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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
04 Dec 1999: Ebrahim, Hassen
POM Hassen, perhaps you could just start telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, where you were born, upbringing, how you got involved in the struggle, what happened to you during that period and the past which led you to being the occupant of this spacious, opulent office where you are smoking in violation of the law.
HE Padraig, I will try to give you a very sketchy sort of quick overview and then you can take it further if you so wish. I've actually lied about where I was born. Officially I'm born in Pretoria, that's the records, but unofficially and properly I'm born in Ventersdorp, the home of Eugene Terre'Blanche. I was born in Ventersdorp but grew up essentially in Pretoria and that's where I spent all my life except for my period in exile and subsequent years. Getting involved in politics wasn't very difficult living in Pretoria essentially the Marabastad area. We came from a background where my parents used to live in an environment which was not quite multi-racial but the different races lived in close proximity to each other, to actually get involved with each other, not culturally, not even socially but in close enough proximity to try and find respect at least between the African, Indian and the coloured communities, so they lived in very close proximity and we literally grew up, as it were, together. The Group Areas Act essentially threw us asunder and separated us in a very serious way which then created a divide between the Indian, coloured and African community which we've never quite recovered from. In the period of the Botha reforms the Indian community became relatively affluent compared to the other associated communities that we previously used to live together with.
POM But it's the most affluent community in the country. Its per capita income is higher than that of whites.
HE In Pretoria yes, the Indian community is -
POM As a community.
HE Absolutely. Our community has thrived, we have thrived. It is only of late that they are beginning to break out into medium sized business, they haven't quite reached the large business area. They were essentially a merchant class community, not a worker based community, very small worker component. It's beginning to increase in certain respects. But nevertheless that's the background and environment in which we learnt and gained our politics. The Group Areas Act became a major focal area of struggle in the community and so on. People didn't want to move away from places where they were working and had businesses and so on.
POM Did your family have to relocate?
HE Yes, we all had to relocate, forcefully, so our properties were taken away from us and we were given a pittance in return and we were forced to relocate to an area called Laudium.
POM This is an area where
HE It's about 15 kms west of Pretoria.
POM Each community moved en bloc to different areas?
HE That's correct. The coloured community moved to Eersterust, the African community long before that moved to Mamelodi, Mabopane, Atteridgeville and so on. So we all moved in different directions and basically people lost contact and the only contact they had after that was in a business sense where the Indian trader would serve the black, African customer, and that became the relationship afterwards. You might recall that in the past part of South African culture was we talked of Marabe music, Marabe music came from Marabastad, the essential rhythm and the shebeens, that Sophiatown type of vibrancy was existent in the area of Marabastad as well. An interesting anecdote and side point is that it sits alongside the Apies River which Winston Churchill claims to have swam to his freedom during the Anglo-Boer War.
POM Well Patricia de Lille would say it was Mao Ze-dong.
HE Yes she would wouldn't she. That was the background to my political upbringing. Going to university in 1976 being a seminal year, watershed year in South African politics of course, also became quite a major influence in my life, being involved in student life, student politics and getting swayed and moved with the large majority of black people and politicised in that process.
POM You grew up speaking what would be your mother tongue?
HE Until I went to school I spoke Gujarati but going to school, that's because I come from, not I, my grandfather comes from a Gujarati background in India so we spoke Gujarati exclusively, but when I went to school I had to communicate in English and was taught in English, so I lost my Gujarati and today I neither speak English nor Gujarati very well, and I sit in between.
POM I think you can exclude English. If your Gujarati is as good as your English you're trilingual at least.
HE No not at all. My Gujarati, my Mom laughs at me every time I attempt to speak Gujarati so I try not to, but that's basically it, 1976 being very political and very influential in shaping our development. 1976 was also a time when the ANC started picking up and stepping up its own military activities. Some of the mistakes made and the arrests and the killings of the ANC people, especially soldiers, became a matter of grave concern to us and I felt that perhaps we could actually help the ANC in getting the operations done a little better so what took place is that I left the country to join the ANC to come back again into the country and operate. I couldn't quite find the ANC locally so I left the country to find the ANC.
POM At that time an Indian couldn't join the ANC proper, right?
HE Not really no. Every since the Dadoo and Omar and Naicker pact, ever since the late forties with the pact, Indians were essentially a part of the ANC even though constitutionally they were not allowed to be members, so we all joined and we were all part of the ANC even though the constitution itself was never quite revised and we couldn't sit in the National Executive Committee until 1985 I think. But essentially, yes, we joined to become members of the ANC. You must remember that even the uMkhonto weSizwe, the first members of MK were members from the Indian community and they were an integral part of the ANC even though officially the ANC was an African organisation and it had a relationship with the TIC, South African Indian Congress and the Natal Indian Congress and so on. But despite that we all regarded ourselves as members of the ANC, so essentially when I left the country I joined the ANC, came back, was given clear instructions. My initial brief was really to deal with political mobilisation within the Indian community, much to my horror because I wanted to be involved militarily. We started establishing an infrastructure and an underground network in our area as well as broadly the PWV area and my political involvement increased.
In 1977 I left from Westville, I didn't complete my year because of the upheavals, went to Wits University where I continued my political activities. A very interesting point was that the Democratic Party as it is now, used to be called the Progressive Party, and at that point in time they were very active also at Wits being the centre area and the leader of the PFP Youth League was Tony Leon. It's interesting that his arrogant style of leadership then basically got a number of very progressive white people who found the PFP as a useful political vehicle, got very disgruntled. Needless to say we would be there in the underground, in the wings, waiting for these people and we made some very, very interesting recruitments there for the military which had enormous impact in later years.
POM Have you ever thanked Tony for his contribution?
HE Well it never quite got close to that but it was always I mean I have this love/hate relationship with Tony in the sense that I'm very thankful for his arrogant style and terrible style of leadership which still persists today, but it was very useful to me in those days, it was good for the recruitment. The point about it is that we established structures not only in the Indian community but also in the white community and very strategically located people who grew up or went into the army subsequently in fairly strategic positions which was very, very useful for us from an intelligence point of view. Needless to say, at some point in the late seventies one or two of my people one person got arrested, was in fact detained for a very short time simply because he was, I think, too talkative about things generally, not really about political work. The commanding structures outside started getting nervous simply because if that person was arrested and they would reveal the identity of the person who recruited them and reveal my identity, I would then lead them to everybody else which meant that I became a weak link and for the security of everybody else I had to leave so that I could maintain my structures intact and I was a central person linked to different structures.
POM So you had to leave the country?
HE So I left the country for that reason. It was an amazing experience in the sense that it was one time when I literally experienced what my funeral would be like at home, because I went home and I said to my Mum, "You know how much I hated the white university and the bush college and I would rather go and study elsewhere. You people knew about that and now I have this offer, an opportunity to go and study abroad." And she said, "Fine", she was pleased but upset and my father understood immediately what I was talking about because my father was aware that I was involved in the underground because they used to know that sometimes I disappeared across the border or disappeared and they suspected that I went across the border and I confided in my father and he was very supportive of me joining the ANC. I gave them a deadline when I was going to leave, which was essentially after my exams at the end of 1979 but the situation at home became so traumatic and it was really a funeral wake, literally, nobody spoke to each other. We didn't speak to anybody else outside the family because nobody could know that I was going to leave the country and it became so unbearable that I decided that I wasn't going to go through my exams in the circumstances, I was just leaving the country. So I went to my parents and said, "I'm leaving tomorrow", and they said, "Well, if you're leaving we're taking you because we want to know who we're handing our son over to", so they took me across the border and handed me over to the ANC in Botswana. It was a very weird, strange experience in the sense that my mother really felt she was losing me.
The people we met who I was in contact with was a couple you may know of, Marius Schoon and Jeanette Schoon. Those are the people I was in touch with so my Mum went over to Jeanette Schoon and said, "This is my son, he will look after you, he's a good boy. Look after him and be a good mother to him." It was over the top, weird, but essentially they handed me over and that was my entry into exile. Needless to say, as young as I was then, the first two weeks were terribly romantic, this notion of going to the camps to go and train and then go back into the country to go and fight and all that sort of thing. Yes it was weird because after two weeks I had discovered how lonely I was and what a strange environment it was.
POM Did you go to an ANC facility?
HE Yes I went into an ANC transitional facility, a transit camp in Botswana. A transit camp was just basically, you must remember after 1976 there was a large influx of people, or outflow of people from the country, and so the ANC established transit camps through which people would be processed for either going for studies or going to military or being deployed in one or other of the structures. So essentially I went through to the transit camp but from the transit camp tried to base myself in Botswana because that's what the ANC decided after consultations with the headquarters. They decided to base me in Botswana and continue my political work from the outside.
POM You would still be in charge of the structures within the country?
HE Yes, absolutely.
POM Did they, during this period when they were processing you, did they make any attempt to determine whether or not you might be a turnover, somebody who had been turned by the police, had been told to get out and infiltrate the outside structures?
HE The normal routine was to ask you to write your biography and they will attempt to verify it and so on and needless to say I came from established political structures and so on, so both inside the country and outside the country my profile was very well known and so that wasn't a problem. But, yes, we were all processed. That was a major issue because you will remember Jimmy Kruger's boast that of every ten people that left the country one of them was working for the regime, which wasn't a lie. A large number of people infiltrated the ANC, as we saw in the early eighties when those people who were lying low began to surface in sometimes fairly key positions.
POM I don't know whether I told you this story but it's from Joseph Lilyveld's book Out of my Shadow, he had been the New York Times Correspondent here for years and then he came back and he wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book, probably the best book written on pre-apartheid, or post-apartheid SA. He tells the story of going to see some General in Pretoria who boasted openly that they have so infiltrated the ANC it was just a matter of it was a walk-through.
HE That's right.
POM He was saying boastfully. So a year later he was in Lusaka and he had met Oliver Tambo and he said to Tambo, "I talked to General such-and-such last year and he said they just send people right into your structures, it's no problem." He said Tambo threw up his hands and said, "Yes! They do it all the time despite the best structures we have in place. And what's worse is that some of our best people turn out to be informants."
HE There were a number of people but by the same token I know personally because I also managed to infiltrate people into their areas. As they were trying to infiltrate us we were infiltrating them as well, so it wasn't just a one-way process, it was part of the reason why I went into exile because of the level at which I had infiltrated the Defence Force. I went right into the heart of the Defence Force. In fact I would see intelligence information before Constand Viljoen got to see it, which made my situation very sensitive and which is why I really had to leave the country.
But exile had its usual difficulties. Politically it was a very exciting time to be involved in the positions that we were in. I think generally my life has been marked with that one point which is a privilege, it was really a privilege and an honour to be at the right place at the right time in the right circumstances where we were really part of shaping developments in the country. We spearheaded a lot of the developments that led to the upswing of political activity in the country in the early eighties. We were part of that process and very instrumental in fact in those developments.
POM So the strategy of making the country ungovernable was a strategy that was developed in exile and exported into SA?
HE We had incredible debates around the issue, the issue was at that point in time the major objective was seizure of power of course, building up a people's army that was capable of seizing power. We were working towards a stage where we were looking at dual power, dual power where in the essentially African communities and in the black communities we would be able to seize control and power of our communities and hence the development of the people's committees, the street committees, area committees and so on. We seized control over fairly large townships in very key areas and those were the struggles against the puppet structures in the black communities and the process of ungovernability because the process of ungovernability was important at that time even though it had very negative consequences for us now, but it was important because it gave people a strategic perspective in terms of seizing control and being responsible. It wasn't merely resistance, we weren't just resisting but we were also shaping and developing our own ideas with regard to power and what type of power should replace the current power, which I think the eighties was fundamental for because it wasn't just all about resistance, it was about the resistance that led to the shaping of our ideas in terms of what kind of democracy should really replace the type of state that we had. So the ideas that we currently hold are ideas that were shaped in our struggles during the eighties and that's where they were born.
POM So most of the ideas were born in exile, among exiles?
HE I think that's not a proper notion. The ANC in its political work often enough I find even people who were involved speaking about the distinction between exile and people in the country and it became a false sort of distinction. It was in reality a false distinction because we were so integrated, there was no distinction between politics outside and politics inside. It's just that outside we had the luxury of being able to strategise effectively and being able to direct and develop programmes but it was done in synergy with people inside the country, so it's not exactly as if we developed the line and people inside the country toed the line. It was developed because we were integrally involved in the struggles inside the country. Often enough, and not often enough, generally in the eighties I would know more about what was happening in a community than people within that community and that's how effective our communication lines were. Whilst we lived in exile, we lived in such closeted environments, physically we were in exile but mentally and psychologically we were really in the country. We were in such dynamic contact with just about everything that happened.
POM How did those communication lines work?
HE I laugh about it because it was very, very archaic and very basic and it was based on very, very primitive forms of communication but largely on the basis that people would come out of the country and they would be debriefed about the events unfolding and developments and so on and we would then be able to interact with people.
POM You didn't have any trouble with getting people involved in the underground structures, or they didn't have any troubles going into Botswana?
HE No, no, in that regard
POM Were there routes that they took or did they just travel normally?
HE Often it was legal and often it was illegal but we managed to get people across the border, debrief them very effectively and send them back without any real difficulties. And in that sense, and it comes back to the time when we negotiated, we outsmarted the enemy in a number of ways. We had a strategic perspective which I think guided our tactical manoeuvres and developments and activities.
POM Your strategic perspective being the seizure of power?
HE It's not just the seizure of power, it was an entire philosophy and approach to dealing with the apartheid state. We had clear documents and a very clear philosophy. What was great for the ANC then, which I think is perhaps a weakness now but given its circumstances, our politics were shaped by very sharp contradictions so it was not very difficult to interpret and understand the nature of the enemy, as it were, to define the enemy. The contradictions in society are now very blurred. Then it was a black/white issue, it was a very clear distinction and we didn't need to convince people of the contradictions, people were exposed to the contradictions. What the ANC did was that it provided people with a set of perspectives, theoretical instruments which enabled us to actually interpret events, activities and gave us a great amount of latitude to operate in.
POM Who at that point would have been the major strategic thinkers within the ANC? Who was pouring out the documents so to speak?
HE I think it actually be wrong to isolate individuals in the way in which matters were done. We didn't depend on a fountain of wisdom somewhere to dutifully toe the line, as it were. There was no such thing in the sense that, yes, people developed ideas and people were responsible for articulating them in a very organised way but they were not really their ideas, that they were developed very organically. They were organically developed ideas and I think we were provided with a great number of theoretical instruments which enabled us to direct the struggle inside the country with absolute synergy. In the country whether you were involved in a civic or student organisation or a trade union you knew how you were dealing with matters and that synergy across the lines was actually so dynamic that
POM What would some of these theoretical guidelines be?
HE It would be in the definition of the state, the definition of the enemy, the definition of the struggle, the balance of forces as we used to say, an identification and an interpretation of what the balance of forces was, how do you interpret the local management structures that worked for the government, how do you deal with them, how do you deal with the enemy, the police, the military, how do you deal with your schools, sites of education, workplaces and so on. You could very easily move as an activist, a political activist from the trade union front to the student front to the civil front and interact very, very effectively. We moved, we straddled across, we didn't have to be experts in labour to actually deal with the issues within the labour union or within the student community or within the academic community or within civic society and so on. We operated, I think, very, very effectively then. But then as I say, the contradictions were very sharp.
POM In terms of it being black and white?
HE In terms of the sharpness of the nature of apartheid was so distinct, was so clear and it was so sharp in its effect and impact on society that, as I say, today it's much more difficult to identify as it were what the enemy is today. I mean what are the problems, what are the contradictions in society? We also grew up I think with a very strong input, theoretical input and analysis from the Communist Party which I think was a major influence, Marxism, Leninism was very dynamic in terms of guiding people, principles of dialectics and dialectical materialism and so on, the very fact and very potent in terms of providing people with that perspective and intellectual framework within which to understand and interpret things.
POM I just want to go back to one point where you talked about the strategy behind seizing townships by making them ungovernable, taking over. A couple of people have said to me that the idea for this germinated after a trip by Oliver Tambo to Vietnam.
HE To Vietnam, yes, the Green Book. It's called a Green Book.
POM That's right.
HE I've never actually seen it, there are very few copies of it.
POM They say it's on the Internet. The last time I read something it was on the Internet.
HE The Green Book was very influential in terms of guiding and shaping the ideas where we started developing the concept of organs of people's popular power where you found the development of the idea of street committees, area committees and so on, which isn't really only Vietnamese. You must remember that in the early sixties there was the M Plan, Mandela Plan which said that in every street we must have a representative and so on and that the ANC must be building its underground. The M Plan is exactly that, it is no different, so it's not a Vietnamese import as it were. But going to Vietnam certainly shaped the ideas in their thinking. We had to develop a strategy for the seizure of power and we developed the idea of organs of people's popular power which is a fancy word, or fancy phrase, for really what Mandela was talking about in his M Plan and that was essentially the way in which we had to work. I think there was a strong resonance also with Mao Ze-dong's idea about the guerrilla being fish in the water amongst the peasant population and so on and it also guided the way in which we operated. Unlike a number of countries where you had guerrilla warfare, we operated with our structures being an integral part of the community rather than hidden somewhere in some forest and then entering the community and interacting. It was essentially part of the community and you wouldn't know who was ANC and who was not ANC amongst the democratic and progressive forces in the country.
POM Did this also make it more difficult for the security forces to identify within a community who was ANC and who wasn't ANC?
HE Absolutely in the sense that support for the ANC was widespread, as we know now it was really widespread. Most black people were progressive and were opponents of apartheid so it was fertile ground and the lines between a member of the ANC and a supporter of the ANC were really blurred in the sense that you wouldn't have to say, "I am a member of the ANC, can you help me give this person a lift from one place to another without asking him or her what their names are?" You would do that as a matter of course and people didn't ask questions and do things. So you would assume, OK, it may be something but we wouldn't ask too many questions in the community. It was easy for people to operate within the community, everybody was ANC and anybody was ANC so you wouldn't know really who was ANC and who was not ANC.
Essentially from that germinated the idea of giving form and content to the concept of organs of people's popular power and how did you deal with it. The UDF was a very strong organisation of people's power and it was an expression of people's power, it became in some senses an alternative government in different respects.
POM Was the idea for the UDF conceived of in consultation with internal structures?
HE I often hear people talk of how the UDF was an ANC front and I hear ANC people who came from exile say the same thing and I am appalled and disgusted at that type of thinking in the sense that the UDF wasn't a front of the ANC. People in the UDF had very strong contacts with the ANC and were encouraged, but to regard it as a front I think would confuse really the impact of what it really was because it was an organic growth and an outpouring of people's vision, interest and the commonality that existed within the resistance.
POM So in a sense it was the internal wing of the ANC.
HE That's what people say.
POM It hadn't been banned.
HE I don't know if one could say it was an internal wing. A large number of the key UDF people were ANC people even then and a large number of the organisations that were established were established by ANC activists. But we established from your bursary committee to your schools committees, your SRCs and so on, as ANC activists but it was the right thing to do, not because the ANC wanted it to be done. There's a difference in the sense that there was an importance to mobilise students, not because the ANC said so but because it was necessary in society to do so. The development of civil society was an important development that had to take place. Whilst there were political reasoning and motives and support and motivation for that it wasn't an instruction: you will go about and establish a sewing class or a cookery class. In other words those structures wouldn't have been successful if they were fronts, as it were, or internal wings. I don't know if you could say the ANC's internal and external wing. You had an external sort of presence, but for me working in the front line we were so integrated and infused with what was taking place in the country and what was taking place outside was so clear, there weren't really lines, it was artificial borders. The borders were very, very porous.
POM Physical borders not mental ones?
HE Yes, there were merely physical borders which had no consequence. They were temporary impediments in our ability to understand what was happening. It was no different from knowing what's happening in Johannesburg, sitting in Pretoria. It's absolutely no distinction and problem. We got people from Johannesburg all the time. So I am saying it was very dynamic I think. To me that was exciting, yes, it was an incredible sort of experience. Looking back at it, yes, a very formative period in our history, in our development, in our perspective as we have it today.
POM So you were in Botswana all the time.
HE I was in Botswana. I hung around Gaberone, the capital, but then at a point in time in 1981 the SA government's pressure on the front line states became really tremendous so we had a choice: either you had a work permit or you studied in Gaberone or you had to go to the refugee camp. They wouldn't give me a work permit because I had no skills. I couldn't get into university immediately so they put me in a refugee camp and I went into a refugee camp, stayed for three months, thought it was absolutely the pits, which it was because we were located 120 kms literally from the nearest telephone, so we decided to escape one day and a couple of us escaped from the refugee camp.
POM So you were being detained by the - ?
HE Well in real terms I think if you look at a proper understanding of what human rights is all about, yes it was a detention camp really. The government didn't want refugees hanging about all over the show because they were too scared of the SA government coming in and bombing their places up.
POM Yes but in the evening you couldn't say, "I'm going to bum a lift into town to have a beer with a couple of friends?"
HE Well that was the point about the refugee camp, it was 120 kms from the nearest telephone, you couldn't quite bum a lift even if you wanted to and it was controlled, entry and exit was controlled.
POM What kind of facilities were you given in the camps?
HE There was a camp called Dukwe which was previously occupied by the Zimbabweans so with the Zimbabwean independence we merely took it over and it was very, very rural, just basically made up a village of mud huts with one central tap and with no toilet facilities. It was very basic.
POM So you had a mud hut and that was it?
HE Oh I loved it, yes! Every morning we would follow the cattle from the villages a couple of kilometres away and we would pick up the cow dung to come and plaster our walls and keep the flies away and give this lovely aroma and so on and we became masters at this wonderful art with our fingers and so on into the walls and the floors. So we lived in those mud huts.
POM For the three months what did the 'refugees' do? Were they organised in any systematic way? Were their military guards?
HE We weren't allowed yes we organised ourselves. The Botswana government had its guards and so on where you had a Police Commander who was commanding the camp, as it were. We had rations that were given out and so on and so entry and exit was controlled, the premises were guarded but it was so isolated there was really nothing much to guard. It's not exactly as if there was a big fence around. There was nowhere you were going to go to. It was very, very basic. We did nothing. We formed ourselves into an ANC sort of grouping. We didn't act as individuals, as ANC we would collect our rations all collectively and our moneys. We used to get the equivalent of five rands a month which we would send our delegations once a month to go and buy a goat or something for eighteen rands. We would bargain, negotiate with the villagers and so on. That was our one supply of meat for the month.
POM Had you books? When you went to the camps were you able to take the books you had with you?
HE Very little of the stuff in the sense that we were just bundled into buses.
POM You had to leave most of your belongings behind you?
HE We were bundled into buses and just bussed out into the camp. We had some literature which the ANC organised as well and so we were able to read but we didn't have a library of any sort of significance.
POM So what did people spend their time doing?
HE That's where things became a little frustrating although I think the ANC was a very organised and dynamic structure in the sense that we didn't have a command structure but we had clear leadership and we had clear activities and so we would organise ourselves socially, culturally. We would do things whether it was poetry reading, whether it was cultural days, whether it was sporting activities, cleared the bush out and created a bit of a stadium and organised soccer matches and that sort of thing.
POM Was this done in a planned way or on an ad hoc basis?
HE We organised it as the ANC, yes. We organised that.
POM So of all the people in the camp, how many might have been ANC as distinct from people who had just left the country and gone to - ?
HE The large majority of us were because the other people were Black Consciousness people, AZAPO and PAC, but they were in a minority.
POM Did they keep to themselves?
HE Yes, they kept to themselves because as we grouped ourselves and organised ourselves into a collective, they responded likewise, but there would be a general interaction and they would be these debates that would rage between us and so on.
POM Did you ever find it an irony that in that situation that you're describing that in a way there was, even though it was voluntary perhaps, apartheid to it, of separateness, ANC one place, PAC another place, BCM another?
HE No, I don't quite see that. It was a theoretical, an ideological segregation even though it manifested itself in political ways. There were just BCP people, there were PAC people and
POM Would they join your soccer matches?
HE That's whom we would play soccer with.
POM I see, they would be opponents.
HE And we beat them all the time! The ANC was organised. They acted not as collectives, they acted many times as individuals.
POM Which they are still doing.
HE Which they are still doing I think. We were politically organised as part of that philosophical and broad sort of approach. We were still in that broad church, that church just relocated itself and we just organised ourselves and I think we were pretty well organised.
POM But for those months it brought to a halt your contacts within SA?
HE Yes cut it off completely. It disrupted it completely, cut it off completely. One morning we decided we weren't going to have it so two of us by agreement decided that the logistics vehicle that took its drive around the camp at five in the morning, going to Francistown which is 120 kms away, we would jump in under the mats in the back of the van and escape, and we escaped. We came back to Gaborone, re-established ourselves and fortunately for me University of Botswana, I went to the university and decided to enrol. The only course was to do law again and that was fortunately for me the first year in which they started their law degree so I started all over again doing a law degree but it was essentially a legend for remaining within Gaborone and giving us legal status, so we were allowed to stay.
POM So it was just two of you?
HE Yes, myself and a chap who went on to become the Regional Commander and a couple of years was assassinated very brutally in Botswana, a fellow by the name of Maledi who came from Kagiso in the East Rand.
POM He was the Regional Commander of?
HE Of MK. Later, he wasn't then. And we carried on our studies and it allowed me to think, being a legal person as it were, it allowed me to continue my political work so I re-integrated into political structures and continued with my political work. That was really dynamic and it was great stuff because after my university career, part of which took me to Edinburgh because of the nature of our course, so I completed my degree with the University of Edinburgh.
POM Were you a follower of the Rangers or Celtics? Or did you keep out of that one?
HE No, I desperately kept out of it.
POM You realise that soccer itself could become an instrument or was an expression of
HE It struck horror into my heart because it was my burning ambition to go to this great Europe, London and the UK, great stuff. The thing that was etched in my mind growing up was the idea of underground trains, trains lurking about under the ground. That was a great thing for me. So it was my first trip to the UK getting this part of the scholarship going to Edinburgh and we flew Heathrow straight into Edinburgh and I came in and it was a major culture shock of course because I got into the student digs after registration and just unpacking my bag, in walks this white woman who says, "Hi, I'm Linda and I'm your cleaner." So that was my first 15 minutes in white civilisation with this white woman saying to me she's my cleaner. Who the hell are you? It was a mind blowing experience. That night, it was a Friday night, one of the African students from Botswana came and met with me and said, "I'm going to Glasgow tomorrow, would you like to go to Glasgow?" I said, "What's there in Glasgow?" He said, "It's a very working class place, so what?" So I said to him, "Are there any underground trains?" He said, "Yes, there's an underground train." I said, "OK, then I'll come with you." So the next morning I went with him. We went by bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow and we went into the underground train to get to our destination, which was incidentally to go and see Dollar Brand, but as we got down into the subway of course on the opposite side were Celtics fans coming from a match and they lost and of course the first thing they did to us was, "Paki go home." What the hell is this about British society, who are these 'Pakis', what's this 'Paki go home' and why were they so aggressive? Of course I only learnt later and ever since then I watched British soccer on TV regularly but never ever ventured anywhere close to a match. I was far too scared, all these people in their green and white, couldn't quite figure their saying that. That was my taste into British society.
But coming back, I came back to Botswana in 1985 after finishing off in Edinburgh and I came two weeks after the bombing raid, the June bombing raids.
POM This was when the Eminent Persons Group was here was it?
HE Yes that's right, that's correct. 1985. Very seminal in our development because by that time the infiltration of the enemy into the ANC and its surfacing into the top ranks of some of the front line states as well, together with the encirclement of our units within the country and together with the bombing, actually decimated all our structures inside the country, decimated our contacts and structures. I remember starting off, we started off a new political military command. We now ran political military structures, so political structures could straddle into military and military or political and that distinction was no longer and we felt that was important as part of the strategy of organs of people's popular power and also the idea of seizure of power, that was really germane to the whole issue. So we started off structures, we started off with two contacts in the country and rebuilt our structures over the next couple of years into an enormous machinery. It was truly incredible how fast things developed on political and military lines reopening and political operations and military operations running and we became very, very effective very, very quickly.
POM These military operations now though would be operating from within the country, not from the operations people?
HE There were two types of operational activities. As part of the organs of people's popular power you would base your units in the country and they would be part of the community, but then you would also run special operations so you would run very elite units who would go in for a specific target and a mission and come out. Otherwise your units in the country were never really quite given targets. Generally they were given a political brief, these are our campaigns, these are our programmes, so you carried out military activities in support of those campaigns.
POM But they were again, almost like members of the IRA, they were not identifiable. They just were members of the community who were also another thing.
HE They were members of the community, yes, yes. That's right, yes. We all led very schizophrenic lives even in exile. We had a legal legend, I was a lawyer, a very respectable lawyer in a very, very big firm. I was practising as a lawyer during the day and a revolutionary by night. That was the way life went on and often enough where you could do things under legal cover you would do things, so you would have meetings that were legal because of your cover and meetings that were illegal undercover. So you would have covert meetings and debriefing sessions and you would meet in the bush under headlights.
POM When you left the University of Botswana you didn't have any difficulty then in getting a job?
HE No, I was a lawyer. I graduated into law, it wasn't difficult getting a resident's permit.
POM So when the ANC, so to speak. was still banned, were they still at the refugee camps?
HE Oh yes, we had a very difficult time. After 1985 there was a refugee camp but things were very rough in the sense that prior to 1985 we actually had a very distinct ANC community. In some senses culturally we were very arrogant because we were South Africans in Botswana. We were a little bit, thinking back about it, we always treated ourselves as a little bit more sophisticated and a little bit more organised and more cultured, but essentially we had a community of our own. That community was destroyed by the 1985 raids because after that we would not go to each other's homes. In the past we used to have dinner parties with each other and so on and then we never had dinner parties any longer. If we had dinner parties it would be at the safe house which would be a neutral venue, some expatriate going away for holidays and we would house-sit so we would have a dinner party jointly there or meet there, that sort of thing. We worked covertly in Botswana, we weren't working overtly, no overt presence whatsoever. There was an ANC office.
POM There was an ANC office?
HE Yes there was an ANC office, an ANC rep in Botswana, legal, and he would interact and so on, but it became very tenuous and very difficult. Essentially we operated in Botswana covertly, not overtly and not with any particular permission. There was no permission.
POM I'm trying to get at if on the one hand members of the ANC and other organisations had been rounded up and put in refugee camps and on the other hand the Botswana government still allowed the ANC to have a legal presence in the country.
HE Yes, we had an ANC rep.
POM So you had somebody running that office. Why wasn't that person rounded up and put in the camp?
HE Because the Botswana government had to show some sort of tangible party to the OAU resolution and support for the ANC and other liberation organisations. You had a relationship, it wasn't really one of respect really, just tolerance. Botswana for all its wise words now weren't really very tolerant of us. I don't have a high regard for the Botswana government. They didn't treat us with any bit of respect or humanity. We were treated like scum, we were really treated like scum. I have awful memories of my interactions with authority in Botswana.
POM So we can assume that if you were offered an Ambassadorship to Botswana you would decline it.
HE I would decline it. You know the common joke in exile was that when we go home what would you want to be. And we all said we would want to be Immigration Officers. Why? Because then you would do a PI stamp in all of their passports and send them back because they PI'd all of us. It was a standing joke amongst us, we all wanted to be Immigration Officers to get rid of them. They have no respect for us. With hindsight to some extent we can understand why they did what they did, but they didn't have to treat us like less than human beings. Basically their attitude was that you people are not capable of governing yourselves, we're governing ourselves. So it was that sort of vague, tense sort of circumstance. So we found ourselves always with the opposition party who aligned themselves with us.
POM In a way their attitude towards you in terms of 'you people aren't capable of governing yourselves' was not much different from the SA government.
HE Yes. The strange thing is that the Station Commander in our refugee camp continuously said it to us and very arrogantly. It was amazing to hear six months later that he was arrested for raping a 16 year old girl. This is the type of person who boasts about being able to run a government and a Station Commander and look at what he does now. At least we have ethics and morality about what we do. You can't compare us. He's a rapist. Look at how they behaved, they're all bloody corrupt. We knew they were all corrupt and we knew the SA government had infiltrated some of their structures as well to keep a handle on what we were doing. That was it.
Coming back, 1989 was a very difficult year. It's very interesting last night I went when I was in the military camp I was in a very elite camp which was essentially people who were going into the country and if you had been trained before you went for a refresher course and you would go
POM This is again in Botswana?
HE No, we had no military presence there, I was trained in Angola in between in 1980. I trained in Angola and came back, carried on my activities.
POM You trained in Angola from?
HE In 1980 for a short special course.
HE Yes, political, military, sabotage and all the whole course. We did quite an organised course. Most of the people in my camp are today dead, so till today, and I say to people, I have more friends who are dead than alive really and it's still a difficulty and traumatic for us to deal with death. It's only in the last couple of years that I go to funerals, otherwise I don't go to funerals, I don't deal with funerals. If somebody was shot up we laughed at it. "Ah you got shot up!" That was the way in which we dealt with events and activities. It was very difficult, but last night in all my life in command I had never lost, I had sort of dealt with it, but I never lost anybody until 1989 when I lost two of my cadres in an operation in Park Station and we are going to commemorate the ten years next week, so last night was the first time I publicly spoke. I had met the families before and so on but last night was the first time I publicly spoke to the community and tried to reflect on our experiences and what role that unit played which was an incredible unit. It went through more than fifty operations which were really great.
POM So you were engaged now actively in military operations?
HE Political, military, it was part of our outfit within the country.
POM When you were in Botswana?
HE Botswana. That was the reason why we were there.
POM So you would come into SA and perform
HE We would have military units and we had a command structure and so on, a political, military command, so we had command structures outside and inside and we had organised bases on which we would move people and materials through. They would still have the broad political brief and within the perspective or ambit of the political brief they would carry out various operations. They were given a really wide berth and latitude within which they could act. They were given a particular 'no-no' you know when it came to civilians, when it came to ordinary people, they were clearly schooled in terms of what were legitimate targets and what were not legitimate targets and so on.
POM Most of the people you were with at the camp in Angola are now dead?
HE They were killed in operations, one operation or another or assassinated.
POM Within SA?
HE Within SA, yes. We were really part of a very special structure as we understood later, we were part of a special sort of group of people that came in a particular period of time, that acted in a particular way and got involved in particular activities and so on, our age, our time, our place and so on. It was all just suited down the line. Most of the people that I trained with were killed. It makes it very difficult in the sense that many of us still suffer, the same stuff as that of post-Vietnam, post-traumatic syndrome, so we don't deal with things very well, we don't deal with emotion very well, we detach ourselves from that sort of thing. Last night I sort of, the first time like I broke down but not quite broke down, I still resisted crying publicly. I would not do that, but it was very, very difficult and for the first time publicly talked about emotions. What was that, you know. It was a very difficult experience in that regard, very, very difficult, but it was another life, a different life. It's very difficult to conceive that we went through it.
Given our love I love weapons, I love an AK, I love a Markarov, enjoy the sound, it was great to hear that, but today I am a great supporter of a gun-free SA. I know what it is, I know what its impact is, I know what role it plays. I understand violence for what it was and what it is and what impact it has on society and so forth. It's different. We live in a different society, it's a different country and it's truly a different country. You would never know how different it is unless you see it from our eyes. It is different, radically, it's not the same country, which is why psychologically I think I still get lost in most of our areas because I treat it as a different country.
That was basically it in the sense that in 1989 came the Harare Declaration and we generally ceased fire, which we didn't like because I was poised into an enormous sort of offensive and we were really ready positioning ourselves for major military operations and so on, so we didn't like it but we did it and we slowly understood it, we could intellectually accept it and so on. Yes, I wish we were given a year more, we could be very well positioned because we started really moving in large numbers of units and materials and we were really poised, really poised.
POM You believe that had the command not come down to halt and desist, that given another year you would have had enough units in the country?
HE No, it wouldn't have substantially changed, it would have made us more powerful in the country, a lot more people would have lost their lives but we were military commanders, we wanted to do what we were trained to do and what we had to do. We had to do our job and we were smelling success.
POM Were you smelling success in believing that you had or were close to developing the capacity to seize power?
HE No, at that time in 1989, yes, we thought we could still move towards it but then within the ANC ranks there was this clear sort of development since 1985 where there was this consideration given for a negotiated settlement. You must remember that we started analysing all struggles throughout the world, we were very good at that, very effective, and when we analysed Vietnam, Algeria, looked at Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, we realised that liberation wars would be fought but at the end they would be concluded not by victorious armies marching through the capital but they would be ended around a table. That was the important point in the sense that there was nothing illegitimate about our war, it was morally correct, it was right, but the reality was that that war would not conclude with us as we thought in our early days where we would march in our uniforms, AKs hung over our shoulders, march past the Union Buildings and claim Pretoria. It wouldn't be that and we began to understand that we would end up sitting around a table and saying, "OK chaps, let's take this country forward." There is this deep passion for the country itself and placing the country beyond us as the ANC. We looked at national interests in the continuous way, so it was constantly evaluating that.
As a military commander I didn't quite like the idea of ceasing fire and coming home but it was right. It was right and I understood it as right. The sad thing, of course, was that the two fallen comrades that I lost, the only two people I lost under my watch, died just before that and, as I said to them last night, that's what wakes me up in the morning to go to work when I really feel distraught about the challenges that we have today. That's what gets me going, that's why I work 18 hours a day, because I have to. It's what life is all about and it's a burden we carry so we have to see it through, we can't drop it, as it were. There is still no distinction unfortunately between a personal life and a political life for a struggle, it's still the struggle and hence we make terrible partners for families and terrible family members in the sense that family was the ANC. Oliver Tambo was our father and MK was our mother and that was it, it was our life. So for us who grew up within that generation it is very difficult to actually have proper families, which is why I messed up mine and I think that's part of the casualties. I know what's wrong, I can't quite deal with it, I can't cope with that transition. There is no normality. This is a normal society but we still carry a lot of emotional baggage and psychological baggage and so I have to work 18 hours a day because I just have to, it has to be done. It's not because you're asked to do it, it's because you have to do it.
Transition is important, transition today, democracy today and constitutional democracy is as important as making sure that the weapons were in place and the people were positioned and they were properly trained and we were going to be successful in our operations then. That passion cannot be allowed to die and part of the reason is our commitment to those people who fell. Not all of us made it and we were lucky to have made it through so we have to respect them otherwise we deny our history and deny who we are.
POM Are you often fearful that many of the people who did come back and now occupy positions of considerable power have forgotten that?
HE No, I'm not fearful in the sense that one thing about the ANC and our history was that whenever there was debate about leadership and so on I felt the combination of the political dynamic, the dynamic within the country, we always produced leaders. Leaders were never born, they were produced in struggle so I always felt confident that, yes, so when the great debate about Thabo or not it wasn't an issue for me, it was an issue that I was confident enough that history would ensure that the ANC, being this broad church, would be able to still maintain its leadership within society so as to take it forward through this transition. I understood that and I accept it and I still live by that code. I get disgusted by a number of things that would happen, but you would always get disgusted, but that's democracy and you accept and you don't like everything, but that's normal.
POM Do you ever think of whether the next generation, those who grow up and it was, "Oh, there he is talking about apartheid again, he'll never stop. Oh God, don't they ever get out of it?"
HE I know. The trouble is that it is a normal society, we're making it a normal society but some of us, I think, are still abnormal people, we're very abnormal people in the sense that we grew up with a history, a culture, a background and we see things in a particular way. Our youngsters don't. I mean when we started the ANC branch in my community we started it with the same passion, we were politically involved because, hell no, it was the right thing to do. What else would you do? Come on, is there any choice in the matter? But today there is a choice in the matter. You could become a doctor and not get politically involved. So what? And then today when opportunists get into positions and branches and so on, I get disgusted at this whole thing, they don't know about our history, they don't know about our struggle, they don't know what we went through and they don't understand. But it's what we fought for. We fought so that people wouldn't know it and we fought that people wouldn't know the violence, wouldn't know the difficulties that we went through. We fought for a constitutional democracy in which people would have that freedom of choice and freedom of association and now we are bound to respect that. So you don't like the person but you're obliged to respect a person, so you deal with it, it's normal, it's democracy and that's the way we need to deal with matters. Yes, it's that transition we have to make and we are responsible for that transition. So that's the way we must deal with it.
POM Where were you what were you doing the day Mandela was released?
HE We sat at home in our home in exile and watched the TV and cried. It's what makes life so much a privilege to live for my generation and my grouping of people because we were part of all these historical moments that people will write about and talk about, but we were there, we saw it, we were part of it, we knew it, we made it happen, which is why I think it's such a privilege and an honour to do that. We wrote the headlines, we were the headlines, we made the story, we decided what story was going to be tomorrow and that's the way we dealt with matters. It's the other leg of why I wake up and am in the office at half past six, quarter past six in the morning and work an 18 hour day. It's still in respect of that honour. So we are very privileged people.
POM So you came back from exile?
HE Yes, came back from exile in 1991.
POM You had to go through indemnity and all of that?
HE Yes I went through that process and got my passport before I came into the country.
POM In 1991?
HE Yes. I toured the country and all my units, covertly, and sought their permission to come home and they all gave me their permission and I came home because I didn't want them to feel threatened by my entry back home, so I visited them all, talked to all the cadres, all the units.
POM That's within SA?
HE Yes. I visited them all and asked them for their permission and they said yes.
POM So you were here illegally first and then you went out and got a passport and came back legally.
HE I'm not sure what legal and illegal was because we had illegal documents and we moved about. I suppose now it's a very clear distinction for me but then it wasn't. It was whose legality? I came back in December 1991, I started getting involved in the negotiations.
POM What was your entry point into the negotiating process?
HE I was asked to participate in local political activities and so on. I was involved in local political activities and then I was invited to become part of the delegation from the Transvaal Indian Congress into the negotiations and from there gradually party to the ANC structures and so on and then I was appointed a National Co-ordinator for the Negotiations Commission which was essentially the Secretariat of the ANC's Negotiations Commission. It's remarkable, the government had a department, Constitutional Development with Niel Barnard and eighty members of staff, I had three people one of which was really a secretary and we were just two. I ran the entire outfit just being two people making sure that consultations took place with so-and-so society, making sure that research was done, our experts were lined up, our notes were prepared and we were still much more professional than Niel Barnard and all of his eighty people and we outmanoeuvred them at the negotiating table because at each turn I would make sure that our negotiators were prepared, they knew the positions, they knew what each other were going to say and they had documents in front of them and we dictated the agenda of each and every meeting that went through.
POM This would have been from CODESA 2?
HE CODESA 1, CODESA 2, the Multi-Party Negotiations Process and throughout, yes. So we were involved in the administration. In 1992 I was actually involved in some of the negotiations directly. In the Record of Understanding I was in one of the negotiating teams. I was very proud of that, very excited by the whole thing. So today I have the very difficult burden of having the only record and minutes of all our private discussions, how ideas were developed, where they were developed, who developed them and then our bilaterals, how they developed internally, how they developed and unfolded bilaterally and how they turned out multi-laterally. So I can tell you who said what and where we developed whatever we developed. I've got that record. That's hopefully the subject of my second book.
POM So you're not going to tell me!
HE I've been saying this for a few years.
POM However, it's taking me so long.
HE Yes, from 1993, I worked in the ANC until 1993 in that post. In January 1994 I joined the TEC, the Transitional Executive Council. In April 1994 I got elected to the Gauteng Provincial Government, stayed in the provincial government until August when I was totally frustrated by being a formal politician and accepted very gladly the job to run the Constitutional Assembly in August 1994 and then ran the Constitutional Assembly until April 1997 and then came over to the Department of Justice.
POM Many people have said to me, including some of the people who negotiated for the NP and the government, that what De Klerk lacked was strategic ability, what he had in abundance was tactical gifts. He's a good tactician, a poor strategist. Would you agree with that?
HE But isn't it logical, thinking back, that the apartheid state and its leadership would do exactly that and be exactly that? Because apartheid, just like nazism, was based on such tremendous confidence and arrogance about their authority and their status they never questioned their leadership and the authority and the power. They never had to look at strategic matters of that sort. All they had to do was tactically deal with whatever they had to deal with. Sure, they had strategies in particular respects, the total onslaught strategy and so on, but those were strategies to maintain power, not to take the country forward. They never had strategies to take the country forward because they never had the vision.
POM When you analysed, when they entered negotiations, from the ANC perspective what did the NP enter negotiations for?
HE They entered negotiations, De Klerk was very clear about this in a number of his statements and his pronouncements and our discussions with a number of people, one of whom you would have interviewed several times, Tertius Delport, they knew that the NP had no place in SA's history, they were aware of it. What they had to do was to ensure that they were able to remain a key part of SA history for as long as possible. So De Klerk came into the negotiations with the idea that between the NP and the ANC they would negotiate a power sharing agreement for twenty years so that would allow the NP to come to grips with the new society and then they could fade away into the background. They were negotiating for themselves, they were not negotiating for the country, so if they had a strategy they had a strategy for the NP, they didn't have a strategy for the country. They couldn't have a strategy for the country because of who they were and where they came from. They couldn't have had a vision for SA, they could have a vision for the NP as representing a particular political interest of a particular minority. Think of it this way and ask yourself the question: could De Klerk realistically have had a vision for the future of the country, could the NP having regard to its history and their background? They couldn't because historically they were not positioned, the NP was never a party of SA, it was a party of a minority of whites. So their strategy was a strategy for that minority interest, it was never a strategy for the country. When would they don this cloak and responsibility for the country? They never had responsibility for the country. They had responsibility for a particular constituency and that was the essential distinction between them and the ANC and today the essential fatal flaw of the Democratic Party, much to the detriment of SA's own democracy, is that the DP today is donning on the interest and the cloak of representation of an interest of white people, they are incapable of looking at SA and where is SA going, where is the broader community going to? They are continuously looking at issues in a very narrow, sectional way.
Now you cannot take a country through a transition and into the future if you have a strategy, what strategy do you have? You can have a political strategy for your party but to have a national strategy is something different. It's beyond that of a political party, it's having a strategy for SA's people which is why Mandela was able to actually go and have tea with Verwoerd's wife and all of these people because we had a strategy for the country. We didn't have a strategy for the ANC and the ANC strategy was the strategy for the country which is why its perspective of this broad church is so important. I am saying De Klerk could not have a strategy. How could he, how could we impose that responsibility on him? History wouldn't allow him to have that. Sure he was visionary, he knew that things would have to change but how would he be part of that change? Could he lead his party into a new SA? He could lead it into a position but he's done it so badly it's obviously disintegrating. The NP is having difficulties.
POM Do you think that on the day he released Mandela, which was shrouded in secrecy, that he at that point had a clear vision of where this whole process was going to go, that A was going to lead to B and B to C and C to D and at the end, whatever the end was, that there was going to be majority rule, that it was an inevitability, but that he couldn't admit that either to himself, in some sense, or to his party because if he did his party would say, "You're gone"?
HE Absolutely. That's accurate.
POM So he could never articulate a strategy because he knew what was the inevitable end and if he said it in front of his cabinet they would have said, "You're replaced, goodbye Mr De Klerk, we're electing somebody else as party leader."
HE Correct. The NP, if there is anything that they had which is extreme discipline, it was based on the way in which Hitler ran his national socialism, all this very strict disciplined political approach. So he was schooled in a very strict discipline, very Calvinistic sort of approach to life and also his politics, so he's very committed to his responsibilities to the Afrikaner people. As an individual there is no doubt that he was aware that multi-party democracy and majority rule would be, at the end of the day, the key issue, would dominate. His responsibility was his accountability to the Afrikaner people and he was very respectful of that. It was part of his upbringing, his mental make-up, his psychological make-up. As an individual and an intellectual, which he is no doubt, he could see that majority rule was on the cards but what could he do given his responsibilities as a political leader? It was to give his political party and the people he represented a bigger piece under the sun, as big a piece under the sun as he could manage. That was his responsibility and his role.
One must be cautious about it. I would agree with the argument that De Klerk didn't have a strategy but was a brilliant tactician in some senses but I think the question is, yes he did have a strategy, I think he did have a strategy in a different sense. It was a strategy for the NP. It's a question of what strategy for what. Could he have a strategy for SA and all it's people? He couldn't. But could he have a strategy for the NP? Yes he could. So I would agree with you that he couldn't have had a strategy for the broader population because that's simply an anomaly and a contradiction in terms but, yes, he had a strategy for the NP which is why tactically he had it all worked out in his mind and he was schooled and he is a master at that, he is very good at that, but he couldn't.
Why would we, given our situation, be able to outmanoeuvre them in the negotiations? Why? And the point is that we were able to develop a strategy for SA and not the ANC. If we stooped the level of negotiating as De Klerk wanted it, which is ANC versus NP and let's negotiate a new dispensation between us, we would have ended up with that same problem. The reason why we could not go that route is because we recognised that the ANC could not negotiate with the NP for a new dispensation without having a legitimate basis on which to do so. We needed that legitimacy properly because of having a national strategy. Hence it was necessary to go through the talks before the talks, the talks about the talks, to go into an election, to go into a transitionary period, to elect a Constitutional Assembly and then to have a new constitutional dispensation based on that legitimacy. You needed that. It's because of the national strategy. De Klerk's resistance to that theory or that approach was his lack of a strategy for the country. The point is that I don't think one could expect that of him and I think it's unfair to expect that he would have that. He could intellectually understand it but could he have a strategy for it? No. How could he have a strategy for the broader population which he didn't understand or know? He couldn't, but he could have a strategy for his people, yes, and his party which is what he attempted to do, hence the initial arguments of a shared government for the next 25 years, coming to 15 years and 10 years and that sort of argument. That, I think, marks the approach in the negotiations which I think was for them very problematic. It's the way in which they negotiated and the strategy with which they negotiated. It meant that the tactics they applied were totally useless. They failed.
POM Did the ANC as part of its preparations for negotiations develop any kind of profile of the way in which De Klerk thought, made decisions? Almost along the lines of what you're talking of, given his background, given this, given that, looking at decisions he's made while he's been minister, looking at the fact that he emerged out of provincial politics in the Transvaal, had to fight against Dr Treurnicht for control of the Afrikaner community there, we can expect him to react in this kind of way to certain kinds of proposals? Was any kind of work like that done?
HE I think that was part of the intellectual, for me the way I see it, it's the way we grew up in the ANC and we were taught to think that way, we were taught to strategise on a continuous basis, to plan and analyse and so on and I think it's part of the political discipline we grew up with. So, yes, there was constant debate and analysis of what the nature of the state was. If you look at all the materials produced during that period and even before, the history of our intellectual manifestation and documents and so on will show that it was a preoccupation of SA people. In a sad way I think that one of our weaknesses today is that we don't continue to do that sort of thing, we don't continue to analyse the state and the nature of society and political economy and how it all comes together and relates. I don't think we do it as well as we did it before. I think there is that weakness.
POM Just going back to something very interesting that you said, that the ANC was negotiating on behalf of the country and not on behalf of the ANC itself, brings me to the relationship between the ANC and the IFP. Now when Mandela was released in February 1990 one of the first people he called was Buthelezi with whom he had maintained a fairly close relationship during the period he was in prison, they corresponded with each other. He thanked him for his support for not negotiating with the government unless Mandela was released and the ANC was unbanned and the exiles allowed to return and even from a number of people have said, whether it is true or not but they were former government people, that they would go into what was called a Committee on Obstacles, it was headed by Roelf Meyer in 1988, that they threw into the pot that if he started negotiating with the government that they would throw Durban, the white areas, into KwaZulu/Natal, and he wouldn't go for it. He said you've got to release Mandela, you've got to do this, you've got to do that and that's it. So Mandela rang him and thanked him, asked to visit him and the King. Buthelezi accepted. Mandela then goes to Lusaka where he puts the idea before the NEC and the NEC says, "Under no circumstances." He so informs Buthelezi who takes it as a slight, the King takes it as more of a slight since he was prepared to accompany Mandela to visit the graves of King Shaka and the rest and Mandela must have known of the slight he was doing to royalty given his own close connections to royalty during his upbringing and the fact that even while he was in prison he served as an adviser to the Tembu King. There is a meeting then the following year, I think in February 1991, in Durban between the IFP and the ANC and they agree that joint rallies by the two would in fact be a good idea and the first one was to be at Kings Park in Durban. Then Harry Gwala enters the picture and says, "Over my dead body." The ANC backs down and Mandela never shows up to that meeting. Buthelezi is further slighted and insulted, not that it takes much to get him feeling slighted or insulted.
Just given that outline, (i) do you do not think that the ANC in this regard was not thinking of the good of the country; (ii) that had Mandela and Buthelezi gotten together at a very early stage after his release and had they gone together from community to community, saying the war between us is over, we now have a common enemy, a common opposition that is the government and we must enter it in partnership to achieve the liberation of our country and that decision of the ANC to allow Harry Gwala to call the tune in Durban was a serious mistake and that in that regard the ANC must bear its share of responsibility for the carnage that happened in KZN between 1990 and 1994? It's a long question.
HE The questions we must ask are: who is Mandela and what is Mandela and what is the ANC and what is Harry Gwala and what is Buthelezi, in the sense that Buthelezi and the IFP were never honest about what their agenda was, and it's very clear, as was shown in June 1992, that the IFP was working very closely with the most reactionary components of the apartheid regime via people like Eugene de Kock and all those characters. They were being armed to the teeth, the third force, as was shown in 1992, was clearly part of the strategy and the third force was an integral component of the IFP. As you point out
POM Now you're saying the third force was an integral part of the IFP?
HE What are the facts? The facts are that the carnage that took place didn't start then, it started in the mid-eighties with the rise of the UDF and started with the assassinations and the attacks and, crudely put, the turf battles that took place between the UDF and the IFP. But the IFP were never and are not a national component. The IFP are still today, and electoral politics show it, the IFP are a KwaZulu component. So Buthelezi should not be elevated to the level of a national leader.
POM He's Acting President.
HE Correct, but so importantly because it's so important for peace, it's nation building.
POM But if we move back and say this was a war? You were saying?
HE My argument is that that is, I would suggest, a bad argument because if you look at the nature of the conflict and if you look at the nature of the third force, that was a very integral part of it all. It was an integral part of the destabilisation of the democratic forces within the country and if you look at the way in which the IFP engaged the ANC it was not without the help of the SA Defence Force as it was then.
POM There's a distinction to be made between the IFP drawing on the SA Defence Force when it thought it would help their cause or even the government stoking the flames of conflict between the IFP and the ANC and the root cause of the war between the two. 15,000 people are not slaughtered because a few strategists in a third force are pulling strings in Pretoria or you're even on the ground in Durban or wherever, that one village doesn't go into another and massacre all the inhabitants and massacre after massacre happened just because the government is helping to stoke, to fan the hatred unless that hatred existed.
HE Of course there were those tensions, of course there were tensions within KZN and KZN was never a coherent political entity. Never, in 200 years, right from the time of Dingaan and Shaka, it was never a politically coherent entity. It was an entity always historically led by sheer force and power. That's what it was and that is a distinction with KZN. KZN was worse off than the Great Lakes region. There you had Hutus and Tutsis, in KZN you had Zulus who were divided and you must remember that the Zulu nation itself is born out of divisions. The Zulu nation, is it really a nation? Was it always a nation? It was a nation forged out of conquest, absolutely conquest. So the fact that there were differences within the KZN region was not because of the UDF or the ANC and the IFP, it was something that's historical. It has an historical foundation and when the ANC unfolded its activities, and in KZN when the UDF carried out its activities, it was naturally met with resistance by the IFP which today, as you will see, is very much rooted in its rural base, its traditional authority which runs counter to democratic organisation because of the nature of its composition. Why would the carnage take place in villages and not the cities amongst the working class, amongst the urban population? If you look at the distinctions between the current politics and you look at its historical origins, to me basically it suggest that the argument of a simplistic analysis of merely saying ANC versus IFP equals carnage is far too simplistic because it ignores the history, it ignores the role that the IFP played in its evolution, the relationship between the IFP and the people of KZN. We must not assume that the IFP represented KZN, it never did, it represented a particular interest, a traditional interest which was threatened by the march of democracy. It still is threatened by the march of democracy. You have only to look at the local government developments and the problems with traditional authority and so on.
POM But they are the ruling, in coalition, the ruling party.
HE Of course.
POM So it's not that they're unrepresentative.
HE No they're not unrepresentative. They're not by a long shot unrepresentative, they are a significant authority within that region.
POM On electoral vote count, one would say they are more representative than the ANC. If one is to use voting as a measure of representativity then the IFP is more representative of KZN than the ANC.
HE It has got a great support, the electoral count clearly shows that they are about the same. Well, the IFP has a bit more, but that's not really the issue. The issue is that it's a divided society, politically divided society and being that politically divided society what are the divisions? The divisions are between real progress and how it affects and impacts on traditional authority. Those are the contradictions that exist within that area and it's those contradictions that played themselves out since the eighties. So the carnage of the nineties is not a product of the battles between the ANC and the IFP, it is a product of battles that grew up in the eighties but has its origins well before. If you look at IFP history, not IFP, look at the history of KZN and the conflicts between traditional authority and urban authority it goes back very many years. It goes back to the development of really an industrial base within KZN and outside of KZN with the mining communities. You must remember that a lot of the clashes and so on, today we still see faction fights, we still see carnage. Just the other day there was carnage. It has absolutely nothing to do, it had something to do with positions of authority, competition for resources within communities and those were real issues. Who were the landlord class, who were the people who - ?
POM That's part of my question. Then the ANC with its vision and Mandela himself seeing it as one of his top priorities says, "I must get to KZN and see Buthelezi as quickly as possible", the ANC said, "No." What was the ANC thinking of that point?
HE I need to get my facts collected on exactly those incidents because I was part of the second meeting that took place. After the Durban meeting there was a meeting here in the Transvaal at a church, some church where there was a second major meeting between Mandela and Buthelezi and we had the two teams put together. I forget where that meeting was but I was present at that meeting. The issues went a little bit further than that in the sense that Buthelezi wanted to be recognised as a national leader.
POM But at the beginning, we're talking now Mandela is released, he wants to go and see Buthelezi because he thinks that he can end this war in some way, that blacks should not be fighting blacks and Zulus should not be fighting Zulus, and he thinks that because of his relationship with Buthelezi that maybe he can do something.
HE But what he recognised was that it couldn't. His relationship with
POM But the ANC rather than saying go give it a chance, says no. Why?
HE The ANC had OK, but it comes back to the question of who is the ANC and what is the ANC. The ANC I have argued, and one of the problems you are trying to raise with the argument is that the ANC was able to look at the national vision. But how is that national vision developed? It's not developed in an authoritarian way by a central committee dishing out a line. It is developed out of that organic, conflicting, contradictory and often difficult diametrically opposed views coming out. Harry Gwala represented a different perspective within the ANC. It was a very important one, a very difficult and a very hard line. He had his own history having a very Stalinist approach in the way in which he dealt with things. But who was Harry Gwala? Harry Gwala came from a community and represented groupings of people that were really suffering the butt end of Buthelezi's unleashing his violence on people. Gwala responded, he got caught in that fray, he was responding to a very localised conflict. Sure, Gwala could not see the national interest from that localised interest and that was Gwala's problem, but Gwala had a major impact on the ANC itself in terms of his own argument. But at the end of the day Gwala could not distort the ANC's understanding of the national interests and still maintain that. At each and every instance of our bilaterals with the IFP he would always come on board, always that openness. I was present, I minuted those meetings, always on each occasion, but there are limits to which we would be prepared to compromise. You must remember even well into 1992 who were Buthelezi's allies? Buthelezi's allies were Constand Viljoen and the extreme right wing and the AWB.
POM We're not talking about 1992, we're talking about 1990.
HE But who were Buthelezi's allies politically, who were his allies, who supported him, who bolstered him, who maintained him?
POM Why would the NEC in Lusaka when Mandela goes to them and says, "I have thanked my friend Buthelezi for his help in getting me released and I personally want to go and thank him." And the NEC says, "No." Now in whose interest was that decision made?
HE I'll be honest with you, I don't know of the ANC saying to Mandela, "No, don't go."
POM It's in his Long Walk to Freedom. You can rest assured it's embedded in my head because it's one of these things I bring up constantly.
HE I can tell you from my personal involvement and presence in those meetings and what we attempted to do and how we attempted to do it, we never played out sure from time to time there were these problems, the Gwala faction as it were and its opposing and its hard-line approach to the IFP, of course there was, and if they did so then clearly they were mistaken in that approach but Mandela still in the second meeting with Buthelezi
POM But that's the second, I'm talking about the NEC in Lusaka before he has said, "I will go to Buthelezi", and then he goes to Lusaka and says, "Listen guys, I phoned Buthelezi to thank him for his support", and probably everybody threw their eyes up in the air and said, "My God! Why did you do that?" And he says, "I said I would like to see him." And the ANC said, "No you can't do that." The NEC said, "That's out." What I am saying, in hindsight, why would the NEC at that point say that, when this was a conciliatory gesture being made by Mandela as he was making conciliatory gestures towards the NP and white people? As part of his conciliatory process a meeting with Buthelezi would seem natural particularly since more violence and more lives were being lost in KZN than any place else, yet the NEC sitting in Lusaka says, "No, you're not to go." And he, being a good member of the ANC, a well disciplined member of the ANC, accepts their decision. My question is (i) why would the NEC say no, what kind of vision was driving it at that point, and (ii) was that a mistake?
HE It probably was a mistake, probably was a mistake. At that point in time not even the NEC would take that decision without consultation with the people in the community, from KZN, and I would imagine that that view and that perspective would have come very dramatically influenced by people in KZN.
POM But peace isn't made by if warring nations said that before we get down to negotiations let's have a referendum of whether we should negotiate with the enemy or not negotiate with the enemy, that's not the nature of war.
HE Be isn't it the situation that with hindsight we can intellectualise about these things but when you're in the midst of war you can make mistakes and you can move things and often enough you would see things influenced by transient issues, by immediate temporal issues rather than looking at the strategic perspectives. It's very easy to actually say that and I'm very happy to actually suggest that OK, it may have been a mistake, maybe we could have done a little bit more. But I think there were issues within the communities themselves and the battles that were being waged within the communities that weighed quite heavily on the way in which decisions were made and it could have been a mistake and you may very well say it was a mistake. I am prepared to concede that.
POM I suppose what I'm getting at is that there is, at least as over the years I've talked to people, this repeated emphasis on the IFP's collaboration with the SA government and elements of the third force and whatever and that he was really at heart a traitor, and that responsibility for everything that happened in KZN lies entirely on his shoulders, whereas I am suggesting it's far more complex and that both sides must take responsibility and that reconciliation within KZN or healing of the divisions cannot take place until both sides recognise that they were coming at it from different perspectives, as in Northern Ireland, recognise unless we say we were both wrong, we both made mistakes and we've got to recognise that and that's the first step towards trying to do something about it. But if I keep saying you're more to blame than I am then we've a real problem.
HE Padraig, sure, there's nothing wrong with that analysis. I don't have a difficulty with that. If you look at what took place in all of our meetings that I was aware of, that I was party to from 1992 onwards, that was the tone, that was the pace. Sure in 1991 we may have made that mistake and I am prepared to concede that. Of course. And I think there were many more mistakes we had made. Of course. It's normal and it's also normal for people to argue, yes, they were more wrong than we were given people in battle. I felt that when the cease-fire was called that we shouldn't have it, we should go ahead. But, sure, it would have been wrong. Sure, our people went into Wimpy and blew up Wimpy. Absolutely bad idea. Wrong. Mistake. We get caught up in temporal issues. I don't have a difficulty with that. The question is whether one persistently democracy is never made and the struggle for democracy is never made up with a flawless reputation. Democracy is built up by contradictory forces that compete with each other on a continuous basis. There are mistakes made continuously even now and so we have to accept that and I don't have a problem with accepting that we made mistakes in the way in which we deal with the IFP. I have little difficulty in conceding that point. Of course there would have been mistakes but one can rationalise those and one can explain those. One can intellectualise them post the event and you can see them slightly differently from people who were actually facing that onslaught on a daily basis. I think one has to concede that those mistakes were made and sometimes we could have done a few things better. That may have been one of them. I am very happy to concede that, I don't have a difficulty with it.
POM In that context, it's kind of odd that the two parties that were most at odds in a sense are the two parties in government. Is Buthelezi kept in government because, to use Lyndon Johnson's famous phrase, it's better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in?
HE Correct, for peace, for the sake of peace.
POM So he could still destabilise, he still has the capacity to destabilise KZN.
HE I think it goes to the question of the politics of any transition in any country. Your difficulty is look at Chile, look at all of the great liberation histories and struggles, it's very difficult immediately after liberation and consolidation. Consolidation of liberation is a very difficult exercise and you need to ensure that I mean with every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. With every revolution there's a counter-revolution, there must be a counter-revolution. What is it? How does it come? How does it feature? How does it manifest itself? It may not be those nasty people lurking about in camouflage uniforms and dangerous weapons but it may be that peace, stability and security are those manifestations of the responses and the reaction to the current progress that is being made. It's in the interests of the current government to ensure that at all costs. We really don't want Buthelezi and his three ministers in cabinet but it pays us to do so.
It pays us to be conciliatory about KZN. It pays us for exactly the reasons that you're complaining about and the mistakes that you're pointing out. I think exactly the same sort of logic prevails. What you're saying perhaps is what didn't take place then is taking place now and I think that's really what the situation is. I think it's a necessary sort of thing to go through with. It's necessary that when Ben Ngubane and Frank Mdlalose are being side-lined in the IFP we give them support because they are voices of reason. It is necessary that when Constand Viljoen, as reactionary as he may be, but is considering progressive, or being logical and rational about things, that we must give him support. It's logical that Mandela must support and publicly say that De Klerk is a man of integrity only because you need to keep him in place because what could dispel De Klerk and come in his place could be a worse demon to deal with. So we had better deal with these demons that can help us overcome this process. I think it's important.
POM Is KZN still a divided society that will require for a long time to come, and that while you can deal with by giving Buthelezi the prestige and honours he craves, keep him on board, that those root causes of division in the province will continue after he's dead and gone?
HE But that's an interesting question. Mandela never made the ANC, and you could distinguish and separate Mandela from the ANC, and that the ANC still maintains its politics with and without Mandela in the driver's seat. You could separate Thabo Mbeki from the ANC and the ANC would still continue its politics. The question I ask myself is whether you could separate Buthelezi from the IFP and in negotiations with them often enough you would actually reach agreements with their people but it's when Buthelezi says aye or nay that really counts. In the ANC, the ANC as you pointed out, could overrule Mandela but can the IFP overrule Buthelezi? Is there a distinction between the IFP and Buthelezi? Buthelezi is 70 odd years now, he's got serious diabetes for a very long time which imparts - some suggest it is the reason why his mood swings and so on and he really caused a lot of problems because of those mood swings and changing of views every now and then. But will the IFP remain the IFP after Buthelezi? Can it? Will not people as strong as Ben Ngubane and Frank Mdlalose and them were, voices of greater reason I think, surface and change the perspective of the IFP? I think so, I think so. I think that things will change and at the end of the day it's not so much Buthelezi and the IFP. I think at the end of the day what is really going to determine matters is economic growth, improvement of the quality of life in KZN and the way in which we actually manage to establish greater equality amongst people that will remove those contradictions because those contradictions that exist now manifest themselves because of an underlying problem in the society. It's all about jobs, it's about socio-economic status, it's about depravation.
POM And it's about progress and the role of traditional leaders.
HE Absolutely. Given them economic growth in the rural communities, give them greater prosperity and you will change the face of that community and the issue is not for me, the IFP and the ANC, the issue for me is what happens on the ground to ordinary people's lives, what happens with the impact of AIDS, what happens with the unemployment coming from the gold price and the way it reflects itself, how do we deal with the agricultural community in KZN, how do we deal with empowerment? Those are the issues. At the end of the day I think it's for me I think it's a nice academic debate but it's not the issues. The issues are how many people have jobs, how many people have access to wealth, access to education, access to basic things like water and so on. That's really the issue and that's how we're going to decide the issues and I think the old bogey of the ANC/IFP debate is a bogey because that's not what issues are about. The issues are about people's lives. That's the quality of people's lives and how that manifests itself in the contradictions in society. For me that's the issue.
POM Were you surprised when Buthelezi turned down the offer of the Deputy Presidency but on the condition that the Premier of KZN would be an ANC member?
HE With Buthelezi you learn never to be surprised. It's not possible. The man's health, and I am convinced that his diabetes and his mood swings really impact very heavily.
POM Which we've experienced.
HE I was told this by people in the old SA government and how they had to be very careful about what he was fed and his glucose levels and so on whenever they entertained him. This I learnt in the negotiations process. It was always an issue because of his diabetes. It's a health issue that he has mood swings. It goes with his health.
POM That's why we got through those interviews in ten minutes. I had run out of 60 questions, yes, no, yes, no.
HE At different times he can actually be quite a decent soul. He can actually be very decent to talk to and get along with and at other times he can be extremely difficult and stupid. But it's is Buthelezi the IFP or is the IFP Buthelezi and is there a distinction? What happens when Buthelezi goes? I think it's a major issue. I am convinced the nature of the IFP will change. It must. Its approach to things must change.
POM The Ngubanes and people like him will begin to come out of the closet, so to speak, and assert themselves a lot more.
HE I think so. But look at the IFP itself and what key leaders and figures do they have? Its best is in Ben Ngubane, Frank Mdlalose, Ben Skhosana and of course the fellow who left, Sipho Mzimela. Those were the key thinkers, the intellectuals, the visionaries, the people who could move it forward. Who is there now? Lionel Mtshali. Honestly, I sat in negotiations with him, I don't want to be disparaging about the man but he could barely say anything without a note being passed into his hands. He still can't. He sat throughout the African Renaissance meeting reading his speeches and studying them. I sat next to him. I've worked with the man throughout the negotiations and I've seen him.
POM But there is also a certain irony in the fact that the party that represents the most rural, deprived people, the most illiterate and ignorant, is the party who has the minister in charge of the IT revolution. Internet in every mud hut?
Going back to the negotiations: (i) what do you think, beyond the obvious, were the key turning points; (ii) when did the process move out of De Klerk's control and just had an inevitable momentum moving in the ANC's direction; (iii) what lessons did you learn about negotiations in general as one had to pull from CODESA 1, CODESA 2 and the Multi-Party Talks at Kempton Park? If one had to pull some general lessons that could be generic to all successful negotiation processes, what would they be; and (iv) what lessons did you learn that what must be avoided, mistakes or traps that one can easily step into that are landmines?
HE There are several questions you are asking. Let's separate them. The turning points, I think the major watershed was the Harare Declaration in 1989. It was a vision of Oliver Tambo because what happened there, and your earlier question related to whether De Klerk had a vision or not, because the two incidences are related in the sense that De Klerk assumed leadership in 1989 but in 1989 Oliver Tambo had already mobilised the rest of Africa in pre-determining an agenda for the transition in SA. If you read the Harare Declaration and look at what is taking place today you will see where we get our ideas from and the whole idea of the two stage process and the pre-elections, negotiations about negotiations, the transition and so on. The bogey about the interim government and ruling by decree was a side issue but the point really was De Klerk was outmanoeuvred by the time he got into office. He was outmanoeuvred because a strategy was in place, which strategy dominated already. The Harare Declaration played itself out in the question of the constitutional principles and negotiation of the constitution and interim government and moving beyond.
POM So essentially the ANC took the Harare Declaration as its strategic vision and never moved from it?
HE Always. Sure, we varied
POM Only made concessions without conceding its principles.
HE Yes, never violated those principles and its strategy was intact. So by the time De Klerk was in government, by the time he became State President and called the shots, he lost it. He lost it then already because read the Harare Declaration again and you will see the way it relates to the current transition as it's unfolding. By and large the principles are intact. That's the one point.
The second point that really changed things was in June 1992 when Tertius Delport insisted and when Cyril played his wild card without a mandate, which is the major issue. The question was: on what majority would we be able to adopt a constitution, which was the bogey as well because the issue for Tertius and the NP was always for how long will the NP be able to remain in government. Even at that point in time Tertius was still talking about a 15 year period and hoping for it. They were still hoping for a coalition government with the ANC in which they jointly decide on a coalition constitution which would not be able to be amended and they would remain in power for that period of time. So June 1992 was another turning point.
Between June 1992 and September 1992 we broke the back in the channel bilaterals and the Record of Understanding because that came about a major issue which was a two thirds majority on the question of the adoption of the constitution and an election in between. Where the NP won, which was a deviation made from the Harare Declaration, was that you would have an interim constitution. The Harare Declaration envisaged acceptance of key constitutional principles and no more than constitutional principles and an interim government which would rule by decree. Where the NP won was that they argued that there should be no constitutional hiatus, there should be an interim constitution and they tried to negotiate that constitution as a full constitution which the ANC wanted merely as constitutional principles. So they won that and it was a minor concession in the greater scheme of things in the sense that you had an interim constitution and you still had the election after which the final constitution was drawn up. So that was the second turning point.
The third turning point was the Record of Understanding and then between those three key points I think that settled SA's transition conclusively.
The other question you're asking which is a slightly broader one, sorry how did you put it again?
POM If you had to look at lessons, if you were advising parties within a country who had been in conflict with each other for a long time, what lessons, and identify the major things that they must address?
HE I put that down in that document which we had evolved out of consultations with a number of African countries and it's a paper I delivered at the African Renaissance meeting. Maybe I should give you a copy of it. A lot of those principles essentially what were we talking of? The key principle for negotiations for me is that process is as important as substance and sometimes process is even more important than substance. Don't look at the fine print, look at the process itself because if you act in a way in which to bring parties together it's more important than the actual substance of the agreement itself. If you look at the history of our negotiations then you will discover that the hard positions that people adopted dissipated always at times when we had retreats, when we allowed people to informally interact with each other, when we allowed a process to unfold in which toenadering (rapprochement) takes place. So that process is as important as substance. Be careful always about the way in which you handle process. Don't be so dogmatic about the key principles, about the substance, the issues, in that constitution.
What we did in our negotiations was: why were we successful? I think we allowed discussions to go on and whenever there was a controversy we put it on a back burner. So we carried on negotiating the constitution and the deadlocks only came at the end. We never allowed the deadlocks to bog the process down in the beginning. So we gave them that opportunity to discover that common ground until such time they discovered that they have so much common ground that the issues of deadlock were actually very limited and weighed against the issues of common ground that the importance of moving ahead where everybody could smell victory.
POM What appeared to be a major deadlock in June had become a minor deadlock by September given the progress you had made on other issues.
HE Absolutely. The second point is that a negotiation is a negotiation, it is not about a victorious party marching with arms in hand through the capital, it's a win/win situation. That's what negotiations are about, it's about give and take. You give some, you take some. Where you draw the line is on principle and you've got to decide on what the principles are, what's the difference between strategy and tactics. Where you can master tactics you can lose out on strategy. It's the whole principle of dialectics. It's what we were taught in the key ANC document in 1969, the Morogoro document, Strategy & Tactics. That's seminal in ANC development and its history. If you want to understand the ANC you must read that document, it's seminal. If there's one document it's that Strategy & Tactics because you're allowed to see the distinction and the dialectics between the dialectical interaction between as what's a strategy and what's a tactic and how do you deal with matters. So in that sense I think that process is very important. For me the legitimacy of that process, again, is it's absolutely important.
Secondly is the question of inclusivity, you can't negotiate by ignoring other role players. You've got to negotiate with all role players so inclusivity must be a principle.
Thirdly, I think, as is related in the SA experience, civil society plays an incredible role given this modern day and age, the importance of all stakeholders and it's part of the principle of inclusivity.
POM Does that make for, and here the question may be a dichotomy of sorts, does that make for transparency and openness where everyone is involved?
HE Key words, key words. Absolutely. Transparency, openness and inclusivity.
POM Yet on the other hand negotiations over the centuries and even today show that making deals a deal made behind a closed door may the most important deal. I put it in this context, that if you negotiate always in the open that in this day and age that means everything is negotiated
HE By people's friends.
POM It would be the Heisenberg Principle that the media is observing and interpreting and analysing everything coming out of this transparent process so that everyone in the process, rather than dealing with each other, are now also dealing with, I was going to say a third force but I won't.
HE Their constituencies.
POM With something that can distort, shape, whatever. So they negotiate with a view not to you and I engaging directly in a negotiation but with a view to have that will be interpreted by the media so I will put a spin in my negotiations with you so that I appear to be the good guy when it's made public and that's a barrier to good negotiations.
HE Absolutely. Sometimes, in some instances you've got to allow parties to remove themselves from their constituencies. The principle is that you lead because your constituency doesn't always agree with what you're saying, but that's what leadership is all about. You don't lead only from the front, sometimes you lead from behind and you've got to determine when you're leading from behind and when you're leading from the front. It's the point that Mandela made publicly when the debate on the death penalty came about and he said, "No, there won't be. Even if a referendum declares that a large majority of the people want the death penalty, the point is that we need to move towards a society in which it is not an imperative." And the point about it is that sometimes if you have too much of openness you allow people to grandstand in the negotiations so they're not talking honestly, they're talking to their constituencies. They're saying, "Hey guys, I'm not selling you out", and sometimes you've got to allow them to extract themselves so that they can overcome those differences.
POM So you have to find balance between transparency, which is key on the one hand, and sometimes the absence of transparency which is key on the other.
HE But what's that balance? The balance is in the term of accountability. If you leave matters that are transparent and open but if you don't have a level of accountability you're going to create a problem, so in a sense what you do is that even if you go in and have your private deal but go back and account, go back and account so that you actually can take people on board because if you and I negotiate in the quiet, in a smoke filled room and we arrive at an agreement, what value is that agreement if you cannot bring the people behind you on board?
POM In fact the channel would have been a good example of two people doing negotiations in private and then being able to bring their respective parties along with whatever.
HE The channel was never really two people.
POM Three on each side.
HE No, no, between June and September 1992 that channel bilateral was Cyril, Joe Slovo, Jacob Zuma, Mac Maharaj, Valli Moosa, Penuell Maduna, Matthews Phosa and then we would bring people in and out. On the NP was Roelf Meyer, Leon Wessels, Sam de Beer, Dawie de Villiers, sometimes Kobie Coetsee, and they would bring people in and out. We had different little teams. I think there was magic and there was a chemistry between Cyril and Roelf, but be very careful of reducing it very quickly to personalities at that level because it was a broader issue than that and the accountability to our parties was continuous. It was documented, it was properly accounted and each side were properly reporting and at each turn we were trying to find a way in which we would bring our regional structures on board in terms of reporting and taking them on board. Look at the debate on the question of strategic perspectives which is attributed to Joe Slovo, which is not necessarily a Joe Slovo principle. Everybody reduces it to that because it is suggested that it was Joe Slovo's argument. He articulated it in that article very well. They came out of a series of meetings and discussions that we had and it flowed out of the discussions that we would have to grasp the nettle, as JS said, that sometimes we were going to have to deal with the army and the civil service and give them certain compromises and so on which would allow us to overcome these problems.
So be careful of being very reductionist in that analysis. Yes there was an importance, the importance of the relationship between Cyril and Roelf was very important, but it cannot be over-extended as in the instance of the channel bilaterals. We had some hair-raising discussions in those channel bilaterals. Leon Wessels, there's a fellow who died by the name of Gert Myburgh on their side, and myself and
POM Gert Myburgh?
HE Gert Myburgh was a minister, he was Deputy Minister of Law & Order. He died of a heart attack two years ago. Between the two of them and between myself and Billy Cobbett we negotiated the Hostels Agreement which is an annexure to the Record of Understanding. So there was a personal chemistry between myself and Leon Wessels but it was never an individual issue, and that's the way we dealt with it.
POM To relate that to something you said earlier about what was very important, and that was process of putting people in situations where they get to know each other as human beings with families.
HE With real fears and concerns.
POM And who might also follow the same soccer team or whatever, have a common interest in soccer and say, "Gee I follow - ", "Oh yes, Oh Gee!" Can there be successful negotiations without there being a certain level of trust established?
POM that's OK, I can go back to my constituency with that because Hassen wouldn't say it unless he can deliver on it and I trust what you say. I don't say I wonder what his motive was, was he still saying that because he wants to perpetuate apartheid for another five years or ten years or wants a builtin agenda here? Is there a point where people must negotiate where they accept that each other no longer have 'hidden agendas'?
HE Trust is a very difficult term because trust in what and trust at what level? There can never be total trust but there must be trust and confidence at a particular level, yes, that's fundamental, that's very important that trust. Did you read Leon Wessels book? Leon Wessels makes a very important point which I well remember because I was present. It was in December 1992, 3rd, 4th December 1992, we were at the bosberaad out near Ellisras and we used to wake up at five o'clock in the morning and get into the pool, and that morning it was Leon Wessels, Sam de Beer and myself and Joe Slovo who were in the pool and we were swimming together and for the first time, as Leon says, "The scales of prejudice fell from my eyes", because here was this communist swimming in the same pool with me and talking and we were joking and over drinks people began to realise that they all had children and they all wanted the same things for their children. There was nothing different, we all went decent education and jobs for them and we want a better society, we're all damn South Africans here, and that realisation that's when very important pennies started to drop and you don't count those pennies sometimes. I think it's important not to ignore them. And the penny did drop on those occasions and I think it was seminal.
There's a level of confidence, but listen, this guy, he comes from a particular constituency, I understand his problems, I know what he's talking about, but I am also convinced that he wants to move the process forward. He has also developed a joint understanding of a vision because that's at the end of the day what the negotiations are all about, it's developing a joint vision. You must have a joint vision otherwise you can't negotiate an agreement. That agreement constitutes that vision. How are you going to develop that? You're going to develop that by negotiating it and so at the end of the day it must be a vision based on the agreement which has a joint ownership. It is not something I have forced on you and that's the way in which you're going to carry it forward. That joint agreement, that vision is based on a certain level of trust.
POM So ownership of process?
HE Fundamental, fundamental, ownership of process. It's very interesting, you know sometimes in the channel bilaterals, I remember one time when Kobie Coetsee barged into the door. Kobie Coetsee is a very conservative fellow and very problematic to the NP and sometimes we had to bolster the NP people to enhance their own arguments. For instance, where we were negotiating a sensitive agreement we would make sure that Kobie Coetsee and Hernus Kriel didn't know about these things until the final end. I remember this one occasion at 260 Walker Street when Kobie Coetsee barged into the door. He was terribly upset about the relationship between Mac and Fanie, and "Waar is die fokken Manie?" Mac and Fanie, fucking Manie. Roelf Meyer would say to us, "Listen don't let Kobie know what we're talking about. Allow me the opportunity of first getting De Klerk on board and so on and then we can bring them on board." But you would empower each other in that way. You would empower each other and give them that confidence and that's how you would build their trust.
Sometimes we can come from different constituencies but we can reach an agreement, an understanding between us. The issue is how do we sell it? And sometimes we must help each other in selling things, which is why Mandela made that strategic series of remarks relating to De Klerk's integrity and then contradicted himself at a later point and said he has no integrity, in the CODESA 2 plenary. It's important to empower each other, sometimes it's important for them to give them a boost of confidence and lift them because you want to bolster them. That's the way to do it.
POM They must do that to you too? It's reciprocal.
HE No, no, look at the SA situation. We could talk to their constituency but they could never talk to our constituency because of where we came from. Look at all the press statements, look at all the public pronouncements and you will see by and large that most of our public pronouncements were related to speaking to their constituency, not ours. And look at their pronouncements, they were continuously trying to speak to their own constituency. So for us it was important in our public pronouncements to speak to their constituency and give them that confidence and give their negotiators some level of support and confidence.
Look at 1991, Mandela's talking about, "I will be prepared to even consider a Lancaster House type of agreement with a number of whites sitting in parliament." The first time, 1991, December 1991. Very key. What was he doing? He was talking to their constituency. Look at him when he talks on all the IFP related issues and also all the difficulties. He was never talking to our constituency, he was talking to their constituency all the time. That was a key difference between the NP and the ANC. Whose constituency are you able to talk to and how do you talk to them? And the fact that you don't always talk to your own constituency, sometimes you make pronouncements to your constituencies but it's meant for them. And that's important.
POM Now how did the government first try to take sole ownership of the process?
HE Well they started off trying to have sole ownership and then realised that they couldn't.
POM What did they do? Was that when they called the Peace Accord?
HE The Peace Accord, it was before the Peace Accord. If you look through the key agreements, the Groote Schuur Minute, the DF Malan Minute and so on you will see the issue of trust coming up and the issue of confidence in each other. If you look at the 1990 meetings then you will see them dealing with those issues. Look at the question of the release of political prisoners, what was Mandela saying to De Klerk? Release some political prisoners so that my constituency can feel confident, but De Klerk would never make that statement publicly because he would be seen to be denying his own constituency. He couldn't speak to the ANC's constituency. If you look at the statements, just analyse the statements and ask yourself who are they talking to and you will see.
POM So you would see the Peace Summit that was called before the beginning of CODESA 1, which De Klerk called but which the ANC did not attend, was the ANC saying to De Klerk, listen you want to be both player and referee?
HE And referee at the same time, correct.
POM That's why we're not attending.
HE But that's the whole argument about the principle behind this argument of being player and referee. What he was saying to De Klerk is that you're not going to be able to take this country forward without us. If you want to take this country forward we're going to have to do that collectively. And De Klerk really lost it, that was another, if you want to call it, a turning point which De Klerk learnt, he couldn't go anywhere without the ANC. That peace meeting was of no consequence unless he dealt with it in consultation with the ANC. The ANC wasn't going to say it is the apartheid regime that wants to sue for peace now, they're not calling for peace. We are the promoters of peace, we want to bring an end to the violence and that's why it has to be done collectively and jointly and there must be a joint ownership which is why, if you look at the Peace Accord and the way in which it was structured, the agreement was structured, the structures were organised, then you will see it was meant to generate that level of inclusivity and co-ownership and so on.
POM That was the Peace Accord. Sorry, which one now are we talking about?
HE We're talking of the early 1992 Peace Accord. There were two.
POM There was a Peace Accord prior to CODESA 1, then there was the Declaration of Intent at the end of is that the one?
HE That's right.
POM That's where he would have signed on.
HE The first time De Klerk tried to call this peace meeting it failed and then the second time it worked and that's when they established the Peace Secretariat. In fact you're right, it was preceding the December 1 Accord.
POM Yes that came out at the end of where everybody signed up on. I'm nearly done, thank you for what's been a lesson. We could go on for hours. I think it was Patricia who had mentioned, well two things, one was from Willie Hofmeyr who said that when they were in government when the negotiations about the final constitution were still going on that many then began to see crime as a real looming as a problem that was going to require a lot of attention and they, the ANC, were in favour of watering down some of the more liberal provisions of the Bill of Rights rather than being seen as the champion of all, and that the NP seeing the Bill of Rights as its last chance to entrench its 'minority' rights for ever wanted the strongest possible Bill of Rights. So you had the anomalous position of where the radical ANC, comparatively, was in favour of a more conservative Bill of Rights while the conservative NP was in favour of a more radical Bill of Rights.
HE I know what you're talking about and I agree with it but I would translate it in a slightly different way. A Bill of Rights is still potentially the most revolutionary document in any society, it's revolutionary, it deals with basic rights and fundamental rights. But basic rights and fundamental rights can often be confused with very reactionary arguments which is not really revolutionary, which is counter-revolutionary because in that Bill of Rights you could entrench those racial divisions and those problems, those contradictions in society which are entrenched. At the end of the day a Bill of Rights is no more than a document which puts into law a prescription of what those rights are but often enough it can be a very reactionary document as opposed to a very revolutionary document and it's not a question of watering down rights or entrenching rights, it's the quality of the rights and the quality of those rights as it impacts on democracy itself, because often enough the right to bear arms is really a very reactionary right but it could be interpreted as a right so does it make it a brilliant Bill of Rights ignoring the right of the right to life, whether it's death penalty or abortion could be potentially very radical or could be potentially very reactionary? I am saying a Bill of Rights, watering it down, what does it really mean really? My own view is that a Bill of Rights can be more than just a legal document, it can be a very revolutionary document and it's really the quality of it that we instil in it which is really what one can say about the rest of the constitution. I mean, sure, the NP did see the Bill of Rights as an opportunity in which they would be able to entrench certain sectional interests, certain reactionary interests and the ANC would be trying to water that down, of course they would be trying to water it down. To me it's not a detraction from a commitment to the Bill of Rights because it's the way in which one interprets a Bill of Rights.
POM Just two more things. Somebody said to me that Albie Sachs was opposed to a Bill of Rights?
HE In the mid-eighties, yes. Albie opposed a written Bill of Rights. He wanted a Bill of Rights to evolve out of common law so that the courts were not restricted by a written law. He felt that rights should be allowed to evolve and go beyond what was written and that if you enshrine it and entrench it you would be straight-jacketing rights.
POM So he was looking at the British model in a way.
HE Yes the British model of a Bill of Rights, that's what his argument was. The others were saying, no, no, we want a Bill of Rights, it must be written, it must codified. And he was saying codifying it would straightjacket it. These days, of course, he's seen as a champion of a written Bill of Rights which is a contradiction in terms.
POM Going back to Patti Waldmeir's book, she tells the story, if you want to put that label on it, of the evening before the plenary session at CODESA 2 when the NP, Tertius Delport, had put this new set of proposals regarding percentage thresholds on the table which would, if accepted, work to the ANC's disadvantage and he and a group of others went to Mandela's house late at night.
PAT Not Tertius, Cyril.
POM Sorry, Cyril and those in the group went to Mandela's house late at night and he was asleep and they threw pebbles at the window and he comes down looking regal and says he thought his last moments had come, that someone was trying to fire bullets through the window. They discussed the problem with him and according to her he said, "Well halt negotiations", and they said, "Gee, the plenary report is due tomorrow." And he said, "Halt negotiations", and left it up to Cyril's imagination to come up with what he did come up with was, with no mandate, he threw the 50% saying we will accept this but there will be six months and if we don't have a constitution within six months we will go for a referendum and 51% wins the day. It was obviously, if you were good negotiator on behalf of the NP
HE That's not the proposal he put forward by the way, it was a question of the 70%, 75% then the six months thing which was finally entrenched actually in the interim constitution.
POM OK, but at this point he knew that Tertius would turn it down and that De Klerk would turn it down, so they turned it down. Albie says he was there that night and that Mandela under no circumstances said halt negotiations. Afterwards Cyril in a couple of radio interviews said we brought negotiations to a halt because we wanted to put the NP in its place. Well then, who halted?
HE Your last story is the most accurate one. Essentially I think all of us would like to find a story where we can see ourselves as being part of the key decisions when things took place. I wasn't present that night and I don't know about it, I just read about it, I didn't hear about it and I doubt whether Mandela would ever have said halt negotiations. In fact I am confident that that's not the truth. The hurly and burly of the negotiations and the pace at which we were going it was totally different, it was so hectic that it didn't allow for a delegation to trundle off.
POM He might have said, "Halt CODESA 2" rather than no? OK.
HE And I doubt whether Albie would have been part of that delegation.
POM You doubt whether he was at the meeting? OK.
HE Yes. I will not say it is a lie. I doubt whether it was, I don't know, I really don't know. Anyhow, I think the way in which matters went is because if you look at the morning of that plenary and toing and froing, because we had gone past the discussions of that night, the decisions were never taken that night as to how to do it. We had never engineered that on the basis of an instruction to halt negotiations. It was let's still see if we can get them to something and we went through bilateral and then consultations, bilateral consultations, the Patriotic Front were the group that we were consulting with. Mandela was even there, he was in the plenary and he had been talking to people and so on but we were trying to pull parties together and that's the time when Cyril, without really a mandate, basically threw out the argument in the sense that he knew it was an argument the NP could never support and they would be seen as being the parties who were bringing the negotiations to a halt, because at the end of the day it wasn't the debate itself that was the issue for the deadlock, the deadlock was really related to the ability of a democratic majority to have a constitution passed. The NP having secured the agreement relating to or really wanted to secure an interim constitution which would be virtually unamendable because then in negotiating the interim constitution they could ensure that they had a dispensation which would most suit them. All they need to do then was put the lid on it so that you couldn't change it. That's really the issue, whether the NP would be able to put that lid on that agreement or not and we were saying no you couldn't, you would have to have whatever agreements you arrive at subject to an elected assembly approving it and that's a principle of legitimacy, fundamental.
POM Did Cyril discuss this 50% proposal with others beforehand or was it an inspired - ?
HE I think it evolved out of that toing and froing between the two rooms and what came out from our discussions with the Patriotic Front. We sold it first to the Patriotic Front, including Sam Shilowa even though he later disputed it, but including Sam Shilowa, and they were all taken on board and Cyril went for it.
POM So there was an agreement before, not an agreement as such but
HE We were just developing a negotiating position because we all knew what was going to be the outcome whatever the position was. The issue is who was going to be responsible for the deadlock and why and each party was already trying to mobilise. Both sides knew that there was going to be the deadlock. The issue was publicly how will this be played out. So we had to actually put forward a counter-proposal which would make sure that they appeared to be for what they were.
POM Cyril subsequently in some radio interview said, "We brought it to a halt because we wanted to put the NP in its place."
HE Yes, that could be an interpretation to it but essentially it was very clear that the NP were intransigent, they were intransigent on the question of the majorities that were required to adopt the constitution and that intransigence was not going to go anywhere. We were looking for some goodwill and belief that they would be prepared to back down on it. They weren't prepared to back down on it so they had to be shown, exposed for what they were.
POM Who benefited from the breakdown?
HE You could interpret it as nobody benefited and you could say that the ANC benefited because at the end of the day the ANC did benefit because it's not taken on its own right because it was thrown into the background very quickly by the Boipatong massacre and then the series of activities and then of course the Ciskei massacre and in between we had the channel bilaterals. So the ANC's hand was significantly strengthened because the NP lost out by the Boipatong massacre because there was a breakdown, there was a deadlock but there wasn't a breakdown. The breakdown came after Boipatong because immediately after Boipatong there was a special National Executive Committee at which the ultimatum and the exchange of memoranda were then dealt with.
POM Again in Waldmeir's book she talks about the Record of Understanding and recounts meeting Joe Slovo afterwards and he briefly said to her, "They caved in on everything." Did the NP at that point cave in on everything?
HE Yes on the key issues they did cave in, they did cave in on the key constitutional principles that we wanted to endorse, were endorsed, and so was the principle of the six months. You finally reach an agreement, we will have an interim constitution based on constitutional principles which started off being six and then ended up being 34 constitutional principles. Based on these constitutional principles we will have an interim constitution, we will have an election after that. That election will determine the Constitutional Assembly which will draft a constitution in two years and if in two years that constitution is not passed you have six months within which to resolve it, which is another key principle in negotiations which is deadlock breaking mechanisms, always that safeguard and which is why the idea of the certification, the Constitutional Court and the third which was the independent panel of constitutional experts came into being. Essentially what we did is that we would negotiate an agreement in terms of which the validity and the legitimacy and the enforcement would be placed in the hands of an independent group outside so that it's not up to you and I. So between the Constitutional Court and the panel of constitutional experts in the final constitution were key issues and of course we had to place - you see we had no guarantee that the NP would filibuster the process and not allow the final constitution to be endorsed which is why we wanted a two year stipulation, we had to complete the constitution in two years failing which if the NP were too intransigent in getting that we would give a period of six months and then the role of the Constitutional Court and the role of the panel of constitutional experts within that six months and given that majority period would come into play. As it turns out on the night of May 7th 1996 we actually had occasion to consider that proposal.
POM If the NP caved in on everything that's tantamount to saying they surrendered?
HE Yes. That was so.
POM In that case in what sense was it a win/win situation when one side surrendered?
HE But what did they win in 1992? They won agreement that there will be no constitutional hiatus, there will be an interim constitution. What else did they win? That there will be a government of national unity which was really the ANC argument dealing with a compromise. So they won those two points and they won the point on the question of the regional dispensation and so on. It wasn't that they caved in on all the issues. They caved in on the major issues, yes. It wasn't a total surrender, it was a recognition that majority rule would prevail. That was a turning point.
POM Just for the last one on SA and then I want to ask you one on Northern Ireland. What role did Kobie Coetsee play in this whole thing?
HE People have various interpretations and arguments about the role that Kobie Coetsee played. Madiba in his early time tried to suggest that Kobie Coetsee played a very important role. I think, yes, that is true in the early parts in 1985 when Madiba was in Tygerberg Kobie did play that important role in getting the message across. But Kobie played a very conservative, very reactionary and very awkward role during the negotiations of the interim constitution, a very awkward man, a very difficult man, which is why it was so important to have him elected as the President of the Senate. He comes from the Free State, has had enormous impact and influence on the party and Madiba was just making sure that Kobie would be moved in the right direction. So he moved him in the right direction, bolstered his hand just as we bolstered the hand of Constand Viljoen to make sure that he is a man of credibility and his credibility was never questioned so that he would be able to get across points which otherwise others would not. But Kobie was a very awkward man, very, very awkward.
POM When you say awkward?
HE He was hard-nosed, he was conservative. During the CODESA 2 negotiations in the working groups he was a very difficult man. You will remember the rallies between him and Kader Asmal in Working Group 2.
HE Not Working Group 2, Working Group 1. Very awkward. Him and Kader Asmal would have these rallies where they would try to outdo each other. Needless to say, I mean you couldn't compete with Kader Asmal!
POM That's a no win!
HE Absolutely. You can't compete with him. His oratory, Kader is probably one of the best orators in this country. He's very powerful and so Kobie couldn't match him.
POM The one about Ireland is, this is deadlock breaking mechanisms or whatever: you had a situation last week of where you had George Mitchell's review of the agreement, you had him coming up that there should be the triggering of the mechanism to bring the power sharing government into being and on the same day the IRA should designate a representative to hold discussions with the body headed by a retired Canadian General named De Chastelain on decommissioning. The IRA issued one of its terse Olympian statements saying that to enhance the peace process it would name a representative to the decommissioning body, period. Trimble then had to go before the ruling body of his party to sell this and the odds were that as things stood that he wouldn't be able to perhaps sell it, or sell it with such a small margin that it wouldn't be a mandate. He had to separate that selling from being able to bring the members of the Assembly, who do the actual voting to trigger things, had to keep them in line and there were at least three or four possible defectors and he only has a margin of one between what would be called pro and anti Unionists. So he came up with a proposal which was and their line all along was that both sides should leap together, decommissioning should start the same day the executive came into power.
The IRA were not buying that. He reworded the resolution to say in effect that he would trigger, as he did this week, the mechanism to bring the executive into being and that the ruling council will reconvene on the 15th February to assess whether or not the IRA had begun decommissioning and he had already written a post-dated letter of resignation taking his party out of the Assembly and therefore collapsing the whole scene if the IRA had not begun decommissioning by that time.
Do you think that, given the circumstances, it was a reasonable offer (a) to save his own political neck and (b) to make to Sinn Fein? That in the end you can't have a situation of a democracy where one party is backed up by a private army and that he's got to put a limit on it for it to start? It's supposed to be completed by May. Now the IRA have never been party to any agreement and they're tune from on high is, "We're not bound to put a deadline on which we must start something, never mind complete something. That's not what we're about, we don't follow that line. We're above everything. We're above the law, we're above electoral mandates, we above people, we stand for a cause."
HE I can't find difficulty or argument against what you're saying in the sense that I think it is logical that each side in negotiating an agreement will try to position themselves in a way which best suits their interests and I think it's understandable that Trimble did do what he did. In our circumstances what we found was that the issue of private armies, the issue of the statutory armies and so on, were dealt with on the basis that you would have them dealt with by way of the moment you would enter an agreement, which is why the interim government for us was so important to bear legitimacy and why the inclusivity of the process was fundamental, we had to have an election in which all parties were entitled to be party to, which would result in a government of national unity and because it was a government of national unity which we all would own we would all be party to and respect that government because it was our government and therefore under its authority which we respect we would then allow and enable a process of decommissioning. That's the way it worked with us and that's the argument I think that may be respected.
POM But in essence it was the ANC handing over arms to the ANC?
HE Well I think that is the difficulty that the IRA has and the difficulty that Sinn Fein may have because in electoral terms they would not win the majority would they?
POM No, they're a small party.
HE They're a small party. That's the point.
POM That's right. Their force comes out of having a private army.
HE The point about it is that they would get into a government in which they would be the minority. The issue is whether they respect that.
POM But they're part of power sharing. They've got two ministers and everything's got to be done on a fifty/fifty basis.
HE Isn't that agreement that goes with respect for the agreement in the sense that you reach an agreement to create a body in which you vest a certain amount of authority but with that authority must come respect? You can't vest authority and then disrespect it in the sense that you can't reach an agreement on a constitution and then violate that constitution because you want to violate it. I think that's basic in the sense that agreements reached must be agreements that are vested with the necessary authority and consequential respect.
POM The problem here is that the most important party wasn't in the negotiations at all and never will be in negotiations, that's the IRA.
HE Well that's always the problem with the issue of inclusivity, it's how do you bring them on board and there was an assumption that Sinn Fein talked on behalf of the IRA.
POM They said they talk to the IRA but not for the IRA. Now for years, in fact twenty odd years, in fact till a year ago the British government and the Irish government would both regard the IRA and Sinn Fein as being indistinguishable and then when the decommissioning arose Sinn Fein said, "Hey, you guys have been under a mistaken assumption all the time, we're separate organisations and while we have influence with them we can't make them do anything."
HE We had an interesting parallel in our history because uMkhonto weSizwe was never started as an ANC wing, MK was started off by groups of people within the ANC and within the Communist Party and primarily I think the major role player was the Communist Party. It was only later that MK was recognised as the armed wing of the ANC.
POM But was MK subject to the political decisions of the ANC?
HE Later yes.
POM So it was subordinate to the ANC. Well the opposite relationship is in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein is subordinate to the IRA.
HE But the political circumstances and realities of Ireland suggest that Sinn Fein operated legally because it was able to operate legally and it operated as a mouthpiece, or so is argued, of the IRA and therefore the interpretation that they were synonymous and that it would be convenient for the IRA and Sinn Fein to argue that we talk to each other but not for each other. That's political posturing, a position of political posturing.
POM Everyone knows that leading members of the IRA are in Sinn Fein.
HE That's correct.
POM But they're saying they're separate and they won't go along with any negotiations that allow Sinn Fein to negotiate and if they approve they will say, "We approve." But Sinn Fein can't convince them to hand over their arms, so what happens, what do you do in a negotiating situation where one party says we're secret so we don't appear and when we make statements it's under just a Mr P O'Neil and when Mr P O'Neil signs a statement that means it comes from the IRA. They're going to have a representative at the Decommissioning Council, they won't even name him, a no-named person because they're secret.
HE I think it's a question of the process sweeping them up. That's for me going to be the key issue for the new powers that be in Northern Ireland. I am sure that they are able to sweep them up into the process and make them part of the process so they are able to respect it. Because whatever authority you develop you must have respect for fundamental principle.
POM I have a more cynical theory and that is that after a couple of months when they all get used to having a Mercedes and bodyguards and drivers and travel allowances for first class, they're not going to give all this up because some bugger out there won't surrender his arms.
HE It's very real. That's right. It's very real, you can't ignore that.
POM Thanks a million for all your time, really. I could go on for hours. I'll be back tomorrow!
HE It was nice to have a chat because it's not often that one has a chat about these things. I know that late tonight before I go to bed I will say, "Damn it, I ought to have told him that!"