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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Negotiated Settlements

The fact that when all the theories have been expounded, best practices implemented, and grievances apparently successfully addressed, conflict may remain dormant, sometimes for substantial periods of time. But the impenetrable roots of conflict are part of the subconscious itself, the psyche a warehouse in which they are stored. Even parties in conflict are not aware of, and have no understanding of the contradictory tensions that derange inner impulses which they are incapable of not succumbing to, impulses that impel spontaneous conflagrations of inter-communal violence in unforeseeable, and often seemingly benign, circumstances.

Unfortunately, negotiations are usually seen as a means of last resort to resolve political differences, only to be considered when it becomes clear to all sides that none is capable of "victory" in the sense of having its views prevail without prohibitive costs in human and financial terms. Negotiations are about pragmatism. Loss of life that violent conflict incurs is not in itself a sufficient reason to bring warring parties to the table. Loss of life, even on an atrocious scale, is acceptable to parties if any one of them believes that in the end it will prevail. Moreover, the loss of life that accompanies inter-ethnic/communal conflict is often a means to an end -- not to abrogate injustice, inequity, and discrimination, or to maintain the status quo, but to eliminate all threats to the existing order of things by annihilating the other community i.e. terminal ethnic cleansing.

Thus, when parties agree to engage to negotiations, the key players on all sides must have reached the conclusion that while none of them can lose, neither can any one of them prevail. Hence the need for the fundamental changes in attitudes, the dismantling and reconstruction of old mind-sets and a harsh reassessment of the political realities they face on the part of all parties before the gateway to negotiations can be opened -- often only a little but enough to let all the parties to the conflict to enter the negotiating arena.

What makes the situation more delicate is that some of the parties involved may reach the conclusion that no side can prevail a lot sooner than others, meaning that a pre-negotiation mode is needed to enable the parties who believe no one can win to convince the parties who continue to think they can prevail, if only they continue to engage in struggle or counter struggle long enough for the "enemy" to lose the will to carry on, that in the end they cannot win. What makes these gestures on the part of one side, of their willingness to negotiate, more difficult is the perception that they give rise to on the other side that the enemy is indeed beginning to weaken and will therefore eventually capitulate: that once one begins to think in terms of not winning, one is already thinking in terms of losing.

This in turn leads the parties who think they have uncovered their enemies' "weaknesses" -- in the sense that they equate signals that their opponents are prepared to talk about negotiations with a lack of resolve to continue the war they are engaged in -- to redouble their efforts to capitalize on these perceived weaknesses.

Thus, the escalation of the conflict on the part of the parties who remain constant in their belief that they will ultimately prevail. This, of course, leads parties who have come to the conclusion that no one can prevail to respond in like manner. The run-up to negotiations is often, therefore, preceded by a period during which all sides engage in escalating violence, on the one side to drive the message home that willingness to negotiate or seeing negotiations as the only alternative to an indefinite conflict in which there will be no winners, should not be construed by its protagonists that it is about to throw in the towel. Willingness to negotiate should not be construed with willingness to accept defeat. Conflict, therefore, invariably continues long after many of the participants have come to the conclusion that they cannot win, and it invariably escalates until such time that all protagonists come to a similar conclusion.

Negotiated settlements to conflicts should not be confused with the resolution of a conflict or more importantly with the eradication of the causes of the conflict itself. They are an accommodation, a package of measures that ensures that some of the demands of all of the sides are met, not that all of the demands of some of the sides are met. They set parameters to how differences within the context that all sides agree that the use of violent means to achieve political ends will be eschewed in favor of non-violent means. Deep differences will remain. What negotiated settlements are supposed to reinforce is the recognition that these differences cannot be resolved by resorting to violence, and that in the event that one party or another should resort to violence, the differences will still remain when they once again are compelled to negotiate after the needless slaughter of thousands, almost all of whom will be civilians who were only to trying to get on with their fractured lives.

In The Last Trek, De Klerk, goes to some lengths to describe himself as neither a verligte nor a verkrampte, but as a centrist, someone who wanted other proponents of reform to think through the implications of their proposals before advocating them with such ardor. He describes his growing disillusionment with piecemeal reform, yet during deliberations of the Special Cabinet Committee (SCC) on constitutional reform to which he was appointed in 1985, he emerges, according to his own account, not as a proponent of radical reform but rather as one who acted as "the devil's advocate," adept at pointing out the shortcomings of tentative reforms to bring the black majority into a new constitutional dispensation, but oddly silent when it came to putting forward proposals of his own.

Indeed, the failure of the SSC to develop a process that would enable the government to come up with a set of proposals that might lead blacks to believe that it was serious about its efforts to form an inclusive dispensation could be attributed to four factors, each of them sufficient in itself to doom the SSC's efforts.

First was the government's attitude, the underlying presumption that it was trying to find a way to accommodate black demands, not because they were just demands and inalienable rights in a democratic dispensation, but because they were making the country ungovernable, the target of international sanctions, isolation, and the object of mounting opprobrium across the world. It did not approach the issue with an understanding that black leaders would have to be consulted and negotiated with regarding the form and substance of its proposals, leaders that would be seen as credible leaders among the masses, not puppets of the state who would be more concerned with preserving their own personal fiefdoms of power and patronage, not with the emancipation of the mass of black people. The government continued to think in terms of its conscientious and well meaning attempts to ...

Indeed, within their respective fiefdoms, leaders of the so-called independent states and the homelands had shown scant concern for the welfare of their populations, made no pretense about the absence of democratic elections or the institutional accouterments of democracy, and presided over administrations -- if many of them could even be called that deep in the troughs of corruption, that looted the NP government as quickly as the NP government could replenish them. Since accountability and transparency were hardly bleeps on the NP's radar, it could hardly make an issue of the lack of accountability and transparency on the part of the governments they had put in place to show the world that separate development within the South African context was a viable and working proposition, despite the damnations of the international community.

In fact, insofar as the insatiable free-spending obsessions of the homelands leaders contributed to their delusions of aggrandizement, and to depleting the coffers of the NP government, adding to budgetary woes, an accelerated deterioration of the economy, and the need to make some overtures to the ANC before the country went bankrupt. The ANC should offer a belated thank-up to the puppets who in their avaricious way helped to make the country ungovernable. As in all matters relating to the predatory instincts of man, there was more than one way to skin a sheep.

Second was the unspoken but never-far-from-the heart fear of the black majority, of its thirst for retribution, the assumed belief of its vengeful intentions to do unto the minority what the minority had had done unto it --- to strip the white minority of the ill-gotten gains it had accumulated by the ruthless exploitation of the black majority. Hence the obsession with innumerable permutations of what constituted "group" rights, the repeated emphasis that no one group should be in a position to dominate another, for special constitutional protections for minorities, the rights of minorities to self-determination feasible in some way, perhaps, if the minority occupied some identifiable critical mass of territory, pie-in-the-sky delusions when the minority in question the whites of South Africa were dispersed throughout the country and didn't form a homogeneous mass in any territorial configuration. These fears -- the unmentionables -- were woven into the rhetoric about the soviet-style communism the ANC supposedly endorsed that would threaten the foundations of the state and the way of life of the "good" people of South Africa.

Third was the unwillingness to accept that no matter what formula for power-sharing one could come up with, there was no way in which the proportion of the population accounting for 13 per cent could expect to have the same voice in the way things should be run as the 87 per cent who formed the rest of the population. Furthermore, given the demographics of the country, the population proportions themselves were changing drastically. In 2005, the projected white population would amount to 8 per cent, well below the minimum threshold in terms of numbers that would allow whites to administer an apartheid state. The nightmare they conjured up of being "swamped" by blacks was no nightmare, but a demographic reality that they could do nothing to stop. With each year that passed whites were whittling away their own bargaining position, and if they procrastinated long enough, there would be nothing left to whittle, and no one to whittle.

And fourth was their unwillingness to do what they had said they would never do: release Mandela and his ANC colleagues who had been incarcerated for 27 years, unbann both the ANC and the SACP, and recognize the ANC as the authentic voice of black nationalism, and the "enemy" with whom they had to negotiate.

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.