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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
21 Jul 1992: Dhlomo, Oscar
POM Oscar, this is my third or fourth visit to you in connection with the study of the transition in South Africa. As you broadly review the two years since Mandela's release what would you point to as areas of optimism for the future, and what would you point to as areas of real concern and perhaps pessimism?
OD I think that since the release of Mr Mandela we went through a period of great optimism starting with the initiation of discussions between the ANC and the government, which discussions, as you know, culminated in the signing of two major Accords, first the Groote Schuur Minute and secondly the Pretoria Minute. Then the optimism continued, I think, culminating in the bilateral agreement between the ANC and the government for the calling of what both parties called, differently at the time, the ANC called it an all-party conference and the National Party called it a multi-party conference. The climax, of course, was the meeting of this conference which then became known as the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, CODESA, in December of 1991.
The optimism continued throughout the first phase of CODESA. Reports that we were receiving through the press indicated that there was good progress in the working groups. Of course the only weakness was that CODESA deliberations were closed to the media and it was not quite possible to get the gist of what was happening inside. Then we thought we would make it when CODESA 2 was convened and as you now know, of course, CODESA 2 failed to reach agreement on one crucial issue which was the percentage that would be required for the approval of the new constitution. Now that is how the problem was expressed but it looks to me that it was far deeper than that. It was really the problem of how you reconcile majority rule with the concerns of the smaller parties and what in fact each party could give and take in that process, to what extent should the party that wins the majority of votes be allowed to govern the country, what checks and balances were necessary to ensure that that majority party did not abuse its powers and trample over the rights of citizens. That was the gist of the problem.
And, of course, CODESA 2 went down as a very unfortunate failure and since then the pessimism has been deepening. From CODESA 2 the ANC decided to suspend the talks, the negotiation talks. Whilst we were still surprised and worried about that violence reared its ugly head again with the massacre in Boipatong and the announcement by the ANC that because of the failure of CODESA 2 it would unleash a campaign of mass action, rolling mass action as they called it, and we are still in that mass action at the moment. We have recently heard also the international community trying to get involved and assist in the process of negotiation and control the violence. Hence last week there was a Security Council debate on South Africa which didn't really help to untangle the problem as we see it internally. We saw leaders of parties that are in the negotiation process exchanging accusations and counter-accusations as to who is responsible for the violence and who is responsible for the breakdown of the negotiation process. We expect the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations today, Mr Cyrus Vance, and of course we don't know what agenda he is going to pursue in the country.
POM Let me go back a couple of steps. Were you surprised when the ANC offered a 75% veto threshold for provisions in a Bill of Rights and a 70% threshold for provisions in the constitution, given the fact that most survey information suggests that the government and its allies would be able to muster 25% support and might come close to getting 30% or perhaps a little more, in effect it was very close to offering a veto power?
OD Yes I was indeed surprised that the ANC was prepared to go that far. ANC negotiators themselves actually admitted afterwards that that compromise that they were making did not have the blessing of their constituencies. They were attempting to facilitate agreement and the general viewpoint here is that the government perhaps was unwise not to accept that. I think the government themselves have since recognised that because in response to the ANC Memorandum and demands which they wanted met if they were to return to the table, in response to that the government actually has accepted that ANC compromise but the problem is after the failure of negotiations the ANC renounced all concessions and compromises they had made and resorted to the position where they had started. So they are now back to a two thirds majority.
POM Did the government blow the best deal it might have gotten out of this whole process?
OD If the government had taken the deal they would have achieved in fact their intention of being able to veto whatever they didn't like.
POM What kind of rationale do you think was behind the government rejection of the offer?
OD Well there are many views that are put forward as possible explanations. The first view is that the government's chief negotiator, Dr Gerrit Viljoen, was on leave during this period. He had suffered from exhaustion and decided to take leave and was not, therefore, at CODESA. His place had been taken by a junior Minister, in fact a Deputy Minister, Dr Tertius Delport, who, it is alleged, was not because of his status in the Cabinet able to use his discretion in the negotiations and was faced with a situation where he had to dig in his heels and could not deviate from his brief as a junior person. That is one explanation.
The other one is that the government perhaps was not ready for the process to move forward to an interim government, to the elections for the Constituent Assembly. This view is substantiated by those who hold it by quoting the fact that initially the government had thought that CODESA 2 would not in fact be the final plenary session. CODESA 2 would simply receive reports, progress reports from working groups as to how they were faring and that they would then go back and continue their negotiations in the working groups. Now it so happens that the ANC wanted that CODESA 2 should be the final session, all agreements would need to be tied up and progress made. So the government was not ready to move forward and they therefore decided to be as difficult as they could so that the process could stall at that stage. That's another viewpoint.
And, of course, the other substantiation for that, the people who believe that was the case, find in the fact that just before CODESA 2 the government received a delegation of Chief Buthelezi of Inkatha, President Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana and Brigadier Gqozo of Ciskei, who saw President de Klerk and complained in their memorandum that the negotiation process was moving too fast and it needed to be stalled so that the participants, they claimed, could consult their constituencies. There was no time, they maintained, to consult constituencies. All indications are that de Klerk was not unsympathetic to that viewpoint.
POM You were saying de Klerk was not unsympathetic to?
OD Yes, it appeared that de Klerk was not unsympathetic to that plea to stall the negotiations. Of course he was criticised by the ANC before CODESA 2 for receiving some and not all the players in CODESA.
POM Do you think that if the government had in fact accepted the ANC's proposals that the ANC would have had a problem selling it to their constituency?
OD If one would believe the statements of ANC leaders after the failure, certainly yes. They clearly stated that in a sense they were saved by the government when they refused to accept their concessions because these are concessions that had not been cleared with their membership. And indeed when they went back to their, whatever they call it - I think they call it a consultative meeting, when they went back they were told to stick to a two thirds majority. So it is possible that they would have been censured by their followers or, at the least, they would have had to do quite a bit of work trying to convince their followers that their compromise was justified under the circumstances.
POM You had this period, what seems to me this crucial period, following the deadlock at CODESA where you still had Mandela and de Klerk trying to put the best face on things, saying progress had been made and the deadlock wasn't insuperable and then a month later you had moved to a situation of where the ANC had walked out of the talks, where Mandela had become much more vitriolic in his personal attacks on de Klerk, where you had programmes of mass action being announced and where you had a whole series of demands being listed that would have to be complied with before negotiations were resumed. What happened? What were the dynamics of that period?
OD I think the dynamics were that some militant ANC supporters on the ground began to pressurise the leadership and accused them of being soft on the government. This is clear from the type of reception that Mandela received when he visited Boipatong immediately after the massacre, in fact a day after de Klerk had been chased out of Boipatong. Although Mandela was reasonably well received the statements, slogans and shouts coming from the crowd tended to be saying: you are nice and accommodating as far as de Klerk and the government are concerned but our people are dying here. You are not able to protect them. Since then his statements have tended to be more militant and more vitriolic towards the government and towards de Klerk. So I think it was the pressure of his constituency.
POM But do you sense any shift in the balance of power within the ANC itself from what might be called the moderate elements who believe the way forward is the negotiation of pacts between elites and those who would say that what is required is not only negotiations but mass action to constantly keep a hand around the government's neck?
OD Yes I think there is that shift of the balance of power from those who wanted negotiations and those who either didn't want negotiations at all or wanted negotiations to be underpinned by an ongoing process of mass action to extract agreements from the government. You hear now some ANC spokespersons always saying that even if the negotiation process were to be restored mass action would not end, mass action would be on and off which indicates that that shift is apparently occurring.
Number two, you also now have a situation where it seems to be the labour movement that is driving not only the process of mass action but also the process of possible economic restructuring and setting deadlines by which they want specific constitutional progress to have been made, like an interim government, a Constituent Assembly, on specific dates in 1992. So it is clear that the initiative for the moment might have moved from the pro-negotiation factions. We also are seeing a situation where the people who might have favoured negotiations are subtly being criticised more and more by the ANC, one of them being Mr Jacob Zuma at the moment who is apparently under attack because it is alleged that he negotiated an agreement with the government on the release of political prisoners and he is alleged to have signed this document which considered that there were no longer any political prisoners and that document seems to be causing a bit of friction within the ANC ranks. As long as the negotiation process remains stalled the pro-negotiation faction will be powerless to do anything substantial about recapturing the initiative.
POM On the other hand do you think that mass action can be sustained? When I heard about the strike first it was going to be the most devastating strike the country had ever seen, it was going to be a three week strike and then it became a week and then it became three days and now it's down to 24 hours with some voluntary co-operation between employers and employees, which is a very long day from what the initial proposals were. What do you think accounts for the attenuation of the ...?
OD I think there is a realisation within the leadership of the labour movement that it would be very difficult at this time of economic stagnation and the loss of jobs to sustain a long term strike. That I think they realise. It looks to me that they are looking for a credible way of scaling down their demands without publicly losing face. Therefore, I believe that these talks between SACOLA, the employers' organisation, and the union movement must have come at the right time for the labour leaders and I would not be surprised if they do in fact reach an agreement that there will be a stayaway for a day which would be supported by both factions.
POM Yes. But this is not exactly cataclysmic rolling mass action, a one day strike. My question is: those labour leaders, did they overplay their own hand? Did they decide the kinds of actions they would take and then find they had overplayed their hand?
OD Yes. I think they did. Yes. I think they did overplay their hand but of course mass action is not just about stayaways, there are all sorts of manifestations of mass action that the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance have in mind. For instance the marches still go on, the occupation of public buildings and offices still goes on, the present media workers strike, which has nothing to do with mass action, has been incorporated into mass action. The hospital strike again which does not have anything to do with mass action, is now part of mass action and the strike down here at the Toyota assembly plant is also now perceived as part of the programme of mass action. So if it is not a general nationwide stayaway certain activities associated with mass action could still go ahead.
POM One could look on mass action as having two purposes. One would be to bring pressure on the government to meet some of the ANC demands and get back to the negotiating table. The other could be that you give your grassroots membership something to do, something to involve them, something to make them feel part of the process, something to make them no longer feel excluded, they think it's going on behind closed doors as some of the criticism alleged has been happening at CODESA. What do you think is the primary purpose of the mass action here?
OD I think it would depend on the standpoint of the various players. I think for people who are genuinely interested in negotiations, mass action would be a way of trying to pressurise the government to do something, also a way of trying to bring business on board and use its pressure to influence the government to move forward. But for those who didn't wholeheartedly support the negotiation process I think mass action would be a way of trying to show that there is an alternative to negotiation. For instance, you hear people in the labour unions, some people believing that through mass action they will bring the government to its knees, they say. So that's a totally different agenda. They want to unseat the government. Whether that's possible or not is quite another story. Then I would say there is that third one you mentioned where mass action gives the grass roots an opportunity of being part of this whole struggle to democratise the country. They can now march, they can now make demands, they can present petitions that have to do with democracy and peace and so on. Yes, I would say all of them depending on the motives of the people involved.
POM Would it be your own view that the ANC can maintain a level of mass action that will be sufficient to compel the government to respond?
OD I don't think so. I don't think the ANC would have that capability. It is very difficult to force any government, let alone this intransigent one, to be seen to be giving in to pressure of any type and it will take time as well for action such as mass action to begin to hurt those it intends to hurt. It starts by hurting the workers, then the employers, then and only then perhaps the government. It would need to be, let's say if it was a stayaway it would need to be a total, general, nationwide stayaway for at least a week, minimum a week, to have an effect and we are not sure that that would be possible under the present economic circumstances.
POM Let me shift to KwaZulu for a moment and to Dr Buthelezi. In his speech to the opening of the Legislative Assembly, in his speech this last weekend, that is at his conference, there are ominous notes in both speeches, the formation of resolutions to form defence units. You have him talking of having to lead his people through dark days. A couple of questions. One, can a CODESA work, can any negotiation process work that leaves KwaZulu and Buthelezi out of it?
OD No I don't think any serious negotiations can work if they left Buthelezi out of it. Perhaps KwaZulu yes, KwaZulu as a governmental structure. And so far we don't have a situation really which has left out Buthelezi. Inkatha is there in CODESA. It is Buthelezi as a person and leader of Inkatha who decided not to go to CODESA because the King was not also included. But let us assume Inkatha were to withdraw from the negotiations and given the fact that other parties, the PAC and AZAPO are not there and the CP, then I think that would be a serious handicap to CODESA because then you would just have bilateral negotiations between the ANC and the government, so Inkatha does have to play that role of a third force in the negotiation process. Now Buthelezi's problem is really himself, that he personally is not there, but his party is still there, it is negotiating and making suggestions in the process. The problem is that the cost for including Buthelezi in CODESA would have to be CODESA's agreement that not only the Zulu King but also the KwaZulu government must be represented. So that's the problem. He is not left out at the moment, his political views are fully represented by his organisation. He has not seen it wise to pull out Inkatha. He is not there just as a person, himself.
POM Do you think the last year, I think it's just about a year ago since what was referred to as Inkathagate first came on the scene, do you think that that and subsequent revelations of links between the security forces and Inkatha have reduced the stage to there being two major players, Mandela and de Klerk, whereas before it used to be talked of in terms of three major players? Or do you think Buthelezi still is a key actor?
OD Inkathagate did cause a serious dent to Inkatha and Buthelezi's stature as a major and independent political player. It did not though blow Buthelezi and Inkatha out of the water. They are still there but their stature has tended to be rather reduced, not totally excluded but reduced. You still have to consider them in the process.
POM So you would still see him as a major player?
OD I would say he is still a major player.
POM Does he have the capacity to disrupt the process still?
OD I don't know if he can disrupt it altogether. He can cripple the process and make it difficult for it to move forward briskly but I don't think he can stop negotiations if the will was there from other parties to continue.
POM I've got a question about the violence. One is that again over the last two years in newspaper after newspaper in accounts of the violence there have been allegations of police standing by or police not making arrests and when you hear Mandela making statements that if it were white people who were being massacred by blacks that the government and de Klerk would take immediate and strong action to bring it under control and that de Klerk's failure to respond in an overt way makes him and his government responsible if only indirectly for the violence. One, would you accept that general argument and, two, do you think de Klerk is in control of his own security forces or do you think that if he were to take the large scale action that might be required to cleanse the SAP that there would be rebellion within their ranks or that he just is politically unable to do so?
OD There is a lot of truth in your first statement that there is a lot that is wrong in the police force. There are elements within the police force that have in fact been incriminated. We have had the Trust Feed case where a senior police officer was incriminated and sentenced to death for his part. So it is no longer speculation that there are elements of the police force that have been responsible. There are elements of the security forces perhaps who are also not clean. The investigation is supposed to be going on at the moment about the murder of the Eastern Cape activists, Goniwe and somebody else. All that points to certain things that are not upright in these departments. And there isn't any visible enthusiasm on the part of de Klerk, there isn't that at all, to stamp out these activities and unless he does that I don't think he will win the goodwill of the ANC and all his other negotiating partners who are concerned about these issues.
POM Why won't he take action?
OD I don't think he thinks, let me put it this way, I don't think he sees this problem through the eyes of, for instance, Mandela and the black people who are victims of this police brutality. And I don't think he has also outgrown totally the general perception of the government and all its organs which prevailed before de Klerk took over, that basically the ANC are enemies of the state who must be watched and crippled wherever this is possible. I don't think he has totally, 100%, outgrown that perception and even if he has outgrown it I don't think the people who surround him and advise him have done that. So I think that is his problem.
POM Who are the political winners and losers of this collapse of the talks?
OD I think both sides are losers. The present government cannot go on successfully and govern the country without initially agreed upon settlement. It cannot make inroads internationally. It cannot revive the economy. It cannot roll back all the sanctions, few as they might be that still remain, unless there is this political settlement. So the government is sitting like a lame duck at the moment until there is a new constitutional settlement. On the other hand the ANC cannot also afford to sit outside and be spectators in this game, peeping through the windows and complaining every day about victimisation by the police over whom they have no control whatsoever, complaining every day about the bias in the SABC, radio and television, over which they have no control whatsoever. They do want to come in and be part of the government and the longer they sit outside, the longer the government finds time to weaken and frustrate them. So both sides are losers.
POM How about the PAC? Has it been a winner in any regard?
OD The PAC can only be winners if the process of negotiations collapses once and for all and I think they are waiting eagerly to pick up those crumbs if and when they fall from the negotiation table. They are in the same position at the moment as the CP, which is also waiting for the failure and collapse of negotiations so that they can begin to pick up their crumbs on the white side.
POM Do you think that the result of the white only referendum marginalised the CP for the moment, that they are no longer any kind of a political threat to the process?
OD I don't think they are any threat any more. The referendum actually seriously hurt them. They felt this themselves because after that they immediately reviewed their policy of partition and they are now calling for something close to a federation but they still call it a confederation. And there isn't much peace within their ranks either. Since the referendum some of their senior people have moved out. Koos van der Merwe being one of them and another Pretoria MP, Koos Botha, I think. So there isn't harmony within their leadership and this is an indication that they are experiencing some turbulence since the referendum.
POM Two last quick questions. Boipatong. Was the ANC able to use this as a symbolic rallying point to pull the diverse elements of its movements together again where there had been dissension about the nature of the offer made to the government, where there had been dissension about the lack of ANC's actions against violence, where there had been a feeling by the grassroots that the leadership was moving way beyond them and leaving them out of it?
OD Yes. I think that is unfortunate. As it was Boipatong came at the right time for the ANC, not only in pulling its various sectors together but in being able to claim that their allegations against government complicity in the murders were justified.
POM And two, some people have mentioned to me the unfairness of it in the way incidents of violence are reported and played. They contrast Crossroads outside Johannesburg in April with Boipatong where almost the same number of people were killed but didn't get more than two or three lines in the newspapers, and Boipatong becomes an international incident. Almost the suggestion is that if it's the ANC's people who get killed then there is a lot of attention whereas if Inkatha people get killed it barely merits a line or two in the paper. Do you think there is a bias in the way these things are reported?
OD Unfortunately, yes, I think there is bias, whether intended or not I can't say but you are quoting a relevant example - Boipatong and Crossroads. We all get hurt if people die but there's no doubt that the death of the people in Boipatong was given far, far more prominence than the death of the people in Crossroads and even when some comments tried to point that out it wasn't effective at all and when you are talking about death of course it is difficult even to point that out. It looks as if you're not sympathising with the recent occurrence. People have forgotten about Crossroads. You begin to say, "Crossroads there wasn't such an outcry", it's like you are heartless, you are not sympathising with the occurrence that is still fresh in people's mind. And so people tend to keep quiet about that.
POM Very last question. Who were, again, the political winners at the UN Security debate on South Africa or was there a political winner?
OD I think if there was a winner at all, I'm not sure there was, but if there was it was the South African government. Number one, they did not want to go to the United Nations. That was the ANC's game plan. Once there they were able to influence the United Nations to allow other government supporting parties in CODESA to speak, far more in number than the ANC, and most of them were eloquently anti-ANC, something that has never happened to the ANC within the corridors of the United Nations for many, many years since South Africa was suspended from that body. And finally the resolution that came out was interpreted by South Africa as very even handed, quite uncharacteristic of past UN resolutions about South Africa which condemned apartheid and the South African government and so on and so on. Finally, the resolution virtually ordered the ANC to return to the negotiation table saying virtually that there was no alternative to negotiations. So in that sense I think the government were winners, but in the sense, as I said in the beginning, in the sense that the three sides found time to throw mud at each other then all of them were losers.
POM How many months before they get back to the negotiating table? Stick your neck out.
OD I would say a month or two. They will have to.
POM Thanks very much Oscar.