, Abraham Mzizi can get you a copy of the book. There is this book, Abraham Mzizi, my colleague, you can get him through Elize, he can get you a copy of the book in which this man says he was an ANC member. For instance there was a woman in this camp, some of the prisoners had to sit and open their legs so that she can kick them in the balls and if you didn't open your legs they tortured you. The things that happened there are so atrocious that I cannot even read the book properly. There were atrocities on both sides, it was a time of war. When do we hear about the ANC atrocities? Why do we not hear about the necklace method of execution which is the most brutal way of killing another person ever contemplated by a person? Almost 1000 people were brutally killed with the necklace method by the ANC. We hear nothing about that. We hear nothing about thousands of IFP members who were killed by the UDF and the ANC cadres, we know nothing about that. So there must be a balance, it was a time of war firstly, and what about the revelation of their actions? Now we come to ours. If it's a period of war then there is a saying 'all is fair in love and war', but I do think listening to things now that here and there some people overstepped the mark and actually went into criminal activity and nobody can condone that, nobody can condone that. But I think it was totally the exception and not the rule and the time has come to reveal what the ANC has done. This Modise who is here, let them tell you what he did to prisoners in Quatro Camp. So that's what I think.
POM That's where I will leave you and I will see you the next time.
KVM OK, end of this.