This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Feb 1999: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik
POM As I said, I've just come from talking with Judge Kriegler and the concerns you were mentioning about independence ultimately he said the bar-coding was a minor issue that would be resolved by the courts, or out of court, but it didn't play any part in his decision but it was about the autonomy of the commission being taken away in terms not just of funding, which he said was always negotiable, but in terms of almost usage. Trevor Manuel came along with a staff structure and said this is your staff structure plan. He sees it purely in constitutional terms, that the commission was put there for a purpose, for a special purpose, and that it must set up the resources and structure itself to perform that function and that is being slowly either taken away or has been taken away and that in that sense they can't properly discharge their constitutional function and that's the issue.
VZS I think that sums it up. That was certainly the impression I had when I had a discussion with him. I also think that he made a little bit more when I talked to him about the bar-coded IDs, saying that if there was a ruling in favour of the parties, that in fact it did infringe on the constitutional rights of individuals, then this would deepen the crisis of legitimacy of the whole process. But I think also one of his frustrations, because as I said I sat on the Steering Committee that had to do this preparatory work for the commission to come into being, and one of the frustrations is simply that we've got the technically qualified people who can do it, we have enough infrastructure to pull it off, it's a question of having enough finance, so there's no reason why you should not have very well managed fair and free elections in this country, comparatively speaking, as anywhere else in the world. So I think that's a deep source of frustration also for him and I think a legitimate one.
And then the question arises, but why, why can't we do it? I certainly don't think Thabo Mbeki would like to become President on deeply flawed elections. It doesn't make sense. So you can't say they're crazy or mad or they want to destroy the election but there were some mistakes made. I think one of them was a complete lack of sense of urgency. I mean we waited for almost a year before the legislation came up and that's way after the 1994 elections.
POM I remember you saying that years back.
VZS Yes, but we just waited and waited and waited, and then we waited for another year after the election came to get the commission appointed and once the commission was appointed they appointed them all on a temporary basis, so Judge Kriegler was temporary, all the others were temporary and then they got a very bright young man, Mandla Mchunu, in but he was very inexperienced, he had some kind of experience in 1994. So it all came together that we were running out of time and then the question was: could this commission act independently? Now I know this question of independence and autonomy, there's nothing in principle wrong having civil servants working, they do it all over the world. The question is do they fall under the authority of the commission, number one, and can the commission decide how to deploy them and so on. And, again, you read today's Sowetan, civil servants said they would pitch up in the Eastern Cape, they don't pitch up, they're not there, so you can't run the electoral office properly and so on. So that I think, this issue of independence is a difficult one but one thing that I am completely convinced on is that the so-called legitimacy of an election, or the independence of the commission, is not something decided by one of the participants even if it's government. You know there are monitors, there are electoral experts, there are political scientists and people who write research surveys on elections, they will decide and you can do as many lateral arabesques as you want to saying it was fair and free and so on, if the competing parties decided it wasn't and if the experts come in and say 'sorry' then you're stuffed, you haven't had fair and free elections. It's not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of analysis, they'll tell you. And that's what I find extraordinary that the government seems to think that you can persuade people that it's fair and free but how can you do this with credibility if one of the respected people on the commission, who happens to be the chairman, three months before the election pulls out and says it's not independent. Now you can say he's talking nonsense, it's not true and so on, but how do you demonstrate this? Do you say, like Motsada Tsedu said in the Independent yesterday, "He's actually a racist at heart. He hates blacks so he takes this "
POM That's what I found, I think, disturbing was the way race was subtly pulled into it and I went through Mbeki's letter with him and he disputes it point by point. In fact he says at the meeting last December that he warned Mbeki that the DP and the NNP might have a legitimate case and even if they lost that they would go to the Appeal Court and that was going to shove things back which meant the registration process couldn't close so that it was a lose/lose situation that he was entering and that the Affidavit he filed, and he read it out to us from the Affidavit, that he didn't file on his own behalf, he filed on behalf of the commission.
POM But in every review report you read you would get the impression that he went off on his own and wrote it and filed it and didn't tell anybody about it.
VZS That's right.
POM That's a major difference.
VZS And as you say it's a very disturbing thing. I must say I was appalled by Motsada Tsedu's article yesterday saying that he would take instructions from Colyn. He couldn't stand Colyn in the 1994 election. He was more prepared to accept them from Mandla Mchunu. What I am trying to say here is it now just becomes absurd because you can't really talk about the merits of the case any more. You're now defending impossible accusations of being racist and this and that. To me most of this has to do with fact. It's fact, are there five million voters who haven't got bar-coded IDs? You pick up the lips of the horse and you count the teeth for God's sake. It's not a matter of opinion. You find out. And if the first survey wasn't adequate have four, five more and find out and then if you have five million voters who have no bar-coded ID you've got yourself a problem and you've got to solve the problem. You can either make it's so obvious I mean I find it quite extraordinary. He's a difficult customer and I know Johann from a long time ago but he certainly is not a dishonest man. He certainly isn't somebody who he might be arrogant, he has a certain hubris about it but I think basically he's a decent guy. He would want the elections to work. He didn't exactly cover himself with glory in 1994 so he would love to do it this time, he would like to do it better this time.
POM I don't want to spend a lot of time on the elections but to me it seems emblematic or symptomatic of a lot of other, a micro example of larger issues that are in the country, of the lack of reconciliation, of if you say certain things or if you stand up to government in a certain way you're immediately tagged as being anti-government, not anti-government but anti-transformation, wanting to maintain the privilege of the past with the result that a lot of people rather than speaking up say, hey, it's not worth the smearing I'm going to get.
VZS There's a lot of truth in that. Look, I suppose one shouldn't be too surprised if we go through this phase. There's a great deal of anger still. I mean Motsada Tsedu is a product of apartheid. You can't blame the guy for writing like that. He's still very angry. It's just that I think he doesn't make any significant contribution to get out of the difficulty. We can sort of wallow around and substitute white racism for black racism, it doesn't contribute in any kind of way so I think, as you say, it reveals itself in a lot of areas like how do you investigate racism in the media by the Human Rights Commission.
POM I prefer the phrase 'subliminal'.
VZS Yes but the subliminal - that makes Freud look like an amateur. Where do you get into this business? Subliminal, everything becomes racist.
POM Is this the way one of, again, the shibboleths propagated after apartheid ended and the new government came in was the forgiveness of blacks 'ubuntu', we are forgiving, we hold nothing against whites. I don't believe that's true. There's a lot of anger in there and now it's coming out in lots of different ways.
VZS You see I think it's also that anger, it almost follows, of traditionalist on modernity. I find when you're in the deep rural areas there is no anger there. The people want to survive and they welcome you. There's no feeling of 'what you did to us' type of thing. At least I don't pick it up. But when you interact with people who are moving into a comparative market economy, jobs are scarce, they've got to perform, people become far more critical on whether you make it or not, that's when you pick it up. You pick it up immediately, there's a sense of, OK, you think we blacks can't do it, we're a bunch of stupid arse-holes. Now look what you did to us. You get that very, very quickly. If you read the stuff written by Jon Quelane and Thami Mzwai and people like that and William Makgoba there's a new kind of pseudo racial science coming out.
POM We went to the Renaissance Conference last year and I was stunned by its, what I would call, racism, it was anti-white right through and the Deputy President sat there for two full days.
VZS I just regard those as huge sort of therapy sessions, getting rid of stuff. I don't know if you read the Black Athena, the Race Gallery and things like that, it's a whole revival of American campuses, of ethnic studies and they prove that civilisation started in Africa and blacks discovered Maths and then they sort of infiltrated the Mediterranean and spread knowledge. It's ridiculous stuff. I don't say they didn't but it certainly isn't evident now. What's the bloody point of having discovered it 5000 years ago if you can't count now? This is what you've got to do, you've got to try and combat it now. But there is this, Makgoba is heavy into this kind of stuff, melanin on the skin, De Sousa wrote vicious stuff, it sounds very funny, where some black teachers are telling kids in the States that blacks have more melanin in the skin and therefore you don't have to study as hard because you can just absorb information like that. Seriously. In any case that's nonsense.
POM How do you place all of that in the context of the TRC? When the findings were published at night at the university I went to the trouble of downloading the whole damn thing. What struck me were three things, one was, of course, the whole tempest over De Klerk and particularly the ANC going to court, particularly the ANC in view of the fact that in their own reports that they had, their international report and the one before that, they had acknowledged the findings of that report and they said the perpetrators would be dealt with. That was four years ago and almost over the same issue of being accused of gross violations of human rights they go to court to get the finding stopped when they have already admitted that violations of human rights did take place.
VZS Of course.
POM That was one thing which detracted from the impact of the report. The second thing was reading just through the way they had gone about collecting their information and saying that they really had received co-operation from nobody, that political parties made submissions but they were bland and nobody took responsibility, the military didn't even understand what it was about, or understood too well, and they had to pull back and look for a second submission. The SAPS concentrated completely on the atrocities of the ANC, that leaders that could have contributed and which details regarding the past never came forward, that few members of APLA either applied for amnesty or came forward to tell about what they did when they were in exile, or how they survived when they were in exile, and that really the man responsible for opening the door on all the information they got was Eugene de Kock.
VZS That's the point.
POM And it was almost like - this report is brought to you thanks to Eugene de Kock.
VZS Kind offices of. You're right. You see for me, I mean Alex is a close friend of mine, Alex is in the States now sort of chilling out in Greenwich Village trying to get some kind of a temporary lectureship with New York University because Alex, I think, wants to stay away from here as long as he possibly can. And the same with Tutu, I think they don't want to get near this place. They could hardly wait. They dropped the report and they were out of the country before they had got to chapter two.
I think the one big problem was actually a problem, a crisis precipitated by Kobie Coetsee on the whole question of amnesty. You see there was a time when the ANC insisted on blanket amnesty. You must go and have a chat with Constand Viljoen because there's a deep disillusionment that's set in there from the right military. The ANC offered the government complete amnesty for everybody, including themselves. Kobie Coetsee hung out and said no, and then the whole thing became a huge political football and, of course, if you have to apply for amnesty as an individual and you don't get it and you're liable to prosecution afterwards, are you going to come up there and say what you did? I mean Bellingham even killed his wife for political reasons. It's crazy stuff. So you know that you're going to incriminate yourself and the risk you're taking is I'm going to incriminate myself on the likelihood that I would get amnesty and I can walk away, but if I don't get it and it can lead to further prosecutions so the minute planned stories. De Klerk was actually quite despicable as far as I was concerned in the way he tried to play legal little games with the Truth Commission. But the ANC as well, the ANC didn't come clean and then started arguing all this old hoary stuff about the just war and unjust war and crime against humanity and so on. It may be true but in the final analysis if you cut off a guy's balls you still were acting in a very terrible way.
In any case, I think the Truth Commission eventually was overwhelmed by the sort of consequences of its own terms of reference. Now how do you do it? How do you plough through 6000 cases of amnesty applications? When are you going to finish it? How do you give reparation? It all sounds nice. I remember very well when Alex was drafting the legislation in his office, I said, "But how are you going to do this? How do you provide reparation to these people?"
POM There's no money.
VZS There's no money. They haven't even got money for the Electoral Commission. What do you mean, pay these people? It's not going to happen. So I think generally there were a lot of expectations. I reviewed Antjie Krog's book and I said the important thing about Krog's book, and this is for me the important contribution of the TRC, is that it really gave people an opportunity to come and say how they feel and it also confronted all of us in some way or the other with horrible parts of our past. We had to face that we were really like that.
POM I see the part about it giving an opportunity to victims to be acknowledged and their stories heard. That's a small proportion and a very important portion of the population.
POM But it still seems to me that the larger white community distanced itself from the TRC.
VZS Well the counter-propaganda was that this was a sort of persecutional process.
POM And when they heard about all these things it was like, oh my God, if I had known about those things of course I would never have
VZS De Klerk himself in his biography says this, "I would never have condoned it."
POM So there's no sense of acknowledgement that collectively whites did great damage to blacks and that therefore collectively ?
VZS No, no, that was only the De Kock's, mad dogs like De Kock and others who did those things.
POM We had nothing to do with it, we've worked hard all our lives for what we've got and we've gotten it honestly and we don't know.
VZS I agree but I think it's better for them even to have been confronted with that than not being confronted. So, whereas I started off very sceptical about the TRC and its intentions I retract on that. I think that was good, it's not necessarily of the status of, say, evidence led in court but there's a certain compelling honesty in somebody putting their case, what their experience was and what happened to them, whereas from the perpetrator's side I still think the most compelling stuff came from De Kock and Ferdi Barnard and Joe Mamasela. That was chilling stuff.
POM Where is he now?
VZS I think he works for some arm of the police there in Natal if I'm not mistaken.
POM He's always with the police.
VZS He's maintaining law and order. Just joking!
POM I know when I looked at it was after Fingers was shot, looking at the CV of Bushy Engelbrecht and the number of times he'd been suspended.
VZS Bushy is a rough boy.
POM He kept getting back into the police.
VZS Well he just captured Chauke now, Colin Chauke.
POM The same Bushy?
VZS It's the same Bushy, it's our man on the spot again.
POM There was going to be a quick police investigation into whether or not they shot him or whether or not he did in fact reach for a gun and they reacted in self-defence. Has anything ever been resolved?
VZS I think what you've got here, I think, I'm not sure you listen to the gossip, but there's a sort of syndicate element there where the cops are now saying it's better to kill these guys because once they get in prison they're just going to get out again and then we go round and the prosecution case loads - It's really getting pretty rough out there, pretty rough. I was surprised they didn't kill Chauke. They actually arrested the guy and so on, because now even if it's true or not they always try to escape. But I think this is really a problem because of the lack of integration between police, prisons and the courts. It must be desperate stuff to be a young cop and to go into Soweto, risk your life, or even here in a townhouse cluster and take a hardened, tough character out and put him in front of the courts and there sit these prosecutors going on a go-slow strike with their case load loading up and then apply for bail. You're not going to do it, you're just not going to do that job any more. That's what you hear very strongly amongst the cops.
POM There is no morale at all.
VZS I think you should have the Minister of Criminal Justice integrate the three departments, have three deputy ministers and then work out what the relationship is between arresting someone, prosecuting someone and, if guilty, incarcerating someone.
POM I just say the prosecutors are paid a pittance.
VZS These are people, some of them have studied for four or five years and you end up
POM And the justice budget this year is going to be cut.
VZS This is of course a very real dilemma that faces us, that there's a tension between delivery of service and fiscal discipline. Everybody agrees, delivery is a good thing, fiscal discipline is a good thing. How do you marry the two?
POM Let's talk about that for a minute because I've been following since I was here the last time the global crisis and trying to see where does it hit and how does it impact. What happened Asia affected dramatically what happened in SA so you can have any kind of macro-economic policy in the world and in a world economy it really means nothing because you don't have control over most of the world. So at the end you're at the mercy of other forces and this being still a relatively developing economy, Trevor Manuel or the Deputy President can come up with any economic plan and it can go bust out the window the following morning. But it seems to me, and I've been following some of the work of Joseph Stiglitz, he's the Vice President and Chief Economist for the World Bank who has been moving away from the Washington Consensus and saying it's not working, that's what he's saying, and the medicine we're imposing has often done more damage than good and there has been the first admission of that even though they continue to administer the same
VZS It's like George Soros.
POM It's given, as far as I can see, that as long as interest rates remain at the level they're at here prospects for economic growth are next to zilch. Even Milton Friedman has come out on this side, he says a developing economy should let their currency float, keep interest rates low and encourage growth and yet this country is committed to one way or the other, even with a minimum of foreign reserves, of still trying to position the rand as one of the surviving currencies whereas the emphasis seems to be in the wrong place. You're saving the rand and you're creating unemployment.
VZS I've listened with fascination to economists giving me competing explanations with absolute conviction on this and I really don't understand. I really don't understand, I'm not trying to be elusive or anything. There are a few things that seem to me very problematical, one is the determination of moderately developing countries like SA to remain on the global bus almost at all costs, they want to be there. There is this terror of just falling off the bus and free floating and nobody cares, everyone moves off and so on. That's the first point. The second point, the undeniable fact that those who have transferable skills and wealth leave. They go. You can't hold them, you can't keep them, they just go and especially younger people and it's a problem for us. The third problem is that the most, I think I may have said it to you last time, the most immobile section of society are obviously those without transferable skills and wealth, the unemployed, the poor, the unskilled and they're stuck, they are really stuck and they face the consequences of this globalisation, the impact of it. The fourth thing is that just at the moment when the first world, or the developed world, or the mature democracies, are beginning to abandon the sort of concept of the nation/state being responsible, here everybody begins to depend more and more on the bloody nation/state. So the poor cling around the nation/state at all costs. For what? For services, for delivery, for surviving, whereas in Europe you can have a Euro Pass and you travel and you're free, from Spain to Oxford you don't get stopped at check points unless you're black, the Check Point Charlies and so on, you just travel. You have all the fun in the world.
So here a guy like Mbeki, as I always say, he's got an impossible situation, he is the nation/state, he is directly accountable or susceptible to the poor and the masses and at the same time he has to look at the economic flows and developments and he's got to keep the bus on board. So now what does he do? He brings about economic reforms to keep himself aligned with the global economy. The economic reforms actually cause more attrition to the poor, like, for example, keeping the deficit before borrowing at 4%, and that's just saying to the guy, sorry, sorry and the interest rate and all of that. So he does that to be part of the global economy in the hope that there will be some kind of economic take-off so that you can get the taxes and you can start giving those people something, and it doesn't happen. But can he go the other way?
So for me the fascinating question with Mbeki is, he maintains a liberal democratic constitution but he is imposing rather undemocratic practices on the party itself, he's capturing control of the party and, if I can use two phrases, the one is he has to decide between democratic instability which you get in poor countries that are too democratic, or undemocratic stability which is the way I think he's drifting. He's drifting certainly within the ANC to a situation of more and more undemocratic stability. The question is, what for? Is he doing it so that he can go the populist route and impose some kind of populist control over everything or is he doing it to become more market friendly? My feeling is, if I look at Tito Mboweni and Trevor Manuel, that lot is going the market friendly route and they can only go the market friendly route if he can beat down popular rebellion and resistance at home. How do you do that? You capture control of the dominant party and once you've got that you govern from the President's office. All this stuff about cabinets, I think that's going to be the most important difference between Mandela and Mbeki. Mandela said let a thousand flowers bloom, if you're the Minister of Education you deal with education, if you're the Minister of Law and Order you go and do that. And they all went off in their separate ways and had fun. Mboweni with labour legislation, Bengu with outcomes based education, Zuma having a go at the smokers and whatever the case may be, but they just all went not with Mbeki. Bring them in, this is the way we're going to do it. That's what I sense. I don't think it's a bad thing quite frankly. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.
POM You say he will be market friendly yet he continues in speech after speech to put great emphasis on the enormous inequities that continue to exist between black and white. One would gain the impression that while Mandela spent his presidency as the reconciler, the nation-builder, the bringer together, holding together of people, that Mbeki is sending, I won't say a subliminal message to whites, but is sending a message that things have got to change and you've had it easy for the last four years, in fact your lifestyles and the way you live have been not really impacted on in any severe way at all.
VZS For 27 years Mugabe has said the same thing, you whites better change. Now when he's out on his ear and it no longer matters, there are hardly any whites left in any case, they've all taken their money and run. So I am saying that is the most common response you'll get where you have a majority of people who are black in the electorate and a few privileged whites there. The irony of the situation is those few privileged whites are necessary to generate the kind of wealth that he wants. So, yes, he plays the democratic game by telling the people, I'm going to get it. He plays the market friendly game by saying, listen fellows, let's do it this way and do that. I'm not saying, certainly I don't believe it for one moment, that he will become a Mugabe but Mugabe certainly didn't put the chicken in the pot over 27 years despite all the populist rhetoric.
POM Even the pot has gone.
VZS The pot's gone, it's somewhere in Scotland, in a castle there I hear.
POM It would seem to be that the critics of GEAR have in fact won in the sense that the weight of opinion in the World Bank, particularly in the World Bank, is swinging away from strict monetary policy as the solution recognising that high interest rates cut off economic growth, recognising that picking a deficit of 3% over 4% is arbitrary to GDP, there's no golden rule.
VZS No but I think what I understand of that is, yes, that's true but that arises out of the fact (break in recording)
... to cope with what happens when you have a massive inflow of capital one week and massive outflow the next week. So that's Soros's argument, what he calls a crisis of global capitalism. But what do you do? And he's one of the guys who are flowing along with the capital by the way, but what do you do? And he says you've got to find some internationally acceptable mechanism to control credit because that's really the problem. People just give money to all kinds of desperates and things like that, and to control where capital will flow and that's why in the Malaysian case they go for protectionism, they suddenly want to protect the currency. Exactly the point we hear.
But I think the desperate dilemma is that there is no solution. There's pretty good diagnosis and what I've read a little bit about the World Bank and IMF is they're beginning to question the conventional deficit before borrowing, exchange control, that kind of stuff, not because in themselves they were bad but with the increasing mobility of capital, the increasing mobility of technology and information, what does a Governor of the Reserve Bank do? Information, you walk through a Check Point Charlie with a computer that can carry information but they want to know what your passport is, have you got a visa and all that kind of stuff. Can you imagine if you have to first download the guy's computer to find out what information he and he doesn't even have to come into your country, he can just do it by satellite. So you've got a problem here of management, I don't know how you manage that. I think someone like Mbeki appreciates that, he understands.
POM You said something interesting earlier, the masses are down there and they have to be appeased and whatever and there were the Opinion 99 surveys and there was a survey last year, I forget which one it was but it was in the middle of the financial crisis, and in a way the explanation was easy, it showed that whites were really worried about the future, about their economic well-being, the future of the country economically, whereas blacks were optimistic about it. I guess if you've nothing you can afford to be optimistic, it can only get better, you've nothing to lose so you're not worrying you won't have anything left on the Stock Exchange tomorrow morning. 45% was wiped out last week. But in the more recent polls, again there's been increasing unemployment and I don't know what will come out of the Jobs Summit, but it seemed like one more summit that produced a lot of rhetoric but in the end no-one has an idea how to create jobs. In fact Patricia and I were talking just the other day saying, gee they're talking about the same thing as they were saying in 1994. In 1992 they said what we're going to do in the beginning is we're going to build houses, houses create jobs and then there will be spin-off and multiple trickle-down effect from that and that's where you'll create and you'll jump start the economy. And they're back to talking about building houses to create jobs and that'll jump start the economy. It's like where have we moved in six years? So unemployment has increased among Africans, the prospects for jobs for them are less rather than more, poverty has increased and yet they are more optimistic about the future and increasingly optimistic about the future and their prospects in the future than are whites. It's kind of paradoxical that in a way at one level, a very important level, the economic level, things are not improving for them at all and yet they're more optimistic about their economic prospects in the future than whites are.
VZS Bill Johnson showed me some research that he'd done the other day which showed that the most important concern for blacks was the question of jobs. Crime actually figured very low. For whites crime was top of the list. So this leads to an extraordinary sort of ambivalent electoral campaign. The white parties are talking no mercy for criminals ta-da, ta-da, ta-da. The ANC is talking jobs, we've got to get the economy going and blaming those fellows, the fat cats, for the fact that it's not happening. But I think the reason for the optimism could be
POM Just on that, the last Opinion 99 Survey, the one that just came out last week or whatever, had crime among Africans just below their concern about jobs. It reached the 70%, it had reached the 70% level.
VZS Is that so? Bill showed me some stuff that he'd just done recently. In any case it's of no account. I suppose it's how you ask the question. In any case I think the optimism thing, the fact that the state machinery becomes a very important visible avenue of black occupational mobility creates a mood, people say well I can make it, there are more chances for me than there were previously, that could be one possible explanation. There are clear signs of more black affluence, certainly the fastest growing group is the rising black middle class and they're so visible and you switch on TV programmes, bump and grind, there they go, winning prizes, the lotteries, it's a big thing.
Look, I'm just trying to give an explanation for why because I remember talking to a Singaporean banker once and I asked him this question, I said, "You guys started from nothing. Why did you tolerate the denial of your civil liberties for so long?" And he said, "You know why? Because parents always thought it was going to be better for the children." And in fact it was better for the children, their country, because the guy there, Lee Kwan Yung, or whatever his name is, he reinvested a lot of the growth into education and housing and so on. So despite your current experience of deprivation there was a mood that things were going to get better but I would suggest that's possible. Here they think it's going to get better.
I must tell you if you talk to ordinary folk, two guys came in this morning to put something in the roof, the ceiling, two black guys. So the guy looks at me and he says, "Hey, don't I recognise you? Hell! You're lucky to be out of politics now!" I said, "Yes as a matter of fact I think you're right." He said, "We're going to become just like Africa now." It's just extraordinary. I said, "No, come on, things are better." "No, they don't care." That attitude, and I don't know how pervasive that is but it was unsolicited, I just sat here and he gave it to me, didn't even bother to think that I might be voting for the ANC. He was just telling me exactly what he felt. I don't know how widespread that is. I know that the fellow that lives with me, he's a sort of general handyman, he's a builder, he uses my house as a base to do his building, he's not interested, not interested. I said to him, "But how many people feel like that?" He says, "No, all my friends say these guys don't care about us."
Let me tell you another interesting story, I was nearly the President of the Democratic Voice - haven't they asked you guys for some money? I get a telephone call out of the blue just before Christmas, "Can we come and see you?" So five guys come in. The fellow who is the sort of chairman is a very dark coloured called Brian Shadrack and they say they're forming the Democratic Voice, it doesn't belong to any political party, it's a 'social movement' they say, it's a social movement. I said, "How many members have you got?" He said about two to three million. I said, "Come on." "Yes", he says, "The trade union, the union for the unemployed South Africans also belongs to it. In any case an interesting crowd. But we've come here, we want you to be President." I said, "You must be out of your bloody head. You know what will happen? They'll just say I'm using you guys to promote my own career and I'm whitey riding on the back of blacks." He says, "No, we know all those arguments." In any case last Thursday, here, fifty of them adopted their constitution. They represent, as they say, the poor, the very, very poor, and they do. They have little spaza shops. A very interesting crowd, very interesting. So I'm on the Executive now. I managed to claw myself back from being Deputy President, then I want to get off the Executive, so I said I'll help you. But you must talk to these guys. A Democratic Voice. They call themselves DVI, Democratic Voice International and in fact I can give you their names and telephone number.
POM And do they represent two to three million people, or 50?
VZS I said to them, "Have you got signed up membership?" He said, "No, not quite signed up." Shaka Gumede. Then Joel Mafenyane, he was here this morning but he took his CV with him, he says it's the only one he's got. This fellow is Shaka Gumede, don't give him your name because he's going to ask you for money. Shaka Gumede and then Joel, he's a young fellow, he was the Chief Administrative officer for Roelf Meyer and Bantu Holomisa, Joel Mafenyane. And then the chairman of this whole show is Brian Shadrack and Jenny will give me the number now. This could be very interesting to meet these guys. They're very, very interesting and nationwide. The people came from the Cape, they came from Pietersburg, they came from Durban, they came from Mafikeng, sat here, very serious, very serious. Interesting. It's not an NGO and it's not a political party, it's there in that sort of civil society. I said to him, "But now come on, you guys tell me how widespread is your support?" He says, "You have no idea." Of course you're talking to your own hand there but I think I must be a fundraiser, they come to me like a shot.
POM That was the other paradox, referring to what appears in surveys at least to be the continuing optimism of blacks in the economy and in their futures compared to the survey published last week of the 100 CEOs of the top 100 listed companies.
VZS You mean I wasn't there?
POM Are you in the top 100 already? I'll tell these guys that then they'll know they have a fundraiser. But the prospects for 1999 look gloomy, it's going to be little growth or no growth, the deficit is going to increase, the trade deficit reserves are going to fall, the rand is going to come under renewed attack and things fell apart in Brazil and it will find it's way across here. But then again you have these two very different worlds, it's as though people are living in different worlds. One world has nothing to do at all with the other world.
VZS But which one is the real one? I must tell you if I listen to stockbrokers I realise I'm not part of that world at all. It's a problem. 3316571 Brian Shadrack.
POM Just to finish up on the TRC, reconciliation, you see because I'm trying to apply or look at different models that have been used throughout the world particularly to see how they are applicable in any way to Northern Ireland, which to have one now would be the exact wrong thing, it would just re-ignite the whole thing.
VZS To have a TRC in Ireland?
POM It would just re-ignite the whole thing in about 24 hours. So it's like forget the past for the moment and maybe ten years down the line start some kind of enquiry into certain kinds of atrocities that were carried out but don't go near it now, it just is too close. Chris Patten, the guy who's in charge of the Police Commission there has been going around holding public hearings in different neighbourhoods. He was a minister in Northern Ireland in the early eighties and he has been shocked by first of all the number of people that turn up at these public hearings into the RUC, the police, up to 1000 people turn out in a community and they rage in the Catholic community, and then he goes to a Protestant community and they rage but their rage is inverted, it's against the police who have been killed and the terrorists are still out there and the terrorists are still being released. So the whole thing is very and now he's got to find a way to reform and one side is saying you can't reform it unless you abolish it. The other side is saying you dare abolish it and the Belfast Agreement is gone. So he's got a nice kettle of fish to deal with and they can't deal small things like here where the South African Police compromise and call it the South African Police Services, done. There is, you said it's the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the obvious thing would be take away the 'Royal' and just call it the Ulster Police Service or the Ulster Constabulary or whatever, but it wouldn't go down with the other side, you can't take away their Royal. The symbols are important. What was my point going to be?
VZS On the TRC and reconciliation.
POM Yes. It's that you can reconcile individuals but you can't reconcile groups.
VZS Indeed. That's the problem. We haven't reconciled groups in this country.
POM Even though you might have one-on-one reconciliation and the TRC when
VZS I have a big problem with the group argument. To be quite honest with you I really find it extremely difficult, it's has a kind of intuitive appeal, whites and blacks and so on, and Afrikaners and Jews, but when you start looking at it those concepts are sort of abstractions in the ideological worlds of competing groups because I mean I'm sitting in the middle of one of the problems. Suddenly I'm an Afrikaner. For the last fifteen to twenty years I was a traitor of the Afrikaner, now I'm appropriated by people that would have shot me on sight if they could about ten to fifteen years ago and it's this agonising thing, what is an Afrikaner? You tell us. I said, no but you guys have been telling me for the last twenty years that I'm not one, now how do you expect me to tell you? In any case it's this sense of what is the group that you're talking about and it's the same with Catholics and Protestants. But if there is such a strong perception that all Catholics are like that and all Protestants are like that, then even if you find a real live one that isn't you actually feel offended. You say why aren't you behaving like one? And that, I don't know how you reconcile that. It seems to be it's on a sort of visceral value level where it's so difficult. I don't know where you'd begin.
The interesting thing about Franco's Spain, I'm told by Breyten, when they came out of the civil war there was a conscious decision that we will not talk about the past, forget about it, we're not going to talk about it. In fact it became almost a crime to talk about the past. There was a deliberate agreement that they would not go into it and that somehow helped them to get over the crisis. I don't know enough about it, I'm just repeating briefly what Breyten told me, that they just moved on, said forget about it, let's carry on. Whereas in others there was no attribution, in Chile you didn't attribute, you had general amnesty and in a way you moved on. Here we take them one by one, even the guy who killed his wife for political reasons, and put him under the spotlight and you open up the past over and over again. Now he can't be reconciled to his in-laws because he killed their daughter. Never mind the big case of whether he's part of the oppressive, fascist regime and all that. So I must tell you, I don't know how they -
POM Where do things go from now? There are 200 named individuals who didn't apply for amnesty including some very big names, like Buthelezi, which the ANC seem to have gone out of their way to say, well that was the past, he's not the same man now.
VZS Quite frankly I think we're heading for some kind of a general amnesty. Pull the blanket over the damn lot and let's get on with the game. That's what I say. Why the wooing of Buthelezi? If anybody inflamed feelings within the younger people of the ANC Thabo brings him on. Why? It gives him rural stability, it helps him to maintain stability in Natal.
POM It's a trade-off.
VZS It's a trade off. You give us stability, we put you in as Deputy President. And he's 71, 72, so the big bear is waiting round the corner.
POM What I in fact originally wanted to see you about before I left last year is a book that I left behind me when I came over, but it's Richard Rosenthal's.
VZS Oh yes, Richard. He told me about what he had written. I haven't read it by the way.
POM You haven't read it? Well he mentions you quite frequently.
VZS I remember that whole story quite well.
POM How real was that? How seriously did you take it in terms of what was going on? I'm seeing Stoffel van der Merwe tomorrow who seems to have been the middle man between Rosenthal and PW Botha.
VZS I must be quite honest with you, I don't think Botha or Stoffel took him all that seriously. Richard was very serious. He's a very highly principled, wonderful guy. I really have great affection for him. He's a Quaker, he came back from overseas determined to help. He's a brilliant legal mind. He came and first helped my caucus. He was our legal adviser. He worked through legislation like you've never seen in your life, 153 clause bills, he dealt with each bill meticulously. We all fell asleep, we couldn't keep up. Wonderful guy. Then he went out back into practice and he did very well, as we all knew he would, and then out of the blue one day he came to me and said, "What's this life all about? It's crazy, I must use whatever little skills I have to promote peace in this country and there's not going to be a successful revolution. The country is not going to be governed for ever by this lot so we must get some kind of dialogue and negotiation going." That was after the Dakar meeting I think because he then said, "Well you have the connections." I said to him, "Look, I think you're crazy. You're exposing yourself. You're going to get bumped off by one side or the other because you know, Richard, you're just too bloody naïve for this, you don't understand it." No he would like to try. And he himself went and saw Botha and Botha did not discourage him.
POM Why would Botha see him?
VZS Maybe he worked through Stoffel. I'm not quite sure. Botha, he's very unpredictable on that score. I got some appointments from him. Never thought I stood a snowball's hope in hell. I got there on the release of Breyten, for example. So he then came and I think he told me that he had seen Botha but that he now had to get access to the other side. The Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfort, Louis Luyt and Craven were on the 4th floor and Richard Rosenthal was on the 7th floor and Thabo was doing a sort of shuttle between the two but not telling the one that he was seeing the other. Then they had this chat and I was down in the bar in the lounge. It was real 007 bullshit, I mean Richard was talking and I said, "Come on, what do you think this is achieving?" "No, Thabo encouraged me." You ask why, how serious? It's in a sense in which you say every little bit is going to help. If this leads to something by all means. So I certainly didn't discourage him although I was pretty brutal in what I thought the chances were that this would work because I didn't really have much faith in Stoffel. Stoffel was a career politician and that ended his career by the way. Botha was confronted by some Swiss diplomat at some cocktail party, Richard told me later on, and he said, "How is this thing going?" "Call me Stoffel." That was the end of old Stoffel's story. But I never took it all that seriously. I certainly took Richard's intention seriously, he was a very serious minded guy but I found him very naïve, very naïve about things like that. After the whole thing was over I introduced him to he asked to be introduced to the top echelons of Old Mutual and he was going to show them how to become better situated, strategically situated in the new South Africa and he went on for about two and a half hours of deeply embarrassing stuff, totally off the mark. They just sat there and listened. "What's this?" I said to him afterwards it doesn't work like this. Have you met him?
POM No, I intend to.
VZS You must. He's a hell of a nice guy. I really have a great affection for him.
POM Do you have a telephone number for him too?
VZS Yes. I'll see if Jenny's got it. Are you seeing old Stoffel tomorrow? What the hell is he doing?
POM I don't know. I'll find out tomorrow. Rosenthal did manage to get to high levels in the ANC and he did manage to get to high levels in Switzerland.
VZS Oh yes he met Thabo and he met those guys. The Swiss diplomats, he was in there. He went to Switzerland a couple of times, all on his own bat, paid for himself. No, no, he really took it extremely seriously. It's one of those things, as they say in chaos theory, the flutter of a butterfly's wings can start a hurricane. One of those situations.
POM But you don't think Botha took him seriously?
VZS No. I don't know. Now you'll find a guy like Barend du Plessis arguing that Botha was a much greater reformer than De Klerk really. I think they're just variations on the same theme. I thought De Klerk far more intelligent but Botha started certain things, got certain things going but I never took him seriously. I don't think he really genuinely was going to do it.
POM You never took Botha seriously?
VZS On that score. Botha was a ruthless guy. I really thought, I don't like to use the phrase, but Botha and Malan in my book, I find it appropriate to use the word 'evil' for both of them. This is the fascinating thing about De Klerk's autobiography.
POM Fascinating thing about?
VZS He sat in parliament all the time that Suzman was there. He said he never knew that there were gross violations of human rights. For God's sake, Suzman's whole career was to expose gross violations of human rights and he sat there. Not in my time. He has this obsession to absolve himself.
POM Do you think De Klerk has the same obsession? I haven't read his book.
VZS I'm talking about De Klerk, he has this obsession.
POM Oh yes. But you have also this just the small extracts that I read give this vision of when he entered politics, idealistic as part of the new group in the National Party who thought that the development and the policy of the homelands was
VZS Logically consistent, morally defensible.
POM Morally defensible and this was a breakthrough in terms of
VZS No he says it in so many words. The first 12 chapters of a 15 chapter book is spent trying to show how he was being prepared for leadership. Remember the title is The Last Trek. He writes in the idiom of a Voortrekker leader, and I used that for my review of the book in Afrikaans where I say that the first 12 chapters he speaks with the self-congratulatory sort of biasness of a young boy scout being prepared for Voortrekker leadership, and it's true. From the outset he only had one thing in mind, that was reform. From the outset he was only going to emphasise the constructive part of apartheid, not the destructive. Yes, he was unhappy about Verwoerd's inconsistency on the position of the coloureds but he thought that would come right. For God's sake, I sat in parliament listening to him explaining why the coloureds had to be a separate nation. So that's gone, never knew about it. Then this whole thing of he had to play devil's advocate by pretending to be right wing in order to keep the reformist car on track. A literal translation. Half his colleagues thought he was right wing but never, no never, he was at heart always positive, constructive but he had to disguise it because he knew he was going to be called upon to lead. I can go on like this. You must read it, it's just extraordinary stuff, extraordinary stuff. The interesting part is, of course, the last three chapters when he talks about the bad relationship that developed between him and Mandela. I know we argued about it last time, that he always intended to hand over power. Fanie van der Merwe also took me to task. But it was quite clear in that whole bit there that he writes of his relations with Mandela, is he never thought he was going to lose power so quickly. It's quite apparent, he thought, hey, these guys don't appreciate me, even the house that they gave me, they haggled about re-furnishing of the house. Hey, I'm an important guy, you guys don't seem to realise this. A bit of that comes through. He was emotionally totally unprepared for the consequences of what he had done, I still maintain that. And now he has this desperate need to write himself into history. I suppose he's got a place in history already, he doesn't have to become his own publicity mission, no-one is going to believe that. And then he writes about his wife and so on.
POM He makes the point that during the violence in the early nineties when Mandela said, repeatedly said, that he did not believe that a President could not -
VZS A President could not be aware.
POM - with the resources of the state at his full disposal (a) that he could not be aware and (b) could not find out who was behind it and stop it.
VZS I find that entirely credible.
POM One could turn that around and say, today you have a President with all the resources of the state at his disposal and in one small area, one small town, Richmond, of 5000 people, all his resources of the state and all his flying platoons on horses and motor cycles, the army is all over the place and the police are all over the place patrolling day and night and they haven't made one arrest.
VZS Except that the difference is that in the previous case there was the state itself deciding on this kind of action. Here you have political parties fighting one another and I agree with you that at least you would expect the leaders of political parties to know what's cooking there and the second extenuating thing that one could mention is that he inherited a pretty rotten police force in that part of the world. It's bloody difficult to
POM They moved them all out and moved new ones in.
VZS I agree they tried to do that at one stage, remember they tried to clean up there and put some other fellows in. They're trying to do the same in the Western Cape but I think I told you a story last time when I introduced old George Soros to Thabo Mbeki and he started talking about crime, Thabo says, "You know it's a very difficult situation." He said the other day they sent ten senior police officers to come and investigate corruption in the Western Cape from Gauteng. Some of our best guys came down here. They were met at the airport by the locals and immediately taken to a beach barbecue, lots of liquor and prostitutes and they had themselves a wonderful time and there was one guy taking pictures of the whole lot, and the next morning he said to them, "So you're the guys who want to come and investigate corruption." He said of the ten, nine flew back. And the tenth guy who was not pictured was the guy who set it all up. I'm repeating what Mbeki told Soros in my presence. So you clean out with what? Dishwater with dishwater. So you inherited to a large extent the same rubbish that perpetrated in the past. It's there. Bushy's our man. Where was Bushy before the change-over and what was Bushy doing? I'm not saying Bushy can't change, Saul can become Paul, Bushy can become a good cop.
POM Which Bushy did we meet?
VZS Bushy Engelbrecht?
PAT No, not the guy in Richmond, no. It was Engelbrecht it wasn't Bushy.
POM We went down there for two days to Richmond.
PAT In September when they moved the police out and moved the others in.
POM I had a long chat with Nkabinde, the late Nkabinde. I was taken out by the police at night in this huge monster, if you were being chased by one you could just hop over a fence and be gone by the time the truck could manoeuvre itself on the road.
VZS I had a chat with him in the local elections this year, him and David Ntombele who is another IFP chap by the way, also a warlord and so on and I think they had a sort of wink-wink arrangement with one another, those two guys, because they were pretty ruthless. But I asked Nkabinde pro forma, "Tell me why are there no other political parties here in Richmond?" He said, "Because I'm too popular", and he was dead serious. He had a no-go area for the ANC. Of course the ANC now is clear as West Virginia snow, they never liked Nkabinde, he was the warlord who won Richmond for them there.
POM He wiped out the IFP.
VZS Of course he did and then he joined the UDM so both of them went for him. I wouldn't be surprised if one of his own guys wiped him out. This Joe guy, you must talk to him, Joe Mafenyane, he's got very interesting theories about Nkabinde. He was the UDM organiser for Bantu Holomisa.
PAT Why did he leave him?
VZS He says it became too white.
PAT The UDM?
VZS He said the ANC were joining it in droves until they made a deal with Roelf Meyer. He said the NCF, National Consultative Forum, he says, depended almost entirely on contributions from ANC MPs to survive when Holomisa was kicked out and then they joined with Roelfie and those ANC MPs went away. Then they joined with Nkabinde and they lost a hell of a lot of guys down in the Eastern Cape. That's when he said thank you very much, but he's interesting.
POM One last question, as always, and that's on AIDS. In trying to structure, I've been thinking of how I'm going to structure what I write and I'm giving some talks back in Boston to try to fix my mind and I gave one last November on a post-Mandela SA. I was trying to divine the variables that would affect his presidency or his performance or his capacities into exogenous factors and endogenous and among the exogenous I put AIDS. As you know the figures for the country are absolutely mind-boggling. Unless something, I don't know what it is, but unless a lot more attention is given to it in some way, in some more visible way, it's going to change the demographic structure of the country, it's going to reduce the value of education drastically, it's going to decimate the civil service, it's going to increase the health budget. The health bills alone, absenteeism, and yet it's not being dealt with as though it is maybe the country's number one (it doesn't show up in opinion polls of course) problem that the country might get a grip on or that by the year 2005 if projections are right the average age of the population, life expectancy, will be down to 43 years.
VZS Look, I must tell you I had lunch with Essop Pahad the other day and he had an AIDS token on and so on. I certainly think Mbeki is very much aware of this. He's done a few things about it. I certainly have been to some rallies where people have been talking about it, not the main purpose of the rally but certainly a supporting group. I think, I don't know, one of your major difficulties is illiteracy, is traditionalism, because migrant labour is one of the most important carriers of AIDS, truckers and strife in the rural areas. In Swaziland, you must see Swaziland, it's just being decimated and I through my connection with the Open Society Initiative we're pumping a bit of money into AIDS education but it's King Canute all over again. I agree with you, I agree. I don't know how you raise awareness. We tried, the Open Society Foundation here supported a township soapie called Soul City. You use the kind of soapie theme but built into it is the whole area of primary health care and focusing on AIDS and so on. That had some kind of an impact but, I don't know, I really don't know how you tackle the damn thing because there are so many problems that come into it and I certainly do believe that illiteracy is one of them. You can't send out pamphlets, then you must use radio, community radio we support also, the Open Society Foundation, to help spread the message. It's an uphill battle, the whole world of sexual intercourse is riddled with myths and ideas. Helen Suzman was on the other day saying the view that men can get rid of AIDS by having sex with a virgin is still pretty rife. That's madness, that's absurd.
POM Anyway I will leave you. Thank you again for seeing me at such short notice. I will only be seeing you officially twice more. We can go out and have a drink.
VZS Is that so? We're not going to finish this before the millennium?