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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
19 Jul 1990: Van Der Merwe, Koos
POM We're talking with Koos van der Merwe on the 19th of July. Koos, I'm going to take you back to some of the replies you gave to questions last year just to hear your comments on them. At that point you expected a hung parliament, for the National Party to attempt to form a coalition with the DP and for there to be sufficient defections from the NP to allow the Conservative Party to form a government. Now obviously that didn't happen. Why do you think that the actual election results were so short of your expectations?
KVM That is a very relevant problem and it caused all of us considerable pain because practically all of us were wrong. Now why? I have gone deep into that and I've come to the conclusion that the reason for that was the dismissal of State President Botha and the introduction of the new person. We at the time thought that the dismissal of State President Botha and especially the way in which it was done, would bring us even more support. We were certain then that that is going to lead - I was saying that we thought that the dismissal and especially the way in which he was dismissed, Mr. PW Botha, would lead to considerable revolt in the National Party. We were completely wrong. We had underestimated the degree of revulsion that had existed already against Mr. PW Botha's personality and the way he did things. And in the hearts of the normal person, the fact that the old buffalo, the old bull, the old crocodile has been dismissed and kicked out and that a new, I emphasis the word new, because this was the key word, that a new young leader had emerged, he will lead us out of problems, he is going to solve the problems. That caused some of our people just to hesitate slightly and to remain, some of them to abstain. And a large number of National Party defections then decided to give them a final chance. And that caused it. All of a sudden that caused the National Party to make it.
POM But then de Klerk has moved with extraordinary rapidity, some would say boldness, in the last year. Two questions, one, what we read about de Klerk last year was that he was a conservative and would be slow to change, wouldn't do things very much differently and given that assessment of him, why was that so off the mark when it came to change? And secondly, why didn't the breadth and scope of his move result in defections from within the National Party to the Conservative Party?
KVM Now first of all he in fact had the conservative image. He articulated well. He communicated well. But the important thing was that he had the conservative image. This I didn't refer to when I described him earlier. That is a very important point. He then simply changed completely. He somersaulted. There have been no defections. All right, the first question is maybe why? We don't know why. The only suggestions I can make is that his principles in the past were not that steadfast. He wasn't strong on the National Party principles in the past. He could change them easily. In other words, it affects his political integrity. And that, secondly, also it may be a question of expediency. He wants to be popular. That may be another reason. But coming to the second point about defections, the defections are not forthcoming from National Party incumbents. No National Party member of parliament is crossing the floor, if that is what you mean. But on the grassroots level there is tremendous change, from the National Party to us. And I refer you to the two by-elections, Vasco and Zeerust and then of course Umlazi, which was a tremendous setback for the National Party. According to most analysis and informed observers at the moment, if an election were to be held today, we will win it. And if you take on the Washington Times of the 9th of April there is a very interesting article in that saying if an election were to be held today, the National Party would lose and the Conservative Party would win it.
POM There's an old slogan in politics that the only poll that counts is the poll on election day.
KVM I agree, but let me just tell you who made that poll, the one that I referred to the 9th of April Washington Times. That poll was conducted by senior members of the National Party.
POM My point would be, even though that is true, the government doesn't have to call an election until 1994, so he simply makes people swallow the pill now and have three years to accommodate them and get them used to the new era of rights.
KVM Number one, as you know, our constitution, we don't have a fixed situation. The State President can call an election at any time. One simply has to move him into a position where he decides on an election. You have to put pressure on him to do that. You say he can simply go on. Yes he can go on. It depends on whether he can bear the pressure that we are going to put on him. And it is not a question of a pill that you swallow, like a bitter pill and you wait for a few hours, or minutes, or days and then the bitterness is gone. In this, that pill is a permanent one.
POM What form can that pressure take?
KVM If I may just finalise that, what we say is the new South Africa will have two very important characteristics. The one is black domination. Black domination in parliament, black domination in municipalities, because everything is going to be one. It means that there will be black mayors, black councillors in all cities, and its departmental heads will be black, it's a third world black country. And secondly, there will be increased poverty because of the nationalisation policies of the ANC and because of the tremendous expectations that have been raised. The government itself and also the ANC have aroused tremendous expectations with the blacks. They want the goodies to be delivered. They want to move into the big posh houses of white people. And we are simply moving into a time period, which will last for many years, of turmoil, of conflict, of black domination, of poverty. So that the swallowing of the pill is not temporary and thereafter he can recover. There is no way he can recover.
And then you ask me, what types of pressure you can put on him? The first is the by-elections. Now you cannot underestimate the Umlazi setback. That was a tremendous setback. It is accepted now in South Africa that the government is governing, firstly, contrary to its existing mandate and secondly, with a minority of white people. So you now reach the stage where you ask yourself the question, who does de Klerk represent? He now represents a minority of a minority. What status does he have in the new South Africa where the white people are scarcely 10% of the people and he represents a minority of the 10%? Who does he represent? It brings into the debate a constitutional crisis. Because there is absolutely no democracy in this. And he is governing contrary to his mandate, he is doing things completely contrary to what he promised last year. He has no mandate. He has no right to do that. And secondly he has lost his own power base.
The form of pressure is firstly, the fact that he knows that there is a constitutional crisis and we are going to the country to expose him as a person who acts contrary to his mandate and who doesn't represent the people. We do this by way of many public meetings, we do this by way of pamphlets, propaganda documents, we do this by way of mouth-to-mouth, and we also do it at our congresses. This year the congress will take place, there are five party congresses. There are four provincial congresses and one national congress. At these congresses this issue will be hammered at every forum where we talk, for instance, even to you, with overseas guests, wherever we talk, for instance, at public meetings, where we are invited to debate, we bring this out, and there is a growing consensus, even in opposition circles, opposition in the sense of Democratic Party and National Party, that we have an illegitimate situation and that the only thing that can cure it is a general election.
POM But I would answer, or advance the argument, that the reality of the situation is that de Klerk is not obliged by the constitution to call an election until 1994, that Margaret Thatcher just, less than six months ago, was 23% trailing the Labour Party, which meant there had been a turnaround of about one voter in three over a three month period, and she simply said, 'I don't have to go to the electorate until 1992.'
KVM She need not go because she is not acting outside the scope of her mandate.
POM Well de Klerk need not go either.
KVM Alright but de Klerk will go. And I'll give you an idea of all the types of pressure. He simply in the end will succumb because he's that type of person. He is what we call a yielder.
POM But you mistook him once. You thought he was a conservative and he proposed radical changes.
KVM Because he was yielder. We thought he was strong. He yields. We now examine his past and we come to the conclusion that he yields under pressure. When he yields from time to time, and he'll yield also for a general election. We know that. Now going on with the pressure, we will cause by-elections. If there are no natural bi-elections we will resign and force bi-elections and keep on putting pressure. There is, although it is not part of us, but it gives you an indication of the mood, there is right wing violence already at this moment. There will be more and more increasing right wing violence. It is clear that it will be. We reject that. But it will be there and we won't be able to stop it, which will all put more and more pressure on him. And eventually I would say, this time next year, in the latter half of next year, it will become completely unbearable for him.
And then he has other problems. And these problems will all go stronger and stronger as they build up momentum. He has the following insurmountable difficulty. He has told the white electorate that whatever deal he strikes, he will bring it back to the white people for a referendum. Now that in itself is a moral conflict. I'll tell you why. He is now telling 88% of the people, 'Look, I have declared South Africa an undivided country. We are all equals. But whatever you 88 decide, 12% have the right to veto you.' Now, as I say, I cannot see how Mandela in the end, or any other person, or whether even if I were on that side, if I would have been prepared to accept that. I'll say rubbish, 12% will not veto 88%. But then, suppose he does go for a referendum. Then one of two things could happen. He will win or he will lose. Now, it is very interesting. He has 88% of the people and he has 12%. He now goes to the 12% and he gets 7% and we get 5%. In other words he wins. OK. He goes back to these people and he tells them it's been confirmed that the 5% will be 75% of Afrikaners and we won't accept a new South Africa in which we will be dominated and impoverished by blacks. So then he comes to a stage of real possibility of conflict. If he loses this, if it is the other way around, if he has 5% and we have 7% then he has to go back to these people and say, You 88% plus us 5% meaning 93%, we 93% have been vetoed by 7%. And the 93% will say, 'No go. We are not being vetoed by 7%'. So how is he going to do that? How is he going to get out of that?
I was saying that the State President has insurmountable problems ahead and the process of putting pressure on him is a process that will slowly mount and become stronger and stronger. He will have to cope with the things that I have told you and in South Africa and in certain other countries, Westminster type of countries, you find that at the time the government succumbs. And that moment will come. De Klerk will succumb maybe towards this time next year, towards the end of year, because I don't think he will be able to strike a deal with the ANC. If he does, it will simply mean even larger destruction of his own power base. They are simply running into more and more problems.
POM Three things. One, what if in this referendum he received a majority of the Afrikaner vote?
KVM You mean the white vote?
POM No, I mean Afrikaner as distinct from white. I mean you distinguish between the Afrikaner vote and the white vote.
KVM OK, that's right. I cannot see that that can happen.
POM If it did happen.
KVM If it did happen it means that the Afrikaner people want what he wants to give them, unless they were confused. If the Afrikaner people really want that, if they know what he is offering them and if the majority of them really want that, we will have to rethink. We will have to sit down then and fundamentally rethink our policy.
POM Do you see your party as being kind of the guardian of the Afrikaner people or of the white people? Because in the scenario you outlined you can envisage a situation where the majority of white people might vote for what de Klerk would propose, but 75% of the Afrikaners wouldn't. With whom does the party identify itself?
KVM The Afrikaner and those other whites who associate themselves with the ideals and the policies of the Afrikaner people. Meaning the Afrikaner and the conservative whites, other whites.
POM The Afrikaner has a culture and a value system that is very distinct from the English-speaking white community.
KVM It does. It is true. But on the other hand it is much closer for that English-speaking person than for him to try to make an alliance with a Zulu, or a Sotho or Coloured or an Indian.
POM The second one is, two questions on by-elections, you give a scenario in which you would force by-elections. Why would you not consider all of your members resigning from parliament simultaneously and calling 39 by-elections simultaneously, telling the white electorate that this is the referendum on de Klerk, if you oppose what he is doing, come out? So that even though you would retain your seats you would retain them by conspicuously, even if the government put up nobody against you, the number of people who would come out and vote for you would be so significantly above the level of support they had received in the last election it could amount to a dramatic statement of support.
KVM That is an alternative which we have considered. Which at this stage we have rejected because it will completely take us out of the ring. We are fighting in the parliamentary ring. And if all of us were to resign we will not be in the ring where the fight is taking place. So we would rather do what we have done by challenging in the Orange Free State, challenging the eight National Party members to fight an election, and the six of us in the Orange Free State, there are fourteen seats, we would resign the six and we'd challenge them to resign the eight and then we can use that as a mini-election to test the water in the Orange Free State. Obviously the National Party ran away. But we may find that the province, for instance the Free State, may resign as a group, the six. We may find that, let's say six of us in total, or ten of us resign in various places of the country in order to test the rural areas, the urban areas, the semi-urban areas. There are a number of alternatives. But we are not in favour at this stage of resigning, all of us, because that will take us out of the ring.
POM Randburg? In the by-election there, how well must you do? You increased by 4.7% of the vote last time. How well must you do in order to be able to claim a significant victory? And how poorly must you do for it to be seen as a defeat?
KVM Yes, I'm not sure whether we can see that in isolation because they always refer back to the number of votes of the National Party, but if, in other words we could look at it isolated, then I would say we had about 800 votes.
KVM 755, if we could double that. If we can't double that then it will be bad for us. And anything we do more than 1,500 is good. Because then it is 100% growth. If we were to get about 1,800 votes, then it means the 115% swing to us, the increase would swing to us, the 115% increase of our votes in Umlazi will then have been sustained in Randburg.
POM How do you think the process is going to unfold in the next year? You have talks between the ANC and the government and let's say the obstacles to talks are overcome.
KVM I think the obstacles will be overcome. I think the National Party will start in negotiations because at the moment it's talks about talks about talks about talks. Negotiations could start early next year between the ANC, the National Party, Inkatha, some of the homeland leaders and various other groupings.
POM The DP, too?
KVM The DP definitely. The National Party definitely. I'm sure that the Coloured people and the Indian people will be represented. The significant two groupings which they will have difficulty in getting there will be the PAC and the Conservative Party. I don't think those two will be present. And that will, of course, then render a serious problem for Mr. de Klerk because the majority of white people, the party which represents at least the majority of Afrikaners, if not the majority of white people, will not be present. And that is a material flaw. On the other side, the PAC is getting very, very strong and there is concern that they may even become stronger than the ANC. So eventually he will probably get the negotiations together without the CP on the one side and the PAC on the other side. So it will be largely something in the middle.
POM In one sense you are marginalising yourself in terms of the negotiations that actually go on. Is there not a danger in this?
KVM I think so. There is a danger in that. Because the danger lies in this, that if they do get their act together and they get a settlement and they, after the settlement, get the outside world to help them against the PAC and the CP by turning open the taps of money and welfare and whereby you get the flow of money into South Africa so that you can see physically the construction of schools and houses and there is relative peace and harmony, then he would probably then win a referendum amongst the white people and he would probably also find a way to get across the PAC hurdle. So that is the risk.
POM So in such a situation, what would your next move be?
KVM My party's move?
KVM The party's move at the moment is to reach the high ground.
POM I'm assuming the scenario you outlined occurs. So now you find that there is a government in place.
KVM A legitimate government.
POM A legitimate one, it has won the white election and has won the white referendum, has won the general thing, financially it is coming into the country.
KVM That will give us a problem.
POM Your members have obviously stood for parliament, you have a certain parliamentary caucus, do you participate in the process?
KVM We are going now very far ahead, but in terms of the principles that we have followed in the past, namely that we are not boycotters, that even if we don't like a system we participate, we will then probably remain in the system. But it will render us with material moral problems.
POM According to the same logic, shouldn't you participate in the negotiations now? Like, shouldn't you go to negotiations and say, these negotiations are without preconditions? Everybody lays on the table what they want.
KVM No, we won't do that. What we say is, as far as negotiations are concerned, we say this is not a new world that has been invented yesterday by anybody. Negotiations and talks have been carried out since the day Adam and Eve were born and we have negotiated and talked to many people for centuries and we will continue to do so. So it is nothing new. Then we say we do not negotiate our right to self-determination. That is out. We are not prepared to sit anywhere and to explain and to pray and to plead for our right of self-determination. It is a universally-accepted right and we do not negotiate that. But we are prepared to negotiate the structuring of it. How do we go about to divide the land and to accomplish that? That we are prepared to negotiate. But we are not prepared to negotiate that with the ANC. For a number of reasons: the ANC firstly has certain non-negotiable demands of which two are, firstly, the fact that South Africa has to be an undivided country, one-man, one-vote. And secondly, the nationalisation of white assets. Now that is so ridiculous, so directly opposed to what we want, that there is no sense in talking to them. Secondly, they are still communists and they go around the world, they harm our country with their intensification of this sanctions issue and also they still continue with the armed struggle. And then just to throw another pinch of salt on it, who do they represent? They have never fought an election. What they have accomplished is through process of intimidation and necklaces and murders and stuff like that. We don't think they have a logical power base. So who are they?
POM Two preconditions then that you are enumerating. One, that you will not negotiate around any table that involves the ANC. And two, that the right to self-determination must be conceded before you would sit at the table at all.
KVM That's right.
POM Now, if I come here next year and a process is well underway between the ANC and the government and public attitudes are changing among white people to a more positive one, are you pretty certain that when I come back here next year, you will still be as absolute on those two preconditions as you are now? Are there any changes of circumstances?
KVM I personally will not be surprised if there will be change in attitude.
POM In your party.
KVM Yes. Because I'm not allowed to express my personal opinion. I express the opinion of the party. But I personally would look more and more open-mindedly at the negotiation process. But my party, I have outlined the policy of my party.
POM This is off-the-record, we are not publishing next year or anything. What would you do in this situation?
KVM I would continue to build up the strengths, to build the muscles of the Conservative Party very, very strongly through the processes that we have indicated. And then at certain stage, which you have to select technically very carefully, you could then in some or other way find a way in which to negotiate. I am not sure how at this stage, because the ANC may by next year abandon the armed struggle, abandon their claim for an undivided South Africa. They may concede some of our claims. I think they will.
POM On the Ted Koppel show, when you appeared and as you were leaving, Mandela said, you know, he'd be quite willing to talk with you in South Africa at any time.
KVM Did he say so?
POM Yes. I thought he said he looked forward to talking to you.
KVM Yes it was ...
POM Continuing this discussion or something.
KVM Yes. No we don't talk to him at this stage.
POM But if he personally rang you and said - or you had a message that Mr. Mandela would just like to sit down with you and have an informal off-the-record talk?
KVM If it comes from him I would refer it to the party and the party would most probably say, no, there is nothing I need to discuss with him. But I think, now the type of study that you make, I think what I am going to say now is really relevant for that, the change of attitude. I think we will change attitude because the ANC will start to change attitude. I think the ANC in the next few months will abandon the armed struggle. They will soften considerably on the other poisonous teeth which they still have in their mouth. Some of them will be extracted. The ANC this time next year may be a completely different kettle of fish than they are today. That may then enable us to reconsider our position. And therefore I think that there may be a change in the situation.
POM You say reconsider your position, do you mean in terms of participating in negotiations?
POM Or in terms of what you actually want?
KVM Not what we want. What we want is, that is what we want. We don't want to share power. But the point is negotiations. Whether we begin to talk to them, accept telephone calls, have lunch with them and so forth. That may change.
POM We have run across and we have talked to other people about a homeland for whites. We find a very broad-based dismissal of that as being totally unrealistic. It simply not going to happen.
KVM Is that from the left wing?
POM From across. From the centre of the left, from a very wide cross sector of opinion. They say, like for example, well, if that is what they want, they should start pitching it right now and move there. Who would pay for it? Would blacks and Coloured people, people who didn't want to live under that kind of dispensation, be forced to move? Who would do it?
KVM They are talking as if the country belongs to them only.
POM In the modern world it is simply so highly unrealistic.
PK I think we are talking about white businessmen, white editors, whites in the National Party, you would expect to hear that from blacks.
POM This would be people who are very centrist and would regard themselves as being common-sense people.
KVM Alright, then you must ask them whether they are then prepared to really debate the logical consequences of a new South Africa and whether they are prepared to accept that. Because I find that people have not thought out the logical consequences of the new South Africa. And when you put that to them and when you tell them this is going to be your new South Africa.
POM What are the logical consequences?
KVM I'll tell you what. Number one, black domination. Number two, poverty. Let me explain. The government intends to introduce a bicameral system in parliament. The first chamber will be the legislative one which will have the power. That will be elected on a one-man one-vote proportional basis. It means that 88% of the members of that chamber will be non-white. Therefore, there can be no further effective control by whites. It means that the President and the majority of the Cabinet will be blacks. It means that the departmental heads in all the state departments will become blacks. If you think that is not feasible, I refer you to what has happened in South West Africa, Namibia where SWAPO has within 60 days after it took control dismissed all the departmental heads and replaced them by SWAPOs. They also dismissed all the incumbents on the board of the TV and radio and replaced them with SWAPOs. This is what happens in Africa.
PK But they are not all blacks.
KVM Yes, but they are SWAPOs.
PK Yes, but they are not all blacks.
KVM Maybe one out of ten is not black. Now it means then that we will have a first tier of government which will be completely black operated. Then you go down to municipal level. The idea at municipal level is that the municipalities will now amalgamate. Pretoria will amalgamate with the blacks in the area and all the terms and because of sheer numbers it simply means that every town in South Africa will have a black mayor, will have a majority of black councillors, will therein replace their present departmental heads with blacks, boom, boom, boom, boom. You will thus have in three, four, five, to ten years' time, a South Africa which is completely run by blacks. That is phase one. Phase two is that because of the tremendous expectations that have been raised in terms of the nationalisation policies, they will then start to redistribute the wealth and they will simply take it. They are now threatening simply to move into vacant flats. And we will be impoverished. So in the long run, this will be a black-controlled poor country completely prostituted, which is no place where I want to spend the rest of my life or my children's.
POM That's, from my point of view, a very important statement because it comes to one of the things that I'm trying to examine and that is the assumptions people make when they form an opinion or take a position. My question is, what if after there was a black government, or black-dominated government, which turned out to be pretty moderate, you talked about the ANC ...
KVM In other words the standards are high.
POM Yes, they kind of get their act together pretty well and after this government comes into power, what if after two to three years the average white person says, 'Gee, all those fears I had haven't been realised, I'm really no worse off.'
KVM In other words, of the assumption that it will happen.
KVM Alright. The answer is that what we want in life is a two-legged thing. And that's not a woman. It's a two-legged thing. Firstly, it's civilised standards. We all want civilised standards, a high way of life, prosperity and all that. But secondly, we want nationalism. In other words, if it were only a matter of high standards, civilised standards, I could immigrate and go live in Boston, somewhere in the United States of America, or in Britain, where there are definitely the highest standards in the world. But then I won't be an Afrikaner any longer.
POM Koos, that's where I have a problem, because I would, if you said to me, we want a homeland just for the Afrikaners, period, because they are a people and we want to preserve our culture, have our language and do things our way. I would say I understand that. But you say, no, we will also include English-speaking whites who think the same as us. In other words, that's whites which don't want to be in a black-run country. Which is very different from having a nationalism. I mean, English-speaking whites are your traditional enemies, they've put you in concentration camps, they oppressed you.
KVM Maybe I should have phrased it this way, 'and those other whites who can be assimilated into the nation'.
POM Well, then, why would the same not apply to a Coloured person, or an Indian?
KVM I don't think an Indian could be assimilated or a black. It is too far off. But I think a Coloured, I cannot close the door on a Coloured. But an Indian is an oriental being, he is so far removed. He simply won't be accepted. He wouldn't find the French people, French folk, French nation, who could accept a Chinaman. He can't become a Frenchman. So I think that the blacks and the Indians are too far removed. As far as the Coloured is concerned, I cannot close that door permanently. It is possible that some of them could be assimilated.
POM So, in a way you are saying that ultimately the major issue is economic. The right of the Afrikaner people ...?
KVM To maintain it's standards.
POM If standards stayed the same, that people, unemployment got no worse, inflation got no worse, that white people retained their jobs for the most part, and that if you were to ask the average family how are things after three years of this black rule, they'd say, 'Gee, they are so much better than I expected.' And people get used to things.
KVM I can never get used to it.
POM How many people do you think would be willing to kind of abandon their homes and move to a different area?