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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

15 Nov 1999: Van Schalkwyk, Marthinus

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POM     Let me first ask you about the obvious, the New National Party's rather poor showing in the elections in June of this year, to what do you attribute your decline and was it as precipitous as you had anticipated and how do you see yourself making your way out of the situation you're now in?

MVS     Our analysis is three reasons or broad categories of reasons. The first one is that in specifically the white community, which is part of our support base, there is a long frustration about the negotiations and it was a protest vote from specifically white South Africans about how they perceived the NP, how the then NP handled the negotiations.

POM     Could you elaborate a little bit on that later on?

MVS     Yes, they were angry because they felt that they were sold out, that the negotiations weren't handled very well, that minority rights, notwithstanding all the promises of checks and balances, did not materialise properly, that the language issue was not well handled, and especially Afrikaans speaking whites felt angry about that and how that resulted in the education system.

     The second reason, without any doubt, there was a withdrawal to some extent from the minority groups from the political process. The most recent statistics, that's about a week or two old, show that 88% of black South Africans voted, whites only 71%, coloureds 65%, Indians 59%. So that was a major, major factor in the election and that is a danger signal for all parties relying to some extent on support from the three minority communities.

     Then a third one which is also a very important one, it links up with the first one, specifically the alienation in the white community found expression in definitely a feeling that some whites would like to go back to the laager and what was on offer in the election from opposition ranks was basically our approach of a more constructive opposition approach, we would like to make the country work. Yes, we differ with the ANC politically but we understand the need that we must make SA work. What was also on offer was the DP's approach which focused in on that anger and frustration and actually said to whites you whites must start to fight back. And the message was actually a racial one and that was a very familiar message for many white South Africans and that is how we analyse the three reasons.

POM     I remember talking to General Viljoen and he was still in some shock over the fact that he had lost the bulk of his support to the DP and he too attributed it to this 'fight back' mentality, it didn't quite say what fighting back was but it touched emotional chords that found resonation with people. There were two other factors in talking with some people who are associated with the NP that were brought up and one was the leadership factor and that you were not perceived to be a strong leader or a visible leader whereas Tony Leon was perceived to be gutsy, tough, out there slugging it out and that South Africans like that kind of leadership. The second, which probably refers more to something I would like to get into with you in more depth, is that I understand that you had an analysis carried out as to why the party did as poorly as it did and that in the course of that a number of focus groups were carried out and that African participants were presented with different policy options in a number of areas and asked which one they most identified with and for the most part they identified with policies of the NP and then they were told afterwards whose policies they had chosen and their response was, well we have identified with their policies but we're not going to vote for the party.

     First the leadership factor and then secondly this whole question of attempting to break into the African vote and that in the context of your strategy: do you develop a strategy where you try to take back what was taken from you by the DP, therefore ultimately talking about a closed box of voters, or do you say if we are in the longer run to go anywhere we must break out of that box and that's more important than saying we must go back after the DP and get our voters back from them? A long kind of convoluted question.

MVS     First on the leadership issue. In terms of style, yes, for many people it was a substantial difference because up to now leaders of the NP were Prime Ministers and Presidents. I'm the first one in decades who has not been a Prime Minister or a President and for many people in their minds that was an adjustment to make. With regard to leadership style, it's the easiest thing for a white South African to have the style of the DP. Tony Leon's style is the PW Botha, Hans Strydom style all over again, so there is nothing new in that style and certainly over the short term it worked for the DP. Over the medium and longer term I felt that I had a responsibility not to lead whites into that cul-de-sac and it is a cul-de-sac because the short term success that the DP had it can hold for three, four years and what then? Because you cannot make whites angry and exploit their racial fears and then think at what point in the future you will take them into the new SA. And the DP is a repeat of what we had with the Conservative Party in the eighties. In the eighties the CP had tremendous successes against us and there was one stage where in large parts of the country we could not win an election against the CP, but that kind of exploitation of racial fears can only hold for so long. The difference is that the DP is just much more sophisticated than what the old CP was, they're not that crude and they don't put it in the context of volkstaat policies but the fears, the exploitation of the fears, is exactly the same.

POM     Just before you finish that point, do you think that they used such an emotive slogan, 'Fight Back', which to an African would mean vote for the old days, who were they fighting back against? Were they fighting back against us because we've now got rights we didn't enjoy before? Will it make it more difficult for them in the future to attract African votes so that by winning in the short term, they won the battle, but they're on their way to losing the war unless they totally redefine what their strategy is?

MVS     I think their short term success was also their downfall over the medium and longer term, just as it was with the CP and other right wing parties, because the compromises that they had to make actually destroyed the soul of the DP. The kind of people that they now have with them are definitely not liberal and attracting those kinds of conservative and right wing people into the DP you cannot say to them, well you voted for us but now we close the door in your face. Many of them are now members of parliament, they are becoming provincial leaders, so that is what they will become.

     That leads me to the second question: are we going into a life and death fight with the DP to only win back that white support? We are not going to move one inch to the right to win back that support. We've positioned ourselves, we're in the centre, we are a party of constructive opposition, we want to make SA work and we believe that's the medium and longer term route to take.

     On the issue of the focus groups, yes, that incident is true and that would have happened with any other non-ANC party because people should understand about the ANC, it's not a normal political party, it's the liberation movement of black South Africans. So even if black South Africans may differ with some policies of the ANC, emotionally they still belong to the ANC, by far the majority of black South Africans, and it is an understandable phenomenon. And in Africa it's normally between the second and third election that the liberation movements start to show some cracks, when they start to lose their support, and it's quite clear that in the ANC that process is under way. How long will it take? None of us will know but we will only see real realignment in SA politics once that ANC hegemony starts to break up. Nothing that any one of the opposition parties can do will break up the ANC. That's the fallacy that a number of opposition parties believe in. Our role will be to make sure that we play that role of opposition, we are different voices, but the real realignment will only start once the ANC starts to break up and that will take a number of years.

POM     I read two weeks ago the article in the Mail & Guardian, in fact it was the product of some DP research, they laid out the various statements of ANC policy documents, setting up the Redeployment Committee, putting ANC people in key sectors of society, establishing a greater degree of hegemony over all of SA rather than just in the political sense. Is that, I know this is past your generation, but reminiscent in any way of what the NP set out to do in 1948? Do you have here the irony of the oppressed imitating the tactics and techniques of the oppressor, that you spread your tentacles out into every sector of society and bring every sector of society under control? It's kind of a Broederbond of the ANC in the same way that it was the Broederbond of Nationalists. Do you see not parallels in objectives, but parallels in the methods they're using?

MVS     Definitely. I've said many a time that the present ANC looks more and more like the old NP by the day and as you probably know in revolutionary analysis many people argue that very often revolutionary organisations take on many of the characteristics of those that they initially fight. I believe it's happening to the ANC. I agree that a very dominant school of thought in the ANC would like to control all facets of life and there are many examples of those, the judiciary, the appointment of the Super Attorney General, the National Prosecutor, the Reserve Bank President, one can go on and on, the list is extremely long. It also establishes itself in the leadership style in the ANC. The first President was a charismatic, father of the nation, normal kind of President after liberation. The second one is one with all his hands on the levers of power and he would like to have all his hands on the levers of power. So I believe it's true, the ANC is becoming that kind of organisation.

POM     Do you think the ANC is committed to democracy, one; two, committed to multiparty democracy or that, as it will do, raise the argument - we can't tell the people how to vote, if they want to vote for us they will vote for us and when they stop voting for us well then that's their choice, that the analogy might be between the ANC as it is today and say the Congress Party in India which was in power for more than 40 years before all the cracks shattered it and now you've a government of 24 coalition parties? What route do you see, people confidently say the ANC will come apart at the seams but it's an assumption. When you look for the hard evidence to back it up where is the hard evidence as distinct from it being a wish that one day this will happen because it has to happen because they are too broad a church, because they can't keep everybody in the church and therefore there will be a schism. They've managed very well since 1910 to keep all these diverse elements within the same tent, church, whatever you want to call it.

MVS     The glue is still very strong. People are talking about the cracks starting to appear, oh yes there are cracks but a split in the ANC is not going to appear within the next year or two, it's going to take a little bit longer than that and none of us can really predict along which fault lines it will happen. Some people say it will happen between the trade unions and the more moderate element. I also say there's no hard evidence yet of that. There is tension, oh yes, but a real split? Not yet. Other people would argue that it will be along the lines of ethnic tension building up, that at one stage if we see stronger Premiers (in the provinces) coming to the fore that is where the problems will start. That is why Terror Lekota was redeployed here, that is why Mbeki got rid of Matthews Phosa because he was aware of those dangers. None of us know. Ideologically they are not a happy bunch. That's quite clear but the glue is still too strong there and the glue of power is an immensely strong glue. I also don't see a split appearing within the next year or two.

POM     But you would say that it will happen by the time of the next election?

MVS     A dramatic split by 2004? As I said, in Africa it's normally between the second and third elections. A dramatic split in the ANC before 2004, that's difficult to predict now. I cannot predict that but smaller splits, that's a possibility. What is definitely a factor in our circumstances is the electoral system. If we continue with the present electoral system of simple PR I think that minimises any possibility of splits. If we look at reforming the electoral system, and that's a debate now, should we go for a mixed system like in Germany, half constituencies, half PR? That may change the dynamics but if we continue with the present electoral system it gives the ANC a lot of stranglehold on the process.

POM     If you look at developments over the last 18 months, beginning maybe with Lekota where the NEC decided that he should be redeployed and then the decision that Premiers in ANC controlled provinces should be appointed not elected, that centralisation of power in the President's Office, contracts of DGs would be with the President's Office not with individual ministers, the refusal of the President to come to parliament to answer parliamentary questions, the fact that most portfolio committees are now chaired by ANC MPs who are unwilling or unlikely to take on their ministers since it's a party system, it's not exactly a way to advance your career to take your minister to pieces in a public meeting. If you look at, in the paper in the weekend, they're going to lay down regulations about what the schoolchildren should eat, when they should be able to start school, and there is a whole list of things that impinge in certain ways on what one would think are people's rights. Is it moving towards a kind of benign dictatorship, as maybe all dictatorships begin, that in order to get things done and to speed up the process and accelerate change we must have our hands on all the levels of power and if that means trimming the edges of democracy well that's the price we must pay? Is it moving in that direction or is it moving, among those to whom you speak, in the direction of saying in the longer run there will be a multiparty democracy and what the minority parties must do is hang in there until we develop to that point where different constituencies have different interests and we start coalescing along different lines?

MVS     I think the second one will happen, that's my personal analysis. I think there are no signs to support, no evidence to support an analysis that I know some other parties have that we are moving towards a benign dictatorship. I think that's too strong, there's no evidence to support that yet although of course there are worrying signs: the centralisation of power definitely; that they don't like parties and people differing with them, definitely that's all there. I doubt that they will ever endeavour to tinker with the constitution, to put at risk the basic building blocks of democracy. That I don't think they will ever attempt to do but that as a majority party they would like within the rules to try to consolidate their power, do everything that they can, absolutely I believe that is what they will do. But I don't see signs of benign dictatorship but I see worrying signs of a party which is too strong and within the rules starts to abuse that position.

POM     Coming back for a minute to the New National Party, if one were to ask the man in the street, that mythical figure, what the NNP was do you think he or she would be able to answer that? Do you have a defined identity so that in a single sentence a person can say the NNP is or are you still in a state of flux, working out your identity?

MVS     No not at all. I would hope that people will say this is a party that would like to make SA work and I think people would add that it is a party of minorities, that is a reality.

POM     But you're not seen as that. In other words the perception is that you carry the baggage of the past, you still carry the baggage of apartheid and we can hardly go through a parliamentary debate where the word 'apartheid', 'legacy of apartheid' doesn't crop up once, twice, it's like a mantra in the ANC that to keep harping on the legacy of apartheid as long as they can and in some way to throw that around your necks and try to make you drown in it.

MVS     Yes. The question is not what the ANC will say about it. The question is how will people out there react to it and the majority of people who voted for us in two elections now are not white. It's they who count so very obviously they did not allow themselves to be won over by that argument and the ANC will do everything to discredit all opposition parties. The argument of remnants of apartheid, of right wing, is more around the DP's necks nowadays than it is around our necks if you listen to all the parliamentary debates. I am convinced we have succeeded in positioning ourselves as more of a party of the new SA than the DP, for instance, and also if you look at the UDM, they've tried to launch a new party with the promise that they're going to be a massive party challenging the ANC. They did not succeed. So the arguments against any one of the opposition parties and that we are a party of apartheid, I don't think that is very serious, that doesn't take away votes. Black South Africans are going to vote for the ANC in the foreseeable future no matter what is on offer from the side of the opposition and that is what I think a lot of people misunderstand. You can take in theory the best recipe, it's not going to work because the emotions of black South Africans are with the ANC for the foreseeable future. That is just the reality.

POM     I had asked people to interpret the elections and they come up with all kinds of interpretations, but I had written an article before the elections for a Boston paper saying this election would be about race, that blacks would vote ANC and whites will vote and it really is, just boil it down to what it's really about, that's what it's about. Just echoing what you're saying is that blacks, Africans at least, are not going to vote for any white party in significant numbers in the foreseeable future.

MVS     Not only that, they're not going to vote in significant numbers for any other opposition party. The UDM is not a white party. The UDM took the most popular leader in the ANC, Holomisa got the most votes in the NEC election, they formed a new party without any history or so-called baggage. They ended up with what was it, two comma something percent. So it's not not voting for white parties, it's not voting for any opposition party, it's voting for the ANC because that still is their liberation movement.

POM     When you talk about constructive opposition what do you mean by that?

MVS     We mean by that that the British style confrontational opposition approach cannot work in a country where one has eleven different languages and a multitude of ethnic groups because the moment one follows that approach it is seen as almost a declaration of war and in such heterogeneous societies the style should be, yes we have political differences, we put those political differences on the table, but the over-arching goal is to make sure that we get the country in working order. Especially from parties who rely on minority support to think that one can ever succeed over the longer term with confrontational approach versus constructive approach, we cannot see that that has any long term benefits whatsoever. Over the short term one can mobilise supporters from minority groups by exploiting their frustration and anger because over the medium term even those voters from minority groups will have to realise that they cannot achieve anything with that approach. If they want to be part of the mainstream they will have to be players in the mainstream and that is where I think it will be very interesting to see where the DP is in five to seven years time from now on because they are going to do nothing for those whites who voted for them. Quite the opposite, they are going to get more and more isolated as time goes by.

POM     Three quick questions. One is if tomorrow morning the ANC, President Mbeki, were to come to you and say I want to have a more inclusive cabinet, I don't think it's good for the country, for the development of democracy or whatever, to have an entirely ANC cabinet and I am prepared to offer your party a cabinet position or two, could you entertain that notion or would you reject it out of hand?

MVS     We will not reject it out of hand because we believe in inclusive government. Here in the Western Cape where we are in the majority we offered the ANC positions in the Western Cape cabinet after the election. They turned it down because they believed it wasn't enough. But where we are in the majority we showed that we are willing to do it even if we were not offered that at national level. I doubt that Mbeki will do it because inclusive government is not part of the ANC's philosophy.

POM     But if he were to?

MVS     If he were to it will depend on exactly what he put on the table. If it's only window dressing, if there is not really an opportunity to influence decisions then we will turn it down of course, but if there is a possibility that it is really inclusive, a possibility of influencing decisions, oh yes, we will definitely entertain that and consider it.

POM     So if you put the policies of the ANC, the NNP and the DP on the table, are there any substantive differences between you now or is the debate about how those policies are implemented rather than the nature of the policies themselves?

MVS     The ANC has moved considerably to the centre over the last five years. In terms of economic policy they are becoming a very modern social democratic party. Four or five years ago they were really an old-style socialist party. So they've moved considerably to the centre. We have moved to the centre. On paper the DP is also in the centre. In practice the DP is moving away from the centre to the right but on paper the ANC, the NNP, the DP are not that far apart.

POM     And the UDM?

MVS     And the UDM as well. The UDM is difficult because they don't have comprehensive policies. They don't have really a policy document where you can say this is their economic policy. They don't have that kind of thing. Just look at economic policy, for instance, broadly speaking the ANC has taken over our normative economic model, what a bad name it was, and that's the new economic policy. They're still not quite there, their labour market policies are still too rigid but there is also a movement there. On affirmative action we differ, there are smaller differences but it's true, we've moved closer to each other but we are not at the exact point all of us yet.

POM     This is a question which you can choose to answer or not to answer. It refers to the findings of the TRC.

MVS     Yes I'll answer that.

POM     Let me give a hypothetical situation that if you had been a secretary taking minutes at SSC meetings during the eighties or whatever and in the course of the discussions among members of the SSC phrases such as 'wipe out', 'take out', 'eliminate', 'remove permanently from society' were occurring in the conversation and you were writing these words down, what would you think that the people were talking about when they were using phrases like that?

MVS     I have said it before, so there's nothing new in me saying it, I believe many of the political leaders of that time did not stand up and shoulder their responsibility. There are some exceptions, people like Vlok and Magnus Malan are good examples where they accepted full responsibility for their decisions, well not full but in many instances they did. I believe that people on all sides of the divide, leaders, political leaders in the then NP and the ANC, did not take their responsibility before the TRC that they should have taken. They should have taken full responsibility and they did not and I believe they let down many, many people who simply executed all these instructions. I've said it before, it's not new.

POM     I know what you're saying but you're still not answering the question. You're taking down the words 'eliminate', 'wipe out', 'destroy', what do those words convey to you if you were sitting there writing them down? Sean and I are having a discussion and I'm saying this person or people in this organisation should be eliminated.

MVS     That is difficult for me to say because I can't recall that the words 'wipe out' were ever used. I recall words were used such as 'remove from society', etc., so that's open for interpretation and I think that's exactly where the problem lies, that nobody can really say 100% what that meant. But to say for political leaders at that stage that they didn't know what was going on, I take it with a pinch of salt, I really do.

POM     The last question is if you accept that for the foreseeable future Africans in particular are going to vote African, and that's not going to change for reasons we've indicated, how then do you increase your share of the electoral vote in, say, the next election or whatever or local government elections or whatever? If you can't break into that are you not forced back to compete against the DP in some way?

MVS     We believe that the way to do it in a heterogeneous society is to go for the alliance model and to start building alliances with parties who can make that kind of breakthrough. We don't believe that it is possible to build a new party that will be successful in drawing votes from whites, blacks, coloureds and Indians. The way to do it is to build alliances where parties accept that they have different support bases and that is the talks that we now have with the other political parties to see if we can start building some kind of opposition alliance. What has actually happened in the 1999 elections is that race played a much stronger role than it did in 1994, a much stronger role, and that is why we believe we must attempt building alliances where parties service their support bases and I hope we're going to be successful for the municipal elections.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much.

MVS     It's a pleasure.

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.