About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

15 Aug 1991: De Beer, Zach

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Mr de Beer, you began by saying it has been a strange year, full of shifts and surprises and sudden moves by the government and scandal and surprising moves from the ANC. Without going into detail could we just encapsulate that and use that as a setting for a further question?

ZDB     I would say that the dominant process of the year is the interaction between the government and the ANC, the Nationalist Party and the ANC. During the first part of 1990 these two were moving very close to each other, or so it seemed. During the second part of 1990 signs of distinct strain between the ANC and the government began to appear and rumours began to move around that the government was somehow looking to Inkatha as an ally against the ANC. Nothing much could be confirmed. There was a background, particularly in the second half of 1990 of appalling violence in our townships, really very considerable mortality and in many cases though not in all, Inkatha people were identified as fighting against ANC people. But I must add to that that there were other places where the violence was simply senseless and it wasn't possible to diagnose any political purpose in it.

     Anyhow, this went on through the first half of this year and then a couple of things happened quite quickly. The ANC had its conference, it's long delayed conference, which went remarkably well in the sense that it was well organised and purposeful and they elected office bearers and the line taken at the conference was a surprisingly forthcoming one in the sense that they declared themselves firmly in favour of negotiated solutions. And then hard on the heels of that conference, within a few weeks, came this latest Inkatha funding scandal, which provided proof that the government was giving Inkatha money. It did not of course prove that the government was backing Inkatha in the violence which is the claim of the ANC, but it raised a supposition that that might well be so as if you're on clandestine co-operation on one level of course people think you are on another level. This irritates the State President but I think it's a human fact.

POM     Let me move back from that point a little and I'll come back to the whole question of violence in a few minutes. Assume the negotiators are sitting at the table and you've come there to brief them and what you must brief them with is the nature of the problem they're sitting around the table to resolve. On the one hand you've had those over the years who have said that this is a problem about racial domination, white minority domination of the blacks. There are those who have said it is a matter of competing nationalisms, blacks and whites. There are those who have said it's essentially a matter of consociational forms of government. You have those who have said, well yes there are important racial differences but within each racial group there are important ethnic differences and in that sense South Africa is a divided society like other severely divided societies in Africa or in Europe or in Asia for that matter and that unless we take these ethnic differences into account in forming our governance arrangements we'll really address the wrong problem and in time the whole system will implode upon itself. This has been most recently advanced by a man named Donald Horowitz who is a leading scholar in the States on divided societies. In your view what is the nature of the problem that the negotiators must address themselves to?

ZDB     Well the question rather invites me to answer in a single short sentence and I can't because there is great validity in everything that you've just thrown out in your question. We have a history which can be defined as colonial. It's not in the true sense colonial. It once was, of course, we belonged to Britain. But it is a history of white people running the country with a monopoly on effective political power and increasingly not a monopoly but an excessive share of the country's wealth. I think that's very important. Horowitz is certainly not wrong when he writes about the evidence that ethnic tensions put a great strain on societies, but there are other diverse societies which work fairly peacefully. I think what I would say, briefing a conference like that, is look, there are all these things in the background, inequality, colonialism, domination by a minority, sheer ethnic and cultural differences, but the really important thing is, while never forgetting these things and while never failing to recognise the strains that they put on the society, is that we have to look forward. We are all of us now committed, at least in theory, to an equal democratic society based on classical liberal principles, if you like, and how are we going to get on and make this work?

POM     Do you think that given this diversity of opinion and strongly felt diversity of opinion of what the problem is, that the negotiators would better serve themselves by saying, listen we could spend years debating what the nature of the problem is so let's define a set of objectives we want to achieve and devise governance arrangements to achieve those objectives rather than spending our time rehashing?

ZDB     You've just said in a more elegant way what I was trying to say.

POM     Now I want to go back to the question of ethnicity for two reasons. One is increasingly in the international media and by that I mean media in the United States and international magazines like Time, Newsweek, The Economist, whatever, recently they have portrayed the violence (interruption on tape). Increasingly the international media over the last year have portrayed the violence in the Transvaal as being ethnic or tribal in character to the extent that about a month ago The Economist ran an editorial which said that the violence between Xhosa and Zulu was in essence no different from the violence between Serb and Croatian. There weren't making historical comparisons, just saying it was a deep cleavage between ethnic groups. How would you comment on this predisposition to label the violence as ethnic, the violence in Transvaal not the violence in Natal?

ZDB     I would not give that proposition 100% if I were marking an essay. I don't know much about Yugoslavia but as I understand it the Serbs and the Croats have always lived in identifiable areas of the country. There's obviously some overlapping but generally speaking each lives in its own region and the violence between them is not affected to any great extent by any third parties. Now here on the Reef black people from different communities have lived cheek by jowl for a very long time now, for 100 years, and there's been a great deal of intermarriage, interbreeding and furthermore there are a great many people here who are neither Zulus nor Xhosas. In fact the majority population group is Sotho and there are a lot of Tswanas and there are some others. And when the fighting takes place in the townships one side does tend to be Zulu, the other side often referred to as Xhosa very often contains a number of these other tribes. So that while I have to admit that when I go down to the townships when violence is going on and I ask questions, a lot of the individuals I talk to use the terms Xhosa and Zulu, they do not use the terms ANC and Inkatha. There nevertheless is a distinct political factor in this thing. The hostels are by and large Zulu and the townships are thoroughly mixed, every kind of race, community, and the war is usually between the hostels and the townships. Partly it can be called Zulu/Xhosa, but not entirely.

POM     What I'm getting at here is perhaps differing perceptions. Could there be the perception on the Zulu side or the Inkatha side that it is about ethnicity but that that perception is not shared by the ANC? For example no matter whom we talked to in KwaZulu, whether it's somebody who resides in shack who had been burnt out of his or her home or whether it's the King of the Zulus or any member of Inkatha in between, there is a solid line and the line is that the ANC is a Xhosa dominated organisation, it is out to establish a one-party state, the great threat to them being able to do that are the Zulu people, therefore they want to subdue the Zulu people. It's like a chorus, it comes again and again and again. Now, despite the propagandistic element that might be imbued in that, it is the perception of these people, a perception that is not easily shaken.

ZDB     First I confirm that I encounter this perception frequently myself. Secondly I would say that it is to a large extent political but it is true, good politics in that it relies on a deep seated Zulu national pride which has always been present. But I don't believe that ten years ago you would have had that same set of pronouncements from every Zulu you talked to in the way you have it now. I think this has been developed by Inkatha which is a pretty efficient organisation. They have worked out how best to keep Zulus on their side and to win other people to their side and the allegation for example that the ANC wants a one-party state, I think you'd have heard that around the place before the ANC was unbanned. But I think it's the best possible ground on which to rally opposition to the ANC. So, as so often in life, there is a mixture of factors, but the Zulu more than other black South Africans is a creature of great national pride and I have heard Mangosuthu Buthelezi himself speaking of the fact that the Zulus are the only African community which has beaten both the Afrikaners and the British in battle and that's old and that's inbred.

POM     Two other factors of it have begun to fascinate me, one is that when I talk to particularly, say, white academics, progressive academics, and I will ask them whether there is an ethnic dimension to this problem and they will invariably say, yes to a greater degree or to a lesser degree. But when I ask them whether this is discussed in the social circles in which they move, the answer is that it's not, that if you're a progressive academic or a liberal perhaps, or whatever, and you start saying, well perhaps the ethnic component to this question is perhaps deeper than we think, people would be inclined to see you as an apologist for the regime. There's a suggestion that the government may have got the problem right, they just got the solution wrong and rather than being seen in that light you keep your mouth shut.

ZDB     Yes. I know what you're talking of. I would have described it in slightly different terms. When you speak of progressive academics you are almost by definition speaking of ANC supporters.

POM     Yes, OK. Let's take another ground.

PAT     Well, even with ANC.

ZDB     Well the point I wanted to add is that the ANC, I think to its credit, has always insisted that it is a non-racial movement and indeed has always been able to prove that it is. And so with the ANC there is an almost pathological refusal to consider ethnicity as a factor in anything. And then on the other side, yes our government used to be anyway passionately ethnically conscious. It's now trying to run away from that as fast as it can. So that intellectual discourse in South Africa is coloured by the fact that you demonstrate your loyalty to the ANC by denying ethnicity and your loyalty to the Conservative Party really by claiming that ethnicity is very important. And I guess it's difficult for any one of us to absolutely balanced for that reason.

POM     But what I'm getting at here is that pathological refusal to acknowledge it is there and if that comes to the negotiating table is there not a strong possibility that the kinds of governance structures agreed upon will be for a problem that was not properly diagnosed in the first case?

ZDB     Will fail to take ethnicity into account?

POM     Or properly into account.

ZDB     Yes, well there's certainly some danger of this. I've been through a lot of constitution making exercises over 30 years or so. In almost every one of them the desirability has been raised of basing political power to some extent on ethnic groups, of having a College of Ethnic Groups as an Upper House of Parliament, something of that sort. And it's always been discussed. You're always up against a severe difficulty that whatever the position in the past was, you want to move towards a position where ethnic differences are going to be minimised, with respect to Horowitz. And the difficulty about entrenching ethnicity in the constitution is that you generally then create opportunities for people who wish to exploit ethnic differences to do so. What I'm trying to say is that, of course, it would be folly to deny the importance of ethnicity but equally in your constitutional structuring you've got to move in a direction which reduces ethnicity progressively if you want to arrive at anything that can be described as national unity. For example, I think it's true that in America school children salute the flag and sing the anthem every morning. Now I don't know that we can literally manage that in South Africa but I wish we could.

POM     So you need to create symbols of national unity? With the double agenda question, since the violence broke out last year again in the Transvaal you had the ANC move from a situation of accusing Inkatha of being an instigator, to a situation of saying a third force was involved, to a situation of saying the government had a hand in the violence, to the point of saying the government was operating a double agenda, the olive branch on the one side and working to undermine and destabilise the ANC on the other. Then you had this Inkatha funding scandal and a rash of revelations by former security officers and other stories run in the Weekly Mail and the situation seemed somehow transformed, the ANC are regarding this as proof positive, the final nail that was needed in the coffin that would say the government has had a double agenda. They have been dishonest, they have been underhanded, they are the same old Nats they ever were. First, do you believe there has in fact been a double agenda, whether it's been a rogue element that was just let go by or one that was kind of implicitly encouraged without de Klerk knowing about it in detail. Two, one way or the other, given what the ANC's determined belief is, that this is the case, what it does to the process? And three, where the Democratic Party itself stands on this issue?

ZDB     Firstly the double agenda, I think the Inkatha funding scandal provides a very strong confirmation if not an absolute one that the government has had a double agenda in the sense that they have been building up an alliance with Inkatha behind the scenes while attempting to position themselves as even-handed leaders in the negotiating process. I do not regard this as proof that the government has been promoting the township violence. That remains a suspicion with me but I don't think it's fair to regard the funding question as proof of this. Secondly, while the ANC in private conversations tend to say all the things you've just mentioned; that the government is killing our people, the government is promoting the Inkatha side in township violence, it's been very noticeable that Mr Mandela, speaking for the movement not just for himself, has hung tightly on to his determination to move to negotiations as soon as possible, after the revelations and his reaction to the revelations was not as strong as it might well have been. In other words the ANC will use the apparent proven government double agenda as a lever to strengthen its hand in negotiations, but it is determined nevertheless to get on with those negotiations. That's the sign that's being given. And I don't think the ANC's thinking is going to be dominated by its perception of the government as having been crooked. It's going to dominated by its desire to negotiate successfully.

     What is the position of the DP? We have considered alternative scenarios and it's quite clear that one of two things is going to happen. Either you're going to have an alliance based on the National Party and Inkatha and aimed against the ANC and an alliance on the other side based on the ANC, so that you would have what you might call a left/right clash with the extremists on the left behind the ANC for want of anywhere else to go, and the extremists on the right behind the government for the same reason. Or if you don't have that left/right opposition situation you're going to get a coalition of the moderates which will exclude, I've just said that the alternatives are a left/right positioning which I've described or a coalition of the moderates excluding the extremists on both side.

POM     When you talk of coalition of the moderates you mean the ANC?

ZDB     That must extend from within the ANC to a point within the National Party. It may be the whole of these two organisations. There would be a distinct problem about the communist component in the ANC. But I'm saying a coalition as wide as that is what I would call a coalition of the moderates. Now this is obviously harder to achieve than the left/right thing which simply plays on already established loyalties. But if you consider what government in South Africa has to do, it is our view that the central, moderate coalition is the only thing to go for because unless you can maintain law and order and unless you can restore economic confidence you haven't got a future. Both those things are possible but only in the hands of a very strongly based government. And so we have had a strategy now for 18 months which we call 'convergence' and convergence is what has been taking place. I don't think we can take more than a very tiny part of the credit for it. Maybe there's a greater sense of purpose among the people than we could possibly give it. But there has been a drawing closer and the National Party has adopted virtually the whole of what used to be the Democratic, well what still is, the Democratic programme, and the ANC too has moved from a left wing socialist position which was virtually Stalinist, at least in its rhetoric, to something which you would call in European terms social democratic. So, our standpoint is simply that that convergence process has to be promoted at all costs.

POM     Three questions arising out of that, Mr de Beer. One, would it surprise you if the government was involved in the orchestration of the violence? Two, do you think this whole thing has tarnished de Klerk's or, remember at the Five Freedoms Forum last year just before we left van Zyl Slabbert stood on the platform and said "You know no matter what de Klerk does he always comes up smelling roses". The phrase stuck in my mind. The third thing is that the ANC it appears is always pursuing a kind of a zigzag course. Let me explain it this way, that until very recently it's position is that it would not be party to an All-Party Conference until all the pre-conditions to negotiations were met, the release of the political prisoners, the return of the exiles, an end to the violence, yet now in the wake of this scandal it has said, let's get on with the All-Party Conference as quickly as possible even though none of its demands regarding the removal of obstacles have been met to a full degree. Now if I were the government I would say, here's an organisation that makes conditions, sets demands and we wait back and they invariably change their mind. Therefore they're a weak opponent.

ZDB     All right, three questions. Would it surprise me if the government turned out to have been involved in the actual planning and execution of the township violence? Yes it would, if by the government you mean the ministers, the leaders of the Nat Party. But if you mean people within the security forces ...

POM     Rogue elements.

ZDB     Then there's been plenty of evidence that rogue elements do exist. There was the whole CCB scandal last year and early this year and I don't think it's possible to overlook the many reports which come in from perfectly respectable people about the police standing by while Inkatha attacks and escorting Inkatha away from battle fields. So that I think that people within the government establishment are almost certainly involved. That would not surprise me. But if I were really told that Vlok or Malan for example have sat down with senior officers and said, 'How can we plan to get Inkatha forces to beat hell out of the ANC?', then I would be surprised.

POM     Would it surprise you if hearing about it they didn't really undertake a sufficient investigation?

ZDB     Well you're now on the sort of knife edge where I have difficulty making a decision. My judgement that the Ministers would not be involved in planning this violence is based on the fact that these chaps are not idiots and they know what it would do to them if that became known. But whether if they do hear about things they turn a deaf ear, I really don't know. It's possible I think. Then you say has this tarnished de Klerk's aura? Yes it certainly has. I mean I think he's still immensely popular and indeed rightly so, but his feet of clay are visible. I don't think many people of judgement and sophistication believe his statement that he didn't know about the Inkatha funding scandal before it appeared in the Press, if for no other reason than that our party, Kobus Jordaan one of my colleagues put this question three times during the session and on one occasion got a long reply from de Klerk himself. Now it isn't thinkable that if de Klerk were asked, is the government funding Inkatha, which in effect was the question, that he wouldn't say to his people, look here give me a document on this, tell me what's going on. So I think, yes, his feet of clay are now visible.

     Now the ANC's zigzag course. The fact that for a long time they appeared to dodge the advent of the MPC or APC and insistence on 100% completion of all the tasks involved and how that contrasts with their positive attitude now towards the APC. I would offer you two reasons. Firstly, while these tasks may not have been 100% completed they've been very largely completed. I mean the release of prisoners from gaol has taken place on a very big scale and the government will argue those prisoners who are still held are held in consequence of common law crimes. These people may have been ANC supporters and to that extent political, but the crimes they committed are held to be common law crimes. It's an area for debate. The return of exiles. Well it never was feasible to say that you won't negotiate until all exiles return for the good reason that there are a hell of a lot of exiles who don't want to return. They've put roots down in other countries. But a number have come back and arrangements have been arrived at for a lot of them. As regards violence, the township violence has not stopped I have to agree. But again, if I were in the ANC I would be asking myself will it ever make sense to make that a condition for negotiation. And then the other thing I've mentioned already, the ANC as of a year ago was subject to enormous pressures from within its own ranks, from what I will call for want of a better word the 'Township Kids' who say, 'Just don't negotiate, just pursue the armed struggle until the government collapses.' And Mandela had a very hard time at the December 1990 conference from that sort of person. Now he's established as the unanimous choice of the whole movement as it's leader. He has a National Executive Committee which by and large reflects his point of view, the National Working Committee, and he feels completely confident in pursuing the course which he has always believed is best.

POM     A year ago great emphasis was put on the special relationship between Mandela and de Klerk, the chemistry between them and how, many people would say, we hope nothing happens to either of them, they're almost indispensable. That element too appears to have largely gone by the boards, that I doubt whether Mandela would now be calling de Klerk a man of integrity. Is this good or bad?

ZDB     What might be called the romantic element in the relationship has faded considerably. It's a bit like a marriage after a few years. But the solid reason for the relationship is that each is very strong in his own community and in his own political organisation and that they need each other. If they can't agree we're never going to get to a constitution. To put it brutally, Mandela's got the numbers and de Klerk's got the guns and under those circumstances you'd better agree. So that I would say in a far more pragmatic way there is still an effective working relationship between them but I think to the extent that it was almost a romance, yes it's gone away. And that's good because that's always an unreliable component in a relationship.

POM     When we talk to government ministers or to National Party members they will emphatically say this process is not about the transfer of power it's about the sharing of power. When we talk to the ANC they are quite blunt, they say like it or not this is about the transfer of power, we know it and the Government know it. What is it about?

ZDB     My response would be that you don't know yet which of these two things it is until the process has run its course. If we actually get down in the Multi-Party Conference, to the principles which are to underlie the constitution, and that has been stated as the intention of the ANC as well as of the rest of us, if we get down to that and if this results in a constitution which is strongly protective of individuals and therefore of minorities which are only aggregations of individuals, then the power of the majority in the future is going to be limited and the moment you limit the unbridled power of the majority it seems to be you're into something which can be called power sharing. And the government is in a position not to enforce that perhaps, but certainly to prevent the reverse happening. If the ANC were to come with a constitutional proposal which amounted to unbridled majority domination the government wouldn't have it. And that could be a stalemate that could last for years. So that I think that there will be a measure of power sharing not as the government has tended at some time to envisage it. As recently as June this year I was at a conference with Gerrit Viljoen when he said that we might have a bi-cameral parliament with the Upper House being a House of minorities. Now that I think is absolutely not on.

POM     He said that 2 weeks ago.

ZDB     I think he's dreaming. Gerrit only came to politics when he was 50+ and that's not soon enough in my book. But I do believe that firstly a constitution limiting the power of the majority is feasible and achievable and I believe secondly that it is by no means a fait accompli that the ANC is going to have an absolute majority.

POM     You've almost answered this, but when the government uses the phrase 'power sharing', what is your understanding of what they mean?

ZDB     Of what they mean? They mean some kind of reserve power to communities. Originally they said, to racial groups. Racial groups were their building blocks and power sharing meant so much power to X and so much power to Y. Now they have abandoned that for a year already now, more than a year, but they still talk about 'minorities'. How defined we don't know. When I talk about power sharing I mean a government in which every individual in the country has the same rights but where use is made of special majorities for special purposes or even conceivably for all purposes, which has the effect of allowing a minority to exercise a share in the exercise of power.

POM     Part of my understanding is that the government, the National Party or the government whatever you call it, would want to exercise executive authority at the highest level within government, i.e. have a number of government portfolios and be part of an alliance if it were an ANC government although they would be a junior partner, they would be a partner in exercising power and authority. Do you think they envisage that too?

ZDB     I think that's highly desirable but whether they'll get this will depend on the outcome at the ballot box. I put this question to Pallo Jordan on a television programme a few weeks ago, just after the ANC Conference, and I put it in the form, will you work in a governing coalition with the National Party? And he said, well this is not the time to take that kind of decision. He quoted some opinion poll which had given the ANC 60%+ of the votes in the country and he said if that is the case why do we need any kind of alliance with anybody? I think that's the transfer of power syndrome. He then added, even if we do have 50%+ of the vote there may be other reasons for forming arrangements of this sort.

POM     That's what I'm getting to. I think that's something that you've been hinting at as well, the need for stability, for a broadly based government, for a strong government. But there's a difference I suppose, my understanding from the National Party is that what they would like to see is this is written in as part of the constitutional settlement either for another interim period or as part of the final settlement, whereas the ANC would say, that's a notion we would entertain after perhaps we've received a majority we might decide, well, for stability and in order to have broad consensus we would in fact have what might amount to a government of national unity or something. But it would be a voluntary decision on our part, nothing that we have conceded in negotiations.

ZDB     Well there's a consociational concept, which I'm sure you know better than I, which says you take your political coalition right into the executive and you have each party of consequence represented in the executive in a grand coalition. Now that is very much what I'd like to see regardless of what in head counting terms are the relative strengths of the parties. But I doubt whether it's going to prove feasible to negotiate that in advance. I think some of that may have to be done after an election's been held. I'm cautioning you against simply assuming that the ANC is going to romp home with an overall majority.

POM     I want to come back to that, maybe to pick it up on what do think the National Party government, I'm using them synonymously although I know they aren't the same, has a strategy, has an objective in mind and has thought out a strategy to get there?

ZDB     I don't think so. I've been engaged in an intense debate on constitutional matters for 18 months now with the Nats, ever since de Klerk made his speech on 2nd February, and it first it wasn't clear that they meant universal franchise and then they clearly did. And then it wasn't clear that they meant a common roll and then they clearly did. And then we didn't know whether they meant proportional representation and then they clearly did. And so, like peeling an onion, you take a layer off and you find something else underneath. I think that the constitutional thinking of the government has evolved almost miraculously over this period, from something that was quite impractical, closer and closer to a sort of conventional Western European model. But their strategy is going to be through alliances and through the expansion of their own party and through the application of their very great political skills and considerable, I think, financial resources. They are going to make themselves as strong as they possibly can and they are going to involve with them anybody they can get against the ANC, and clearly Inkatha who's content to become so involved. The Democratic Party has refused to become so involved. So I don't think the government's got a clear strategy beyond that. They want as big a share of the cake for themselves as they can get, and clearly this ends up by boiling down to, is the ANC going to get 50% + 1?

POM     We've heard from some people a suggestion that in fact they are following that strategy and at the same time they're following a strategy with the ANC which is that even if you gain power you're going to need us because you're going to face such horrendous problems and you don't have the skill base, the bureaucracy would still be largely white, white hands still control the levels of power and if you want things to happen, if you want to get your agenda met, if you want to meet the expectations of your own population, you're going to need us in there with you.

ZDB     Well I've always had difficulty with this word 'strategy' that everybody uses all the time. I agree with you that what you've just put is a perfectly sound argument. Whether it constitutes a strategy I don't really know, but I mean you've only to look at Zimbabwe where Mugabe after winning an enormous victory over what you would have thought were more moderate groups, immediately put some white people in his Cabinet. Not because he needed them politically in any way at all but because he needed some symbols which would keep other whities in the country running the economy with reasonable efficiency and that is what happens. And In Namibia there are a number of whities in the Cabinet for exactly the same reason. Zambia didn't do this although in many ways Kaunda's attitudes are far more amenable to white people than are Mugabe's or Nujoma's and some people would say that the condition of Zambia today illustrates the folly of not doing it.

POM     But this thing of the ANC not getting 50% of the vote would also be related to the policy of the government, implicit or explicit, to weaken the base of the ANC.

ZDB     Yes. Well everybody tells me that the government is seeking to weaken the base of the ANC and that is proof that the government's involved in township violence because by bashing people who support the ANC you make people afraid to support the ANC. This is how the argument is made.

POM     Or it shows people that the ANC can't protect them.

ZDB     That's all part of it. I'm not sure that it's like this. I think the more that people perceive that the government is assisting those who bash the ANC the more popular is likely to be. You see, I think that the story of the ANC's popularity is one which has been repeated many times in the history of many countries. When you have a liberation front which fights against a tyrannical government it gains colossal popularity and people don't even ask what it stands for. It stands for freedom. The moment it's won the liberation struggle the task falls on it of defining what it stands for, of spelling out its policies and immediately it finds it cannot hold the huge coalition that it could hold when it was a liberation front and I think you're seeing that with the ANC. I think there are more and more people in the townships who certainly don't want to be part of Inkatha but are also getting bored with the ANC. And this is perfectly normal, democratic, healthy and sound. So again, I just say, don't let's any of us form stereotypes in our mind about how history is going to go.

POM     Do you think the National Party have yet accepted the inevitability of black majority rule?

ZDB     I fear they haven't. Well, you really should ask them and not me but the Nats would tend to say, of course we know there are going to be five times as many, four times as many black voters as white ones and a few brown ones in between, or not so few. Nobody who's not insane will deny that. But whether psychologically the Nats have got used to the idea that there are going to be black people sitting there taking decisions which they can't control and can't much influence, which affect their lives, I really rather doubt. Psychologists have a word for it. People very often refuse to face up to perfectly obvious facts. I suspect that that is the mindset of a lot of Nationalists.

POM     Did the political fallout of what is loosely called Inkathagate, obviously the big winner was the ANC.

ZDB     Yes.

POM     And the loser is the government, de Klerk, and the bigger loser is probably Inkatha, or is it? And what does it do to Buthelezi?

ZDB     I think there's no doubt Inkatha is a loser. When you raise the question, is Inkatha a bigger loser than the Government, you're in very tricky territory. I'm really not sure. I have said on public platforms that the people to blame are primarily the government. After all what did Inkatha do? Somebody offered them money and they accepted it. That's not a crime. The pinching of money from slush funds and the secret donation of it is a political crime, but there is the counter consideration that Buthelezi now stands condemned as somebody who took financial help from the government, for all his excuses and his explanations that he didn't know and he's repaying the money, the mud sticks. He took money from the government and that in black circles is probably more damaging than the evidence that the government did something quite improper. But both the Nats and Inkatha lose. The ANC gains in prestige and authority and status and it's a very small thing but the Democratic Party gains too. I was inundated with congratulations from all sorts of people about something I had no part in and no knowledge of. It's simply that we've become kind of Mr. Clean in the circumstances.

POM     I remember you last year talking about one of the options for the Democratic Party was to be the custodian of liberal values and a watchdog over other parties. This would be a case of where in fact you were instrumental in playing that kind of role?

ZDB     Exactly that. Exactly that. You see a lot of white people, who voted for us in 1989, and I suppose a lot of people who are Coloured too but we know who these whities are, have been asking the question now, is there any further role for us to play? After all the Nats have taken over the same programme and they're much more powerful and much more effective and we have hung on and said we're not that sure of the Nats yet and comes Inkathagate everybody says, 'Hell, now we know what you were talking about.'

POM     One thing it seems to have done is that it's immeasurably strengthened the ANC's demand for an interim government and here you had, and perhaps more because of what the government did in Namibia than what it did with Inkatha, funding political parties in Namibia when it had signed an agreement saying it would keep its hands out of the election. Do you see any circumstances under which the de Klerk government would resign, surrender its sovereignty?

ZDB     No. I mean I suppose if we get to a huge armed struggle and they in effect lose the civil war, that might finally happen. But I think we're miles away from that and anyway the evidence is that they would win a civil war. No I don't think that de Klerk's going to quit.

POM     On the other hand do you see any circumstances in which the ANC would become part of an existing government which really is a more refined form of co-option?

ZDB     This is the tricky question and it is to this that you need to find an answer. You may have seen or heard from the ANC, they're talking about an interim government of national unity and they're going to have all kinds of people in it, Helen Suzman, Enos Mabuza, even me perhaps. And they make it sound very attractive but nowhere do they tell you by what process it's going to come into being and you've already hinted correctly that the only process that can make it come into being is if the present Government disappears in a puff of smoke.

POM     What I'm wondering is, when the government opposes a Constituent Assembly and the ANC says well we're not wed to a Constituent Assembly as such, if you could come up with an arrangement that will achieve the same thing we will entertain it. In this case is the real issue not that there could be an arrangement that could be an impartial overseer as such, but is the issue the sovereignty of the government itself? The issue, is it sovereignty?

ZDB     The issue is legal continuity. Whatever decision is taken to change the composition of the government must be taken by the present government because the present government is the only legal one in the country. Legal as opposed to legitimate, a fairly important distinction between those two terms. If I may I would like to continue what I was saying that when the ANC says it wants an IGNU (Interim Government of National Unity) we say we want a TGNU, Transitional Government of National Unity. And what we have fastened on to is that the present constitution is a monster in most respects but it is a very flexible constitution. To change it all you need is a simple majority in each of the three Houses of Parliament and we see no difficulty in getting that for anything that de Klerk agrees to. We think, therefore, that the Multi-Party Conference has got to apply its mind at once to how do you change the composition of government to something which is acceptable to people like us, never mind the ANC. Because we also don't think the government can be the referee and the player while this thing goes on.

POM     But you also don't think the government should resign?

ZDB     We don't think the government can resign and leave the country without any authority, leave a vacuum. Certainly not. It's an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do.

POM     But even if de Klerk were to do so, would then there not be the white backlash?

ZDB     Yes, that's one of the consequences. If the government surrenders, if de Klerk gets into his car and says he's going to his farm and he's not going to govern the country any more, it's very likely indeed that there would be a successful white right wing coup. So it can't be like that. Legitimacy in the present situation belongs, if it belongs to anybody, to the Multi-Party Conference. It's not perfect legitimacy but it's widely representative of the people. The Multi-Party Conference must take a decision about the kind of government it would like to see and that will need the agreement of de Klerk. Everything does. If he then agrees to that, he then doesn't resign, he changes the constitution which provides for the structure of government into a structure which we, as the least violent of his critics and the ANC, obviously for every reason the one that really matters, can accept. Now de Klerk at this stage has said no more than, but I'd be delighted to have some of these chaps in my Cabinet. And they have said, thank you we're not going to be co-opted by you. So we may have to set up some kind of machinery which agrees on the membership of these people and can remove them again. We might want to set up a fourth House of Parliament whose assent would be required to all legislation. I throw this out only to illustrate the way my mind's going, but which would be made up of the former liberation movements.

POM     If one goes back to this question of trust, whether or not some minimum level of trust is necessary when you have negotiations going on between two parties who are very, very divided, or is trust necessary for negotiations? Can you have successful negotiations without trust?

ZDB     About 15 years ago the old Progressive Party was in the process of merging with the old Reform Party, Harry Oppenheimer was present at the discussion and he said 'Now I may not know much about politics but I know a hell of a lot about mergers.' And he said 'In a merger what counts is trust and generosity.' And I have proved that over and over again for myself both in business and in politics trust is the essential component and it's very largely lacking at the moment. It's still more lacking because of the fact it's being discussed. If I have any reason to claim that my party is going to have a role of some importance to play it is that the ANC trusts us much more than it trusts the government and the government trusts us much more than it trusts the ANC.

POM     To what minimum steps would the government have to take, what minimum confidence building measures, to show the ANC, post-Inkathagate, that it is trying to operate with good faith. Yesterday it was put to us very well by the Rector of St George's Cathedral in Cape Town, Colin Jones, terrific guy who said, it's not a matter of trust it's that you have to have its respect, you've got to respect your opponent and that's what's lacking here is that the manner in which the government has behaved suggests it does not respect the ANC.

ZDB     My difference with Mr Jones would only be that I would say that trust and respect are very close to each other. To divide them is really almost impossible because you won't have trust without respect but yet you can respect, yes, you can respect a man and not entirely trust him. You say, what's the government got to do? It's another very difficult question which is why you are asking me but it's got to reveal, it's got to let the ANC see into it and see into its workings to a greater extent than it's done. And that's got to happen the other way round too. I don't know how you build up trust except by talking to people for quite long periods, and sometimes over quite long periods. I seldom trust anybody the first time I meet him, but I'm a fairly trusting soul. I trust most people when I've known them for six months and met then ten times and they haven't double crossed me.

POM     The two last ones are: the alliance between the SACP and the ANC, is this proving to be a real problem for the ANC or is it just really a problem in the white community?

ZDB     No. I think it is real problem for the ANC. Mr Mandela himself had a breakfast for businessmen recently and said, 'When there is an election in the offing if we and the Communist Party still have different policies, as we do at present, we have to part.' I spoke at Wits the other night with Terror Lekota, who's one of the best men I think in the ANC, and he said the same thing. He said, 'The Communist Party stands for different things than what we do but for all the well known reasons of past loyalties that have been built up and past trust that has been built up between us, we don't want to end our alliance with them. But we will have to when there is an election and we stand for different things.' I think the ANC has decided that backing socialist forms of government, i.e. like Eastern Europe, is no longer on. They're going to be attacked from too many quarters if they do that. Therefore, they have, as I said earlier, declared themselves in a position of nurturing social democracy and the word communism has a meaning. You cannot reconcile being a communist with being a social democrat. I think one of the things that may happen is that the Communist Party may disband and just fling itself into the ANC, just become part of the ANC, undifferentiated. And that's going to be difficult for the whities, because whities say, we don't want communism at any price and Joe Slovo says, 'But who says I'm a communist? I'm a member of the ANC.' Now you've got a problem.

POM     The last one. The right, the Conservative Party and the militant right. When we were here this time last year there was a lot of speculation about the strength of the Conservative Party, about how it might possibly win over 50% of a white vote in a whites only election. This year we hear much less of it. Is it just because other events are more in the news or is that potential threat still there?

ZDB     I think why you're hearing less of the Conservative Party is that the realisation has grown that there isn't going to be another white election and if there isn't going to be another white election what importance can the Conservative Party have? As soon as you've got a common voters' roll for everybody it's obviously insignificantly small. I would not say that in terms of white electoral support the conservatives have necessarily lost any in the past year. The few by-elections and things that have taken place rather indicate the reverse, they may have slightly more strength than they had a year ago. But they are not a party of violence. Their supporters are not that kind of person and they have not succeeded, not demonstrably anyway, in weaning away a large part of the armed forces from a position of loyalty to the government. At Ventersdorp the other night the Police behaved very well. So where is the threat in the Conservative Party?

POM     The longer they stay outside the process too the more they are marginalising themselves by not coming in.

ZDB     Yes.

POM     OK. Thank you. Great seeing you again. Did you get a copy of the transcript?

ZDB     Yes I did.

POM     You did. You can take your time in going through it.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.