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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
17 Aug 1990: Harber, Anton
POM We're talking with Anton Harber on the 17th of August. Anton, could you go back to the 2nd of February and De Klerk's speech; one, did the speech surprise you and, two, what do you think motivated him to move so rapidly and so broadly at the same time?
AH We had been expecting F W de Klerk to move but I must say, as the speech came through on the ticker, I was completely taken aback by how fast he'd gone, how speedily he was moving. I think throughout our office there was a real shock. We'd expected announcements, we'd expected significant announcements. One, I think at that point we remained with the scepticism we've built up over years and years of promises that South African State Presidents who are about to make major reform announcements. So there was an inevitable scepticism. He didn't just overturn that scepticism; he really shocked us by how far he went. You asked what motivated him. I think it had slowly dawned on him and his key people at the top and the key advisors he put around him in particular that it was really the only way to move forward. Anything less than that would have just kept the level of scepticism that he'd, that anything short of something really dramatic would not have broken the logjam.
POM Do you think that De Klerk has now conceded on the issue of majority rule?
AH Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I think he has. I think on the details of whether one preserves minority rights and whether one preserves minority representation, on just to what extent you give power and force to minority veto rights, etc., are the key matters for debate. But that in essence there should be a representative government. I think he has conceded, yes.
POM One hears a lot of talk about power sharing. And that what the government is involved in is not a transfer of power, a handing over of power, but rather reaching some form of power sharing with the majority community.
AH Oh, I think there's an understanding on both sides that that's an interim negotiating position. And an interim situation through a period of negotiations and change, but that the end result has to, the end consequence of this process of negotiation, whether De Klerk likes it or not, is majority rule. I don't believe he's kidding himself. I think he's facing up to that.
POM But he doesn't want to announce that to the public at this point. It's like conceding before you negotiate and totally alienating what support he has in the white community.
AH Yes. [But what he didn't say on February 2nd was all ...] Whereas our normal reaction would have been scepticism about those issues, such a bold move made one actually think freshly about him and think, well, maybe this isn't just another National Party trick.
POM How do you think the process will unfold now that they have, say, the negotiating or the stumbling blocks out of the way? One hears three broad scenarios. One is the Constituent Assembly approach; one is a broadened negotiating table with representation from all political parties; and the third is some form of interim government, or at least the present government plus perhaps members from the ANC and a couple of other political organisations care-taking, while another body, an eminent persons' body, perhaps, with people from South Africa, draws up the principles of a constitution. Which do you think is the likely way forward?
AH I think the best way forward would be the Constituent Assembly.
POM But the government seems pretty adamant that they're not going that route.
AH Yes. Yes. The other, the most likely, may be that, in fact, the government and the ANC get into a huddle and produce a constitution which they would bank on being acceptable to a wider range of people. A loose group of people sitting around a table with no clear idea of who represents who and who's on what side of the table and with 17 different parties to negotiations I think is an unlikely scenario. One possibility, is gradually over time the government will have to accept the Constituent Assembly route.
POM So, when you say 'gradually over time', over what time period do you see this?
AH I would say over the next year or so. What gravitates against that is the fact that both sides are feeling enormous pressure to move fast. They have to. Economic pressure, political pressure, pressure from their constituencies to deliver quickly before they start shedding more of their constituency to the left and to the right.
POM Do you see the threat of the Conservative Party as being something that really puts pressure on the government to move fast, move now, and get this out of the way, period?
AH Yes, I think that the longer it takes - I think it's true of both sides, the longer they take, the more votes they will shed, in different directions.
POM If an election were held today, will the Conservative Party win a majority of seats?
AH If a white election is held, I would think there's a fair chance, yes. Yes, I would think they would.
POM What is the general threat of the right-wing? Is it to be taken as something that was to be expected and is par for the course, or with that fear exists the potential for a very serious and violent backlash?
AH I think there's always been a consciousness, an awareness, that it would exist, it would go through a process of change, and that it would contain within it the threat of military action, of a coup d'etat, of people in the security subverting the transition process, and all of those things. On the positive side, I think we've learned that the right-wing is less organised and less coherent and lacks leadership in a way we didn't expect.
POM Just talking about this collusion between members of the security forces and the right-wing. One thing a couple of people have said to us, ANC people, was that there were within Inkatha certain individuals and within the police force, at a fairly senior level but not the most senior level, various individuals who were colluding to bring about the present trouble in the townships. Does your reportage and your information bear that out?
AH There certainly are elements of the security force that are colluding, that at best are just being negligent, purposefully negligent, at worst are actually causing things to happen. And I think the worst situation is probably what's happening in some elements. I think the problem is we've got quite a mixture in the security forces and nobody can be too certain which way it will swing. I think there are elements, the top leadership appears to be behind the reform, but there's a middle leadership and there's a mass at the bottom that could easily swing to the Conservative Party. I think a great deal hinges on how De Klerk and the ANC, through the process of change, treats the civil service.
POM Hm. Hm. Any particular departments that are ...?
AH Well, security force, and throwing security forces into that. But there's a huge - I mean, it's the biggest sector of white employment generally. [If they find a way of looking...] If those people get the sense that they're getting thrown out of their jobs and ANC cadres are simply being put in the mould, then you will lose that mass of important voters to the Conservative Party, but also you will lose a lot of key people in the state bureaucracy who have the power to disrupt and you will lose them from the process. On the other hand, if those people, I would think it's a volatile group, if they have a sense that their jobs are reasonably secure and their enormous perks, etc., are reasonably secure, then I would have thought they will go along with it. They might not like it, but they'll go along with it.
POM And in that context, can De Klerk keep his promise to go back to the white electorate for their approval for a new constitution?
AH No, I don't think so. I don't think so.
POM So, what would be the process at that stage, when a new constitution is drawn up?
AH Well, it would break that promise. The National Party is quite good at finding apparently honourable ways of breaking promises. He could find some kind of referendum formula in which he has a chance of a majority but I don't think he can take that risk. He's got what, now? Four years to find a way out of it. Is it four years?
POM Until 1994.
AH Oh, yes, it is four years. That's right. It's five years from August last year.
POM So, you would expect the elections that take place in 1994 are going to be universal franchise elections?
AH I can't see that it's in anyone but the Conservative Party's interest to hold another white ballot. There might be formulas in between, such as simultaneous ballots on separate voters' rolls.
POM Do you see, like, leading up to a Constituent Assembly, or in place of it, it's necessary we talk about this broadened table? Do you see the Conservative Party and the PAC sitting at that table or do you think they will both hang outside of it?
AH Whoa! That is a difficult question. Depends on the route taken. If it looks like, if options two or three of the ones you laid out are taken, I would think that it's going to be in their interest to stay out, to just let the process happen and keep their hands clean of the process. If there is a Constituent Assembly election, they would have to try and then fight that election.
POM In fact, it could be in the interest of the Conservative Party to, because they claim that they are really the spokes-party now for the white electorate rather than the National Party.
POM Which makes it understandable why the National Party and the government don't want to have an election for a Constituent Assembly. They might get such a small portion of the votes.
AH Yes. It might be. It could end up with, you know, say, if there could be ten white seats, because if you define - I suppose if it's proportional representation within an area, you'll then have effectively, say, eight to ten whites, or ten or so white seats, of which the CP would win half!
PK Wouldn't that also bother the ANC?
AH It would bother the ANC, but they may see this in their interest to then form an alliance with the minority white party and take along those whites they feel they could take on, therefore isolating five CP people. You see, it's not an impossible scenario that the ANC and the government came to see, came to place enough understanding to say, "Enter into that election and thereafter, we can build a relationship that isolates the CP." Because the value for the ANC of a relationship with the National Party is they can bring 45% to 50% of the white support into an alliance, which is not to be sneered at.
POM Um-hmm. Would you see that alliance, perhaps, still existing in the first government that would be formed?
AH Predictions ...
POM I like predictions!
AH Political predictions about possibilities. The one thing we did learn on February 2nd was 'don't make predictions!' F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela at the moment are quite unpredictable. So, I'm very reluctant.
POM OK. We hear a lot about white fears. What are white fears and how would you separate, if one can separate, the imaginary from the real?
AH What are white fears? Like, the kind of middle-class fear is seeing their standards of living fall away, the quality of education dropping, the quality of their lives dropping. I suppose they fear a sort of 'rest of Africa' scenario, which is partly a kind of racist hangover but partly a real fear that educational levels will drop, and that they will have less access to the type of financial clout they have.
POM Whites' greatest fears. Do you think some of those fears are real fears, that the overall level of education may have to drop while huge numbers of ...?
AH It isn't an easy answer to simply say, yes, yes. The standard of living of middle-class whites will drop. They will not become poor. They will not be unemployed. They will not be on the streets. They have skills and resources and business skills and all sorts of things and access to existing capital to which I think they might have less access and it may be reduced but they will still be, they will still essentially hold the same position in society. I don't see them being unemployed and out on the streets. Fear among poor whites is different. The protection they've had is falling away.
POM In what sense?
AH In the sense that there's always existed some kind of welfare system for whites. That is falling away. And that once they lose their political power, they will be peripheralised. They will join - in their worst racist fears, they will join the black unemployed in a political climate where people are not looking after poor whites, as has been the case for forty years. That group of people will grow. And in a recessionary climate it will grow. I would put there's far more real fears there.
POM Are there any imaginary fears?
AH There? Well, racist ones, I guess. Racist ones. I think a lot of their fear is expressed under racism.
POM You said that the standards of living, the welfare of poor whites, these are all a matter of their being interrelated to the economy. Do you think economic structures will form an important part of the negotiations, that the government will be attempting to ensure that certain kinds of economic structures are the prevailing ones?
AH I don't think so, because it would just bog down negotiations. I think the government would be looking to secure certain white political rights and hope through that to give certain protection to business, land, and other rights. I think if you're starting to introduce those elements, you would then be drawing, on the one hand, the unions and on the other hand, sort of big business into the negotiations and both sides would see that as a complication and as introducing a new stumbling block.
POM Um-hmm. A number of people have suggested to us that De Klerk's initiative exposed divisions within the liberation movement as a whole. Would you agree with that?
AH I think it's inevitable. For forty years or twenty years, thirty years, I suppose, the broad opposition movement was united by a simple opposition to the existing government. Issues of what a new government would look like, issues of what kind of economic policy it should have, what kind of land policy, have, by agreement, been pushed aside because the priority has changed. Inevitably now, those issues have to be faced and there's a much greater diversity of views on those issues. A healthy thing. I think it's a good thing because it's late in the day to be addressing those issues. So I would see it as a healthy opening up of debate.
POM How do you see those debating divisions breaking down? Again, some people suggest that COSATU, on the one hand, may have an essentially different agenda than the ANC.
AH I think in the long run it might. I think at the moment it has the same agenda and for the short-term it will have the same agenda. I think increasingly you will start seeing a different agenda emerging. The ANC has to represent a broad front of people.
POM Where does the PAC play a role in this? Or is it a player at all?
AH I think it will be a player. It will be one of disruption. I think it'll be a negative role. I mean, if you're saying, could they play a role in COSATU's attitude? I don't think so.
POM No, I mean, could they, could they play, could they have a derailing influence?
POM Do they have the capacity to derail this process?
AH I don't think so. I don't think they have that power.
POM Well, a very large number of people have talked about a couple of generations of youth, some of them no longer youth, who have no education, who are unemployed and probably unemployable, who have grown up in a culture of protest and confrontation and really know nothing else. And that it would be very difficult to assimilate them or to deal with them.
POM They're a very volatile element out there in the townships. Do you see their disaffection, if an ANC government doesn't deliver and deliver quickly gravitating towards the PAC, that the PAC will be there, saying, we told you so! We told you it was going to be a sell-out.
POM That this is the obvious direction in which they would gravitate?
AH Yes. I think that is true. I think that is true. But the sad reality is that a group of kind of disparate, disorganised, and not very powerful people, except in terms of numbers, has a power in numbers. But the most organised constituency is organised workers and they will stay with the ANC.
POM What about the South African Communist Party? One question we've been asking everyone is, what's the difference between a member of the ANC and a member of the SACP?
AH I think at the moment there is very little difference but I believe that difference will become more and more important as time goes by. Because the SACP has to carve out its own constituency and argue that position within the ANC. The more it does that, the more it will strain their relationship with the ANC.
POM Would it be a concern of the government when it is negotiating with the ANC that so much of the leadership of the ANC are also members of the South African Communist Party?
AH I think they've already signalled at every round of negotiations that it's an issue and they've blown it up as a major issue. Ironically, I think that has the effect of strengthening the ANC/SACP alliance.
POM Does anyone, is anyone able to define what a South African communist, what kind of an animal that is?
AH No, no. Because nobody knows. I don't think they have a clear definition of what communism means either internationally or in the South African context. Or 'socialism' or 'workers' interests' or 'workers' rights'. I think at the moment it's a kind of broad emotional commitment to those notions, but the Communist Party at this point doesn't have a clear policy of how, of what they think a socialist country should look like. They said it, they've now said it shouldn't look like Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union.
POM Obstacles facing De Klerk and Mandela within their constituencies. If Mandela tries to steer this process through in the black community and bring it to fruition, what are the major stumbling blocks that he will encounter? What are the main things that he has to be on the look out for?
AH The parties not involved and their ability to distract, Inkatha, the Conservative Party, the security forces. I'd say that's the key thing. That really, yes.
POM And on De Klerk's side, what obstacles or stumbling blocks does he potentially face?
AH A security force out of his control. And the Conservative Party growing strong enough to be a consistent embarrassment to him and weakening his power base. Just from a media person's point of view, I think a potential stumbling block is going to be control over things like television. I mean, I don't think that's a central point, but, that we should make waves on the minds of people like ourselves. SABC is currently in the hands of one side of the table.
PK Can I just ask a quick question I wanted to ask?
POM Yes, sure.
PK Is that indicative of what happened with the red plot issue of a couple of weeks ago? All weekend it's in the news; the next weekend it's almost completely disappeared.
AH Yes, because you haven't - we have an odd situation in this country. We have a huge spectrum of opinion and a tiny fraction of it's represented in the media and that enables that media to pick up and drop issues as it suits them. We also have a situation where the government's public relations resources and skills are much greater than its rivals. So, it puts up the agenda and it withdraws it. And it can do that through television and it's got fairly compliant printed media that responds to it. So they can make a big issue out of the red story, back out of it very quickly, and it disappears. Gone! Where is it?
POM Um-hmm. Um-hmm. You were asking that whereas it was the biggest issue in the country, the following week it had disappeared.
AH That's because they sort of, Bang! It disappears off television, disappears from two or three ...
PK Major papers.
AH Key newspapers. And if we then are chasing it, it looks like we're chasing a red herring, if you'll pardon the expression.
POM What difference, if there is majority rule tomorrow, what difference would it make to the average person who lives in a squatter camp or in a township and what difference would it make in the next four to five years?
AH Whew. Look, you already see a difference in that their issues are being addressed a little more sympathetically. There will not be a difference in the sense that there will be a grand improvement in their situation. There will be difference in that the issues that affect them, where previously they've been pushed to the periphery of our political and social debate, that that can't really happen anymore. So that the issues that affect them, housing issues, land issues, will have to be dealt with. But that's not going to bring them any major change. It's not going to mean any short-term material change in their position. If they are going to bring relative change, some more minor change, their issues are going to have to be on the national political agenda. That's not very clear but ...
POM You're saying there'd be a shifting of the items that will dominate the news.
AH It will be issues of land and housing and ...
POM That reflect their concerns, that this narrowness that you were talking about ...
AH That's right. So they'll be dealt with in a different way by the state and by private enterprise as well. But that's not going to bring any quick solutions or changes to their actual positions.
POM We talked earlier about the whole issue of violence. What about the violence in Natal? And is the culprit really Buthelezi? Is it easy to say the culprit is Buthelezi and his police, or is it more complex than that?
AH It is much more complex than that. There's no simple one-sided culprit at this point. I think there's clear culpability with the security forces because they have not yet made a genuine effort to stop it.
POM Now are you distinguishing between KwaZulu police and the South African Security Forces?
AH No, I'm not. I'm saying the KwaZulu police are clearly implicated on the Inkatha side. But the kind of national security forces, the South African Police and Defence Force, have not played a very great part in preventing the violence. And I would think that Inkatha hasn't played its part in attempting to patch things up and restore peace.
POM Can national negotiations succeed if the level of violence in Natal, say, and the other townships that's been spreading in the last couple of weeks, if the violence stays at the levels it's currently at?
AH Sorry, can what happen?
POM Can national negotiations succeed?
AH It does increase the potential for security force intervention. The answer is a dual one. It increases the pressure on Mandela and De Klerk to get moving and to get things done quickly. But it also increases the potential of other parties to derail the process.
POM Can a solution come about which sees Buthelezi out? Or is he a key element that must be drawn in?
AH Yes, to be included. Yes. He has to. I think that's the tragic result of his use of violence.
POM And last. A year from now, where will we be?
AH I think we will be very close to a new government and a new constitution.
POM Do you see a situation where members of the ANC might already be ...?
AH I don't buy this interim arrangement. I don't see the ANC serving as a junior member in an interim government. I think if there is an interim government they will demand it be a full alliance, a full shared arrangement with half-half on all fronts. I don't see the ANC accepting a couple of Cabinet posts in bits and pieces, as an interim government. It doesn't make sense to me.
POM Okay. This is short but I know you're busy.
AH Well, unless you want to schedule another time?