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When a former head of national intelligence service (NIS) publishes a book on the inner workings of the negotiation process, one is justified to presume it will contain revelations and secrets previously unknown. It is perhaps the duty of anyone with inside information to write publicly about that complex period of South Africa’s history, so that coming generations might better understand the truth of what happened.
Thus I received Niël Barnard’s newly published memoir, A Peaceful Revolution: Inside the War Room at the Negotiations, with great interest. I have read enough of such books to know they are always written from a subjective perspective, so that assumptions, analyses and opinions are intermingled with objective information.
I was not disappointed. Barnard has documented valuable information that provides insight into the negotiations. But he has also drawn his own conclusions, some of which, unfortunately, are not quite right.
I am grateful that a different dimension to this history will soon be available, as the late Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini’s memoir, The Prince and I, is ready to be launched. Ambrosini, a constitutional law expert and adviser to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in negotiations, became the brilliant bane of both the ANC and the former National Party government.
His memoir, like all the others, is written from a subjective perspective. But Ambrosini’s perspective is unique as he was an outsider operating on the inside. As a former history professor at Georgetown University, he understood the wider historical context and could draw parallels and lessons from experiences throughout the world.
Also as a libertarian, he approached the negotiations with an agenda to win the best possible democratic outcomes for our country with the greatest possible freedoms, and the greatest possible protection of those freedoms.
His memoir will break new ground in terms of what we know, and what we believed. However, until it becomes part of the public debate, it would be remiss of me not to respond to Barnard’s book. I too have a duty to complete the picture of the past for I am one the key protagonists.
Barnard has dedicated his chapter “Critical Talks” to what he calls “one of the most important – and the most demanding” parties to the negotiations: the IFP and Buthelezi.
Our positions, according to him, were “more often right than wrong” but the IFP endured obstacles to its participation on an equal footing with the ANC and the then government. A major obstacle was the Record of Understanding signed by the ANC and the government behind the IFP’s back, which intended to make further negotiations bilateral, under the pretence of multiparty participation.
I disagree with Barnard, however, that our “influence in the negotiation process gradually faded”. If that were the case, there would have been no need for Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and me to sign a memorandum of understanding for reconciliation and peace just eight days before the 1994 election. It was understood that the election would not be credible without the IFP’s participation as millions of South Africans would have been excluded from a “democratic” outcome.
The IFP secured substantial gains during the negotiations in the interests of a strong democracy. We tabled the need for social and economic rights, a constitutional court, independent organs of state controlling the executive, the recognition of indigenous and customary law, a federal state with provinces, and many other aspects of a modern constitution.
While others focused on the details of the transfer of power, the IFP looked ahead to the kind of democracy we were forging. We insisted on discussing issues such as the form of state, whether South Africa would be a unitary or a federal state, whether the powers of governance would be centralised or devolved, and how we could create checks and balances to limit unfettered power, which always produces corruption.
We insisted that the constitution contain a Bill of Rights. The ANC failed to see the need, believing a democratic government would never infringe on the rights of its people; and it was simply not on the government’s agenda.
Securing a Bill of Rights and securing provinces were just two of the IFP’s victories. One can hardly say that our influence was insubstantial.
But we faced obstacles, not least the fact that NIS was intercepting my communications and those of the IFP’s. This made it difficult to trust those we were negotiating with. One of the ANC’s key negotiators, Cyril Ramaphosa, later told Ambrosini that they had been intercepting our faxes. It is no surprise Barnard now openly admits De Klerk “would receive copies of IFP speeches before they were even delivered”.
Barnard freely quotes from minutes of meetings between the IFP and the government. He feels equally at liberty to quote from what he repeatedly calls a “confidential” letter I wrote to my late friend Dr John Aspinall. Evidently, my personal correspondence was watched as carefully as my public statements.
I must admit I am rather disconcerted by Barnard’s verbatim recollection of my private correspondence. Evidently he still has copies of these covertly obtained confidential documents, which to my mind is not merely unethical but possibly illegal.
To a large extent, it was hardly necessary for national intelligence to intercept my communications, for the IFP “had a habit”, as Barnard relates, of putting everything “in writing, handing out copies, and then reading everything out word for word”.
Our reasons for doing this were quite simple. The IFP was willing to commit to a position. We didn’t play the game of saying one thing in this meeting and something different in another. We also believed strongly in documenting a factual record for we had endured endless lies and propaganda against us. It was important that the facts were on record at the time, and for the future.
The campaign of propaganda and vilification are exactly what made Mandela “uncomfortable” and “not entirely at ease” whenever I came up in discussions with then justice minister Kobie Coetsee and Barnard, before his release. Mandela was uncomfortable with the lie propagated by the ANC’s leadership-in-exile that I was an apartheid collaborator, because he knew full well that Oliver Tambo and Inkosi Luthuli had asked me to lead the KwaZulu government.
Because of this propaganda, my life was continually threatened while I served as chief minister. Having no private army such as Umkhonto weSizwe, and unable to issue a single firearm licence to the KwaZulu police, I was forced to seek the government’s assistance with security for me and my ministers.
But Barnard overplays the extent to which national intelligence supported the KwaZulu government. It was not him who brought Jacob Zuma to me, but the Reverend CJ Mtetwa. I then took Zuma to see the king at his Enyokeni residence.
I have never done things for personal gain or advancement.
As Barnard points out, my principled stand on the issue of the king earned me nothing. This perhaps is where the IFP’s approach to the negotiations differed from that of other participants.
We did, as Barnard says, have to become confrontational.
At times we did need to employ delay tactics and a boycott strategy.
However, none of it was done to advance the IFP’s position in a democratic South Africa.
Our fundamental goal was to create a strong democracy in which we would serve in whatever capacity the people chose.
Many analysts still struggle to understand this truth at the heart of the IFP.
The record of the IFP’s participation provides insight into the party’s longevity and continued influence in South African politics. We maintain a legacy of putting principles first, honouring our commitments, and working in the best interests of all South Africans.
To some extent, this uncompromising approach has prevented the IFP from capturing the limelight, but it has provided South Africa with a trusted political leadership for whatever lies ahead. That is likely our greatest contribution to South Africa.
* Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi is an MP. He is the president of the IFP. ** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.