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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Jul 1992: De Beer, Zach

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POM     Dr de Beer, maybe I'd like you to start with your general impressions of the CODESA process. I remember we bumped into you a little over a year ago, I think it was at the Paul Simon concert. You had just taken over as Chairman of the Management Committee and you were talking about the inefficiencies and what you were facing and had to deal with. How, as a process, did it work? Was it a good process for negotiations and were structures set up in a way that it could get its work done efficiently? Did it in fact facilitate negotiation or was it cumbersome, top heavy, unwieldy and set up in a way that was just too cumbersome?

ZDB     As a process it was cumbersome, yes. There were 19 delegations. There were, when the Management Committee sat down, up to fifty odd people in the room. When one of the working groups sat down there were nearly a hundred. We did spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing the minutes of the last meeting at CODESA.

POM     You talked about the inordinate amount of time that was spent reviewing the minutes of the last CODESA meeting?

ZDB     However, having said that, the process, the structures were a little cumbersome, that was not why we got into difficulties. I think I can give you three principle reasons why we got into difficulties, if you want those? The first has to do with the white voters' referendum which was held earlier this year. You may remember that CODESA began very auspiciously, things were going well through January and February, but at that same time among the white voters the Conservative Party, the right wingers, were creeping up on President de Klerk. They won two or three major by-election victories and they began to claim that they and not he spoke for the white people of South Africa. Now that might not matter so much to me but it matters a lot to F W de Klerk. So he, with the kind of panache for which he's become quite famous, announced that he would hold a referendum of the white voters to ask for a mandate to continue his reforms. The referendum campaign was held. He had a lot of help from the Democratic Party, quite a bit of help from the ANC also and he won a famous victory by nearly 70%/30%. This having happened the government reacted by deciding that its hand had now been very much strengthened in the negotiating process. They said this to various people. They came back to CODESA determined to be much more aggressive and much more demanding than they had previously been. From the ANC's point of view this was quite unfair and improper because the ANC had done everything it could to help the government to beat the conservatives. The ANC were counting on the government to be more conciliatory and helpful. The government was the reverse. The ANC didn't like this one bit and became very angry and that started the decline in the essential relationship between government and ANC.

POM     Let me just take you back on the referendum for one moment. One of the things we've noticed since we began this process three years ago is that there are two different languages used. The National Party, for the most part whites talk in terms of this being a process about the sharing of power while the ANC and most other, what would be called black liberation organisations, talk about it in terms of it being a transfer of power. Now on the news reports that we heard in the States, be it BBC, New York Times, television, the London Times, the Independent, news clipping services that I get from both the South African Institute of Race Relations and News Clip, following the referendum I noticed that every statement that De Klerk made or that the government made was always couched in terms of this being a process he had embarked on in which the end result would be equal to the sharing of power with the black population. My question: what do you think white people thought they were voting for, one? Two, how do you think De Klerk interpreted his victory? And three, what do you think black people thought white people were voting for?

ZDB     I think that the ordinary white person knew that the time had come when the franchise had to be extended to black people and was voting for that. Not that white people particularly liked it but that, as I say, they recognised that the time had come and they thought that the alternative to the extension of the franchise was a conflict of unacceptable intensity. Second you asked me how did De Klerk react. He reacted by feeling that he was on top of the heap. He had obtained a strong mandate from what he still sees as his own power base, the white people. In the process of obtaining that mandate he, more than anybody else, had expanded this concept of power sharing. But power sharing can mean many things. When we first used the term 'power sharing', we the democrats, it simply meant the extension of the franchise. Instead of the whites having all the power everybody would now have power. That's power sharing. But President de Klerk has invested this term with the curious meaning that power sharing means that in some way the white people, although they are in a minority, exert a power which if not equal to that which is exerted by the blacks is at any rate larger than the numbers of the white people would indicate. I would say that was his interpretation. Now there was a third question which I've forgotten.

POM     What do you think blacks thought whites were voting for?

ZDB     I believe the approach of black people was as straightforward as that of white people. The question was, are the whites going to go ahead with the extension of the franchise and the whites said emphatically they were.

POM     But did white people take the extension of the franchise to mean that there would be majority rule or did they take it to mean the extension of the franchise in terms of De Klerk's formula for power sharing.

ZDB     I believe that the vast majority of people, white and black, simply saw the extension of the franchise in simple terms. No doubt there were a number of political aficionados who understood that De Klerk was talking about something special in the way of minority protections or minority advantaging, that's the word. But I think it would have been only a minority of people who saw it that way.

POM     OK, so the first real difficulty stems from the white only referendum and the manner in which De Klerk used it.

ZDB     The second such reason is very simple. CODESA 2 was held too soon. CODESA 1 was no more than the setting up of a process. That process was bound, if you think about it, to be long and complex, very difficult. But somewhere about the beginning of April the Management Committee of CODESA simply decided that it would be reasonable for the process to have reached a fairly advanced stage by the middle of May and fixed that date and since the conference was huge, it involved people from all over the world, the date once fixed was rigid. In fact there wasn't nearly enough time to examine the vital questions involved and that was a major reason. Had we had another month, even a fortnight conceivably, we might have been ready to agree, not on a total constitution but on enough forward steps so that everybody could have been happy.

     The third reason is more complicated. It has to do with the structure and procedure to be employed in writing a constitution. The ANC had from the beginning insisted on what it called a Constituent Assembly, which may be defined as a body elected by one person one vote, having the right, no the duty, to make a new constitution. The Democratic Party, for example, after some hesitation had come to a similar conclusion, it wanted a constitutional conference which differed in degree but not in principle from what the ANC was looking. The Nationalists, for quite a long time, said that no such body was necessary, that CODESA could write the new constitution although CODESA was not elected and was not in a numerical sense representative of the population.

     Quite suddenly at the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992 the Nats proposed that the present parliament should be scrapped and that there should be elected in its place by one person one vote an interim parliament which would have the task of constitution making in addition to its normal legislative function. The ANC thought this was marvellous because after all this was an elected body, one person one vote. It was the same thing as their proposed Constituent Assembly except that it had this additional power to legislate. It would mean that you would get rid of the tricameral parliament a year or two earlier than would otherwise be the case. Last but not least it would mean that about 200 members of the ANC would become MPs with all that that means in terms of salaries and perquisites.

     So they welcomed the government's proposal and then somebody asked, but look here, how can you elect a parliament without some form of constitution in terms of which you are elected? Must there not be some form of constitution before there can be an election. And this rather threw the ANC and when they asked about it, the Nats said, but that's not a problem, we just knock together a constitution in CODESA, thereby bringing us back to where they had been in the first place. Now the ANC couldn't quite make up their minds whether they were being tricked or not but the idea of the temporary or interim parliament was so attractive that they went ahead on that basis. And it was indeed on matters affecting the constitution within which the interim parliament would function that the talks broke down. But I can't speak for the ANC, but I suspect that they still don't know whether they were deceived or not. I think those three things contributed to the poisoning of the atmosphere and therefore the breakdown of the talks.

POM     So this interim parliament would in fact then draw up the constitution?

ZDB     It would substitute for the Constituent Assembly.

POM     So is this a correct understanding of it, that an interim constitution would be pieced together at CODESA, then that interim constitution would be taken before this interim parliament?

ZDB     No, that interim constitution would provide the rules and procedures for the election of the interim parliament, which interim parliament would then tackle the task of writing the permanent new constitution.

POM     But it wouldn't be amending - it would be writing a new constitution from scratch or amending the constitution already agreed upon?

ZDB     Technically, technically I suppose it's always an amendment, not of a constitution agreed upon, it's an amendment of the existing tricameral constitution but the two would be so different that to all intents and purposes it would be something brand new.

POM     Did it break down over the delineation of these quotients?

ZDB     No. They fought for a long time about the issue of the size of the majority within the interim parliament that would be required to write the new constitution. The ANC proposed 66%, the government proposed 75%, the Democratic Party, perhaps predictably, proposed 70%. There was a deadlock for days. The ANC endeavoured to break the deadlock by offering to come up from 66% to 75% in relation only to the Bill of Rights, the rest of the constitution to remain at 66%. The government simply refused to budge. Eventually on the very last day, early in the morning of the day when the Plenary Session was to meet, my colleague Colin Eglin persuaded the Nats to come down to 70% and the ANC to come up to 70% for the non-Bill of Rights portion of the constitution, with the Bill of Rights at 75%. And Colin then thought for a few happy minutes that he had a solution, that the whole thing was going to work and then after an adjournment the government came back and began asking for assurances that (a) the Upper House as well as the Lower House of the interim parliament would have to approve the constitution by these special majorities and (b) that that Upper House being elected on a regional basis, rather as your Senate is, there would have to be a majority from each region. And on those two issues the ANC found those unacceptable. The ANC proposed instead that there would be a rather short sunset clause and that if the constitution were not approved by the expiry of that sunset clause the whole matter would then be resolvable by a majority of 51% which no-one would accept and the whole thing broke down. Colin's judgement was that it had broken down not on any of the technicalities which I have just tried to explain, but really because there was no will to make it work.

POM     On the part of?

ZDB     Nats or the ANC. He blamed the Nats more than the ANC, he said they were both very difficult.

POM     Looking at the Nats first, why would they want it to break down?

ZDB     The rumour going around CODESA at the time was that the Nats had had a survey done and had concluded that they could not win any universal suffrage election for at least the foreseeable future of 6 - 12 months and that they therefore wanted a procedure which could spin it out for a long time during which the ANC might split or all sorts of things might happen to help them. That was no more than a rumour, and in fairness to the Nats, I must say I have no proof of what I've just repeated to you at all. As far as the ANC were concerned there was already building up at that time, we're now talking the middle of May, a strong belief that their grassroots were offended by the evidence that the ANC was giving away too much in this negotiation and perhaps this is where I return to your phrase 'transfer of power'. The ANC grassroots had always been told that the issue was one of transfer of power and they said, "What's complicated? Why don't these white men just give us the power? Why are you going so soft?" And the ANC felt it had to get tough. I think that was the motivation from their side.

POM     So was this a case in the ANC of the leadership being forced by the followership into taking a more hard line and a more militant line?

ZDB     Yes. The leadership has always been more dovish than the grassroots.

POM     So if one takes then the period from the deadlock in the talks when you still had both Mandela and De Klerk putting the best face on things, talking to each other, the amount of good work that had been done and that the deadlock needn't have proved to be insuperable, a month later you had total breakdown, collapse of the talks, militant hard line talk from the ANC, the announcement of a general strike, a whole new list of demands and Mr Mandela making some very personal attacks on Mr de Klerk. How did the dynamics of the situation change during that period?

ZDB     I think that what happened was that we came away from CODESA 2 disappointed but not feeling that we were off the rails, believing that with patience and understand we could get back to a productive negotiating process and indeed a number of meetings were held, CODESA meetings, all parties, and bilateral meetings between the Nats and the ANC and it looked quite promising for a while, sufficiently promising for the State President to announce a special session of parliament for October which would be available to legislate for any decisions that came out of CODESA by that time. But I think that during this period the ANC became fully aware of the strength of their grassroots feeling and they began to talk more and more about some form of mass action.

     Now I interrupt myself to say that mass action is always put forward as something which you do in order to persuade the government to behave, to put pressure on the government, but to a very large extent the real purpose of mass action is simply to involve your own grassroots in some sort of process, give them some exercise. How do you persuade an unemployed youngster in the township that his party cares about him except by letting him run up and down in the street and toyi-toying and shouting? So the thing was moving in that direction and then Boipatong happened. I don't relate Boipatong in its causation to the negotiating process. I think not at all. I think Boipatong was simply another, a particularly tragic one, in the process of violence which has been going on for years. But it arrived at a time when tempers were frayed and it simply caused the rage of the township people to boil over and it was then that ANC leadership from Mandela downwards really became abusive and went over the top, to my mind, in its attacks on the government.

POM     Do you think that within the ANC there has been a shift in power alliances, that organisations like COSATU, more militant organisations are now making the running at the expense of those who might be regarded as the makers of the elites, of elite packs?

ZDB     There is a widespread belief, among white people anyway, that the communists and the COSATU leadership have seized a lot of the initiative away from the established ANC leadership. I can't really confirm that but it makes sense in terms of what has been happening.

POM     What does this do to white people?

ZDB     It alarms them because they see the likelihood of mass action, particularly very large scale strikes, possibly associated with violence, but even if not associated with violence, further damage to an economy which is already thoroughly sick, further reduced living standards for everybody, lower quality of life, more and more white people begin to think about emigrating once again.

POM     This does nothing for the right does it?

ZDB     Not yet, not yet, but because the right has a lot of troubles of its own. But if the situation gets worse instead of better and if President de Klerk is seen as a man who has tried to sell his people out and failed in the attempt, then of course in the longer run the white right would become something more formidable.

POM     I was going to talk about De Klerk separately so that we do it within two contexts. Is he a person where the general level of expectations in his own constituency is that he must produce something that does not amount to transparent transfer of power to the majority?

ZDB     Yes, I think very largely as a result of his own statements he is committed to come up with a constitution which contains something in the way of special protections for minorities.

POM     And if he were seen to be failing in that action could he be replaced as National Party leader by other elements within the party?

ZDB     I myself would think that excessively unlikely. Firstly I think that all this stuff about special minority protections is much more important in his mind than in the minds of his own followers. I think ordinary people, white people, have a very straightforward approach. They say, we've been able to hold the line all these years and remain dominant and now we can't remain dominant any more and that's that. They're not so concerned with all this Clever Dick kind of constitution manufacturing that he himself has come up with. So that's one reason why I don't think his leadership is in danger. And the other reason is that the alternatives are appallingly weak. There is really nobody in the National Party.

POM     Let me ask you, Barend du Plessis was the first government minister that I interviewed and I interviewed him two or three times and then suddenly I got a message from his office saying he had resigned not only his office but that he was simply disappearing from public life. Was this unexpected?

ZDB     Nobody knows, or at least nobody I know knows. Barend had said for about six months that he was grossly overworked and he really didn't know how he could carry on, but a lot of us are overworked and a lot of us are a hell of a lot older than he is too. He suddenly went and that certainly gave rise in Johannesburg financial circles to a whole plethora of rumours about scandals that were likely to break out and that he had gone for that sort of reason. Now my judgement of Barend du Plessis is that this is not a man who would ever take a bribe and put it in his own pocket. I don't think he would do that. But he was responsible as National Party Leader in the Transvaal for fund-raising for the biggest problems in the country. He certainly had got himself caught up with some rich but otherwise not particularly reputable businessmen in the process of fund-raising and there may have been something there. But I can't take you further than that. I don't know.

POM     Was he regarded as a - did his departure weaken the government team considerably?

ZDB     Well we have to remember that in 1989 he was the chief opponent to De Klerk and he ran De Klerk within eight votes. Sounds improbable now but that was the case at the time. De Klerk has run so strongly since then and Barend so weakly that you can hardly believe that's that how it was three years ago. Certainly his departure was one senior politician gone. You have Dawie de Villiers in the Cape who is a man of some strength and certainly a man for whom one feels respect, but there's none of the sort of charisma and brilliance of the real political leader. You have an absolute idiot in Natal called Bartlett and Kobie Coetsee in the Free State isn't all that much better, those are the Provincial leaders. Pik Botha has now picked up the Transvaal Provincial leadership after Barend's departure. Well Pik is almost as old as I am and he's had a chequered career too, let's put it no more strongly than that. So what is the alternative to F W de Klerk? The man who has been making strong running in terms of acquiring very much more responsibility is Roelf Meyer. He's come up trumps, he's taken huge responsibilities and as far as I can see he hasn't cracked. But he's got a long way to go before he's a national leader.

POM     So on the one hand one could see De Klerk as being a prisoner of circumstances of his own creation, i.e. in his articulation of a formula for power sharing and his rigid adherence to that. What about on the security side? We have followed for the last three years, religiously asked people questions since August 1990 about the violence, and on the ANC side there has been a standard pattern of response that the government has been behind it, that the government has aided Inkatha, it's either directly or indirectly attributable to the government and that has only become louder and more insistent as each year has gone by. And when one looks at the series of revelations in The Weekly Mail over the last year and in The New Nation and the sheer number of incidences in which police do not appear to take any action or in which arrests are not made or in which security people are not fired, it raises a question mark in ones mind and that is, is De Klerk in charge of his police or are they, being of a more conservative bent, a constituency that he has to be very careful with and that any large scale house cleaning could result in the disaffection of significant elements within the police force itself?

ZDB     I think it is beyond doubt in the minds of almost every knowledgeable observer that over the last 30 years the police have become more and more an executive arm of government. They have been a law unto themselves. They have acted as they pleased. They have covered up whatever crimes they committed and there's no doubt in my mind and I think in the mind of most people that they have been behaving in a completely unacceptable way. At the very least this has been condoned at ministerial level if not encouraged. Now De Klerk comes in

POM     When you say 'condoned', could you be more explicit?

ZDB     I would say that as of 1987/1988 the police were doing things which were criminal and the ministers responsible knew they were doing those things but didn't interfere.

POM     And that that situation exists to this present day, would you believe?

ZDB     I was about to go on to say that I would accept De Klerk's bona fides in so far as he had an intention of cleaning this thing up but I think he's found it difficult, inconvenient and he hasn't pressed on with it and I think it probable that elements within the police force are still misbehaving.

POM     Would that amount to senior level?

ZDB     Very difficult to say but you referred to The New Nation a moment ago, I would guess you were thinking of the Goniwe revelation of May, about a month ago. That certainly involved two Generals.

POM     Will he be compelled now to take action with regard to the police?

ZDB     I believe so although I still wouldn't give you a guarantee that the action he takes will be adequate.

POM     But in the absence of adequate action on his part can the violence be brought under control or are the police pouring petrol on the fire, or that the real fire is still the political conflict between supporters of Inkatha and supporters of the ANC?

ZDB     I think the latter is the case. I think the real ongoing impetus of violence is the fight between Inkatha and the ANC. But I think there's very little doubt that ordinary units of ordinary policemen see themselves as the friends of Inkatha in that. Why not? For 30 years ANC has been demonised as the enemy of the people of South Africa, controlled from Moscow, a terrorist organisation, communist organisation. During all of that time Inkatha has been seen as a more or less loyal 'white' organisation with rather nice cuddly black people. So for the police not to be on Inkatha's side would be very remarkable. Then we do have the one case of Trust Feed which actually came to Court and was properly cross-examined and the police admitted they had gone into a house and murdered people who they thought were ANC people. And that incidentally is very doubtful, but they thought it. And they did that because they perceived that it was their duty to assist Inkatha. Now that was only one case involving half a dozen policemen but still it could be a pointer, couldn't it?

POM     If one of the conditions that the ANC is laying down for getting back to the negotiating table is that the action be taken to bring the violence under control, is the government in fact in a position to bring that violence under control? I know the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International both strongly suggest that if the government took appropriate action all this violence can be brought under control. Do you think that's a naive reading of the situation?

ZDB     To some extent probably yes. Amnesty International is perceived in South Africa, even by someone like myself, as very much an associate organisation of the ANC and we think they present their findings accordingly. The ICJ has a great deal more, enjoys a great deal more respect. And the Goldstone Commission enjoys full respect. I think it goes without saying that more police, strictly disciplined and given tight orders can do a much better job than they have done up to now in controlling violence. I've no doubt about that. But actually to stamp out violence, to make it stop altogether, a hell of a job.

POM     But it can be brought a level, I hate to use the phrase which in Northern Ireland is called 'an acceptable level of violence'?

ZDB     Yes. I think that's possible. I think that sort of thing is possible, but you must remember that as in Northern Ireland you now have a very big vendetta element and that takes years to die out.

POM     I found it ironic yesterday to hear Buthelezi at the UN lauding CODESA as being the only forum for negotiation and yet he himself refuses to take part in it as long as the KwaZulu government and the Zulu King is denied representation and then at the opening of his Legislative Assembly he makes very strong statements suggesting that don't expect KwaZulu to be a party to any decisions that are taken at a forum from which excludes it and uses language to the effect that he may have to lead his people down dark streets to a new light. Where in all of this is he sitting?

ZDB     Within reach, and I will go to very great lengths to assist you in your research because I respect it and I like you both, but you must not ask me to account for the behaviour of Chief Minister Buthelezi. It's really too complex. It is true that he has stayed away from CODESA. At the same time his people have been there regularly, faithfully, done their work on the committees under the leadership of Frank Mdlalose. It is true that he has said all these things, these very far reaching things about the consequences if the King of the Zulus was not given a delegation of his own. And yet when the decision finally came from CODESA that the King could not be given a delegation of his own, Buthelezi accepted it. What was recommended by CODESA was that there should be four delegations, one from each of the four existing Provinces of South Africa, each of those four delegations made up of traditional leaders, of Paramount Chiefs and Inkatha simply replied that, thank you but that wasn't what we had in mind. Dropped the whole matter. Don't ask me to account for it.

POM     In the last year since Inkathagate has there been a severe erosion in his stature and is he perceived now more as just a regional player rather than one of the three major players that he was a year or even 18 months ago?

ZDB     There certainly is a perception on the part of people in the know, leaders in the negotiating process, that Inkatha has ceased to be, if it ever was, a major national player. It has become merely a very important regional player. That is the sort of opinion you will get in private conversations, National Party, Cabinet Ministers, leaders, if you like, of the Democratic Party or other parties who sit at CODESA. In the eyes of ordinary South Africans I'm not so sure. Buthelezi remains immensely popular among white South Africans who are scared of the ANC and they are not scared of him, or not so scared of him. But, yes, I think the emphasis of his activities has regionalised.

POM     Does he in this sense need the violence?

ZDB     Plainly if he decides to be a regional power he doesn't need violence on the Witwatersrand.

POM     But if he still has pretensions to be a national leader and having a major impact in decision making?

ZDB     Then he does need it.

POM     This is the only thing he has in the absence of any electoral constituency in the rest of the country?

ZDB     Yes. I'm not going to say that Buthelezi has deliberately made use of the violence in order to further his political ends. There are plenty of people who will say that to you. I can't say that I'm convinced by my own observations that that is so. But the facts are that there was no violence outside Natal until late 1990 when it suddenly appeared here and it appeared in the form of major clashes between Inkatha Impis and township dwellers, and that's gone on ever since. What it's about? I'm afraid people have to draw their conclusions. I'm not in a position to account for it.

POM     Has the government turned down the best offer it would ever get?

ZDB     This may be true. They certainly have turned down an offer they should have accepted.

POM     But they tried to go back?

ZDB     As many people have said, they were greedy, no doubt. They have governed for 40 years, they have developed a tendency towards arrogance which De Klerk to some extent ameliorated, cut down, by his excellent behaviour during 1990. But that referendum campaign went to his head too. He really was too much of a hero in that campaign and the praiseworthy degree of modesty which he had exhibited for the preceding two years tended to disappear.

POM     So what are their strategic options?

ZDB     I think that they have to go back to the negotiating table. They have to get the best agreement they can. They have to hope, as they do hope, as Pik Botha said yesterday at the United Nations, that they can win an election. I don't myself believe it, but I don't see what else they could go for.

POM     So would you essentially see the ANC getting what they want, which is a Constituent Assembly, a threshold of two thirds both for the Bill of Rights and for constitutional provisions, and a two chamber parliament both elected by proportional representation?

ZDB     I would agree generally, yes. I'm not sure, wait a bit, you first said they would get a Constituent Assembly, I believe they will. What was the second thing?

POM     That it would have a two thirds threshold.

ZDB     Well whether it's two thirds or 70%, I can't be sure at this stage. This would depend how the negotiations went. I think the ANC might concede a little more than 66%. They were willing to do so.

POM     They got into hot water for doing so.

ZDB     They did. True.

POM     They're hardly likely to go back and

ZDB     If it's the means of doing a deal they might, I think. But anyway I don't believe anybody can tell you that for certain, but I think they'll get - and then you said would they get a two chamber parliament? I don't think the ANC is particularly keen on a two chamber parliament. It's the rest of us who want it. But the ANC has conceded it in informal discussions, in seminars and things of that sort and so I suppose, yes, it will go that way.

POM     How about federalism? Would this be an issue that will be - ?

ZDB     Federalism is a fairly hot issue at the moment. For 30 years the only federalists in this country were my little party. Inkatha always said we don't particularly want federalism but if that's what the white people want we might go along with it, and nobody else supported it at all. The Nats were against it and so were the ANC. Now suddenly the Nats are extremely keen on it because they see themselves as a minority and they think there's an additional protection in federalism. And now Inkatha are mad keen on it because they have tended to regionalise their view of the world. The ANC had a police conference four weeks ago, some time like that, and the principal decision taken there was that they were not going to accept federalism, they still wanted unitary government. They have spoken of regionalisation by which I deduce that they mean that functions of government will be allocated to regional bodies but allocated under the control of the central government. You will not have the guaranteed rights for the regional assemblies which federation necessarily involves.

POM     And will this issue be settled in the course of the - ?

ZDB     Constitution writing process I would have said.

POM     So the things that the NP wanted, which was a prior agreement on things like federalism, on the structure of the second chamber, will that now take place? Everything will be settled in the Constituent Assembly?

ZDB     This depends whether we get back to CODESA in the form that we have known it or not. In the form that we knew CODESA it was agreed by everybody that Working Group 2 would make recommendations on two issues. The first a set of constitutional principles and the second a set of recommendations for the structures and procedures needed to get a new constitution written. Under the first heading, list of constitutional principles, quite considerable progress was in fact made. It's all collapsed now and none of it has any status now except the moral status that people did agree to it. Now there was not agreement on federalism. There was agreement on a bicameral parliament, for example. So federalism has still got to be worked out at that level but it may be that CODESA takes the decision in fundamental principle for or against federalism which could mean that the constitution writing body was then bound in favour in federalism. However, whereas the ANC accepted all that at the time of CODESA in January and February the ANC appears now to be saying that the Constituent Assembly must be fully sovereign and unfettered which may mean that they will simply renege on the concept that CODESA lays down the principles. I can't tell you.

POM     On the one hand you have De Klerk, I'm just getting an analogy going, De Klerk who may be a prisoner of his own circumstances, has to a certain degree of the control that he can exert over the security forces and you have the ANC as a prisoner of its followership to the extent that it would be held much more accountable to its membership than it has in the past and therefore its negotiators have less leeway to conduct or complete elite packs.

ZDB     Yes that's a fair summary of some of what I've been saying.

POM     Where does that leave your party? What role now?

ZDB     The DP has in the meantime taken a grip on itself and decided with great firmness and clarity what it wants to do. Whether it can do it is another matter. Having got rid of five gentlemen who joined the ANC the DP have been to achieve unanimity in its party structures in favour of a drive to establish a viable liberal democratic party which can sit in a central position on the spectrum, to the right of the ANC and to the left of the Nats. A human rights party, a classical liberal party, which will go for 10% or 12% of the electorate, which looks to be just possible if things go well, at worst for 5% which seems to be the probable cut-off point in a proportional representation system, and would then see itself playing in the future the same role the FDP has played in modern Germany. A relatively small but very influential party because of its position on the spectrum. That's what we shall go for, I think, there's no doubt about that.

POM     When you look at the present impasse who have been the political winners and who are the political losers?

ZDB     It's very hard to say. In a sense the Nats are certainly losers, after all they simply ran the country as they pleased for their own benefit.

POM     Would you also say they simply blew it?

ZDB     Yes I think they blew it. As we agreed a few minutes ago, they could have had a deal and they haven't got that deal and they will probably never get as good a deal again. In that sense they blew it. But the fact that De Klerk ever embarked on his programme of change and reform was a very great historical gesture and nobody can take that away from him. He could certainly have hung on for a good few years, sure with the economy going downhill, with more and more repressive force having to be used. But he could have looked after his own followers, held the thing together. It's to his eternal credit that he moved away from that but he's blundered. He hasn't handled it skilfully since then.

POM     The political winner?

ZDB     Hard to say. The ANC is a great political winner in the sense that it's come out of exile and banning and it's operating proudly on the stage and its people are front-line news all the time. But they also exposed their feet of clay to a considerable extent. I don't know if there has been a winner recently.

POM     How about the PAC who said CODESA will not work and were out there with big smiles on their faces saying, see, didn't we say this process would collapse on itself?

ZDB     Yes but my nose doesn't tell me that the PAC is even as strong in South Africa today as it was two years ago, a year ago. It has no money, it has very limited organisational capacity, it gets very little media publicity. The ANC scoops all of that. I think the PAC was in a position where it might well have profited if the ANC had been seen to go into a deal with the Nats in which it gave a good deal away. I've told you throughout this conversation how the ANC has been under pressure from its grassroots and if those grassroots ever get thoroughly fed up with the ANC then the PAC could stand to be the gainer. But I don't think we've reached a point like that yet.

POM     But would a very loose analogy by that up to a point the Conservative Party appear to put certain constraints on De Klerk until he moves to take them on directly?

ZDB     Yes.

POM     Eliminate them as a threat and didn't wisely use the opportunity that presented. Could you make an analogy that the ANC is strong but wary, not wary but actually felt the backlash of its membership and see themselves constrained in what they do in order not to lose, particularly young people, to the PAC?

ZDB     I did for several months point out to audiences, people who spoke to me, the close parallel between the Nats on the right and the Conservatives on the far right and the ANC on the left and the PAC on the far left, that potentially these relationships could have been almost identical. I've said to you that much as the ANC has muddled what it's done and before it really rather unimpressed me, it's so massive and so well financed the PAC has not been able to make the impression on the ANC which the conservatives did in a sense at least make on the Nats.

POM     On thing we've noticed, I think more than anything since we've been here, we've only been here since last Sunday, is far more than last year concern about the economy, taxi drivers who talk about only getting two fares in four or five hours, restaurants that are empty and a general feeling - some people who came back from abroad to the new South Africa are now finding themselves salting away some of their money in foreign banks.

PAT     So are the white middle classes.

POM     Is the deterioration escalating at an increasing rate?

ZDB     At the general election of 1989 I in particular and some of my colleagues campaigned up and down the country on the appalling state of the economy at that time. We had no problem on the figures and with the statistics showing that the economy was in very bad shape already. But ordinary people were not feeling it to the extent they should have done. Why this was in always a subject of some controversy but it certainly had something to do with readily available credit. People were living higher on the hog than statistically they were entitled. This has caught up with them now. Government has maintained a pretty rigorous monetary stance for several years now and it really has become difficult for people to finance the credit that they need if they're going to live above their means. And so, yes, people are not spending. I went to a favourite restaurant of mine yesterday. I don't go to restaurants a hell of a lot, it's maybe six months since I was last there and this is a place I've gone to over the years. I've never seen it so empty. They must have lost a bomb on yesterday's lunch. So it's distressed and I keep asking myself the question, and you mentioned the middle class thing, I retired from business to go back to politics inter alia because I had enough money for any conceivable contingency that could ever happen in my life and even I find myself saying now, well shouldn't I stay at home and have a sandwich instead of going to my favourite restaurant. And, God, what it must be like to live in the townships on the sort of incomes those people have. Terrible.

POM     We talked before about expectations. Do you think the form of mass action which is now taking place, or is being put in place, will once again raise expectations among 'the masses', that power is about to be transferred and they are about to come into their own?

ZDB     Well I suspect that the masses are a bit wiser than their political leaders assume. But certainly I go to things like the Boipatong funeral and I listen to the Jay Naidoos of the world and other mob orators, the Chris Hanis, even Cyril Ramaphosa when he's wound himself up, and they are all saying we will throw this man De Klerk out, we will drive him out. If he will not go voluntarily we will take to the streets and we will force him out. But none of those things can happen. So yes, there may be some disappointment but on the other hand not just in this country but elsewhere in Africa I think there's been quite a lot of evidence that the black masses have a healthy cynicism about the chance that life's going to get better for them. They don't actually believe that it's ever going to but they like an outing. They like to go toyi-toying down the street and whether they're doing it behind a coffin or behind a banner doesn't make all that difference.

POM     On that wisely optimistic note, do you expect negotiations to get back on track pretty soon or is there going to be this extended period of confrontation?

ZDB     I believe that negotiations in one form or another will be resumed within, I would say, three months, that sort of period. Whether we go back to CODESA in the form in which we have known it I'm not sure. As we began this interview by saying, CODESA has been cumbersome and expensive and perhaps more importantly when CODESA began the bulk of the delegations there revealed some independence. They thought for themselves and they took lines. As time went on they all ganged up behind either the Nats or the ANC so much so that the journalists observing published their teams and there were nine people on the Nat side and nine people on the ANC side and there was the DP by itself, the only independent. If that is so or to the extent that it's so, why is it necessary to have 100 people around a table when half a dozen will do?

POM     OK, thanks once again. Hope the cold gets better quick.

PAT     One thing I did want to ask you, how do you read De Klerk's acceptance in the international community, the part of the international community closer to the ANC, Moscow, Nairobi, and how do you read that in terms of this idea that the ANC has of the international community in some respects is going to be able to come to their rescue?

ZDB     I think that the dramatic change that has occurred is exactly that. The ANC was completely dominant over the SA government in the field of international diplomacy as of three years ago. Really the government didn't get a look in except perhaps with Margaret Thatcher. I think that the collapse of communism changed that by itself because there was no longer a cold war, there were no longer non-aligned nations, there was no longer a playing off of the one against the other, all of which games the ANC were very good at. And certainly there was no solid communist bloc to give it unflinching, unwavering support.

     But also what De Klerk did here was damn dramatic because things aren't going so well for him now we tend to forget this, but he did tremendous things and that got him an entrée into the chancellories of the West, indeed of the world, and he's gone round and he's talked to these people and he is personally an impressive chap, at least up to a point. And I don't think that the western nations anyway are any longer prepared to be just bullied into taking the ANC's side against De Klerk. Last night's resolution is a very careful exercise in total neutrality between the two and you have to see that against the basis that three years ago the Security Council would never have given the SA government the time of day let alone Gqozo, Mangope and these deadbeats who Pik paraded there, and he got away with it.

PAT     Chissano was in Washington two weeks ago saying he had a lot of time for De Klerk, that De Klerk was a friend of Mozambique.

ZDB     Well I think there's some truth in that although in solid terms De Klerk's done precious little. You remember De Klerk's predecessor, PW Botha, had an exercise with Mozambique, a thing called the Nkomati Accord. I had to go and sit in the hottest summer, in a suit and a collar and tie for about five hours to watch Botha and Samora Machel signing that Accord. I was then Chairman of a construction company so I went to my chief shareholder and said, "Now you get the money from the government and I'll rebuild all the roads in Mozambique". And he laughed.

POM     To take Patricia's and your own point one step further

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.