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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

08 Feb 1999: Meyer, Roelf

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POM     Let me begin first with what is probably the most obvious question and that is the assassination of Sifiso Nkabinde, (i) the impact it has had on the UDM organisation in the region, (ii) the potential impact it may have as elections approach and factional fighting of one type or another begins to increase in that area again, and (iii) whether you think that this was a political assassination or an assassination connected with other things. Just on the latter I would say it would seem to me that if I went to the grocery store at eight o'clock in the morning and there are two gunmen waiting for me there already, that is not fortuitous, somebody knows something about my movements and has passed them on to somebody else.

     (Telephone interruption:

     RM     In a sense that it is an improvement according to the same survey of a few months ago it shows that we are up to 9% and of course that shows that we are on a growing trend. But in the overall picture we also said that it is not good enough yet and in the next months towards the election we will obviously want to increase that figure to be the main contender in terms of this coming election and that is our aim, that is what we have said in the past already and that is our goal. I think there are many reasons for that. First of all we said in a statement that we would like to thank all our teams around the country who have worked very hard to spread the message of the UDM and I think what we are seeing here is that within a period of 15 months quite a big proportion of South Africans are buying into that message and supporting the UDM for that reason. The second reason is the fact that the UDM is the new party that succeeds in bringing together South Africans from across the spectrum and what we intended to do right from the beginning is obviously bringing success. As our policy positions on all the issues relevant, particularly unemployment and crime, as our policy positions on those are emerging and get across to the voters I have no doubt that our position will even increase.)

     Sorry for that.

POM     It's OK, you must get them all the time.

RM     All the time. The problem is our press secretary is not here so I'm

POM     You're filling in.

RM     OK. You were busy with your question. You completed the question? I think first of all the impact we can't deny. The fact of the matter is Sifiso Nkabinde was a popular leader in that area amongst his followers but also he has made some obvious progress, good progress in other parts of the province of KZN and beyond that I had the opportunity to campaign with him on a number of occasions over the last number of months. In fact during the last two weeks before he was assassinated we were out on a number of occasions in different parts of the country, KZN as well as Gauteng, and I could see how his popularity was growing, it was very obvious. I think in the question of a short space of time he has actually changed from an alleged warlord to a real political leader and people were starting to observe that. Due to his charisma he had a very special appeal to people on the ground. I often said to myself, listening to him, that there were some remarkable similarities between the way in which he could use words and address rallies and meetings and the way in which Chris Hani did. Therefore, he was a person who was easygoing and could mix very easily, he was very charismatic and from that angle it's a loss. There's no doubt about that. You don't replace that kind of character easily.

POM     I went down and saw him last year. I spent a weekend in Richmond.

RM     I can remember you went there.

POM     There was one thing that he promised me and it was on my list of things to get while I was here this time and that was he said, "I will give you a copy of my court record of the judgement of the judge in the case." He said, "It will be self-explanatory." How would one go about getting a copy of that?

RM     I think the easiest might be to try and get hold of his advocate who handled his case, a guy by the name of Shane Matthews, or his attorney. Shane Matthews is from Pietermaritzburg and his attorney is also from there. I think his name is Petrus Kotze.

POM     And they would both be listed under Pietermaritzburg?

RM     I believe so.

POM     What impact has it had on your party's capacity to organise and on relationships with the ANC in the area? I remember over a year ago Bantu making the proposal that ANC and UDM had to sit down and thrash this out and I think we discussed it, how funny it was that the ANC would sit down with anybody who came to negotiations on the constitutional settlement and here they were turning their back on the very practice they had espoused so adequately for years, that you must talk to your enemy or whatever.

RM     There was no progress as far as that issue is concerned.

POM     And still no progress?

RM     Still no progress. They follow exactly the opposite from what they preached in the past.

POM     Now you had a meeting with Sydney Mufamadi. You were referred from Mandela to Mbeki who gave you the cold shoulder and said go and see Mufamadi.

RM     It's important to note that Mandela was quite prepared, apparently, to see us. I contacted his office and he came back and said in principle not a problem but he was then on his way to Europe, for Davos and all that, and he actually from his side suggested that we instead see Thabo Mbeki. So it was not a question that he declined and then we went to Mbeki. He referred us to Mbeki and I even asked his office to arrange the meeting for us with Mbeki, which they did, but then Mbeki declined. So the problem was with Mbeki. He was the one who was not prepared to meet with us.

POM     And did he refer you to Sydney Mufamadi or was that another separate move on your part?

RM     It was a separate move I think on their side in the sense that Mufamadi then contacted Bantu and said there should be such a meeting.

POM     Did it yield any satisfaction other than saying the police will thoroughly investigate and we will do the best we can?

RM     It was more a technical meeting.

POM     One of the features that strikes me even during the period that I've been away is that when we went down there last August they had just taken all the police out of Richmond, put in the new crew of police completely, the army were all over the place. In fact it was an SANDF operation with the police as the back-ups rather than the other way round. We went out at night and saw the horseback patrols and the motorcycle patrols and all of these things, yet all of this activity didn't yield or hasn't yielded a single arrest. Is part of what's going on that there's a code of silence?

RM     You mean in the sense that there is no breakthrough?

POM     That people won't come forward, even if they know they simply won't come forward and say who is responsible.

RM     It's possible but it appears to us as if this assassination was carried out professionally.

POM     That's what I mean, at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, it's not exactly you just find two guys hanging around a grocery store with sub-machine guns.

RM     Exactly. It was carried out very professionally it seems and there is no trace that could be followed yet of significance. A lot of rumours, people bringing forward alleged information and so forth.

POM     Was it his bodyguard who in the Sunday Times yesterday said that he could identify one of the assassins and that he would supply the name to the Sunday Times but not to the police because he didn't trust the police?

RM     Well that's probably part of the mistrust that exists there. We tried to convince this chap to talk to the investigating unit. I think the mistrust that prevails there is quite heavy and strong. It will not be too easy for him to come out.

POM     So do you see that hindering elections there that it is, again, a volcano waiting to erupt, could erupt, and the scale of the violence that was between the IFP and ANC but it would be the same thing in miniature, so to speak, all over again in a couple of months?

RM     That is difficult to say because at the moment it's pretty quiet again. In fact it was quiet in Richmond up to the assassination of Sifiso, the last half of last year, including the Christmas period, it was particularly quiet in that area. We were talking about it at the beginning of the year that things have calmed down very significantly and we were very happy to see that. And then this came totally as a shock. There was no reason to expect it at this point of time. I hope that we can contain the situation but it can just happen like that again, so what will happen over the next number of months I don't think it's possible to really forecast.

POM     Obviously the results of the poll published in The Citizen this morning, the HSRC poll, must have been very encouraging. In fact I was just reading our transcript from last year and you said if we break 10%, you were saying a year ago, "We will consider it a real victory and any place between 5% and 10% is acceptable and below 5% we would consider as a setback." It looks as if you could be set to break 10% but there seems to be a certain unreliability about these polls. I think Opinion 99 in their poll they did in September had you at 5% or 6% and in their most recent one had you back down at 3% so it's hard to gauge the methodologies they use. Can you feel the support growing?

RM     We definitely feel the support growing, there's no doubt about that, even in spite of the setbacks that we had. If one can measure it from what you are experiencing in terms of phone calls, people visiting the office, people just expressing their wish to become involved or sign up as members, I think all of those indicate the direction, that there is positive progress in terms of our growth. The polls, I think, all have the same problem and that is that UDM support, since we are a new party and are therefore not that well know across the country, in all parts of the country, the situation is such that we have so-called pockets of support in some areas and in others not and which could easily therefore mean that if a poll is taken in an area where there is not such a pocket of support for us it doesn't reflect it, but if that whole area, or the whole province or the whole country is to be counted in obviously we are getting in those pockets as well. I think that's a phenomenon that we have seen in all the polls that I think means one thing and that is that they are not necessarily truly reflective of our real support yet.

POM     If your support is built in pockets and under the list system does that work to your advantage or to your disadvantage?

RM     The list system is in our advantage in that regard simply because every vote that you get counts in your favour wherever it's been cast. In other words if ten votes are cast in the most remote area it doesn't mean that you are losing them, they're being added to the total unlike in a constituency system where you might lose out completely if you have your votes distributed around the country. In a proportional system that is to the party's favour.

POM     I had asked you this, again a year ago, but I think it's a question worth revisiting after a year, and that is how has this whole experience affected your life, your relationship with Africans, how has it widened your horizons, how has it made you feel change and growth as a person?

RM     Oh yes definitely, I think in a certain way I've learned more about politics over the last two years than I learned before because my whole perspective, the spectrum of my activities in the past was focused on white politics, that is obvious. One was closed off as far as the rest were concerned and now suddenly I have the opportunity to go around and to mix with all communities and that's a great experience, it's working wonderfully as far as our progress is concerned and everything related to that. So I'm quite happy and I think it's an enriching experience. Some people remarked just over the weekend that they observe that I'm looking far more relaxed than some years ago and I confirm that that is probably the case. I feel relaxed because although I work hard and one is under tremendous pressure and so forth time-wise, what I am doing is part of my life, it's my total commitment and I can keep myself busy with what I experience as being positive and progress towards this broader vision. So that's wonderful. I have little doubt that this is for myself a great experience and a wonderful opening and widening of my perspectives.

POM     You never wake up in the middle of the night and say - my God, I should have gotten out of this business when I had the opportunity and redeployed myself into the private sector, or something like that?

RM     No I never think of that simply because I made the decision when I had the opportunity to make the choice either to get out of politics completely or carry on with this and once I made that decision I knew exactly where I was going in terms of that and I keep myself busy in the same way as I committed myself at that stage. So I don't even spend time on those questions. Of course it's important to have from time to time certain inspirational occasions or moments that can inspire one to go on and become more energetic and more active and things like this poll that you have mentioned is such an occasion because it shows that it's worthwhile, at least that is the image that comes across and I compare that with the time at the negotiations sometimes you had your breakdowns in negotiations and that could have a very negative impact on one's own frame of mind and then other occasions you had the breakthroughs. Then you came out of it very inspired to go on and sometimes it seems there is nothing that can stop you. So it's the same thing now. Really, I'm absolutely convinced and I remain convinced that we are on the right side of history and for that reason we actually don't have limitations on our potential. It's going to depend on ourselves, how well we perform.

POM     I was talking to Derek Keys this morning, he's like my financial guru, I go to him at least once a year consistently since he was Finance Minister, to hear both his wisdom and his kind of scepticism or cynicism, but he said the country for the next four or five years is going to face, that Mbeki's going to face a very tough time, that it's going to be difficult to get economic growth back on the road, that everybody increasingly realises SA is a small part of a huge global market and that its ability to actually move events in its direction is very difficult. I want to relate that to a question that I've asked other people, and one of the conclusions I've been coming to as I'm now just putting conclusions together in my head, is that history in general will treat Mandela far more generously than they will his presidency, that as a president he may have held the country together, even though that's problematic in terms that it was ever really falling apart - (break for phone call) I've been thinking that Mandela has squandered a lot of his presidency, not consciously, but that as history will look upon him much more generously than perhaps history will look on his tenure as President of SA, that to me he never seems to have used the presidency as a bully pulpit, to say we're all in this together, we all must sacrifice on behalf of each other and that means all of us, it doesn't mean one section of the community, it means all sections of the community, and that there's never been, particularly among whites, any real understanding that redistribution is part of reparation, it's just part of making up for the past and that individually they may not be responsible for anything but that collectively they were the group who gained, the people who gained and now comes the time to pay compensation for that. Do you see the UDM putting more emphasis on that, that there is no easy way forward, it's going to be tough?

RM     I think that can best be summarised in the concept of entitlement versus empowerment. I'm saying this because I think it's a very interesting theme to look at. It seems as if the ANC came to power in 1994 with the entitlement approach very strongly on their minds, which meant rewards for sacrifices for those that participated in the struggle and all that, and soon that concept of entitlement was transferred into the approach of standing with your hands waiting or if you don't get it that way then you just grab. That is the mentality that started to emerge. I am afraid to say much of the crime that we're experiencing at the moment is related to that. The empowerment approach obviously has a completely different aim and that is rather to help people to help themselves. Now if you follow that approach it's obviously going to take a long time, it's not going to be an easy ride because if you help people to help themselves it means you need some means to do that and you will have to open opportunities for people to help themselves and that comes through a whole list of complicated answers, so to speak, which relates to access to credit facilities, real skill training, ownership of movables and immovables and so forth and that's a long process, it's not an easy one. So coming back to what you said earlier about Derek Keys or what he said, it's probably true, SA is going to go through a difficult period and the pressures on Thabo Mbeki are just growing by the day.

POM     Do you think he will surround himself with competent people or that there will be more of a cliquishness?

RM     I'm worried about that, yes. His approach up till now has all the potential it seems to become a cliquish type of approach. I don't think one has seen yet that he is really surrounding himself with the best and most competent people that are available, not even within the ANC ranks. It seems rather that he's, and this might be a very general statement, but I know for a fact that observations are being made that he is rather getting rid of strong people around him and surrounding himself with weak people and that in itself is of great concern to many South Africans.

POM     The bar-coded ID issue. Do you think this is aimed in part at the UDM, that the two groups least likely or most likely identified not to have the bar-coded IDs were the whites on the one hand and people in the Eastern Cape on the other? The Eastern Cape would be one of your strongholds and this was simply a way, particularly in rural areas, of getting rid of part of the opposition by making sure they can't vote?

RM     The thing there is I think the ANC or the government miscalculated the situation altogether because I think the statistics that they relied on in the beginning

POM     They miscalculated?

RM     Yes. They thought those statistics indicated particularly black people have obtained the new ID documents and particularly white and coloured people didn't. I must say Valli Moosa, his statement of last week actually, let the cat out of the bag when he made that ridiculous statement. But I think they miscalculated because in the rural areas our experience is that people equally don't have the new ID documents. Even the IEC has now publicly admitted that that is a problem for them and we all know that the ANC's strongest support base number-wise in the past were the rural provinces.

POM     Particularly in the Eastern Cape.

RM     And the Northern Province. The Northern Province was their strongest province in 1994 and it was followed by the Eastern Cape and Free State and Mpumalanga if I remember correctly, which shows one thing and that is that people who are in the remote areas are almost more staunch ANC supporters than in the urban areas or metropolitan areas and I think, therefore, they made a total miscalculation of the situation. They probably relied on what the Department of Home Affairs told them and I think somewhere the statistics got mixed up.

POM     Which is rather odd that the ANC would rely on something coming from a department under stewardship of Buthelezi.

RM     Yes. Even last week there was a press report that insinuated that the ANC would be very happy if they lose this court case about the IDs because that will give them an excuse to change the law.

POM     Do you think there will be a settlement? I found a story last week which has been confirmed by both the NP and the DP that the conversations they said took place between Mandela and Van Schalkwyk and Tony Leon did in fact take place. The accounts from two sources I got were almost identical.

RM     I don't know about that and I don't think the problem is going to be resolved through settlement. The ANC won't publicly enter into a settlement with those parties. They won't. I think what will probably rather happen is that they will get the IEC to take an initiative if the court case doesn't go in favour of the Nats or the DP.

POM     Is the IEC going directly to the Constitutional Court?

RM     No, they will start to exercise public pressure or something like that.

POM     How about Buthelezi? Is the current conventional wisdom that he will be offered a deputy presidency or some position befitting his past and his position or whatever, that essentially this is an ANC attempt to buy off the IFP particularly in KZN?

RM     That story goes around and I think the chances are pretty good. Bantu already picked that story up about a year ago. No, longer than a year ago, namely that Jacob Zuma was told that he will not become Deputy President of the country but Buthelezi instead. That was when he was elected Deputy President of the ANC. Now one hasn't seen any further specific developments in that regard and Bantu has also made the point the other day that one must never underestimate Buthelezi's skills. He might read the situation differently at a particular point of time and decide differently. My personal feeling, however, remains that I think he would be very much inclined to accept that offer because he would like the job.

POM     And he's over 70 now and he will be 75/76 by the time the next government ends which is time to call it a day for some people.

RM     The chances for him to go on and accept that offer are very good. That would be my feeling but if he does so it will have definite ramifications as far as the rank and file IFP supporters are concerned. I think they will not take that easily.

POM     Second last thing is when Patrick Lekota went to Richmond he made remarks about parliament introducing a law to outlaw or crack down on the third force. Do you give any currency to still beliefs that there are elements of a third force around that are intent on destablising the country or the elections or that this has become a catch-all excuse for if it goes wrong or if you can't point to something specific just throw it in the direction of the third force, and if there is a third force is it an informal network rather than a formal?

RM     It's very difficult to say because, again, there might be a lot of different reasons for such a third force. The fact, however, remains that there is no clear evidence about it, there's no proof. A lot has been said, publicly allegations were made about such a thing as far back as many years, and right through all these times no specific evidence was produced by anybody to prove that point. Now again I'm very sceptical of that but at the same time it's not possible to deny it altogether and say no, there is not such a thing. But that is exactly why we said let's have an impartial judicial commission to investigate the matter and then we can get the information before this commission and if people say there's a third force let them come and say it and say why is it they say it. Then we have a public evaluation of the situation.

POM     Have you had an opportunity to even glance through FW's biography?

RM     No I haven't had the chance. I've been put a few questions by some journalists after they have read me the relevant extracts and I responded but I haven't had the chance to even look at the book. I'm not too keen to look at it too!

POM     I suppose the question I would ask you, and I've only glanced through it and looked up particular people that I want to ask questions to, is the great emphasis he puts on the hurt that was done to him by Mandela, by Mandela's attack on him at CODESA 1 and how that in his mind made him understand that they would never have a close working relationship. Did he express that feeling to his colleagues afterwards, how personally hurt he felt, how let down and betrayed?

RM     I can't recall that he discussed it particularly, but his bad relationship with Mandela was something that grew over a period of time, that was a particular incident that probably caused them never to have a good relationship ever. It is something that grew over a period of time. He was sometimes annoyed with the way in which he was treated and told us so but it was like crying about something that was partly his own mistake and his own responsibility. In regard to this specific thing, because journalists asked me that question, I said, "Yes, it's true that there was no relationship between the two of them but it's definitely not all Mandela's fault." There is another side to it as well and that is that De Klerk never got used to a comfortable relationship with his black colleagues, not Mandela or anybody else, never, and that's the reality.

POM     And the very, very last thing is on amnesty. There is this, again, prevailing acceptance that at one point in time early on the ANC offered a blanket amnesty and that it was turned down by Kobie Coetsee.

RM     Allegedly yes. I wasn't part of it, I wasn't present but allegedly that was what happened and that was in August of 1990, the time of the Pretoria Minute. I wasn't present so I can only speak from hearsay.

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.