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President de Klerk's options.

WITH President de Klerk's referendum victory having been comfortably secured, one issue is now set to dominate the South African political agenda over the next six months: namely, the nature of the government's relationship with the ANC which, theoretically at least, should have improved as a result of the referendum. During the three-week campaign, the ANC played a discreet, although highly responsible, supporting role by discouraging mass protests at a |white only' vote, however offensive that spectacle was to black opinion, and by avoiding being too vocal in their support for a |Yes' vote. In all likelihood that would have backfired, giving substance to the routine far-right charge that a vote for de Klerk was only a more circuitous means of voting for Nelson Mandela. For the ANC leadership, this was an extremely difficult balancing act which it managed to perform with some skill, demonstrating, in the process, an impressive degree of political maturity.

Post-referendum trends

The received wisdom is that the negotiations at the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) will now gather pace and the ANC and the National Party (NP) will move to cement what has become a de facto alliance propelling South Africa towards the sunlit uplands of a new democracy. Whilst it is undoubtedly true, given their relative stature within the black and white communities, the nothing can pass through Codesa which lacks either ANC or NP approval, this analysis is, nonetheless, rather superficial and talk of an |alliance', at his stage, is more of a glib catchphrase than an accurate representation of reality. Certainly, there appears to be nothing in de Klerk's post-referendum behavior which would justify so sanguine a forecast. On the contrary, the State President, apparently flushed with success, immediately adopted a much more confrontational stance towards the ANC. For example, a |senior government source' told The Daily Telegraph on March 22nd that the ANC should not |push its luck', adding:

The ANC seems to have interpreted the white vote as a mandate for

its own policies. We have to tell them that they have got it all wrong.

The whites did not reject the extremists of the right-wing to opt for

the extremists of the left. They voted for continued negotiations and

that is going to be a long, hard road.

The de Klerk government, its confidence now almost fully restored following last year's Inkathagate scandal, and with international pressure now being relaxed, seems to believe that it is once more in a position from which it can control the pace and direction of the country's reform process. Consequently, it is now making new demands of the ANC and not merely stalling on many of the ANC's own demands but ignoring some completely whilst taking others and refashioning them to suit government specifications. Examples were plentiful within days of the March 17 referendum:--

(i). on March 22, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported that the de Klerk was demanding that the ANC disband its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), as a condition for further talks. The MK has effectively been in |mothballs' since the |Pretoria Minute' of August 4, 1990 although former MK cadres are currently serving in township Self Defence Units (SDUs) to help deter the mass Inkatha attacks which have become a feature of life in the Transvaal townships. However, as there has been no evidence of actual MK anti-state activity since that date, this really an example of issue creation on de Klerk's part -- a convenient |stick' with which to beat the ANC for reasons discussed below. For its part, the ANC has always insisted that only when the government surrenders political control to an interim administration, and only when the security forces are compelled to act in a non-partisan fashion, will it formally terminate, rather than merely suspend, the |armed struggle'.

(ii). on March 26 the government issued an ultimatum to the ANC, and other black groups, to halt township violence forthwith or face the suspension of talks on a new constitutional dispensation. The ANC believes this to be a thoroughly discredited approach in which violence is crudely characterised as |black-on-black', an explanation which conveniently ignores both the government's past complicity in township unrest and its continuing failure to launch a far-reaching purge of a security apparatus repeatedly implicated in acts of violence. The ANC believes, therefore, that de Klerk is putting the cart before the horse as unrest can only be significantly reduced if the security forces begin to behave impartially. Consequently, on April 3, as virtual civil war raged in Alexandra, Mandela called for an international monitoring force -- whether drawn from the OAU or the UN -- to be deployed in the townships. This was a clear indication that the ANC had now lost all faith in de Klerk's ability to rein in his own security forces. Indeed, Mandela accused the government of being an |enemy of democracy' which was determined |to weaken the ANC and make it possible for white supremacy to continue'.

(iii). the government announced plans to extend VAT to nine basic food items -- including sova beans, maize and brown bread -- beginning on March 31. These had been exempted following mass opposition, and a two-day COSATU-led general strike, in November 1991. On March 20, Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, threatened that the ANC would use every available means of protest to halt the increases, |even if we destroy the economy'. On March 31, under pressure from business leaders who feared strike action, the government staged a tactical retreat and withdrew the proposal. VAT was, however, introduced on milk and rice which means opposition grievances will continue to fester in this area.

(iv). on March 23, de Klerk proposed ending the moratorium on executions previously announced in February 1990, a move which had not been discussed in any of the Codesa working committees. This provoked a strong protest from human rights groups and from the ANC which denounced it as |ill-considered and unacceptable'. The Justice Minister, Kobie Coetsee, eventually staged a climbdown on March 27 but the episode was indicative of the confidence which has become such a striking feature of government behaviour in the immediate post-referendum period.

(v). in the week following the referendum, the government sanctioned the police detention of a senior ANC official, the secretary-general of the organisation's Youth League, Raphu Molekane.

(vi). Finance Minister, Barend du Plessis, continued to resist both union and business calls for a round-table forum -- encompassing government, unions and business -- which would determine economic policy during the transition period. The government appears unwilling to countenance relinquishing power in such a sensitive area.

(vii). most crucially, government negotiators have also been in the business of trying to recover ground initially conceded at Codesa when they found themselves in a weaker bargaining position. This is particularly evident in the National Party's latest proposals on the core issues of an interim government and a constituent assembly. In the week following the referendum the government tabled new proposals at Working Group 3 of Codesa under which the current National Party-controlled executive, and the existing tricameral parliament, would remain in place prior to the holding of elections. The ANC and other opposition forces would be restricted to participation in a number of advisory councils whose recommendations, whether relating to the electoral process or any other matter, de Klerk would be free to ignore. This would be firmly in line with de Klerk's undertaking to introduce new |transitional arrangement' but it would fall well short of the ANC's demand for a fully-fledged, multi-party interim administration which it believes is the vital key unlocking the door to the |new South Africa'. De Klerk would, in effect, be exploiting a semantic loophole whilst appearing to make an important concession. The ANC response was predictably hostile with Jay Naidoo, the General-Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), threatening |a general strike unlike anything experienced before in South Africa' unless an interim government, conforming to the ANC model, was in place by July 1992. On the equally vexed question of an elected constituent assembly, the latest proposals of de Klerk's negotiators are no less contentious. On March 30th, the government proposed amendments to the ANC position that the new constitution should be drawn up by a single chamber elected by universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll. It suggested there should also be a constitutional input -- a veto in effect -- from a second chamber or Senate which would include the tricameral parliament and homeland administrations and would ensure disproportionate representation for minorities and regions. For the NP, this would be an ideal structure both for restricting ANC influence over the drafting process and for ensuring the inclusion of those key elements of its own constitutional proposals, such as minority vetoes and mandatory coalition government, unveiled in September 1991. The executive growing out of elections -- provisionally scheduled for December 1992 or early 1993 -- would be multi-party in character and would serve for a minimum period of three years with the presidency rotating every six months between the five largest parties. The ANC reaction to this was again vitriolic. On March 31, in an official statement which confirmed the deterioration in ANC-government relations, the movement declared:

This ad hoc and specially constructed bicameralism will be seen

by the majority of South Africans and by the world at large as a

reminder that the cadaver of aartheid still rules from the grave

into which it was said to have been cast. One cannot escape the

conclusion that the arguments against majority rule are being

advanced not so much because of the principle involved but

because of dissatisfaction with whom the majority will be. Put

quite simply, "simple majoritarianism" was good enough for the

whites for 82 years, but will not be good enough for the blacks

today, unless, that is, they promise to vote for the party presently

in office, in which case the virtues of majority rule might re-assert


|The smack of firm government'

Numerous factors are at work here shaping the current belligerent posture of the de Klerk administration. First, the State President is simply dipping his toe into the water to test the political temperature and to establish precisely what he can and cannot get away with a post-referendum environment in which his authority has been visibly enhanced. It is, in short, de Klerk, not Mandela, who is pushing his luck.

Secondly, he is moving to take advantage of a |window of opportunity' which is now open to his government in the shape of a post-referendum international |honeymoon' period. ANC complaints over de Klerk's handling of events, however legitimate, are likely to be less sympathetically treated over the next six months as the international community loses interest in the daily minutiae of South African politics and concentrates instead only upon the |big picture'. Moreover, the possibility of renewed economic pressure on the country now seems too remote to merit serious discussion. The outcome of the referendum appears to have sounded the death-knell for sanctions with even Denmark, hitherto the European state most reluctant to relax punitive measures, agreeing to phase them out. That, in turn, paved the way for the European Communiyt to lift the oil embargo against South Africa which had been in place since 1985 -- a decision duly taken on April 6.

Third, de Klerk may feel that the referendum demonstrated the potency of the NP's electoral machine and that with this same media and big business juggernaut supporting him, he can look forward to a creditable performance in post-apartheid elections, perhaps capturing sufficient support to deny tthe ANC undisputed political hegemony. Thus, the government may believe that a more combative approach towards the ANC can be developed without undue risk attached.

Finally, de Klerk wants to keep his white constituency with him by demonstrating that the assurances he offered during the referendum -- namely, that he was about to embark upon a zelous defence of minority rights rather than a political kamikaze mission -- were genuine and not simply a temporary expedient designed to see him through a potentially difficult campaign. Taking a tough line in negotiations with the ANC is the most obvious means available to demonstrate such resolve to the white population.

Belligerence versus belligerence

Should de Klerk persist with this approach, however, South Africa is clearly heading for major problems and the referendum will have led the country most across the Rubicon but into it. There is a strong sense of deja vu surrounding these developpments. From August 1990 to July 1991, the government deployed not dissimilar tactics of political brinkmanship which typically involved it in reneging on, or, more accurately, redefining agreements reached with the ANC followed by maximum delay in their implementation. The pattern became a familiar one whether the issue under discussion was the return of ANC exiles or the release of political prisoners. de Klerk now appears to be rediscovering the merits of this approach and while his ambitions have certainly been modified -- the emphasis has moved towards containment of a future ANC government rather than a seemingly hopeless quest for the movement's electrol defeat -- he does appear to be buoyed up by post-referendum euphoria and infused with a new |can do' spirit. The dangers of this should be obvious. Indeed, to quote a popular maxim, we hardly require the crystal ball when we can read the book. The end results of this policy the first time around are all too familiar: a massive upsurge in township violence, the breakdown of negotiations and, in July 1991, Inkathagate -- the nadir of the |new South Africa'. In view of this, it is essential that de Klerk should not be carried away by the referendum result and mistakenly seek to apply its lessons to the wider political arena. The Conservative may have been routed but the ANC cannot be brushed aside in the same ruthless fashion. If over-confedence on the government's part continues to be translated into unilateral, and deeply controversal, political initiatives, that will, in turn, generate fierce resistance from the ANC-SACP COSATU tripartile alliance including strikes, street protests and, ultimately, a boycott of negotiations with all the attendant problems subh a rise in tension will bring. The government appears to believe that it may be possible to extract concessions from an ANC leadership so intimidated by the impressive coalition of forces in the de Klerk camp -- the domestic media, big businees, many foreign governments and alarge sections of the international press -- that it will lose any remaining enthusiasm for the tactics of mass confrontation. It would be unwise to rely upon this as the recent ANC statements, already cited, make clear. Throughout the referendum campaign, the ANC virtually practiced a self-denying ordinance and was prepared to tolerate de Klerk's attacks upon the movement as a |cruel necessity' if the State President was to preserve his white support base. That restraint, however, always had a limited lifespan and there is little doubt that if the verbal hostility continues then it may seriously pollute the atmosphere surrounding negotiations. For example, denunciation of the ANC as |left-wing extremists' hardly suggests that the government considers the ANC to be an essential part of the South African political centre which must hold if there is to be a durable settlement.

De Klerk, despite the new authority which the referendum has undoubtedly conferred upon him within the white community, needs to bear in mind three potentially uncomfortable facts: first, whilst he may be a colossus in white political affairs, he is not nearly such an awesome figure when he moves beyond that narrow world and 68.7% of whites still represents only some 12% of the total South African population -- a statistic to concentrate the mind of any whute leader. Second, any deal not endorsed by the ANC is almost certain to founder at ground level given the movement's solid support in the black community where it dwarfs any other political formation. A Markinor opinion poll taken in November 1991 put ANC support at 72% compared to 5% for the NP and 1% for Inkatha. While there is an obvious government attempt way to detach ANC negotiators from the movement's grassrotots, this is unlikely to enjoy much success following the July 1991 Durban conference where considerable hostility was expressed at the tendency of the ANC's various negotiating teams to |freelance' and make policy |on the hoof' without adequate consultation. Besides, even if temporarily successful, this would ultimately be self-defeating as it would only promt a grassroots drift towards more radical groups, or more likely, the replacement of the negotiators. There can be no constitutional |quick fix' which by-passes mass black opinion. Third, de Klerk's negotiating position vis-a-vis the ANC has not necessarily been strengthened by a referendum result which, upon close scrutiny, is very much a double-edged sword for him. Over the past two years, de Klerk has been adept at conjuring up the spectre of the far-right threat to justify stalling on key ANC demands such as an interim government, controls on the security forces and an amnesty for all political prisoners. He has not been slow to argue that there are limits as to how far he can be expected to go without triggering a haemorrhage of support to the ultras. The sheer scale of his March victory may now have removed that card as the right-wing, although more than a discredited rump, is certainly no longer a national political threat. The referendum, in short, should not blind de Klerk to these wider realities nor, contrary to popular myth, should it be considered an unalloyed blessing for the State President

Conclusion -- Towards he |historic' compromise?

De Klerk is, of course, fully entitled to seek lasting political arrangements which will protect the interests of his predominantly white constituency. No one can realistically expect him to act otherwise. Certainly the ANC has shed the illusion, which it appeared to entertan in the first half of 1990, that de Klerk would simply |hand over the keys of the Union Buildings [in Pretoria] and ride off into the sunset'. It now has a more realistic perspective on the State President whom it views as a cunning and imaginative political adversary who is clearly no stranger to agggressive negotiating tactics -- a nice smile but with |teeth of steel', to quote Gromyko on Gorbachev. The ANC appears to have few problems in negotiating with de Klerk on that basis and it clearly sees the need -- indeed, Mandela had recognised the need while he was still held within the confines of Victor Verster prison -- to strike a balance between the demand for majority rule and the accompanying need to ease white fears about their future in a multiracial democracy. For the ANC, the task has been to construct a constitutional framework which would accommodate those twin imperatives and it is now widely understood within the movement that this may well involve the sacrifice of some |sacred cows', thatt, after all, being the very essence of negotiation. Consequently, the ANC has framed its proposals specifically to address these fears by aggreeing to a majoritarian system with a range of built-in safeguards. These would include: a commitment that any constituent assembly would be guided by principles previously agreed at Codesa; a requirement for a two-thirds majority in the assembly thus necessitating compromise and the accommodation of minority opinion; a proposal that a panel of nine |eminent South Africans' adjudicate on matters of conflict and, finally, a willingness to consider so-called |sunset clauses' guaranteeing whites a disproportionate representation in Parliament for a fixed period as with the 1980 Lancaster House agreement on Zimbabwe.

This has inevitably left the ANC open to the charge from the absolutists of the ultra-let -- principally from the Pan African Congress (PAC) and the Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) -- that it is in the process of |selling out' and cannot hope to win at the conference table what it has previously failed to win on the battlefield. The ANC leadership knows this to be cliche-mongering, not merely leftism but infantile leftism particularly as the PAC proved over the years to be more proficient at murderous internecine strife that it ever was at conducting a credible armed-struggle. Given the almost non-existent possibility of actually inflicting a military defeat upon the regime, the ANC leadership came to regard a |historic compromise' as wholly preferable to the |scorched earth' approach of the various fringe groups. What it cannot accept, and its rank and file will not in any case allow it to accept, is a return to government by coercion in which de Klerk uses or, more accurately, abuses his control of the state appartus to push through his own agenda whilst paying lip-service to the concept of negotiation. He cannot expect, in the now familiar phrase, to be both |referee and player' in the midst of a delicately poised transition process. It is precisely because de Klerk appeared to accept the legitimacy of that argument, last December, that such progress was initially made at Codesa. Any return to the status quo ante is, however, likely tto bring the entire Codesa edifice -- which to a large extent rests upon mutual trust and goodwill -- crashing down. The beneficiaries of the Defence Force still readily identifiable: those shadowy elements of the Defence Force still committed to destabilization -- such as the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the |Special Forces' units -- and, on the white right, the Conservative Party and their first cousins, the Afrikaner Weerstansbeweging (AWB), WitWolve and Order Boerevolk para-militaries. In black politics, the beneficiaries would be those groups plainly hostile to the Codesa process: Inkatha, the PAC and AZAPO, organisations which have, thus far, demonstrated only an ability to bring mayhem and sectarianism, whether of the ideological or ethnic variety, to the country.

It would be a rare irony if a referendum held to finally bury the notion that whites could somehow |go it alone', and to place the country on a more stable footing, succeeded only in encouraging a misguided attempt to reintroduce, albeit through the back door, new, more subtle, forms of white control. These are unlikely to endure but, in the short-term, they are a recipe for the chronic instability which only the enemies of reconciliation, and the sponsors of ethnic conflagration, can welcome. It is, therefore, to be hoped that current NP attitudes are no more than a temporary hangover from the referendum and not a permanent fixture as triumphalism of this kind will prevent the creation of the pragmatic negotiating climate in which a |historic compromise' can begin to take shape. Thus, the Johannesburg financial newspaper Business Day was being rather optimistic when it hailed the referendum result as a |message of peace and of determination, of goodwill and of clear democratic resolve'. This may yet prove to be the case but perhaps the Swiss publication Neue Zuricher Zeitung was more accurate when it concluded that |the referendum of March 17 will have been useful only if it serves to promote reason and moderation on all sides'-- the implication being that the country remains some way short of this ideal.

James Hamill is a lecturer in politics at the University of Leicester.
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Title Annotation:Frederik W. de Klerk, South African president
Author:Hamill, James
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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