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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Nov 1999: Camerer, Sheila

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SC     We're basically a Western Cape party now because everywhere else – if you look at Gauteng we've lost 80% of our support and that's quite rough in terms of perceptions and loss of face and everything else. We've actually got less than 4% of the vote there and the big hurdle we are facing is the local government elections and we could be inhabiting different roles when you compare us in Gauteng to the Western Cape people who still believe you can fight elections under an unfurled NNP banner waving from door to door. In Gauteng and other provinces it's not on so the perceptions of how to operate within the party differ widely.

POM     It struck me as I was coming over here, maybe last night, that whereas I've been talking to you now for ten years, it's almost the life of light, but all the people in the NP who were there then are gone.

SC     Really, am I the last of the Mohicans?

POM     You are the only link with the past.

SC     That's terrible! But women are naturally more conservative actually aren't they, inherently more conservative in terms of radical shifts and so on aren't they? I've often read that. I don't know, I don't regard myself as a conservative person in outlook but I kind of stay put.

POM     Number one, why have you stayed put?

SC     Well, the temptation to move to the Democratic Party was very strong, obviously, and I was asked to by Tony, they tried to persuade me very strongly before the elections. But there were two things that I really felt, well three issues stopped me. The first was the leader, I mean he's been very good to me and I felt – I was a kind of a confidante and I would feel I'd let him down personally which is quite difficult to do on a personal basis. Secondly, I didn't like the people who had left for the DP, the kind of Nat that had gone from our conservative wing and I don't regard myself as one of those, like Tertius Delport and Rena Venter. They were always conservatives in the Nats and what the heck were they doing? To follow them into the DP wasn't my idea of the ideal situation and generally, although I don't think there is any ideological difference between the DP and ourselves, or only marginally, their campaign was getting a kind of racist colour or racist overtone and I didn't like that. Anyway I just felt we had committed to a certain moderate line and I'd stick with it. It was the circumstances. Sorry, the third point is that I actually fundamentally don't like the idea of changing parties. I'd rather shift the party where I get it to go but so far with not much – well I think the party shifted from one position, OK, you can chalk that up as a success. I was there to –

POM     From one position?

SC     Well from a more conservative position to a reformist position. I played a role there I suppose and was part of that.

POM     More centrist than it was.

SC     Centrist, well I think it is centrist. I don't think you can get more centrist than we are really. I think the DP has moved from the centre, or slightly left of centre to slightly right of centre, it would appear to me, for the sake of getting power. Well we've lost power as we've moved from the rightist centre to the centre. I would rather try and shift the party in a direction. Well, we haven't had great success there in terms of where we want to be but I really think that what we have to do now is to try and get together with the UDM and the DP if we can. I'm in talks all the time with the other parties and the DP of course power's gone to its head so it's not really interested and it knows that they grow at our expense, not anybody else's.

POM     But one, what would you ascribe, even though you had predicted it in our last interview which didn't turn out that well because at one point you went to get some papers and I switched off the tape recorder and I never switched it back on. All the gems you gave of information –

SC     Oh dear. How terrible. I always get so embarrassed when I see your transcripts, I just want to wish them away. I can't believe I've said things like that.

POM     Well you said a lot the last time which vanished into thin air.

SC     That's probably a merciful relief.

POM     But you had talked about where polls were indicating where the party was, about the same place it was before the elections in 1994 at that point in time, but that there would be a bounce back but the bounce probably wouldn't be as great. One, did the actual results come to you as a surprise, the extent of the drop?

SC     No I wasn't at all surprised by the results by the end of the campaign because I had been electioneering from March to June and it was clear we were going to get a complete hammering. The only thing that wasn't clear was the size of the hammering and to what extent we could hold on to our position down here. On the politico-ethnic basis the coloured community in the Western Cape had largely decided that they were New Nats basically and to what extent had the ANC been able to make inroads into that, I gave the ANC less credit than they should have got from me. I thought we would do a bit better than we did here but I thought we would be annihilated in Gauteng and I thought we would do pretty badly just about everywhere else but not quite as badly as we did.

POM     I would assume that after the elections the party got together, bosberade or whatever –

SC     Yes we did, we had an executive meeting.

POM     - and went through the reasons for the dramatic decline in support.

SC     Yes, well one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline was never mentioned and couldn't be because the leader didn't actually say, look here I must take some of the blame for this and I hereby tender my resignation, which I think he should have done. I don't think it would have been accepted, it would have given everybody an opportunity to say, no, no, dear leader, please stay on because after all it was not your fault, you did the right thing and you managed to improve your image, which he did actually. He did manage to improve his image a bit because it was terrible beforehand, I mean before the campaign started and the media had really done their best to annihilate him for a year and half.

POM     But his media presence even now isn't – you would have to search, scan the press.

SC     No exactly. Well they just don't like him and they do their best not to print what he says. We got a lot of publicity over this gun control law, he did, his picture was endlessly in the paper shooting which I think was maybe the reason they printed it, I don't know. It did improve a bit and people were beginning to say, well the talk show people were beginning to say, well he's quite a nice guy. John Robbie was saying he's not half bad after he appeared on that one, not that he has huge influence on the electorate but nevertheless there was a sort of perception that he wasn't as bad as they had tried to make out. So that was helpful to an extent I suppose except it didn't translate into any votes for us.

POM     It's an issue that couldn't be brought up at the – ?

SC     No, except very indirectly.

POM     Part of the problem is you at the head of the table.

SC     Nobody has actually said that ever but we first had an executive meeting where this more or less wasn't said. Where did we get to? Oh yes, so we had that and then we decided we would have to have an analysis by experts to tell us what went wrong so we roped in Schrire and Willie Breytenbach, you know Robert Schrire from UCT, Willie Breytenbach from Stellenbosch, and they did a study for us. We had a National Caucus meeting at a remote spot on the west coast and they gave us feedback and Schrire said an interesting thing. He wrote a rather clever article in Leadership about Mbeki's presidential style and how we should worry about it.

POM     Is that some time ago?

SC     Mm, last year.

POM     OK, I must have it then some place. I find it very difficult to get Leadership when I go into a bookstore.

SC     It probably only gets sent to people, probably subscription.

POM     Yes, I continually look for it but never find it.

SC     Anyway in his analysis they all said we had a problem and the leadership was a problem but it was disposed of in half a sentence, quickly, but never identified, never given a name or a shape, just that there was a problem with leadership. Robert Schrire did an interesting focus group situation with a lot of black people involved, coloured, a good ethnic spread, representative spread, and he put anonymously those policies on the table and our policies got the most support. Then it was revealed who they were, the parties standing behind the policies, and the reaction among just about all the people present was, no, nothing would make us vote for them, to hell with their policies. Now that says a lot about the reputation – I mean this is black and coloured people, about what our problem is, and he said, I chatted to him afterwards, he thinks we ought to disappear into some other party or structure and I think we should too basically. I think our time has come to exit. But I said that to you last time, I said we've got a valuable constituency and we should try and take it somewhere where it can play a decent role in a multi-party democracy because it's just going to wither and die because the Truth Commission has more or less killed it off. I think I said that to you last time and my golden words may have gone off into the void.

POM     As did your very candid observations on many other things. You were in a good mood that day, in a good mood for revelations.

SC     Alas lost, I can't remember what they were.

POM     But in a way has the DP in winning the battle, positioning themselves, so to speak, to losing the war, that is their slogan was perceived by many of 'Fighting Back', it kind of subliminally – ?

SC     Well maybe other battles ahead. I think it's too soon to say they lost the war.

POM     Have they narrowed their base that they now will consolidate the white vote at your expense?

SC     I think they've actually done, or managed, what we set out to do in a way although perhaps at this stage on a small scale and that is to garner the white, coloured and Indian vote and as many blacks as possible. That was the declared aim of FW de Klerk and even Roelf Meyer. The growth was aimed at blacks obviously because we felt more or less that the coloureds, whites and Indians could be kept together if we went in the right direction and had the right leadership. If you look at our black support, you know we got 500,000 odd estimated black voters with FW in 1994?

POM     That would be African?

SC     Blacks, African black yes, and they've dropped to 33,000 – estimated. That was another figure that was given to us at the think tank with the professors. Now that's quite a drop. Now I looked at the various results coming through from the black areas, Soweto, Tembisa and so on. If we got eight votes in a polling station the DP would get 16 or 24 or maybe a few more, that's in the African blacks. They trumped us at every black polling station without exception. Look it's very small but it's certainly more than us and they beat us in every coloured voting station in Gauteng except one, Eldorado Park, which is my area, but the ANC won it overall; we got somewhat more votes than the DP. Every Indian area they beat us at least two if not three to one and in the white areas ten to one. It varies over the Gauteng province, the DP beat us between three to one and ten to one. That tells a story. Our propaganda is that they are becoming a white party, it's actually not true, they are really a white base with forging more support among all minorities, ethnic minorities plus they've certainly got more blacks than we have. They have a growing black support base.

POM     Now when you looked at the black voter, or particularly the African voter, that would either be voting for you or the DP, would that be the African middle class who had moved into industry or whatever?

SC     Banks, yes.

POM     Who were living outside of Soweto and outside of the townships who were more integrated into – ?

SC     No, no, it's the nurses, the teachers, those sorts of people. It's quite clear from all the surveys done which blacks voted for us and the DP, they are the lower middle classes.

POM     The lower middle classes?

SC     Yes. It's the teachers, the nurses, the bank clerks, those are the people with fairly respectable incomes, God-fearing. The profile is just like the white profile actually.

POM     Your votes are now the lower middle class?

SC     All the surveys show, Lawrence Schlemmer, Schrire, Breytenbach, our support base is actually socio-economically more or less the same throughout the ethnic groups and this is more or less true for the DP in terms of their black support but it's also those sort of people who are fed up with government promises not being fulfilled, who are educated up to a certain level. They are literate people but they're not the elite, they're not the ones living in white suburbs who are ANC empowerment people. They're the ANC elite group.

POM     The NP elite? Sorry, you said they're the NP?

SC     No the ANC. The blacks living in the white areas who have empowered themselves further are elite and they'd all support the ANC. Very few would not, maybe one or two would support the DP but they wouldn't support us.

POM     The Freedom Front lost almost its entire base of support to the DP too and they have commissioned a study to find out why that is so but I think they know the answer, what the answer is. The UDM didn't do quite as well as had been expected.

SC     Well most people said quite well.

POM     Did it do well given the circumstances under which it came into being and given the fact that it wasn't eligible for any government funding?

SC     I think it did quite well. It's got half as many members as we have. It did well where Bantu Holomisa has his power base in the Eastern Cape. They are the official opposition down there. In terms of white support I don't think they did very well. I mean the whites who are in parliament got there on the backs of the black voters in the Eastern Cape because they had a national list so they could do that.

POM     Is there an anomaly of sorts going on that the Eastern Cape, if one looks at the Eastern Cape, it's on the verge of collapse. I think the Department of Agriculture has declared itself bankrupt and has said we're going out of business, we've simply no more cash and huge numbers of ghost civil servants and ghost pensioners.

SC     And ghost tractor drivers. They've got 54 – I heard they had 54 tractor drivers on the pay roll and they actually need 13, somebody was saying. The Department of Agriculture you mentioned, well that's one of the reasons why I suppose.

POM     But in one sense that civil service would have been the creation of that regime?

SC     Indeed. That's why they like him.

POM     And now he's benefiting from the incompetencies of the very civil service that he set up.

SC     Also they do remember how he got them all promoted to higher salaries and they hope that he will do it again, I suppose, if he takes over. It's a very odd thing isn't it. It's a populist province. A good percentage there translates into a lot of votes nationally.

POM     But when you look, you talked about policies, when you look at the policies now of the ANC which appears to have moved even more to the centre than it was before, and yourselves and the DP, taking that as the major block of three major parties, and Inkatha?

SC     Inkatha, it's also a provincial party but in a populist province.

POM     What are the sharp ideological policy differences that differentiate you at this point or is it really a matter, when one gets down to it, still of colour? Black Africans are going to vote for the ANC, period, and are going to do that for a considerable period of time and it will take a considerable period of time for white parties to break significantly into African strongholds.

SC     Facts of life, yes.

POM     You may have the best policies, but just as the Africans said, you may have the best policies in the world with which they agree but they're just simply not going to vote for you.

SC     Especially not us.

POM     Given your association with the past it'll continue for maybe a generation.

SC     I can't disagree with what you've said. I do think that there's room for a party, if we can get it together, that has relevance across the board, because if you look at the components of the opposition parties one has real relevance to blacks, to Africans, the UDM, to a degree and they're really nice people. I mean the black guys in the UDM are really nice. They're very sympathetic characters that one's had the opportunity of getting to know in the last three or four months. We're very much coloured-based, the DP are very much white based and I think there could be a meeting.

POM     A coalition of interests?

SC     Well yes, a coalition of interests. I think that's the most we can hope for, and a black leader in the end. The trouble is does it have to be Bantu? Maybe one will have to have for a few years – if we could only get it together. That must be a sensible line up.

POM     I think I read that some place just this week or last week that one pundit quotes, saying that before any truly viable opposition can emerge the opposition must have a credible black leader and that's what it lacks, even Bantu has a question mark beside him. Who is he really beyond what he did in the Transkei?

SC     But he's clever, he really is a clever chap.

POM     Oh yes. Charming.

SC     And he's charming. He's got a sense of humour which I like, a bit wicked. Maybe you have to be wicked to be a leader and what I like about him, he hates the ANC with a hatred which is good. If you want to be effective opposition you've really got to be motivated which he really seems to be. He sits across the aisle from me in parliament and he's full of the size of the ANC scandal, which is great. He seems to know a lot of inside stories. He picks up hints and guesses about things, he doesn't have enough information to go public.

POM     He probably has his old intelligence service from the old days still working.

SC     I wouldn't be surprised. He obviously has one or two pals there.

POM     Let me go back to the basic question I would like you to address and that is you've seen this concentration of, expansion of the presidency, of the President's Office. It's normal in every kind of mature democracy that the President's Office or the Prime Minister's Office always becomes enlarged and starts –

SC     It's not only the size, it's the style that bugs me.

POM     OK. That's one. You have the President saying, "I'll only turn up to parliament once a month for parliamentary questions."

SC     He hasn't said that at all. It's quite unclear if he's ever going to show up. We are suggesting, and it was my suggestion – did you see that Farouk Chosia(?)article about his ministers hide behind the fact that he's not there when they get delegated questions?

POM     Yes, I saw the exchange with Penuell Maduna.

SC     Exactly, and I said to Chosia that there ought to be some sort of arrangement that he comes once a month. Farouk Chosia who did that article in Business Day.

POM     Then you have this huge majority that the ANC itself has in parliament. You've got control of most of the Portfolio Committees by ANC. You had a report by, I think, Professor Corder at UCT saying that ministers appear less and less before parliament to be accountable. Given that portfolio committees are now headed by ANC and with the party system you're not about to haul a minister before you and grill him, it doesn't exactly promote your chances of advancing your career in the party. You've increasing emphasis on non-dissent, i.e. not making any statements that might bring the party into disrepute, a stricter meaning of what it means not to bring the party into disrepute. You had this case recently of the councillor in the Johannesburg area who for participating in a march against Egoli 2002 was suspended from all his structures. So you have all the major elements of legislation regarding transformation were passed between 1994 and 1999 with just the Open Democracy Bill and the Equality Bill and I think two other pieces of legislation that have to be passed before February.

SC     And Administrative Justice.

POM     What is there for you to do? What function does parliament now play?

SC     Well it's implementation. All these things are passed but they don't get implemented. There are all sorts of things.

POM     But implementation is an executive function not a parliamentary one.

SC     Yes. I think our accountability function is quite important, that they must come and tell us why they are not performing properly. It's interesting, it's being mentioned more and more by ANC chairpersons of committees as well, the accountability, the oversight function of parliament. The Speaker, who probably realises she's never going into the Cabinet now and she's heading for retirement after these five years, is getting quite vociferous about parliament's oversight function and how important it is and so I do think it is a role. We've got to cling to it and insist on it. It's very difficult. It doesn't bode well all the things you're talking about. The transformation legislation I've got no problem with it, I just think we've got to get it working and there are no funds to pull this very high class, first world legislation –

     POM     This is a continuation of my conversation with Sheila Camerer on 11th November 1999 in Cape Town.

SC     And he's a clever guy but he just doesn't go down as a leader. He's got no charisma and people don't – he can say the best things in the world but they don't take … because it comes from him.

POM     This would be particularly true in a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on charisma. In fact one of the questions I put to Niel Barnard was why did they choose to make their initial approach to Mandela, who at that point occupied no official position in the ANC, rather than through conduits to Oliver Tambo? In essence he said their analysis was that while Oliver Tambo was undoubtedly a leader of first rate quality, that when he emerged from prison Mandela would become, would assume the key leadership role because he had the charisma.

SC     Well he was officially number two wasn't he?

POM     Unofficially yes.

SC     Unofficially, OK.

POM     But again he put more emphasis on the charisma and the way the person could project the presence of power which is, again I've been told, the reason why many Afrikaners in places like Ventersdorp voted for a little Jewish boy because he was up there slugging it out with the enemy.

SC     It's absolutely true. You see we have this new policy of constructive engagement to try and distinguish us from the DP which means we wag our fingers when we're dissatisfied but we give credit when we're happy, sort of fulsomely and so on, and nobody can quite get their minds around this position.

POM     Surely that's in a sense a further perpetuation of a formula that you become invisible.

SC     Too true. Look that was our policy in the GNU and that's when we began to slide. Now I think we should have stayed in the GNU because I think that was our role. We should have done an Inkatha and carried on vaguely. If De Klerk had been able to manage that correctly we could have kept that going because I think Mbeki would actually like to have a white-based party in an on-board position in order to show that he's got the broad space that he needs for the investor community rather than just another black African heading for African potentateship and disaster eventually, which is what they all in their deepest thoughts think. I've just been to the States again for a week and stayed a couple of nights with old pals there and in their Wall Street kind of offices that's what they really think at the end even if they are as liberal as anything, fund the Democratic Party and like South Africa.

POM     And they still won't invest here?

SC     Well they'd like to but we have to take our chances with everyone else and they would rather do good work here maybe that will help things along maybe. They don't have confidence when it comes to the push.

POM     Confidence in?

SC     In the fact that this is going to be a viable economy, that it isn't going to be bled dry by some crazy Mugabe type of person and all the whites will flee, i.e. the skills base will flee because of crime, etc. They're not convinced yet that we're going to be a success.

POM     The data – there was some report that estimated that the real rate of emigration among whites is about three times above the official, the reported figures.

SC     I'm sure it is. I don't know if my kids are regarded as – I've got two out of three out of the country. They come back every Christmas for holidays and they visit but they're all working abroad. I don't know if they're regarded as emigrants or not. I don't think they've ever emigrated, no.

POM     Are they working in the UK?

SC     One's in New York and one's in Paris – going to the UK.

POM     So Lala is the only one here?

SC     Sadly. She looks after us. The other two would dearly love to come back, they can't wait to come back and they mean to come back but they don't come back because they don't earn anything remotely like what – I mean they couldn't earn here what they earn there, and people in their late twenties, early thirties in good jobs in a bigger place would be much more fun. It's very tempting isn't it?

POM     If you're not a woman, if you're white, and you probably stand a better chance if you're a white woman, just part of being on Mbeki's agenda of who are the disadvantaged, but generally if you're white and you're coming out of school with a degree, a Masters degree or whatever and you look around at the accelerated rate of transformation, the fact of the matter is your chances of moving up the ladder either rapidly or to the top are quite slim.

SC     You have to be super bright I suppose. Both my son and my son-in-law who live abroad say they wouldn't want to come back as an employee, they want to come back when they've got the experience and they've put the money aside to be entrepreneurs. Well that's a good thing.

POM     I was asking that of somebody last night. There's a funny thing happening that on the one hand you hear this constant rhetoric about the need for black empowerment and blacks to get into business, particularly Africans. On the other hand they are going into the public sector which in a sense is non-entrepreneurial and non-risk taking and the whites who are dropping out of the public sector and coming out of universities and looking at the future are saying our only prospects here are if we go into business for ourselves. So in fact Afrikaners are becoming the entrepreneurial class whereas before they were the state class.

SC     The ANC is doing a re-run of what the old Broederbond did.

POM     They've got this Deployment Committee which places people.

SC     In key positions all over.

POM     In key positions in different sectors. So is there anything in terms conceptually, not in terms of what objectives were, but anything conceptually different from what the ANC is doing now from what the NP did in 1948?

SC     Well they didn't get going really till the fifties and sixties, late fifties and sixties. It seems the same. From my perspective as an English speaking South African who grew up in opposition politics and heard endlessly about the wicked Nats and how they were empowering themselves and booting out the English speaking civil servants, it sounds like the same.

POM     Why have the English speaking white 'liberals' become the new enemy, the target of ANC invective?

SC     It's quite interesting isn't it? I've thought about it. I suppose because they're white and elite and they stand away from the problem. I don't know what it is. What answers have you got? I'm puzzled about it. Undeserved.

POM     I spent an hour and a half with William Makgoba the other day and to most of the statements I would make he would say, "Yes, I agree, your analysis is correct", but I forgot what I said so I had to replay the tape. But this whole thing of there are Eurocentric values and there are African values, do you understand the difference when they talk, black elites, particularly intellectuals talk about the difference between imposed Eurocentric values and African values, what they are actually talking about? What an African value is as distinct from a Eurocentric value?

SC     I think a lot of it is politicking except I don't think the more moderate ANC supporter really agrees with that. I think it's more of a radical stance of a more radical position on the ANC side because really in the end Mbeki and Helen Suzman probably have quite a lot in common in their basic approach to things except when he's in his Africanist mode playing to that particular gallery. Yes, it's something I need to think about more because it worries me and it puzzles me and it's silly in a way but I have noticed the new whipping boy is Tony Leon and the ANC lap up Louis Luyt. They lap him up, old Louis Luyt who is a most improbable sort of person for them to like taking his past into consideration. I think what they like is that he's very African in a sense although he's a big white Boer.

POM     He's very?

SC     African. I mean he could never be from anywhere else, or South African I should say, and he's large and he's forceful and he's actually playing it very well here but he's cussed. He actually stands up for himself. I think they just like large kind of powerful personalities and they like him. They give him speaking time that he shouldn't have and they put him on committees he shouldn't be on, or commissions, and they clap him every now and then when he speaks, remarkably. You never hear a word, not a sound of a clap, for any white English speaking liberal in whatever party.

POM     That's very interesting.

SC     But they lap up Louis. He's their new General Viljoen I think. Viljoen's discredited, now they've got Louis that they can adopt.

POM     Did the Freedom Front – is that too on its way to oblivion?

SC     It must be on it's way. I think it's finished, especially when there are only three of them left fighting among themselves in a ridiculous way. I don't know if you've finished with me but I've got a problem this morning. I have to have a meeting with the leader at ten and it's ten.

POM     OK. I'll go back to one last question. Is parliament losing it's relevancy?

SC     I think it's in danger of losing it in terms of the ministers', the executives', respect for it. But I do think there are countermeasures being adopted and the committee system is working very well still.

     If you want to fit me in for another time you're welcome. OK?

POM     I will do that. Good luck.

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.