Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert: Former Leader of the Opposition in the Whites-Only Parliament, and co-founder of Idasa interviewed by Rupert Taylor and Adam Habib, 24 March 1998, Johannesburg

Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert
24/3/98, Johannesburg
Former Leader of the Opposition in the Whites-Only Parliament, and co-founder of Idasa
interviewed by Rupert Taylor and Adam Habib

Taylor: How do you understand the nature of the conflict?

Slabbert: Up to seventy-six it was largely a period of repression, of dispersing any possible opposition, of implementing the State’s policy, and of course, then - that’s up to seventy-six - gradual resistance building-up to it - I don’t think there was any, at that stage, any focused sort of system versus struggle kind of connotation to it. That began in seventy-six, certainly with the student, the pupils, the schools crisis and so on. And even then it was rather unfocussed, it was focused on the language issue in the schools and so on, but you couldn’t really talk about serious mobilization. I know from my own experience at Stellenbosch University, in Cape Town, the Black Consciousness thing was beginning to shape-up, you know...Biko...Tiro...but it was more a crisis for student liberal organizations like Nusas and where they were going to go and what was going to happen. I think it posed certain problems for the ANC-in-exile, but the ANC-in-exile really by 77, 76 were not really all that significant, you know they thought they were, but they weren’t really all that significant, they had their own sort of strong international profile, there were no obvious links with the internal political situation - it was sporadic, and so on. I think what happened after 76, a number of things: the State allowed organized Unions to develop, the school children began to exploit their position more vocifully - this linked into the universities, where you did have the resurgence of Black Consciousness, in Biko and so on. I also think that in some cases, which is not all that much appreciated now, some of your homeland leaders had a fairly important consciousness-raising role, Buthelezi in particular. He refused to go the route of independence, or quasi-independence, he became the kind of symbol of opposition for a lot of people. In fact he was the blue-eyed boy of the ANC right up till 79. So what I would say, it was a period in which domestic structures and institutions began to flex their muscles...you know Unions, homelands, schools, black student movements, black universities certainly, or so-called ‘bush colleges’, and so on. And I think that a number of things began to happen which affected the struggle, and re-shaped it far more clearly. I think the birth of, the shift to tricameralism was something that gave a very strong focus, it was for the first time a clear indication to the black majority that they were not going to be accommodated in a central constitutional structure, that separate development was the way they had to go. I think that really speeded up things, but also part of that, the whole debate, you know, I am really sort of plumbing my memory there, but that played a role, the whole question of the UDF being born in reaction to that, you know the democratic front against the dispersion and division of the country, the fact that a lot of young kids went into exile and caught the ANC with their pants on their knees, I mean they just pitched up, you know, you got to do something with them, Mashinini and others like that. That began to give a focus to the ANC itself, the ANC’s external wing became far more mobilized, the anti-apartheid movement began to pick-up a lot of steam. The ANC was increasingly seen as the voice of the anti-apartheid movement. The events in Namibia, which were beginning to shape up, and where Namibia, there Swapo got status as the only genuinely representative of the struggle for liberation. I mean that led to moves on the part of the ANC to present themselves as the only real representative of the people of South Africa. So you had a shaping up there...

Taylor: So basically you would advance an argument that the chief dynamic in explaining social change in South Africa would be increasing mobilization and increasing organizational resistance?

Slabbert: Yes. Increasing mobilization, increasing of...but also the counter-argument, the State increasingly trying to direct and control. The fact that the State increasingly itself became involved in regional conflicts, and therefore also focused attention on the untenability of its own position, became involved in the Angolan conflict, in the Namibian conflict, in the Mozambican...that was particularly Botha.

Taylor: In terms of our own understanding, in terms of your own political action, did you work in this period with a theoretical understanding of the dynamics of social change? I mean, I know in your book here [The Last White Parliament] that you talk a bit about the complexity of...let me find the appropriate page [p.27]...this is where your talk about the relationship of analysis, commitment and practice. My impression of your book and of your work is that you were guided very much by more pragmatic rather than theoretical concerns...

Slabbert: Absolutely. I had a, through my own intellectual development I have always had a profound anti-dogmatic ideological bias. I mean, I think that the Communist Party of South Africa still dislike me for it. And I think the conventional Nationalist Party people, detest me for it. But that’s a personal thing, I went through personal intellectual odyssey of rejecting Protestantism, Calvinism, the religion part of it. The whole idea that you could have a teleological kind of explanation of reality where end-courses can be used as explanatory variables for current events, which is really what religion does, I mean it postulates an end-course and you have to make sense of your life in terms of it. And nationalism is a variation of it, and Communism another variation of it. Now the moment that you attack them you immediately get placed into the camp of their enemies, you then become an arch-capitalist or a liberal or whatever you see...so, you know, that is the cross that you have to bear. You have to say, well I enter into the conflict. So I would say, when I say analysis, practice and commitment, yea - what can I do given where I am, what makes sense to me, can I try and make a change, what are the opportunities, the Popperian view of incrementalism had far more appeal to me than pretending that I was some great liberator, I never had much faith in myself as a great liberator. So I would look at where you could strategically intervene and try and do things and so on. That informed my position. But as I also said in that book, I got into Parliament quite by chance, I never saw myself as a crusader, but once I was there I had to do certain things. So, yeah, my intellectual understanding of it was that, and I think it comes through a bit there and subsequently, is that you had the gradual polarization of society between two dominant views: the one was the view of the so-called, what I call, ‘total strategy’. That you had to, the State saw it as its duty to mobilize everybody and everything to maintain its position of dominance and repress dissent. And the collolary of that was the competing view of the national democratic revolution, events of Kabwe 1985, where you had to bring about transition through attrition, the ‘revolution’. And neither of them, quite frankly, strategically made sense to me. I could understand them, I could understand why a youngster would pick-up a gun and charge the ramparts, that was no problem. But whether this was going to work, that was another matter. I couldn’t see that, I couldn’t see a ‘successful revolution’. In fact, from my analysis there had been very few successful revolutions, and I include the 1917 one in that as well. So I, you know, always had a fairly jaundiced view about the capacity to engineer social events. I think things happen. So I would say, yeah, that was my strategic understanding of this.

Taylor: You worked very much with um, well here again you talk about here [in your book], also, well with your involvement with Idasa, you talk about highlighting process assumptions, ‘negotiation rather than consultation and prescription’ [p.57]. I mean this fits in very much with, in fact it was within Idasa: it was an attempt on process...

Slabbert: Yeah.

Taylor:...on negotiation, um...

Slabbert: Well it was also informed by I think additional assumptions, that you know whatever the degree of polarization, in fact often in highly polarized situations when people sit down and talk they discover a whole lot of things that they never knew about. And then they begin to say, well hey hang on, maybe this isn’t right and so on. And I certainly saw that myself, being trapped in Parliament and heavily insulated from the struggle. The first time I met with the ANC in exile was an extraordinary revelation.

Taylor: When was that?

Slabbert: Eighty-five.

Taylor: With the PFP?

Slabbert: Yeah, I took the PFP executive up there.

Taylor: How was that, was that Peter Gastrow organizing that or...?

Slabbert: No, No, I organized that, yeah. That was myself organizing that. I took the executive, I don’t know if Peter was on the executive then, he could have been. But we went and met Thabo Mbeki, Alfred Nzo, Maj Marahaj and so on, and I just became personally very impressed with the fact that, how we had been indoctrinated...

Taylor: How did you actually set-up that meeting? I mean how did you actually initiate initial contact with the ANC?...were there go-between people? 

Slabbert: It could have been Beyers Naude. It could have been... Beyers helped with other meetings. It could have been Beyers, it could have been Boesak...I can’t recall. It was through UDF connections, but hell I can’t pin that one down exactly. I just knew that they were prepared to see us. It came about as a result of the break-up of the National Convention Movement. Remember, I made an attempt at getting all the...

Taylor: Yeah, yeah you were criticized quite strongly for it...

Slabbert: Yeah, I made an attempt to get all the domestic bodies and organizations opposed to apartheid together and I went on the dog and pony trial, I spoke to Tutu, I spoke to Beyers, I spoke to Boesak, I spoke to Buthelezi, I spoke to Archbishop Hurley and said let us all get together and commit ourselves to negotiation and national convention movement. And this was favorably received initially, but then they peeled off me like... because they got the line, the line from Lusaka, the line from Robben Island, and the line from the UDF....is don’t touch this, this is Slabbert trying to weaken the struggle, he’s an agent of counter-revolution...

Taylor: Was it your own initiative to meet the ANC in eighty-five, or did the ANC come specially...

Slabbert: Well, I think we initiated it and they said ‘Let’s meet’. Although, I’ll tell you what...hell, I don’t want to put this wrongly because I know that Boesak and Tutu bailed out the night before the meeting, so I ended-up with de Villiers [?] and Buthelezi. By then Buthelezi was persona non grata, there had been this meeting in 1979 in London where Tambo went one way, Buthelezi went the other way, and they both gave exactly the same explanations for who was responsible. That was he was responsible, and he said he was responsible. Never could get to the bottom of that. But any case, then this thing was held and then there was...whether they initiated it, I ... but certainly they wouldn’t have seen me if the local people hadn’t said they thought it was a good idea. Be that as it may..,

Habib: Who did you meet?

Slabbert: There I met Mac Marahaj was the first guy I met, at the Hotel Spiro, and then we met Mbeki, Alfred Nzo, Penuell Maduna I think was there at that time, Gertrude Shope, Joe [Slovo], Joe was there. Joe was there.

Habib: And that was your first trip?

Slabbert: That was my first sort of exposure. And I came, I mean, you know...

Habib: Had you met any of these individuals before?

Slabbert: With any one of them, that was my fist exposure. And of course Botha went bananas, and I got up and said, you know, I thought it was very significant and I didn’t say.. these people are, they represent the people who work in your house and all that kind of stuff. In any case, and I believed it and I still do, at that stage it was like that. And then, then I got, I mean that was in 85...and I became increasingly disillusioned with the parliamentary thing, because it started polarizing more and more and more and more, and we just lied to...more and more. And I used to confront, you know, Colonel Vaz, his diaries were captured in the Tete province in Northern Mozambique and then you see...you know you go to the Nkomati Accord and you congratulate Botha for his far-sightedness in making peace with Mozambique - and then you discover eight months later that whilst he is shaking his hand, the SADF was flying supplies... into Renamo camps and all of that, you know that kind of thing.

So, I then went on a trip with Eglin to New Zealand and Australia and I ended up somewhere in Canada at a liberal conference: and I remember phoning Botha from Hawke’s office, Bob Hawke was the President or Prime Minister, and Eglin and I had a lot of wine the night before, and I said to him let’s try once more, let me go and see what Botha will say... ‘Come on man, Release Mandela, unban, negotiate, that’s the only way you are going to do it man, it’s nonsense, the thing’s deadlocked. You must see it’. So I phoned him and he said ‘Sure, come and see me’. And I flew all the way, and I came back and went to see him. And I was dead on my feet, I mean it was sort of 24 hour flight, I was fluish, jet-lagged, and I went into a very sort of - only Afrikaners would understand it - an uncle-nephew kind of thing, trying to humour him, trying to say come on man this is where you can go forward. And I also said to him, you know, that if you do that ‘you will pull the teeth of the armed struggle’. Now that phrase came back to haunt me afterwards. Because they said that if you unban, you release, you pull the teeth of the armed struggle. In fact I still believe, I still believe that they did pull the teeth of the armed struggle - when they did that. But he said ‘No’, he said ‘Look, you don’t understand. I am actually supported by the majority of people in this country, the majority of blacks’, and he sort of looked at me and said ‘But why are you smiling?’, I said ‘but you can’t seriously believe that!’ He said ‘yes’, so I said ‘well that’s it’. And I remember very soon after that phrase, I got off and walked off... And I went to my sister... ‘I don’t know, I don’t know’.

Because I told Eglin, by the way, on that trip that we’ve got to get a strategy going where if it doesn’t work we must bail out. And he said - sorry, I went to Swaziland for a holiday and I worked on this strategy and they phoned Machel’s office and they said I wanted to come and talk to you if you don’t mind about the Vaz dairies and he said OK and I charted a little aircraft, a single-prop... and the pilot took me down to see, to Mozambique - a women pilot, she had hayfever, I’ll never forget that - in any case, we landed there and she took me, I was met by Serge Verias [?], Serge Verias was the Minister of Security, a sort of classicist, rather intellectual, he became head of the Eduardo Mondlane [University] subsequent. I liked him very much, we got on like a house on fire, any case he gave me the whole spiel...the dairies, everything, it was just unbelievable stuff! And he said the week before Pik Botha had seen the same stuff. And I said, then?... Pik went as white as a sheet and phoned Neil van Heerden and Barnard and said I want protection, take me back to Waterkloof base, he was so scared about it. Any case, I saw Machel the next morning and he was excited, upset and angry. And then I went back to Parliament and I said to Eglin and a few others that the only thing I am prepared to do, short of Botha getting rid of the Population Registration Act in some kind of dramatic gesture, is that we all resign our seats, we fight the by-elections and those of us who win refuse to go back unless he get rids of the Population Act, some gesture like that. They all looked at it and thought it was bloody crazy, all of them. So I resigned. I resigned. But when I resigned, by then, the struggle had really polarized. You know you had had the Kabwe Conference committing people to the armed struggle, that was 85 sometime, you had the deepening of the ‘total strategy’ with the National Security Management System. And it was just a totally deadlocked situation. And by then it had become clear, the system versus the struggle kind of thing. And that’s when we formed Idasa. That was very soon.

Habib: When you left did you have any idea that you were going to form Idasa?

Slabbert: Not the slightest idea! In fact if you check out, I was, I had an offer to be a visiting professor at both Cape Town and at UWC, and I started teaching there. And at UWC the sort of heavy lefties there referred to me as ‘Botha’s Pawn’ and I was... you know there was such a lot of conspiracy bullshit going on at that time...that I was ‘Botha’s Pawn’, that I was planted there to undermine campus solidarity - all that kind of nonsense. But, um, no I didn’t know, I started teaching, I really didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. So I had no grand plan or strategy. But Alex [Boraine] then followed me very shortly after that - and by the way he didn’t follow me because we had a plan, he just also said well this is not for me. And I....

Habib: He was deputy wasn’t he?

Slabbert: He was deputy chairperson, of the party [PFP]. I then sat down with him and said come on, we can’t just sit here, we have got to do something. And we dawdled around on a piece of paper, what do we call this institute? and we called it Idasa, it had a sort of African ring to it. And we made it quite clear from the outset that it would be non-aligned, that we would not join forces - ah heck you can join the UDF if you want, I’m not joining any movement, I can’t see... otherwise you just become a footsoldier in an alternative camp. And my analysis is precisely that the thing is deadlock, so I would rather try and play some kind of mediating role.

Taylor: When Idasa came to employ people, did you consciously employ people who you knew had connections with the UDF, ANC...

Slabbert: Yeah. We had connections into the ASB or whatever...

Taylor: A conscious strategy?

Slabbert: Yes, that was a conscious strategy...

Taylor: To bridge the whole...

Slabbert: To bridge it and to get...because Idasa had to become a reflection of what we were trying to do. We had to have the debate inside as well. We even unbeknown to us employed Security Policemen, as you know the guy who wrote The Scent of Apples or something, what was his name...

Taylor: Mark Behr.

Slabbert: Mark Behr. He was...

Taylor: But did you knowingly employ ANC members?

Slabbert: Yeah. We would have no difficulty... I mean, we knew that...we would never ask them, because you know of course it was illegal. We had a pity good idea... I mean I knew Lisa Seftel belonged to the Communist Party, I knew Andrew Boraine belonged to the Communist Party, Nic Boraine belonged to the Communist Party, so... I had a rough idea Andre Seiman [sp?] was MK, you had a feel for these things. But I, we never, we never asked them, because it would have been crazy.

Habib: There’s a big difference...what we’re trying to figure out is whether you consciously made sure that you tried to employ people who reflected a range of organizational backgrounds or whether you see it was never an issue... you see the two issues are slightly different...

Slabbert: Yes. No, no, no...it was a conscious decision in the sense that we, Alex and I, had access to the system without being a member of the National Party, or the Progs, or whatever. We had access. I could go to Stellenbosch University and I knew I could talk to the ASB or to the theological seminary, so the need to get people who were more connected to the struggle was greater, there was no doubt about it. So, you know, I mean, to give you...the way we eventually managed to get Idasa of the ground was that I talked to Thabo, and so did Alex. I think it was vehemently opposed by Joe [Slovo] and some of the other guys in the beginning. Boesak certainly felt that there was no difficulties competing with the UDF. And Thabo said you must get the support of the comrades. I mean it’s a sort of lay injunction, who the hell are the comrades? I don’t know. So we arranged a meeting in Port Elizabeth, New Brighton township with the comrades there because that’s where we felt we could start...

Taylor: How did you set that up?

Slabbert: Ahh, Alex did it through I think Andrew, his son. But I must tell you that I also got to know Stone Sizani and Hennie Malgas, Hendrik Fazie..they were all Islanders and I got to know them when I was still in Parliament, so I had...through Andrew Savage I had that connection, Andrew Savage was pretty well connected into that, even though he was still in Parliament. So we went, you know, in the deep of the night...they had balaclavas on and we wandered around and tapped on the shoulder, come here, go there, and we end up in a little room and they say ‘what do you want to do?’. So, this is what we want to do, and they say we we’ll come back to you and obviously they made a few phone calls and we then got the message ‘go ahead’. And that’s how we started, with the very first Idasa was one with the comrades in New Brighton townships.

Habib: But the people you spoke to in the ANC were... Mbeki? 

Slabbert: Mbeki was the great contact, I mean he was...

Habib: Was there anybody else? What about Mac [Marahaj]?

Slabbert: Mac was very closely involved. Mbeki and Mac were very close. Although I must be quite honest with you, I thought Mac was far more of a skeptical character. I mean, now I think Thabo was as skeptical, because he’s turned out to be quite a good political manipulator. We may have been manipulated, it doesn’t bother me all that much. But certainly at that time it was Thabo and Mac and Aziz, Aziz, Aziz [Pahad]. Aziz played a very important role.

Habib: Can I ask you, on this particular question, a very interesting, in a number of other interviews that we’ve had people have suggested that at the Dakar conference, there are two questions, let me ask you an aside question first; a lot of people assume that there was a lot of tension between Mac and Mbeki, Mac and Aziz. And Aziz was much more closer to Mbeki than Mac was, that Mac represented another wing within the ANC. Would you think that was an accurate...

Slabbert: You know it’s very clever to be wise after the event. I certainly wasn’t aware of it there. What I was aware of, was that there was a clear division there, in the ANC group, 

between negotiation - if you want to put it that way - and escalating the armed struggle. And those who were more in favour of the tougher position would always couch the strategy of negotiation as yet another site of struggle etcetera ectetera. Whereas those who were talking negotiation would say, well OK if we make progress then we would look at the other one. Now that was a clear tension. And I would say, let me give you... at the Dakar conference. Mac started off with discussion, he was the first guy to speak and he said ‘Before I went to Robben Island I killed in anger, now I kill in cold blood’, I mean that really got us going. That was nice, dramatic stuff. But that was the theme that ran right through. Do you kill? or do you talk? Do you fight? or do you negotiate?

Habib: Besides Mbeki, who would you say fell in on this side?

Slabbert: There I think, obviously Kader Asmal was a negotiator, Mbeki, Aziz. Penuell certainly. Pallo was a kind of Socratic presence, Troskyite Socratic presence if you know what I mean, he just was as cynical as all hell, questioned everything, couldn’t care a damn and so on, and then he was, you know he...

Habib: Where would you put Mac?

Slabbert: Mac. Mac I would put him hard-line. He was pretty hard-line at that time. In fact Mac subsequently told me he was feigning an injury, he walked around with a stick the whole time, and he was going as he said with almost tears in his eyes to the Soviet Union for surgery because of the kidneys that had been permanently damaged as a result of torture and...holding them out from the third floor of the John Vorster Square [police station] and we should...isn’t this terrible. He was feigning it, because at that very moment, they were planning Vula. They were planning Vula, and he came in on the Vula thing you see. So when I saw him again at the Kempton Park discussions I said how’s your back and he laughed.

Habib: How did Dakar come about?

Slabbert: This is again, is one of those things, you know. There was a cultural fest against apartheid arranged by Danielle Mitterand, Mitterand’s [French President] wife through the France Liberte organization and out of the blue I got an invite which subsequently transpired was Breyten Breytenbach. I was very much involved in his bargaining for his release [from South African prison] and changing Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, so there was that connection. Although we, he wasn’t involved with Idasa, he felt, you know, at that stage he was very fashionable revolutionary. So these were all sort of ‘piss-willy’ outfits, you know, trying to soften the struggle. In any case, he then invited me up there, and I went, and we sat and chatted this thing out and they said to him why don’t we get a group of Afrikaners here, to come and talk to the ANC-in-exile. I had a number of meetings with ANC subsequent to my resignation, we’d been up to Lusaka and chatted this...

Habib: You went to Lusaka as well...

Slabbert: Alone. This time alone. We met, we talked. And then I came back, because Breytan then said fine, he said through Madame Mitterand we’ve got the connections with

Deuph [sp?], that was the whole, you know, French colonial Africa has got a very close tie in with France and the protocol is much easier, and they not as scared, and not as vulnerable, as the ‘kloops’ whose coming here and shooting their...Lusaka, Botswana or whatever if you do something like that. And it was far away. So, I said well I’ll go and talk to Mbeki about this, and I flew up, and he was there, at that time - ahh - with Zuma, Zuma was also, I think, very pro-negotiations, Jacob. That’s the guy I met there, I then - Joe also came onto the scene, but Joe was hostile. He was not keen on negotiations. In fact he had just written a paper called ‘No Middle Ground’ or something like that...

Habib: ‘No Middle Road’...

Slabbert: Yeah, ‘No Middle Road’ you know. In which he gave another sort of analysis which said stuff it, you go for attrition. I think Joe became, of course, a critical figure in subsequent negotiations, but at that time I know the white Communists were particularly suspicious of me - Wolpe and Trew and...who else was there, they were also critical, amongst the other chaps, they were just looking at us and continuously saying to the other group ‘watch them, watch them’. I know because subsequently they had a meeting in a house in Mannenburg and Eise Haverman [?] was here, and they said ‘Boraine you can still work with because you can get him, but that Slabbert he’s a bloody snake in the grass’...in fact he told me this! That it was, always been like that, it was the standard view that I would be a critical ally, but that I was never going to be a disciple. Which I am afraid is true. Any case...Mbeki thought it was a good idea, Aziz thought it was an extremely good idea. So did Alfred Nzo. But they, but you could quite clearly see in their eyes that they didn’t for one moment believe that you could get about sixty Afrikaners of that kind of establishment - verligte, but not members of the National Party to come and sit, they wouldn’t accept that. I had to invite them each one them individually, by the way, and that is where this whole big gender crisis came - why no women? I just didn’t know very active Afrikaner women who were opposing the system from this time...

Habib: How did you choose them? 

Slabbert: Friends. Knew them. Thought they would play a role. Went to see them, had lunch, talked, chat...

Taylor: Do you think that any of them had links with NIS [National Intelligence Service]? The people who went.

Slabbert: Yeah, Christo Nel I subsequently heard may have had links. That’s what I heard. Who else could have had links? But I didn’t know when I asked them, that I can assure you.

Taylor: You wouldn’t have asked [them to Dakar] if you had known?

Slabbert: No. But my point is even if they had, I would have said come, because they...

Taylor: In this period what was your relationship to P.W. [Botha] like?

Slabbert: Well it was non-existent...

Taylor: Were you talking at all?

Slabbert: No. No, when I left him that was final. Because, you see, what he did, he bugged that interview and he made that interview public. Of course the, some of the Communists seized on that, ‘We told you he’s a snake in the grass! Look there he say’s “Pull the teeth of the armed struggle” and all that’, and I said but here the conditions under which you pull the teeth is to unban and negotiate.

Taylor: What about your relationship and connections with other government ministers or senior...

Slabbert: I always managed a fairly comfortable relationship with them. You know, even Pik [Botha]...and subsequently if I met these Nats they would want to talk.

Habib: NIS?

Slabbert: Neil Barnard I went to see. I went to see Neil about it, I said you’ve got to negotiate, you’ve got to unban.

Taylor: When would that be?

Slabbert: That was immediately that I came back from that trip.

Taylor: And what was his reaction?

Slabbert: Very interested. Danke, Doktor [Thank you, Doctor]...you know as polite as anything, he had a Bible on his desk. It was an interview of a stuff. I mean, I have since had a few glasses of wine with the guy, because he was in the Department of Constitutional Development and I operate local government election, and I talked to him, and he had this extraordinary need to explain himself, you know, ‘you must understand what I was feeling’, of course Mandela helped him generously by saying that he was one of the key guys responsible for the liberation, Kobie Coetsee god, I see Mandela says, this man was a true patriot - if he only knew about...that bastard took three years... so I just looked at this, and...and Barnard too, you know, he went to his farewell dinner!

Habib: There wasn’t a conscious participation of NIS at Dakar?

Slabbert: They didn’t know about it. I can tell you if one of them knew about it, it would have gone right through, unless they decided amongst themselves. That’s why when I say Christo Nel, some of them may have joined - because you must remember when we got there and the press went crazy, a lot of those guys took fright, I mean they were terrified, they were really terrified, and I can show you television footage of them weeping, talking to the cameras, Jack Kriel saying ‘You have no idea what’s happening to our families back home’, crying, and so on. And of course there was mobilization at the airport and Terreblanche going crazy and so on. So I would not have been surprised if it was then, because I certainly didn’t know that Nel was NIS, that some of them may have joined this... I know the Afrikaans press charged up there afterwards, and NIS people from the Afrikaans press certainly were there, because we knew them, we could see that guy from Die Burger he’s NIS, but they came after the event, after it became public they pitched-up there. And battled to get interviews, and to talk to the people and so on. But I don’t, I didn’t have any idea of inviting them specifically, because I really didn’t know. But I mean the confidentiality was honoured, to the extent that I think the government and the security forces discovered that this was on the afternoon of our departure - because then the telephones went crazy, and you can’t do it, and we’ll take your passports away.

Taylor: You don’t think that there were really elements within the State who knew that you were going to go?

Slabbert: Well let me put it this way, if they knew they certainly didn’t do anything about it. Because they could have stopped it if they wanted to, but they... I would have been surprised. But they certainly knew afterwards, and of course infiltrated Idasa, and got in alongside, and some of them actually came to see me, one of the former student of mine at Stellenbosch, and he came to me and he said ‘Look I work for NIS you must understand it, but I want to find out, why did you do all this...’, I told him just as I am telling you that this is why I did it, that’s how it happened, and so on.

Habib: Can we slightly move to some of these organizations we’re interested about?  

Slabbert: By all means.

Habib: Taken as a whole do you think that that network [the list] of organizations contributed in any way to the end of, or at least to the negotiations process...beyond Idasa...

Slabbert: Well some of them, that I recognize here...Yes. Certainly...I think some of them were obviously more adverserial than negotiation, I mean the End Conscription Campaign was a tough one. But I think it highlighted the need that if, you know, you are going to die if you don’t die senselessly and so on. Black Sash, the Black Sash I think played an enormously powerful symbolic role, for many people - but predominantly English-speaking, the Black Sash never really got into the Afrikaans side of it. So in that sense, their message was blunted, you know these were a bunch of do-good English ladies trying to sort of make us feel guilty, they should go and get stuffed now. But I mean there’s no doubt that they had a profound impact within what I would call the English-speaking community and certainly the Prog Party that I was part of... H W van der Merwe’s Centre for Intergroup Studies... I don’t know enough about them, I know that they held conferences and so on. We felt that they were pretty unresolved, you know it was more...

Taylor: Were you aware of H.W.’s attempts to meet with the ANC...

Slabbert: That I was aware of, yes. I was aware of that, he met. And I think that could have obviously played a... but as I, I really don’t know enough about what they did, so I don’t want to... I don’t know Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation... End Conscription Campaign played a very important role...

Taylor: How did it make an impact?

Slabbert: Just in terms of highlighting the whole purpose of military service under the current situation, I mean why? Do you realize that you are going to the border? Why? Why do you have to go and die in Angola? You know, that kind of...

Taylor: I read here [The Last White Parliament] that you are quite critical of ECC. Did your views change?

Slabbert: Well they have changed a bit. But at that stage I was involved in a theory of change in which I argued that if you don’t, you know, I think I used the sort of shield argument which I abandoned afterwards. But the shield argument was that you could only really have change behind a shield of stability, of law and order. They questioned that, so we had long debates about it, and there debates were more informed - certainly the guys that I talked to, it was such a, the alternative to it was the class struggle and the inevitable change through attrition, but the people that I met - you know this is always the difficulty of being wise after the event - people that I met who were profoundly influenced by them, Andre Seidman [sp?], he was running Gore Institute, these guys, he said to me... so I softened my view, and I changed. I think they played a very important role. At that stage, of course, I was the target because I was in Parliament. So, Parliament was seen as legitimizing the State’s strategy, it was a very very difficult position to be in, because you can’t defend the SADF...where I just abandoned the whole damn lot was after that Mozambique experience of mine... Idasa, well, Idasa you know I always have a sort of feeling of, chaos theory says that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing eventually ends up in a hurricane, so you...does it cause a hurricane? No, but it was part of it.

Taylor: What would have happened without the involvement of Idasa? without the Dakar trip?

Slabbert: It could have taken a little bit longer. I think what Idasa did was to legitimize talk with the ANC amongst ordinary South Africans, that was one. Secondly, it demythologized the ANC - now I have seen the guy, no man you don’t understand, you’re wrong, it’s not like that - you know that kind of thing. I also think that if you take subsequent Cabinet Ministers, [Gerrit] Viljoen is adamant that there would have been no negotiations if that hadn’t happened. That’s his personal view. That really hit us for a six. Made us think. And also we had approaches from Nationalists afterwards, after Dakar... We had these things called township visits which wasn’t a sort of zoo phenomena, not a tourist bus going through, but actually going to visit residents, and having a meal with them. And I remember there was a group of about 50 Dutch Reformed Dominee’s who were very keen, and I said to Anne Gordan [?], I said if they were with Pro Jack - he was killed afterwards by somebody, I don’t know, and then Eric Matonga was murdered by the Ciskei police, but Pro Jack was shot and killed, he was a tough character, but he would have ANC sympathies... - and these Dominee’s phoned me about three nights before, terrified, will they come out alive... they said, well you know, I am not going to go and kill myself...one pitched-up out of the fifty, one pitched-up.

Taylor: ...I mean to what extent you had to draw on political courage in this period? Were you, did you feel you were...

Slabbert: I was never really afraid of engaging in the struggle. I did have moments when I was pretty scared about what the system was going to do to me. You know, that was all that was left of my study in 1981 [Slabbert points to fragments of burnt papers that are framed as a picture, on the wall of his office]. And uh... yeah, afterwards the hate mail, slashing tyres, coming to get you kind of calls. You know, that preys on you, because you are more vulnerable in that sense...

Taylor: Who was behind the attack on your study?

Slabbert: It was they. They said my son did it, he was five years old at the time. I don’t know how they believed he could have burnt down the study with a box of matches. No, there was a clear kind, some kind of incendiary device. This Richard Nipe, Lieutenant Nipe who is now investigating all the murder in this Constantia village he was the guy. And he just listened, took notes, came back, listened, took notes, and then the top security guys spread the rumour that it was my family that did it. Because I picked it up in Parliament and somebody said...absolute bloody nonsense. In any case, Koinonia, yeah, in Durban I went to a few of their things, I think Koinonia was also partly the outflow, could have been, or was involved in Spro-Cas, Study Project for Christianity in Apartheid Society, now that was pre-76, the whole Spro-Cas thing, I became involved in that when I was teaching in Grahamstown. Quaker Peace Centre I don’t know anything about. The Institute of Race Relations, I will bat for those guys, they put up a big fight for a helluva long time. I know it’s fashionable to jump on them now as a bunch of hard-line conservative liberals, but they put up a pretty good fight. They argued negotiations. I don’t think they were taken all that seriously though by the struggle, you know when I say the struggle, the ANC, I don’t think they were taken seriously. But they certainly were taken seriously by the Nationalist Party because they were a source of information and you could highlight the number of arrests and the number of this and the number of that...I think that if I look at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies they did good work, the Centre for Policy Studies..., Christian Institute - profound impact, no question about it. Old Beyers [Naude] had that whole Scandinavian lot fired-up...you know if he said jump, they just wanted to know how high. So basically the impact he had on funds. But Beyers was not just, he was straddling the struggle, the armed struggle as well as the...

Taylor: How did he manage to do that without being locked-up?

Slabbert: He was under house arrest for quite some time.

Taylor: He was never...

Slabbert: He was a clearing-house I would say, I have never talked to him and he would never talk... but a lot of money came through Beyers, a lot of money.

Taylor: A lot of ECC money came through...

Slabbert: No question. A lot of Scandinavian money and unaccounted money. You see that’s where old, I think old Boesak sort of took the gaffe, the whole struggle bookkeeping business. Beyers did a lot of that, and he was just an extraordinary sort of courageous fellow, you know he was responsible for me becoming, wanting to become a Dutch Reformed Dominee. I was working in his Church here in Verwerskopverwinter [?] as a young, I was in my first year here at Wits you know, 1960, and Beyers was then Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Synod in the Southern Transvaal in those days. The next time I saw him he was with the whole thing that happened. I still have a great soft spot for him. But anyway, Beyers, that was tough stuff. CBM...that was a late developer, pretty late developer, I think more, almost post-1990...

Taylor: The Broederstroom Encounter?

Slabbert: Theuns Eloff became involved subsequently with that [Dakar]... before then I really don’t know who drove the thing.

Taylor: Christo Nel...

Slabbert: Christo Nel was a bit involved with that, yeah. Five Freedoms Forum...well that was a sort of hotchpotch, they got together and held nice meetings and that kind of thing. Human Rights Commission doesn’t ring a bell with me. Lawyers for Human Rights certainly. Legal Resources Centre certainly. NECC on some of the educational issues yeah. Namda I don’t know enough about. Nusas of course, I mean, Nusas certainly I think.

Taylor: On you? had an impact on your own...

Slabbert: No, not really. I was, I suppose, a bit of a puzzle to them. It was never really, I mean, you can ask Charles Nupen here. Paul Pretorius, Charles Nupen, Neville Curtis, Geoff Budlender...those were the sort of Nusas people that - I still have - a very good relationship with them. But there was, I think, a very clear sort of agreement to differ. You know, we don’t want you guys in Parliament, I mean, you know, I got into Parliament in such a...an accident. So that, you suddenly...I mean what Parliament did was to certainly expose me to all the prevailing theories of change that operated in my country, you know, you had to position yourself against them all.

Taylor: Quite a contrast to the academic world?

Slabbert: Ahhh, the academic world, you know, it’s...

Taylor: So did you bring anything from the academic world that helped you?

Slabbert: Well, I was heavy into the whole question of transition, modernization and theories of change. My own philosophical interest, is more philosophy of science which doesn’t really lend itself to active political involvement...No I was into Africa, Southern Africa, change, but you know, if I think back on it...I think academic life, if you’ll excuse me, is the best form of sheltered employment that there is...no question...

Taylor: But not the best paid!

Slabbert: No, not the best paid [laughter], but that’s the price you pay for doing really what you want to do and getting paid for it. I think...the time that I wasted as an academic. But in any case that’s another... Legal Resource Centre, NECC...Oasssa - I don’t even know anything about them. Sached that was Neville [Alexander], you know that’s an interesting thing. I got quite close to Neville, just when he came out of prison. And we had long discussions...I must tell you, Neville for me epitomizes the romantic revolutionary. He has never, never given-up. I have never seen somebody play with time the way that Neville does...he’s a Trotskyite, I mean, he’s a real old fashioned Trotskyite.

Taylor: How did you first get to meet him?

Slabbert: Through Francis, Francis Wilson, the economist. Francis lived opposite the road from me, so...and Moria Henderson, Moria Henderson visited the Island a lot, and Moria in fact said to me ‘I want you to meet somebody’, and I went there...Parliament, may have been...before the eighties, late seventies...somewhere around there. So we got involved in discussions and so on. And we’ve always had a very warm relationship. Even now, when he talks about language...you know, I just find it crazy. Neville talks about language where twelve, eleven official languages will have equal status in South Africa. I said ‘Neville, give me a time limit’, ‘Huh, maybe ten, fifty, sixty years’, I mean...its meaningless to me, if you play with time periods... But Neville certainly had an impact through, but he really had a lot of persecution, Yessus, they gave him a rough time, they gave him a rough time the bastards.

The South African Council of Churches, obviously - Tutu, Beyers. TRAC I thought played an important role in the rural areas...she was Communist Party, what’s her name?...uh, she’s an hellishly nice person [cannot remember]. Lisa Seftel was involved in this... You know what was so interesting, she came with old Alfred Nolan, Alfred Nolan was a real sort of struggle Priest. You know, I knew Alfred Nolan when I was still studying at Stellenbosch, at The Priory. And there were five Catholic Priests at The Priory, and four of them got married...they couldn’t cope with the celibacy crisis, Alfred was the only one who stuck it out, he stuck it out. He became very much involved with Beyers, and Black Theology and Liberation Theology, very heavy Liberation Theology. I remember just after I’d resigned the UDF pounced on me like they you know, that bastard’s come to talk at that End Conscription Campaign in Jo’burg, I’ll never forget it. And before, we were still trying to form Idasa. There was Raymond Suttner, Lisa Seftel, I would say most of these sort of militant comrades there, and I talked to them about the possibility of forming Idasa. And they said what does it stand for? Well I said it’s an institute for democratic alternatives for South Africa, alternatives for South Africa. And I will never forget Suttner looking at me and said ‘That’s a waste of time, the people have decided what democracy we are going to have’. I’ll never forget it, ‘it’s a waste of time, you either join us or you don’t’. I reminded him about this a couple of weeks after the Dakar thing and said ‘So Raymond, you know, what is this democracy that the people have decided?’.

Taylor: And what did he say?

Slabbert: He just laughed, he just laughed.

Taylor: Did you ever consider joining the ANC?

Slabbert: Yeah. I mean, after I met them the first time I thought maybe I should join. I have no, you know, honestly it’s not a great thing for me. If I really thought it could do something I would join them. I am not crazy about, and I am quite honest with you and maybe I’m just too old, I don’t want to go through all this arse-creeping bit, you know, this job and that job and please and so on, I’m not interested in that. My life is just too exciting and full. But if they say to me there’s a job, you want to do it? And I say ah that’s an interesting job, but then they say well then you must join, then I will say I’ll join and do the job. The job is more important than that. But you know, to become a foot-soldier and to show my loyalty to the movement...it’s not for me, you know. And I suppose that makes me unreliable, although I disagree. Because I tend to give my commitment and then I stick to my commitment, I see it out, I have done that with a number of things. So, joining the ANC has never been a matter of, or not joining, a matter of deep ideological problems. I had a problem with the Communists, not with the persons, but with the ideology and with the strategies and so on. I have a great discomfort, but that comes back to my own intellectual development.

Taylor: Did you have much contact with the Communist Party?

Slabbert: Not with the Party as such, but with individuals. You know, I find Jeremy [Cronin] a very approachable nice guy, and I’ve had interviews with him and so on...but I always get a sense of being judged morally by them - you really are such a bad example of false consciousness...

Habib: Of the list that you have in front of you, do you think that any of them had particular links with the State? we’ve talked about a couple of them having links with the ANC... would you think that any of them had particular relationship with the State?

Slabbert: I think old H.W. [van der Merwe] had some contacts in the State, but more from his sort of naive ‘I can talk to anybody, bring them in, let me show you how it works type of thing’. I don’t think anything sinister, but he certainly had lines through to them. And he could pick-up the phone and go and talk to some people there. But..

Taylor: What about Laurie Schlemmer? Where would he be in your opinion?

Slabbert: That is a very close, long-standing friend of mine. I think Laurie took a bit of a blow, because when he was still at the Institute for Social Research at Durban, Laurie was hounded by the Security Police, he really, I mean, they gave him a hell-of-a-rough-time. Then he became involved with Inkatha, and the Inkatha Institute, and he did some - I thought - extraordinary good research and so on. And there never was any problem from the Left with Laurie when he did that, until 79, when Inkatha went off the boil and Buthelezi became the enemy of the people and so on. And suddenly he became the target of the Left as well. So he was in-between. I through my experience with him, have found him one of the intellectually most uncompromising types, he doesn’t compromise to the Left or the Right, he goes for his line. But he is not exactly top-of-the-pops when it goes to influencing people, and being charming and so on. So I would put my head on the block that Schlemmer would never, never have been part of any State apparatus or attempt to promote the interests of the State. 

Taylor: But he would have a contact with...

Slabbert: He may have had contact with Cabinet Ministers, but certainly not the Security -he really had a deep revulsion of the Security Police.

Habib: I want to ask you a question with...NGO’s wanting to bring parties together, the two contending parties together, some had a particular relationship with one side, others - for a variety of historical reasons - a particular relationship with the other side and their plan would have been something like getting people to come together and talk. Would you think CPS would have played that kind of role? CPS could have brought in, having attended some of their conferences in the late eighties.. a fair degree of people would have come in from the struggle...and a also a couple of people from the opposite side.

Slabbert: Yes, they did that kind of thing, when they were in Jo’burg. Now that’s an interesting time. Kehla [Shubane] was part of that one. Kehla and Mark Swilling... I think he did important work there. But I will also...he [Schlemmer] came to Dakar, and Laurie had a deep suspicion of, that the struggle did not trust him, did not like him, and were out to get him and manipulate him, and isolate him. He had a paranoia about that, there’s no doubt about it. So, he would...an equally strong determination that he was not going to waste any time demonstrating his bona fides...So that must have had an effect. I certainly think it had an impact on who would feel comfortable in accepting an invite to come to a CPS seminar, or participate and so on. But I don’t think he had a deliberate ploy of saying I would exclude the struggle or I don’t want them to come and talk and so on. Certainly, Swilling would not have gone for that...

Habib: They had quite a few people there...

Slabbert: They had, they had quite a number of people. I attended a couple of those meetings.

Habib: What about the Institute of Race Relations? Do you think they would have had particular relationships - again I don’t mean a conspiratorial role - I mean in trying to get people, in trying to convince them and in bringing them around?

Slabbert: I often wonder when things sort of came off the boil for them. I really don’t know. I think that Kane-Berman, when he took over, he had a particular style. He had what I would call the Ken Owen style..uncompromising sort of liberal intellectual position that was not given to softening, and bargaining, talking and so on. So I can imagine that the institute would have been difficult as a vehicle to go that route, when he was there. Before, I think, there’s no doubt - and when I say before I mean before eighty - the Institute of Race Relations played a very important softening role in that respect, but I don’t think they ever - and I may be speaking totally out of ignorance, but as far as I know never had really strong connections within the struggle, not that I know of.

Habib: How about into the State?

Slabbert: Not that I know of, I really don’t know of any connections they had with the State.

Taylor: What is your view, I mean, talking about [Institute of] Race Relations which is seen as a kind of beacon for liberalism, what is your view of, or your understanding of the word ‘liberal’ in the South African context?

Slabbert: Well, it’s the most abused concept that there is - I mean you have liberal with a large ‘L’, liberal with a small ‘l’, and so on. South African liberalism in that sense, depending on who uses the concept, is largely seen by the struggle even now today as a pejorative term, as white, elitist, wealthy, privileged, and can afford to be reasonable under those circumstances. But the moment you scratch a liberal you find a racist, the moment you try and question the conditions which support the privilege they enjoy their rationality and reasonableness disappears... that’s the view of the liberal. So, in so far as it’s an operating concept in political discourse, you know, that’s what some people think of liberals. Against that you have the ‘soft liberals’ who are soft on the struggle, they are prepared to - ‘the backsliders’ as what on earth is she called?

Taylor: Jill Wentzel.

Slabbert: Jill Wentzel. The kind of Jill Wentzel accusation, the liberals who are outmaneuvered by the more militant radical elements and so on. Both of those have absolutely stuff all to do with liberalism as a philosophy expounded by somebody like Isaiah Berlin or Gustav Bergmann, or Popper or people like that - and to the extent that I am a liberal, that’s the kind of liberal I am - which would be somebody who believes very strongly in scientific analysis, who believes that there is an external reality that’s not dependent on what consciousness...and that one can explore that reality and find ways of talking sensibly about them without having to demand your absolute loyalty and commitment...particularly that I believe that you have ways of finding out that you can be wrong... So translated into value terms yes it does lend extraordinary importance to individual concepts of liberty and freedom and so on, but not in an ahistorical uncommitted fashion, I am even quite aware of, to concede the importance of collectives, conditions of poverty there and all that... But, I mean, that is so far removed from the debate on liberalism in the South African context.

Taylor: So you would agree, that really the role of liberals has been, has not been adequately recognized?

Slabbert: I don’t think it can really, in our situation. You know, because as I say the kind of liberalism that I believe in doesn’t lend itself easily to sort of movements and situation...it’s this sort of Socratic role, I don’t know.

Habib: I find it very intriguing, I mean. If you look at the Ten Point Programme of the Unity Movement, I have always found it a largely liberal document...and if you speak to...there’s a group of leadership that is actually Trotskyist in the Unity Movement it is true, but their articulation of policy is profoundly liberal.

Slabbert: But I mean take the whole Constitution we’ve got now - it’s a classical liberal democratic constitution - the way they argue the case for gender equality and human rights and truth and this...is all sort of liberal, conventional liberal values in any context that you find, but if you start calling Thabo Mbeki a liberal they say you must be bloody mad. But I can imagine that within the sort of refined circles deep into the night’s third bottle of red wine, Marxist ‘coook’, no they would say he’s a bloody liberal and so on, and he’ll feel unhappy about it...but they’re liberals. I mean, I think the one guy who is not liberal in that sense, although I sometimes suspect that he’s a closet liberal, is Pallo. Pallo is sort of, with his connections into Trotskyism and that kind of thing. But I would not call Jeremy Cronin a liberal. Certainly not, I wouldn’t call Cronin a liberal, I wouldn’t call Raymond Suttner a liberal - because they work with very strong class concepts and their view of class is very concrete. I don’t share it, but I understand what they are saying and I see where they come from. Blade Nzimande is not a liberal, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Habib: Where would you put the Unity Movement, out of curiosity?

Slabbert: The Unity Movement, I would put - you know, Neville’s thing - I would put sort of mixture between liberalism and Trotskyism, it’s there. You know, what’s interesting about Trotsky is that the ‘revolution in the revolution’, it goes on and on and on. Which is an element of liberal thought, as I understand it philosophically, there is no final answer. And therefore the quest for understanding is never ending. And there is an element of that in Trotskyite thinking, that the revolution is never complete, I mean, how can it be.

Habib: But it’s interesting, that if you look at traditional Unity Movement they are very critical of Neville, and one of the reasons why they are critical of Neville is because of his Trotskyism. Whereas as a lot of the others would argue a classic liberal role, freedom of speech...

Slabbert: No question about it. Where does Dullah [Omar] come from? You see, I think Dullah...

Habib: Dullah comes from the Unity Movement.

Slabbert: Yeah, I know he comes... but Dullah, Dullah sort of also in terms of Unity Movement betrayed certain of its roots and so on. But Dullah I suppose finds himself in a very tough spot with the Pagad phenomenon...because that thing moves deep into not just simple people against drugs and crime, Pagad has links into fundamental Muslim philosophy, so it becomes almost a kind of, what do you call it, redemptive ideology.

Habib: Can I come back to those organizations... and ask you the question: do you think that any of those organizations, including Idasa, played a profound role at the level of public perceptions? I mean, do you think that they changed people’s perceptions of the conflict and about how one would resolve it?

Slabbert: You know when you say changed public perceptions one has got to qualify it to a certain extent. I think Idasa certainly had a profound impact on white public opinion, it certainly had some kind of impact on organized resistance opinion, I mean I know from experience, I know, people would come, now even today, and say ‘You guys, you really did it at that time’ and so on, and you would say well come on you got to see it... ‘Ohh no, no you don’t understand’. And then I am always sort of taken aback when they say that...

Habib: ‘Organized resistance’? You are talking about political leaders, political elites?

Slabbert: Yes, political elites. But ordinary folk, ordinary folk still when I am introduced to them I am Idasa, you know, and they remember that, and they remember Dakar, and they’d say ‘Hey, Dakar, Dakar’ that kind of stuff. So it must have had some kind of impact there. I don’t know what it meant to them in terms of their personal lives, but certainly it was, I always say to Alex [Boraine], Dakar was Idasa’s ‘magic moment’. Every NGO has to have a ‘magic moment’ otherwise it dies on the vine. People have to find people, donors have to find a reason why they think you’re important and that always relates to your ‘magic moment’. I mean up until Dakar we battled to survive, after Dakar we had no problem in raising funds - it was as simple as that. So you must have had some kind of an impact for that to happen. And it may have been in diverse ideological quarters, I mean we suddenly could get money from Friedrich Neumann [Foundation] as well as Ebert...the two sides of the ideological spectrum in Germany. Adenauer didn’t think that we were so hot, because - you remember - they were more into Buthelezi. I am just giving the German case. No, we were into Duneder [?], we were into SIDA, we were into the whole Scandinavian lot. And they were wandering through all the possibilities of the struggle as well. Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, didn’t want to touch us with a barge pole before Dakar. Not touch us. We couldn’t get a cent, we were white liberals, the struggle was black, you’re well intentioned but you don’t know. So we came away without any money. Who else? The Dutch gave us a bit of money. Domestically, not a cent.

Habib: So you’re thinking you had an impact within the white community after Dakar? And broadly you think that you had an impact...I am trying to get to the meaning of...

Slabbert: Well, you see the...the word impact is a thing that bothers me, it’s, you know, impact means were you a force for change and how do you evaluate what impact you had from that perspective, I don’t know...history will decide. It’s a nice cop out. But impact in the sense that we were an issue, that people talked about us, that we were on the sort of radar screen of public consciousness, yeah, I think that we had an impact on that sense. But if you say to me were we the straw that broke the camel’s back, I don’t think so. But then I mean I’m not quite sure what was, you see, you can...

Taylor: It’s all inter-related?

Slabbert: All inter-related, that’s right.

Habib: Let me just present a scenario of how people conceptualize all of this, and then tell me how you view this. There is a conception that what you had is two sets of intransigent people, on the one hand you had the State who were into smashing resistance, and then you had the leaders of the liberation movement who were into the armed struggle. And that neither side could recognize that there was a power deadlock in society. And that NGO’s - and this argument has been made - that NGO’s were the kind of catalyst that allowed and facilitated the realization on both sides of this deadlock. So, in a sense it becomes the kind of catalyst to bring change about. Would you broadly agree with that? or do you disagree with it? or do you think...

Slabbert: Look, as a general proposition I think it is worth exploring. I think it over-simplifies, I mean, there were NGO’s who were so tied up into the struggle that it was part of their very existence not to have anything to do with the other side. You know, because that’s where they felt they were making their contribution. There were NGO’s on the system side who were so pulled in there, that they wouldn’t ever dream of, you know...

Habib: How about an organization like Idasa?

Slabbert: Idasa was deliberately an NGO that tried not to be part of all that. I mean, that I can say with absolute clarity from the outset. We were not going to be an ANC struggle NGO and we were not going to be - we’d been in the system, right - for twelve and a half years. So we were using our previous position in the system to say that we are no longer part of the system. We were immediately defined by Parliament as an extra-parliamentary organization. Now, within the context of Parliament that means they view you as a struggle organization - there was no doubt that there was an assumption - but there was an assumption on the part of the ANC, that the moment they were unbanned Slabbert would stand and say ‘Give me a ticket, I want to join’. So, he’s one of us, was immediately a view that they had. I think Thabo knew it wasn’t as simple as that. But any case, so the point I’m making is that when Alex and I sat battling through what was Idasa going to do, the one thing we had absolute clarity about was that it was not going to be an aligned NGO. Because, not because we were holier than thou, simply because there were enough of them. To become another aligned NGO that was going to try and promote the cause of the ANC or to try and make whites reasonable within the system, we didn’t feel that - we, for us, it was initially, dialogue.

Habib: Do you think that you had an impact on the thinking of leaders of the State?

Slabbert: They said so. They certainly said so. Again, ask Kader Asmal, Kader Asmal, Barbara Masekela will tell you that they regard Dakar as the turning-point in their lives. Now I, mean, I can differ with that ‘Come on, you know...’ but they say that. They really feel very convinced, but I want to stress one must not take this out of historical context, because keep in mind it was building-up. I mean for me a critical date, there have been a few critical dates: the first critical date was 25th April 1974 when the coup in Lisbon precipitated independence of Mozambique and Angola, that led to Rhodesia... then it started building up, more and more isolating the white minority regimes. Rhodesia first to go, Namibia went later, and so on. But by then, you had the Chet Crockers in this world trying to sort of force negotiations on their own agenda. Because there was a fierce competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and those countries for Africa, so they had an interest in making Botha see reason a la that style. And then of course you had Reagan, Reagan made peace with Gorbachev in 84 and from then on it just ran. The whole negotiation thing became very fashionable: Afghanistan, Cuba in Angola, and the ANC - I was in Moscow in 89 I think, 88-89 - the ANC and our European Ambassador now - Simon Makana was the ambassador there, but - Selebi... you could feel that...armed struggle was out. I mean I came away, they sounded like, they sounded like myself. You know, they were talking negotiations the only way, and suddenly it became very unfashionable to go for armed struggle and transition through attrition. I am talking now 87-88 and so on, so it was in that atmosphere that there was a fierce debate within the ANC about the relative merits of talking or fighting, and Thabo - I know I spoke to him. Thabo was almost athema to the hard-liners for wanting to talk, and his position eventually won out. Now in that context you come along as a group of guys from inside, and you push this particular line, so you’re churning-up the waters there, you’re churning-up the waters there, and suddenly you become the flavour of the month. You know, people want to talk to you and find out how can you do it - so in that sense I think it played a role. But I’m not an historical determinist, I am not somebody who sort of says, you know, or a great man theory of history person where you say a great person comes and throws a switch and the whole thing goes in that direction. I sort of drift between excessive voluntarism and excessive determinism, you know, those are the sort of areas that I operate in.

Taylor: Do you think it makes sense analytically to talk about the organizations that we have been talking about as a network? Did you at the time, do you now, see it as a network?

Slabbert: No. We weren’t a network. We weren’t networking into them. Certainly weren’t. We had links with them, but we weren’t networking with them. I think what happened most likely is that a lot of the struggle NGO’s were sort of told that we’re kosher - cooperate with them, do something with them, and if they run programmes bringing our SPS students to talk to black comrades help them - you know that kind of thing. But it wasn’t a deliberate thing of let’s meet and plan this years network - never. Never - not that I know of. You must ask Alex this, because he was far more hands on in the show. But I know that there was, you know, it always amused me the phrase I’m looking for, Lisa Seftel and Nic Boraine sort of... ‘We’re getting these old fuddy-duddy’s, they’re not dealing with or understanding our agenda, but they are part of our agenda’, you know that kind of - so the struggle networked into Idasa rather than Idasa sort of particular idea of networking around. And in that sense Idasa was appropriate. I think we had a fair, certainly Alex and I, had a fair idea of who was trying to appropriate us and for what purpose. And I had no difficulty with that, because it formed part of it.

Habib: Thank you.

Slabbert: Pleasure.

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