About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Nov 1999: De Klerk, FW

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POM     Mr de Klerk let me perhaps begin with – I meant to bring your autobiography with me because, first of all, you would be pleased to see that I at least have gone through it page by page and every page is marked and underlined. I'm going to drop it off at the office before I go so that you can sign it. OK?

FDK     I will do that.

POM     When you began this process in 1990 with the release of Mr Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC and 17 other organisations and with the negotiations at CODESA and then at the Multi-Party Forum, is the South Africa that is emerging the South Africa that you envisaged or is it something different?

FDK     By and large from a legal point of view, from a constitutional point of view, it is the SA that we had envisaged. What were the major issues which were important to us, that we have a good Bill of Rights, that there will be limitation of powers, which we never had, the Westminster system does not have the same limitation of powers that a constitutional state has, it is a 'regsstaat' constitutional state in which the constitution is the highest law in which decisions can be overthrown. By and large the constitution reflects most of our serious concerns and we have succeeded in getting them in, and as I describe in my autobiography, although it has quite a number of imperfections from our vantage point, we found it possible to vote for it because it is essentially a fairly well balanced and good constitution. We have always envisaged, from 1986, a SA with one person one vote. In that sense this is what we have. We envisaged a multi-party democracy. We have a multi-party democracy. And so I could continue.

     The disappointments, therefore, lie not in the structures, with one exception. I would have liked to see, and that is why I left the government of national unity, more of a consensus seeking model at the executive level than we have. We have now a winner takes all model but structurally, with that one exception, on the basis of give and take the new SA looks very much like the one we envisaged, whereas it looks very much different than what the ANC envisaged when they started out with the negotiations. Their starting point was a centralised state with a constitution not negotiated but written by the majority after an election without the immutable principles which are contained in this, with much more limitation of power of the executives at various levels and of parliament than I think they ever envisaged.

     So once again I can say, by and large, yes. But let me use one example: we have a multi-party democracy but it's not very healthy.

POM     That leads me to my second question perhaps. If you analyse the actions of the ANC over the last 5½ years do you see it as a party that is truly committed to a multi-party democracy or one that pays really lip service to it with a shrug of the shoulders, saying, hey, if the people want to vote for us what can we do? We can't stop people voting the way they want to vote?

FDK     I think they are truly committed to a multi-party democracy on paper. At the same time they believe, and this becomes evident if one studies many speeches made by former President Mandela, they actually believe that their internal democracy is the real democracy and is almost sufficient democracy.

POM     That's democracy within the party structures?

FDK     Within the party structures, and their democracy with regard to how they take their decisions because they do consult very widely within their party before they take final decisions. There is this emotional approach towards democracy which militates actually against the typical image of democracy. So I would say that there's almost a contradiction in terms within the ANC on the issue of what is the best democracy. There is also an intolerance with typical western style opposition which becomes evident if one sits in parliament day in and day out. The typical sharp attack from the official opposition and other strong opposition parties is –

POM     The Westminster style.

FDK     - is quite often derided as disloyalty to the state, as a form of negativism which puts a question mark above the commitment of the persons making the political attacks, the commitment of such persons towards a better new SA. It is quite often interpreted, such typical opposition attacks, as putting stumbling blocks in the way of development and success. However, I believe that there is growth in this regard, that with the experience gained in participation in the parliamentary democracy, there is a greater understanding for the need for lively and sharp and focused debate in parliament.

POM     When I talk to some MPs now and ask them why they're there, what does parliament do, they have a difficult time coming up with an answer given the increased centralisation of power under President Mbeki, the fact that in their provinces all Premiers are appointed by the President or by the NEC, the fact that the DGs of departments are contracted to the President's Office and not with their respective ministers, the failure of the President even to come to parliament to answer parliamentary questions, the decreased efficiency of oversight committees which are mostly headed now by ANC members to take their ministers head on - like in the party the system is not the best way to advance one's career, to cross-examine your minister on the policies or how he's performing in office. There's less ministerial accountability to parliament according to a study just finished by the University of Cape Town. Given these tendencies towards democratic centralism and the fact that most of the major pieces of legislation affecting the transformation have been enacted, what function is there for parliament where the ANC enjoys such an overwhelming majority but to toe the party line?

FDK     I think much of what you have formulated is valid criticism. However, I don't think the problem lies in the system, the problem lies in the overwhelming majority. I don't think it's much different in any democracy where one party has such an overwhelming strength that you will get this type of thing happening. Even in the 50 years rule of the National Party when it was at its height in power I think much of the criticism could be levelled against us at that stage as well. So the solution to the problem lies in a realignment of South African politics, in stronger and more effective opposition parties, in the voters voting in different patterns and not in really changing the system. One comparison I can make, and that is I think throughout the NP's time the importance of parliament was always recognised in the sense of keeping parliament happy, of looking at your own power base with an overwhelming majority, making sure that your own MPs don't become too frustrated and allowing open discussions in caucus meetings and so on. But they were also expected to show a united front when it came to public debates and when it came to how you deal with ministers in Select Committees, etc. I think it's like that now with Tony Blair's majority in Great Britain. You only get successful strong parliamentary control when you don't have a ruling party with a comfortable or very strong majority in parliament.

POM     Some people believe that fragmentation in the ANC is inevitable, or put their hope in a viable multi-party democracy emerging from the broad church, so to speak, and then one of the smaller parties, the DP or the NNP would align themselves with one of the wings of the ANC, the moderate wing or whatever, but it's all predicated on the ANC breaking up in some way. On the other hand do you see in the foreseeable future any real prospect of either the DP or the NNP, and one would say in a very qualified way the UDM, making a significant breakthrough into the African vote?

FDK     Those are really two questions. Let me firstly say I think that some sort of split, whether it occurs with a big bang or whether it occurs in relays, in the ruling alliance is inevitable because you find together in that alliance people with totally different visions and totally different basic beliefs and totally different convictions about basic underlying principles. You find in that alliance true blue communists, hard line far left socialists, social democrats in terms of European definitions and fairly committed nowadays, committed and convinced free marketeers, supporters of free enterprise. So on the basis of conflicting values the tensions will I think become from time to time stronger. They are already there and now and then it flares up. However, I think we must expect that the leadership of the ANC will for as long as possible try to keep the alliance together so it's difficult to say when it will occur.

     Once again, learning from our own experience, it was inevitable that as the NP pursued the road of reform that its right wing will get restless, won't like the reform path and this is how it happened. In our case the splits occurred not just with a big bang, it was first Jaap Marais who broke away when Vorster became Prime Minister, and before that there were splits to the left because there were elements which felt that there should be more reform and sooner. Then as reform started there was the split of Jaap Marais and then for years, especially since Treurnicht entered politics, until 1982 when the split occurred and the Conservative Party was established, we went through a constant period of compromises to keep Treurnicht happy with his support base within the party and this delayed reform.

     I foresee the very same process now taking place. If we look at economic policy the ANC is pointed in the right direction, it's saying the right things and in many instances doing the right things. But the real pace of achieving the goals which have been set in the economic development plan is delayed by constant compromises, a step forward then a step sideways to keep this faction happy, then sometimes even a step backwards and this is not in the interests of the country. Somewhere along the line, as PW Botha and others had the guts, I then became part of it, of confronting those who became stumbling blocks in the way of what we decided to do and what needed to be done, somewhere along the line the moderate leadership of the ANC will also have to confront the stumbling blocks in their own power base with courage and face the reality of becoming a smaller party but a more motivated party and a party which can really do what it says it wants to do.

     So as far as the opposition parties are concerned, while I was still leader of the NP and even at the time when I was still Deputy President after the 1994 election, under my leadership the NP accepted the new vision and that is that SA needs a new political movement, needs to break out of its bold divisions and party political divisions, a new political movement based on shared principles, shared beliefs between moderates from all population groups. We said that we will, as the then strongest party, take the lead in promoting the birth of such a new movement and we believed it should be done along the route of a first phase, of much closer co-operation, with retention of identity of existing parties and bringing in also other organised groups who share the same principles, but not necessarily just political parties, into a broad alliance. We then said from that could grow a second phase where because of the success of such co-operation parties and participants in such a broad alliance might say, "We are prepared to dissolve ourselves and become part of a new greater whole." I believe that in opposition politics in SA the voters want to see something new, a new movement which reflects their concerns, which offers solutions for the problem of the moderate voter and which succeeds in breaking the mould of ethnic politics.

POM     Yet in the last election the results would rather affirm racial politics rather than say that the tendency was away from them. The ANC got a higher percentage of the vote than in 1994, they had the highest turnout among the African population at 88% I think. The competition wasn't between the ANC and the other parties, the competition was between the other parties for what would essentially be the white, coloured and Indian vote and there you had a shift from the NNP to the DP but in terms of African support I think the support of the NNP went from half a million in 1994 to a mere 33,000 or something.

FDK     I agree with your analysis. What has to be done hasn't been achieved notwithstanding this vision. The main reason was that the other opposition parties, namely the DP, saw its chance of going from almost a minuscule party into a party with a strong support base and therefore, yes, their strategy was to actually fight the election against the NP and not against the ANC so much although they used attacking language to mobilise specifically disgruntled white voters to relinquish the NP and to join them because of their, we have a word in Afrikaans 'kragdadigheid', because of their sort of fighting, aggressive stance.

POM     They got the right slogan.

FDK     Yes, 'Fight Back'.

POM     It can mean many things to many different constituencies.

FDK     But I think now that the euphoria also of the DP is dying down and with the UDM not having made the impact that they thought they would make, the realisation is there that opposition parties have been playing musical chairs and the net result is that the total opposition vote has dropped by 3%. From the 38% that it was it's now 35%. Therefore there is now a much more serious debate developing within opposition circles, I'm no longer a party politician, I'm not part of it, but the more serious debate is as to the necessity for closer co-operation and really fundamental discussion about where opposition politics should go.

     A second comment I would like to make on the basis of your analysis is that comparative studies have shown that in countries which have undergone great transition there was a tendency for the first two elections to really vote with emotions and within the framework of the history which brought about the transformation but that from there onwards, more and more, there was a tendency among voters to vote their concerns and no longer emotional loyalty. Hopefully in SA too there will be a more pragmatic vote in future but it is extremely difficult in any multi-cultural society to break out of a pattern of political group forming according to language, culture, ethnicity or whatever. But it's a challenge which I believe we must accept in SA and I don't think it's impossible to break out of it. We might end up with essentially black parties, although all of them will be non-racial but where the power base is essentially black of the one party, essentially white of the other party, essentially white and coloured of the other party, with such parties forming alliances, standing under one umbrella, having their own internal agreements. It's exactly what the ANC is doing. It is an alliance. It has three clearly definable legs but it presents itself to the voters as an entity. Now if they can do it others can do it.

POM     I want to go back a bit in time and see in perspective what you think. The first would be that I have talked to a number of people who were either, I suppose most on your negotiating team and their criticism of you would be that you were a brilliant tactician but you weren't a strategist. My question is from the day you released Mandela, or even before that, had you worked out with others what the strategy was, what when it got to the negotiating stage you would aspire to and fight for, what your bottom lines were below which you would say we are breaking off negotiations or we're taking a break or whatever, what you would settle for?

FDK     Firstly if that criticism comes from within the leadership circle of the NP it's unfair criticism.

POM     It comes from your negotiators.

FDK     Because all final decisions were taken in consultation within the Cabinet, as far as the more fundamental aspects are concerned, as far as some of the more detailed aspects are concerned, within a group of which my negotiators formed part which was called, I can't recall the name now, the Special Task Group for Negotiations, which met regularly and which reported then to me and to the Cabinet. They were part of strategy formulation, all of them, and they were part of planning the tactics and inasmuch as we were not effective there is joint responsibility for that. I had to take the final decisions in the end. Obviously in such negotiations you have some people who would go for A, others would go for B, different priorities. The final test is, did I keep my party together right through to the end? And I think some of such criticism is born from the frustrations of individuals with regard to their specific priorities which if I did exactly what they wanted me to do would have resulted in the NP team becoming deeply divided.

     But can I just say, we never had a total blueprint of exactly what we wanted in the end. You can't negotiate a full constitution that way but right from the beginning, before February 1990 already, we had a framework of what our constitutional goals are with regard to the negotiations which was worked out within Gerrit Viljoen's department, which was developed in interaction with the whole Cabinet at bosberade, bush conferences, and which was constantly revised. At the end of the process, in the concluding phase of the final constitution Roelf Meyer had with Rasie Malherbe, professor from Rand Afrikaans University –

POM     What's his name again?

FDK     Rasie Malherbe – a balance sheet was drawn of what were our goals, what was achieved and what wasn't achieved. On the basis of that balance sheet all of us could confidently say that we have by and large achieved our goals and as far as outstanding matters then were concerned we organised what must still be negotiated and attached a weight to each of the outstanding aspects and say this is a category A where we will fight right to the end and which constitutes top priorities; this is category B; this is category C which we will put in but we are prepared to make concessions on it. The whole process was constantly well planned, replanned. I spent as much time within the party in planning sessions, in internal debates, to reach conclusions as to which concessions are we prepared to make, where don't we want a concession, what are we going to give away in exchange for what. It was contrary to the impression created by the critic, I think.

POM     One of your ministers mentioned something called The Blue Book.

FDK     Yes there was something called The Blue Book which was this framework which was developed right at the beginning and which was constantly updated and added to.

POM     Is that available?

FDK     No, no, I don't think there was ever a Blue Book in the form of a bound volume which was the handbook which everybody looked at. No, it was sort of a developing file, if I can put it that way.

POM     Is there a copy of the document that Roelf Meyer and Professor Malherbe produced?

FDK     He played a role, he was an adviser of the government because there was always the government in the negotiations, the government and the NP. Quite often we had around the table the government negotiator and the NP negotiator with the ANC, with the DP, with this, with that.

POM     I was going to ask you in that context, on whom did you rely for advice? Did you have a 'Kitchen Cabinet' as it's often called, people who wouldn't be in government, friends, confidantes?

FDK     I didn't have an organised structure 'Kitchen Cabinet' but of disciplines we would interact with advisers. For instance, the whole issue of the economic part of the Bill of Rights we worked closely with people from the private sector, from the Agricultural Union, from Business South Africa and at stages one of the very big multi-national companies would at their cost attach to our planning team a senior legal person, an advocate or whatever, to also sit in and advise on formulation and so on, so there was interaction. On education, for instance, I had very close, because it was one of the most touchy things in the negotiations, I had very many sessions with the NP's main education spokesperson, me present with the representative of the organised teachers on the Afrikaner side, Professor Koos Steyn, the late principal of Educational College who was the countrywide chairman of this teachers' organisation, with their legal representative and we would sit down and say about the issue of mother tongue education, of accommodation of language when it comes to education and interacted and actually before we said yes to a certain formulation we would try to clear it with them that they will be happy with that and that they will defend it.

POM     So you would maintain that contrary to what critics say, you and your team were constantly strategising and weighing alternatives and evaluating and monitoring and even down to the detail of weighing what the priorities were and what weight should be put upon each priority?

FDK     Yes. I think ex post facto criticism stems from a few factors such as disillusionment, such as non-recognition of the restrictions that you have in such a negotiating process. Built into real negotiation it is inevitable that the power base sends the negotiator, and in a sense the leader, into a situation with a mandate. The other party sitting across the table is in the same position. Its power base also sends the negotiator in with a mandate. The two mandates are in conflict. Both negotiators or negotiating teams have to go back to their power base and report, "I couldn't get everything you wanted me to get. In order to get A, B and CI had to make concessions on D, E and F." In the end the final test, I believe, for successful negotiations is that nobody is really 100% happy because if one of the main parties finds themselves 100% happy it means that the other party has really lost. If you interview in depth ANC people you will find that there are many aspects with which they are disillusioned, which they don't like and with which they are unhappy. Surely, yes, I deal with this also in my autobiography, the whole accusation that we made too many concessions, that we were ineffective in the negotiations.

POM     I suppose I would put the criticism in the context of the ANC or Mandela knew from the beginning what it wanted, majority rule, and for majority rule it would make concessions on just about anything. Their test was: does this advance or does this retard movement towards majority rule? If it advanced it, go ahead with it, if it deters it, don't accept it.

FDK     Yes. But you see that criticism rests on a wrong interpretation of what we went in with. We never said we don't want majority rule but we said we want to prevent majority domination. In 1986 the NP said we stand for a one person one vote system with all forms of discrimination to be abolished. Surely that must inevitably lead to majority rule? But there's a distinction between absolute majoritarianism and limitation of the power of however the majority in parliament might be constituted.

POM     How would you regard the present situation with the ANC enjoying just about a two thirds majority?

FDK     There are already quite a number of examples where the Constitutional Court has overthrown legislation rushed through by the ANC with their majority. There are checks and balances. I'm not saying they're 100% effective but we went into it with a view to get checks and balances to limit absolute power.

POM     I want to be clear on this. This is where critics of yours get it wrong, they confuse two concepts?

FDK     Yes, namely majority rule. I made a speech in parliament, let me give you that source just now, at some time when I made it absolutely clear, and I quote this in my autobiography, that those who interpret the NP's approach as if we are actually working for a minority veto are wrong and I publicly rejected that interpretation of our concept of power sharing and consensus seeking and say we are not seeking a minority veto.

POM     So you would see what you have now, or what was negotiated, was majority rule but with enough checks and balances especially in the form of the Constitutional Court?

FDK     To prevent the misuse of power.

POM     To prevent the misuse of power, therefore the majority cannot dominate because there's a Bill of Rights to limit what majority they have.

FDK     There are rules within which they must exercise their power.

POM     OK, because that comes up repeatedly, the notion that what you were after was entrenched power sharing.

FDK     I made many speeches on this wrong interpretation of power sharing. Can I remind you why I left the government of national unity? Because we made on the issue of power sharing – we started by saying the government of national unity as it was, this sort of artificially composed government of national unity should continue. Once again we strategised and we developed a bottom line because we realised we couldn't get that and our bottom line was to say, let in future if a party gets 50% or more of the vote, let that party form the government, appoint all the ministers, rule the country as any elected government does, but let us have in the constitution next to this government a consultative council which is composed of the major parties who are prepared to serve in it, the ruling party plus the other main role players, more or less on the same criteria as the old government of national unity was constituted. We furthermore said that this consultative council would not have a veto but that the government would have the duty to refer all issues of national importance such as the framework of the budget, the fundamentals of foreign policy, an economic development plan, to this consultative council with its proposals. We then said that the purpose of that would be to try and achieve consensus to get a multi-party approach towards such issues. If it is achieved you successfully lift it out of the political arena and you get an overwhelming majority of all South Africans, as represented by their different parties, taking hands to pursue common goals and along agreed upon lines of policy. If consensus is not achieved we said the government would have the right to then carry on with its own policies and the opposition parties would then obviously oppose it for their own reasons.

     This would be aform of power sharing but I still believe it is the right thing for SA because it would put the emphasis on the need to rather get consensus about the big issues and to have your party political fights about details and smaller issues. Twice I said to President Mandela, "If you don't accept this in all probability I will leave the government of national unity." Three times Roelf Meyer assured me that on my instructions he advised Ramaphosa of that. Nonetheless the ANC refused.

     On this issue we never had the support of the DP, on the whole issue of power sharing. We could not get the support of the IFP on this issue. We could not, therefore, muster the 33% to block the constitution because this proposal, very mild proposal, was not accommodated. Therefore we decided to accept the inevitable but then to leave the government of national unity because if we have to have a winner take all situation then we might as well start off playing our main role as the main opposition party immediately instead of being tied up in a government of national unity where the ANC wanted to silence us.

POM     I will quickly ask it, how did the government of national unity work? Was it case of where the NP would put forward proposals, that they would be seriously considered and debated and become part of the Cabinet's decision itself or was it more a case of where you were allowed to have your say and after you had had your say the ANC said, "Thank you very much, OK guys, let's vote now", and they did what they more or less wanted to do?

FDK     There were two phases. In the first phase it served SA extremely well because the ANC had no experience of government.

POM     That would have been from 1994 through?

FDK     More or less the first 15, 18 months. They used it as an in-service training opportunity. They relied heavily on our advice with regard to good government, of how do you govern, of the Cabinet system. I really never had any problem when I chaired the Cabinet of my authority as chairman being accepted. I quite often settled disputes between ANC ministers from the chair when I chaired Cabinet and, as you know, Mbeki and I chaired on an alternative basis, on a rotating basis. It worked very well and on policy we were really able to get consensus decisions. We were listened to, we were accommodated on serious concerns, compromises were negotiated within the Cabinet and at Cabinet committee meetings but then the ANC gradually became more sure of themselves and became more, in growing terms, adamant that because they were the majority, yes we can have our say but if we can't convince them there the decision will fall and that is where the tension really started to build up, and then expected from us to defend that decision even though we opposed it within Cabinet especially from us. They didn't mind if Buthelezi disagreed in Cabinet and then went to KZN and made a scathing attack but when I did it they said, "But you're Deputy President and as Deputy President you must defend what the Cabinet does decide." That is where a lot of tension between me and Mandela, and between us and the ANC, built up which erupted at times as I describe in my autobiography, into us almost leaving at an earlier stage than we did leave in the end.

     The concept of seeking consensus there and of fighting it out there and reaching a consensus which we all then would defend worked very well in the beginning but towards the end, because of their overwhelming numbers, started to fall apart. I also criticised some of my ministers because they did not always effectively use the opportunity which we had to oppose and almost demand consensus within the Cabinet and some of them, I think, are quite cross with me because I criticised them in that way. Instead of them putting up the fight and leaving it to me to make the peace they sat back and I had to put up the fight in order to keep my party happy that we are pursuing our goals there, also there where we sit in Cabinet.

POM     You mentioned Buthelezi and I have two questions about him. I have three major questions left I think.  Is the power that he has the power that if you toss me out on my ear or whatever, disregard me completely, KZN can always explode again? I want to tie that to a more fundamental question which is that I would have thought when Mr Mandela got out of prison that his very first priority would have been to say, "I've got to sit down with Chief Buthelezi because this war in KZN is tearing our people apart and in fact if we're going to negotiate with the government all blacks should go in as one united front, we are victims of apartheid therefore we should be united in our stand against the government." He did come out and he did ring Buthelezi and thanked him for his support while he was in prison and asked could he visit the King and lay a wreath on King Shaka's grave, and in fact dates were set up for him to consider doing so. Then he went to Lusaka and the NEC there vetoed it and then when he was going to go to a rally in Pietermaritzburg with Buthelezi the ANC vetoed that too. The result was he never met with Buthelezi, the King felt highly insulted and Buthelezi felt highly insulted. Given the fact that Mandela came from royal lineage himself, was even while in prison he was an adviser to the Tembu King, which he points out in his own autobiography, he would know royal protocol inside out and he would know what an insult it was to the Zulu King to turn down his invitation, particularly his acceptance of visiting a grave which I guess Zulu Kings don't do.

     Had he visited Buthelezi immediately and the two of them gotten together and tried to mend the differences between the IFP and the ANC and had the two of them embarked on a joint tour of KZN telling their supporters over and over again that the war between us is over, the war is over, do you think (a) it would have had an impact on the war in KZN, and (b) do you think it would have had an impact on how negotiations turned out? Or had the war at that time, I would add as a rider, gotten so out of control, with such an inner momentum of its own, that it was really beyond anyone's capacity to make a statement to please drop your weapons and the war is over?

FDK     The answer to both questions is a qualified yes. I, from the beginning, wanted both those leaders, Mandela and Buthelezi, to play a role in stopping the killing in KZN and between Zulus and Xhosas and between IFP people and ANC people and felt that they should get together, that they should exercise stronger leadership in disciplining their power bases and that joint actions by them would be conducive to limit the conflict and to end the conflict between their factions. However, apart from what you have just described why it didn't take place, also subsequent efforts by me to get them to do so failed and if you ask President Mandela about this he will put the blame on Buthelezi and if you ask Buthelezi he will put the blame on President Mandela. I never found Buthelezi unwilling to meet him in my efforts to get them to do so and to devise a plan of action between them and I never found him unreasonable in saying on what conditions he would be prepared to do, whereas Mandela in my experience, and obviously because of the reasons that you gave, because of the pressures within his own party, always found ways and means of, in the final analysis, avoiding. Even after the 1994 election on many an occasion I tried to get President Mandela and me and Buthelezi, and I always said if he wants to bring in the other Deputy President Mbeki as well he's welcome to do so, to sit down as political leaders and discuss ongoing problems, the ongoing violence there, the problem of Buthelezi's demands with regard to promises made which brought him into the election, the issue of arbitration and so on, and Mandela steadfastly refused to do so. Never could I get Mandela to say yes to a high level political meeting between the three of us.

POM     This is when he was president?

FDK     Yes, this is also when he was president. He was like that before he was president and like that after he was president. Then the rapprochement came really after we left the government of national unity and I describe in my book how a little bit less than a year before I left the government of national unity President Mandela was then actually very, very cross with Buthelezi and said to me, as he has said and it's on record to some journalists as well, that at that stage he said, "I want to crush Buthelezi." And I said, "No, I think the three of us should meet." I then, subsequent to that, said that I would go and think about a strategy but I really think the solution lies in us meeting. I then wrote to President Mandela and he wrote a scathing letter back to me saying he doesn't want me in on this, he will settle now. This tension continued but then when we left suddenly the whole picture changed because it was important, I think, for President Mandela not to allow the whole unity concept to implode.

POM     For the sake of irony I'll ask you a question. When President Mandela said he wanted to crush Buthelezi, what did you understand him to mean when he used the word 'crush'?

FDK     I understood him to mean politically crush, to undermine his position to the point where he would lose his real political impact.

POM     The second thing was, you make a reference in your autobiography, you were talking about the country's nuclear programme and you say it was never discussed in Cabinet or even with the National Security Council. My first question would be, with whom was it discussed?

FDK     It was dealt with on a need to know basis so why did I become aware of it when I was a fairly young minister? Because I became Minister of Mines and Energy under whom the Uranium Enrichment Corporation fell and under whom the Atomic Energy Corporation fell.

POM     Did you know who else knew?

FDK     Then I knew if the Minister of Defence knew, the Minister of Foreign Affairs knew, the Prime Minister knew, the heads of their departments knew and these agencies working with this knew. So a limited number within the Defence Force knew of the top brass, plus of course the minister, the prime minister, his head of office, Atomic Energy Corporation people and once again also just a selected few and the same in the Uranium Enrichment Corporation.

POM     My follow up question would be that if there was this kind of policy making process on some matters that was on a need to know basis, did you ever look across the Cabinet table at other colleagues and think, "I wonder what they know on a need to know basis that I don't know, how many secrets each of us are carrying in our heads that the others aren't aware of?"

FDK     Yes, especially in the State Security Council. You must remember that under my predecessor the Defence Force more specifically and the security forces in a general sense had an inordinate influence on decision making in various other fields as well.

POM     From 1986, one could say, through your presidency, in a sense Cabinet had been sidelined from major decision making?

FDK     Well I wouldn't say totally side-lined but they had been by-passed on some aspects. But I changed all that and I wasn't liked for it. I broke down this powerful structure.

POM     So you came in as president, you dismantled the National Security Management System, you abolished or took away many of the powers of the State Security Council, you side-lined so-called securocrats. Then I know that I think on 20th January 1990, a month before Mandela was released, you went before the Police College and addressed about 800 police officers and said, "From now on it's no more politics, you play it straight, you protect people's lives", and then a month after Mandela's release you went before the SADF and you gave the same speech and somebody released the tape of the speech and you knew exactly that you weren't making friends. At that point you must have known that you had side-lined a lot of people who exercised an awful lot of power and that you had many enemies both within the police structures and within the SADF who either for personal ambition and for your approach would deeply disapprove of everything you were doing and would undermine what you were doing if only to get back their own power never mind any larger issue.

     Given that, and I want to get the context right, you also describe how January 1990 (I think it was) when you were on vacation, how General Malan rang you up and said he's got to come down and see you right away, he has something to tell you that couldn't wait.

FDK     About BOSS, or what was it's name?

POM     The Civil Co-operation Bureau, and he came down and he revealed to you that, "Gee! I've discovered something exists within my ministry called the Civil Co-operation Bureau which I have reason to believe is up to all kinds of illegal activities." Did you not say to him, "Magnus, how long have you been Minister for Defence? You must be kidding me. You don't know what's going on in your own department? You know what, you're fired."

FDK     I asked him when did he find out about this and he told me that the illegal activities which had been uncovered were without his notice and he denied any knowledge of it and I accepted his word on it. You see such discussions took place within a framework that all of us were aware that there were certain undercover actions undertaken, such as spying, such an opening people's post, such as listening with listening devices, such as counter intelligence actions, such as financially supporting organisations which were anti-communist, which were fighting the communist and hard line socialist orientated trade unions, etc. So it was not an issue as if there was a question: was the Defence Force involved in undercover actions, also dealing with things which really had nothing to do with typically defence matters? That I knew and he knew and he never denied knowledge and I never denied knowledge, also not before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, of such actions. But assassination, the commitment of hideous crimes and so on was never part of it and it was about that that he denied knowledge.

POM     But he said he didn't even know of the existence of the Bureau?

FDK     Per se. I don't think it's a name, in terms of what I've been told, it wasn't a name which was really actually formally – it never came before, such a name never came up in any official documents.

POM     But in terms of ministerial responsibility would you not say you're accountable for what happens in your department?

FDK     Well in terms of ministerial responsibility he was prepared to put his money where his mouth was and to support the appointment of the Harms Commission. He never argued against it, he never said there shouldn't be the deepest possible investigation.

POM     The contrast would be with, one of my favourites, an Englishman being an Englishman, and that was when Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary and the Argentineans invaded the Falklands. Carrington immediately went to the House and said that his department had been derelict in not noticing that Argentinean warships had been steaming towards the Falklands and as the responsible minister he tendered his resignation. That was the honourable thing to do. My question would be, what is your understanding of ministerial responsibility? Two, could you have afforded to fire him given the enemies you had made, because of your actions, in the SADF. You have a lovely analogy, the dog analogy in your book which I loved, that there was one more thing that you had to manoeuvre. To what degree did you have to watch your back?

FDK     If I had any proof whatsoever of him or any minister misleading me, being part of something which was not part of the policy and which I regarded as essentially wrong and unacceptable, irrespective of the risks I would have fired such a minister. That qualifies everything else. I would have fired him and I have fired ministers more than any other NP leader in my time for much lesser things than knowledge of something totally unacceptable.

     Ministerial responsibility I think in SA has been dealt with historically in a slightly different way. There was always more the emphasis on a minister has to be accepted at his word and almost a principle of you're not guilty before you're found guilty. Therefore we don't have the same tradition as the British democracy where really for something which goes wrong in a department the minister automatically takes the blame. If what went wrong in the department was not a result of the negligence of the minister or because of participation of the minister – in other words, let me give you an example, there was a big corruption scandal in black education and there was a great call from opposition parties for Gerrit Viljoen to resign. Top officials were involved in making money on the side in awarding contracts, as is still happening from time to time. I was convinced that the minister was not involved and on the basis of what he said he was defended not only by me, not only by my predecessor but also by the rest of his Cabinet colleagues although it was really a very bad situation in that department. So I would say that our tradition was to stand more by a minister if the minister was not obviously at fault and if the minister had reasonable explanations.

     Obviously I had an in depth discussion with Magnus Malan on that occasion when he informed me of this and this was followed up, it wasn't just a one-on-one discussion, it was followed up within a few days with discussions with a whole group of security ministers, the Minister of Finance with it, the Minister of Justice with it, with planning as to the investigation. As I describe in my book then the Harms Commission really failed to get to the bottom of it and this in the end led to me appointing the Goldstone Commission for which I wasn't liked either within the security forces.

POM     Had you got to watch your back with them? You talked about the restraints leaders are under when –

FDK     I had to take the security forces, at least the command structure, with me on the road of political reform because they would have to maintain law and order and it was not to be absolutely foreseen what exactly the result would be of the unbanning, the release of those prisoners, the result of allowing protest marches and the like. Therefore I had to take them along with me. They formed a necessary component of achieving the goal of orderly change, of never constitutional hiatus developing, of the firm principle that any new constitution would be accepted by parliament and not just imposed because there's an agreement and would in a way be subscribed to, and this is what the referendum was about, by a clear majority of the then existing voters.

POM     But there was one more constituency that you had to pull along.

FDK     I had to watch many constituencies and they were one of the very important ones.

POM     I've identified the IFP, you had to work with Buthelezi, you had to work with the right wing, you had to work with your own constituency, distinguish that from English speaking whites as distinct from Afrikaners, you had to bring along your caucus, you had to bring along your Cabinet, you had to bring along the SADF and the SAP, you had to negotiate with the ANC and you had to govern the country.

FDK     Yes.

POM     It's a long day.

FDK     Absolutely, I worked very hard.

POM     All these things happened at different rates. You could bring along some quicker than others?

FDK     And you could add to that. I had to bring SA back into the international community, I had to get the international community to do enough in order to help me to bring along all those constituencies to show that what we are doing is opening doors, already even before an election is having a beneficial effect on the economy, on the daily lives of people.

POM     Two final things, to finish on that, when you were taking decisions, whatever process the negotiating process was moving towards, did you have to say, "Well I'll have to consider how this will play with the military and I will have to bring them along because I can't afford to lose their support because they're my last fall back and if I lose their support I've got nothing to fall back on if things go haywire."

FDK     I think I should make one thing absolutely clear. Obviously when one takes a decision you also take pragmatic things into account but I never compromised on principle and my decisions were made easier for me, myself, because the basic test I applied was a test of what do I believe in, what do I stand for, which principles are the guiding principles, and I was not prepared to compromise on that. If I were to have the approach of being overly worried about the security forces then I would have accepted a step-by-step process by making this little concession, by saying OK only now this prisoner will be allowed, I will only unban the ANC but I won't unban the SA Communist Party. I would have adopted a piecemeal approach, it would be the safer route from that regard, but I adhered to the principle in which I believed.

POM     When it came to Kat Liebenberg who General Steyn had identified as possibly being involved in the activities which he was then investigating, you decided to leave him alone.

FDK     I confronted him, I didn't decide to leave him alone, I confronted him. He denied all knowledge and I said, "Well then it is now your responsibility to clear up, to take steps which will immediately make it impossible for whatever element to continue with anything which is wrong." And this resulted in the firing of some people, in the early retirement of others, to reorganise, to totally stop doing within Military Intelligence things which are not absolutely within the parameters of what Military Intelligence should be about.

POM     Yet he was up to his neck in some of those activities.

FDK     Yes but he denied all knowledge of them.

POM     So he was lying, he was committing treason.

FDK     It now appears as if – but he's a dead man, he can't speak for himself.

POM     But in your view, here was your chief General, head of your defence forces, who is in effect lying to you and who goes ahead and –

FDK     There were three of them sitting there, Kat Liebenberg, Georg Meiring who later became head of the Defence Force, who was then head of the army, and Joffel van der Westhuizen who was heading the whole security aspect, intelligence aspect of the Defence Force. All three of them professed firstly that they don't believe in everything which was being said, denied much of it, said it's stories, are today accusing other outside forces of giving false information, but nonetheless accepted my order to do something dramatic to immediately – we will find out what is true and not true through the Goldstone Commission, through Steyn's investigation – but to immediately take intermediary steps to freeze the situation. They accepted the order and they came back with their list of names. I didn't draw that list of names. Some of them, like General Thirion who is now suing me for defamation, I always regarded him as an honourable man, part of the absolute scaling down, part of this freezing action, while some others like Basson were involved in the wrongdoing.

POM     Was Basson let go at that time or was he held on to?

FDK     He was immediately suspended.

POM     OK, but Liebenberg continued with some of his activities even after – he scaled down and fired some Generals but he continued on with some of his activities.

FDK     I don't think there is evidence that after that there were still such activities within the Defence Force. That actually I think was a crucial moment in which also the final unacceptable activities of the Defence Force was disrupted and more or less came to an end.

POM     Just two last questions, and one I've asked over and over again, I probably have asked you before, but there's this kind of enshrined conventional wisdom that the NP was trying to delay an election as late as possible and hence wanted CODESA 2 to fail. The ANC are unambiguous in their – I know what you said about Ramaphosa and Ramaphosa going on the news saying he engineered the whole thing, but their story still is that you wanted an end to it, that it suited your purposes as the 'third force' –

FDK     It's absolute nonsense. The one thing also in an earlier question you made this supposition, let me recall how you phrased it, when you talked about did we strategize, did we have a strategy to leave the negotiations on certain issues? Throughout the whole negotiating process one of the home truths which we accepted was that we as the government could not walk away from the negotiations, that we basically initiated the negotiations, that we have to ensure that it keeps on track, that when it goes off track we had to strategize how to get it on track again. We never in our minds or in our planning deviated from this. I was extremely shocked when CODESA broke up and if I wanted it to end then my subsequent actions would have been totally different. Almost from the moment that it broke up an open channel of communication was maintained between Roelf Meyer and Ramaphosa. We took preventative steps to prevent the ANC from achieving their stated goal at that stage and that was to make the country ungovernable through mass action.

POM     This was the Leipzig Option.

FDK     Yes, through mass action and it was Bisho which I think brought them to their senses because nobody could accuse the government of causing what happened in Bisho. It was clearly an issue of the ANC not listening to advice, not responding to requests, not responding to tremendous pressure from our side not to march, who broke agreements and who caused that. Of course Gqozo also played his role. So I think that brought them to their senses and made them realise that they have failed to make the country ungovernable and that they would be losing face if they continue along this road and that brought them back to the negotiation table.

POM     Roelf Meyer was asked what did the NP or the government get out of the signing of the Record of Understanding and he replied, "Resumption of negotiations."

FDK     Yes, an analysis of the Record of Understanding will show that there was not one concession on the constitutional issues in the Record of Understanding. It merely picked up the point which we'd reached when they walked out of CODESA and restated it as a starting point for negotiations. What was interpreted as concessions on the issue of the hostels was not a concession in any event. We had to bring order to some of our hostels which were breeding beds for violence. The only real concession in the Record of Understanding was the shifting of the goal posts with regard to who would qualify for amnesty and for release, away from the Norgard Principles which I basically supported towards saying if it was with a political motive, however high the degree of violence was, however premeditated the deed was, it would qualify. And as I described in my book I didn't like doing that but it was for me the most painful concession I had to make and to this day I would have preferred from all sides blatant murder, assassination and the like to have been excluded from an amnesty process.

POM     Two last questions. One is that in Mandela's biography, that's the one by Anthony Sampson, he says that there had been a secret agreement made between you and Mandela, I think in February 1991 (I can get the exact reference for you if necessary), that there wouldn't be the handing over of arms, of arms caches by the MK until a new government was in place.

FDK     No I would not agree with that formulation. The issue of how that should take place and exactly when that should take place was the burning issue which constantly gave rise to crises. It was their tardiness in complying on this front which let to my criticism right at the beginning.

POM     CODESA 1, yes.

FDK     CODESA 1, and then to Mandela's outburst which I describe how I think it happened. Then there was, I think he was referring to what we refer to as the DF Malan meeting, there was a meeting at DF Malan, now the Cape Town Airport, and there there was an agreement that on certain specified dates certain goals were set, a sub-committee would report back as to progress which was being made. Once again they didn't comply with time schedules and they found reasons in this committee to prolong discussions and not sufficient progress was made. We then had a crisis again when later that year, if I remember correctly, it was that year the Peace Initiative was started and once again I had a meeting with Mandela and I sent many messages on the basis that how can we go ahead with the Peace Initiative if this is still an outstanding matter. We were promised that let the Peace Initiative go ahead, we promise within two weeks afterwards there will be – now I get the order right: it was first the DF Malan, the agreement, then the Peace Initiative and then the negotiations started and then the blow-up came because once again I was dissatisfied.

POM     So when Sampson says – ?

FDK     I have never been party to an agreement that they could just keep it until an election. I was never part of that. But the agreement was that there would be joint control, that they would disclose caches, that there would be joint control and so on. But it is the one side on which they never really effectively delivered.

POM     So when he says in his biography that your 'attack' on Mr Mandela was all the more surprising since yourself and Mr Mandela had reached a secret agreement?

FDK     It's absolutely untrue.

POM     OK, that's what I wanted to clarify. And my last question, you'll be glad to know – of course I could have ten more or twelve!  Some people I've talked to said that you had one trump card always and that was that for an agreement you had to have the backing of the white electorate and by going to them in March of 1992 - that you wouldn't be able to sell the agreement to the ANC, you could say, "I can't sell this to my community, it won't wash."

FDK     That I then lost the trump card?

POM     That you played your card too early, by playing it in March of 1992 you had no other card left to play, that you could have squeezed more out of them.

FDK     It depends from which vantage point you look at it. On the other hand I was losing credibility also in the negotiations. Did I any longer represent the majority of the whites? Could I speak for them? Anything I said that we say OK to this and we – (end of recording).

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.