About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 1998: Sachs, Albie

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POM     Albie, let me begin, you've just thrown an idea into my mind when you were talking and this question is the result of part of the conversation I had with Richard Goldstone. One of his remarks was that if democracy doesn't work in South Africa that it won't work in Africa. I postulated, and he largely disagreed, that perhaps one of the reasons for that was that you had these schizophrenic structures in the country, a little bit democratic and 90% non-democratic, but there was a legal system, there was a parliament that went through the motions of being a parliament in terms of passing bills, you had this legalistic attitude towards things and that that perhaps rubbed off in some way on the liberation movement creating conditions of where they came about to transform institutions rather than having to set up institutions from scratch and that perhaps in an odd way apartheid, in spite of all its evils, facilitated to some degree the establishment of a wider and deeper democracy here than might be possible or was possible in other African countries which just underwent pure colonial experiences and were left with no standing institutions when the colonial powers withdrew.

AS     I don't disagree with the idea, I don't like the formulation. It's like saying if it hadn't been for slavery you wouldn't have marvellous jazz in the United States. I don't like to attribute anything positive to apartheid. Apartheid didn't invent trousers and yet men wear trousers now. These are universal things. Apartheid used the legal system and used the institutions for nefarious purposes but didn't create them. I think often in the eighties I would be asked by audiences outside of Africa to say, well why are you so confident that SA is different and that it's possible to establish democracy in SA? And the answer would be, I think it was three sometimes four, so let's see if I can remember them: the first was that whereas in other African countries the content of national liberation was independence sovereignty, SA had become an independent state effectively from 1910 and so the content of the liberation of the majority oppressed people was to transform the institutions that already existed, the sovereignty existed and in fact it was apartheid that wanted separate sovereignties for black and white. And then I would make the point which you've just made that the institutions of parliament, regular elections, a judiciary, a press, were all there but they were institutions available only for 15% to 20% of the population and so our objective would be to take the institutions which were known, which were understood, which had prestige and say they belong not just to the whites only but to the whole nation, and from that point of view they had credibility, they had practical experience behind them and people understood what they were about. In many of the other countries that underwent decolonisation these institutions just weren't known at all. The colonisers functioned in a totally dictatorial, bureaucratic way, decisions were all taken at the top, there wasn't free speech, there weren't regular elections. In the case of countries like Portugal, Portugal itself didn't have elections. At least Britain had elections and France had elections but these were very remote things. So, sure, that would have been a factor, a very important factor that the institutions were known and understood and the objective was not to destroy the institutions but to take them over, to have continuity but to give them a democratic foundation and meaning. But that on its own wouldn't have been enough.

     The second factor was that we had undergone the industrial revolution with the effective destruction of peasant societies, independent feudal, tribal, ethnic areas. We had a common economy, everybody was absorbed into it. The migrant labour system meant that there were no areas of the country that were effectively outside of the economy or had independent separate economies. And with that came an infrastructure of roads, of communications, banking systems, telephones and also an infrastructure of the police. They could kill us anywhere in the country or reach us and mess us up within half an hour. So the unitary character of the country from an administrative point of view, and institutional point of view, was well established unlike many of the colonial areas that had an administration with arbitrary boundaries, where it was frequently useful to have different subaltern chiefs and religious leaders and so on exercising quite a lot of power but there wasn't really a state, there was a colour on the map and there was an administration but not an effective administrative state that really governed the whole area. We had that strongly in SA.

     Thirdly, we had a very big civil society, well developed, not dependent on the state, a strong trade union movement, employers' organisations, social-cultural organisations, which cut across the ordinary bounds of ethnicity and religion and region. So Christians, maybe 70% of the people call themselves Christian and not only sharing an ideology but the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church and the Dutch Reform Church had people speaking different languages, different backgrounds, different regions, from different ethnic groups, some more than others but the fact was they cut across the cleavages that otherwise could have resulted in dismembering the character of the polity of the country.

     Then fourthly, we had the ANC and a movement going back to 1912 that had developed a national philosophy. The ANC was founded primarily to unite the African people. It's explicit in its founding documents and it gradually, on the basis of uniting the African people, became an organisation that brought in people of all backgrounds and languages and so on in a common endeavour to establish a new democratic state and did so over a long period of time and through the freedom charter had also a system of organised thought and values which was held up as a beacon for 30 years, more than 30 years before it actually became the organising philosophy of the new state.

     So you've got all these objective factors, the economic, social, institutional character of SA. You've got the legal set up in terms of which the very nature of the struggle, votes for all, extension of rights that some people had to everybody. It wasn't simply decolonisation and separate sovereignty, sovereignty which didn't exist before. So that's the institutional, legal, constitutional setting was different. The socio-economic situation was completely different. Industrial revolutions anywhere in the world are painful and destructive and in Europe they were certainly part and parcel of the formation of nation states, the creation of a new productive bourgeois class around which a new nation state could emerge separate from the old feudal kingdoms. We had all that and then the subjective element coming from the decades of political campaigning around certain ideas and then the extensive civil society. So I think all these factors were important. So when it finally came, perhaps I should add the international pressure which was anti-apartheid, it wasn't simply for decolonisation, and pro-democracy and the great variety of support that came from so many different sectors, different social systems but on the basis of certain universal values, I would say came in but I wouldn't put that as a fundamental factor but as a supportive factor.

POM     A number of people that I have interviewed on this trip have talked about the constitution, perhaps more so since the constitution was finalised in 1996. I've been surprised to find quite a number saying, including some of the framers, that the constitution may be too good, too perfect, that it is the perfect constitution for a perfect society, it doesn't meet in some way the realities on the ground of what is still largely a third world society, of a society that espouses in many ways traditional African values, whatever they are, rather than first world liberal western values and that this in a way has paralysed government in many areas. I suppose that it has an over-emphasis on human rights to the detriment of the consideration of other kinds of rights and I suppose this might primarily extend to the realm of crime where to many people it appears that the perpetrator has more protections than the person who has been victimised. This came from, as I say, some of the people who were intimately involved in drawing up the constitution and who continue to be most proud of it, but it's a criticism they have.

AS     On both sides?

POM     This would be, surprisingly on both sides, yes. On both sides, yes. In fact one of the people it came from the other day when we were talking was Cyril Ramaphosa himself. Before I had finished the question he said, "Yes, I agree." What would be your view?

AS     I'm sure he wouldn't have agreed with everything and Cyril is such a sly person he would agree but there would have been lots of qualifications. No, I disagree completely with that approach. It's giving up. The levels of crime, I mean the polite adjective is 'unacceptable'. It is unacceptable, it's intolerable. It's the one thing that robs us of the real pleasure and joy of what we've achieved. We've won our liberty, we haven't won our security and there's something also ugly about it and demeaning. It's not just a question of a lack of power of the state to guarantee security. It's like saying the people are not rising to the promise and the possibilities of the constitution and there's a kind of a meanness and a brutality that seems to negate everything we were going for.

     First of all it was the bill of rights and democracy that enabled us to come together. There was just no other solution. Nobody was going to acknowledge that we could have an all powerful state that could impose its will on others. They mightn't have minded imposing its will on gangsters but they certainly wouldn't have allowed the state to impose its will on right wing conservatives, on left wing radicals, on whatever, and we are such a diverse country there's no particular group that can successfully get hold of the levers of power and govern, impose its will on the rest of society. It just won't work, we will fragment, we will fail. And that acknowledgement, much more than some kind of vague idealism, was the foundation of the negotiated settlement. Democracy was functional. It was the only means of enabling us to live together in dignity and any departure from that would have involved giving the authorities, whoever they were, levels of power that would have been completely unacceptable to those who feared that they might be dominated, threatened by it. So we wouldn't be in a position to ask these questions if it hadn't been for that democratic breakthrough.

     The bill of rights in its broad thrust was also fundamental because it was the answer to group rights, it was the alternative to having whites represented by whites and Indians by Indians, Afrikaners by Afrikaners, in the political system. There had to be mechanisms built in to ensure that protections would be given of an institutional kind that could be backed up and the bill of rights was central to that, as is the Constitutional Court. Where people are upset, it's not even the bill of rights as such, it's the absence of a death penalty and the decision of this court to the effect that the death penalty was unconstitutional. I think it's symbolical and people want to feel the state is hitting back, cracking down on these criminals. There's a lot of anger involved and it's completely understandable anger.

     From a purely technical point of view the court had to function within the framework of the values of the constitution and we were unanimous and it's not for me to defend our judgements. Legal scholars and others will look at them and so on. But there's no doubt about it, it's seen as a symbol of a regime of thought based on, if you like, an optimistic view of human capacity and possibilities, diminution of the themes of revenge and power and so on. I see this as part and parcel of what Eric Fromm years ago called 'the fear of freedom', that the concept of an open society is difficult anywhere in the world and it's very difficult in SA where we have strong traditions of authoritarian control and rule and the fact that we have diversity, that we don't have a strong state that takes decisions for everybody, a state you hate but you know it's there, you know what you hate, you can position yourself in relation to the state or you feel protected by it, is also very disconcerting to many people who are left more on their own, which is what you have when civil society perhaps becomes more important than the state and where you're much more in command of your own destinies.

     And, again, it's understandable because of the physical fear but I find that very, very strong in circles where I mix that people want to be free but they're damn scared of behaving as free people in a free society. And what that implies is there are no short cuts, there's no simple stamping out of corruption, stamping out - war on crime, war on poverty, war on this, war on that. That's not the way. It's got to be with that same long term approach that brought us democracy in the first place, building up bit by bit, clear positions, accommodating as much as possible. Only in that way and restructuring the economy, transforming the institutions, with a lot of intelligence, thousands of meetings, a lot of hard work, learning from mistakes, only in that way can we get the dignified decent society that we want.

POM     Again, many people have said to me, both black and white, that unless a way is found to accommodate traditional structures and traditional values within the governance system in a meaningful way where the traditional structures actually exercise powers they have exercised for centuries, that governance in the country as a whole will never work. It just simply won't work, the inference being that those who framed the constitution don't understand Africa and don't understand the way Africa works.

AS     Well I don't know again what the sources are. It was Africans who framed the constitution, the thrust for the constitution came from Africans and the concept of a bill of rights goes back in ANC circles to 1923. It was first raised then, in 1943 again and the freedom charter in 1955. These concepts are deep in African consciousness. It was the whites who rejected them. The whites rejected the idea of a common society with common values and insisted on a pseudo-Africanism through the Verwoerd kind of principle. In the late period, pre-constitutional period, traditional leaders started to assume fairly active roles and positions and they were represented in the negotiations, inside parties and through Bantustan administrations. So it wasn't as though they didn't have a voice at all and there wasn't a common position. The fiercest debate at the negotiations, the most bitter debate that I witnessed was between African women and African traditional leaders. It didn't take very long. It was a level of emotion that was quite intense. It was much worse than any slanging match between ANC and NP and it was like the traditional leaders couldn't bear to be contradicted by African women. They would have taken it from me, a white man, but not to have, as they would have seen it, their sisters or their daughters standing up to them and contradicting what they were saying and they couldn't get agreement on terms in which customary law was going to be implemented. The traditional leaders wanted all or nothing and they got not nothing but very little. They didn't represent a very solid organised kind of a force. There is a chapter in the constitution that does give scope for traditional leaders. When it came to the elections I think the old government was expecting that the traditional leaders, some of them who had been in the Bantustan administrations, would deliver a sizeable portion of votes to the NP. It didn't happen and the popularity of people like Mangope and so on turned out to be paper thin.

     In KZN the traditional leaders had an organised political force, expressly so and they represent a major force but they are represented in government in the national government through the Minister of Home Affairs. They dominate the government of the province of KZN but that's through a combination, if you like, of traditional forms and the democratic system. So they are working within the democratic system to exalt the status and powers of traditional leaders.

     I think a fairly strong case has been made out for traditional leaders exercising certain effective ruling functions, not just reigning functions, at the local government level in parts of the country and speaking for myself not, not as judge but just as a concerned, interested individual, I would just like to know a lot more on the ground how people feel, what they want and that might well be so. The contact that I've had with traditional leaders which started with King Moshoeshoe III, I think, of Lesotho, he got me as his supervisor for a Master's thesis, then I was in exile, then he went into exile and he came back and we spoke from time to time and I encouraged him to opt for a constitutionalised role and asked him who did he think the most popular monarch in the world was. I said Juan Carlos of Spain. He helped the transition from fascism to democracy. He doesn't take part in politics at all. He doesn't rule but he's very active in public life. He appeals to people on all sides of the political divide and he becomes a unifying symbol and personality in Spanish public life in a country that's very fragmented and divided. I suggested that the King of Lesotho could play a role like that and he certainly had the qualities but it appeared that he wanted to rule, he wanted to exercise power and power is seen as simply to be able to issue commands which people must follow rather than the power that you have through prestige and through being respected and honoured and it's a more diffuse but often more effective in the modern state power.

     I personally feel that there's a lot of scope for traditional leaders at various levels exercising a constitutional type of power where they don't involve themselves directly in politics. They represent the continuity of the past with the present, a continuity of African culture and personality and their function is a unifying one and that could be at the local level, the provincial level and at the national level. But there hasn't been a strong demand from them for that and the issue remains very open.

POM     I have Patekile Holomisa, the head of Contralesa, saying that in rural areas where traditional chiefs have little or no role to play in local government, local government simply isn't working and that this must be recognised and dealt with as a fact of -

AS     Well the constitution allows for that. The constitution allows for a role of traditional leaders at local government level. It's a question of working it out. But my sense is that people like Patekile Holomisa want much more than that. They want a powerful political position at the national level recognised and I don't know how much support there really is for that. I think the industrial revolution has had such a profound effect on South African life and society, we're integrated into a common economy, lives are inter-active, people have got used to national television, local services. The images, the vividness of the nation is too powerful for effective kingdoms to function.

POM     Just talking about the industrial revolution for a moment, if one goes back to Britain in the 19th century and looks at the history of their industrial revolution one could say the burden of it was placed on the backs of children who were sent down coal mines and iron shafts for 15, 16 hours a day for seven days a week under the most horrendous, unbelievable working conditions that would parallel any working conditions that existed here in the mid 20th century, and that industrial revolutions are always founded on oppression, as it were, and that the industrial revolution here was founded on the backs of the oppression of blacks. Without that oppression you wouldn't have had the industrial revolution. Without the industrial revolution you wouldn't have had the basis for democratisation. So there's a funny cycle between oppression and freedom.

AS     Yes, and it's been recognised. So you don't go back, you can't restore a pre-industrial society and the danger is that people use the language and the imagery of a pastoral society to accumulate in a modern capitalist society and that's the danger, to have new, powerful, rich, feudal type leaders whether it's oil revenues or investment in modern enterprises and so on and it's not one thing or the other. There is so much in African culture and tradition that's rich and valuable that our country needs but it's not necessarily in the old institutional forms where you had in some cases highly centralised state systems, militarist, predatory, male dominated. In other cases you had very lateral systems where if you didn't like the chiefs you just moved on and the chiefs had to be consultative and democratic in their functioning. So there isn't one single model that applies, but what does come through from African culture is a strong sense of community, of human solidarity, unlike a kind of selfish, aggressive individualism.  I would hope that the African ingredient, communitarian if you like, is going to give us soul, the term ubuntu is used quite a lot, but that sense of acknowledging human solidarity and concern and there's also a fun and an expressiveness and a vitality and a fineness of speech, human interaction, that, again, the globalisation and industrialisation have destroyed in other parts of the world.

     So these are all very rich themes but that doesn't necessarily mean that you must have traditional leaders governing large tracts of the country, controlling resources, resources of a completely different kind where resources were land and cattle and implements, but particularly land, you could say well the idea of the land through the symbolism of the chief belonging to the whole community, that made a lot of sense. But now the resources that would be controlled would be in relation to health systems and schooling and roads and bridges and tourism and abattoirs and a whole range of facilities that just didn't belong before. You can't have separate police forces, separate sources of authority like that, separate judges and magistrates. So whatever role the traditional leaders might have it will be nothing like the role that traditional leaders had in an earlier period, with or without councils.

     And then we want this idea of the nation, of citizenship, that your basic rights and duties don't depend on the language you speak and who your ancestors were. So that would also be limiting. On the other hand if you had, I remember a defender of royalty in Lesotho saying to me that if you compare the role of a traditional leader at the local level to the role of a local bureaucrat, the traditional leader doesn't have an office open from nine to five with an hour off for lunch, come back next time, put it in triplicate in a particular form. The traditional leader knows everybody, it's very personalised, it's not done according to - I mean this person wasn't speaking about bureaucratic systems in theory but she was summing it up very well in practice. It's highly personalised, intimate relationships that work well in the countryside if they're not corrupt. So there could very well be a real active, dynamic role in portions of the countryside, not in the areas of commercial farming, certainly not in the cities but possibly in portions of the countryside that formed the old reserves where the traditional structures are still in place, where that intimate face to face contact still functions, there could be a very big role. Then I would think the answer would be to try and combine that role with democracy and democracy is particularly important when it comes to controlling resources, allocating funds, and there you need accountability and you need bookkeeping and you need systems against corruption. In other words you need bureaucratic administration control intervention and you need elections so that the bums can be chucked out, or that they know that they can be chucked out. On the other hand to have the intimacy, the warmth, the immediacy and the sense of dealing with issues with a view to restoring social peace and a sense of being integrated in the community which comes from the traditional African system, rather than simply giving a bureaucratic answer to a bureaucratically posed problem I think that's very strong.

POM     I want to go for a minute back to the nature of apartheid. De Klerk at some point, I don't think it was in his TRC submission - or it may have been, said that the men who created apartheid were not evil, that apartheid was a noble experiment, I think he used that phrase, that failed. One, what went wrong, what went wrong that took what was at least an idea that didn't seem outrageous, give everybody their own space in terms of - in view of the decolonisation that was happening? How he put it was that rather than abandoning a country or the newly free to the chaos that existed around them when the decoloniser went, here you were trying to help people on their way in some benign even if mistaken way. What went so terribly wrong, to ask the question that Archbishop asked of Winnie Mandela? What went so terribly wrong? Is it because if apartheid is evil or was evil, does it mean that the people who tried to assemble the apartheid model were driven by evil motivations or were themselves evil?

AS     Well that's a theological question and one that as such I don't feel qualified to answer. I'm not even sure if it's a useful question. Apartheid was fake from the beginning, it was manifestly fake. It wasn't introduced to solve the problem of living together in one country. The dynamic of the NP at that stage had two sides to it. The one was getting rid of British hegemony and there it had a traditional anti-imperialist thrust that historically speaking had a lot going for it. Afrikaners had been oppressed, they had been marginalised, their pride had been hammered, their culture had been to a large extent marginalised. Afrikaners formed a poor white section of the community, looked down upon, and there was a genuine dynamic there but that attached itself very much to a narrow chauvinistic nationalism that owed a lot to Hitler and Mussolini, quite directly, I'm not using these just as swear words. So that was the one aspect.

     But the other aspect all the time was that they would know how to treat the native. There was this phase you've probably heard 'kaffir op sy plek, koelie uit die land', keep the kaffir in his place, kick the coolies out. That had much more significance, drive, meaning, than apartheid. Apartheid was just you had to have some philosophy, some programme. It was Dr Verwoerd who tried to give the programme a certain systemic quality and no doubt there were people in their ranks who wanted some element of justification and justice to support them.

     And I might say at that stage in 1948 decolonisation wasn't on the agenda amongst the British and the French. That came about five, six, seven, eight years later after many bitter wars, so it wasn't as though they were trying to keep up. It was just that they had to have some policy different from the Smuts policy of segregation. At the time people were damn scared. They knew that this new government meant business and they disliked blacks and they hated agitators and they introduced a whole series of security laws, they clamped down. If it had been serious and genuine when Albert Luthuli wrote to, I think it was Strydom, suggesting negotiations, they would have had negotiations and Luthuli said afterwards, "We have knocked patiently on the door for decades and our position now is worse than it was 50 years ago." And that was true and everybody knew that. So there was no sincere attempt to discuss the future with African leaders. There was a search on for African leaders who would go along with their programmes. There was a hatred of the ANC, there was the hatred of what they called 'brief-case carrying Bantu'. Everything was top down and what kind of separate development is it where all the decisions are taken at that one centre?

     Then the implementation of apartheid involved cruelty on an enormous scale. Only if you're desensitised is it not cruel. In my book Justice in South Africa I collected the statistics but I think it was something like a million people a year being prosecuted for not carrying documents, passes, on them and huge prison populations and the Group Areas Act, the destruction of District 6. You don't need great imagination to know that you not only destroy a community but you chuck people out of their homes because they are the wrong colour of skin. It's humiliating, it's degrading, it's hurtful. The Immorality Act had nothing to do with giving people choice and having separate spheres. It was a concept of sex being a threat, a repudiation of choice, the concept of the purity of the white race. That was seen as the master dominant factor. And it wasn't as though no-one was saying this. Apartheid was condemned at the level of the United Nations. Even the most conservative people, for some reason the word was always 'abhorred', Margaret Thatcher abhorred apartheid even although she was very keen on negotiations and all the rest. It was condemned throughout the world and from very early on. So they can't say 'we didn't know'. And then increasingly it required more and more repressive measures to keep it in place.

POM     When you say 'they say we can't say we didn't know', you mean white people can't say they didn't know?

AS     They can't say they didn't know about the pass laws, they can't say they didn't know about the Group Areas Act. With difficulty they can say we didn't know about the tortures because they were also brought out in the press, in the media. But there was a way of knowing something as a fact but not acknowledging it as a reality and I think that was very common amongst whites.

POM     Let's move from that to today. I know among the 'average' whites that I've talked to over the years there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing or sense of accountability or responsibility for the past. It is 'they did it' and we didn't know. Even with all the revelations the TRC has produced a response that says, well of course if we had known that if these things were going on then of course we would have objected. But one doesn't get any sense that they're remorseful about the past. In fact one gets the sense that they already believe that too much is being given to blacks, there is no sense of restorative justice, there is this constant opposition to affirmative action, to anything that would narrow the gap between black and white is seen as unjust, that they have an idea of themselves as having worked hard for what they got and don't quite see what they should give up.

AS     What I encounter is ambivalence, is everything that you've just said. I think it sums it up well.  What's gone now is the denial. Before there was straight denial - well you know there were a couple of bad eggs and maybe one or two bad things happened. What's widely accepted now is that there was massive cruelty, torture and that it was known at high levels, that's widely accepted now. And that is quite important. The most painful thing was the denial that one had before. So you not only suffered the atrocities but it's kind of rubbing it in even later on. So that's been quite positive and, as I say, I encounter this ambivalence. On the one hand people are frightened that their standard of living might go down, things that they take for granted they can't take for granted any more, there will be far greater competition for jobs and they are concerned about that. On the other hand there is a certain measure of almost eagerness to respond to the past, not in a way that says I am a criminal and I'm doing it out of reparations, but in a way that says, well I am a decent human being and if you can show me the way I'll do it. President Mandela understands that very well and he's brilliant at getting support for a school or for some particular project but that's highly personalised and it's got a lot to do with his own prestige, but he gets big business to put in big bucks. That's not the way for the country. It's not a bad thing. I don't think it solves many major social problems but it does encourage wealthy people to think in terms of social responsibility.

     Thabo Mbeki has put on the agenda two major themes. The one is dialogue with Afrikaners and he's encouraging Afrikaners to try and come up with a fairly concerted, if not a voice at least a choir that harmonises. And secondly, discussing with whites what can we do to narrow the gap. We're not discussing whether or not there is a gap. We're not discussing the question of historic responsibility. We're saying that there is a gap and we're saying apartheid is responsible for it. But what we discuss is how can we narrow that gap and, again, it got quite a good response, even from pretty hard line Afrikaans speaking newspapers. So it's a very muddled, complicated kind of a thing. I find it distressing to encounter whites who are totally self-defensive and full of this 'we was robbed' kind of attitude, and they can't handle it. They can't handle the changes, they can't handle democracy, they can't handle being full, loving, decent, dignified human beings.

     I share with Archbishop Tutu his dismay at the fact that this enormous African generosity is not being fully understood and grasped and praised. People should be shouting alleluia that there is a Truth Commission and the possibility, not just of individuals getting amnesty, but of a kind of a fresh start and instead there's rather a resentful sort of thing: well they were just as bad as we are and we didn't know, and a whole mix of different things.

     But allowing for all that, you know we are functioning. We're moving. And I see changes every day, every week in institutions, in practices, in behaviour, in interaction. As I was coming into this room today I saw one of the secretaries from a very deep Afrikaans background chatting to one of the clerks, an African woman, they were speaking in Afrikaans but with such an ease and in such a spontaneous way. They just bumped into each other in the corridor and this kind of a thing I see a thousand times over. They were totally impossible before and now they're happening quite naturally. I see the extent to which our court has become an established institution and maybe in my last interview I emphasised this a little bit, people saying I'll take you all the way up to the Constitutional Court, even a husband and wife having an argument. But again it's this idea that there is an institution and set of values that represent right and justice and I see that happening. I see the transformations taking place in the army where we thought it could only happen through guns and you've got your Generals from all over the place, from different backgrounds. So I think the system is working.

POM     When the Deputy President talks about the collapse in moral values, is he talking about a collapse in moral values that belongs to the apartheid era and the legacy of the apartheid era or is he talking about a collapse in moral values that has accelerated in some senses since the demise of apartheid?

AS     In the apartheid era you had separate societies and the freedom fighters had their moral values and some of them are carrying guns now for gang heists and things of that kind, so that could be an example. I don't think he could have meant that apartheid itself had a perverse morality but at least a morality. It was directly cruel and immoral and unjust, full stop.

POM     But did it corrupt the morals of the oppressed as well?

AS     Sure, sure, there was an enormous amount of corruption in all sorts of ways. It had vast administrations, people on payrolls being paid just to belong to Bantustan administrations, local authorities.

POM     I suppose my point is, when he talks about the collapse of values and the need for a Moral Summit and the Federation of Churches I think immediately followed that up, or shortly followed it up with a call for some kind of almost indaba on the collapse on the social fabric of society.

AS     The collapse of moral values started when I was a child and it's going on. I find it all over the world. It's partly the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation on the values that belonged previously to peasant type societies where religion might have played a bigger role, the social fabric was stronger and this theme of the detribalised African losing the moral values of traditional society and not picking up the values of urban society has been there for ever and you find older generations are always complaining younger generations are destroying the values of ourselves and our parents. I think that's built into the nature of human society. I wouldn't put too much on the word 'collapse'. I think what is strong is the hope that somehow the constitutional rights that came with democracy, the freedom, would result in a corresponding assumption of dignity in a personal sense and morality in a personal sense but that didn't happen. I think that's been a great disappointment. The cruelty of some of the killers and the hijackers, it's not just robbery and gain, there's often a gratuitous element to the murders that's quite shocking. That's also representative of a brutalised society. I think it's more the disappointment on the one hand and then if you want to involve the religious bodies you put it on the level of morality and they are parts of civil society and would have a big role to play. So I think that also explains part of his reference to the loss of moral values.

POM     Joe Slovo once said that the African had learned one thing, that to be a successful revolutionary you had to have or develop a contempt for death. Is the obverse of contempt for death, contempt for life?

AS     No. By the obverse you mean the other side of the coin or the reverse?

POM     The other side of the coin.

AS     No. I would say the opposite. It means that you are so willing to pursue a moral ideal without personal advantage, that you're willing to give your life. It could be taken to mean you are so fanatic that in terms of any goal your life means nothing, but I doubt very much that Joe would have meant it that way. It meant such a high level of almost spiritual dedication and commitment to a moral idea that you subsume your whole life to it. But he also might have understood it in a purely functional way. He was a military leader and if you're frightened all the time I would assume, I've never been in the military, you just can't function.

POM     If someone had told you in 1990 when Mandela was released that SA would be where it is today both in terms of the development of its democracy, it's governance, its society, nationhood, would you have been surprised or disappointed that it is at this point not further on eight years after the release of Mandela, or as you went to your second election?

AS     OK. The key date for me in any event would be the unbanning of the ANC and I only emphasise that to stress that it wasn't a personal chemistry between two outstanding leaders that brought about the transformation. The personal chemistry in fact was very bad rather than good so it's in spite of the lack of chemistry we got the changes although their communication did play quite an important role in terms of channelling ideas and getting things done. I would say looking back it's very much on track, it's very much within the perspective I had. It's overwhelmingly better than I anticipated in relation to the army and the physical forces that had the guns. I really had great difficulty envisaging a peaceful transfer, if you like, of control of the triggers, army, police force and to some extent the administration. That's gone far better. The integration of schools also has gone better.

     I can recall being told in the 1980s by somebody from the British House of Commons who did a survey in SA and he interviewed me in 1988, I was just recovering from the bomb I remember, and he said he had spoken to people in government in SA and he said one thing they will never agree on and never allow is black kids in their schools. He said they will accept black people in parliament but they will never have black kids in their schools. And I said, "Well if that doesn't happen they're not going to have a democratic SA." There have one or two cases of difficulty but it's been extraordinarily successful. I don't want to say that the education front overall is going well. There are huge problems and some aren't being solved and we've gone backwards in some areas, but in terms of that kind of desegregation in your dramatic, symbolic sense, it's been astonishingly good.

     Just generally one wants to touch wood, but the absence of physical race conflict on a communal sort of basis, the local government that also astonishes me. When I heard about Ventersdorp where the whites were so right wing that they almost killed De Klerk, they tried to kill De Klerk, and now it's got a Mayor who comes from a shack in the townships, he belongs, I think, to the Communist Party on top of everything else, and he sits on a council with extreme right wingers and they work together, they function. These things have gone far better than I anticipated and I suppose it's because it's the generation where we've learnt to take the long view on things and to build up and never to deviate from basic principles but be very flexible in the staging and the timing and the methods and people you work with and how to get there, gives me a sense of I would say reinforced optimism and confidence.

     I feel the crime factor, I feel it in myself that I can't feel free in this country. We fought for freedom and we've gained dignity and in some ways a wonderful freedom to move around, to associate, to be with people. It's marvellous going into Soweto with a tour group, or the court went into Soweto and there were no special arrangements for security or anything, and I go into townships in Cape Town and, again, you're not going into a war zone and there is an encouragement of tourism and they benefit from having the people there, having tourists coming and there's a vibe and a vitality that always inspires me and refreshes me which I don't get in the white suburbs. These are big plusses but the fact is that I can't walk around the streets freely. I often mention it takes me 15 minutes to get to work here in the court every morning, ten minutes to get out of my house, switching on and off all the alarms, locking up and so on, and five minutes to drive. And that is something serious but to me it's not the basic thing. There are many countries in the world that have security problems and I don't see it as being totally ineradicable.

     I've been a bit surprised by the economic restructuring, maybe to some extent swept along much more than I would have anticipated by the logic, inevitability of positioning yourself in the global market. I guess in 1990 I wouldn't have anticipated that, that I would have argued for a stronger, if you like, a national economic patriotism and less emphasis on securing foreign investment and building up exports and I certainly wouldn't have expected to find myself using language like 'macro-economic' -

POM     Sorry, you were saying?

AS     Yes, about privatisation. I think I was in a limbo there because I wasn't a great defender of nationalisation. That was as a result of experience in Mozambique where all sorts of industries were taken over, mainly because the owners left and they couldn't pick up their factories under their arms and carry them away with them and so there wasn't a local class of entrepreneurs capable of carrying on, but they just didn't function, they just didn't work and the condition of the workers was often worse in the nationalised enterprises than in the private enterprises. In the private enterprises they could go on strike, they could demand certain things, there would be employers who had a face to face interest in maintaining decent conditions whereas in the factories run by bureaucrats often it didn't make any difference to them whether there was production or not and whether the workers were happy or not. So in that sense I wasn't as insistent as many people I knew on nationalisation, but I'm not sure that I had reached the stage where I would actually shout - viva privatisation, viva! I am not sure what I would have envisaged. But I certainly would have envisaged a big re-look at economic policy and that was based very much on experience in Mozambique primarily and to some extent Zimbabwe and Zambia.

POM     Affirmative action looms on the horizon as being contentious, controversial and divisive as it's been any place serious attempts have been made to introduce serious affirmative action programmes. Do you envisage the same happening here?

AS     Well I think it's inequality that's divisive and any steps taken to overcome inequality will be greeted with joy by those who benefit and alarm by those who feel they are giving up something. We introduced the concept of affirmative action in the draft bill of rights in the 1980s and it was really the alternative to either having a completely neo-liberal situation where the market determined everything and everything depended simply on trickle-down, or state intervention, confiscation and physical redistribution and it was chosen partly because it was so vague and it was capable of evolving and being given a content depending on the circumstances. I wrote quite extensively on affirmative action in the period leading up to the elections and my book Advancing Human Rights in South Africa I would say half of it is really devoted to that. I spoke, it was triggered by an invitation I got from the Black Management Forum who were then going in for strong quotas, three, four, five, six, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, different sectors and I was really arguing against simplistic quotas like that and I developed certain principles all based on the assumption that active steps have to be taken to reduce inequalities, to accelerate the breakdown of this huge divide, but they have to be taken on a principled basis and then I tried to establish what the principles should be. I haven't looked at the new law and measured it against those principles but I am fairly sure that it is consistent. In my vainer moments I like to think they might even have looked at something that I wrote at that stage! And it's not hard and prescriptive but it's designed to encourage a perspective and approach.

     Affirmative action has two meanings, one is a very precise thing related to the employment equity and that's concrete. That in fact has been fairly well received by the business community because it's not very intrusive, it's not very aggressive and it doesn't allow for the state to impose quotas. It requires business to establish plans which can be monitored and then, if I understand it correctly, it allows for incentives and penalties for people who don't go along and it leaves a lot of scope for voluntary action but it's monitored, if you like, voluntary action. How you do it is very much up to you, and this is what I was quite strong on in my writing, you don't have a board that goes round industry by industry and says by the year such-and-such you must have the following, so it's really a rather benign form. The main scope for affirmative action in the broad sense, the broad social sense in SA, is equalisation through education, access to health, land reform. So it's different from the USA where you have a marginalised and largely oppressed black community, a minority community that can't rely on democracy. It might have majority power in certain local areas but those areas are frequently impoverished and so there's not too much that can be done with that and they have to build up coalitions and so on which is not bad for the country. Here the impoverished groups are the majority, they have political power so they don't rely primarily on affirmative action to get access to schooling and to health services and to land but it's in relation to the private sector, to employment, that it's so easy to have systems replicating themselves and the children of those in top positions have all sorts of benefits and advantages and contacts and they continue to be in top positions and it makes for precarious economy and precarious professions. It leaves out the competitive edge you get when you have a bigger pool of people contributing and organically, functionally, it's worse. Institutions need connections with the whole community, with the whole society, whether it's to sell products, whether it's to get ideas on how to put up buildings, whether it's to solve the problems through justice. This broadening out of contacts and inputs I see as something functionally positive. It's not there simply to even out the numbers and to give people access to jobs that they didn't have before. And again it's all being done on a phased basis. The critical thing is that there is a principled framework for it to happen and there is always the risk of nepotism, of abuse, of playing a kind of a numbers game without looking to quality and capacity and ability.

POM     Just one or two last questions. One is, how will history judge De Klerk?

AS     My guess is that he will go through phases of being Mr Nice Guy and Mr Horrible Guy and Mr Not So Bad Guy, that there will be swings of the pendulum. How would I judge him? As a very resolute ambitious pragmatist who made a major contribution at a time when you needed a resolute, ambitious pragmatist. If he had been deeper and more profound maybe he couldn't have done what he did and so -

POM     That's almost an oxymoron. You said 'if he had been deeper and more profound he couldn't have done what he did'.

AS     Yes, because he might have defended Afrikaner positions from a deeper spiritual position and been unable to go along with the changes that he helped to promote. Perhaps to get from apartheid to democracy it was best to have someone who wasn't too principled because he couldn't have been a genuine believer in democracy, it couldn't have sprung from the wells inside himself and it wasn't him, it wasn't his background, it wasn't his pedigree, it wasn't his genuine ideological approach at all, so it would have been very forced. In terms of effective survivalism, dignified survivalism if you like, you needed somebody who was hands-on, who was practical and who could take the necessary steps and sufficiently resolute to do it. Perhaps one needed a certain measure of naiveté and hope that he could be at the helm of the transition and emerge at the top at the end and maybe he was misled by the sycophantic support he got from traditional leaders and the sycophantic reports he got from the security officials measuring the support that they might get.

     On the negative side, and again I'm giving a very personal view now, stepping aside completely from any judicial role I might ever have had or have now or ever have in future, his biggest negative, and it's a very serious one, was the third force. That was calculated, that was part of the survivalism if you like but a survivalism to come out on top at the end, spin out the elections, make black people forget uhuru and create as much confusion as possible in the ranks of the ANC, black on black violence, general sense of dismay, lack of confidence in transformation and change and rather the devil we know than the devil we don't know, and I think from that point of view there's a lot of blood, if not directly on his hands, blood that he could have avoided if he had taken steps, if he had been serious about that, if he had had more respect, if you like, for African life. So that's a serious negative but if you're giving a pass/fail kind of a mark in terms of his contribution to change in SA, I would give him a bare pass which is quite a lot coming from me! I don't want it to sound too mingy but I think it's more than many people from my background would give it, but certainly not a first class or two/one, not at all that.

     There was a little bit edginess, competitiveness between himself and Mandela and Mandela didn't always come out well when they had to share certain things. I felt it was very uneven. To say the guy who turns the key that lets you out jail is morally on a par with a person who spent almost three decades in jail is ludicrous, but there was a certain sense that there was room for only one person on the stage. But the stuff about the third force that was very serious, that was very ugly. And then he couldn't follow through. He reached a certain level of, if you like, constitutional logic, and in my previous interviews I've spoken about I think their certainty that they could end up with some kind of consociational state in terms of which there would be a laager, a constitutional laager protecting Afrikaner interests.

POM     I in fact just asked Cyril Ramaphosa this question the other day and it's a point made in Patti Waldmeir's book and her point was that De Klerk never accepted majority rule, that he always found there had to be some way around simple majoritarianism whether it was consociational or whether it was some decision making, deadlock breaking mechanism in cabinet or whatever, whereas Roelf Meyer was an early convert to simply majority rule, that it was inevitable at the end of the tunnel. And my question to Ramaphosa was, did De Klerk pick the wrong person to head his negotiation team? It's like playing chess, if we're going to play chess and I already believe that you've won before I put out my first piece, you've already beaten me before we start. You're psychologically - well you've beaten me every way and playing out the game becomes a pro forma game. So in terms of the mandate that De Klerk gave Roelf Meyer, i.e. to seek some what you're taking about, consociational or deadlock breaking mechanism or veto power or rotating presidency or whatever, he gave it to the wrong person. The person he gave it to had already made up his mind that there's only one solution and that was majority rule, so that Ramaphosa had the upper hand from the beginning insofar as De Klerk had picked the wrong man for him to negotiate with.

AS     I'm very sceptical of that. I think it did emerge in the course of negotiations that there were some people one could deal with and some people it was almost impossible to deal with. Tertius Delport was almost impossible to deal with. He blew hot, he blew cold, he reneged, it wasn't even a question of ideological position, it was a certain coherence and consistency. Fairly early on three people emerged from the NP side with whom it was possible to deal because they were looking for a solution, that was the difference, and that was Dawie de Villiers, Leon Wessels and Roelf Meyer. Gerrit Viljoen had a breakdown fairly early on so it wasn't clear how he might have gone. Pik Botha was impossible. He is coming through as the big liberal now and I must say he played quite a positive role afterwards in encouraging people to accept change. I grant him quite a lot even although he said after the bomb that it was internal ANC feuds, he covered up, defended himself, and if he didn't want to bomb he justified the bomb afterwards. But he was impossible to negotiate with, full of ego and not serious. So what one needed was a serious negotiating partner.

     One never knew what Roelf thought. I was on the plane with him the other day going to Angola and I was quite curious, why is Roelf Meyer going to Angola? And I used all sorts of little devices and gave him all sorts of little openings to volunteer and I told him why I was going there, to meet the parliamentarians and to encourage them to look into each other's eyes like we did in SA and find out, don't use the word 'compromise', use the word 'accommodation'. Compromise means giving in on principle, accommodation means recognising there's someone else there who has got deep interests but you've also got your interests, how can you recognise each other. He wouldn't, he didn't say, I still don't know why he went. I think there's a kind of a legend going around that either it was the softies in the NP who won out or sometimes, to our credit, the ANC were technically better prepared and I think we were technically much better prepared. That resulted in the ANC winning. I think that is such a superficial, shallow reading of the events.

     We broke down on the major conflict, I don't know if Cyril mentioned it, I call it 'the battle of Cuito Cuanavale'. It wasn't over the percentages for amending the constitution. That was the formal thing in Working Group 2 of CODESA, it was over the vision of government in the new SA, the consociational model in a way that Lijphart wouldn't have accepted at that stage, versus a non-racial democracy. It wasn't simply majoritarianism because it had two thirds majority, it had a bill of rights, a Constitutional Court, we put forward the idea of the principles, the two-stages. So there were lots of counter-majoritarian concepts built in but within the framework of what you might call a normally internationally accepted democracy as opposed to a special kind of South African structure of government based upon recognition of groups and group rights and group vetoes. And the battle was over that and that battle was lost when the negotiations broke down and there was rolling mass action and there was the massacre and there was the incapacity of the old government to run the country. They were losing control. As Pik Botha once said, "The hole was too big, the ship was sinking." That's why they negotiated in the first place. Now the hole was getting even bigger and when Chris Hani was killed and Mandela had to be called in to keep the country together, he became the President of SA that night. It was clear to diplomats, to everybody, that he was the person who was now in top leadership control.

     I think that Roelf actually got a very good deal for his side, far more than the bluster of some of the other people. I was involved with Kriel, Hernus Kriel. You would get sent anywhere in negotiations and so my main work, I think, was on the language question and they thought it would last for ever and then in two days we came up with some kind of formula on this basis of accommodation. No-one fully understood the formula but nobody was so alarmed by it that they were going to renege. So then I was sent to the pre-amble, "In humble submission to Almighty God", and then I asked people about that and that was also over quite quickly, when someone said, "What would my mother say? Is the ANC against God? Put it in." And that was my mandate and the other parties wanted it and it went in. Then some people got hold of me in connection with conservation, they knew I was very interested in that and suddenly I found myself in a group and we got conservation, environment both as a provincial power and a national power and everybody was happy with that and the next thing was the police. Fink Haysom was handling that and he had to go overseas, he had put off and put off something and, "Albie, can you just help out there? We've got a near agreement." And I looked at it, I was absolutely horrified. There would have been provincial police forces under totally independent command with the danger of having a Zulu police force for KZN, an Afrikaner police force for the Western Cape, a Tswana police force for the North West. With political power with armed forces it could have been totally disastrous and we had discussions and debates and drafts and all the rest and, again, he didn't function cleanly and clearly and so on. He was, I remember, very jovial at the beginning, saying, "Ho, ho, we gave you the army", he said, "You can have prisons, it's just a headache, but we want the police force." Like this jovial, macho, man to man stuff you see. And then it was discussed in the Working Group, the ANC Constitutional Committee Working Group that was on it, and we came up with completely different proposals and draft and he blew hot and he blew cold and in the end he told the Police Commissioner who was working with him, a chap named Preiss, to fuck off, in front of all of us. It was just kind of blustery stuff and he got very little, he got very little. It might have ended up with elements in relation to the police force far more favourable to the NP if they had had somebody like Roelf who from the beginning had had a clear position. It wouldn't have ended up with separate provincial police forces, that was impossible, but the provincial element of control might have been greater than it was in the end if they had had somebody like Roelf right from the beginning.

     So my experience in negotiations was the people who got the most for the NP, once you couldn't get - there was no chance of getting consociationalism, we could never have had race built into the constitutional set-up as a political factor. It was never on. Then it was important to strengthen the bill of rights, to ensure that all the other protections were very strong and were meaningful, the institutional protections.  Then it was also a battle over provincial powers and Roelf managed to get a lot in terms of provincial powers, in terms of the bill of rights, in terms of the Constitutional Court, although that came mainly from, I would say, the DP, they were very strong on the role and function and selection of the Constitutional Court. So I have a totally different view from this common one that has been picked up with glee by the right wing Afrikaans press, blame it all on Roelf. On the contrary, my experience was almost the opposite.

POM     In fact you had Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribut Adam in a book that came out last year, essentially their conclusion is the Afrikaner gave it all away, that the best negotiators the ANC had going for them were De Klerk and Roelf Meyer and that in the end De Klerk just threw in the towel and that the NP was taken to the cleaners.

AS     I find that a very cheap analysis.

POM     I was surprised that came from Van Zyl Slabbert who is far more sophisticated.

AS     You know, he knows white politics probably better than anybody, or he knew, I'm not sure he's so in touch now, and he's a very sophisticated analyst in the best sense of the word. He doesn't know black politics. He doesn't have a real feel for it. He predicted mayhem after the elections. He just doesn't have that feel and he just doesn't know how powerful the forces were on the other side. It wasn't just a question of negotiations and skill across the table, it was what was happening in the country. It was very interesting to see how the embassies came over, the diplomats who at first tended to feel De Klerk was their man, wasn't it marvellous and two counterparts and the chemistry and so on, and then when it came down to the hard questions of what was happening on the ground and who could run the country, it just became clear that the whites had lost the capacity to dominate this country and to call the shots. De Klerk might have got more if he had given in more quickly on the question of amnesty, that's one area where I have little doubt if there had been an across the board amnesty in 1990, but really across the board, letting all the prisoners out, letting the people come back from exile, it's a fresh start and it's part of the impetus of unbanning the ANC, freeing Mandela and other prisoners, high profile prisoners, I have little doubt it would have been accepted at that moment. Instead he spun it out bit by bit, bit by bit, being in the grip of or supporting or believing in the hard-liners, that we give a little bit of amnesty bit by bit in return for something. The ANC must lay down its arms, end their armed struggle, releasing people like Barend Strydom, Die Wit Wolf, as a quid pro quo. He just messed it up completely. So if you make the concessions right at the end, and I don't know what Van Zyl Slabbert is speaking about, concessions to what? To democracy? To the liberal democracy that Van Zyl believes in? It's not handing over the Afrikaners. The Afrikaners had lost their hegemony and that was a reality on the ground and the best the Afrikaners could do would be create conditions in which they wouldn't be suppressed and marginalised, their language and culture wouldn't be ignored and destroyed, in which their physical security could best be maintained. And all that was achieved.

POM     And the rights to private property.

AS     Yes, there are strong property interests, not unqualified, with a certain measure of restitution, but that subject to forms of compensation, court controlled not state controlled, and this two stage process of constitution making gave them a chance to come back in and have lots of different things acknowledged and accepted. I don't know what the Afrikaners could have had otherwise.

POM     So that the school of thought that says that the - Herman Giliomee I think was one of the first proponents of it, that the Boers gave it all away, is in fact they didn't give it all away. Under the circumstances they cut quite a good deal for themselves.

AS     Yes, yes. I don't have any doubt about that and that the Boers must now stand on their own feet without state support and their feet are strong. They are well shod feet if you like. They've got economic strength, they've got education, they've got property, they've got international contacts, they've got a lot of self-confidence and a lively intellectuality, intellectual group intelligentsia, publishing houses, press and self-reliant within the framework of the broad SA, they have achieved all that and achieved protection for that. Roelf Meyer and the others were the ones who ensured that that could be there, the space.

POM     If you told Roelf all that on the plane yesterday he probably would have told you why he was going.

AS     He wouldn't, he would have said, well Albie, thank you for saying that, and that would have been all. No I just hope very much that - you know there's a kind of mythology of transition that first of all attributes everything to a couple of top leaders and body chemistry and interaction and decisions made by prime actors like that. I've always been sceptical of the 'great man' theory of history, maybe over-sceptical of that, that there is a role that they can play but it's usually the role of encapsulating and symbolising something that's got much deeper, more powerful currents and forces. But I just know in reality it wasn't like that and Mandela was often right outside the actual hard concrete negotiations. He had certain important, strategic roles and functions to play at certain moments but in terms of the hard decision making he was consciously very much on the outside. We woke him at night, I think I mentioned this before, on the question of the 70%. That was like dragging him in. It wasn't as though he was there anyhow.

POM     This was when you threw the stones at the window?

AS     Yes in the early hours of the morning, he was in this beautiful dressing gown and an enormous smile just having been woken up and thinking it's commandos, his last moments had come. So that's a way of journalistic story telling that's exciting and entrancing and it's not wrong, it's just very superficial, it might or might not be accurate but from an historian's point of view very, very shallow. The other is, it's already now a fairly well established myth that somehow De Klerk and company gave it away, that they were soft and weak and so on, and this is also seeing historical events in terms of machos and wimps, it's also not very useful. If it wasn't so tragic, if there hadn't been Boipatong and Bisho and so many deaths and Chris Hani and so on, one might say well it's one point of view as opposed to another point of view. The ANC side, we had a very serious, very dedicated team of negotiators and that meant not only technical skills. It meant constant liaison between the political leadership at Shell House and the people from the provinces, a two-way flow, upwards and downwards if you like, constant interaction. People had to understand what was happening to go along with it. That was very important.

     Also the ANC people had to be open to world ideas and our travelling and going to Germany was very, very important, the whole concept of concurrent powers and a new way of envisaging the provinces came from there as well as the Constitutional Court. It meant not a parochial narrow, inward looking approach. Accepting proportional representation was very important for inclusivity.

     Then we pioneered the idea of the two stage process which in fact I picked up from the Namibian experience. Again it was a willingness to learn from other experiences and constantly looking to the long term. We wanted a country that could function, inclusivity was important for that. It wasn't just winning the battle of the first elections and getting into power. There was a serious commitment.

     We might have done better, we certainly would have done better in terms of seats if we had had first past the post. I was told by someone recently who should know that if magisterial districts had been used the ANC would have got 86% of the seats. It would have been a disaster, a total disaster. There would have been a sense of domination, hegemony, small groups crushed. Far better to have the Constand Viljoens inside, the PAC inside, the IFP, the NP inside and in numbers and with strong regional influence and control as well.

     If we had had votes for direct election of a president, Mandela was enormously popular, and we could have had a strong presidency and to hell with all these other things and we wanted a president answerable to parliament. We didn't want dual poles of authority and power, we didn't want over-centralised power. So there were a number of areas in which we took what I think were principled positions, looking for the future, and it gave a great degree of cohesiveness within the ranks of the ANC.

     Maybe we just had to work harder because when you're in power you don't have to work so hard, you use your power. You don't have to think so much. And then the experiences that we had had, the negative experiences as well as the positive, living in Mozambique and other African countries, gave us the sensitivity to the importance of constitutionalism and democracy and fundamental rights. So it wasn't a question of De Klerk and so on just rolling over and handing over to us. I don't know what else he could have got that was viable, that could have functioned, that could have made the country work. And if it emerges that democracy and fundamental rights win out then there should be alleluias from Van Zyl and Heribut and the others because it proves the validity and the transferability of democracy, not the transferability, the fact it solves problems of living together in a divided country.

     It gave me great pleasure to go to Ireland, in the South and in the North, and to communicate our experiences to people there because we're always being told by others how to do things here. So to me that's the wonderful lesson for humanity that emerges and to reduce it all just to a poker game in which some people played their cards more skilfully than others is really not only denying us of our vision and hard work and seriousness and diminishing the others who were sensible and practical. It's actually denying humanity, the hopefulness of profound ideas.

POM     Thank you.

AS     I can't do better than that, let's stop.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.