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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Dec 1990: Meyer, Roelf
POM I think you have been informed about what I have been doing.
RM You were basically advising the Democratic Party.
POM Minister, perhaps you could outline for us the main developments or the evolution in the constitutional reform policies with the National Party since the election of 1989?
RM Maybe I should just fill in a little bit of the background which led to those changes which started in September of 1989. It became clear, I would say, by the mid-seventies already that the policy of separate development as it was called, or apartheid, or the homelands concept, wouldn't work so the government through the late part of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties started to do some re-thinking as far as the whole concept is concerned and it led to an announcement by 1985/86 by the then State President, Mr PW Botha already, that the framework on which government is looking for a constitutional solution is providing for the fact that South Africa is one undivided state with one common citizenship for all and one nationhood. I mention this because those were very important changes in terms of the basic philosophy of the National Party up to that stage. The funny thing, however, is that those remarks didn't catch the imagination at that stage, probably on account of the way in which it was projected. Some people believe that if it had been de Klerk at that stage already the changes would have taken place already as well.
RM The fundamental decision was taken at that stage so what took place when the de Klerk government took over in 1989 was that that fundamental position was taken as the basis for implementation because most of the implementation of that constitutional framework didn't develop after 1985/86. The steps that we first had to look at since September 1989, taking into account the aim as I described, was first of all to start to normalise the political process in the country and that obviously included the unbanning of organisations, the release of political leaders and the making provision or allowing for peaceful protest, mass protest to take place. So the first meetings of that nature in terms of peaceful protest already took place at the end of September 1989 in Cape Town. The first political leaders were released by mid-October, I think it was the 11th or 12th October.
RM Following the 2nd February where the big announcements came regarding the organisations and the leaders, the following had to be done and that was to address the obstacles in the way towards negotiations. Basically there were certain obstacles from the side of the ANC, it's not necessary for me to elaborate now. On our side we had the one big condition that is still a factor and that is the question of violence because we believe that there's no change for real negotiations to start or to succeed if violence is still part of the aim of any organisation to achieve political power.
POM The question I'm getting at, Minister, is that in September of 1989 the policy of the NP was that no one group should dominate another group and really on the classification of groups on a racial basis. Has there been an evolution away from those definitions and could you explain the nature of the evolution?
RM I think it's rather a question of developing better insight almost into what we're talking about in our party documents. Before the September election we already stated that the present definition of group is unacceptable, that it will have to be replaced, that it will have to be based on a concept of re-association and that that would be the departure point. So that was stated already during election time. Subsequent to the election we had to reconsider, of course, in our own policy development how the concept of group could be accommodated in a new constitutional framework and it is obvious that if group is not based on racial colour which we have definitely and particularly ruled out, so in other words the concept of group based on race or colour was already excluded before the election. If that is the situation of course the question obviously is, what is the definition for groups, culture or language or religion or whatever and obviously one has different sorts of problems. That is why the departure point of re-association is very important, in other words to allow minorities to select their own basis of working together or promoting aims and values and whatever. In this regard I think it is very important to note a general point and that is that politics in South Africa up to and before the 2nd February were basically based on race or colour as a line of division. I believe that after 2nd February the line of division, if there is to be one, is going to be built on values.
RM What I am saying is I think we're looking at building opportunities enabling minorities to promote their own interests if they so wish on the basis of common values, on the basis of common interest and on the basis of re-association.
POM What I would like to do is quickly to run through some comments that were made by Dr Viljoen or Mr de Klerk in the course of the last parliamentary session when they were discussing constitutional development. Mr de Klerk said that a unitary system with black majority rule is simply unacceptable to the NP and that a single common voters' roll as a point of departure is definitely not in agreement with the policy of the NP.
RM If I remember correctly that was part of a debate in parliament that took place over two days.
POM That's correct.
RM And one has to look at the two days in conjunction, it's very important because it was a debate that unfolded while it took place. On the second day he made that point clear, if I remember correctly, in the sense that he said that, yes, we are against the concept of domination by any particular group of any other but that the effects of democracy should not be countered in any way. The effects of democracy are inter alia a form of majoritarianism so majoritarianism as such has not been ruled out as a factor but that we wouldn't like to see a situation where any form of domination by the majority takes place at the expense of minorities. That is basically what he was talking about, aiming at promoting a constitutional concept that on other occasions he described in line with yours where he stated also that the basic inherent principles underlying your constitutional model is what we are looking at, namely a distribution of power to the extent that there are checks and balances through a system that enables actual free democratic participation by all and the basic argument underlying this is of course the fact that we are saying democracy in terms of its essential meaning should provide for the total community and its portions to participate and express itself at whatever so that a simple majority can't just only decide for the whole of the population.
POM Not just majority rule.
RM So what the President said, he outlined three options, he said there are basically three possible options for South Africa, one is partition, another one is power-sharing and the other one is simplistic majority rule and the last one and the first one are both, from the NP point of view, unacceptable but we would like a real power sharing which means power distribution.
POM When you talk about power sharing do you mean executive power sharing in some way? I'll put that in the context of just two of the other quotations that I have. Dr Viljoen said, "We need guarantees of a significant share in political decision making that minorities should have effective participation in decision making on certain matters specified in the constitution through negotiation and that you would have the requirement of consensus on contentious matters". Could you just give some examples and elaborations of this?
RM Certainly, I would focus on five different mechanisms that we are looking at objectively speaking, and that doesn't mean that we really have a final plan. I want to emphasise this, there is no final blueprint yet whatsoever.
POM I should say just apropos is that I'm publishing none of this, or making it public, until the whole thing is completed.
RM The real fact of the matter is that we are still thinking as well, which is good because as we go on we develop better insights, as we go on we take into account what we hear from other sectors so it remains very important that the process remains as flexible and as open as possible also in terms of our own thinking processes, but there are certain guidelines and parameters as far as that is.
RM The five, what I would call mechanisms, that we are looking at, and there are others as well but I think within these five, one would basically find a combination that would cover everything that we are looking at, would include a bill of rights through which the protection of the individual's right to language and other things can effectively be done also in terms of a particular group's culture requirements and so forth.
RM The second thing is on the structural side and would include the evolution of power to regional and local governmental levels.
RM Together with that in the third place, the autonomy of power, autonomy of authority rather to those levels of devolved power. In other words if a local structure is to be given certain powers or certain powers be devolved to a local structure we believe that that authority should have autonomy of decision making also to a certain extent. This is important, we believe, in comparison to a view that has often been heard from the ANC side for instance that they are looking also at decentralisation but on a delegated basis. In other words where we're looking at the same departure point as far as decentralisation is concerned the effect of it might be different. We believe that regional and local structures where they are being created should have autonomy of authority to a prescribed extent at least, not altogether but whatever is to be determined.
RM Then in the fourth place the sort of checks and balances which one could probably describe by means of division of power at the horizontal level. To name a few examples: if it's a bicameral parliament for instance at the central level one could provide for a State President to come from the one House and a Prime Minister to come from the other House just to ensure different power bases as far as that is effective, check and balance situation there.
POM Can I take that to mean that you're interested in the concept of executive power sharing? What I mean by that is that more than one party is in fact involved in the executive functions of government.
RM That is an example of that possibility, yes, but also at the legislative level one can think of the same. For instance, by ascribing certain powers to the one House and others to the other House. In the same context one can think of a low ... system at the legislative level, three quarter or two thirds or whatever the situation is for certain measures. At the executive level, again one can also think of providing for a particular composition say at Cabinet level, providing for particular units to be represented from the second chamber depending on what the composition of the second chamber is to be. It could be either regional and/or on a minority composition and one could provide for that composition also to be represented at the executive level for instance. Another example is the one that you've mentioned and that is a consensus type of decision making.
POM What kind of areas would consensus decision making be applied to?
RM Again I'm talking hypothetically since these are all just thoughts that we are developing at the moment but there are various forms of consensus type of decision making first of all. One that was brought to my attention quite recently is the conference of the sea decision making process. I don't know whether you have taken out of that? That's a very interesting concept where the consensus type of decision making process led to the effect that they would rather share consensus than have the consequence of not having it. That kind of process could be built in. One could also think of providing for consensus on certain decisions, certain types of decisions and on others a clear head count type of decision making. One could think of the type of consensus where one could say, well at least one wouldn't expect every party to participate in a decision or agree with the decision but that there should be agreement amongst the majority and one could also think of providing a more important position for the important parties, or above a certain percentage of the vote for instance. Those are all possibilities. The UN Security Council concept is not too far off in this regard. [it would certainly ... powers for the United Nations for instance]
POM If I take you back to the Pretoria Minute on August 6th when there was a great deal of enthusiasm and hope that finally the way was being cleared for constitutional talks. Since that time you have this almost endemic violence in some of the townships. With the ANC moving from a position of saying that it was elements in the security forces and elements in Inkatha who were to a blame, to a position where over the weekend at their conference they very solidly accused the government more or less, or parts of the government, of orchestrating a campaign of violence, (i) what is your response to this, and (ii) just in view of what you said, how difficult is it to conduct negotiations when violence is occurring at this level? Is the real pre-condition to constitutional reform negotiations the requirement that the violence must stop or be brought down to "an acceptable level"?
RM Can I just conclude the previous point? There was a fifth one that I mentioned. I would just mention, it is self-explanatory, it's obviously the one of proportional representation for which one can allow political parties to act as vehicles for minorities, for instance, if they so wish. That we believe is a very important vehicle in this regard. So what we are saying is, just to come back to the previous point, that one should most likely look at the combination of all these to find the right answer constitutionally speaking.
RM In terms of your last question, I don't think it's possible to get a complete ending to violence altogether under the present circumstances. In fact I think one should accept, would have to accept actually, the fact that violence is unfortunately totally unacceptable but unfortunately part of the process to a certain extent, forms of violence, and we will have to be in a certain way also flexible in our own approach about that. But what we are saying is armed struggle, so to speak, to achieve political goals is unacceptable. The ANC has accepted that itself already by suspending it. Intimidation as such as a method to impose one's will on another politically is unacceptable. Forms of destabilisation would be unacceptable, destabilisation for instance of existing authorities by threatening them and that kind of thing, for instance, like what is happening at the moment with the local government structures. We all agree that they are unacceptable in terms of their present composition, that it's not going to be the solution for the future. For that simple reason we have to negotiate what the new structure should also be but for the time being until we have negotiated a settlement don't pressurise those people and threaten them.
POM Not to go away from this question but since you're answering it as part of the answer to another question, would these things that you've talked about fall under the category that the ANC agreed to suspend the armed struggle and related activities? Would you call intimidation, mass mobilisation, demonstrations as being a breach of that part of the agreement?
RM I want to make a clear distinction because it's important. We are not saying mass action or mass mobilisation as such is unacceptable. We have allowed, as I indicated earlier, peaceful protest already since September last year. Mass meetings, marches and whatever are in other words acceptable as part of mass action but when mass action leads to or when it's the intention to create destabilisation or to intimidate people or to cause violence then we believe it's not part of the democratic structure or process any longer.
POM Was this spelt out?
RM Unfortunately, because mass action as such did not start out as policy. If you look at the whole composition of the Pretoria Minute for instance, paragraph 3, mass action or at least armed action and related activities, which is paragraph 4 and 5, the whole question of addressing public grievances and forming mechanisms to address public grievances were addressed. We admitted in paragraph 5 that there should be room for public grievances to be addressed and for that simple reason we also said that mechanisms should be created through which public grievances can be addressed in order to avoid conflict. So it was addressed to a certain extent but not to the clear point that I've now just explained. We took it as a departure point right from the start. If you look at the Groote Schuur Minute in the very first paragraph it was made very clear where it was stated that the government and the ANC are jointly working towards stability and peaceful resolution of the problem and we rejected jointly also at that stage violence and intimidation. I think the basis for what I just said was actually already founded in the Groote Schuur Minute.
POM If we could go back a minute to the question of violence. I said that the ANC have moved from accusing elements of the security forces and Inkatha as being the orchestrators of the violence to a position this weekend where they laid the blame fairly and squarely on the government, say that it is an orchestrated campaign where they talk about mobilisation of defence units within the townships, suspension of the monitoring arrangements between the government and the ANC. All of these would appear to me to be very serious matters which must be addressed by the government in one way or another. Could you run through them?
RM Well the answer is, yes, we are going to address it, no doubt, also in discussions with the ANC.
POM I suppose what gets me is that since last August every time an incident occurs in a township the ANC blame the security forces and say the government is somehow responsible and must bring the security forces under control, and the government says, no, it's not the security forces it's inter-ethnic faction fighting between Zulus and Xhosas and it's been repeated over and over again. Now what's the difficulty in the government being able to ascertain, in a way that would convince the ANC, that the security forces are not in collusion with anybody? Or are parts of the security forces in collusion?
RM You see it's one of those things that it's going to be very difficult to solve for very practical reasons because it is almost impossible to get down to every situation every night and to have complete control. So whatever force is to be used for peace will find it difficult but it's one of those things that also can lead to political accusations of this kind. I would say there's a big doubt about the credibility of the ANC on this particular accusation at this stage because equally we could say from a political angle that there are parties on the left hand side of the political spectrum who have an interest in disrupting the situation. I think the thesis in this regard is clear and that is namely that it is very significant and within two weeks after 6th August hell broke out in the townships. Before then there was nothing in terms of the disruption that we have experienced over the last three months. So it is clear that it seems people who were not liking what was resolved on 6th August at the Pretoria meeting started to disrupt the process and it could be either from the radical right or the radical left, or both. We can equally say, for instance if we want to raise that kind of accusation, that there is a ... behind this and I don't think the ANC can deny that and quite frankly they're not because we have said that in private to them already. Equally so we can't deny the possibility that there are right extreme elements who are responsible for that and that they might even use some other elements for this purpose. To control this, to get a firm restoration of stability would not be promoted by blaming each other as parties.
POM Would the ANC have moved to a more definite accusation, saying this campaign is being orchestrated by the government, which is a very serious allegation.
RM That is why I am saying we will have to address that in our further discussions with the ANC. It is clear now that I must make this point that unfortunately the leadership lost the battle at this weekend's conference. That's very clear. That's a very significant and very disappointing facet of the whole weekend's developments on this. It's clear that people like Tambo and Mandela couldn't put their views through.
POM Would you see the establishing of what they call their defensive units in the townships as being contrary to the letter of the Pretoria agreement, never mind the spirit of it?
RM Well we will have to analyse that. I would really not like to comment at this point yet because we will have to analyse it before we reach final conclusions. I must say that the concept of self defence units is very much reminding one of SACP strategies and tactics and the question again is whether it's not coming from those quarters and if so then we have to put it on the heads of the ANC.
POM Do you see an evaporation of trust since August, trust between the government and the ANC and where does the responsibility for the evaporation of this trust lie?
RM It remains a difficult process. One must keep that in mind. On the one side we have to develop a process of mutual understanding towards negotiations. In other words negotiations is one side, but also at the same time we have to remember that we will most likely be opponents once we get to the negotiating table because we have different political ideologies. So on the one side we have to become friends and on the other side we are opponents and that is part of the sensitivity of the process and for that reason I'm not disappointed. I think actually things are developing still quite well as far as that is towards resolving the problem.
POM Mr Mandela yesterday in the course of trying to explain something to the membership, where I guess some of the membership had said there should be no contact with the government at all, mentioned one occasion, an incident in a township and he called Mr Vlok and the two of them went together to the township and questioned the Police Chief who said nothing had occurred. Then they went out and they found a couple of bodies. Is there a problem with elements in the security forces not carrying out the policies of the government?
RM I would say in general, no, but it's very difficult. In any situation like ours there could be extreme exceptions. It would be very difficult for me to say now. The best person to reply to that question would be Mr Vlok himself. I would advise you if possible to speak to him.
POM The larger point, I suppose, would be as has been found in the Soviet Union and other places is that bureaucracies have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and certain bureaucracies here would have a vested interest in doing so. Is there any line or disjunction between policies laid down by the government and the manner with which these policies are carried out?
RM I must really say I think the support that we are getting from the bureaucracy, or government's decision on policy developments over the last year, was actually very satisfactory and that accounts for the total spectrum of some of the key departments as well. In other words what I am saying is actually government would not have been possible to move at the pace it did over the last year if it were not for the support of its advisers, also those responsible for execution of government policy.
POM I know you have to go in a couple of minutes so I'll try and get in a couple of last quick questions. One is how do you distinguish between the NP as one of the parties to the negotiations on an equal with other parties and the NP as the party of government? It's like being a player in the game and the referee in the game at the same time.
RM Well we believe it's not going to be too difficult to make that distinction. On the one side once negotiations start it will most likely be that the NP will be one of the parties, representing itself as a party to the negotiations, and that the negotiations will be conducted as a body on its own with the government having no particular role as a referee or anything of that nature.
POM So that if the NP as a party were to agree to something in negotiations there wouldn't be a question of the government saying that's not acceptable?
RM The negotiating body will have its own rules, it will have its own chairman, it will have its own way in which it will conduct it's business so the government is not going to be part, as such, to that. But at the same time somebody has to take responsibility further to govern the country, to administer and manage and constitutionally this is the position at the moment that although we know that the existing constitution is going out we still have to maintain a constitution until the point that we have agreed upon a new one otherwise we will create a total situation of chaos.
POM On the question of a Constituent Assembly, from other people in the NP we've talked to and to some other Ministers too, the government appears to be adamant on the question that there will not be an election for a Constituent Assembly. What alternative would the government propose? What thoughts do they have on alternative forms of representation and how would you rate different representatives? How would you give weight to the ANC, say, vis-à-vis AZAPO or to the Conservative Party vis-à-vis the NP?
RM This will really have to be my last question, I'm sorry. The position that we take is that we would rather look for an informal process of negotiations, an informal structure in other words, which is to be inclusive, where all various parties with proven support should have their say. The way in which the composition is going to be reached, the structure and the functioning of the forum and the way in which it is going to be taking decisions, we believe should be part of the preparatory phase or the exploratory phase. In other words we should reach agreement at least between the key players in the initial stage which is the next phase we believe before we can start with that body. In other words we're not looking at putting up the whole thing on our own and leave it over for people to decide whether they are going to participate or not. We would like to see agreement on the composition, the structure and the function of the body beforehand but we believe that would be a far more satisfactory composition for negotiations than a Constituent Assembly where parties will have to be elected on the basis of particular mandates, where they will have to negotiate them on the basis of a particular mandate without any room for flexibility. So what we're saying is, let's first get negotiations going, let's go and sit around the table, let's get agreement and then go to the electorate for approval, meaning the broad electorate, the whole population for approval before implementation but then at least they have something to judge upon. If there is to be a Constituent Assembly now each party will put up its own manifesto, it's own type of blueprint and then it's stuck with that.
POM Thank you very much.
RM Thank you. I'm sorry, I have to apologise for the time.