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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

02 Feb 1999: Du Plessis, Barend

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM     Mr du Plessis, I had wanted to see you last year before I left, after I had talked to you and it was a specific reason, some issue had arisen that I knew you would have an opinion or some information on and I never wrote the issue down so I've been scratching my head ever since saying, "What was that burning issue that I felt was so urgent?" But I've always no lack of questions to ask you and since then a number of things have happened, developments taken place and again I look at what you say as somebody who was in the process and is now outside of it so can look at both the past and what is going on now with a rather dispassionate and objective eye rather than being on the inside having to either justify one's position or complain about what the opposition is doing or not doing or whatever.

     What I want to start with is the findings of the TRC. Two things struck me about them; one was they really went at length to say the little amount of co-operation they really received from most institutional bodies, most political parties, including the ANC, and from individuals who never came forward, who could have added to the history of the conflict and provided more detail and more perspective, and that in one sense the history that has emerged, at least on the NP government side was made possible almost through the generosity of Eugene de Kock, that he had opened Pandora's Box and then because of that the security people stepped forward and started looking for amnesty and it really became the history through the eyes of people seeking amnesty. But it did go to great pains to say that the majority of the violations of human rights were committed by the state and organs of the state and that they were collectively responsible for those gross violations and they were rather disappointed that the NP and the path of the state security apparatus took such little responsibility for the gross violations that had taken place, kind of passing them off as, "We knew nothing, this was a few bad apples in the barrel and had we known of course we would have prosecuted them and it would never have happened."

     One, did you, when the findings were known (I downloaded all 2500 pages in Boston I did it at night so the university wouldn't say where is all the paper disappearing, and didn't we have ten stacks of paper yesterday?) and it makes hard reading, I mean just the way it's printed. Did you go through the findings?

BDP     No I didn't. I have not availed myself of any opportunity to read it. What I know about the TRC is what I listened to on my car radio, that was recorded during the proceedings. I did listen many hours when I was travelling. I do travel a lot. And then what I read in the newspapers and what was reported on news, both radio and television. I therefore really cannot claim that I have any insight into their findings. But certainly their finding which you alluded to that there was no co-operation or very little co-operation and that in fact what was revealed was facilitated or necessitated by Eugene de Kock's revelations, that illustrates to me obviously two things: first of all that it was a well hidden procedure, or well hidden policy, or a well hidden structure of decision making or operation that culminated in the murdering of people, and on the other hand that there was no confidence on the objectivity of the TRC. That is why the people did not come forward. They only came forward

POM     When you say no confidence, that was on the part of people in the NP? Primarily people in the NP?

BDP     Not only in the NP but people who were part of the hit squad teams and so on, operations. Yes those people who eventually confessed to having done all these things, that they had even less confidence than the NP that attempted at least to go there and FW de Klerk was not treated well and so that was the general perception.

POM     Is that the feeling in the circles that you move in that rather than saying PW is the obvious I mean he was the man who the commission says moved the state from being a repressive state to being a criminal one and they hold him responsible, and yet the person they went after, so to speak, was FW?

BDP     Yes I think that's a fair assessment of the situation, that FW de Klerk is regarded as having been treated very unfairly. If you watch the television footage of the entrance of the ANC, "My brothers and sisters", you know, and the chairperson, Tutu, running down and embracing on the other occasion Winnie Mandela and so on and, "My sister here and my brother there."

POM     The timing and the remarks on Winnie, damning in the report.

BDP     True, but at least

POM     I know on television

BDP     The reception was, it at least started off on a friendly basis and with Tutu pleading with her, "Just help me, help me to continue to be nice to you", and a totally different set of values were exercised and circumstances prevailed with De Klerk's submission.

POM     But you don't feel, I suppose why I'm asking the question is that since you were a part of the government during PW's era, do you feel any sense of collective responsibility, personal responsibility?

BDP     I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that those things happened while I was in government and that through collective responsibility I am compelled to assume part of the responsibility for it. Adriaan Vlok, the Minister of Law & Order at the time, or for part of that period, at least had the decorum to say during his amnesty application that the kind of things that they did they never would have discussed with a person like myself and Pik Botha because we would have gone overboard, we would not have tolerated that kind of action. He ascribed it to our sensitivity to foreign opinion. In my case then the fact that we were isolated financially and the problems that we had with the debt standstill and so on, and from Pik Botha's point of view, the problems diplomatically speaking, but at least he had the decorum to say that that is the kind of thing that they never would have discussed with us and it was never discussed. It was never even hinted that that was the kind of thing that was being done. In fact we were deliberately, how can I put it, led up the garden path for want of a better expression.

     I remember so clearly because I had an interest, Fort Calata(?) and the Cradock Four that were killed, at least one of them or even more caused an awful lot of unrest in the black schools in Cradock at a time when I, in that short period of time, eight or nine months when I was Minister of black education, Goniwe particularly, and we received a presentation by the State Security Council's Secretariat, the customary security briefing, and we hadn't been uninformed about this so-called phenomenon that there was terrific faction fighting and struggle for leadership and conniving and back-stabbing and whatever inside the inner circles of the ANC and that when they were killed, these four, it was just a matter of there was another faction fight inside the ANC and these four happened to be killed. I took a particular interest because I wasn't any more minister for black education, Education & Training as it was called at the time, but I took an interest because I remembered the name so well and I approved, at the time, the transfer of Goniwe out of Cradock to give him another teacher's post elsewhere. I think he then refused and resigned or something like that, I can't remember the detail. So when that presentation came following their killing I remember very well that it was elaborately explained to us that this was again the result of in-fighting in the ANC as was done with the bombing of Khotso House, that inside the ANC there were struggles and inside the black community.

     Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, yes I could have tried when I was Minister of Finance to find out what really went on behind the scenes. First of all I would have clashed with PW Botha because it was his choice not to involve me in that inner circle talking about, I presume, this kind of policy, and despite the fact that I had a reasonably good working relationship with him I don't think that he would have tolerated my trying to probe into portfolios that were not my business. On the other hand I had enough trouble of my own trying to keep a company afloat that was sinking financially because of our international financial isolation. So I had enough on my plate as it was. Looking back, yes, I could have tried. Probably if I really persisted it would have meant the end of my cabinet career. In other words I can't look back and say that I would have been successful in uncovering it if I had tried. I would have been successful in terminating my cabinet position and I had enough to keep me busy and it was a rather strict discipline that obtained. You stick to your portfolio and if a fellow cabinet colleague did not take his problem to cabinet it was his exclusive problem and his exclusive responsibility and accountability the way that he handled it.

     In my case, for instance, with the debt standstill I couldn't handle it all by myself because it affected everybody else, so I had to take that issue to cabinet, then it became a collective responsibility of the whole cabinet, the way that we handled it. And it placed a responsibility and obligation in fact on me as Minister of Finance consistently and continuously and regularly to report to cabinet what the status was of our pre-payments and how the negotiations went and so on and so forth. So to me that was a clear distinction between collective and individual responsibility. That information was not offered to me, I didn't stumble over it and get hold of it that way, and thirdly, I did not try to get hold of more details. I assumed, I had no way personally or in terms of my infrastructure in my department to challenge the collective intelligence report given to us at the State Security Council meeting, collective in the sense of National Intelligence, Military Intelligence and certain sections of the police having been involved, and what was given to us was the condensed consensus evaluation of the security situation. So who was I to challenge it? I had no means.

POM     And often, you seem to be suggesting that you were being deliberately misled so that if an event did happen, a framework for it, an explanation had already been created; that's the ANC, one of their in-fighting things again, we told you six months ago that they were in-fighting and this is just a logical outcome of that kind of in-fighting.

BDP     Exactly.

POM     It has been suggested to me by a number of people that they had suspicions that you had, at least in parliament you had Helen Suzman day after day trotting out details of violations of human rights, things that happened, prisoners who died in police custody or committed suicide or slipped on a bar of soap, that they may have had suspicions that nasty things were going on but that they simply chose not to find out. It was like saying, "I don't want to know."

BDP     The very narrow pyramid structure of power inside the NP certainly played a role there. It wasn't done for an ordinary MP to question the answer the Minister of Police gave to Helen Suzman's menu or inventory of transgressions and parliamentary debating skills also played a role. There's a classic example in this regard: John Vorster was a brilliant parliamentary debater. Now Sir de Villiers Graaff whom we all regarded as a very nice man, a great gentleman and so on (the United Party leader in John Vorster's time), and Sir de Villiers would get up, that was in the early/middle seventies in my early days in parliament, he would get up and he would list eight, nine, ten, however many points in diminishing order of importance, of the failures of the government, starting with the most important one to give impact and so on. And when John Vorster replied to him, the analysis goes, John Vorster would start at the bottom and by the time he got two thirds up he had won the debate and everybody was cheering, and, "Hell, isn't it great! John Vorster again just obliterated Sir de Villiers Graaff's argument." And you didn't bother to go and sit down and analyse, and the same went for Helen.

     Helen, she was known as such a fierce and vitriolic opponent of the government but when she started speaking you just expected that some exaggerated or distorted thing would come out again against the government. So from the point of view of the parliamentary situation that obtained at the time you wouldn't attach a lot of credence to necessarily this fellow that slipped on a bar of soap or whatever. And Timol that was chucked out of the window, the story that did the rounds at the time was, well you know Timol started talking and he realised that he had betrayed his comrades or otherwise he really had confessed to whatever and he thought that he was in so much trouble now that he might as well kill himself and he jumped. In the meantime he was thrown out. Now for an ordinary MP inside that structure of the NP, the strict discipline, party discipline, to really challenge that 25 years ago, it wasn't done, we didn't do it. And even at a later stage listening to Helen, you expected that of her, she was doing that all the time.

POM     It was like saying, oh, there she goes again.

BDP     There she goes again.

POM     So you tuned out rather than listened in?

BDP     Yes, and we had this confidence in the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Police or whoever handled it that he will deal with her, he's got all the information, which they did, and we thought that was adequate. But in my days as cabinet minister, surely, and I reiterate that, when I look back I could have questioned a lot of things, I could have. I didn't bother, it wasn't my portfolio and I did have enough on my plate, but I can assume a measure of accountability for that, not having probed, not that that would have meant something, but I was ashamed now to find out and in that respect the TRC played a role in the unfolding of history as it were.

POM     But it hasn't done well there are two things, there are still the 200 outstanding cases of the people who had been named and told they would be named in the report and they should apply for amnesty or else they would be liable to prosecution, who didn't apply including a number of prominent people from Chief Buthelezi to Ronnie Kasrils, I don't know whether Joe Modise is in there too. What do you think is going to happen now? Is there realistically going to be a series of prosecutions that will last over years and involve the calling of witnesses and keep this open wound open all the time, or will all parties say, including the ANC, let's put this behind us and declare some kind of general amnesty, particularly in light of the fact that they have been wooing Buthelezi and that one can hardly be wooing on the one hand and setting up to prosecute him on the other which would have a destabilising effect, I assume, in KZN, and that if one looks at the greater good, one says what is the greater good here? That another 10,000 people kill each other because we prosecuted individual A or that justice must blindly take its course at all costs, that there is no other consideration?

BDP     I go along with what I read your opinion is. First of all let me say, there is no way that an ANC government will prosecute Buthelezi. It will be politically the most stupid thing that they can ever do. If he survives in terms of, lives long enough, another year or two or three which is obviously likely, then when Thabo takes over the power as a magnanimous gesture he can then say, listen we drop all this now and now we really go for nation building and reconciliation, because to try and prosecute 100 people, purely from a practical point of view, where do you find the prosecutors, where do you find the people sitting on the bench, where do you find the time? Is that a priority? I don't know. I always get the impression that Dullah Omar is driven by a fierce hatred of everything that is white and coming from the previous dispensation, so I think he would like to do that if he could get it practically going. But from a political point of view prosecuting Buthelezi, that would be like setting fire to a whole lorry load of dynamite in the middle of a CBD, it's ridiculous. Now, if they wanted to get rid of Joe Modise or Ronnie Kasrils they could, if they wanted to use the TRC as an instrument to achieve certain political ends, if they need that, I don't even think they need that, then they could proceed with that. I don't know, I think the thing will stay on the shelf for a while and then when a politically opportune moment arises whereby Thabo Mbeki and the ANC government, but particularly Thabo Mbeki where he could achieve political gain, and I'm talking about a higher level of political gain now in terms of being accepted as a reconciliatory head of state and so on, then I think he will do away with it.

POM     He will just go for blanket amnesty and dispose of it?

BDP     In the early days FW de Klerk said to us when he invited us to discussions at the Union Buildings, and I referred to that in our previous discussions, he created the impression that he was making progress with Thabo on general amnesty. I don't know whether that was true or not but at least I think when Thabo has the power in hand he will be wise to make that decision. If you go for prosecution of 100 people you would just drop SA in turmoil and an open wound will become a festering one and you just get very negative.

POM     Do you put much credence in the prevailing rumour that Buthelezi will be offered a Deputy Presidency?

BDP     I do. I do. I also lend a lot of credence to another suggestion and that is that Buthelezi may, despite the fact that he has identified himself as an Africanist and that people close to him say that he is an Africanist who will have a much greater representation of Africans in positions of power than the present government, particularly measured in terms of the number of people from Indian origin, and I am not speaking from what white people said to me, I am speaking from people who are supposed to be pretty well situated vis-à-vis the ANC, he might in a year or two after having taken power and after having established himself

POM     This is Buthelezi?

BDP     No this is Mbeki. He might do it from the beginning with Buthelezi, but he might in fact change the present situation and get a few more whites here and there also to achieve a better balance or to make a better balance, a multi-party government almost, to invite here and there. There may be something, there is an expectation, let me put it this way, I don't know what the details would be, but there is an expectation in certain relatively well-informed circles that Thabo may hold something up his sleeve to arrive at a government of national unity where other parties, even if they have a white representative to send there, that there may be a role for multi-party functioning at national or provincial level or whatever, but that he is planning something like that in order to bring the nation together. I don't know but if that is his thinking in the least then Buthelezi will certainly rank extremely high and it will be a very clever political move, and Thabo is renowned for clever political moves, to make Buthelezi a Vice President.

POM     So when you hear Thabo talk, "I am an African", he's very Africanist, the African Renaissance, we discussed it earlier when I told you that I attended their conference and I felt distinctly uncomfortable at the degree of sheer anti-whiteness that was being displayed in terms of we are a captive of eurocentric values and we must get rid of the values of the white man and replace them with traditional African values or whatever. When you hear Thabo talking about this is still two nations, one black, one white, whites have had it easy, they haven't had to share any of the pain of the last four or five years, he on one level gives the impression that when he comes in the soft days of reconciliation under Mandela are going to end and a much tougher line is going to be taken with regard to whether it's affirmative action or that whites will play a lesser role and Africans a greater role in government.

BDP     Yes, that is all true but as I said earlier I think he's a very skilful politician and strategically he needs to reassure his huge supporting body out there. He has to give them reassurances and I think he will continue doing that. The question is whether he will really put into practice that kind of fighting talk. I personally don't think so. I don't blame him for talking that way because we all talk that way from political stages and even though it may be his deepest conviction he still will be faced with the realities of SA when he becomes State President and he will still need to establish his power base extremely well and stable and if he relies only on ANC support base to do that it will be foolish because it can also be expected that with the passage of time, the ANC having won the first election they will easily win the second election, but after the second election but certainly after the third election that they will also win, there will be a lot of dissent also inside the ANC. I don't think they can expect to govern for ever. There can be a lot of dissent and he will need to perform in the economy also. You can't perform in the economy without white and Indian support, I mean support for the country. I take note of that and I believe people close to him when they say that he's an Africanist, but I also believe that he will not allow that, if that is his fundamental viewpoint, that that will totally dominate all his political actions. He will use political expediency as any other politician has done.

POM     FW in his book, I haven't read the whole book but I've read enough to get a good sense of it and one of the impressions one gets that he's trying to convey is that he was a closet reformer but that he had to play the hard liner because this was the only way to climb the tree of power to get to a position of where he could really do what he wanted to do, so that a lot of his actions were calculated to have him perceived as a hard liner. He just quotes, he's talking about Chris Heunis that they were on a committee, I guess, discussing constitutional reform and he says: -

     "As the chief spokesman for Own Affairs I was often involved in arguments. I did not hesitate to confront Heunis on his tendency on occasion to adopt too much of a piecemeal approach to constitutional reform. While I could appreciate his need to deliver tangible and visible results I insisted on looking at the full picture. As with the case of the coloureds and the Indians I was looking for a fully principled motivation of reform proposals and a thorough analysis of all the logical consequences of such proposals. Accordingly, I often felt that I had to play the role of Devil's Advocate, not to slow down reform but from my perspective to ensure that what we did was part of a clear vision and that we were aware of where it would lead us. This unfortunately reinforced my image as a conservative."

BDP     He didn't only have an image of a conservative. He was fundamentally verkrampt, FW de Klerk was. That is a condemnation of himself that you quoted there. The vision that he talks about, why did he keep it to himself? Why then didn't he make that contribution to tell us all what his greater vision was so that Chris Heunis then, if he was the man with the great vision, so that Chris Heunis whom he accused of going about it piecemeal could have an idea if that was the vision that SA would have to go to, if that was the real answer, then Chris Heunis could have fitted in those piecemeal little things into the big picture and he could have counted on FW de Klerk's support. He could never count on his support and maybe the piecemeal nature of Chris Heunis' reform was to appease the verkrampte FW de Klerk and the obstructive Kobie Coetsee. This is what worries me about what I have gleaned out of this book in terms of comments, and I will still read it myself, I haven't read it myself. It is a total condemnation of himself. If he had this vision why didn't he ever give us an idea in the least of where he was going? He must be the first reformer in the history of the world that never came into conflict with any policy. While he was reforming like crazy he never ever came into conflict with any policy. He was never in trouble in the party for even, I'm not even talking about overstepping policy, but even lifting his head a little bit and saying, "Listen fellows, don't you guys think that that is the broad direction that we should be going into?" He never did that, never. He reformed so secretly that nobody knew of it. So at best if he regards himself as a reformer he's an administrative reformer and then he might as well have been a Director General, he needn't have been a politician to be an administrative reformer.

POM     So again he quotes, and this is Patti: -

     "My position was succinctly described by the American journalist Patti Waldmeir in her book The Anatomy of a Miracle, she wrote that it was 'my relentless pursuit of logic' which caused me to oppose PW Botha's piecemeal reforms and which sealed in my reputation as a reactionary. She quotes Stoffel van der Merwe, a verligte member of PW Botha's Cabinet as saying that I inexorably pressured my colleagues into thinking through the full implications of the piecemeal reforms they were considering. When I spelt out these implications in this manner 'everyone shrunk from their own proposals' and then, according to Dr van der Merwe, I was seen as the spoiler."

     This is make believe?

BDP     The best that I can describe that nonsense is that it is only an autobiography that can be abused for that kind of nonsense. That is absolute nonsense. If then, again a condemnation against himself, if then he had all this logic available why did he then only use it in shooting down everybody else in flames? Why didn't he ever come to light giving us this part of this vision?

     A most important party political power factor that must be kept in mind as background of that book, FW de Klerk was leader of the strongest province with the highest member of NP members in parliament. Kobie Coetsee was leader of the Free State, smaller number but always regarded as pivotal, and Stoffel Botha was leader of the NP in Natal, and both Kobie and Stoffel were totally committed supporters of FW de Klerk. So if FW de Klerk really wanted to do things

POM     This was before he became - ?

BDP     That was when PW became Prime Minister and then President. During the entire period of PW Botha's head of government and then head of state period of service, during that entire period FW de Klerk at the drop of a hat could have commanded the political support of not only the Transvaal, of which he was leader, but also of the Free State and also of Natal, and he could have, and that was by far the majority in the caucus, he could have, with that power behind him, he could have just given us that exceptional privilege of an idea of his vision that he will one day put into practice when he takes over power. He could have given us a part of that vision but more than that he could have put a lot of that vision into practice if he really had it because PW Botha desperately did not want to divide the party again, to split the party and PW Botha was the man who said, "Adapt or die."

     Now if he had all the logic available in terms of this wonderful vision of his, why did he not latch on to that and why did he not, with the support of the Free State and Natal, go to PW Botha and say to him, Mr Prime Minister, or Mr President or whatever he was at that stage, he was the leader in chief, "I am a reformer, I have this vision for SA, can't we work together to accelerate the pace of reform so that we can have it done as a comprehensive programme over a number of years?" He didn't do that. If the explanation is that he was waiting to take over power before doing it, then he's a total egotist and an irresponsible one because we lost valuable years which could have, if things had happened earlier, could have changed the face of SA very much from what it is today. Or otherwise if he had the vision, he had the responsibility to put it into practice and he could have negotiated with PW from a position of power. Or otherwise he didn't have it. He didn't have it because he was never part of the verligte debate. Never. So I take that whole thing, not with a pinch of salt.

POM     Do you think that when he did begin the process, if someone had said to him on 2nd February 1990 when he announced the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC, if someone had said to him, "Do you know what, in five years you're going to be out of power."

BDP     He wouldn't have believed it. I think FW de Klerk lived in the notion that the blacks will regard him as the big saviour. He was the one, and because of the fact that he abolished apartheid, that he would get a great deal of support among the blacks, that he really brought about their liberation.

     Two of the most eloquent debaters on the kind of liberal democracy that he purports to have had as a vision, because he said yesterday that he was a very happy man now, so he must have achieved over 90% of his vision which he purported to have had for a long time. The logic that he was seeking in shooting down everybody and anybody shrunk back into oblivion when he opened his mind and gave us this wonderful but devastating logic. He never had that vision, he never understood the mind of the black people, like did Van Zyl, like did Helen Suzman. He doesn't acknowledge their influence. He seems to have worked it all out in his little dark room.

     In 1992 already all of a sudden overnight Pik Botha, Hernus Kriel, Tertius Delport, myself, Sam de Beer, we all became the verkramptes, the conservatives, because overnight he jumped into orbit and it is also viciously said that he has never come back, he's never had his feet back on the earth again, he's still in orbit, he didn't know what was going on. He didn't know how to manage the reform process because he had never before engaged himself in the debate on reform except maybe with Kobie Coetsee, but he certainly didn't discuss anything with the enlightened group inside the NP. He was never part of that debate. He was never part of an academic debate out there where reforms and the managing of a reform process and the involvement of blacks, when that was discussed. He also was never involved in listing the experience and the insights and the wisdom of Van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman and people of note in opposition politics. So where, where on earth did he develop this wonderful vision? I just don't believe it.

POM     Do you think that when he made his announcements that he did so, well since he kept it even secret from his colleagues until the last moment, that he had no real strategic plan?

BDP     No, he had one strategic plan and that is that these people must be unbanned and that we must go into a negotiation process. But he certainly had no vision of telling us where to go. On several occasions Dawie de Villiers and I went to him and said, "Mr President, would you please consider becoming part of the negotiation process yourself so that you can impart your leadership there, so that you can impart your vision?" And you can check this with Dawie de Villiers. He consistently refused. In that committee where Roelf Meyer and Gerrit Viljoen reported back to, there was no big vision. That whole negotiation process was something that grew out of the ground and if he had that vision, and this point I just want to reiterate, if he had that vision what utter power drunk selfishness it must have been for him to wait until the day that PW got a stroke to only then begin to implement this wonderful vision of his. What about all the interim years, all the time we lost? And today he's sorry about all the injustices inflicted on other communities. In all those interim years did it not bother his conscience that he looked at all these injustices being done in terms of apartheid, in terms of the apartheid that still remained, universities, of townships and petty apartheid even while he was sitting waiting to take over the power? And suppose PW Botha lived another five years? What would have happened then with SA, or would he then have attempted a coup or something or would he then have used his influence on the other provinces? Why didn't he do that earlier? Those are the questions that he should have addressed there.

     You see, the fact is that FW de Klerk never having been part of the enlightened debate, when he got that message where five people made the difference between him and me, and that I read, you must read his justification of why that wasn't really a very important thing, it wasn't so close a victory for him that that really changed his mind. Anyway, when that happened and he got that message that maybe in a year's time from then, or six months from then, five people can change their minds and he will not fulfil this dream to become State President and then to implement this wonderful vision. Then all of a sudden he couldn't approach the group of enlightened so-called verligte ministers like Pik Botha and myself and say to us, listen fellows, you never really noticed it, nudge, nudge, but actually I'm one of you. It must be an awful shock to you but all the time I wasn't only thinking where you guys are now, I was thinking way beyond. I was thinking where Van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman didn't even say they were, but I really enthusiastically opposed them and even Pik Botha I criticised you when you said your verligte things, but all the time really I was one of you guys, so, nudge, nudge, I'm really your leader now. So where are we going next step fellows? He couldn't do that. That's why he jumped right across us and just ignored us. He ignored us. He didn't put one of us in a senior position, in a key position in the negotiations. Not one. All those of us who got ourselves repeatedly in trouble inside the NP for trying to show the way forward, he just ignored us and said we're not part of his vision. Anyway, I just don't believe that a self-justification of that kind can ever go down in history other than being a total condemnation of the author. I don't think he thought it through properly. It's a condemnation of him in terms of what I said and lots of other things one can say about it as well but I'll tell you that when I've read the book properly. I've only read extracts and scanned.

POM     Do you think that (a) he thought he could manage the process, that the process would end up with he could drag it out for ten years so he was assured of ten years of power anyway, or else that it would be a very short process where he could cash in on the black support?

BDP     I think the one was plan A and the other was plan B. I think the second one might have been his plan A where all of a sudden he would achieve such a great standing with black people having liberated them that they would now say, listen old fellow we forgive you all the decades before and you are our great saviour and we will now give you political support, which was an extremely naïve thing to think.

POM     He simply didn't understand them.

BDP     He didn't understand them.

POM     Some people still say he still doesn't get it.

BDP     But the point is this, and I reiterate that, if he had this vision and he waited for PW's demise, so he was quite happy to have all these injustices continued to be inflicted upon the blacks while he waited for his strategic moment to take an opportunity to liberate them from the things that he allowed to be inflicted on them. How can you then expect that electorate to support you? It's crazy.

POM     Just finally, oh my God I didn't even get through half my questions.

BDP     I'm sorry, I was getting so all fired up.

POM     That's important because, as I said, as I read what I read, I said here's a man who's re-interpreting history and events to create himself, to justify it's an exercise in self-justification. Even the photographs are all of foreign leaders, with Boris Yeltsin, with Mitterand, with Helmut Kohl. It's like, "I'm one of the big boys."

BDP     If you give me an idea of what they are then I promise to be very brief.

POM     There are too many. I'll come back again when I come back in April. Some of them deal with the economy and the way it's being handled. Two things strike me. One is that because of the Washington consensus policy of tight interest rates and holding government expenditure down, particularly the high interest rates to maintain the stability of the currency is simply not applicable here and has been a disaster.

BDP     I don't go along with that fully. There is no other way.

POM     One has to do with the currency float. If interest rates even came down two points say, or three, it's not going to stimulate economic growth.

BDP     No, but it will stimulate the creation of credit and so on. I think fundamentally the policy is right. The policy has not been proven wrong. It can be proven inadequate.

POM     But it could be proven wrong in terms of there's negative growth last year, there will be no growth by most projections this year.

BDP     But that cannot only be ascribed to the interest rate policy. There are many fundamentals that are wrong. In my circle of friends where I move, you know the amount of money that is being spent to circumvent the implications of Tito Mboweni's affirmative action laws, these labour laws, equity labour bills? People are restructuring their companies at huge costs in units of less than what Tito or his successor can get their hands on. The immobility or the restrictions on labour are now becoming worse than they were even in some parts of the previous dispensation. It's occupying unnecessarily the minds of people and it's taking away fantastically enormously necessary resources.

     So what I am saying is, I don't think that there is yet, while I am very impressed with what Trevor Manuel as an individual has achieved and I hope that Tito Mboweni will follow a conservative line, I think that there are other structural issues in the SA economy that are not being addressed properly. But in sympathy with the present situation we must always remember that we had a very structured economy, a very specially structured economy in terms of import duties and so on and so on. Our economy was not structured in a way and functioning in a way that made it easy to phase into the international economy. We were making things that we shouldn't have made and you can't change that overnight. So we're going through a very, very difficult period of restructuring and together with that political uncertainty.

     In certain respects we're just becoming another African country. Look what they're doing with our education system. Look what Zuma is doing with the health system and look what's happening with law and order. So we are very much becoming a typical African country and Africa is not really one of the major destinations of investment capital. So while you have an under-utilisation and a total restructuring of your industrial base and your manufacturing base, you're not getting that kind of investment and renewal that you had hoped for on account of factors that have nothing to do with the economy necessarily as such but with ancillary factors like law and order. If I'm a foreign investor I'm not going to put my money here with all these blimming labour laws and then I send my staff here and they get killed and if they're shot they go into a hospital which is absolutely useless unless you know where a private hospital is to go to, and the education of the children, a few decent private schools. In other words that massive inflow of human capital also is not taking place any more. If we say that we don't have growth I don't think that we can isolate necessarily high interest rates and maybe the fiscal stance or whatever to take the blame for that.

POM     In a way I often think that SA got its 'independence' as a total sovereign state at exactly the wrong time, just when the notions of a sovereign state were becoming irrelevant in a global context and that no matter what macro-economic policies you put together you're really at the whim of international forces. I mean a sneeze in Hong Kong can cause the market here to dip and a capital outflow. Your capacity to control your own destiny economically is really severely limited.

BDP     It's become virtually impossible to look after yourself with electronic phone transfers and - I mean if interest rates move one sixteenth of a percent or whatever, massive amounts of money flow. So the flow of money has actually become the greater business than the application of the money and the translation of it into further wealth.

POM     The last question I have, and I have more but I have to run and let you go, did you ever hear of Richard Rosenthal or receive his book on the initiative he undertook with PW Botha's acquiescence, where Stoffel van der Merwe was kind of the middleman between the two, where he involved the Swiss? No?

BDP     No, I can't remember anything of that.

POM     Oh one other thing that I read, and this would be after your time or when you had left, but at Kempton Park when the economy was in such a mess, Derek Keys had pointed out the economy was on the verge of collapse unless everybody got their act together and started serious negotiations, there was a letter of commitment looking for a line of credit from the IMF of I think R850 million or dollars I forget which, but there was a letter of commitment written, signed by Pravin Gordhan who I'm going to see to confirm whether or not it took place and the details of it, but agreed to by all parties that they would follow what would amount to a Washington consensus line of cutting down state expenditure, interest rates to stabilise, keep the value of the currency where it was, a standard Washington prescription of the time. Everybody signed off on it, including the ANC and the NP.

BDP     I can recall something like that.

POM     In which case the economic policy for the country was set before, if that's true the framework of the economic policy for the country, was set even before a constitutional settlement had been reached.

BDP     I would have preferred that in my time also. I would have liked fiscal and monetary policy to have been agreed to and locked into an assistance programme from the IMF and possibly also some developmental projects from the World Bank before the political negotiations started. I would have liked that because it would have taken a very contentious issue out of the political equation leaving the negotiators to concentrate on politics.

POM     But when they signed that letter and sent it, all parties signed that and sent it back to the IMF.

BDP     They fixed policy.

POM     So the subsequent debate over RDP and this, that and the other was all kind of shadow boxing in a way because the outlines of the policy had already been firmly set and were subject to international supervision and monitoring in a sense.

BDP     A very interesting point, very interesting insight. I've never looked at it like that. So the RDP and all this kind of other nonsense is in violation of that. Then these labour laws will also be in violation of it.

POM     That's right.

BDP     So the country is deviating from that agreement.

POM     Yes. With all the ANC, Tambo's certainty about what their economic policy would be and they were kind of holding their cards in a sense close to their chest, but they already had signed a letter, signed by Pravin Gordhan, one of their senior officials, to say we agree.

BDP     I recall something of that. I do recall something of that but it will certainly be very interesting to have sight of that letter.

POM     I'm going to see Pravin next week so I'll find out if the letter exists. How do you think Mbeki handled Kriegler?

BDP     I think he handled him with a considerable degree of restraint.

POM     You do?

BDP     He was critical of him but I think Kriegler was quite explosive. You're asking me a very difficult question.

POM     Just one thing on the way things are reported, and I've interviewed Kriegler over the years too and I saw him yesterday, one of the accusations made against him in all this spin stuff of who is to blame for what, who is the villain in the piece, was the implication that the affidavit that he had filed on behalf of the NNP and DP case was an affidavit he filed on his own without the stamp of authority of the commission and that this led the commission to believe that he was siding with the NP and the DP on this issue. He pulled out the affidavit for me, he said. "This is absolutely bullshit. The second sentence says 'I am writing this on behalf of the commission and authorised by the full commission to submit this report to you.' The second sentence." He said, "Here's this, look at it, they're making it all up." Really?

BDP     When I responded I was looking at the situation where a very senior member of the government had made a certain agreement with the commission chairman and then got stabbed in the back, kind of. That was the impression that was created in the media as far as I could read it. If you switch off that thing then I'll give you a personal comment.

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.