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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Nov 1999: Meyer, Roelf

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POM     Let me just ask you, I've been interviewing you now for ten years. When I met you first you were the Deputy Minister for Constitutional Development and you went on to become the Minister for Constitutional Development, the NP's and the government's Chief Negotiator at Kempton Park at negotiations, then back to Minister of Constitutional Affairs, then Secretary General of the NP, then leaving the NP, founding your own movement and ultimately with Bantu Holomisa becoming the founding father of the UDM. That's quite a swing in the space of ten years. In those ten years what has changed personally for you in terms of the direction your life has taken, the path your own growth has taken and what has changed in SA besides the obvious, but more importantly what hasn't changed?

RM     That's a mouthful. I think we will have to take some time reflecting on all of those because it's probably the period of the most significant change in the history of the country, although it's only ten years. The revolution that took place in these ten years is nothing but a revolution.  We were just lucky to avoid a civil war or any other kind of violent interaction to make this possible. But if one looks at where we were ten years ago and where we are now it is a complete change which is comparable to that of a revolution. Although the process started in 1989 I don't think that anybody made it clear as to where exactly we are going and how it would end. So looking back at it I think we can still today say it was something of a miracle.

     As far as oneself is concerned the changes that have taken place in my own assessment of the situation are probably in the sense that I personally became far more focused as far as reform is concerned and eventually the transformation. What I mean by saying that is that I think I can always be described as a reformer, or a reformist within the NP, but it was a slow process. When I entered politics, now exactly twenty years ago, 1979, I was a youngster with no political experience, just basically with certain ideas. But I came into parliament at a time when signs of reform were visible. PW Botha then talked about 'adapt or die', that kind of thing, and although he had a limited meaning with that at least the process came into being. My own role thereafter was of support, one of support to the reform process but I never became an activist and I never had, let's say, clear views of myself or by myself of what had to be done. I was mainly a follower and a supporter of the reform process and not necessarily an instigator.

POM     Can you trace your stages of development during that period? The eighties, as reforms were going on on the one side and then you had the new constitution, the tricameral parliament, then you had the state of emergency in 1986 and the movement towards a very securocratic state, or whatever it was called, and things increasingly spiralling out of control. How were you changing as those things were unfolding?

RM     Well I would say during the eighties I always questioned what was going on but more in the role of, as I described, a follower or a supporter of reform, not necessarily one that was really instigating reform. Let me take the example of Wynand Malan who is a close friend of mine, our offices were opposite each other in parliament when he decided to leave the NP, I think it was in 1986 and he left because of the slow pace of reform and he objected basically against PW Botha's securocratic approach. I argued with him to stay because I said let's carry on and do what is necessary within the perimeters of parliament, of the NP caucus. That shows an indication, Wynand Malan was then one of the leading lights as far as the reform process was concerned. He eventually went on to be a co-founder of the Democratic Party that we know today. He later on went out of politics.

POM     He's now with the TRC.

RM     Yes, but we're still friends today. What I am trying to say is at that stage I asked questions but I was not necessarily objecting to the extreme, to the point where I took leave of the party. The difference between that and the nineties, in terms of my own experience, is that in the nineties I became far more focused as to what had to take place in SA and within the Afrikaner environment and/or NP environment. I think I can say that I became an instigator of reform and especially of the transformation that had to take place. Now my role that I had in the negotiations I think was to me an eye-opener in many ways because of one very specific learning experience and that is that if one wants to successfully negotiate a situation you have to build trust with the opponent and that taught me one thing and that is you can only build trust if you put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side. Then you can start to understand better and I think in a nutshell I can almost say that was a very influential factor in my life, the fact that I realised that one has to assess the situation from the other perspective before you can actually make your final decision and conclusion. That doesn't mean that you then decide on behalf of the other side but you decide with the framework of the total perspective. I think that made me a far more committed and focused reformer or reformist than I had been up to that stage.

     That's a single example of how other factors play the role as well. But I think key to this is that the whole process that I was personally involved in and had the privilege of participating in had an immense impact on myself and my views. That also led me later on to leave the NP because I simply became uncomfortable with the NP. People would say, "Why didn't you do that ten years earlier?" I think it's simply a fact that ten years earlier I didn't have that kind of insight and during this period that we know each other I think I can say that big changes have taken place within my own assessment of the SA situation and if I had the privilege of earlier being part of that kind of change I would have certainly taken a different position in the eighties, but that is water under the bridge, one can't change that.

POM     But there's an irony to that. You could have left and become part of the Democratic Party, a small party screaming in the wilderness, so to speak. You would not have been elevated to the position of chief negotiator for your government. So in the end by staying you were able to affect a lot more than if you had left.

RM     Well that is the reality, yes. That is true.

POM     A number of people have remarked to me that when FW, (I may ask you a question that I asked you before but I haven't gone through all of our ten years), that when FW released Mandela that he didn't have a clear strategy in mind as to (I've read his biography, I must be one of the few people who have gone through every page and underlined every paragraph), but many people say that he didn't have a clear strategy as to exactly where he was going, that the failure of the NP in negotiations, that it hadn't set out what it aspired to get, what was its bottom line below which you would turn around and say, "That's it! Negotiations over." Whereas on the ANC side they had one very clear objective, they could hang it up, it was like putting up a sign on the wall and saying, 'It's the economy, stupid.' Here they had the sign up on the wall that said 'Majority rule', we can make sacrifices or concessions with regard to this, that or the other as long as we never take our eye off what our ultimate goal is and that is more or less simple majoritarian rule. Was De Klerk a strategic thinker? Did he have a strategy of negotiation, a vision of where he wanted to take the country to, a methodology of how to get there?

RM     I've said it before on this very issue, not necessarily to you but to others, I think De Klerk was more of a tactician than a strategist. To my mind there's a big difference. He was sometimes brilliant at tactics.

POM     Can you describe what you mean by the difference, the context in which you're using both?

RM     As a tactician he was brilliant by calling for the referendum in 1992 to get a mandate from the white community to go ahead with negotiations. That was a tactical move because he was in trouble, there were a number of by-elections that he lost and the whole process of negotiations was almost under pressure on the question of whether he has got a mandate from the white community to do what he did. Then he came up with this tactical move on the referendum.

     When it comes to strategy I think he lacks in regard to clarity of vision of where we had to go to. Let me explain. There was always this kind of vague objective that some kind of power sharing would ensure some retaining of power for the whites by means of a veto or whatever and all sorts of concocted ideas came up in that process, like for instance a rotating presidency and things like that. That was as a result of a lack of vision and strategy. The real vision should have been to establish nothing but a clear democracy and that is what we ended up with but it was not out of his strategy or vision that we ended up there because the negotiations delivered that.

     Another example, at an early stage of the constitutional talks, even before we started to negotiate, it became clear in my mind that we had to make a crucial decision on the strategy about Inkatha because at that stage it was perceived that we should take Inkatha on board and almost negotiate on their behalf as well, or to put it differently, not do anything without their consent. It became clear to me that that was going to be a burden for the NP because it means that the NP if it wants to succeed with its own vision will always have this baby to carry and that baby might have, under more than one circumstance, completely different ideas. There was a clear difference of opinion as to this but again De Klerk lacked clear strategy on how to deal with the issue of Inkatha so when at a later stage the Record of Understanding was agreed upon between us and the ANC, there was still this uncertainly about how to deal with Inkatha and he almost had a split mind on that instead of a clear strategy in saying this is what we're going to do and so forth. I think that to some extent led, this lack of strategy sometimes led to problems internally because especially towards the end his own support base started to question him and secondly it had on more than one occasion caused problems with, for instance, Mr Mandela which led Mandela to sometimes think at least that De Klerk is not honest in his approach towards the negotiations. It's mainly because of this lack of strategy.

POM     Could you give me an example of that just to concretise it, because here again you're not the first person who has made that very point, that Mandela began to doubt whether Mr de Klerk was always being honest with him.

RM     I will have to think a bit about specific examples, but let me mention one or two contexts. The one was the famous or well-known incident at CODESA 1 when De Klerk took up a point in public about the question of the armed struggle, the question of Mandela's integrity, of the ANC's integrity as negotiators without discussing that beforehand with Mandela privately. That of course was a major shot for the process of trust between the two of them. But there were on later occasions, even in more private meetings, I think occasions where Mandela could have had the impression that there was a hidden agenda as a result of the fact that De Klerk would almost go back on something that he has agreed upon already and tried to look for something more.

     There was of course the whole debacle which led to the collapse of CODESA 2 where the NP effectively changed its position at a late stage on what it wants as far as the percentages were concerned.

POM     It had to come in initially with 70%, then the ANC countered with 66% and then the ANC went back and offered -

RM     I can't even remember the facts now.

POM     OK, let me look those up.

RM     That kind of thing, yes.

POM     You referred to the confrontation at CODESA 1. I discussed this with Kobie Coetsee for quite a period because he mentioned him in his book on a number of occasions and I wanted to check out whether Mr de Klerk's version and his version corresponded. He had gone through saying: -

     "In the lead up to CODESA 1 I had insisted that these issues were mainly pertaining to the DF Malan Accord and the surrender of arms and questions like that, whether they had been dealt with. He had established a policy group on the last evening, the evening of Thursday 19th, the day before CODESA 1 was to begin. At that meeting we talked of a deadlock that had been reached in the working groups that would deal with the implementation of the DF Malan Accord and the ending of the ANC's armed struggle. The last minute breakthrough which the ANC had promised and for which we had all been hoping and waiting had not occurred. Minister Coetsee and his team placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ANC. Once again I was faced with the stark choice: should I proceed or should I precipitate a crisis that would have scuttled the launching of CODESA? I gave Kobie Coetsee instructions to contact the ANC in a final attempt to find a solution and to inform him that I was seriously considering not going ahead with CODESA. He reported back that the ANC had once again promised him progress in the immediate future on the outstanding issues relating to their compliance with the DF Malan Accord and he committed himself to rectifying the matter. A long discussion ensued in the Policy Group during which we considered the pros and cons of all the alternatives. We reached a consensus that the cancellation of CODESA at that stage would have been catastrophic. I was extremely irritated because I was faced with a Catch-22 position. The softest option was to continue with the launching of CODESA and to adopt a very strong position during the conference on the ANC's delaying tactics and failure to implement it's undertakings. I instructed Minister Coetsee to convey a message to Mr Mandela that we would continue with CODESA but that he should know that we would make a number of sharply critical comments about the ANC's breaches of the DF Malan Accord. He left the meeting and reported back a little later that the message had been conveyed to Thabo Mbeki who had promised to pass it on to Mr Mandela. He also reported there was understanding for my concerns over the delay and the fact that I would consequently have to take a strong line. It was within this context that I finalised the drafting of the speech that I would deliver at CODESA."

     I read that passage to Kobie and he said it's all wrong.

RM     All wrong?

POM     Yes. His version of events was that there was a cabinet meeting, that there were two or three lines in the cabinet. One was really come down hard on the ANC for their failure to meet their obligations. The second was be softer, don't jeopardise the process, and the third was to ignore, be conciliatory on it. He said the hard-liners won the day and the speech was drafted by a committee and at that point he says that you were asked by De Klerk to leave the Committee Room and that you were with Mike Louw and to phone Thabo Mbeki and to read to him what would be in effect De Klerk's speech and that you rang Mbeki and told him and that's why De Klerk was shocked when Mandela made the attack on him because he had assumed that the messages that he wanted to convey to Mandela had been conveyed to him and that Mandela knew all about this, that he had to do it to appease his own hard wing. Is that all fantasy on Kobie's part?

RM     Absolutely. De Klerk was right there. That portion that you read is exactly what happened. I can recall it was not a cabinet meeting, it was a meeting of the close advisors.

POM     That's the policy group?

RM     Yes, the members of that Policy Committee. I can recall that Pik Botha and others were part of that and that when Kobie came back even Pik Botha said, "OK, De Klerk must go ahead."

POM     When Kobie came back from?

RM     After he spoke to Mbeki.

POM     So Kobie did speak to Mbeki?

RM     Well that is what he said, but if he now has a different story it means that he might not have spoken to Mbeki at all. That is what he came back that evening to tell us. It was late afternoon, early evening that this happened. The reason why he was asked to call Mbeki is because he dealt with that subject. It was his authority as Minister of Justice and he was the leader of the negotiations on that particular subject. That is why he was asked to make that contact with Thabo. In any case if I had to deal with the whole matter it would not have been referred to me to phone Mbeki, I would have phoned Cyril because my counterpart was Cyril at that point. A key person on the negotiations on that issue was Thabo in regard to the DF Malan Accord and so forth. So De Klerk is right in terms of what you just read.

POM     And the message somehow never was conveyed to Mandela or so it appears.

RM     If now Coetsee says he didn't speak to Thabo then it might never have happened because we were all under the impression that he went out to speak to Thabo and came back to report accordingly. But if he now denies that, it's a big question whether he had in fact spoken to Thabo. De Klerk's version you can go and test with Pik Botha or anybody else who was present that evening. That's the correct version. I've always said it was not De Klerk's fault that speech, we all have to take responsibility for it because we all allowed him to carry on to make that speech but it was a blunder.

POM     It was a blunder. Was the speech a blunder in itself or was it a blunder in the sense that he hadn't confirmed that Mandela had actually known what he was going to say and if Mandela said - well if you say that I'm going to get up and I'm going to blast the bloody hell out of you?

RM     De Klerk should have thought about the consequences of that blunder. He should have gone to Mandela himself, seen him and tell him this is the situation, not rely on Kobie Coetsee as far as that is concerned. That's the blunder.

POM     What also he and one other person mentioned was something called 'The Blue Book'. Was there such a document?

RM     In what connection?

POM     He said this laid out what the NP's government strategy was and what fall-back positions it would adopt, what its alternatives were and how they had evaluated these alternatives.

RM     Is that what Coetsee says?

POM     Yes.

RM     He may have had it in his mind.

POM     Kobie is not holding up very well under cross-examination I have to say. He did say that he had a serious falling out with you on the Record of Understanding. By the way at the end of the meeting I should add he said, "You know, looking back one of the biggest mistakes that I made in talking about it - (Break in recording)

POM     Just to recapitulate the points we had made from where we were on the previous tape: (i) Roelf had said De Klerk's account in his autobiography of what happened on the evening prior to CODESA is the correct account; (ii) we had begun to talk about the Record of Understanding and he said there were five issues on the board, two of them constitutional. The two that were constitutional were dealt with by yourself and Cyril.

RM     The two constitutional issues were: - (i) agreement or confirmation that there will be two phases to the constitution making process, an interim phase and the final phase, the interim phase consisting of a complete constitution inter alia providing for a bill of rights and a Constitutional Court to adjudicate on that; (ii) and on the other side, that was the second point, agreement that there will be a final constitution drafted by an elected Constitutional Assembly which would be elected by the people without any conditions except for the constitutional principles that will be embodied in the interim constitution.

     This was a very important agreement from the constitutional perspective because it gave effect to what the ANC wanted and what we wanted. So those were the two critical constitutional elements to the Record of Understanding.

     The three other issues were: the question of the fencing off of hostels which was dealt with by Leon Wessels because he was the responsible minister. The second one was the issue of the carrying of dangerous weapons at public meetings. That was dealt with by Hernus Kriel because he was the responsible minister. The third one was the release of prisoners and that was dealt with by Kobie Coetsee because he was the responsible minister. My problem with Kobie Coetsee arose around the following: that we were making progress towards the end of the Record of Understanding negotiations with all the issues except with the one on prisoners and it was because of the fact that he dragged his feet. Then I pushed him because I couldn't get answers from him, and then I pushed him into a meeting with Cyril and Cyril grabbed him and, typically Cyril, washed the floor with him and he blamed me for leading him into that situation. But my frustration was I couldn't get any progress from him regarding the issue because we had to finalise the Record of Understanding and he was dragged into this because of the fact that, typically like he did on many other issues, there was no progress and so forth. That is where that came from. So the main thing that he blamed me for was the fact that I led him into that discussion with Cyril.

POM     The 'Cyril' treatment. Was delaying tactics not on the ANC's were the ANC delaying at that time?

RM     The ANC wanted that agreement because they wanted their prisoners released, the McBrides and others, but it was big numbers of people that were still in detention at that stage. The other thing is that Coetsee on many issues played the game in such a way that nobody knew actually what was going on like, for instance, on the whole issue of amnesty. I don't have to repeat that but you know what happened in the end with the amnesty issue in the sense that it was never dealt with by him and finally it was put on the table for Cyril and myself.

POM     So that final clause that was written into the interim constitution regarding amnesty, that it would be dealt with in a spirit of compassion and not vengeance, and reconciliation rather than retribution, that was a paragraph that was composed by Cyril and yourself and inserted in the interim constitution? And he had nothing to do with the drafting of that at all, Kobie?

RM     No he had nothing. It actually came about as a result of the fact that he was not present or that he didn't make progress and then De Klerk said I must take it up with Cyril and come to a final conclusion. Then Cyril and I got Mac and Fanie to draft that postscript.

POM     What's interesting about that is that I talked to Niel Barnard and he says that after the Pretoria Minute there had been agreement on blanket amnesty and he says he knows because he, Fanie on the government side, Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj on the ANC side went to a corner of a room and drafted the language of what would be in effect a blanket amnesty and that this was fought tooth and nail over by Kobie who just wouldn't go for it, who insisted on the Indemnity Act and the listing of every offence you had committed before as an exile you could enter the country. That was resented by the ANC having to go through that process and that in the end they took it out against him. But his argument would be, well the Indemnity Act and the Further Indemnity Act of 1992 was as open to the members of the security forces as it was to members of the ANC. He says, again, that at a cabinet meeting prior to the passage of that Act that Mr de Klerk went round the table and said, "Colleagues, does anyone here have something in the past that they need to apply for? This is your opportunity and you should go to your departments and ask your department heads if they have anything in their past that they need to apply for amnesty for." Do you recall a cabinet meeting in which that Act was discussed?

RM     I think it was a bit before my time in cabinet.

POM     It would be 1992.

RM     Oh, are you talking about the Further Indemnity Act?

POM     Yes, sorry, the Further Indemnity Act.

RM     Yes then I was there, but that was as a result of the Record of Understanding.

POM     Yes, he wanted to go for that rather than the blanket amnesty. Yes?

RM     By then the ANC was not interested any longer in blanket amnesty because they had achieved what they then wanted. The reason why they initially were prepared to agree to a blanket amnesty was because of the fact that all the people of the ANC who were outside the country could have been imprisoned when they returned because of all the old charges of the apartheid years. They obviously thought that it would be easier just to give a blanket amnesty then all the people could come back and it's all over and done. That was their urge at the beginning but as the first Indemnity Act came into being of course a lot of people came back and were indemnified in that process and the result is that in the end their desire for a blanket amnesty disappeared and when Kobie started then to try and force the issue of amnesty it was too late. That is where he miscalculated the whole thing at the beginning.

POM     Do you think, and again maybe from a technical point of view, that one of the mistakes that Mandela made when he was released from prison was that his first objective should have been that I will patch up this war between the ANC and the IFP and pull Buthelezi back into the ANC camp, that's my major priority that there's a united front against the government. He does say in his autobiography that he did call Buthelezi to thank him for his support for the time that he was a prisoner. He says that he offered to go and visit Buthelezi, in fact they had talked about dates and he was going to lay a wreath on Shaka's grave with the King. Joe Matthews says, no, no, in Zulu culture that could never be done, Kings never visit graves and we don't lay wreaths on anything, that's a European concept. So I went back and I had faxed over the initial interviews I did with him in 1990 and that's exactly his language. He said 10th, 11th or 12th May were discussed to lay a wreath and it never happened. The ANC vetoed the whole thing and the King was insulted, Buthelezi was insulted, and so rather than reducing tensions it exacerbated tensions. Do you think things might have been different had Mandela gone to Buthelezi at that point, whom he still regarded as a friend, and had gone over the heads of the ANC National Executive saying I am going to visit and try to patch up that conflict and come to negotiations with the IFP on board?

RM     I don't think Buthelezi was ready for it at that stage because Buthelezi at that stage saw himself as the main political rival to Mandela. He was of the opinion that if it would come to a straight-off choice he would have a good chance. He was really of that opinion. I can say it from my own experience of 1989 in particular. There was that so-called Obstacles Committee, I think you might have heard about that. In October of 1988 I had a private meeting with Buthelezi in my then capacity as Deputy Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I had a one-on-one meeting with him in Durban one night out of which I brought back an accommodation to the government.   It was a secret meeting because my minister at that stage didn't even know before I went about this. I came back, however, and told him about the meeting and it was recommended that a joint committee be formed between the SA government and the KwaZulu government to address the obstacles impeding the process of negotiations. That was at the end of 1988. That committee then was agreed upon and it started operating at the beginning of 1989. I was part of that committee. More or less in September of 1989 that committee produced a report in which it was said Mandela must be released or the obstacles towards negotiations, imprisonment of Mandela and others leaders, the ban on the ANC and other organisations and so on and so forth, and therefore the recommendation was Mandela must be released, the ANC must be unbanned and the others and the process then will be able to start. Buthelezi's view all the time during those discussions was - he was not part of that committee but his instructions to his representatives were open up and then we can see who is the real leader. That was the main argument that had for himself. So he was very much at the beginning of the view that he would have a good chance.

POM     Of emerging as the black spokesman for the black community?

RM     And that it would be a choice between him and Mandela in the final analysis.

POM     And that he would win that showdown?

RM     Well he must have had an impression that he had a good chance. So I don't think he was ready for any other kind of move at that point in time even though Mandela might have tried.

POM     Just one final one for today, or maybe I will leave it there because it will take me 20 minutes to make my way over to see Kader who probably won't be there anyway. Can I have Judy set something up with you in Pretoria or here? I will see what I have to do with that tape, I'm trying not to think of it.

RM     Was that tape only about our discussion? Well if we have to do it over let's do it.

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.