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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
29 Nov 1999: Van Der Merwe, CJ (Stoffel)
POM Your home is called?
POM I'll get the right spelling of that from my notes. Maybe first to take it thematically in some way and then I will go through questions I jotted down when I went through the transcript the last time and will ask you to elaborate a little. The first would be the Botha years. You were close to him, you attended meetings of the National Security Council. After the emergency was declared in 1986 the National Security Council assumed a more significant importance. You had the implementation of the National Management Security System at a more sophisticated level, you had the rise of the securocrats, whatever. What I would like to ask you is to describe that period, the period which you hinted at the last time, PW himself went through. You did say you were one of the people who looked him in the eye and said it's time to go. But was after 1986 SA moving from the democracy it was to an authoritarian kind of state which was being run from the State President's Office where the State Security Council was making the decisions? It had a Secretariat which, as far as I recall, was made up 56% of the personnel were from the National Security Agency, 16% from the SAP, 16% from the SADF and 11% from Foreign Affairs, and it was feeding into the National Management Security System and that's where the decisions were being made, and that the cabinet had been reduced to the roll of rubber stamp. I learned in some of the reading that I had done that decisions that PW took without consulting cabinet, among them were the bombings that took place during the visit of the EPG (Eminent Persons' Group), the Declaration of the State of Emergency itself in 1986, the unbanning of the UDF and other movements. What was the preoccupation of the total onslaught policy at that point? What was perceived to be the threat to SA that normal cabinet processes were bypassed for this kind of closed securocratic system?
SVM You know it's to some extent difficult because I only came into government in 1986, a few months after the declaration of the State of Emergency. I was an MP before but not a member of the cabinet and in fact I became a deputy minister in 1986 but I attended cabinet meetings from then on and Security Council meetings from then on. I think it was a popular thing to say the government was actually run by the Security Council and not by the cabinet but I think this figure is being taken a bit too far in the sense that present on the Security Council were a number of cabinet ministers anyway, especially those involved in security but not exclusively. I was there first as Deputy Minister and later as Minister of Information and later as Minister of Black Education. I sat on the Security Council all the time.
POM Would your role, or the role of cabinet ministers in positions parallel to you, occupy a different position in the decision-making process of the SSC? Would ministers from the security portfolios have a greater say in decision making?
SVM No definitely not. OK, fair enough, in the situation the person with the most intimate knowledge about a particular aspect would have greater authority, not necessarily in other words, let me put it to you this way, that in security matters the Minister of Police, for instance, would have been better informed than myself as being Minister of Information or Minister of Education & Training, but there was no such way in which the Minister of Police could tell me what to do or would have a stronger voice in the Security Council. All of us had equal say in the Security Council but, of course, the Security Council was like a cabinet in the sense that the final decision is that of the chairman, and that is so in a cabinet situation, the chairman would hear the people out, everybody would have his say if he wanted to and then if there was an obvious consensus he would formulate that and if there was a dispute, or shall I say a lack of consensus, then his vote would be the final decision. But that is not extraordinary.
POM And that would be the State President?
SVM Yes that would be the State President. And then all decisions, all important decisions, all decisions with any sort of national implication were then referred from the Security Council to the cabinet. Formerly the Security Council could only advise cabinet and then all the decisions, not decisions, but all the recommendations of the Security Council were tabled at the next cabinet and it did happen various times that cabinet declined to approve of a recommendation and would refer it back to the Security Council for reconsideration.
POM Can you think of one particular example of that?
SVM No I can't unfortunately, unfortunately I will not be able to tell you, I wouldn't be able to give you an example of that.
POM In what percentage of the cases, would you say, were State Security Council recommendations referred back to the SSC by the cabinet?
SVM OK, I will grant that it was by exception because what would have happened is that the chairman of the cabinet and all the important cabinet ministers, all the senior cabinet ministers, were present at the deliberations of the Security Council so normally those decisions would be broadly in tune with what the cabinet would be feeling anyway. So it was not very often but it did happen that a minister who was not present at the Security Council would raise an objection and say, look, this is the problem that I have with it. Then it would be discussed there and in a few cases it was referred back for reconsideration. So it did happen. Those decisions of the Security Council, OK, fair enough, some decisions are less important, some are less controversial, so some decisions would just be okayed by cabinet, but in fact cabinet looked keenly at the things which the Security Council brought to it.
POM So there was no case of a decision being taken by the State Security Council that wasn't referred back to cabinet?
SVM No, not that I am aware of. No, shall I say, no there aren't any because all the decisions of the Security Council were recommendations which were referred to the cabinet for approval. What is true is that the information that was put before the Security Council was not always put to the cabinet because some of it was of a very confidential nature and you wanted to limit the number of people that carried knowledge of it. And of course not all the arguments that went on in the Security Council were necessarily repeated in the cabinet.
POM If I'm following your line, you are saying that the recommendations of the SSC would be tabled at a cabinet meeting but that the arguments that went on or the information that was provided that resulted in those recommendations were not?
SVM That is so. Of course if any member of the cabinet requested further information then he would be entitled to it but normally the Security Council was part of a broader committee system. The Security Council was one of the committees of the cabinet and there were several such committees which became known as the Security Management System. Part of the reason for having a thing such as the Security Council was to prepare, or shall I say, to lessen the load of the cabinet. If cabinet had to physically handle all the matters that came before the Security Council and all the matters that came before the other committees then it would be in session three days a week. So it was part of that, things were thrashed out in the committees and thrashed out in the Security Council and then given in a distilled form to cabinet for final decisions. There is really, in my view, too alarmist thinking and rumour-mongering around the Security Council. What is true is that some decisions and some policies that had their origin in the Security Council were then sometimes implemented in a way which was not foreseen by the members of the Security Council or by the cabinet. Further down that line things got warped a little bit and people lower down the line would say, OK, this is what the Security Council said we should do, now let's do it, but then they would do it in their own way and that I think with the benefit of hindsight, there was not enough control over all that.
POM I don't know whether you have, but when the TRC examined the minutes of the State Security Council over God knows what period, from 1960 to 1990, for the period of its remit, it quotes, it says, among numerous examples and quotes, a number of words like 'wipe out' and 'take out', 'remove from society', 'eliminate' with regard to individuals, in what context in the SSC were those used or if you heard a word like that being used, and being recorded in the minutes, because minutes were kept, what meaning would you attach to it?
SVM That's difficult to say because there's one particular thing in connection with, what was it? The Pepco Three or whatever, some specific incident, that it was used but that was before my time and so I was not present at such a meeting and I cannot recall any other instance during my time where it was talked about eliminating people or removing from society or anything such as that. I just can't recall any instance of that occurring during my presence in the Security Council. So I don't know, I don't know as I say, sometimes - I went through the transcript this morning again and I said before that maybe in some instances I was naïve, maybe in some instances I had personally put too much trust in people and did not perhaps look critically enough at individuals and what they were saying and what directions they were taking. That may be so but really I cannot recall any instance of that nature that occurred since the end of 1986 when I became a member of the cabinet.
POM This preoccupation with security and the total onslaught, was this in terms of SA being surrounded by allies of the Soviet Union, communist states housing the ANC and the SACP?
SVM You know I don't know whether it was a preoccupation. At that time there was a great deal of violence going on in SA, politically inspired violence. One had the sort of situation at that time where, for instance, some people will get killed somehow and then there would be a huge mass demonstration around the funeral and people would get angry and start new violence so every funeral some people were killed again and so there would be another funeral and there would be another funeral and that sort of thing. So the violence was really getting out of hand.
(I just want to put into brackets something which you mentioned earlier, that PW declared the state of emergency without consulting the cabinet. I don't think that that could have been possible because the state of emergency was declared year by year, it was declared for a year at a time, so in June every year it had to be renewed and I was not present when the first state of emergency was declared but I was present every year after that where it had to be renewed and the cabinet was fully consulted at each renewal of the state of emergency, for sure.)
As I say, the violence was getting out of hand and something had to be done. Our security advisers being the people from the military and even from the police told us all the time that, look, this cannot be maintained by force or by emergency regulations indefinitely. You must look for a political solution. We will hold the security umbrella but you must solve the matter politically.
POM Was it Magnus Malan who said 80% of the problem is political and 20% is security?
SVM He could very well have said that because that 80%/20% was a very going thing at the time. But not only Magnus but also the chiefs of the SA Defence Force, the chiefs of the police, gave this message through to us regularly that we can contain this for a while through these special powers but you must give attention.
POM Did they say they could contain it for a while or did they say they could contain it indefinitely?
SVM No they could not contain it indefinitely. They can only contain it for a short while, a short while being a few years, but by then if a political decision, a political solution was not found you could not contain it indefinitely. Part of the whole management system was in order to try and mobilise the state powers to address the reasons for the grievances. In other words things like housing, things like people not having electricity, things like absence of running water, all those things were part of the socio-political effort to try and alleviate the situation and it was very successful from a management point of view in the sense that through the mechanism of the management system many projects in black areas that had been stuck bureaucratically for years were then
SVM Fast-tracked. The only problem with fast-tracking is that it creates scope for short cuts and for people seeing a gap and enriching themselves and that sort of thing. So that is why government is normally a very cumbersome business, it's because of all the checks and balances built in and once you want to fast-track a thing you have to cut out some of those checks and balances and then some things somewhere go wrong. That is so.
POM Communism. To what degree were the white South Africans led to believe, and believed, that the real threat to them was that of communism, that it had spread down through the continent and that you were the jewel in the crown, the last state in southern Africa that would come under Soviet imperialism and that people would lose their property, people would lose their values, there would be a communist government Soviet-style? To what extent was that (i) propagandised by the government, (ii) to what extent was it accepted by the people to the point of where it became a part of their mindset? It's the hysteria of McCarthyism in the fifties.
SVM Again, I don't know whether it became the same hysteria as the McCarthyism.
POM Take hysteria out, it's probably the wrong word.
SVM I don't think there was hysteria.
POM Was there a fear?
SVM There was definitely a fear and this fear was fuelled by pronouncements of the Communist Party itself. It was fuelled by what had happened in, for instance, Mozambique which is just next door. Many people from SA knew the old Mozambique before the revolution there and they saw what had happened in Mozambique and so it was very easy for them to jump to that conclusion.
POM Would Angola be another - ?
SVM And Angola the same thing. Angola was not such a vivid thing in the minds of the South Africans but Mozambique definitely. A very large percentage of South Africans had visited Mozambique before and many had visited Mozambique after and they didn't want any part of it. So there was the example of what had happened and then you had many pronouncements of the communists themselves that said, well now we've gone so far, the next thing now is South Africa. And one should remember that this was prior to the crumbling of the Eastern bloc in 1989.
POM That's what I want to talk about, that period.
SVM Yes, it was prior to that. I, for instance, had studied communism, the philosophy and the communist systems and that sort of thing and so I think my own perception of it was perhaps a little bit more nuanced than the man in the street but still my conclusion was that a socialist experiment in SA, sort of scientific socialist experiment would be disastrous in SA. I still think it would have been if one had had a regime in SA which had tried to implement radical socialism at any time. Even if one looks today at what the ANC said just prior to their unbanning and even after their unbanning and what they have in fact implemented, then it is very different and my view is still that it would have been disastrous. Shall I say, I think the perception of the potential disaster which could be brought about by communism was very real in those days.
POM If white fears were associated with black domination how would you define the genesis of that? Was white fear dominated by the fear of a black government taking over that would be a radical socialist government and would nationalise everything in sight, ruin the economy and take their property and whatever? To what extent did the fear of the ideology or what might happen under a black government relate to their fear of just blacks themselves?
SVM I see what you mean. If you could have taken the racial issue out of it and you had just had a communist threat without any racial overtones then I think the resistance against such a threat would have been maybe 80% or 90% as high. On the other hand if you had taken the communist threat out of the black/white situation then maybe the resistance would have been at 60% or 70%. So you had two unacceptable aspects looming in the future.
POM But in one sense you're suggesting that the fear of communism in a way superseded the fear of just blacks taking over. I'll tell you what I'm getting at, I'm doing, it began as an article and now it's turned into a small book of its own, on a comparison of the peace processes in Northern Ireland and South Africa and what are comparisons and contrasts between the two conflicts. Even though they're not the same in many ways, there are certain structural characteristics and I regard fear as being one of them. What is the subordinate group or whatever? What is one group afraid of that makes it resist and that creates conflict? Here I wanted to identify the extent to which fear of communism as distinct from fear of blacks was a factor in people's minds. I don't know whether you hear it today but I still hear people here today talking about communism as though they've forgotten. Some Afrikaners will still talk about communism as though these guys are only putting on an act when they're playing in government with all their capitalistic moves, it's just a front for the day they're really going to go for the socialist experiment, that they quite yet haven't adjusted to that. The old order is dead.
SVM One still gets that to a limited extent though and some people who are fairly sophisticated even would point to the Russian experience of two revolutions, democratic revolution followed by a communist revolution, and they're saying with all these commies sitting in the cabinet and the Communist Party is represented in parliament far beyond its pro rata things you get stories like that and it is certainly so that there are people with fairly strong socialist tendencies in government and so forth but I would discard any such residual feelings amongst white people as not important.
POM What I was trying to do was that one of the phenomena in Northern Ireland is that in extensive polling over 25 years it shows that the one thing that Northern Ireland Protestants were most resistant to was any form of unification with the south on the grounds that it was a Catholic run state and that they, as Protestants, would be submerged into a Catholic run state and that Catholic norms and values would prevail and theirs would disappear or whatever. So that fear is still there, it's never gone above 5% of Protestants wanting to be part of a united Ireland, whereas like 30% of Catholics in Northern Ireland are quite prepared to remain in the UK. It's not as big an issue with them because they don't have any fear of being submerged. So I was using fear, the Protestant fear of being part of a Northern Ireland which has a religious component to it, to Afrikaner fear of domination by communism which too has a religious aspect to it in the sense that Afrikaners perceive themselves as devout Christians, espousing Christian values, and here you would have the imposition of atheistic communism.
SVM That's right.
POM So there was that fear and that made them resistant to change. Do you think that's a proper kind of comparison to make?
SVM Yes I think so. The whole issue of value systems I think is very important and how people perceive that their value systems might be affected if such a radical change comes about because any government would implement the value system of those people that voted for it and in the case of SA you had two problems, the western European value system versus the black value system, you had the Christian capitalist so it was on two scores that this was the problem. Also because, as I say, the capitalist Christian value system on the one hand and then an ultra socialist, communist and black value system on the other hand, two very opposites.
POM What were black values seen as?
SVM To some extent there was the fear that for things such as affirmative action, in other words blacks would take over important positions for which they are not properly trained and the country will lapse into chaos. That is the one thing. But that's not so much a cultural thing as perhaps development level.
POM Black culture I suppose, what would black cultural values be associated with?
SVM Yes that's a difficult question to answer, no, that's a difficult question to answer, but it was just seen as this black threat. Then it was very mixed up with the socialist part of it. You see that is the point that I wanted to make also, once the communist threat had receded because of the collapse of the Eastern bloc, that gave one the chance to overcome the fears and to get the white voters to vote for a dispensation in which blacks would be dominant because then the fear of blacks was not so prominent any more.
POM Just to return to the other to get some clarification and maybe you can give it; would black culture, value systems, be associated with being inferior to Eurocentric value systems, not being as advanced, not being as civilised, not being as modern, meaning that blacks would be inherently less qualified to run a modern state because their culture hadn't caught up to the norms and values and practices of white culture?
SVM I would say that would be a fair summary of the perception that was there. There would be a large group of people that would say to you that I don't rely on inferiority of black people but they are different, so therefore they can do what they want somewhere else so long as I can do what I want here. That was the big force behind the whole concept of separate development. So many people would have said it's not that I think they are inferior, yes they are less developed but they can develop, but I want to do things my way. We had a long history of resistance against the Dutch, against the British. We fought a long battle to establish a state where we could do what we wanted and we didn't want to lose all that just like that. That was the sort of thing, in other words we want to do our own thing. Let them go do their thing somewhere else. Now OK, at the end of the day that was not an option to do it that way. So the mere differentness, the mere let's say if the threat was one of Russian domination, without communism being in the picture, I think there would still have been a great resistance, or Chinese or whatever, there would still have been that resistance and that is purely not so much because of white versus black but difference in cultures, difference in values. There are many stories that people would tell you that they tried to help this black person to advance himself but then because of cultural factors he's not able to do so. For instance, because of the ubuntu, the sharing amongst blacks, a person would not accumulate enough capital to run his own business because he would dish it all out to his relatives, that sort of thing. I'm trying to concretise a bit the differences that were seen and the differences in the concept of time in the sense that Westerners would be very much bound to the clock but then you would get the black people, invite them for a dinner at seven o'clock, they'd turn up at nine o'clock, that sort of thing. I had that personal experience with some present day cabinet ministers, but never mind. So that sort of thing irritated people and they say we don't want our society to look like that. Well a lot of it is happening today but not as bad as was foreseen. But those were the points of resistance.
POM F W de Klerk becomes head of the NP in February 1989 and then Acting State President in August, then he was elected in his own right shortly thereafter. Now we've talked about this before, whether he was conservative or not. The question I want to focus in on is that you mentioned, and I know it was one of my questions here, that in meetings when somebody would bring up a suggestion, De Klerk would say, "Well have you thought that if you do A, A is going to lead to B and B is going to lead to C and are you prepared to accept C?" A person would say, well, no. So he would say forget about doing A if you can't accept C because that's going to be outcome of doing A, then don't do it. Think through what your policies are going to be. Now that you've got the hindsight of ten years or whatever, and also were part of the process of that time, do you think that when De Klerk released Mandela and unbanned the ANC and 17 other organisations in a move that took the whole world by surprise and catapulted him overnight from being one more leader of SA, the pariah state, to being on the world stage, do you think when he did that that he had thought through that A leads to B and B leads to C and C leads to D and at the end D equals majority rule? Had he worked it through in his mind his own strategy of I'm letting him go and unbanning the organisations, then there are going to be negotiations or talks about negotiations, then there will be negotiations and out of those negotiations is going to come an outcome, what are the probable outcomes, A, B, C, D, E? What is the likely outcome? E. What's E? Majority rule. But I'll try to maybe get A, B or C, I won't think about E. Did he do that? I put that in the context of other people who negotiated, some of his chief negotiators say that he was a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist, that they never understood what his bottom line was, what actually he was negotiating for. I ask it to you that way because it was you who gave me the 'if he goes from A to B to C and he thinks things through'. Well if he had thought this thing through he would have seen that the end would have been, no matter how you cut the pie, it was going to end up in majority rule one day, maybe not in four or five years but eventually.
SVM No, I think he foresaw that, yes. What I think he thought that one could get away with was a form of power sharing, in other words a sort of situation where representatives from various groups would have a guaranteed presence in government.
POM In fact it's almost like the arrangement that will go into effect in Northern Ireland next week where you will have a power sharing government, each party is guaranteed X number of seats in parliament according to its representation in the population. That's the law, it's not voluntary, that's the agreement.
SVM Now that is what I think he thought we could achieve at that stage and even though that would leave you as a minority, which we were, that it would not denude you totally of power, of having a say in the country's affairs. So I did not think that he foresaw the present day constitution when he said let's release Mandela from jail. I think he thought that he could achieve something more in the line of power sharing.
POM Did he think then that somehow he would have the ability to manage the process or guide it towards a conclusion that he wanted rather than recognising that once you get into negotiations other forces take over?
SVM Surely, I think that is the difference to some extent between SA and Northern Ireland in the sense that in Northern Ireland you have two groups, two powers, Britain and Ireland which are respectively more or less the sponsors or the protectors of these two groups. But once we had admitted to not being a legitimate government of SA we had no protector you see and so therefore you couldn't really control the thing through the end.
POM When did that admission come or was it implicit in the release of Mandela?
SVM Yes it was implicit, it was implicit that we are just a temporary government. It was actually that was not the first time that it was recognised in the sense that after the creation of the tricameral parliament, that first speech of PW Botha in the new parliament, had put the political rights of black people right at the top of the agenda. Then, unfortunately, through the violence and all that struggle this thing got obscured. So the idea that the majority of the people must have a vote was not new. What was new was to recognise the ANC as the spokesperson or one of the spokes-parties of the black people, that was what was new in 1990. So the whole idea that you would have a government in which blacks would play a major role was not new but, as I say, the fact that you unbanned the ANC, that you abandoned a previous stance to say that we will not negotiate with people who carry guns, that was new you see.
But what happened there also was that FW and the government had come to the conclusion that you cannot have peace without the ANC so you have to involve the ANC. You knew that you would have control over the process only up to a certain point and that you would have to rely on your own ingenuity and on providence for the eventual outcome. But what was a strong argument, what was the ultimate argument, was that we couldn't continue as we had in the past because, again, FW was very strong on the principle that you cannot build a peaceful society with injustice. So long as you have injustice you will not have peace and therefore the present system at that time was an unjust system and therefore it had to be changed. So even though there is no guaranteed outcome you have to proceed.
POM When you and others, people that you know, and you were even in government with or in parliament with or in social circles with, continue to hear the ANC say whites were forced to abandon apartheid, they fought it to the bitter end to maintain their privilege and power and they're still fighting to maintain their privilege and power, unwilling to let go of it, unwilling to share it with the black majority, does that annoy you?
SVM Yes it does, it does, because that was not the case.
POM Do you think they don't understand either wittingly or unwittingly, wittingly would be because it politically serves their purposes to maintain this mantra of whites wanting to cling to power and privilege and only yielding to ending apartheid because the end, so to speak, was nearly up anyway, rather than acknowledging that a debate had been going on in very important sectors of the Afrikaner community and the government as to how to (a) recognising that apartheid had to go, and (b) the big question mark is, well how do you cross the Rubicon there? How do you do it in a way where we are not either dominated or we do not suddenly find ourselves ruled by a radical socialist government or whatever?
SVM The whole argument about whites clinging to power could from one point be countered by saying, yes we did change, we did change radically but so did you. If you take again the very socialist approach which the ANC had at a certain stage and which they were forced to abandon by the broad world community, I was present at meetings where it was made very clear to ANC big shots that socialism or communism is just not on. So, equally, we were to some extent forced by changed circumstances, but because the circumstances in 1989, 1990, 1992 were very different from what they were ten and fifteen and twenty years before. So both of us had to change and that was one of the arguments which I used to my constituents, is to say that the ANC will not be able to implement such radical socialism as they are advocating even in the 1994 elections. They would not be able to do so because the world won't allow them to do so. So the whole question of whether change came voluntarily or we were forced to change, that's a very difficult debate at the end of the day because politics is also the art of the possible, so you have to operate within what is possible, what is achievable. To that extent, yes, it is true that if even FW De Klerk and even myself, if it were possible to have our own little Afrikaner state somewhere, we would have opted for it, but that was not possible so that option and I've got lots of sympathy for the Vryheidsfront, the Freedom Front with their Afrikaner homeland ideal, I've got lots of sympathy for that but it's not possible and therefore it's not practical politics to do so.
Then, as I pointed out before, if you would go back into Afrikaner history then you would have seen that there was an unease about the injustices of the system, a growing unease about the injustices of the system throughout literature, throughout many things that came about. One can write a whole thing about that, the awareness, the growing awareness amongst Afrikaners of the injustice and therefore the inherent unacceptable an unjust system is inherently unacceptable and it was becoming clearer and clearer to larger groups of Afrikaners that this system is incurably unjust and therefore it had to change. So, therefore, you had many things in that recipe but one of the important things in that recipe was the realisation that you are being unjust. There is no way in which you can maintain the system and get away from the injustice. That was a very important ingredient in the whole process. I will not say that the internal violence and the external sanctions and all that did not also play a role. Surely it did, but without this concept that our own system is unjust the outcome would have been very different, it would have been very different because I would not have been able to persuade my own people to vote yes in that crucial referendum. I did that on moral grounds, not on anything else, but on moral grounds.
POM Now just to finish with Mr de Klerk, as I said, many of the people who were part of his negotiating team levelled, not as accusation, just as observation that while he was a brilliant tactician he didn't have a strategy. Would you agree with that or would you qualify it or would you disagree with it?
SVM Being a true politician I would choose not to agree with it without disagreeing with it. What I mean by that is I don't know whether there were strategic options. Let me put it to you, I don't know on what grounds they're saying that. I would have to look more into such an argument, in the reasoning for such an argument before I could really express an opinion on that. I don't want to agree with it, I cannot agree with it without looking any more into it but I would like to hear argument on that point.
POM What do I have here? The book by Heribert Adam and van Zyl Slabbert Comrades In Arms where they say: -
"Mandela never wavered for one moment on what he wanted, a simple majority democracy. For that he would compromise an economic policy, the civil service and transitional arrangements. His negotiating team were never in doubt as to what they had to do. They may sometimes have doubted whether they would achieve it but never what they had to achieve. De Klerk, on the other hand, lost it early on. It became increasingly difficult to understand what De Klerk thought he could pull off. Right to the end he refused to recognise the inevitability of majority rule and yet his Chief Negotiator, Roelf Meyer, (and here both of them are quoting from Patti Waldmeir) once moral and ambition had led him on the road to majority rule, pursued it with a vigour and commitment not shared by anyone else in the National Party. To a large extent the key negotiations, S van der Merwe and Leon Wessels, did the same. What Waldmeir clearly shows was how De Klerk's Chief Negotiators were really part of Mandela's team in facilitating the transition to majority rule. In the end it was a pushover. Through it all De Klerk was convinced that he could unleash and manage a process with which he refused to come to terms."
Do you have difficulty with that statement?
SVM Some. You see the ANC was in a much better position because once you had admitted that you have to change the system into something where the blacks would have a meaningful say in government, once you said you wanted to create a just system, then the general concept of such a just system would be one man one vote, winner takes all. That is the general concept of what democracy is all about and so what the ANC had put itself on is simply that general definition which is sanctioned worldwide. So they had the support of the whole international community in that definition of what SA should look like and once we had admitted that what we had was at most an interim government it was clear that our power was eroded every day as time went by because you could not extend the life of this government beyond a certain point and so the ANC, whenever we put something on the table which they did not like, they just retarded the process and next time we met we would be in a weaker position. So eventually there was no way in which we could insist on something less.
POM They would argue the opposite, that it was the NP and the government that put every obstacle in the way of negotiations, that they wanted to postpone the date of the election as far as possible in advance, that the longer the time that went by the more demythologised Mandela became, the more blacks would become disillusioned with the pace of negotiations themselves and that the continuing black on black violence would work to their advantage as it would reinforce the idea that blacks were incapable of ruling themselves. All you had to do was look around you and here during the negotiating process they were up to their eyeballs in wiping out each other.
SVM I never really came across that sort of argument in government circles. We wanted to get the process over as soon as possible. It was not us that broke off negotiations at various intervals and the idea that Mandela could become demythologised might have been slightly attractive. But the other arguments in favour of getting something on the table as soon as possible that was definitely an imperative on our side. What then happened is the ANC insisted on a deadline for the negotiations whereas we would have liked, this sounds a bit contradictory, but if you put a deadline and then
POM That is setting the election date?
SVM Yes, setting the election date and various other dates before that, the date when the negotiations must be finalised, how do you do that to say OK now we must come to an agreement by that time unless you say 'or else' and that 'or else' was very clear, that 'or else the country goes into chaos'. So there we were put under threat. Although we wanted to get things sorted out as soon as possible because our own supporters were getting very uneasy, there is nothing as destructive as uncertainty and we wanted to get certainty as soon as possible but not at any cost. So we wanted to negotiate a more power sharing type of government and the ANC just knew that if they held out and they made enough threats it was a position that we could not hold. I am still convinced to this day that if we had negotiated something more on the power sharing type of government it would have been better but, OK, I'm not complaining, I'm very glad for the situation that we have in the country today. As I said before it's not that I agree with everything the ANC does, not at all, it's not that I'm elated about the prosperity of SA or anything like that, but again if you think what could have been or you can even say what should have been if one had taken into account all the destructive forces at work and all the predictions that were made then we are very fortunate to be where we are today.
POM To what extent on wanting to get things over as quickly as possible, to what extent would that have something to do with you mentioned that in a one-on-one with Mandela De Klerk thought he could have a real chance and even at the time of the break up of CODESA 2 I think the proportion of blacks committed to voting for the ANC was 45% and the NP had about 26% of the vote, so you were in it with a chance. It wasn't as though the result was a foregone conclusion. Now De Klerk's popularity peaked among blacks after he released Mandela, then the longer the process was drawn out the more the ANC succeeded in demonising him among blacks and his support eroded among blacks. That would argue for having - and the ANC would not have time to set up structures in the country, they had no countrywide political organisation that they could say OK, we've got branches everywhere and they're up and running and functioning and can bring out the vote, they just wouldn't be ready for a quick election so the quicker you could force an election the more unready they would be so tactically in a sense it would work to your advantage to have things over quickly.
SVM That is so.
POM On the other hand do you think it was naïve on De Klerk's part, or for that matter on the part of any leader of the NP, to believe that in an election they could cobble together a majority of the vote that would have to include a significant number of particularly African voters who had been so thoroughly and completely oppressed for nearly 50 years, institutionally repressed, legally repressed, that they would turn around and vote for a candidate of their oppressor?
SVM Well I suppose that if one says that that was naïve to believe that, that it would be easy to justify such a statement. On the other hand I had personal contact with many blacks in middle leadership positions who were not keen on an ANC government at all.
POM Middle leadership positions in?
SVM In society, people like teachers, religious leaders and so forth, that were not keen on the ANC at all. It's one of those things which I still cannot quite fathom, is when the one side used force and that sort of thing that it led to resentment and when the other side used the same tactics it generated support. That's a very difficult thing that I'm pondering on, that I cannot quite perceive because that the ANC did use a great deal of violence in the run up during the negotiations, after the negotiations, during the elections, that was quite clear. But if you had tried to do it from your side it had the opposite effect. So, OK, that's one thing which I don't understand completely.
POM But they would turn that around and say it was the other way, it was the state that was perpetrating the violence and that whenever the ANC did use violence it was to, with their so-called self-defence units, to protect themselves particularly from Inkatha supported by, aided by, the State Security System.
SVM That does not explain it. That's the easy explanation. That was not the full truth because there was a great deal of very naked intimidation going on at various stages. Things like necklacing and the incident of public rape which I referred to before, that sort of thing which just had the effect that people would rather submit than resist and they would rather do the safe thing, that sort of thing. But that is something which, I don't know, one could speculate too much on.
POM Since we're just on that, let me take you back to something else I was going to ask you about, it just comes to be appropriate to bring it in now. When Mandela was released from jail among his first calls was to Buthelezi to thank him for his support while he was in prison, that he hadn't accepted independence, that he had insisted on his release and the unbanning of the ANC and the return of exiles before he would enter into negotiations with the government. In his autobiography he mentions he had a warm relationship with Chief Buthelezi which wasn't shared by many of his colleagues, which is an understatement. But when he did get out he did call Buthelezi and I, for the fourth time, went through this with Buthelezi the other day, he did offer to visit himself and the King and wanted to lay wreaths at the grave of King Shaka and the King was agreeable to meet with him and so was Buthelezi, and then he went to Lusaka and the ANC Executive nixed the idea and that following that he still tried to arrange a meeting with the King but he got a message from the King saying he could only meet him in Nongoma, not in Ulundi. If the King says I want to meet you in Nongoma, I'm the King, you do what the King says. Then there was a meeting of the IFP Executive and the NEC Executive I think in March of 1991 where they agreed that there should be joint rallies at which Buthelezi and Mandela would appear and that's when Harry Gwala stepped in and said, "If Mandela comes here and appears with Buthelezi we'll throttle him", so their joint appearances didn't happen.
My question is: knowing Buthelezi, knowing that conflict that had raged from the mid-eighties through 1994, it still isn't over in some ways, do you think that if Mandela had met Buthelezi at that time and had established a rapprochement, a rapport, with him and that had the two gone around together to communities throughout KZN telling their supporters in village after village that the war between us is over, put down your weapons, we must unite and now get ready to negotiate as a unit against the white government, we have a common agenda, (i) do you think that that would have had any impact on the violence in KZN or had it reached a momentum and proportion of its own that it was at that point beyond reining in, or would it have reduced it significantly or would it have had no impact at all?
SVM Let me say to you it is very difficult to say what the impact would have been. What I can say is that we from our side tried very hard to persuade both of them to meet. It was something that was on our agenda all the time, these efforts to get Buthelezi and Mandela to meet. So we tried from our side to facilitate such a meeting because at that time we were convinced that it would be beneficial for the whole political process because the possibility of an all out civil war in Natal was very real and was not at all appetising. The extent to which we had had violence at that time in Natal was unacceptable so we did a lot to try and bring the two together. It was at that time and we thought that it would be a good thing for SA if these two would meet. Unfortunately there were obstacles all the time and one had the feeling that the stumbling block was not as much Mandela as some of his advisers and that, unfortunately, I had also experienced at some other time when I was Minister of Black Education and I had gone out on a limb to start talking to ANC oriented education organisations and we had had a long process of negotiating and my aim was to say, look let us get the children out of the process, let the politicians negotiate but let the children apply their minds to their schoolwork. Over a period of months we had worked up to a point where we would have a meeting which would be addressed by Mandela, where he would come into the process, he and FW De Klerk would come into the process and endorse more or less the principle of - let the children get back to the schools. Then at the very last moment Mandela was spirited away from the airport, he was at the airport because the meeting was in Cape Town and we had all the role players there present and then we got the message that he had not boarded the aircraft at Jan Smuts.
POM What period would this be roughly?
SVM That was in 1991, towards the middle of 1991, because after the beginning of 1990 I went out and I started talking to the ANC affiliated organisations and I got a lot of opposition from black people in the education departments. I said to them that everything has changed now, we have reduced the ANC from an enemy to an opponent. An enemy is someone that you shoot on sight, an opponent is one that you struggle with. I had gone around the country in all the major centres addressing large meetings of black teachers and black principals and black administrators to try and convince them because they were resistant to this idea. So I was not very popular amongst the black people at that stage because I was selling out to the ANC.
POM The black people in your department?
SVM In my education department, yes. But then I got their support after a while, grudgingly in many cases, and then we had worked through this whole exercise of negotiating until the point where we would get Mandela and De Klerk to address this meeting of about 50 leaders, and then Mandela didn't pitch up.
POM Do you think that this is the same Mandela who from his prison cell when he was separated from the other three, Kathrada, Mhlaba and Walter Sisulu, took the initiative by taking up the pen and writing to Kobie Coetsee and saying he would like to see was there any chance of opening a dialogue between the government and the ANC. In his autobiography he says he knew the others would have opposed him, he didn't know what was going on in Lusaka, they might even think he was a sell-out but sometimes a leader must step beyond his followers and do the leadership thing. Yet many of his actions immediately after he came out of prison were tentative and he seemed to be, he was following the advice of the NEC. Some people have said to me that's because that's the structure of the ANC. The NEC makes the decisions and then they are carried out. Even though he was being lionised and seen as the leader by all blacks he was still subject to the authority of the NEC.
SVM As any leader, again it is a question of the art of the possible. Any leader can only go as far as his support structure will allow him to go. What one would find in a situation like that of the NP is that the leader would on the one hand be well aware of the limitations which his constituency puts on him and therefore he would negotiate or talk within that space which is available to him and then it would happen very, very seldom that he would go back to his committees or whatever and they would put the brakes on him. Very often also in NP circles if the committee would give him too restrictive instructions then he would resign or something like that. But in the case of Mandela I think what happened is that he sometimes overestimated the latitude which the NEC would allow him and then he would say certain things and when he goes back to the NEC he couldn't sell it to them. So it is not as if the NEC functioned any differently from any normal political party hierarchy, it is just a question of the relationship between the leader and the committee. What happened a few times was that Mandela or even some of the other people, but some of the other people you wouldn't blame so much, but that Mandela would take a certain point and when he goes back to the NEC he would go back on the undertakings which he had given.
POM But to the extent that at the time when Mandela was released and Mandela had accepted the invitation from Buthelezi and the King to go to Nongoma, to the extent that the NEC in Lusaka, who were still in exile, put the kibosh on that, then the NEC must take responsibility for the course of subsequent events in KZN and not absolve themselves and try to throw the entire blame on Inkatha or Inkatha operating as the state operating in collaborating with Inkatha.
SVM We at the time distinctly had the feeling that the ANC did not want peace with Inkatha. That was our impression at the time.
POM On the other hand looking at it from a political point of view, just from what we talked about before, it would seem that if Mr De Klerk in a one-on-one with Mr Mandela would have to build an alliance and that part of that alliance would be securing the support of the IFP, so it would be more in the interests of the NP to see the IFP forge an alliance with the NP than to see the IFP forge an alliance with the ANC.
SVM Yes of course it was important to the NP to recruit the IFP as part of an alliance but the IFP was not so easily recruited because they also had their reservations as to how far they should co-operate with the NP. We did co-operate in the negotiating process to some extent in the sense that we would have informed them of some positions that we had and discuss it with them and that sort of thing, but it was a very uneasy situation as well.
POM How much of this had to do with the personality of Buthelezi himself?
SVM That's very difficult to say.
POM We will never know exactly where he stood, what he wanted.
SVM Yes, as I say it was an uneasy sort of, I don't want to call it an alliance, it was an uneasy co-operation that we had and there one would have had the same sort of phenomenon that we would reach an understanding with some of the people and then whatever you agreed with them would just not materialise.
POM He'd go back to Ulundi and -
SVM Get the chop or come back with some different ideas and that sort of thing. Well it's very difficult to say to what extent it was attributable to the personality of Buthelezi, I mean he was the leader so that was the situation. They were also in a very difficult position because a too close alliance with the NP could also in the end bring grief to them, so it was difficult.
POM I want to go back to De Klerk for one last question and that is De Klerk came out of a background that was the provincial politics of the Transvaal. He was, again, a master of provincial politics and how to play provincial politics and how to play some extremely hardball provincial politics when Treurnicht broke away and formed the Conservative Party in 1982 and while he held a range of portfolios in the government one wouldn't consider any of them to be the most senior kind of portfolio, whether Foreign Affairs, Defence or whatever, and he's catapulted into being head of the party and President. One doesn't get the feeling at all from reading his biography that he really travelled very widely and certainly not after he joined parliament and when after becoming part of the government it wasn't I don't think many SA ministers wanted to be seen in other parts of the world. So not only is he catapulted onto the world stage, he's visiting Queen Elizabeth and Gorbachev and he's with President Bush in Washington, did this go to his head a bit? Does he now begin see himself as perceive himself in a different way than he did before? Does the way in which he strategises negotiations come out of his own experience which would be his experience of dealing with sections of the NP in the Transvaal, does this become his model which used to say well, this worked for me in the Transvaal, I was able to do this and that, I was able to do A and B to achieve C to I'll just take that model and apply it to negotiating with the ANC while at the same time having a more elevated opinion of himself?
SVM That's very difficult to say. Any person, including myself, when you get elevated from one position to the next position, even though you may try to remain the same person it's impossible, you can't. Some people it visibly goes to their heads, some people not so visibly, but that person changes by the circumstances and whatever of a new position, that is so, so you would logically expect De Klerk to change somewhat from being an ordinary cabinet minister to becoming the leader of the province of Transvaal, to becoming the leader of the party, to becoming the State President, to becoming a celebrity. So undoubtedly there was some change, I don't think in any way inordinate and I don't think that he remains provincial in his approach on the other hand. He was in a very difficult position but if you take his reaction in 1992, through 1990, 1991 there had been a steady erosion of, or seemingly a steady erosion of NP support in the country and that culminated in losing a by-election in Potchefstroom early in 1992 and then he said, well, I can't go ahead with this process under these circumstances so now we must have a clear mandate, therefore we called a referendum which was a huge gamble. If we had voted on the day on which he called the referendum we certainly would have lost that referendum and three weeks later we won it hands down, overwhelmingly, which was due in no small measure to the leadership which he displayed during that period. I think he was a very astute politician.
I don't know had he personally negotiated about some issues with Mandela what would have been the outcome because that was the sort of set up that the leaders did not negotiate directly with one another but that the leaders remained in the background of the negotiations or the foreground, more at contact level. But he kept a very close watch on what was going on, that sort of thing. So I don't know, I can't really fault him and I'm not a sort of unflinching supporter of De Klerk. I know what his shortcomings were and I know, and it's not as if the relationship between him and myself was always moonshine and roses or anything like that, so I think I remained fairly objective. I can't really fault him in those respects. Certainly it had some effect on him to go to Scandinavia to receive the Nobel Prize, certainly, as it would on anybody. And certainly he was not the same, I wouldn't want to say hesitant, man but he certainly had more self assurance than at the time when he had to replace Treurnicht as leader of the Transvaal. So certainly there was some growth but I think it was positive growth.
POM Referring to the referendum in March of 1992, the way that campaign was managed was: say no to majority rule, vote for the NP. That was the slogan that was used at the time?
SVM No I don't think as much as that. What the question was, the question was: should we continue the negotiations or not? More or less that.
POM That was on the ballot but the campaign was run on something different. It was run on if you don't want majority rule vote for the NP.
SVM Not really that, not really that because majority rule was not seen as the alternative. The alternative was rather chaos. Either you let the NP do the job or otherwise there will be chaos. That was rather the tune. Certainly the NP did not go out at that time to propound majority rule because at that time the NP
POM But they were saying no to it? The posters were saying, say no to majority rule, vote
SVM I can't remember that.
POM I'll check that out myself. I was here at the time so I remember thinking it was a very clever campaign because it cut the ground from under the Conservative Party, it left them with no comeback.
SVM I must refresh my own memory because I ran that campaign. I will have to check myself again on that because I was then the Secretary General of the NP during that campaign. From the very beginning, for instance, the Democratic Party supported the NP in that referendum so what we fought the campaign against was the Conservative Party and I think the most hard hitting poster that we had was one of a masked AWB guy which really brought home to the people that if you don't go this way, if you say no, then those are the guys that you will have to look to for leadership. I think that hit the right wing most. Certainly we did not go onto a slogan of majority rule and certainly we had at that time given all sorts of assurances that we would prevent simple majority rule. In other words there would be guarantees for minorities and all sorts of things which in the event little came of. That is unfortunately so. In other words we did make promises during that time about the extent of minority protection which in the event did not realise, not in the form that we advocated then.
POM Do you believe, and some people tell me that one reason for the pretty dramatic decline in the NP's support in the last election was due to the fact that they believed that De Klerk had sold them out, that he had said there wouldn't be simple majority rule and that's what they had in 1999 and they said he sold us out, the party promised us one thing and we ended up with another and we no longer trust him?
SVM Certainly that argument would have been raised because it had been raised many times before, certainly. But I think there are more reasons for the decline than that. People say why worry, why worry, it's a foregone conclusion. People got disaffected from politics. In other words people who were previously active workers for the NP just walked away and said it's no use, and then of course there was also the major factor of the new leadership in the sense that NP supporters had grown accustomed over the years that the leader of the party would be a person that had already attained prominence. He would have been a cabinet minister for X number of years before becoming leader of the NP and here all of a sudden you had a guy who was never even part of the government. He was an MP, yes, so there was a total lack of stature and unfortunately the poor guy hasn't got charismatic appearance and he's not a rabble-rouser, not that there is much space for rabble-rousing, but he's not that type of person, he has a more reasoned approach. So I think he just didn't appeal to many people and so, I think, it's again a complex of factors. Certainly what you mentioned would have played a role, but the lack of stature -
POM So what accounts for Tony Leon gobbling up that vote and not only gobbling up the NP vote but gobbling up the Freedom Front's vote?
SVM Yes, it is the sort of image that Tony Leon projected of being a go-getter, so people said well OK, let's give him a chance. So that's part of the disaffection with the NP but I think what also happened is that a great number of NP supporters just did not turn up at the vote or they didn't register as voters. There wasn't a sufficient campaign to register them as voters. I know personally about a number of people, not a large number but I didn't go around very much, of people who wanted to go and vote at election but a few months previously they didn't have the enthusiasm to go and get registered as voters so they couldn't vote. So at the time when the registration was going on there wasn't enough of a campaign to get them on the books so they couldn't vote. As I say, it's a complex of factors and I think the image of Tony Leon as a go-getter but I think there is already again some disillusionment with the DP. So I don't think that the DP and Tony Leon is the great white hope.
POM Well, are in a sense the days of the great white hope part of the past? You must have an amalgamation of those distinctions become irrelevant that you've achieved the reconciliation that makes, what I would say, current assessment into a resolution.
SVM Surely, things have changed dramatically and therefore also people that would maintain their political allegiance through long periods when you get into a period of such tremendous change would then realign themselves.
POM De Klerk and the military. One, he comes into government, when he becomes President and he says I am going to dismantle the securocrat system, I want the authority of the cabinet re-established, period. In itself it must have been not very palatable to a number of people who had enjoyed a lot of power under the securocratic system. Two, he goes before the Police College in January 1990 and he makes a speech to about 800 officers in which he says no more politics, your job is now law and order, protecting the lives of all citizens. Then he could feel, he says in his autobiography, "some misgivings in the ranks." This would have been a month before he released Mandela. Then a month after he released Mandela he gives more or less the same speech to senior command structures in the SANDF, or SADF at that time, and there he could feel feelings of hostility towards what he was saying. So one can take it that he didn't see himself as being very popular with the security organs of state both with regard to the course he was taking and the manner in which he was assuming the power to go about it. Do you think that despite that there were constraints on his actions, that he had to take the security apparatus, the senior views of the senior brass or whatever in both police, intelligence, army or whatever, into account when he made the decisions, that he couldn't afford, that he could only alienate them to a certain point but not beyond a certain point? That in the end in fact they were his only fall-back position and if they deserted him in the negotiations or whatever he had nothing in the world to fall back on?
SVM It was a more uneasy relationship that he had with the security forces than what PW Botha had. On the other hand he had the full support of the Minister of Police and the Minister of Defence and he had the support of the Commanders of the forces because, as I say, the Commanders of the forces had been telling him all along that he had better do something because the situation was not tenable in the long run. But it is true on the other hand that the military had under the previous regime played a very prominent role and they had enjoyed more power, more influence than he foresaw for them. That is so. Then of course there was the incident where he fired a number of Generals. Whether it was justified or not justified is a different story but at least by doing so he made it clear. I think by and large he had the grudging support, and he knew it, of the security forces because anybody who was anybody in the armed forces knew that we were sitting in a very uncomfortable situation. So, yes, it is true that he had to bear in mind that that is the ultimate backstop but I think he knew he had enough support to carry the day.
POM With regard to that I want to refer to an incident that he refers to in his autobiography. He says in January 1990, early January 1990, he's on vacation in one of the presidential vacation spots in Cape Town and he gets a call from General Malan, "I've got to come and see you immediately, it's very urgent that I see you." He says, "Can't it wait?" Malan says, "No, I've got to come and see you right now." So he flies down, he sees him and he tells him, "Listen, I've just discovered something, I've discovered that within the security forces there exists a covert body called the Civil Co-operation Bureau and I understand it's been up to all kinds of illegal activities." Now Malan had been Minister of Defence for about ten years and Malan had been very close to PW Botha, the previous Minister of Defence before he became Premier and then State President. Would your first question not have been, well my first question would have been, Magnus, you're kidding me, you're really putting me on, you're telling me that for ten years you've been Minister of Defence and you don't know about the existence till now of this covert unit that is up to illegal activities, you now say, in your department for which you are responsible. If that is true that you do not know I'm firing you, I want your resignation because you should have known that's the doctrine of ministerial accountability. A minister is accountable for what happens in his department and the example I would cite is, my favourite example and perhaps it's the old British gentlemen's way, at the time when Argentina invaded the Falklands then Carrington, he wasn't a Lord then, he became a Lord because of his gesture, walked into the Commons and said, he was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he said, "I should have been aware that the Argentinean warships were steaming towards the Falklands, I take full responsibility and I resign." And everyone in the Chamber said, "Hear hear, there's a man who knows what ministerial accountability is." I would have said, Magnus I really don't believe that you didn't know, you must be putting me on.
SVM It is so that I think the concept of ministerial responsibility has not always been interpreted in that very specific way, shall I say, in SA than it has been in the United Kingdom and even there Carrington was perhaps the prime example of how it should be done but it was not an example of how it was always done even in Britain. Even in Britain some ministers resigned rather reluctantly after they had been involved in scandals or whatever, that sort of thing, so Carrington was perhaps the example of how it should function ideally. I think the only other place where it actually functions like that is in Japan where a minister would resign immediately if something untoward happens, if an aeroplane falls and the Minister of Transport resigns, that sort of thing.
POM Do you believe, I suppose the question is, that it would be possible for a man in Malan's position with himself being a General and now minister, would not, could not have been aware of the existence of this unit?
SVM I think he was probably aware of the existence of the unit. Whether he was aware of what they had been up to that's a different question and whether he should have been up to it, whether it could reasonably be expected from him to have known, that is a more difficult question to give a real reasoned response to. It is true that I don't think FW was perhaps totally surprised when he heard about it because I think the reason why he had dismantled the Security Management System was because during the period when he had already been elected as leader of the party but was not yet State President, I think during that period he heard many rumours of things going on that no-one could really lay a finger on and that is the reason why he decided to dismantle that system because it was being misused for all sorts of illegal things which, as I say, nobody could really put a finger on. Whether Malan knew I would not be able to answer that. What I do know is that if he had resigned at that time or if De Klerk had forced him to resign at that time it would not have been functional.
POM It would not have been?
SVM Functional for the whole process of reform because at that stage the progress and maintaining support for the reform process was, I think, a very major consideration and Malan was giving his full support. And if I say he was giving his full support then I really mean it. Maybe Malan was not at the spearhead of thinking up new ideas but he was fully supportive.
POM Wasn't it he who said that the problem was 80% political and 20% security?
SVM Yes, that could have been him very easily. That would have been the type of thing that he would have said. I can't remember him actually saying it but I would believe he once said it because that was his attitude, that the thing must be solved politically so he was fully in support of De Klerk and his reforms.
POM So if De Klerk had fired him or demanded his resignation would he have alienated key elements within the security establishment and also perhaps key supporters within the cabinet itself?
SVM Yes, I don't know about in the cabinet itself but certainly it would have been more difficult to maintain the support of the armed forces because Malan was very popular and the armed forces were very loyal to him and he was certainly very effective in generating support in the armed forces for the reform process, so it would have been more difficult. I don't say that it would have created a disaster if he disappeared from the scene, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying it would have been more difficult.
POM Thank you for all this time, I've got all these questions. I want to go back to CODESA 1 and just prior to the opening of CODESA 1. The issues I want to deal with would be issues that were in the DF Malan Agreement which I understand when I read it to be kind of an agenda for what in Northern Ireland would be decommissioning for the handing over of arms or the revelation of arms caches by the ANC. According to De Klerk the ANC hadn't been living up to their agreements and he was considering not attending the opening session of CODESA and he had brought what he calls the 'policy group' together and they discussed the matter and, I don't know whether you were at that meeting or not, and that at the meeting it was decided that, yes, he would go to CODESA but that he would send a message to Mandela that he was going to say some quite hard things about the failure of the ANC to live up to its obligations under various agreements they had entered into and that Kobie Coetsee was despatched to get that message to Mandela, that Kobie talked to Thabo Mbeki and came back and said he had talked to Mbeki and that Mbeki said he understood the situation and understood that because of his own political situation De Klerk would have to say some hard things about the ANC. Then the policy group prepared a speech and De Klerk delivered his speech the following day and Mandela goes berserk. In a way many people say it ended whatever fragile relationship they were building between them.
One, is De Klerk's account of that to your recollection? I'll tell you why I'm asking you that, I'm asking that because Kobie Coetsee tells me that that's not the way it happened, that what happened was that Roelf Meyer made the call to Mike Louw of the NIS and that he didn't make the call and he didn't talk to Mbeki and that he didn't come back to any meeting and say that he'd talked to Mbeki and Mbeki understood the NP's position.
SVM I must say I can't really come to your rescue on that in the sense that my recollection of that is rather vague. I can remember the tension around that but I can't remember who was supposed to consult with the ANC and what exactly I can't remember anyone reporting back that, yes, I have consulted and it's in order and that sort of thing. I can't remember that. I should have kept a better diary which I unfortunately did not do because the time was just too few. But I can't really help you there with sorting out the facts. I think if one would go and read the speeches then I really think that on the one hand perhaps De Klerk's speech was a little bit too sharp but I don't think much so and I think Mandela's outburst then, there, was out of proportion. Some people at the time thought it was a deliberate ploy from the ANC. My own view was that it wasn't, it was just Mandela going out of control.
POM It was a very articulate going out of control.
SVM Yes it was very articulate. It was to some extent
POM Churchill recall, almost rehearsed spontaneity.
SVM Yes, and I think it was perhaps that because many elements of that same speech were elements that were from the same speech that he delivered at the Groote Schuur meeting where he also at one point in the meeting got up and delivered a speech that I had the impression that he had been rehearsing this for 27 years on Robben Island. And I did not have the idea that it was a rehearsed speech, shall I say a speech that was rehearsed specifically for CODESA, but it was a speech which he had longed to deliver for a long time. I think his emotions got the better of his judgement.
POM What impact, if any, do you think that speech had on, again say, colleagues of yours, out of government even, just social colleagues where this would have been the first occasion where they would have seen a black man excoriate the white President of their country in furious, cold, methodical terms?
SVM We had to do a lot of damage control after that in fact.
POM Damage control of?
SVM Amongst our own supporters, yes, to say OK it's not as bad as that, it was a bad incident but we had no choice we just had to continue and that's it. So there was a lot of damage yes, that speech did a lot of damage.
POM When you say 'damage', did it kind of shock people that a black person would -?
SVM No not that so much, not that a black person would be so audacious as to treat a white President that way, not so much that but that people would say, well if this is the attitude then we're heading for trouble.
POM This is foretaste of the future.
SVM Yes. So it was not, I didn't encounter any racial connotation to that but it was just he was now the leader of the opposition and if this is the opposition that we have to deal with then we'd better deal with them across the barrel of a gun. That sort of reaction.
POM Was there in fact any resolution to the issue of decommissioning?
SVM Not really. It was something that was a pain in the neck or a thorn in the side for a long, long time because the ANC just did not deliver on that. There were a few sort of token little things that they did when they came under much pressure and that sort of thing but they never actually delivered on that and it was just one of those things that you had to swallow.
POM But it wasn't allowed to become as it has, well the situation is different in Northern Ireland, the key to whether a process is going to work or not work.
SVM You see it had all the potential of becoming just that but the guys that were supposed to make an issue of it were us and we rather chose to manage the problem than to bring it to a crisis.
POM Again I go back to, I'm trying to develop different theses to test my hypothesis. This image that is given out in various books that have been written that the NP entered into negotiations because it had come to the realisation that there had to be a negotiated settlement but having accepted that they then did everything possible to obstruct, delay, divide the ANC as possible, everything to not facilitate the process than to facilitate it, is one that you would reject out of hand?
SVM Sure, absolutely. I wouldn't say, it's difficult in a negotiation situation when you have two parties having different situations and not being able to come to an agreement on those issues, then it's very difficult to apportion blame to say, OK it was this guy that was unrelenting or it was that guy that didn't want to be reasonable or anything like that. It is very difficult in a situation like that but if you take the dramatic ways in which the ANC at various stages just cut off the negotiations, after Boipatong for instance, there was no evidence and there's no evidence to this day that De Klerk or the cabinet had anything to do with Boipatong. But that was a convenient thing for them to just stop the process and it took months of painstaking negotiations about negotiations to get them back to the negotiating table because it suited them at that stage not to continue with negotiations. That was clearly the impression that I had. It's not that it was a deliberate thing on their side to delay negotiations whereas there was not at any stage from our side anything where you would say, OK let us put this on the table and speak to us because we know they can't accept it, in order to bring a deadlock or anything. There was never any reason on our side to deadlock the negotiations except that we tried to get some things into the final product which they were not prepared to accept and which in my view were never unreasonable stuff. It's very difficult and I was a part of the process at the time so one cannot, even though my whole training and my whole approach to life was to remain as objective as possible, even towards my own side I try to maintain objectivity as much as possible but you can only do it as much as possible. You can never do it in the way in which you would have done it if you had not been a participant.
POM Just going back on some statements you made in your last interview. You said that the ANC (and we were talking about Richard Rosenthal's initiative), you say that "There was no other communication between the government and the ANC at that stage and the perception of the ANC about the government was about as distorted as the government's perception about the ANC." What was the government's perception of the ANC at that point?
SVM At that point it was very much in the line of the ANC will only negotiate about the terms for surrender and that was about it. The ANC is bent on a very radical socialist type of government, the ANC is not interested in minority protection, the ANC wants all. That would have been the perception more or less in a nutshell.
POM There's just one bit here that I'll go back to, it's where there was a break in the recording and you may be able to fill in what the gap was.
SVM Because it's a bit disjointed between the two pieces there. The point that I was making at that stage was to say that, again -
POM This is on page ... Have you corrected your transcript?
SVM Just very slightly.
POM That's good, in fact you should give that back to me. Make a copy for yourself.
SVM I did not go into trying to correct grammar, or one is a little bit rambling, but just like there it says, "Things were as it should be", that sort of thing.
POM I'll take care of the rambling.
SVM The point that I was really making there was to say that even amongst Afrikaners there was a growing unease with the injustice of like I said before today even, that same argument, there was a growing unease with the injustice of the system and I was recounting a situation in my childhood when my father who was a church Minister had this black person who was an evangelist of the church in the black area and he was coming to visit my father. Now at that stage it was then not correct to offer a black person tea in a cup or to receive him in your living room or anything like that but my father feeling that this is just not right did in fact receive him in his study and did in fact offer him tea and whatever against the sort of normal run of things because he felt that the then current way of things was not right so he did it his way. That was more or less the point that I was making at that stage.
POM That's page 5 of our interview in February which dealt with he would have liked to see a much quicker transition and it dealt with, in a way, that De Klerk had seen himself as having a chance in a one-on-one run against Mandela. Again, just to clarify it, you don't think that was delusional on his part, as I said, that people who had been thoroughly under the jackboot of apartheid for 50 years would turn around and vote for the party that had instituted apartheid and visited those injustices on them for 50 years?
SVM It's easy to come to such a conclusion especially in retrospect but what should be borne in mind is that not all which the NP did was oppressive and in fact over the preceding few years many reforms had been implemented.
POM This is winning the hearts and minds campaign?
SVM Yes, but over and above that many reforms were implemented by the NP, such as the pass laws were scrapped, property rights were re-instituted, the Mixed Marriages Act was scrapped, in fact virtually all the pillars of apartheid had already been scrapped by the NP.
So I just want to make that point again to say that given the time, given the information that we had, which I agree was very sketchy and unscientific in the sense that it was impressionistic type of feedback that one got. I mean Kobie Coetsee used to brag, he said all the blacks in the Free State are NP supporters, that was the sort of feedback that one got. Not that I ever believed him. So under those circumstances I don't think it was delusional to think that you had a sporting chance.
POM You did polling continually, right?
SVM Yes we did but the polling amongst black people at that stage was not very reliable, it was not very reliable. We did that but it was not very reliable.
POM Not very reliable because?
SVM Because of the pressures of the situation. You never knew whether you could believe, whether the samples that you had were representative, whether you could believe the feedback that you got even when the whole set-up was scientific.
POM Would you do door to door, or by telephone or in rural areas or just in city areas?
SVM There were many attempts to do so.
POM Door to door?
SVM Well a mixture of group discussions for a little bit of depth coupled with
POM Focus groups.
SVM Yes focus groups, coupled with some door to door surveys, telephone surveys were not regarded as being very representative. So there were attempts to do so but that sort of thing had to be done by the NP with very limited funds. You couldn't use government funds to do that. So the information was unreliable, sketchy, impressionistic.
POM I was asking you, were there some absolutes that were non-tradable on the part of the NP, and you saidthe protection of the rights of minorities was such a principle. I think that was one of the things, actually the adequate protection for minorities which is a non-negotiable with the NP. My question I think was: what protections in the constitution provide for this other than Bill of Rights? Does the Bill of Rights adequately provide for - ?
SVM Not adequately but, shall I say, not as we had envisaged, not as much as we had hoped for and in retrospect it was also you know there's a lot of dissatisfaction around the treatment of Afrikaans and that was one of the things which we had tried to establish more firmly. But in the end you had to be satisfied with what you could get and the presence of the Bill of Rights on the one hand did a lot to allay some fears and on the other hand undermined your argument for more because being in the Bill of Rights they say now what more do you want? You don't need more.
POM The Law Commission said that the best protection for group rights is protection of individual rights.
SVM Yes, a position that the NP would not have adopted in 1990 but which it conceded to later on.
POM Now recently there's been this Charter of Minority Rights that has been signed by 24 leading Afrikaner intellectuals including Breyten Breytenbach and Hermann Giliomee and others, concentrating more on the issue of language rights. Do you think that the issue of language rights is one of those issues that's simmering there and if not dealt with in an appropriate, sensitive fashion by the government and in an acknowledging factor of the importance of the language to Afrikaners, it being the centrepiece of Afrikaans culture, that they're running into trouble?
SVM I don't know. It's one of those things that is difficult to judge. I don't think that if Afrikaans was completely removed from SABC that you would get an instant revolution. I don't think so. But what the longer term effects of that will be I mean I don't think it is an issue that will bring revolt in the next six months or anything as acute as that, but in the longer term it may have a serious effect because on the one hand there is the position of Mbeki to invite Afrikaners to make their contribution and there is the response of the Afrikanerbond that says, yes we will do so if you leave us enough space to do so in, and that sort of thing. That is on the one hand. On the other hand there's a lot of disillusionment with something like affirmative action, for instance, and the current Act which is under discussion at the moment
POM The Equality Bill?
SVM Yes, the Act against discrimination where they want to institute quotas and that sort of thing which I think is very ill advised. That may in the long term create a type of resentment which can cost the country dearly but I don't foresee any such thing developing in the next year or so. It's still there, it's still going. So I think that's a longer term concern and I think that a realignment in politics will take place within the next five years so I think that issue will then be a factor.
POM The realignment coming about as a result of a break up within the ANC?
SVM Yes, more or less.
POM Between the left wing and the 'moderate' wing?
SVM Yes. It must be so. It's a bold statement to make but I think so.
POM Everyone was hoping, pinning their hopes on that happening because if it doesn't happen you essentially have a one-party dominant state in perpetuation.
SVM Yes and that is an unhealthy thing. Up to a certain point, it's difficult to say, I think that the present sort of situation will not continue. Hopefully at least the core of the ANC will be part of the government for a long time to come but what one should have is the type of situation that you have in Europe where you have coalitions. Italy is perhaps the most extreme example where a Prime Minister would be at the helm for six years but in the process will go through 12 or 13 governments. That's where you have one party which is always a part of the coalition. I think that is a very healthy type of thing because it creates room for both stability and growth where you have varying coalitions going on, rather than the sort of situation which you have more frequently in Britain where you have one party in opposition and the next day that party is in government because the political system of Britain is so very special, it's got its own very special and very tacit conventions and checks and balances built into society almost. That sort of thing is very difficult in a country which does not have a long history of democracy where you have to look more to the form than to the underlying culture. Britain's democracy is more supported by the culture than by law, whereas in most modern countries it is more supported by the law than by the culture. We don't have that culture yet.
POM A very good point. Just a few more things. You were talking about the government, the ANC, being in a stronger position from the beginning, so in a sense you're saying that the ANC was in the driver's seat from the start and if it was had De Klerk thought through the consequences of this, the fact that in the end he was in a no-win situation?
SVM Well it was not so clear to anybody, and it's not as if the ANC was totally in the driver's seat, but it had time on its side, it had the world opinion on its side, so they were in a position where if they just don't do anything really, if they don't make any big mistakes, but they still had to be cautious, they still had to maintain a reasonably reasonable attitude. So it's not as if they could do whatever they liked, they were also boxed in by what was possible and they also knew that if they went beyond a certain point they would no longer have a government to negotiate with but they would have an AWB to contend with. So there was also a limit to the extent to which they could go.
POM So the threat of the right was a consideration both to the government and to the ANC?
SVM Absolutely. That is why, for instance, during that referendum the ANC kept a very, very low profile. They never ever tried to interfere in that white referendum.
POM Did the threat of the right, given subsequent events, was the threat of the right something that was grossly over-exaggerated by everyone?
SVM No it was not. Let me put it to you this way, all along there was a huge potential for a right wing backlash which, for instance, Andries Treurnicht when he broke away in 1982 he had bargained on that. If you would go and read the speeches that the Conservative Party members made shortly after they left the NP it was to say that the wave is coming our way and even an astute politician like Connie Mulder who during his days in the NP government had an image of fairly verlighte, when he was forced out of government and out of the NP he went Conservative because he thought that is where the future lay, and that has been almost the recipe for a long time in South African politics. It is that a government would drift towards the middle and then it would be replaced by a more right wing government and then it would drift towards the middle and would be replaced by a more right wing government. That was the pattern up till then. It took lots of hard work to avoid that happening again. So if any leader of real stature, not that Treurnicht did not have stature, he was a very respected person at the time, but if he had managed to get a little bit more support then it could have been a different story. As I said, for instance, in 1992 when we had that referendum if we had voted on the day we would have lost. It was only through that campaign that we managed to swing the people and even a week before the time I was very apprehensive. The day that I came to the conclusion that we are going to win was on the Thursday about six days before the referendum. If we had lost that referendum the story would have been very different. So it was touch and go.
POM Now some people, academic commentators in particular, say that De Klerk played that card too early, that he could have staved off the gone ahead with negotiations that that was his ace card that he had to bring the white community with him, that if he had withheld it until later, he played his ace card early in the game, if he had held out until later in the negotiating process when the ANC were not making concessions or willing to make any concessions on any more substantive form of power sharing or whatever, that De Klerk could have then said, you know I promised I would go back to the white community and I'm going to go back to the white community and it's going to be a referendum and if they vote it down we've got trouble on our hands.
SVM You see that was the original idea during the elections of 1989. We told the people that we will come back to you and the idea was to come back to them at a later stage in the process, but then De Klerk's hand was forced by the right wing in the sense that he was really in a position, an untenable position vis-à-vis his own constituency in the sense that it was perceived as if he was not representing the white voters any more. I think one reason why he won the election, that referendum, is because people admitted that he was doing the right thing by going back, that he was doing the honourable thing under those circumstances and they gave him credit for that, the white voters. So I don't think he could have delayed much longer with that although it would have been functional from the negotiating point of view if he could have delayed that.
POM Had it in reserve.
SVM Yes, but it was not possible.
POM I just want to talk for a minute about your thesis. You said you did it on the Black Consciousness Movement and the Revolutionary Theory. What hypothesis did you examine and what conclusions did you come to?
SVM Basically what I did is, I don't know if you know David Easton's Systems Theory of Politics?
POM University of Chicago.
SVM This was published probably in the early sixties or so. 1965, yes. The core of his theory is actually that the political system is almost like an organism surviving in an environment and then there are inputs and outputs, that sort of thing, where you have your ecological system, biological system, personality system, social systems, international political systems, then you have your society and all that is inputs in the forms of demands and support for the political system which then delivers outputs in the form of laws and decisions and so on, which then has an effect on the environment and you have a process like that. Now what he did was to say what makes a political system survive if this has to happen and that has to happen. That has to happen if a political system is to survive. Basically it must generate enough support to do its job otherwise it can't continue. Then I reversed that theme and I said, OK, so if you want to bring a political system to extinction or you want to break it down what should you then do? So I developed a sort of theory of how you would set about creating a revolution which would be the reverse of this. How can you make it break down? And then I checked that, I brought into it many theories of revolution (recording unintelligible after this point.)