The Presidential Years

POM - Now you resigned immediately after the NP decided to withdraw from the government of national unity and as I understand it you were among those in the party who were opposed to its withdrawal at this point in time. (i) What arguments were you making in favour of staying in for the present and (ii), how strong a sentiment within the party was there for that position?

Pik Botha - We had at that time within the NP a strategic policy group which consisted of the ministers who were serving, the provincial leaders of the party as well as certain spokesmen of the party in the various disciplines. I would say our number, I don't know what the position now is, must have been around 20/24 and we would meet regularly and decide on tactical moves within parliament and outside politically, etc., almost like a shadow cabinet and early in May we debated this issue. Let me first say that this issue of whether we should stay in the government of national unity unfortunately became controversial within the party a year earlier already and I think the problem emanated from the following. The six NP ministers and Mr de Klerk who participated in the Cabinet activities, I really believe that we made valuable and positive contributions there and I can't recall, with one or two minor exceptions, that in the Cabinet we ever had a downright split on party political lines on major issues. It was gratifying, it was a pleasant experience to debate the budget, to see how even ANC members differ from one another and how we as NP members often differ from one another. I thought it was working well, it was working well.

I passed more legislation in the two years as Minister of Mineral & Energy Affairs than I passed in 17 years as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I was referring to the Cabinet debates, Cabinet discussions. I passed very important legislation on mine health and safety, introducing for the first time in South Africa's history the tripartite concept where government and labour, the workers, as well as the mine owners would jointly be responsible for all regulations on health and safety matters in our mines, which I consider to be a major positive step forward. I did away with the clauses in legislation which prohibited the publication of confidential information on the acquisition of oil and the oil trade. Several other pieces of legislation.

POM - So your argument for staying in the government of national unity would have been that it's working and we're actually, the ANC and the NP and the other parties in the Cabinet are actually working well together and we need to foster and to continue to foster that form of cooperation as a basis of trust building and nation building as it were?

PB - Yes. You put it very succinctly and correctly, but don't forget that we received a mandate in the election, we received more than four million votes which roughly represents eight million people in this country. Whatever the total population, whether it's 30 or 35 million, eight million constitutes a sizeable portion of that population and we received and sought directly and categorically votes on the basis that we would be in the government at least until 1999. We told our voters we would be there, don't worry and don't fear, we would be there, we would be part of it, it would not be a favour done to us by anyone. The interim constitution clearly negotiated, clearly embodied that and that was entrenched, so to say, that we would be there, not at the mercy of the ANC or any other party but in terms of the negotiated settlement.

Then you see I think what went wrong was that in parliament on the other hand, in parliament you had very lively debates, very spirited debates with a measure of animosity and acrimonious exchanges which led, I think, to some of the NP members feeling that how can you sit in Cabinet and take joint decisions on important matters and then here in parliament we must put up with the battle as if we are an opposition and that there was some contradiction in this system which hampered the wish on the part of some NP members to be free in their criticism and attacks on the ANC, felt that they were inhibited by the fact that next week this minister would again be sitting with the ANC in a Cabinet meeting and come out with a joint decision. Some members felt that that was a contradiction. I did not feel that way. I felt that you could have had the two entities run parallel to one another. The Cabinet is the executive and the parliament is the parliament and each has its confined area of jurisdiction and of debate and just as we were free in the Cabinet to air our dissent with decisions, every individual minister was, on occasion I was the only Cabinet Minister against a Cabinet decision including the views of my own party members for instance, on mineral rights, the issue of mineral rights, and I accepted it, that is the Cabinet practice. There are individuals there quite apart from the fact that you're party members, you act there more like an individual Cabinet minister who took an oath that in the exercise of your duties you would act responsibly and in the interests of the country as a whole and the nation as a whole, whilst in parliament you don't have that, what shall I call it, that joint executive responsibility, you have a party political division which then let itself go, you can't stop it either.

And this brought about this clash of interest and for a year before we left, at least for a year or more before we left there was within the ranks of the party a split on this very issue, namely should we continue in the government of national unity, yes or no? And eventually those of us who felt that we should remain in the government of national unity became the minority and I think Mr de Klerk then was persuaded that it would be better to leave the government of national unity and put himself up as leader of the opposition. There in discussions, it's no secret now as you indicated, I, together with other colleagues disagreed. I think we were divided just about more or less within that policy group on a fifty/fifty basis, my arguments being that we were elected to serve the full term until 1999. I thought the Cabinet in which we participated, that we did deliver there, that we did make valuable contributions of a positive nature and even if the country and the party did not always understand the role we were playing it was in the interests of the country that we should remain there as the interim constitution provides. The other side believed that, which I already sketched to you, that this is hampering the NP in its role to be an effective watchdog or opposition. I still to this very day now believe that we should have stayed in the government of national unity, that the National Party could have played a more positive role by being part of that government of national unity and retain also on the provincial level influence and a say in decisions of the provincial executive committees.